Updates

Franklin Antonio

It is the way of this world for life to grow, prosper, and pass on, to make room for new life. But the passing of Franklin Antonio, co-founder of Qualcomm and benefactor of LaserSETI, is more than just the regular machinations of nature.

Franklin Antonio, a co-founder of Qualcomm, has died. He was 69.
Photo credit: UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering

I’ve had the pleasure to know a great many bright people, but Franklin stands out on the list. In any area he was passionate about, he could go toe-to-toe with professionals and win. Chip-level software, astrophysics, or feeding those in need–he knew how he wanted the world to be better and was a determined and overwhelming force for doing so.

It’s fair to say that half the LaserSETI instruments in the field today are due to his generosity and shared vision of searching the universe for life. I still remember how thrilled I was to have his support, and I’m gratified I got the opportunity to thank him for it and show him the difference he made with me and on our project.

Driving Efficiency and Reliability

A LaserSETI instrument is full of computers, sensors, and other electronics, and hence it’s also full of wires. Each wire has to be cut to length, connected firmly, and worked around carefully when performing any other operation on the instrument.

The current base design

It’s therefore very exciting that we’ve designed a custom PCB (printed circuit board) that can reduce all that complexity, effort, and risk. Thanks to today’s modern electronics ecosystem, it’s easily outsourced and since it replaces existing COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) components, these benefits add nothing to the cost of an instrument.

IFA2 power distribution after bypassing camera relays (and with most of the wiring tucked behind)

We’re not quite done making sure every need and clearance is accounted for, but we’re close. Since these traces will carry a decent amount of current, however, we have at least validated the current flow, trace width, copper thickness, and resulting temperature increase is very well within limits (credit: PCB Trace Width Calculator). We want both the boards to be super reliable for the long term, even when it gets hot inside the instrument on some days or at some locations.

Same Stars, Different Weather

As predicted by the forecast below, RFO is socked in tonight. Tomorrow night should be really good, however.

Astronomer’s forecast, credit A. Rahill

The first three rows mostly characterize moisture in the air (a lot tonight, very little tomorrow night). Seeing represents turbulence, but that doesn’t affect us much because our pixels are big, which is because our field of view (FOV) is enormous (75 degrees!). Darkness matters a lot however for the same FOV reason. And this week, the Moon rises and sets with the Sun, which makes the nights nice and dark because the Moon isn’t lighting up every tiny water droplet and mote of dust that happens to be floating around the sky.

And so this is what the sky currently looks like at Ferguson:

Live view screen capture from RFO1

However, at the same time, looking at the exact same stars–but from underneath a different part of the atmosphere–IFA2 is having a great night:

Live view screen capture from IFA2

Hopefully, tomorrow night it’ll stay this way in Hawaii but also look like this in California!

Hello starshine!

It’s been a while since we’ve had good conditions up on Haleakala. Rain, fog, high clouds… you name it. Day after day, it seemed it wouldn’t stop. Nice to see the stars again, so pretty and clear!

Snapshot of live view from IFA2

IFA2 Back Online

In every LaserSETI instrument, there’s a large-capacity USB hard drive that we use to capture all the data coming from the two science cameras. Even with the biggest drives being made today, we can only store a month or two worth of data, but it’s an important staging area. The one in IFA2, however, had been dropping offline whenever we tried to read or write too much data to it.

So we shipped out a new drive to Doug, who’s local on Maui, and yesterday he drove the 3-hour round trip to the summit and replaced the drive. The weather had been uncooperative and we prefer not to operate in the rain, but he saw an opening and made a dash for it.

New hard drive in IFA2, underneath the science computer, which is below the “vert-cam” science camera

I don’t want to say “it’s fixed” too early or jinx it, but last night we made it through a full night of observing, streaming data at over 100 Mbps, while also backhauling the data to our datacenter in California… stressing the hard drive to the max, and everything went smoothly! Fingers crossed it stays happy for a good long while.