CONCAM - ING's All-Sky Camera
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ING Newsletter No. 7, December 2003

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CONCAM —ING’s All-Sky Camera

René Rutten (ING)

It has been a long-standing wish at the observatory to have a night-time all-sky cloud monitor. A cloud monitor, in the first place, allows astronomers in the control room to assess the actual situation of the night sky without the need of having to rush out for a visual check. The latter usually requires rushing up and down stairs, standing in the cold outside, and waiting for the eyes to get adapted to the dark, and even then one would only have a partial snapshot of the situation in the sky.

The ideal cloud monitor works at infrared wavelengths where the contrast between the cloudless night sky and the relatively warm clouds is high. However, a suitable infrared camera is rather complex and expensive to build, and as the equipment has to be located outside, there is a significant maintenance overhead as well. To avoid these problems we have been looking for an alternative for some time and came across CONCAM.

Concam Concam
Top left: CONCAM on the roof of the liquid nitrogen plant [ JPEG | TIFF ]. Bottom left: A closer view of CONCAM [ JPEG | TIFF ]. Right: CONCAM image of the Palmeran night sky [ JPEG | TIFF ].

CONCAM stands for CONtinuous CAMera, designed and built by Robert Nemiroff and his team at Michigan Technical University. It is a well designed and built, self-contained system that only requires connecting to electrical power and the internet. CONCAM consists of a fish-eye lens that projects the night sky onto an SBIG CCD camera. The camera itself is controlled by a small notebook PC. The full system sits in a small, well-sealed weather tight box, located on the roof of the liquid nitrogen plant building, close to the junction of the road leading up to the WHT.

The camera switches itself on during evening twilight and stops at the end of the night. Images are taken every couple of minutes, and exposure times are up to a few minutes during moon-less periods. Data is automatically transferred to Michigan, and immediately bias corrected and flat fielded. The reduced data and nightly movies are then made available on the web through the on-line CONCAM archive at Michigan (see Copies of the reduced (and compressed) nightly movies are archived locally on La Palma and available at (follow the link to the archive and select the required day).

Currently, CONCAM systems are installed not only on La Palma, but also at Mauna Kea, Kitt Peak, Mt Wilson, Wise Observatory (Israel), Rosemary Hill (Florida), South Africa and Siding Spring.

The initiative leading to the development of CONCAM was centred around the idea of monitoring the brightness of relatively bright objects and to permanently look for bright transient events across the whole sky. Besides these primary goals, CONCAM also offers very good possibilities for stimulating public interest, as the sequence of CONCAM images very clearly demonstrate how the sky varies during nights. CONCAM images can show a number of interesting atmospheric and night-sky features. CONCAM shows of course the position of planets and the moon, but also shows the zodiacal light, it announces sunrise and sunset, and even makes visible the patterns in the OH night sky lines. An excellent set of examples of what CONCAM sees is shown at For ING, however, the main role it serves is that of all-sky cloud monitor.

The all-sky movies that are automatically generated give a very good visual impression of transparency variations across the sky, and how it varies in time. Clouds can be seen rolling in, allowing the astronomer to take advantage of the best parts of the sky and plan the observing programme. Together with the weather maps, the meteorology data, and the robotic seeing measurements, ING now possesses a comprehensive set of tools for planning observations and assessing post-observing data quality.

We are very grateful for the superb collaboration and assistance received from the team at Michigan Technical University, in particular from Robert Nemiroff and David Crook.¤

Email contact: René Rutten (

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Last modified: 13 December 2010