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Xirrus, Inc., the Wi-Fi "Power-Play" that delivers the most coverage, bandwidth, and throughput in the industry on a per device and system basis, announces the deployment of their Xirrus 802.11abg+n Wi-Fi Arrays at the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, enabling the replacement of switched Ethernet to the desktop at the facility.
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I was fortunate to be able to visit the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea during a recent short holiday in Hawaii. It is an inspiring place. Thanks to the fantastic advances in adaptive optics technology, as well as the observatory's new laser guide system, this ground-based telescope is now truly competitive with Hubble.
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NULLING MODE AT KECK OBSERVATORY
First results from a new scientific instrument at W. M. Keck Observatory are helping scientists understand the physics behind recurrent novae, a type of cataclysmic star system. The results are overturning long-standing assumptions about powerful explosions called novae and have produced the first unified model for a nearby nova called RS Ophiuchi.

We were getting ready for a routine engineering run when all of a sudden the nova went off. It was very bright and easy to observe, so we took this opportunity and turned it into gold - team member Marc Kuchner of NASAs Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Md.

The nulling mode of the Keck Interferometer is part of the NASA-funded Keck Interferometer, which combines starlight using two 10-meter  telescopes. In this mode, the interferometer suppresses the blinding light of a star so researchers can study the surrounding environment. The instrument helps researchers observe very faint objects near bright sources and produces ten times more resolving power than a single Keck telescope working alone. It is the only instrument of its kind in operation.
The nulling mode was developed to search for dust around nearby stars, which make finding planets around these stars more difficult.

If the dust were by itself, it would be easy to detect with Keck.  But the star is so much brighter, that something has to be done to block the light, which is what the nuller does. But this technique turns out to be useful for lots of other kinds of objects, including this one, where dust is near a star that just went nova - Dr. Rachel L. Akeson, Keck Interferometer project scientist at the Michelson Science Centre at Caltech.

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NASA has selected three teams of scientists to begin studying disks of dust around nearby stars starting in February 2008, using the Keck Interferometer in Mauna Kea , Hawaii . This sophisticated new system combines the observing power of the two large Keck telescopes into a single mega-telescope.
The announcement follows completion of the Keck Interferometer's technology phase, in which its detectors, starlight trackers, active optics and computer control systems were installed, tested and integrated.  Testing was conducted on stars, in the first on-sky demonstration of long-baseline nulling interferometry, a technique that "cancels" the bright light from the star to see fainter material around it.

The newly selected teams are led by the following principal investigators:

·        Phil Hinz, University of Arizona , Tucson , Ariz.
·        Marc Kuchner, Goddard Space Flight Center , Greenbelt , Md.
·        Eugene Serabyn, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena , Calif.

The teams will study stars with known debris disks and look for signs of dust around other stars. Some debris disks are remnants from planet formation; others contain material kicked up when asteroids collide. Asteroid collisions in our solar system produce a disk of what's called "zodiacal dust." This can be seen when sunlight scatters small dust grains to produce a faint band of light visible against a dark sky just after sunset or before dawn. The Keck Interferometer science teams are looking for comparable, although much brighter, disks in other planetary systems.
The Keck Interferometer links the Keck Observatory's two 10-metre telescopes.  It is part of NASA's ongoing quest to search for planets orbiting other stars. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena , manages the Keck Interferometer for NASA. The Keck Interferometer was developed by JPL, the W.M. Keck Observatory and the Michelson Science Center at Caltech. The W.M. Keck Observatory is funded by Caltech, the University of California and NASA, and is managed by the California Association for Research in Astronomy, Kamuela , Hawaii.

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Geoff Marcy has looked at 85 different stars this evening, but he has yet to actually see a single one of them.
The giant Keck telescope he is using, on the summit of Hawaii's Mauna Kea volcano, is sending images straight to a digital camera, to be analysed by a computer.

"There are no eyepieces anywhere. In fact, we don't have an eyepiece for the Keck telescope" - Geoff Marcy , astronomy professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded the W. M. Keck Observatory $2 million to improve the sensitivity and resolution of the Keck Interferometer. The improvements will enable the instrument to detect Jupiter-sized planets around other stars and test predictions of Einstein’s general theory of relativity in the chaotic core of our galaxy.
The three-year grant is from NSF’s Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI), which each year funds more than 200 proposals to develop or purchase scientific instrumentation. Typically, less than one-half of one percent of all submitted proposals receive the maximum award of $2 million, and only a couple go to astronomical observatories.

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Laser Guide Star system
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A new sodium laser is giving 50 times more sky coverage to the atmospheric-correcting technology known as adaptive optics on the Keck II telescope at Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The laser lets scientists explore most of the sky with adaptive optics and gives them the capability to study objects that were previously too faint to be seen with the system. Since 1999, Keck Adaptive Optics has provided 10 times more resolving power than what could otherwise be achieved from the ground. The results are producing infrared images from the ground comparable – and often better – than those taken from space.

"This has been the most exciting technological and scientific breakthrough for the Observatory in the last decade. It may forever change the way we do astronomy from the ground. We are entering a new, extraordinary era of discovery" - W. M. Keck Observatory Director Fred Chaffee.

After just one year of regular scientific use, the Keck Laser Guide Star Adaptive Optics system is producing spectacular results and advancing research in several fields of astronomical study. Findings include the discovery of new asteroids, moons and planetoids in our solar system, the detection of new brown dwarf binary systems -- including a strange new kind of binary, observations of physical processes taking place near a supermassive black hole, and new findings about extremely distant supernovae and young galaxies.

The technique of adaptive optics uses visible light from a bright star to measure and correct for atmospheric distortions at infrared wavelengths. But only about two percent of the sky has stars bright enough to use with adaptive optics. The Keck Laser Guide Star system overcomes this limitation by creating an artificial star anywhere in the sky. The W. M. Keck Observatory is the only 8 meter class facility in the world currently providing this capability to observers.

"The wish list for astronomers is pretty simple. First, they want the highest-quality images that can possibly be obtained. Second, they want to look anywhere they want to in the sky. The laser guide star makes both these wishes come true" - Dr. David Le Mignant, adaptive optics scientist at the W. M. Keck Observatory.

Operating at nearly 1,000 times a second, the Keck adaptive optics system minimizes the blurring effects of Earth’s atmosphere to provide infrared images 10 times better than what can be achieved from the ground. Without any correcting technology, the best telescopes on Earth are limited to an average “seeing” ability, or resolving power, of about 0.5 arcseconds, the equivalent of being able to distinguish an object the size of a blueberry from 4 kilometres away. But with adaptive optics, atmospheric blurring is removed, producing a resolving power of about 50 milliarcseconds or better. This improvement is like looking at a penny from 4 kilometres away and being able to read the words, “ONE PENNY” stamped on the coin.

"We are shattering a limitation for ground-based observations -- astronomers can now uncover and study fine structures in extremely faint objects anywhere, within and beyond our galaxy. This new data will particularly complement present deep sky surveys which study the formation of galaxies in the universe" - Dr. Le Mignant.

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Keck Observatory
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Hawaii's W.M. Keck Observatory will use a grant from a charitable foundation to improve conditions for its summit crew.
The M.R. and Evelyn Hudson Foundation of Dallas selected the observatory for a $75,000 donation, the observatory said Sunday night.

"One of Hudson Foundation's areas of interest is space science and we are convinced that philanthropically investing in the Keck Observatory is a sure long term bet. The Keck Observatory is building a foundation for all of our futures" - Wally Hooser, a member of the foundation board.

Some of the money will help to establish an astronomy lecture series and otherwise raise the profile both of the observatory and of astronomy research generally. More of it will fund improvements in working conditions for those observatory staffers who actually work on the summit of Mauna Kea.

"The funds provided by the Hudson Foundation directly advance our strategic goals to improve operational efficiency and help us achieve that part of our mission to share our discoveries to inspire the imagination of all"- Frederic Chaffee, Keck Director

Some money will be used to give the summit crew working atop Mauna Kea a healthy breakfast in the morning and supplemental oxygen during the day. There is 40 percent less oxygen at the summit than at sea level. Keck is the first observatory in the world to make supplemental oxygen available to all its summit workers.

"Each day, about 30 or 50 guys leave our headquarters around five to seven in the morning to go work in a low-oxygen environment, often in freezing cold temperatures -- 32 degrees inside the domes. It's really tough work. The high altitude, remote location makes it very hard for these guys to live a life like we do" - Laura Kraft, Keck spokeswoman

The W.M. Keck Observatory is managed by the non-profit California Association for Research in Astronomy. The first Keck telescope began observations in May, 1993. Its twin joined in 1996. Together, the two telescopes are the world's largest optical and infrared eyes into the universe. The observatory employs 124 people, has a 2006 budget of $22.4 million, and is a major contributor to the economies of Waimea-Kamuela and Hilo.

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