Proceedings of the SPIE, Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation 2014 vol:9145 pages:914543-10pp.
SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation location:Montreal date:22-27 June 2014
In todays era of ever growing telescope apertures, there remains a specific niche for meter-class telescopes, provided they are equipped with efficient and dedicated instruments. In case these telescopes have permanent and long-term availability, they turn out very useful for intensive monitoring campaigns over a large range of time-scales. Flexible scheduling and time allocation allow small telescopes to rapidly seize new opportunities or provide immediate follow-up observations to complement data from large ground-based or space-borne facilities. The Mercator telescope, a 1.2-m telescope, installed at the Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory on La Palma (Canary Islands, Spain), successfully targets this niche of intensive monitoring and flexible scheduling. Mercator is already in operation since 2001 and has seen several upgrades in the mean time. In this contribution we give an update about the actual telescope status and its performance. We also present the Mercator instrument suite that currently consists of two instruments. The workhorse instrument is HERMES, a very efficient and stable fibre-fed high-resolution spectrograph. Recently, the MAIA imager was commissioned. This is a three- channel photometric instrument that observes a large field simultaneously in the different color bands. The MAIA detectors are unique 6k x 2k frame transfer devices which also allow for fast and continuous monitoring of variable phenomena.We discuss two important upcoming upgrades: a long-awaited automatic mirror cover and, more importantly, an entirely new telescope control system (TCS). This TCS is based on modern PLC technology, and relies on OPC UA and EtherCAT communication. Only commercially off-the-shelve hardware will be used for controlling the telescope. As a test case and as a precursor of the full TCS, such PLC systems are already deployed at Mercator to steer the Nasmyth mirror mechanism and to control the MAIA instrument. Finally, we also give an overview of the exploitation scheme of the telescope, the scheduling software that we developed to guarantee that time series or time-critical observations can be acquired in an efficient way, and how this all serves the most important research themes for Mercator, mainly in the domain of stellar astrophysics.