Good night, Hawaii!

It seems things are slowly returning to normal on Haleakala. The power has been more stable <knocks on wood> and this is the second night in a row of those gorgeous clear skies. We’ve got a lot of observing time to make up!

Live view from IFA1

We’ve also got an exciting announcement coming up about data from Maui. More on that soon!

Brief but Good!

No less than 75 days after a large storm hit Maui, we heard from the instruments on Haleakala today!

The storm knocked out both power and fiber to the summit and it’s been a long and bumpy road getting power and connectivity back. The turmoil caused all sorts of secondary damage: breakers, generators, routers–all had to be replaced as problems were discovered sequentially. Sometimes temporary repairs had to be undone and redone. Sometimes replaced components had to be replaced again. We’re very grateful to the tenacity of the IfA team, as well as the workers at MECO and Hawaiian Telecom.

Screen capture of telemetry from IFA1

As you can perhaps read from the graphs, tonight the humidity was 100%, a strong indication you won’t be seeing any stars. But, as a system test, we observed anyways for a short period and–happily–everything performed as expected. Unfortunately, utility power was lost again, near 10pm local time.

We were only online for a handful of hours, but it’s so nice to know that, after a 2.5 month sabbatical and torrential ice storm, everything is still in great shape! Fingers crossed for more stable power from here on out, and getting back to the science!

An Atom Lighter than Hydrogen??

One of my favorite aspects of SETI work is the scientific breadth required. While no one can be an expert in everything, every corner of human knowledge has the potential to affect SETI theory or practice.

So while this video does discuss spectroscopy, I hope you’re now in the muod for some mind-bending atomic chemistry that’s admittedly only peripherally related to LaserSETI.

After watching the video, in case you’re wondering: yes, it technically is an isotope of hydrogen since its atomic number is the same. Its nucleon count, however, is zero. If that seems odd, just wait, it gets better. Since there’s a third type of lepton, there’s not one but two hydrogen isotopes of nucleon count zero. 🤯

If your head is hurting by this point, perhaps you should drink a nice, cold glass of dihydrogen monoxide.

Doubling Down

We lost power at RFO from about 8am to 5pm today. Everything came back online as expected, however, and we’re observing now.

Not a packet yet from IfA. They found the problem, though: the network was damaged in our building. Physical repair completed, and (eagerly) awaiting reconfiguration to bring us back online.

In Other News…

There’s always a lot going on with LaserSETI. It’s easy to be super focused on the operations and observational data but, just like overall SETI 9-dimensional haystack, the LaserSETI project is similarly multifaceted, and we’re always trying to make progress on all its different dimensions.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but in this case, closer to a thousand hours… of 3D printing time. Here’s the receiving bucket containing the parts for the new instruments, waiting to be cleaned and put to use:

Large bucket of LaserSETI parts, waiting to be cleaned and used

We’ve done so much printing, in fact, that it’s time to swap out the printing surface for a new one. It’s not hard to spot the difference, is it? And, with a shiny new surface, it’s a good time to print the parts that are a little more delicate in the first layers, like the sunshade that protects the cameras’ shutters from the beating sun.

3D printer build surface: used vs. new

On some of those other dimensions, here’s a few things happening right now:

  • Replacement of a misbehaving hard disk in our long-term storage array, and rebuilding the double redundancy of the 100TB volume
  • Copying a subset of the data to ship off to a budding student partnership to study the data
  • Estimates for LaserSETI’s usefulness at capturing Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays
    • Spoiler alert: not as good as we’d hoped, because the chances of seeing an event are proportional to how spread out your sensors are on the ground
  • Working with a mechanical engineer to iron out the kinks caused by heat transfer in the cutting process when fabricating our stainless steel enclosures

Almost there?

It’s the best night we’ve had at RFO in at least a month. Lots of stars, clear, not too much moisture, few to no clouds. 🔭 Hooray!

At IfA, however, the saga continues. Power had been “restored” via generator, then the main network cable was fixed… and re-fixed. Then we lost power from the generator, had to replace a major breaker after ordering a replacement from off the island, and now mains power and generator are both up.

200A Circuit breaker which needed replacing

As you might have concluded by now, there was a lot of damage to the equipment on the mountain from the storm in December. It’s not clear what was from direct storm damage, power fluctuations, or other secondary causes, but clearly there’s still more to repair because… we still haven’t been able to reach the instruments, despite general connectivity being restored for a third time this month.

My hope is and endeavor will be that this is the last post about what’s not working, and the next one has only good news. Next week? Fingers crossed. Stay tuned and thanks for thinking good thoughts for us!

I’m Seeing Stars!

And not the cartoon kind! 🐦💫 The Bay Area isn’t done with rain storms, and this definitely isn’t a great observing night by any standard, but it’s so nice to see stars again. It’s been weeks!

RFO1 Console screenshot showing stars and clouds

The news isn’t quite as good from Haleakala, unfortunately. Hawaiin Telecomm repaired the fiber, decided they needed to redo it, redid it, and yet we still haven’t made Contact with the instruments. Checking multiple times per day hasn’t seemed to help. Something about a “watched kettle never boils” I think?

Weather Nemesis

In the years that LaserSETI’s been operational across two sites, this is certainly the longest weather delay we’ve ever had simultaneously affecting both sites.

The good news is that Hawaiian Telecom made good progress repairing the fiber on the slopes of Haleakala today, and should get us back online by Friday at the latest–assuming they can secure a helicopter to assist. Apparently, helicopters don’t grow on trees, even in Hawaii.

The probably-not-good news is that, here in CA, the weather is still bad and who knows when it will clear up. Forecast says rain for another week, but maybe some of that could be during the day and the clouds could push out at night? 🙂

Current weather radar for Ferguson Observatory
(located within Sugarloaf Ridge State Park)

It’s a Good Time to Count Your Blessings

It’s still Dec 13st here on the West Coast, and we’re hoping the New Year brings better luck and better skies for LaserSETI and a wonderful 2023 for each and every one of you!

We’ve had a lot of rain in California recently. I can’t remember the last clear night we’ve had. I was excited because the astronomer’s forecast was (and still is) good for tonight, but there must be valley fog or something else low in the sky that it’s blind to. The only photons making it to the instruments tonight are from our Sun, bounced off our lovely but obscured Moon.

View from RFO2, with only the Moon bright enough to break through the moisture

And, you might’ve noticed, it’s been a long time since even the PiCams have updated from IFA on Haleakala in Maui. Almost two weeks ago now, there was a large ice storm which knocked out power. You can still see the frost on the instrument windows just before they went offline on the Status page. On Tuesday, we got power back, but only to find there was another internet cable cut somewhere halfway up the mountain, so we’re still without connectivity to the instruments.

It can be easy to get frustrated when things don’t go your way time after time, but I think that’s shows something special about the holiday season and New Years. Everyone wishes things were better, and that’s natural, that’s how we keep making progress. But we all have a million things to be grateful for, to appreciate how we got where we are and what or who is going to help us keep going tomorrow.

So let’s focus on what’s great in the world and in our lives, and leave some greatness to achieve in 2023!

It’s Cold Outside!

Just because you’re in Hawaii, doesn’t mean it’s warm! We got our first frost of the season, after being socked in and unable to observe last night.

Frost on the windows of IFA1

We can see effects of cooler temperatures in California, too. One of the camera’s in RFO2 is especially prone to being sticky when cold, but fortunately we now have software to handle it automatically.

Ideally, and with most of the other cameras, it takes only 3 attempts to open the shutter all the way 3 times in a row, but last night it took 9.