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Bringing the Universe to Your Classroom!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Creating Color Astronomical Images with Photoshop

While I was surfing the web, looking for some good research projects for students to participate in, I stumbled upon a website called LCO. Global. This is the official website of the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network of remote robotic telescopes. This telescope network gives opportunities for students to participate and contribute their research to professional astronomy. This particular organization also allows users to publish their raw data image files (taken with their network of telescopes) for others to download to process and analyze. 

Color Image of M66 created using Adobe Photoshop
Color Image of M66 created using Adobe Photoshop

There was a link I found interesting on their website called "How to make color astronomical images with Photoshop". The link leads me to an article that explained how to use Adobe Photoshop to make high-quality color images with your astronomical data.

My attention was completely consumed by this article and I had to immediately start experimenting with the instructions given in the article. I went to the "Observations" page on the website and downloaded raw image files of the spiral galaxy M66 in the constellation of Leo that was provided by a Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network user utilizing the Faulkes Telescope North and who designated themselves as "BBC". I acquired three images that were taken with Red, Green (Visual) and Blue filters. These three images were in FITS format, therefore, I needed to download a FITS Liberator from the NASA/ESA website for processing. The FITS Liberator allowed me to adjust the black and white levels as well as adjust stretching to display as much information of the galaxy and produce noise reduction of each image. Once I was satisfied with my FITS image processing results, I saved the three images as TIFF files and opened them in Adobe Photoshop. I followed the instructions to convert the images from grayscale to RGB,  proceeded with the article's instructions for changing the hue and saturation colors for each image, then combining them to create the color image of M66 above.

I believe that Insight Observatory, specializing in astronomy education, could benefit from partnering up with the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network. They offer many research collaborations and student activities as well as provide enough data where we could almost immediately start an activity such as this one written about in this post.
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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

NGC 2903 Imaged with Medium Deep Space Telescope

After experiencing a successful observing run the other night with iTelescope.net, I was looking forward trying out another one of their robotic telescopes (Takahashi Epsilon 250mm f/3.4 on a Paramount PME using an SBIG ST-10XME CCD camera) in Mayhill, New Mexico. Needing a good night of rest, I made my first attempt at automating a script using the "Plan Generator" available on the iTelescope.net website. I set a plan for imaging the spiral galaxy NGC 2903 in Leo, creating four images at 300 seconds per image with Red, Green, Blue and Clear filters. Unfortunately, there was a slight tracking error during the blue image exposure that made stacking the images for creating a color picture of the galaxy impossible.

NGC 2903 - Spiral Galaxy in Leo, 300 sec. w\ clear filter
NGC 2903 - Spiral Galaxy in Leo, 300 sec. w\ clear filter

I figured I would also experiment with different binning values. I found that the best value is "1", that I applied on the "Clear" exposure. There is much less noise on the exposure than using the value of "2, which I did on the RGB images. It is rewarding to create colorful astronomical images from the data acquired by these remote instruments, however, creating just one good clear grayscale image of a galaxy is more than enough to examine for Extragalactic Supernovae suspects like the image on this post that I acquired last night. I am now feeling more than comfortable utilizing the equipment that iTelescope.net has to offer for pursuing student research projects until our own 16" Dreamscope is online.
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Monday, February 18, 2013

First Test Images from New Mexico Skies

While the Insight Observatory that specializes in astronomy education staff remains hard at work developing a plan and raising funds for the implementation of the 16" Dream AstrographTelescope in New Mexico, we decided to move ahead with our primary goal of starting to seek out educational research projects for students to participate in before the location of the telescope is complete.  

Telescope.com's T-3 used to image Insight Observatory's first images
iTelescope.com's T-3 used to image Insight Observatory's first images

The first step was to find a temporary, however, sufficient Remote Robotic Telescope facility that currently offers access to imaging and the collecting of data. After many days of searching different programs available on the internet, Insight Observatory decided to create a "Starter-Trial" account with iTelescope.net.

After reviewing their excellent and intuitive tutorials on how to use their telescopes and software for collecting astronomical images remotely, the decision was not hard to make. The first night of gathering images was a complete success due to their clear and concise instructions on how to use the website. I set a reservation for 2:00 am MST (4:00 am EST) for use of their Takahashi TOA-150 using an  SBIG ST2000XMC One Shot Color CCD camera located in Mayhill, New Mexico (New Mexico Skies). My targets were three spiral galaxies and one elliptical galaxy for this test session. I successfully acquired images of M64 (Black Eye Galaxy), M104 (Sombrero Galaxy), M66 (Spiral Galaxy) in Leo, and M49 (Elliptical Galaxy) in Virgo. I have included these slightly processed images from this morning observing run below...

M64 - "Black Eye Galaxy" in Coma Berenices
M64 - "Black Eye Galaxy" in Coma Berenices

M49 - Elliptical Galaxy in Virgo
M49 - Elliptical Galaxy in Virgo

M66 - Spiral Galaxy in Leo
M66 - Spiral Galaxy in Leo

M104 - "Sombrero Galaxy" in Virgo
M104 - "Sombrero Galaxy" in Virgo

Tomorrow morning I have an automated script setup to run utilizing iTelescope.net's "Plan Generator". This means I will be acquiring this image while I am asleep! The target is NGC 2903, a Spiral Galaxy in Leo.
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