Fermilab Today Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010

A camera's odyssey

Part of the fixture wrapped in protective plastic and crated ready for loading into the shipping container. Photo: Reidar Hahn

In comparison to scouring the universe for elusory dark energy, transporting a fragile, multi-ton, one-of-a-kind camera from the windswept Illinois prairie to the barren mountaintop of Cerro Tololo in the Chilean Andes is a simple feat. By any other comparison, though, it's a massive undertaking.

Since 2004, the Dark Energy Survey collaboration has worked at Fermilab on constructing a large 570-megapixel camera that will take snapshots of the night sky to search for dark energy. Scientists believe dark energyis causing the expansion of the universe to speed up. Parts of the Dark Energy Camera are already fully operational, and the DES collaborators are beginning to ship them one by one to Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile through the rest of the year. There, scientists will attach the camera to an existing telescope.

The German container vessel, Kiel Express, which carried the F/8 handler across the Atlantic Ocean, can carry up to 4,639 railway crates. Photo: Gale Brehmer, CTIO.
Many of the camera’s components have already traveled from far-off lands, including England, Germany, Spain and Italy to Fermilab, but they have even farther to go. The first piece of DECam recently arrived at Cerro Tololo after a long, complicated journey over land and sea.

At noon on Sept. 16, two semi-trucks carrying empty shipping containers arrived at Fermilab to pick up the disassembled F/8 handler, the heavy apparatus that installs and removes a 1-ton mirror from the front of the camera. The F/8 mirror, already at CTIO, will allow researchers to direct celestial light into the telescope’s other experiments when not using DECam. Its handler was carefully packaged into wooden crates and then into the shipping containers for the month-long journey. After the short jaunt to Chicago aboard the semis, the two 10-ton containers were loaded onto a 50-car train bound for Elizabeth, NJ. From there, the cargo was transferred back onto semis, driven to New York Harbor, and placed in storage for the next week to await the arrival of their transport ship, Kiel Express.

Manzanillo is one of the busiest shipping ports in the world. Photo: Manzanillo Int'l Terminal
“It was cool to watch the F/8 handler loaded into containers just like other stuff that’s going around the world,” said Brenna Flaugher, DECam project manager. “It reminded me of the scene at the end of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ where it goes into a box that looks like all the other boxes, but somehow they managed to get the right boxes to Chile.”

The Kiel Express departed New York for its journey around the southeastern United States on Sept. 28. Cruising at about 10 knots (11 mph), it reached the Panamá Canal on Oct. 5. When it sailed into Manzanillo International Terminal, one of the world’s busiest container shipping ports, dockworkers immediately offloaded the entire ship and randomly subjected its crates to high security measures, including X-ray scans and drug-sniffing dogs.


The two semis make their way up the side of Cerro Tololo, 7,000 feet above sea level. Photo: Gale Brehmer, CTIO.
From here, said George Bressani, export coordinator for the German shipping company DB Schenker, the cargo was loaded onto a smaller vessel, Bahia Laura, for the second half of its trip. It sailed through the Pacific Ocean to Santiago without delay, arriving at the port of Valparaiso on Oct. 16.

As part of a federally-funded operation, DES collaborators worked with other organizations to make arrangements to fast-track the shipment through Chilean customs, said Edilia Cerda, Santiago operations manager for the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). On Oct. 18, the crates were free to be loaded onto semis to begin the seven hour drive up to the Cerro Tololo International Observatory, which sits at 7,000 feet above sea level in the Andes. The dusty dirt road, Cerda said, is well maintained and the semis with their heavy loads had no trouble reaching the top. At the top of the desert mountain, observatory crews stored the F/8 carefully. It will be installed in January, before the rest of DECam arrives.

The F/8 handler is home at last at the Cerro Tololo International Observatory in the Chilean Andes. Photo: Gale Brehmer, CTIO.

“It looks great there,” Flaugher said. “We’re very happy and relieved that it arrived intact.”

For more information on the Dark Energy Camera, visit https://www.darkenergysurvey.org/

-Sara Reardon

Fermi National Accelerator - Office of Science / U.S. Department of Energy | Managed by Fermi Research Alliance, LLC.
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