The Miniature Exoplanet Radial Velocity Array (MINERVA) is a U.S.-based observational facility dedicated to the discovery and characterization of exoplanets around a nearby sample of bright stars. MINERVA employs a robotic array of four 0.7-m telescopes outfitted for both high-resolution spectroscopy and photometry, and is designed for completely autonomous operation. The primary science program is a dedicated radial velocity survey and the secondary science objective is to obtain high-precision transit light curves. The modular design of the facility and the flexibility of our hardware allows for both science programs to be pursued simultaneously, while the robotic control software provides a robust and efficient means to carry out nightly observations. We describe the design of MINERVA, including major hardware components, software, and science goals. The telescopes and photometry cameras are characterized at our test facility on the Caltech campus in Pasadena, California, and their on-sky performance is validated. The design and simulated performance of the spectrograph is briefly discussed as we await its completion. New observations from our test facility demonstrate sub-mmag photometric precision of one of our radial velocity survey targets, and we present new transit observations and fits of WASP-52b—a known hot-Jupiter with an inflated radius and misaligned orbit. The process of relocating the MINERVA hardware to its final destination at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in southern Arizona has begun, and science operations are expected to commence in 2015.
We present the science motivation, design, and on-sky test data of a high-throughput fiber coupling unit suitable for automated 1-meter class telescopes. The optical and mechanical design of the fiber coupling is detailed and we describe a flexible controller software designed specifically for this unit. The system performance is characterized with a set of numerical simulations, and we present on-sky results that validate the performance of the controller and the expected throughput of the fiber coupling. This unit was designed specifically for the MINERVA array, a robotic observatory consisting of multiple 0.7 m telescopes linked to a single high-resolution stabilized spectrograph for the purpose of exoplanet discovery using high-cadence radial velocimetry. However, this unit could easily be used for general astronomical purposes requiring fiber coupling or precise guiding.
The Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) is a synoptic optical survey for high-cadence time-domain astronomy. Building
upon the experience and infrastructure of the highly successful Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) team, ZTF will survey
more than an order of magnitude faster than PTF in sky area and volume in order to identify rare, rapidly varying optical
sources. These sources will include a trove of supernovae, exotic explosive transients, unusual stellar variables,
compact binaries, active galactic nuclei, and asteroids. The single-visit depth of 20.4 mag is well matched to
spectroscopic follow-up observations, while the co-added images will provide wide sky coverage 1.5 – 2 mag deeper
than SDSS. The ZTF survey will cover the entire Northern Sky and revisit fields on timescales of a few hours, providing
hundreds of visits per field each year, an unprecedented cadence, as required to detect fast transients and
variability. This high-cadence survey is enabled by an observing system based on a new camera having 47 deg2 field of
view – a factor of 6.5 greater than the existing PTF camera - equipped with fast readout electronics, a large, fast
exposure shutter, faster telescope and dome drives, and various measures to optimize delivered image quality. Our
project has already received an initial procurement of e2v wafer-scale CCDs and we are currently fabricating the camera
cryostat. International partners and the NSF committed funds in June 2014 so construction can proceed as planned to
commence engineering commissioning in 2016 and begin operations in 2017. Public release will allow broad utilization
of these data by the US astronomical community. ZTF will also promote the development of transient and variable
science methods in preparation for the seminal first light of LSST.