Photos – Palomar Observing!

As the finale to the 2017 ZTF Summer Undergraduate Astronomy Institute, we visited the Palomar Observatory!  We had a chance to tour all of the telescopes on the mountain, and learn about the 48″ ZTF telescope – with its amazing new 47 square degree camera – as well as the 60″ robotic telescope. Of course the highlight of the evening was visiting the 200″ Palomar telescope, a true cathedral of science. We watched the telescope open up at twilight, and begin its surveying of the sky. As it moved effortlessly and glided toward its next target it was impossible not to marvel at this machine – part battleship and part scientific instrument. It gracefully moves its 75 ton mass toward new targets without any vibration and holds position to within a few millionths of a meter for hours. The dome glides silently toward a new position without any noise or shaking as it was engineered by a generation of technical minds that put all of the skills and knowledge of the 20th century into the systems that still work – nearly 100 years later. It was a marvellous night, and we also enjoyed experimenting with the new Ricoh Theta 2 all-sky camera, which allowed the students to pose for portraits in moonlight and starlight. Here are some of the Palomar 360 images – which can be explored in VR and allow you to recreate some of our adventures.

View outside of 200″ dome with Milky way and posing students –

Another night portrait by starlight outside the 200″ dome –

One view of the sky – with a bit of moonlight on the horizons –

One of our sharpest portraits – as the moon was still up –

Portrait with students viewing Saturn on small telescopes – blurred as it was a 1-minute exposure –

All sky view showing moon brightly shining on left –

Group photo at base of 200″ telescope near sunset –

In awe – at the base of the 200″ telescope as it begins to explore the universe –

View inside of 48″ telescope – with ZTF system visible –

View inside the 60″ telescope dome with Kevin explaining the workings of the robotic telescope –

Another view of the 60″ telescope –

Group photo outside of the 60″ telescope dome:

Below are the regular 2D images from our Palomar night! 


Photos – Mt. Wilson 100″ Observing!

One of the highlights of the Institute is having a chance to do visual observing with large telescopes. This year we had an incredible night of observing using the Mt. Wilson 100″ telescope, where we looked at Jupiter, Saturn, the Globular Cluster M13, the Ring Nebula, the Sombrero Galaxy and some binary stars. This was especially meaningful after our historical lesson in the morning at the Carnegie Observatory – where we saw the plates and instruments used by Hubble at the Mt. Wilson telescope. Below are some pictures.


Photos – Carnegie Observatories

Day 3 was a wonderful immersion into the world of the Carnegie Observatories. Gwen Rudie, who directs the Carnegie undergraduate program, graciously invited us over to Carnegie, where we enjoyed a wonderful tour of the historic facility, saw the plate vault and ruling engine for spectroscopic gratings, and learned more about how Carnegie and Hale built the Mount Wilson observatories. We also learned about the modern astrophysics and instrumentation development of the Carnegie observatories, and Gwen gave a talk about the science at Carnegie, and Chris Burns gave a workshop on using Python in astronomy. The Carnegie Observatory was the birthplace of the modern Big Bang Cosmology as well as home to Edwin Hubble and George Ellery Hale, and we are very grateful to Gwen and her colleagues for sharing this legacy with our students from the Caltech ZTF Undergraduate Astronomy Institute!



Photos – From day 2

Day 2 of our ZTF institute featured more interesting science talks, including a visit from one of JPL’s top scientists, Jason Rhodes, who gave a preview of the WFIRST and Euclid missions. We toured Roger Smith’s instrument labs, and saw his robotic arm in action – which will be used to change filters on ZTF. And we enjoyed a banquet at the Caltech atheneum featuring Sam Waldman of SpaceX, who described some of his work both as a scientist at LIGO and now as a key team lead at SpaceX. Below are some of the pictures.

Photos – from Day 1

Day 1 of our 2017 Institute included research talks from the Caltech research professors, postdocs and graduate students, and a hands-on workshop on accessing the PTF database, and working with images using Python.  Below are some photos from the first day of our Institute!

Welcome to the Caltech ZTF Undergraduate Astronomy Institute for 2017!

Welcome to our ZTF Summer Undergraduate Astronomy Institute Web site!  David Cook (postdoctoral research scientist for ZTF) and Bryan Penprase (Research Professor from Pomona College and Co-I on the ZTF project), have been working together on a program for astrophysics undergraduates working both at Caltech and at Pomona College, and a few of our affiliated partner institutions.  The program is known as the “Summer Undergraduate Astronomy Institute” and is intended to help students learn about the science and technology surrounding their summer research projects, and to learn more about ZTF – the Zwicky Transient Factory. ZTF promises to be the premier instrument for discovering supernovae, variable stars and new asteroids, and this Institute will give you a great overview of techniques in time-domain astrophysics, observational astronomy and instrument development.

This year we are offering our third Undergraduate Astronomy Institute, and are happy to welcome students from Yale-NUS College, Pomona College, Caltech, IIT Gandhinagar, and many other institutions to our Institute. The 2017 institute is scheduled for three days – June 20-22 and will begin on Monday, June 20 at Caltech with two days of talks, lab tours, and lectures, followed by a tour of the Carnegie Observatories on June 22, and a night of observing on the Mt. Wilson 100″ telescope. Our NSF grant from ZTF is paying for all the expenses and we are hoping that the Institute will provide a great overview of astrophysics and also have a chance to learn more about what other undergraduates working in astrophysics are doing!

Our group includes group of 7 undergraduates working on SURF projects at Caltech, and 5 students working on SURP programs from Pomona College, and 3 students from Yale-NUS College in Singapore. The students in the program represent Caltech, Pomona College, Scripps College, Harvey Mudd College, Yale-NUS College (Singapore), IIT Gandhinagar (India), and Tsinghua University and Peking University (China). Highlights from the program include an opening dinner at Caltech with a dinner talk by Sam Waldman of SpaceX, a night of visual observing with the Mt. Wilson 100” telescope, tours of Caltech instrument labs, and hands-on observing and data analysis clinics at Caltech and Carnegie Observatories, and an evening of observing with the Palomar 200″ telescope on June 27.

More information on the program, the participants, and resources and datasets are provided on additional pages!  Please let me know if you have any additional questions and welcome to the program!

Bryan Penprase

Frank P. Brackett Professor of Astronomy, Pomona College

ZTF, co-I, Caltech (

Mount Wilson Observing!

After fires delayed our viewing session during the Undergraduate institute, we rescheduled our Mount Wilson viewing for July 15. We had a fantastic group – over 30 people – that included a mix of our summer undergraduate institute, friends of the program (Cameron Hummels, and Brian Brophy), and some friends of the students. It was a lively and magic evening. It felt as if we were transported back in time to when Edwin Hubble and Harlow Shapley were using this same telescope to measure the expansion of the universe and structure and size of the Milky Way galaxy!   The students had a fantastic time, and we saw the Moon, Saturn, Mars, the Ring Nebula, a Wolf Rayet star, and Albiereo through the eyepeice of the historic 60″ telescope.  Our night assistants, Giovanni, Bruce Padgett (with beret), and Tim Thompson, did a masterful job explaining the history of the telescope, its mechanical features, and guiding us through a wonderful star party. Below are some photos from the event!

mount.wilson.2016 - 10 mount.wilson.2016 - 9 mount.wilson.2016 - 8 mount.wilson.2016 - 7 mount.wilson.2016 - 6 mount.wilson.2016 - 5 mount.wilson.2016 - 3 mount.wilson.2016 - 4 mount.wilson.2016 - 1 mount.wilson.2016 - 2

Photos and Talks are online!

Our photos from the 2016 ZTF Summer Undergraduate Institute are online!  You can access pages that provide a gallery of photos from each of the days at Caltech, BBSO, or Pomona, as well as from our Palomar trip. The photo overview page gives links to each day’s photos. Also we have placed the PPT files for each of the talks at Caltech and at BBSO online. These talks are available at the ZTF schedule page – just after the listing for each speaker.  Thanks to all who made this Institute an amazing experience!  We are very grateful to the Caltech faculty, staff, postdocs and graduate students, and to Loredana Vertere and Jay Pasachoff for their contributions. Also the Palomar staff and Tom Kupfer, our very generous 200″ observer made for a magical Palomar experience. And Natalie Hughes and Eric Bellm who made huge contributions in organizing the Pomona and Caltech parts of the program!  Thanks!

palomar.SUAI.2016 - 15

Welcome to the 2016 Institute!

Welcome to all of our 2016 Undergraduate Astronomy Institute participants and mentors!  We are excited to have our second Caltech/Pomona Undergraduate Astronomy Institute, on June 20-24 at Caltech and Pomona College. We included in the program some really special events – such as a dinner with the producer of The Martian, Aditya Sood, a night on the Mt. Wilson 60″ telescope, and a tour of the Big Bear Solar Observatory!  All of this on top of a group of amazing talks on ZTF and Caltech research in astronomy and astrophysics, instrument lab tours, and hands-on workshops on data analysis. This project is all funded by our NSF grant to develop ZTF. A big part of developing ZTF is developing the next generation of researchers in time-domain astrophysics, and we hope that this workshop is helpful for launching your research and developing a network of fellow students and mentors that include Caltech graduate students, postdocs, and professors from Caltech, Pomona and Wlliams. We hope you enjoy the Institute and look forward to working with all of you!

Bryan Penprase, Pomona College / Yale-NUS College, ZTF Co-I

Eric Bellm, Caltech ZTF Project Scientist

Photos – Pomona College

These are some of the photos from our Caltech/Pomona Undergraduate Astronomy Institute at Pomona College on June 26 and 27, 2015. You can click on the photos for larger downloadable full-sized images.

We also have a number of student contributed pages at our Facebook page which is at


Farewell Pizza Dinner Group Photos – June 27, 2015.

IMG_3719 IMG_3720 IMG_3721 IMG_3717 IMG_3718




Students Working on Python Image Processing Demonstration – June 27IMG_3707

Student Research talks – June 27, 2015IMG_3710 IMG_3714

Brackett Observatory Spectroscopy Work – June 26, 2015IMG_3703




Tutorial on Swift GRB followup by Loredana Vertere – June 26IMG_3696



Group Photo of Caltech Scavenger Hunt winners outside of Millikan Planetarium – June 26, 2015  IMG_3689

Group Photos outside of our Millikan Physics Math and Astronomy Building, June 26, 2015  IMG_3686 IMG_3687 IMG_3682 IMG_3684 IMG_3685


Tour of KAPAO Adaptive Optics Lab of Phil Choi, Pomona College, June 26, 2015IMG_3675 IMG_3677

Lunch at Millikan – June 26, 2015 IMG_3680

Tutorial on Adaptive Optics from Phil Choi and Scott Severson, June 26, 2015IMG_3669 IMG_3672 IMG_3673 IMG_3674