(BIVN) – It has been two weeks since the Maunakea Observatories resumed operations, following a four-week suspension of operations in the midst of the Thirty Meter Telescope project conflict.
Doug Simons, the Director of the Canada-France-Hawaiʻi Telescope, first explained the process of resuming operations:
It’s a different story with each telescope. CFHT was first out of the starting block Saturday night because we have a cooling system that was operational for the full shutdown. Telescopes that required liquid cryogens, most of those instruments are warm, and it could take anywhere from days to weeks to bring them back online.
Simons also explained the process of securing access to the summit, which needs is a little different now that the Mauna Kea Access Road is closed and the opponents of the TMT project have occupied the base of the road:
The process begins roughly 24 hours ahead of each day, where we notify office of Mauna Kea Management how many vehicles each telescope will send up. The next day that information is relayed to law enforcement, who relays it to the protesters. We average about 40 to 50 vehicles per day on a normal day, so quite a bit of traffic. Our primary concern is with the spur road, or the side road, which is actually the old, old Saddle Road, for a portion of it.
Then, there’s a pathway demarked by cones and reflectors across a lava field to allow us to get up and above the so-called kūpuna tent. We’re very concerned not about the safety of our staff members; they’re in big heavy SUVs. We’re concerned about pedestrians. You’re literally driving through an encampment. At night. I’ve done this so many times. You have high winds, and really thick fog, and this is a single lane path, with no lights, with tents on either side of it. And you can imagine the possibility of something going wrong as we’re trying to navigate through that pitch black, with zero visibility.
So we are very eager to get Mauna Kea Access Road opened up, primarily as a means of separating pedestrian traffic and vehicle traffic and keeping everyone safe in the process.
Jessica Dempsey, the Deputy Director of the East Asian Observatory, which operates the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, talked some issues they have had in resuming operations:
The good news is that after 4 weeks of downtime, we did manage to get back on sky on Sunday night. We don’t have staff up at the summit right now. We are operating remotely. This doesn’t mean we’re at full operation. We actually had to take one of our instruments down to a non-functioning state because it went into a critical error during the time when we couldn’t have access. So that’s going to take us about 4 weeks of repair work to get back and functioning. But we have one instrument up there and on sky, so we’re very pleased to get started.
Dempsey also gave an update on Namakanui, the new instrument that was acquired for use within JCMT, but which – at first – sat in Hilo during the four week suspension of activities.
We finally got our instrument, Namakanui – as named by Professor Larry Kimura – up to the summit, 4 weeks late. Our stuff was getting very nervous because they had a very narrow window to get it working before the next round of Event Horizon Telescope observations. It was a great relief to get it there and it’s like kind of unpacking a Christmas present for our staff. They’re really thrilled to get [it] up there and so we’re gonna be working really hard and looking forward to doing that next round of black hole hunting.
It’s gonna be 4 times more sensitive than the one that took the image of Pōwehi, so we’re going to be able to make even greater impact in this next round of Event Horizon Telescope observations.
Rich Matsuda, the Operations Director of W. M. Keck Observatory, also talked about getting back to work on the summit:
We’re coming back into operations after having been off sky for about 4 weeks. We had to put a lot of our infrastructure and instrumentation into a hibernation mode. We’re working our way back out of that. We observe for the first time on Tuesday evening with both Keck 1 and Keck 2 telescopes, doing science again. Which is great to be back on sky but because about half our instrumentation was put into this safe mode during the 4 week layoff, we’ve had to bring them back slowly, cautiously. We’re limited by the amount of equipment we have to bring things back online. Rather than doing it all at once we have to do it in a serial fashion. So it’ll take about another week and a half two weeks to get us back all the way up to online to where all our capabilities are.
Bracken asked Matsuda about the astronomers who lost telescope time during the 4 week hiatus.
Basically most of them will lose the time. If we have any engineering time that we can give back to scientists, we do. But we need that engineering time to test the telescope, make sure it’s working. We regularly have to do these kind of tests to keep it in optimum condition. If there’s any of that that we don’t absolutely have to use we’ll give it back to scientists. But I would say 90 to 100 percent of them will lose their time.