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10 years of operations of the Montsec Astronomical Observatory 24/10/2018

This October 24th, 2018, it is 10 years since the inauguration of the Montsec Astronomical Observatory (OAdM), located in Sant Esteve de la Sarga (Lleida, Catalunya). The scientific facilities of the OAdM have yielded important findings in the field of exoplanets, supernovae or solar system research. Moreover, they have contributed to the tracking of satellites and the monitoring of the atmospheric quality in the Montsec area. Since 2009, the OAdM is managed by the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia (IEEC).

The origins of the project of placing an astronomical observatory at the Montsec emerged in the early 90’s, being the biochemist from Lleida, Joan Oró, together with the foundation that bears his name among the main ideologists. The main equipment of the OAdM began operations in 2008, and the first telescopes installed have been fully operational since 2010. Joan Oró is the name given to that first telescope, which is still one of the most technologically advanced in the world.

Ten years after its inauguration, the Montsec Astronomical Observatory has become a key research infrastructure in the Catalan network. Currently, the observatory has three more astronomical facilities: the Fabra-ROA Montsec telescope, which started operations in 2010 and is jointly managed by the Reial Acadèmia de Ciències i Arts de Barcelona and the Real Observatorio de la Armada; the XO-Montsec telescope, installed in 2012 by the Space Telescope Science Institute (NASA) and currently owned by the IEEC; and an all-sky camera installed by the IEEC for the detection and monitoring of meteors. Also, the observatory hosts an automatic station of the Servei Meteorològic de Catalunya, an environmental quality measurement station of the XVPCA network (Institut de Diagnosi Ambiental I Estudis de l’Aigua – CSIC) and several antennas for low orbit satellites communications installed and managed by the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya and the IEEC.

Success of the third season of OAdM visits 19/09/2018

More than 150 people attended the guided tours

The Montsec Astronomical Observatory (OAdM), El Observatori Astronòmic del Montsec (OAdM) inauguró el pasado 20 de mayo la tercera temporada de visitas guiadas, que se han repetido en cinco domingos durante los meses de verano. Todos los turnos de visitas se llenaron en pocos días después de abrirse las inscripciones.

Each of the guided tours has been attended by about 30 people from all over Catalonia. During the tours, lasting one hour and carried out during the day, we could visit the Joan Oró telescope, the Fabra-ROA Montsec telescope and the XO-Montsec, and the attendees have been able to know how they work and what types of research is carried out at the OAdM, thanks to the explanations given by the OAdM astronomers.

New aluminization of the mirror of the Joan Oró telescope 19/07/2018
During last June, the astronomers and technical staff of the Montsec Astronomical Observatory carried out the dismantling of the primary mirror of the Joan Oró telescope. The 80 cm mirror, weighing around 110 kg, was carried to the Calar Alto observatory in Almeria, we there is the necessary infrastructure for the cleaning of the mirror and the vacuum chamber for injecting of a new layer of aluminium. The operation, one of the most delicate that is performed in the maintenance of the TJO, and which had been carried out for the last time in 2013, has been successfully completed and the OAdM astronomers could measure an increase in reflectivity of the mirror between 60 and 65% in the different filters available to the MEIA2 instrument.
The Montsec Astronomical Observatory discovers its first exoplanet 03/01/2017
The new exoplanet, named XO-6b, is a hot Jupiter orbiting a rapidly rotating star

The three XO telescopes installed in the United States, the Canary Islands and the Montsec made the discovery

The Montsec Astronomical Observatory (OAdM) of the Institute of Spatial Studies of Catalonia (IEEC) has participated for the first time in the discovery of an exoplanet, a planet that orbits around a star different from the Sun and therefore outside the Solar System. This is the XO-6b. In 2012, the Hubble Space Telescope Institute included OAdM in the XO project that aims to discover giant exoplanets that revolve around bright stars. The discovery has been published in Astronomical Journal.

“XO instruments at Utah, in the United States, the Teide Observatory in the Canary Islands and the Montsec observatory in Catalonia act in a coordinated way as if it were a single telescope,” said Kike Herrero, astronomer at IEEC.
“OAdM has not only participated in the discovery of the XO-6b with the XO instrument,” says Herrero, “but our Joan Oró telescope has also participated in the characterization of the new exoplanet.”

A hot Jupiter

XO-6b is a hot Jupiter. That means that it is a very large planet that doubles the mass of Jupiter as well as its size; And hot because it is very close to its star. “It’s also a little-known system because the exoplanet takes four days to complete its orbit around the star, while the star rotates on itself in just two days, it’s called a fast rotator.”

The study of this system will allow us to know more about the dynamics and interactions of the planet and its star. Herrero has also explained that the atmosphere of XO-6b could be very interesting, as it seems warmer and more swollen than predicted models in this type of exoplanet.

About OAdM

The Montsec Astronomical Observatory (OAdM) is a scientific infrastructure managed by the Institute of Spatial Studies of Catalonia (IEEC) under an agreement with the General Directorate of Research of the Generalitat of Catalonia. It consists of four facilities dedicated to astronomy research and two measurement stations for meteorological and environmental quality studies.

The main objective of OAdM is to provide tools to carry out leading astronomical research and provide the support needed to exploit the available facilities. Several institutes and universities have actively contributed with scientific and technical supervision, as well as providing the necessary resources for the development of the project: the Institute of Spatial Studies of Catalonia (IEEC), the University of Barcelona (UB), the Polytechnic University of Catalonia UPC), the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) and the Joan Oró Foundation (FJO).
The Joan Oró Telescope obtains the Gaia-GOSA certificate 15/07/2016
The telescope Joan Oró (TJO) of the Montsec Astronomical Observatory, has recently received the official certificate of collaboration with Gaia-GOSA (Groundbased Observational Service for Asteroids), as the telescope that has provided a greater number of data to this asteroid observation network.

Gaia-GOSA is a platform to coordinate observations of asteroid light curves involving both professional and amateur observatories. The interactive application, which can be accessed online (, lets the users know what objects are most interesting on a given night and at what time they will also be observed by Gaia mission. The same platform is also responsible for making data processing.
Coordination in this type of observations allows for very detailed information of the rotation and shape of asteroids from continuous photometric measurements. Furthermore, the combination with measurements by the Gaia mission simultaneously allows to calibrate measurements from made from the ground, especially when the light curve is complex. So far, the TJO has supplied more than 20 sets of measures, making it the most active within the Gaia-GOSA network.
The OAdM and the Gaia science alerts 23/06/2015
The TJO has become one of the telescopes providing more observations to the Gaia alerts system.
You can discover all the details at the Gaia portal of the GENIUS project.
TJO-OAdM Annual report 2014 01/06/2015
The information presented below is a summary of the IEEC Annual Report 2014 that will be published at the IEEC web page.
Since 2013 the TJO is operating in routine mode and is providing useful data that are distributed through the OAdM web portal and also through the node of the Spanish Virtual Observatory. The telescope carries out multi-purpose astronomical observations and is also a testbed to develop new instrumentation. The compromise of the TJO is to offer 100% of the available time to the astronomical community (IEEC, Spain and international), with the sole requirement of maximizing the scientific and technical performance of the instrumentation. At the end of 2014 the OAdM had 56 registered users, 16 of them from IEEC, 23 from other Spanish institutions, and 17 from international institutions. A total of 16 proposals from 8 different institutions (5 from Spain and 3 international) were received during 2014. Note that from 2013 the call for proposals is permanently open and users are guaranteed less than one-month response time (which is pushed down to one week in case of urgent proposals). In this way, the TJO can best exploit its flexibility as robotic telescope and therefore can react to transient events, new discoveries, etc.

The IEEC has established a Time Allocation Committee (composed of two members of IEEC and an external member – from IAC) that evaluates the proposals, makes a time allocation and assigns a relative priority. The TJO observed autonomously during 190 nights, providing over 700 hours of science data (a 103% increase with respect to 2013). The mean completeness percentage of the proposals that ended during 2014 was at the 66% level, representing an oversubscription factor of 1.5.

The TJO has also entered as a full member into the Spanish System for Space Surveillance and Tracking (S4T), being one of the three optical telescopes in Spain that have proven their capabilities to become a member of this collaboration. The main goal of this program is to develop a European network of telescopes capable to track satellites and space debris.

We have also continued the installation of the medium-resolution fiber-fed ARES spectrograph. This spectrograph will greatly improve the scientific appeal of the TJO by providing R=12000 spectroscopy in two different wavelength regions (around 520 and 660 nm) and with high-efficiency optics. Calculations indicate that a signal-to-noise ratio of 10 could be attained in a 1-hour integration for V=13 mag targets. ARES will open the door to using the TJO for a variety of new science cases, including chemical abundance determination, measurement of radial velocities and monitoring of stellar activity through the Halpha feature. While there are numerous photometric robotic telescopes in the world, only a few of them have spectroscopic capabilities. ARES will thus put the TJO at world-class level. During 2014, all the electronics and most of the software required for an unattended operation were developed. The instrument is due to start the commissioning phase at the beginning of 2015.

TJO publications

The observations carried out at the TJO resulted in three scientific publications in journals indexed by the ISI-WoS:
  • von Essen, C.; Czesla, S.; Wolter, U.; et al., 2014, Astronomy & Astrophysics, Volume 561, A48.
  • Ergon, M.; Sollerman, J.; Fraser, M.; et al., 2014, Astronomy & Astrophysics, Volume 562, A17.
  • Morales-Garoffolo, A.; Elias-Rosa, N.; Benetti, S.; et al., 2014, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 445, Issue 2, p.1647.
Additionally, three publications appeared online in The Astronomer's Telegram:
  • Henze, M.; Sala, G.; Jose, J.; et al., 2014, The Astronomer's Telegram, #6305
  • Barsukova, E. A.; Fabrika, S.; Valeev, A. F.; The Astronomer's Telegram, #6498
  • Sala, G.; Rodriguez-Gil, P.; Henze, M.; The Astronomer's Telegram, #6616
And one Master’s Thesis has used TJO data:

• Chica, J.L., “Variability analysis of Gaia calibration candidate SPSS 034 from Joan Oró Telescope data”, July 2014, Advisors: Jordi, C.; Carrasco, J.M.


The OAdM has also been involved in several outreach activities, including a TV program: “Quèquicom”, TV3, November 6, 2014. Emitted on February 10, 2015.

IEEC news: One of the winners of a special baccalaureate award chose the IEEC for doing her internship, August 7, 2014.

And a Verkami fundraising event: A Doctorate to protect Earth from hazardous asteroids.

In addition, the OAdM has organized six visits of different audiences (amateur clubs, local government officials, groups of teachers and students, etc) to see the facilities, receiving almost 100 visitors.
Interview to Ignasi Ribas, OAdM director and IEEC researcher 11/02/2015
On February 10, the TV3 program Quèquicom interviewed the doctor Ignasi Ribas, OAdM director and IEEC researcher. The interview took place at the OAdM and discussed about exoplanets and the probability to find an Earth like planet in the Milky Way.

The complete interview (in Catalan) can be found at the Quèquicom program web page.
The TJO observed the supernova SN2014J in M82 04/04/2014
In March, the Joan Oró telescope observed several times the supernova discovered in January in the galaxy M82, called SN2014J. The observations were combined to produce an image with 2.5 hours of exposure time using three of the filters available at the telescope (B, V and R). The supernova, highlighted with yellow bars in the image, is so bright that it is saturated in all the taken exposures (of 5 minutes each).
Following Gaia 07/03/2014
On the night between March 6th and 7th, two of the telescopes placed at the OAdM (the TJO and the TFRM) observed the Gaia satellite while it was pointing its solar panels towards the Sun.
We show a video with over 700 images obtained with the TJO during almost 4 hours. Gaia can be seen as a star moving from right to left in the center of the image. The changes in brightness are related to differences in the exposure time, which ranges from 5 to 20 seconds.

We also show a sequence with 22 images obtained with the TFRM during 3.5 hours (with one hour gap due to a humidity alert). In this case, Gaia is clearly seen moving down. The exposure time of the images is 45 seconds.
The Cheliábinsk superbolide. The impact risk of small asteroids with the Earth 01/06/2013
J. M. Trigo-Rodríguez, M. Tapia, J. Dergham, et al.
Article published in the AstronomiA magazine. More information in Spanish here.
Observations of the asteroid 2012 DA14 18/02/2013
Two of the telescopes placed at the OAdM, the TJO and the XO unit, observed the asteroid 2012 DA14 on the night between February 15th and 16th.
We include an animated image of the asteroid 2012 DA14 captured by the 0.8 m Telescopi Joan Oró (courtesy of J. M. Trigo-Rodriguez).
We also include two images obtained with the XO unit (courtesy of P. McCullogh).
Observations with TJO resumed 28/07/2012
Since the past July 9, the TJO resumed its observations after the technical stop due to the malfunction of its only instrument (MEIA). During this time, not only the instrument has been repaired, but also the primary mirror has been recoated and the secondary mirror cleaned.  The overall increase in reflectivity is well over 20%. If required, exposure times of the currently active proposals will be updated automatically. Therefore, observers do not need to modify their currently active proposals.
OpenROCS released at sourceforge 01/07/2012
OpenROCS, the core software in charge of the robotic operations of the TJO has been release at the sourceforge. The software has been released under the GNU General Public Licence.
Observations with TJO postponed 23/04/2012
On March 22, the main CCD camera of the MEIA instrument (currently the only instrument at TJO) stopped working. Several attempts were performed to recover the communication with the CCD without success. Therefore, the CCD was sent to USA for reparation some days ago.

Since the time required to repair the damaged CCD is of several weeks, we have decided to advance the planned stop of TJO observations (scheduled by next September) to realuminize the primary mirror.

After over half a year of continuous observations, this represents the major (and almost the only) unexpected drawback on the remote operations of TJO. Since the beginning of September the TJO has executed eight proposals, with almost 6000 science exposures taken, and 138 hours of observation (excluding calibrations).

This stop, even undesirable, is expected to have a mild effect on the overall performance of TJO, since the targets of only a couple of proposals were partially observable. The number of observable targets is expected to increase during the following months for all the proposals.

The TJO is expected to recover its routine operations by mid July. The OAdM staff seriously regrets this unexpected stop and apologizes for the inconveniences.