Category Archives: Observing

Here we update what the current status of the observing period is.

New FeAr lamp

After the our Iron-Argon (FeAR) lamp started showing significantly reduced flux, on April 6th our team replaced the bulb in our Facility Calibration Unit (which rides along on the tracker, supplying continuum and line lamps for all the instruments). The new FeAr lamp is back to full brightness and provides excellent narrow emissions lines for our wavelength solutions on the Low Resolution Spectrograph #2.


The old bulb (left) looks quite dark and cloudy compared to the new one (right):

FeAr lamp

HET still operating, partially remotely

In response to COVID-19, the HET operations team has been rapidly developing our remote observing capabilities. At present, the night observations are staffed by one telescope operator on site and a remotely-connected resident astronomer (staying at home). Our afternoon operations shift is also being staffed remotely (one remote TO and one remote RA), requiring about 20-30 minutes of assistance from one member of day staff on site for our routine safety checks. Some day time staff are able to work partially or fully remotely from home, but most are still coming in daily as their duties cannot be done over a remote connection. Extra attention is being paid to hygiene, cleanliness, and staff presence each day. To further minimize risk, we have temporarily suspended our schedule of primary mirror segment swaps, as that process requires two members of the mirror team working in very close proximity with each other. We are benefiting from a lot of “can-do” attitudes here and receiving extensive help from our software team to get remote access and learning a lot in this process! After this is all over, I expect we’ll see long-term benefits from the things we have learned throughout this interesting time.

Exciting new results from HPF

HPF’s first new astronomy result is now published!  The team has validated their first planet, G 9-40b.

The article in the Astronomical Journal is available here:

And here is a freely-available version of the paper on the arXiv pre-print server:

Press releases on this from PSU, UT are at:

For a more publicly-accessible description, see the HPF team’s blog:

Short term DIMM outage

As of Wednesday Feb 12th, the DIMM (Differential Image Motion Monitor) telescope is temporarily out of commission due to a technical problem. We usually run this telescope (mounted a few hundred feet from the HET on a platform to monitor native site seeing) while observing and provide the DIMM image quality (seeing) measurement to PIs with their observations. However these measurements will be temporarily unavailable while we are fixing the issue.

(Edit Feb 22nd: the DIMM functionality has been restored!)

Internet outages recently, getting back to normal now

Currently (Wednesday January 29th, 2020), things appear to be normal again, but we’ve been experiencing issues with internet/network connectivity over the past few days.   In the early morning hours of Sunday January 26th (around 5am) we lost all network/internet access on site.  Some access was restored that evening around 9:45pm, but connections were spotty, inconsistent, and some functions were not working.  This affected our real-time data transfers from HET to TACC and has prevented some users from editing their observing programs. All of this functionality appear to have been restored at this time, but if you have any issues please get in touch with us to help.

Results of the 19-2 observing period

We now have the results of the 19-2 observing period which covers from April through the end of July.    During this period we were down for bad weather for 37% of the nights and spent 16.5% of the remaining time doing engineering or instrument commissioning.   Looking at just the clear science time we had the instruments collecting photons 64% of the time.   This better than previous periods and is likely due to the improvements made by the TCS and night staff team to trim down setup times.    We only had 4% down time which suggests the HET is returning to a steady state of reliability.   Our program completion rates fell in the normal range and were 96%, 89%, 91% 72% for our Priority 0, 1, 2 and 3 time.    Of particular note is that we completed 91% of our HETDEX allocation for this period.  

New Telescope operator positions open at the HET

*** As of November 26th, 2018, both Telescope Operator positions have been filled ***

We have two new openings at the Hobby-Eberly Telescope for telescope operators. One of our operators has moved on to be a technical manager for the new earth observatory being built by NASA at McDonald Observatory and the other is going to also work for NASA as a telescope operator on the Sofia flying observatory. While sad to see friends moving on it is great to know that we are hiring and training the best people! Maybe you know someone who might be our next telescope operator!? The add is below:

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) at the University of Texas at Austin, a state-of-the-art optical telescope facility located in the Davis Mountains of West Texas, has an opening for a Telescope Operator (TO). The TO is responsible for the operation of the telescope, dome and instruments for night-time observations while working with the Resident Astronomer to acquire data. The TO maintains the records and logbooks detailing the activities during the observing period. Local weather and facility conditions are monitored to insure adequate and safe observing conditions. Some day time responsibilities include: assisting the day staff in the resolution of technical problems and preparing the facility for night time operations.

Required qualifications: Bachelor’s degree in astronomy, computer science, engineering, or a related field; equivalent combination of relevant education and experience may be substituted as appropriate. Preferred qualifications: Completion of advanced courses leading towards a master’s degree in a STEM field and/or one or more years experience with operation of a 1+m telescope, understanding of observational astronomical terminology, experience with developing and adapting to changes in complex procedures for repetitive tasks, experience with quickly trouble shooting, documenting and working through faults in complex hardware and software systems, and experience working in a Linux or Unix environment through both command-line interfaces and GUIs. In addition, candidates should have the work ethic and drive to maximize the scientific output of the telescope. The work schedule will be determined with the Supervisor and will include nights and weekends.

For more information about the telescope and the McDonald Observatory visit To view a complete job description, salary, benefits and application instructions visit and refer to job posting number: 18-07-06-01-4216. This position is security sensitive and therefore the offer is contingent upon successfully passing a criminal conviction background check. The University of Texas, as an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer, complies with all applicable federal and state laws regarding nondiscrimination and affirmative action.

The week of April 16

This week we had a number of break through moments. Perhaps the most prominent is that after weeks of rewiring and adding new shielding we may finally be at a point where the VIRUS array is fairly stable. We have 36 VIRUS units installed (each unit is 2 spectrographs) so a total of 72 spectrographs up for the last 5 days.

Another big breakthrough is in observing automation. We have a piece of software called OCD (Observatory Conditions Decision tool) which monitors the metrology (seeing, transmission and sky brightness) from the telescope and decides if HETDEX observations can be made. If allowed it will also take over the control of the TCS and VIRUS instrument and start observing HETDEX targets with only brief pauses to get confirmation from the telescope operator that we are on the right setup star. Using this new tool we were able to observe a full night of HETDEX targets with a minimum of overhead (even a few targets with just 3 minute setup times). This is faster than the fastest resident astronomer and telescope operator pair working together. Congratulations to the HETDEX software team who traveled out from Germany to help us get it all working efficiently.

Week of March 5th

Congratulations to Resident Astronomer John Caldwell on his retirement! It is bittersweet to see Anneke and you leave, but we know you are heading on a new and exciting adventure. Thank you for your many years of dedicated service. Safe travels and keep us posted!

HET Staff Picture taken Feb. 8th, 2018