PANOPTES is a citizen-science based project to discover exoplanets with consumer cameras. It is open source and aims to be highly efficient at collecting photometric data by running a wide field survey using DSLR cameras and standard lenses. In the two years since the demonstration of the baseline design at SPIE 2016 the project has moved forward in getting the hardware design ready for citizen scientists and data analysis, benefiting from an influx of both professional and amateur support. At the same time the project has experienced a number of challenges related to the nature of a grassroots project with no specific institutional home. Here we present a status update to the project with a focus on the issues associated with creating, and maintaining, a successful “pro-am” astronomy project.
This talk will specifically focus on a couple of keys concepts related to the operation of PANOPTES as a distributed observatory built by a collection of professional and amateur astronomers. These concepts can largely be broken down as: software; hardware; and organizational. However, a central theme of the talk will also be the fact that PANOPTES operates without a centralized institution, which means that decisions related to software and hardware are necessarily tied into the organizational decisions. Likewise, since the project has no official operating budget but operates largely off the budgets of each individual team (in addition to a NASA/JPL grant, the attainment of which will also be discussed), the hardware decisions and the evolving landscape of commercial over-the-counter (COTC) hardware play a significant role in the operation and maintenance of the project as a whole, which in turn affects how the software is developed.
Through all of these areas PANOPTES has experienced successes and failures as well as simple deviations from original plans. As a project we have benefited enormously from the donation of time and storage on the Google Cloud Platform (GCP), allowing us to explore technologies and solutions that would otherwise be unfeasible, but as an unofficial project we have been unable to secure a permanent formal agreement with GCP, creating challenges related to the long-term viability of those software solutions.
Being a unique project that aims to be as scientifically productive as it is successful as an outreach tool, it is hoped that the talk will provide some valuable learned lessons for any future projects that hope to utilize the unique professional-amateur dynamic that exists within the field of astronomy and open-source software.
Project PANOPTES (http://www.projectpanoptes.org) is aimed at establishing a collaboration between professional astronomers, citizen scientists and schools to discover a large number of exoplanets with the transit technique. We have developed digital camera based imaging units to cover large parts of the sky and look for exoplanet transits. Each unit costs approximately $5000 USD and runs automatically every night. By using low-cost, commercial digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras, we have developed a uniquely cost-efficient system for wide field astronomical imaging, offering approximately two orders of magnitude better etendue per unit of cost than professional wide-field surveys. Both science and outreach, our vision is to have thousands of these units built by schools and citizen scientists gathering data, making this project the most productive exoplanet discovery machine in the world.
In 2014 and 2015 the Multi-Object InfraRed Camera and Spectrograph (MOIRCS) instrument at the Subaru Telescope on Maunakea is underwent a significant modernization and upgrade project. We upgraded the two Hawaii2 detectors to Hawaii2-RG models, modernized the cryogenic temperature control system, and rewrote much of the instrument control software. The detector upgrade replaced the Hawaii2 detectors which use the Tohoku University Focal Plane Array Controller (TUFPAC) electronics with Hawaii2-RG detectors using SIDECAR ASIC (a fully integrated FPA controller system-on-a-chip) and a SAM interface card. We achieved an improvement in read noise by a factor of about 2 with this detector and electronics upgrade. The cryogenic temperature control upgrade focused on modernizing the components and making the procedures for warm up and cool down of the instrument safer. We have moved PID control loops out of the instrument control software and into Lakeshore model 336 cryogenic temperature controllers and have added interlocks on the warming systems to prevent overheating of the instrument. Much of the instrument control software has also been re-written. This was necessitated by the different interface to the detector electronics (ASIC and SAM vs. TUFPAC) and by the desire to modernize the interface to the telescope control software which has been updated to Subaru's "Gen2" system since the time of MOIRCS construction and first light. The new software is also designed to increase reliability of operation of the instrument, decrease overheads, and be easier for night time operators and support astronomers to use.
During the past year, the Multi-Object InfraRed Camera and Spectrograph at Subaru has undergone an upgrade of its science detectors, the housekeeping electronics and the instrument control software. This overhaul aims at increasing MOIRCS' sensitivity, observing efficiency and stability. Here we present the installation and the alignment procedure of the two Hawaii 2RG detectors and the design of a cryogenic focus mechanism. The new detectors show significantly lower read noise, increased quantum efficiency, and lower the readout time.
The Panoptic Astronomical Networked OPtical observatory for Transiting Exoplanets Survey (PANOPTES, www.projectpanoptes.org) project is aimed at identifying transiting exoplanets using a wide network of low-cost imaging units. Each unit consists of two commercial digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras equipped with 85mm F1.4 lenses, mounted on a small equatorial mount. At a few $1000s per unit, the system offers a uniquely advantageous survey eficiency for the cost, and can easily be assembled by amateur astronomers or students. Three generations of prototype units have so far been tested, and the baseline unit design, which optimizes robustness, simplicity and cost, is now ready to be duplicated. We describe the hardware and software for the PANOPTES project, focusing on key challenging aspects of the project. We show that obtaining high precision photometric measurements with commercial DSLR color cameras is possible, using a PSF-matching algorithm we developed for this project. On-sky tests show that percent-level photometric precision is achieved in 1 min with a single camera. We also discuss hardware choices aimed at optimizing system robustness while maintaining adequate cost. PANOPTES is both an outreach project and a scientifically compelling survey for transiting exoplanets. In its current phase, experienced PANOPTES members are deploying a limited number of units, acquiring the experience necessary to run the network. A much wider community will then be able to participate to the project, with schools and citizen scientists integrating their units in the network.