Are the Stars out Tonight at Gemini South?

Stunning images of the southern night sky are now available, thanks to a set of cloud cameras recently installed at the Gemini South telescope as part of the Base Facility Operations (BFO) project. These cameras are part of the Cloud Sensing System implemented to remotely assess the nightly cloud cover conditions while observing.

The system is designed by Pikotek, a Hilo, Hawai‘i-based company. The system consists of a modified digital SLR camera and lens, enclosed to protect the system from the harsh mountain-top elements. Pikotek also produced the same devices for Gemini North on Maunakea, Hawai‘i.

The cameras take photos of the night sky at fixed intervals — usually every 30 to 60 seconds, with exposure times ranging from a fraction of a second up to 30 seconds. The images are copied onto an embedded computer and evaluated, and then processed to compensate for color, exposure and noise. Finally, the images are compiled into time-lapse videos as shown above.

This work at Gemini South telescope will include the installation of a fifth cloud camera, an all sky camera, a second set of wind sensors, and an earthquake sensor set which will allow remote observing while monitoring various environmental conditions.

Base Facility Operations at Gemini South are expected to be fully implemented by the end of 2016.

With Francisco Meza

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