Thursday, January 25, 2018

PFS Upgrade Series: Day 1, Nerve-wracking Moving Day

Hi! This is Johanna, I'm finally back at Las Campanas and ready for new experiences and adventures. On this trip, I will be observing again with the Planet Finder Spectrograph (PFS), searching for new planets around near-by stars via the radial velocity method (read all about it in my previous post and post). More on that later. But first, I will be helping the people who built PFS, Steve Shectman and Jeff Crane, to make some upgrades to the instrument. We hope that these upgrades will help improve PFS' performance and planet-finding power! I'll be documenting different parts of the upgrade process on this blog for the next few weeks. 

Today was Moving Day, when we transferred PFS from the auxiliary building between the two Magellan telescopes down the hill to a semi-clean room, where we will be gutting, fixing up, and reassembling PFS before we observe with it in February. PFS has only ever been moved such a far distance once before -- when it first arrived on the mountain -- so we were all nervous. The instrument is special because of its high-precision observing capabilities, which stem from its stability. Like any astronomical instrument, there are a lot of very fragile and *expensive* parts inside PFS, so we were worried about them surviving the trip on the flatbed. 

Before I forget, I have to give a HUGE shout-out to the day crew that helped move PFS and keep it safe. They were super careful but worked efficiently, and we couldn't have asked for better. Thank you!

Above: PFS being rolled out of the auxiliary building, its home when not on the telescope, in preparation for a little trip down the hill. Below: Aaaaand it's on the lift! Step 1 complete, many steps to go.

Hopefully you can see in the video above that PFS was chained from the back to the platform, and then rolled slightly downwards onto the bed of a truck. As you can imagine, this part went very slowly and carefully.

Then the day crew strapped PFS in from multiple angles, focusing on the heaviest/most stable parts of the instrument to tie down, and we were off! Oh, actually, before that, we locked the wheels with some pins that I didn't even know where there. Props to Jeff Crane for thinking of everything. 

Locked and ready to *not* roll!
The journey down the road was nerve-wracking for sure. We had multiple people walking alongside or in front of the truck (so, it was only driving as fast as we could walk), and a drive that usually takes a minute took more like ten. It was all worth it, though, to get PFS safely into the anti-chamber of the clean room in one piece. Tomorrow I'll try to show some photos of the PFS dis-assembly and what we're testing and changing inside the instrument. 

PFS comes off the truck and on to another platform outside the antechamber of the clean room. We weren't sure it would clear the roof, but by moving it onto the platform and then lowering the platform, we just made it. Another score for Jeff Crane's design skills!
Home sweet home for a few weeks! 

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