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Monday, January 16, 2017

Remote Imaging with College Students

One of Insight Observatory's goals is to introduce secondary school and college students to the art of imaging the night sky remotely. I recently had the pleasure of doing so with a student at Williams College located Williamstown, Massachusetts. Nicole was entering her freshman year with major in astrophysics and a minor in art (with a concentration in photography).

Being that Nicole has a profound interest in astronomy, her father presented her with a gift of a remote imaging session with Insight Observatory for Christmas. Nicole and I set up an appointment to meet via Skype so I could introduce her to the process of remote deep-sky imaging. It was a Saturday afternoon here in the northeast so we needed to image in Australia where it was the middle of the night. As the process of remote imaging was new to this astrophysics student, I wanted to start off with introducing her to the basics of CCD digital imaging. Nicole and I covered the contemporary way of imaging deep-sky objects through a remote robotic telescope accompanied with a CCD imaging system.

Image of NGC 1365 in Fornax - 300 Second Image by Nicole F.
NGC 1365 in Fornax - 600 Second Image by Nicole F.
As we logged on to the remote telescope network, iTelescope.net, I decided we should start with the 90mm refractor telescope that is equipped with an SBIG ST2000 XMC One-Shot Color CCD camera. This instrument will take a color image and there is no need to stack multiple monochrome images. I figured this would be a good place to start with taking her very first image.

Sharing her computer screen with me via Skype, I had her log into the remote telescope's interface and select an object to image. This remote telescope network that Insight Observatory uses suggests the best deep-sky object to image with the telescope you are connected to. One of the suggested deep-sky objects to be imaged was NGC 1365. This object, also known as the Great Barred Spiral Galaxy, is a barred spiral galaxy about 56 million light-years away in the southern constellation Fornax.

Nicole then started a 600-second exposure of the galaxy and as she patiently waited for a preview of the image, we discussed more in-depth advanced methods of CCD imaging such as stacking images, using different types of filters, etc.

NGC 300 in Sculptor - 600 Second Image by Nicole F.
Once the 10-minute image was completed, Nicole and I were able to view the result. Nicole was impressed how fine the detail was in the galaxy for such a short exposure. We then moved on to image another galaxy, NGC 300, a spiral galaxy in the constellation Sculptor. Nicole followed the same process as the previous image. After seeing the result of her image of NGC 300, she was amazed to how different the characteristics were between both galaxies.

As our one hour imaging session was wrapping up, Nicole shared the fact that she had a great experience with her first time imaging with a remote robotic telescope. As for me, it was very rewarding sharing the experience with her and I look forward to sharing more experiences like hers with other secondary school and college students.
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Saturday, January 14, 2017

Searching for Planets in the Alpha Centauri System

ESO has signed an agreement with the Breakthrough Initiatives to adapt the Very Large Telescope instrumentation in Chile to conduct a search for planets in the nearby star system Alpha Centauri. Such planets could be the targets for an eventual launch of miniature space probes by the Breakthrough Starshot initiative.

The image below shows the closest stellar system to the Sun, the bright double star Alpha Centauri AB and its distant and faint companion Proxima Centauri. In late 2016 ESO signed an agreement with the Breakthrough Initiatives to adapt the VLT instrumentation to conduct a search for planets in the Alpha Centauri system. Such planets could be the targets for an eventual launch of miniature space probes by the Breakthrough Starshot Initiative.

image of Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi (twanight.org)/Digitized Sky Survey 2 Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin/Mahdi Zamani
Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi (twanight.org)/Digitized Sky Survey 2 
Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin/Mahdi Zamani

ESO, represented by the Director General, Tim de Zeeuw, has signed an agreement with the Breakthrough Initiatives, represented by Pete Worden, Chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation and Executive Director of the Breakthrough Initiatives. The agreement provides funds for the VISIR (VLT Imager and Spectrometer for mid-Infrared) instrument, mounted at ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) to be modified in order to greatly enhance its ability to search for potentially habitable planets around Alpha Centauri, the closest stellar system to the Earth. The agreement also provides for telescope time to allow a careful search program to be conducted in 2019.

The discovery in 2016 of a planet, Proxima b, around Proxima Centauri, the third and faintest star of the Alpha Centauri system, adds even further impetus to this search.

Knowing where the nearest exoplanets are is of paramount interest for Breakthrough Starshot, the research, and engineering program launched in April 2016, which aims to demonstrate proof of concept for ultra-fast light-driven "nano craft," laying the foundation for the first launch to Alpha Centauri within a generation.

Source: European Southern Observatory

Read full article at https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170112130736.htm
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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Young Astronomer Shines at AAS Meeting

The staff at Insight Observatory can't think of a better way to start of 2017 other than with a "blog share" like this one. The following article posted in Sky and Telescope Magazine excited us when we read it and inspired us to share it out. Encouraging young astronomers to contribute to professional astronomy is what Insight Observatory is all about.

When astronomers and astrophysicists descended on Grapevine, Texas, this week for the semiannual conference that m.any call the "Super Bowl of Astronomy," they were joined by the meeting's youngest participant ever.

Image of Just 11 years old (but already a high-school senior), Cannan Huey-You explains what's  happening to a massive gas cloud called Complex A at last week's meeting of  professional astronomers. American Astronomical Society
Just 11 years old (but already a high-school senior), Cannan Huey-You explains what
happening to a massive gas cloud called Complex A at last week's meeting of
American Astronomical Society
This past Friday, 11-year-old Cannan Huey-You walked up to his poster and described research on the object known as Complex A, a massive gas cloud destined to crash into the Milky Way.

Already a high-school senior, Cannan has been working with astronomer Kathleen Barger for the past 2½ years. An assistant professor at Texas Christian University (TCU), Barger was looking for a student to assist with her radio observations of gas clouds near the Milky Way. For Cannan, long interested in astronomy, it seemed a good fit.

Read full article at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/adolescent-astronomers-shine-at-aas-meeting
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