SAAO - South African Astronomical Observatory

Recent Developments & Upgrades

On this page you will find details of new equipment as it becomes available, and of improvements and upgrades to the telescopes and instrumentation.  If you are coming to observe, or are considering submitting an application for telescope time, please check this page for the latest developments.

New telescope time application form

The application form for time on SAAO telescopes has been updated, in line with TAC requirements.  The new LaTeX and style files are available here and must be used for all applications from 2013 QIV onwards.

Ongoing 1.9m power upgrades: affects observer interaction with slow motion drive

In April 2013, further upgrades were made to the power and control mechanisms of the 1.9-m telescope, incorporating a change in the control of the slow motion drive.  Observers will no longer switch power to the drive on/off at the electronics rack, but at a new control panel installed beside the TCS monitor in the warm room.

A number of other functions will be added to the panel in due course, but for the time being the slow motion drive is the only aspect of telescope use affected.  Use of the drive is explained in Chapter 2 of the Telescope and Spectrograph manual.

SpCCD spectral type library

David James (CTIO) has very kindly made his library of spectra obtained with the SAAO Cassegrain spectrograph available to the community to aid spectral classification.  The library can be viewed here, and a README file providing further information - together with the spectra in a variety of file types - can be downloaded from the ftp site.

The UCT CCD retires

From the end of 2012, the UCT CCD will no longer be offered on the SAAO telescopes.  We respectfully acknowledge its long service and significant contribution to variable star research, and ask that UCT CCD users look to the new SHOC cameras for high-speed photometry capabilities from now on.

New TAC & change of application deadlines

In November 2012, a Time Assessment Committee was appointed for the SAAO telescopes.  The deadlines for submission of telescope time applications have changed to accommodate this.  For further information, please read the announcement here.

1.0-m mirror covers

The primary mirror covers of the 1.0-m were motorised in October 2012.  They are now operated by pushing a button on the primary mirror cell, where the handle used to be.

Wireless in the domes

For convenience, there are now wireless access points in the 1.9-m and 1.0-m domes.  Ethernet cables are still provided.

1.9-m RA motor and control

In July 2012, a new RA fast motion motor was installed to improve efficiency and safety.  It is under PLC control to accommodate future moves toward remote operation. There is no change in the way the observer operates the telescope as a result of this upgrade.

1.9-m mirror covers

As of June 2012, the mirror covers of the 1.9-m are no longer opened manually by turning the handle on the telescope.  They can be operated from the TCS, or by pushing a button on the telescope where the handle used to be.

Replacement gratings for the Cassegrain spectrograph - II

Grating 5 - the last of the new gratings - was mounted and aligned in February 2012.  All the new gratings (4, 5, 6 and 8) are now available for use.

1.0-m pointing

The pointing model for the 1.0-m telescope was upgraded with new software in January 2012.  It is no longer necessary to apply different pointing zeropoints for different parts of the sky.

1.0-m dome, windblind and fluorescents control

In November 2011, control of the dome windblind and upper fluorescent dome lights was transferred to PLC as part of an ongoing programme of upgrades.  Instead of the usual yellow paddle, observers should now use the new control box on the wall by the North pier to operate the dome and windblind.

Replacement gratings for the Cassegrain spectrograph - I

During the engineering week in October 2011 on the 1.9-m, the damaged diffraction gratings for the Cassegrain spectrograph were replaced.  Three new gratings were mounted and tested, replacing Gratings 4, 6 and 8.  The gratings are direct replacements, and the original names have been retained (e.g. the replacement for grating 4 is still called grating 4).  Wavelength ranges and resolutions can be found on this page.  The replacement for grating 5 is awaiting a new cell, and is currently unavailable.

1.9-m pointing

Problems with the pointing of the 1.9-m telescope experienced over the past few months have been solved.  The pointing model was upgraded with new software during engineering time in October 2011.  The pointing is now accurate to within the 3x4 arcmin acquisition field of view.

SHOC commissioning

The Sutherland High-speed Optical Camera (SHOC) is being commissioned on the 1.9-m, 1.0-m and 0.75-m telescopes.  You can follow its progress on this page.

GIRAFFE Upgrades - I

In November 2011, a new pick-off mirror to direct light to the avalanche photodiode was installed on a precision stage on the bench-mounted GIRAFFE echelle spectrograph.  This has increased the APD counts by a factor of seven, thus improving the positioning of a star on the fibre.  (N.B. This has not directly improved the throughput to science camera.  Further upgrades are in the pipeline...)