Bringing the Universe to Your Classroom!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Featured Deep-Sky Object - IC 405 - Flaming Star Nebula

This Insight Observatory "Feature Deep-Sky Object" post highlights the emission/reflection nebula, IC 405 - The Flaming Star Nebula, located in the constellation of Auriga. On the evening of December 22, 2017, Insight Observatory's managing member and project developer, Michael Petrasko was remoted into their Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO) system downloading data from a previous observing run to gather image data requested from users utilizing Insight Observatory's ATEO Public Image Request Form. The sky conditions were pristine and as Michael was wrapping up with his tasks, he figured; why not take advantage of the weather conditions and image an object he has never imaged or visually observed through a telescope before.

IC 405 (also known as the Flaming Star Nebula, SH 2-229, or Caldwell 31) imaged on the ATEO  by Michael Petrasko and processed with PixInsight 8.1 by Muir Evenden.
IC 405 (also known as the Flaming Star Nebula, SH 2-229, or Caldwell 31) imaged on the ATEO
by Michael Petrasko and processed with PixInsight 8.1 by Muir Evenden.

Browsing through the open-source planetarium software, Stellarium, Michael spotted a deep-sky object that was placed perfectly in the sky for imaging out in New Mexico where the remote telescope system resides. He then proceeded to acquire 10 images at 120 seconds each with the Luminance filter and 5 120-second exposures each with the Red, Green and Blue filters.

IC 405 shines at magnitude +6.0 and surrounds the irregular variable star AE Aurigae. It is also located near the emission nebula IC 410, the open clusters M38 and M36, and the K-class star Iota Aurigae. The nebula measures approximately 37.0' x 19.0', and lies about 1,500 light-years away from Earth. It is believed that the proper motion of the central star can be traced back to the Orion's Belt area. The nebula is about 5 light-years across.

Location of IC 405 - The Flaming Star Nebula as displayed on Stellarium.
Location of IC 405 - The Flaming Star Nebula as displayed on Stellarium.

The full resolution image of IC 405 can be viewed on Insight Observatory's Image Gallery. If you are interested in imaging deep-sky images like this using the Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO), please visit the ATEO Image Request Page for more information.
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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Your New Telescope's First Targets: The Moon and More

The Moon is one celestial object that never fails to impress in even the most humble scope. It’s our nearest neighbor in space - big, bright, starkly bleak, and just a quarter million miles away. An amateur telescope and a good Moon map can keep you busy forever.

"Here are three crucial tips for getting started," advises Alan MacRobert, a senior editor at Sky & Telescope magazine.

See if you can identify these noteworthy features around the time of full Moon. Some of the most prominent craters display bright rays: splashes of impact debris. Image by Bob King.
See if you can identify these noteworthy features around the time of full Moon. Some of the most prominent craters display bright rays: splashes of impact debris. Image by Bob King.

The Moon is well-placed in the evening sky this week (December 25–31, 2017) as it waxes from first-quarter to gibbous toward full. It's full on the night of January 1st. But full Moon is actually the worst time for telescopic Moon viewing, because its full, directly sunlit face lacks the shadows that cast mountains and craters into sharp relief. The waxing and waning phases are better, especially for features along the terminator - the lunar sunrise or sunset line. Here you'll see lunar features standing out at their best. The terminator moves quite a bit from night to night, revealing new landscapes when the Moon is waxing and covering them when waning.

Read the full Article at  http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/what-to-see-with-your-new-telescope-3/
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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Imaging Galaxies with the ATEO

Over the past few months, we have been putting the Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO) through its paces to help us identify areas for improvement and to understand how far we can "push the envelope" on this system. Typically this entails measuring the performance on key areas like camera cooling, tracking and guiding, focusing accuracy, not to mention monitoring how our tiny little Raspberry Pi (which controls the whole thing!) performs...

NGC 1398 - Isolated barred spiral galaxy located in the constellation of Fornax. Image by Muir Evenden.
NGC 1398 - Isolated barred spiral galaxy located in the constellation of Fornax. Image by Muir Evenden.

The real fun part comes, however, when the results from our testing give us little surprises and reconfirm just how good an imaging platform the ATEO telescope really is. A case in point occurred about a week ago as we were testing the cooling capabilities of the FLI camera; after we got the camera down to -46° Celsius we decided to image a number of galaxies that were relatively low in the sky (< 30° above the horizon) for one single 15 minute exposure each... The only image reduction done was applying darks. As the few sample images from that session shown below attest to, we got some quite stunning images; aside from some slight guiding errors and potentially some focus improvements, we were quite pleased!

NGC 1232 - the Intermediate spiral galaxy in the constellation Eridanus. Image by Muir Evenden.
NGC 1232 - the Intermediate spiral galaxy in the constellation Eridanus. Image by Muir Evenden.

The wide field of this scope has also proven to be a real treat as well - it is fun to identify all the additional galaxies and other objects that appear in addition to our primary target. Who thought testing would be so much fun?
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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Light Pollution Is Increasing

When scientists are disappointed with their results, it's usually because they were following a different hypothesis than where their data leads. In the case of the switch from sodium lights to LEDs, though, it's more than that.

“Honestly, I had thought, assumed, and hoped that with LEDs we were turning the corner,” says Christopher Kyba (German Research Center for Geosciences). Kyba researches the spread of artificial lights and how it affects our nights, and as a former member of the board of directors of the International Dark Sky Association, he also advocates the use of improved lighting practices.

But in the November 22nd Science Advances, Kyba and colleagues show that we are farther from the goal of dark, starry skies than ever.

World maps showing the rates of change of the lit area of the world (left) and the measured brightness of each country (right) during 2012–2016. Warmer colors in each map correspond to higher rates of change. Note that Australia is an odd case: wildfires increased the country's lit area, but this effect was not included in the radiance analysis. Kyba et al. / Science Advances.

More Lights, Brighter Nights

Qatar nighttime lights Outdoor lighting in Doha, Qatar, between 2012 (cyan) and 2016 (red) as seen from the Suomi satellite. Areas newly lit since 2012 appear in bright red. Kyba et al. / Science Advance The team used the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument on the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership weather satellite to measure the change in global light emissions between October 2012 and October 2016. The VIIRS instrument is the first-ever calibrated satellite radiometer designed to measure nighttime lights – earlier investigations were often based on uncalibrated sensors on military satellites.

VIIRS observes the Day/Night band (DNB), which picks up visible through near-infrared wavelengths. Each pixel covers ½ square kilometer, a higher spatial resolution than previous instruments, which enables scientists to investigate neighborhood-scale changes, rather than a city or national, for the first time.

The researchers’ findings will not please astronomers: Earth’s nights are becoming brighter.

Read Full Article by Jan Hattenbach at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/lost-led-revolution-light-pollution-increasing/
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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

5th Grade Class Images Galaxies and Nebulae

Students in Mrs. DeSantis' fifth-grade class at the Plymouth South Elementary School located in Plymouth, MA, used Insight Observatory's 16" Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO) located at an elevation of 7,778 ft in the dark skies of New Mexico. This telescope is accessed remotely via the internet as a rental and used from classrooms for students as well as the general public to conduct astronomical research projects for science education or deep-sky imaging. 

Students in Mrs. DeSantis' fifth-grade class queuing up their image requests for the ATEO.
Students in Mrs. DeSantis' fifth-grade class queuing up their image requests for the ATEO.

Mrs. DeSantis stated; "As part of our solar system unit, our fifth-grade class was offered the opportunity to receive some images via a remote telescope in New Mexico. The students were paired up and allowed to choose from a list of deep sky objects including nebulae, galaxies, and supernova remnants. They also had to choose whether to receive a color or a black and white photo as well as choosing the exposure time. Once they had chosen, we submitted the image requests under their names. They then created a Google Doc for their object and did some research on it. For example, if they chose a nebula, they had to explain what kind it was (planetary, emission, or diffused) and then elaborate. Students also visited the Insight Observatory website to learn more about the remote telescope. The kids were thrilled when the images arrived. They compared the nebulae and discussed whether the type of nebula correlated to its appearance. This was a motivating and exciting project!"

Insight Observatory had previously collaborated with the Plymouth Community Intermediate School also in Plymouth, MA, using remote robotic telescopes on a third party telescope network. This is the first venture with the Plymouth school district utilizing their own instrument since the installation of the 16" Astrograph imaging telescope this past summer.

From Left to Right: NGC 7293 - The Helix Nebula Imaged by Nolan and Ella,  IC 5070 - The Pelican Nebula Imaged by Haley and Ava,  M33 - The Triangulum Galaxy Imaged by Kassidy and Liam
From Left to Right: NGC 7293 - The Helix Nebula Imaged by Nolan and Ella,  IC 5070 - The Pelican Nebula Imaged by Haley and Ava,  M33 - The Triangulum Galaxy Imaged by Kassidy and Liam.

The images above are just a few of those taken by the students. All of the images acquired by the class can be seen on their online gallery.
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Monday, November 13, 2017

ATEO Public Image Request Form Released

Insight Observatory is pleased to announce the release of its Public Image Request (PIR) form for use with their Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO). The purpose of the form is to allow the general public to request (in a few easy steps) an image to be taken of a deep-sky object such as galaxy, nebula and star cluster of their choice with the organization's remote robotic telescope located in New Mexico. The service is free, however, donations can be made via PayPal in any amount to support the maintenance and hosting of the telescope.

The Public Image Request (PIR) form is the "lite" version of the telescope's portal that is nearly completed and scheduled to be released for beta testing at the end of this year. The ATEO Portal will allow users to reserve telescope time and have full control of the telescope and all of its imaging equipment.

Screenshot of the Public Image Request Form for Use with Insight Observatory's
Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach.

What can be imaged with the PIR form?

Currently only deep sky objects can be imaged using the Public Image Request form. This means no planets, asteroids, comets, or other objects that cannot be found in the SIMBAD object database. Why is this? This is because the wide field of view that the ATEO captures means that in most cases targets like planets would simply appear too small in our images to be satisfactory. Also please be aware that due to the wide field, small objects (like the Ring Nebula) will appear smaller than a larger object (like the Orion Nebula) - this may seem obvious, however, when you are used to seeing certain objects (like the Ring Nebula) close up it can be disorienting to view them on a wider scale.

How long will it take to capture and receive an image?

The total turnaround time can range from a week up to a month. A lot can depend on the weather - an unusually cloudy month can slow down the capture of images.

The Rosette Nebula (also known as Caldwell 49) - 300 Second Color
Image by Colin Stephens via the ATEO Public Image Request form.

What is the final product that will be received after the image request?

When your image is ready to download it will be in the form of a JPEG (JPG) file that can be retrieved from Dropbox (no account is required to download your image). You will receive an email notification with a link to the Dropbox folder with your file when it is ready. Your image files will remain on Dropbox for 30 days after you are notified and then removed.

Is there a restriction on the number of images that can be requested?

Yes... Simply because we want to give everyone a reasonable chance of requesting an image. Current restrictions limit the number of open (waiting to be imaged) requests to 2 per month per person, and there is a cap limit of 50 total open requests in our queue. This cap is put in place because we don't want to be in a position where our backlog of images grows beyond what we are able to capture within a reasonable timeframe.

Access the Telescope Here!
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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Hosting ATEO Images on Astrobin

After carefully seeking out an online gallery solution for their Deep-Sky Image Database of images taken by the Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO), the crew at Insight Observatory has selected Astrobin.com as the platform.

AstroBin is an image hosting website specifically designed for astrophotography. The service was created out of the desire to end something that had been going on for too long... The wastes of incredible material to the sea of chaos that the Internet can be. For years, fantastic astrophotographs have been uploaded to Internet Forums, often with little or no data, or to general purpose image hosting websites, invariably with no data attached.

Such an image would be seen by some people, then quickly forgotten, and reduced to nothing more than a bunch of pixel in the giant wasteland of the Internet.

Screenshot of IC 5067 - The Pelican Nebula Imaged on the ATEO on Astrobin.com
Screenshot of IC 5067 - The Pelican Nebula Imaged on the ATEO on Astrobin.com.

Astrobin is the response to an effort to host, collect, index and categorize the output of the astrophotographers all over the world so that their precious data would serve a purpose, and have a meaning forever.

This online service also allows "groups" to be created that will benefit Insight Observatory in separating and keeping track of data collected by school groups and individuals that utilize the ATEO remote robotic telescope located in New Mexico well as other third-party remote telescope networks they use.

Besides being able to describe the details of the image on their "Technical Card", Astrobin has useful educational features built into the website such as overlapping plates that label stars and other objects over the image as well as a "Sky Plot" chart that displays the deep-sky object's exact location.

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Featured Deep-Sky Object - M33 - Triangulum Galaxy

It has been awhile since we have published a post covering featured deep-sky objects. In the past, we have been posting articles regarding objects in the night sky such as galaxies, nebulae and star clusters complemented with images taken by the staff of Insight Observatory using a remote robotic telescope on the iTelescope network. Due to our recent projects such automating a 32" Dobsonian telescope, assisting the W. Russell Blake Planetarium with its newly installed digital imaging theater and implementing our Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO-1), we simply haven't had the time or resources to do so (which is actually not a bad problem to have).

Featured Deep-Sky Object - M33 - Triangulum Galaxy
M33 - Triangulum Galaxy imaged on the Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach by Insight Observatory.

Well, it's about time we started again. In recent weeks we have been performing tests on the ATEO remote telescope, preparing it for educational and public use. As numerous images of deep-sky objects during testing were acquired, we figured why not post them on our blog as a "Featured Deep-sky Object". The first deep-sky object to feature is M33, the Triangulum Galaxy imaged by Insight Observatory Managing Member / System's Engineer, Muir Evenden. Muir imaged the Galaxy with our 16" Dream Astrograph remote imaging telescope with a 5-minute exposure with the luminance filter, stacked with 2 minutes red, green and blue filter exposures. These images were then stacked and processed using PixInsight. Post processing was then done in Adobe Photoshop by Insight Observatory Managing Member / Project Developer, Michael Petrasko. The result of the image detail is surprisingly impressive considering there are not many exposures comprising the final image.

The Triangulum Galaxy is a spiral galaxy approximately 3 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Triangulum. It is cataloged as Messier 33 or NGC 598 and is sometimes referred to as the "Pinwheel Galaxy", a nickname it shares with Messier 101. The Triangulum Galaxy is the third-largest member of the Local Group of galaxies, behind the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy. It is one of the most distant permanent objects that can be viewed with the naked eye.  Using a small pair of binoculars with a wide field of view, the galaxy is easily detectable. Being a diffuse object, its visibility is strongly affected by small amounts of light pollution. It ranges from easily visible by direct vision in dark skies to a difficult averted vision object in rural or suburban skies.
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Saturday, September 2, 2017

ATEO Images the Andromeda Galaxy

After the success of achieving first light with the Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO) on August 31, 2017, another clear night at Pie Town, New Mexico allowed us to continue testing the online remote robotic telescope on the morning of September 1st. It was now time to start testing the filter wheel and a bright deep-sky object would be a fitting way to make sure the filter wheel was functioning properly.

As we were using the TheSky software on our imaging computer, we saw that The Andromeda Galaxy, also known as M31 and NGC 224 was in a decent spot of the sky to get a series of quick images using the filter wheel. Fortunately, all went well with using the filter wheel with the CCD camera. We imaged the galaxy with quick 60-second exposures through the LRGB filters. No flats or darks applied as we still need to create those. However, We did some slight processing using Photoshop. Needless to say, we were very pleased.

NGC 224 (Messier 31) - The Andromeda Galaxy 60-second LRGB Images on the ATEO-1.
NGC 224 (Messier 31) - The Andromeda Galaxy 60-second LRGB Images on the ATEO-1.

The Andromeda Galaxy is the nearest large galaxy to our own, at a distance of about 2.5 million light-years. This object is classified as an Sb spiral and it is a major member of the Local Group. It lies in the constellation Andromeda and is the most remote object normally visible to the naked eye, though, under really dark skies, observers can sometimes see the M33, the Triangulum Galaxy.

Once the telescope is ready for educational and public use, we are confident the Andromeda Galaxy will be a favorite target for imaging. We look forward to seeing everyone's results!
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Friday, September 1, 2017

ATEO Achieves First Light!

Insight Observatory is proud to announce that the Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO) has achieved first light. Now that the "Great American Solar Eclipse" of 2017 has come and gone, all of our efforts are now back on getting the remote telescope operational. On the morning of August 31, 2017, Insight Observatory's Systems Engineer, Muir Evenden, and I met via Skype and logged into the Raspberry Pi that runs the ATEO remotely. The skies were crystal clear in New Mexico that morning, therefore we thought it was time to attempt getting first light and perhaps an image of a deep-sky object if all went well.

Once we powered up all of the hardware, we launched TheSkyX developed by Software Bisque that controls the 16" f3.5 Dream Astrograph imaging system. After mulling over a few star candidates to slew to, we decided on the bright star Scheat that makes up part of the "Great Square". We took a one-minute exposure that would find the photons of starlight in the image donut shaped due to the telescope being out of focus. We then spent time on focusing the telescope before attempting to image a deep-sky object.

Screen Shot of TheSkyX while capturing first light of the star Scheat in the constellation Pegasus.
Screen Shot of TheSkyX while capturing first light of the star Scheat in the constellation Pegasus.

Once focus was acceptable enough for a rough image we decided to image NGC 7331, a spiral galaxy in Pegasus. NGC 7331 (also known as Caldwell 30) is a spiral galaxy about 40 million light-years away in the constellation Pegasus. It was discovered by William Herschel in 1784. NGC 7331 is the brightest member of the NGC 7331 the Deer Lick Galaxy Group.

NGC 7331 (also known as Caldwell 30). 60-second exposure taken with the ATEO 16" Dream Astrograph.  The Stephan's Quintet group of galaxies can be seen to the lower right of the image.
NGC 7331 (also known as Caldwell 30). 60-second exposure taken with the ATEO 16" Dream Astrograph.
The Stephan's Quintet group of galaxies can be seen to the lower right of the image.

We will be continually testing within the next few days using the FLI color filter wheel that is attached to the telescope for creating color images. If all goes well with the final testing, the ATEO will be ready for educational and public use within the next few weeks.
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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Solar Eclipse Activities for Everyone

Of the people who will be viewing an eclipse (total or partial) on August 21st, many will be young. Young enough that you'll want to double and triple check their solar viewers before letting them look up at the Sun, and young enough, too, that you'll want other activities for them (and you!) as the Sun makes its way through the long partial phases. Not to mention, young enough that this will be their very first eclipse, and you'll want to make every moment count!

During the partial eclipse, two crossed hands create many holes that act as pinhole projectors.
Photo by J. Kelly Beatty.

Viewing the Eclipse with Kids

The first and simplest activity is to make an eclipse viewer to see the Sun. Note: Don't look at the Sun directly or through anything other than safe solar viewers or No. 14 arc-welder's glass during the partial phases of the eclipse. It's completely safe to look at the blocked Sun during totality though.

If you weren't able to procure a pair of glasses, there are other options: Pinhole projectors work just as well, if not better, to view the Sun, and they come with the side benefit that they only work when you face your back to the Sun — eye safety guaranteed.

Find a cereal box, scissors, some tin foil, a pushpin or toothpick, and tape, and you'll have everything you need to make a pinhole projector to view the solar eclipse. Watch NASA's video for the easy-to-follow instructions...

See full Source Article by Monica Young at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/2017-total-solar-eclipse/solar-eclipse-activities-kids-families/
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Thursday, August 17, 2017

The 'Great American' Solar Eclipse

This upcoming solar eclipse is almost exclusive to the continental US, and all of the US will see it, in some fraction. It is, I think, going to change American's lives, in some pretty profound ways.

Most of us have seen lunar eclipses, or, eclipses of the moon. But most of us (myself excluded), have never seen a total eclipse of the sun.

the Great American Eclipse - 21 August 2017
Graphic Created by Dale Alan Bryant.

Lunar eclipses are, pretty much, non-interactive events. If we don't happen to look up at the moon, we might miss it, entirely. Not so with a total eclipse of the sun. For those fortunate enough to be in the 'path of totality',  it will envelop them completely. They won't be able to escape it. But, total solar eclipses involve us in ways we wouldn't expect: Here's what I remember from the total solar eclipse I saw when I was a kid, from Woods Hole, Mass:

* Even though the solar eclipse I saw from Woods Hole was total, and this upcoming eclipse is partial, for most of the U.S., it will get dark enough in the eastern half of the country at mid-eclipse, that, if we're driving, we'll have to put the headlights on! If you're inside, you might want to turn on some lamps - for a few minutes anyway.

* When the moon begins to clear the face of the sun, the birds will begin singing - thinking that it's dawn again!

* For, possibly, the very first time - you will see whole crowds of people become silent. Everyone will start whispering.

This is not only a visual event but a mental and spiritual one, as well. It's the kind of event that turns kids into amateur astronomers - and into professional ones, when they grow up!

The eclipse will bring people together in ways we rarely get to witness.
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Saturday, August 12, 2017

ATEO Ready for First Light

Insight Observatory's Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO) is ready for first light! The six-year dream and vision we at Insight Observatory had to setup a remote online telescope for educational and leisure purposes are now complete. Special thanks to our telescope's host at SkyPi Online Observatory for being the professionals they are in helping to fulfill our dream. Their persistence and skills to complete the installation were second to none. John Evelan, a Managing Partner of SkyPi, was instrumental in upgrading the FLI PDF focuser on the 16" astrograph imaging telescope for more precise focusing.

The Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO) Ready for First Light. Photo by Caleb Ramer.
The Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO) Ready for First Light. Photo by Caleb Ramer.

After collimation of the mirrors and polar alignment were completed, the crew at SkyPi completed the final tasks of a T-point run. This is where the TheSky (the software that controls the mount for the telescope) captures images all over the sky and then makes a "model" of how accurate the telescope is pointing. Later on, during normal usage, TheSky software will use this model so that pointing is accurate no matter where you slew the scope.

The next step is to be patient and wait for the weather to clear up in New Mexico. Unfortunately, it is monsoon season there now and the skies are not cooperating so much. However, the forecast is calling for clearing skies for most of the upcoming week.

The Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO). Photo by Caleb Ramer.
The Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO) Awaiting for Clearing Skies. Photo by Caleb Ramer.

Our goal will be to test the system thoroughly utilizing the TheSky software directly from the computer. When we are satisfied that everything is functioning, we will then integrate with the ATEO Portal that our systems engineer, Muir Evenden, has developed to allow the remote telescope system to be accessible to the public via the internet.
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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Observe August’s Eclipse with an AM Radio

Solar eclipses are more than exceptional visual astronomical phenomena; they’re pretty interesting from a radio viewpoint too. Should it be cloudy over your location on eclipse day, you can still make some interesting observations using a basic AM radio.

Sudden changes can take place in radio reception when the day changes into night and vice versa. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of driving in your car at night, listening to some program on the AM dial, when the announcer will identify the station as WBBM in Chicago. This might seem odd if you are listening from Albany, New York, more than 700 miles (1,100 km) from the Windy City. Yet, cases like this happen every night.

At night, electrons in the ionosphere's F2 layer can refract radio waves broadcast by AM stations, allowing them to be picked up by receivers many hundreds of miles away. This schematic shows the ionosphere reflecting the waves, though actually, they refract along curved arcs when passing through the ionosphere. Adapted from Wikipedia Commons
At night, electrons in the ionosphere's F2 layer can refract radio waves broadcast by AM stations, allowing them to be picked up by receivers many hundreds of miles away. This schematic shows the ionosphere reflecting the waves, though actually, they refract along curved arcs when passing through the ionosphere. Adapted from Wikipedia Commons

A total solar eclipse produces an expansive, round area of darkness and greatly reduced sunlight that travels across Earth’s surface in a relatively narrow path during the daytime. Its effect on sunlight’s local intensity is remarkably similar to what happens at sunrise and sunset. Distant radio stations along and near to the path of totality might briefly experience enhanced propagation, thus making long-distance reception possible during a solar eclipse, unlike any other time.

We can thank Earth’s ionosphere for natural long-distance radio reception at night. The ionosphere is composed of a set of tenuous, electrically conductive layers that consist of both neutral and charged particles, extending from altitudes of approximately 30 miles (50 km) to more than 250 miles (400 km). The ions present in the ionosphere interact with radio waves in two ways. They can either absorb the waves, thus reducing their intensity and reducing signal strength, or they can refract the waves, changing their direction; conceptually this is akin to a radio-wave "mirror".

Read Full Source Article at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/2017-total-solar-eclipse/how-to-hear-the-solar-eclipse/
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Monday, June 12, 2017

ATEO Nearing First Light

In our previous post "ATEO Feeling at Home at SkyPi" regarding the installation of the Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO), we mentioned the focuser needed some improving before achieving first light. We just received an update from John at SkyPi Online Observatories that the hardware necessary for the upgrade is in and the focuser is now in the hands of their machinist. John stated that by the end of this week he should have the revamped focuser back and that he and the staff at SkyPi will be completing the telescope build. The timing for first light will be perfect due to the waning phase of the moon.

Insight Observatory's Systems Engineer, Muir Evenden, with the  Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO-1).
Insight Observatory's Systems Engineer, Muir Evenden, with the
Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO-1).

While the telescope's focuser is being attended to since our return from the ATEO installation in New Mexico, Insight Observatory's System's Engineer and Co-Founder, Muir Evenden, has been continuing his development of the telescope's online interface. This web-based application will allow students, educators, and the general public to access the telescope remotely from anywhere in the world. 

As Muir continues his work on the telescope's interface development, Insight Observatory's Project Developer and Co-Founder, Michael Petrasko, continues to work on promoting awareness to educational communities and forums regarding the future availability to the 16" telescope. If all goes according to plan, the ATEO remote robotic online telescope will be accessible this upcoming July 2017.
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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Observers Track the Next New Horizons’ Target

January 1, 2019, is still several months away, however, for members of NASA's New Horizons team, it's hurtling toward them like a freight train. That's when the spacecraft will fly past the distant Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 at close range.

Astronomers guess that it's between 25 and 45 km (15 and 30 miles) across, but the exact size depends on the reflectivity of its surface — and that's unknown. In fact, they needed the Hubble Space Telescope to discover this incredibly dim speck (magnitude 27½) at all. It's some 6½ billion km (43.3 astronomical units) from the Sun, a third farther out than Pluto is.

The stellar "shadow" cast by 2014 MU69 took about 11 minutes to sweep across Earth, so from any given location the star would disappear for no more than about 2 seconds.
The stellar "shadow" cast by 2014 MU69 took about 11 minutes to sweep across Earth,
so from any given location, the star would disappear for no more than about 2 seconds.

"This object has so far proven to be impossible to detect from the ground," laments Marc Buie (Southwest Research Institute). "100% of the data we have directly on 2014 MU69 is from HST, starting with the discovery images and then onward to additional images for astrometry."

To learn more and guess less, Buie and the New Horizons team have turned to an observing technique that can be even more powerful than HST: stellar occultations. It turns out that 2014 MU69, currently drifting among the rich star fields of Sagittarius about 5° northeast of the Teapot, passes directly in front of three stars this year: June 3rd, July 10th, and July 17th. That's the good news. The bad news is that these stars are themselves very faint, and (as the maps below show) getting into the predicted tracks presents plenty of challenges.

Read Full Source Article at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/solar-system/observers-track-new-horizons-next-target/
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Thursday, June 8, 2017

What Are Astronomical Artifacts?

In a nutshell, Astronomical Artifacts are objects erected or constructed by ancient civilizations that were used in conjunction with the visible celestial bodies that orbited the planet outside the Earth's atmosphere. Such objects as the stone circles at Nabta Playa in Egypt, as well as the pyramids and the construction of Stonehenge, are all considered ancient Astronomical Artifacts. The civilizations that built these monuments often used these objects for both religious ceremonies and astronomical purposes. There are some theorists that claim the enormous statues on Easter Island also had astronomical symbolism. Theories and debates over how these objects were created and what they were intended to be used for range from the simple to the extreme. Some believe these monuments were erected by civilizations that were far superior intelligently for their time in history, while others believe they provide evidence of extra-terrestrial visitation and interference with human history.

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England - Image Credit: Joel Connors
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England - Image Credit: Joel Connors.

The pyramids of ancient Egypt were constructed in alignment with the pole star and the Great Temple was built in alignment with the rising of the midwinter sun. These monuments assisted the Egyptians with determining different natural occurrences, such as the annual flooding of the Nile river basin. They also assisted the temple astronomers with following the different phases, conjunctions and rising of such celestial bodies as stars, planets and their natural satellites, or moons.

Stonehenge is another Astronomical Artifact. This monument has a much-storied history dating all the way back to 8,000 B.C. There is significant evidence suggesting that at some of its earliest moments in history it was used as a burial facility. Archaeologists have uncovered several grave sites around the area where the stones are actually erected. They have also found evidence to suggest that several different generations of people used the area for different purposes. Religious rituals and ceremonies were also conducted at this historical site, and several theories exist as to how the stones were actually aligned and what they were intended for, most of which surround religious theories as well as astronomical symbolism in the formation of reading and charting stars and planets.

The Antikythera Mechanism was discovered in 1900 by sponge divers off the coast of the Greek Island Antikythera when they came across an ancient Roman-era shipwreck. This bronze device is about the size of a shoebox and baffled scientists and archaeologists for years. It wasn't until very recently that a British researcher, exploring the evidence and inscriptions on the mechanism, was able to identify and establish it as the oldest surviving astronomical computer. It has 30 wheels and dials that are covered in astronomical inscriptions and texts which have been used to decipher and translate ancient Greek languages that haven't been seen or used in over 2,000 years.

One of the oldest educated and intelligent civilizations in the history of humans is the Sumerians who were also steeped in the knowledge of Astronomy for their period in time. The Mul Apin tablet is an artifact that dates back to the time of the Sumerians. This device contained astronomical information, as well as significant dates for the rising and setting of specific constellations. It also included a record of omens that were predicted by the reading and mapping of celestial objects.

If you're new to the wonderful world of astronomy, or star gazing, a great outset would be Asynx Planetarium Software.

To download the software and to start your observations today, visit http://www.asynx-planetarium.com an invaluable source of information for beginners.

Christian Nuesch Article Source: What Are Astronomical Artifacts?
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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Earth - "Un-Flattened"

There is a hefty price to pay for, *profound*, scientific illiteracy, as is demonstrated here, by the person who contrived the 'info'-graphic below....

In attempting to 'prove' that the Earth is flat, the creator of this image doesn't seem to know that the Sun's apparent movement across the sky, due to the rotation of a round, roughly, spherical Earth, is from East to West and NOT from North to South. Two people making observations, from two different points along a line of longitude (in this case, early in the morning, separated by a few thousand miles), are not going to see the Sun in the sky in the same position in latitude; in fact--they're within only one time zone from each other! They will, however, see it at approximately at the same elevation from the horizon--and in the case of the graphic, are, in fact, within one-time zone from each other!

Here's a simple way to demonstrate that the Earth is a globe--or, at least, that it is NOT a flat, linear field.

Take, a sheet of cardboard or poster board--or, even an 8-1/2" x 11" sheet of paper--outside, when the sun is low in the sky, at, or very near the eastern horizon just after sunrise. I should mention, here: you need to know a person who is well West of you, preferably, on the West Coast, but any place considerably West of you will do. (This person should also be of pleasant demeanor - and not mind being awakened in the middle of the night!)

Now, holding the sheet in your hands, in front of you, level to the ground and facing the sun, imagine the sheet to be the flat Earth, and, imagine that a tiny you is standing on the end of the sheet nearest the Sun (farthest from your body) and, your, also, tiny friend on the west coast is standing at the end of the sheet farthest from the Sun - the end closest to your body.

Note that the sheet is evenly illuminated by sunlight when it is level with the ground, and that, both you and your friend are standing in daylight - both of you can see the sun in the sky at the same time and at the same elevation. You have just created a scale model of a "flat" Earth, and the sun's position relative to it.

Okay--now, with one hand holding the end of the sheet farthest from you, take the end of the sheet closest to you and bend it, slowly, downwards, toward the ground, with your other hand until you have formed, roughly, a 90° arc. Note that the sun is now shining only on the segment of the arc farthest from you (our "East Coast", in this demonstration). The segment of the arc curved downwards, away from the Sun - the West Coast, is now in shadow. You have just created a scale model of the "curved" surface of the Earth, and the Sun's position relative to it. 

Which scenario works best in explaining why it is daylight at some points on Earth, while, at the same time, it is dark at other points--the 'flat-Earth' model or the 'curved-Earth' model?

OK - now, if you thought that was tricky - let's test this hypothesis by getting some data from your friend to the west.

Give your friend a call on the phone - apologizing, and explaining that you are, "on an important mission of 'scientific discovery', to prove the non-linear, non-'flat'- field properties of the Earth as an 'oblate spheroid'!".... [yeah, uh-huh - you just go ahead and try that!]

When all the yelling, accusations, and humiliation (on your part), have subsided, ask him, or her, this: "Where is the sun, in the sky, right at this moment?"... 

(After another, hopefully brief, round of biting, acerbic, accusatory statements regarding the level of your sanity), he or she, will tell you that, it is dark - the sun has not yet risen - and that you should go back to bed! 

This scenario is, of course, best explained because of the curved surface of the Earth, and your friend's perspective (of both the Earth - and of you), relative to the Sun, and it corresponds exactly to the cardboard curvature demonstration.

You have proven the surface of the Earth to be a curve, rather than a plane. That is an excellent thing!
The demonstration works just as well, at or near sunset, where you will get the opposite results, with your friend out west, this time, in daylight, while you are at dusk.

But, to get back to the price paid: it is in the self-betrayal - in front of the entire, civilized, online world, that -- you don't know what the h*ll you're talking about! 

A little common sense--and a demonstration--go a long way, folks!
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Sunday, June 4, 2017

Observing the Crescent Nebula

The dark skies of Pie Town, New Mexico allowed me to have one of (if not the best) visual observing experience of my life. While my colleague, Muir Evenden and I were installing the Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO) in the mountains of western New Mexico, we had the chance to do a few nights of visual observing.

One of the staff members at SkyPi Remote Observatories, Michael, was generous enough to invite us to his home not far from the observatory to observe through his 20" Obsession Dobsonian Telescope. The views through this fine instrument complemented with the dark clear skies along with his 2" Nagler eyepieces were simply breathtaking. I could go on in this post about every single object I observed into detail due to how amazing they all looked. However, I wanted to share my experience with observing a new object for the first time... NGC 6888, otherwise known as the "Crescent Nebula".

 NGC 6888 - The "Crescent Nebula in Cygnus - T.A. Rector (NRAO/AUI/NSF and NOAO/AURA/NSF)
NGC 6888 - The "Crescent Nebula in Cygnus - T.A. Rector (NRAO/AUI/NSF and NOAO/AURA/NSF).

After Michael showed me the Veil Nebula through his telescope, he asked me if I wanted to look at the Crescent Nebula in the constellation of Cygnus. I have read and seen images regarding this object, however, I have never actually observed it. After Michael slewed the telescope to the object, I climbed the ladder to take a glimpse and I was truly speechless! Michael had an Oxygen III filter (which is a necessity for this object) attached the eyepiece that allowed me to see the emission nebula in detail very much like the image above. Michael said some of his guest observers will say "it looks like an ear".

The Crescent Nebula is about 5000 light-years away from Earth. It was discovered by Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel in 1792. It is formed by the fast stellar wind from the Wolf-Rayet star WR 136 colliding with and energizing the slower moving wind ejected by the star when it became a red giant around 250,000 to 400,000 years ago. The result of the collision is a shell and two shock waves, one moving outward and one moving inward. The inward moving shock wave heats the stellar wind to X-ray emitting temperatures.

After observing this object, I have added it to the list of deep-sky objects to image through the ATEO when it goes online within the next few weeks. We have an Oxygen III filter in the filter wheel attached to the telescope.

A special thank you to Michael from SkyPi Online Observatories for introducing this fine object to me! It brought back great memories of what it was like looking at deep-sky objects through a telescope for the first time.

Source: Wikipedia - Crescent Nebula
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Friday, June 2, 2017

"Hey Rocky - Watch Me Pull an Asteroid Out of My Hat!"

In Feb of 2012, Earth collided with a 65ft. in diameter asteroid, which exploded over the Russian town of Chelyabinsk. We all know the fortunate outcome there--they were extremely lucky, in that, the sonic boom, created by the disintegrating rock (at a height of 15 miles as it careened through our atmosphere toward the ground at 45,000 miles per hour), caused thousands of injuries, partially demolished buildings and shattered windows. Had the asteroid entered the atmosphere at a steeper angle, the results would have been catastrophic.

This is the trail of Chelyabinsk asteroid which exploded about 14 miles above ground with a force nearly 30 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb in 2013. Credit: Neuromainker via YouTube/Screenshot by Irene Klotz for Discovery News
This is the trail of Chelyabinsk asteroid which exploded about 14 miles above ground
with a force nearly 30 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb in 2013.
Credit: Neuromainker via YouTube/Screenshot by Irene Klotz for Discovery News.

And we never saw it coming. This meteor snuck right up on us from the direction of the sun, out of sight in the blinding light of day, as if some celestial magician had pulled it out of a hat--then threw it at us.

But, guess what? There's more to this celestial magic act...  

Bullwinkle pulling an asteroid from his hat

Let's start here...

This past April, Earth's orbit intersected the orbit of an asteroid debris field--the debris train, left in the wake of an orbiting, cometary, or, asteroidal body. This particular field is several times the Earth's diameter, and we were right in the thick of it for the entire month of April, as well as the end of March and beginning of June. Earth's atmosphere encounters this field, and others somewhat like it, on occasion, every April, which, due to the pull of gravity produces 'fireballs' (unusually bright) and 'bolides' (exploding) meteors. But, parts of the field have been increasing in density over time.

Astonishingly, we've had 16 near-misses by asteroids, since January of this year, some within just a quarter of the distance to the moon, and one, actually, at an altitude of less than our GPS satellites! Most of these objects were just a few meters across, with the exception of one, which was a few kilometers in diameter!

So, is this kind of thing common? Could we experience another collision, similar to the Chelyabinsk event?

Well, it isn't a matter of, "If". Rather--I'm afraid--it's a matter of "When". And, that's not just an 'alarmist'' opinion, either; here's the deal:

Space--particularly interplanetary space--is not, entirely, empty. At any given time, there is an assortment of asteroidal and cometary debris surrounding the Earth, and in its orbital path around the Sun. Most of this debris is particulate. But, the process of the formation of our solar system, left behind a wide range of sizes of fragmented rock and iron. In our immediate neighborhood, there are asteroids composed of this material ranging in size from bits of dust, to rocks---to boulders---to school buses---even to 5-story apartment buildings! The Chelyabinsk meteorite was the size of the latter. And, there are a few asteroids out there--- the size of small moons!

On an average day, Earth's atmosphere encounters two basketball-sized asteroids. In any two-week period, we get slammed, by one SUV-sized asteroid. Some burn up, entirely in the atmosphere--and, some, make it to the ground.

In the early days after the formation of our solar system, there was much more of this material, which ended up on the surfaces of Earth and the moon and other planets. Here on Earth, the processes of weathering and erosion have erased most of the evidence for those impacts. However, there is plenty left-over for orbital physics to play with.

Earth--and, ourselves--are moving through space, on our annual revolution around "Sol", our star--our sun (counterclockwise, viewed from the Sun's North Pole), at a speed of 33,000 mph. At the same time, we're rotating on our axis, eastward, at a speed of 1,000 mph.

Here's a very fitting analogy: We're driving down the freeway, blindfolded--with the pedal to the floor; eventually, we're going to crash---unless we can prevent it from happening, altogether, with an early detection/warning and response system.

Become a member of the NASA Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), a program which keeps track of these objects by monitoring and plotting their positions, trajectories and velocities. You could--literally--save the world.

**The title, some of you may remember, is a take-off on the 60's cartoon styles, "Rocky and His Friends" ("Bulwinkle" was, undoubtedly, his closest!).
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Sunday, May 28, 2017

ATEO Feeling at Home at SkyPi

After a 3 day long excursion across the country, the staff of Insight Observatory has delivered it's Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO) to its new home in Pie Town, New Mexico. The 16" imaging astrograph has been successfully installed in SkyPi Online Observatory's pod known as Gamma. When we arrived were greeted by SkyPi's Managing Member, John Evelan. We received a tour of the grounds and were introduced to the other imaging telescopes hosted by SkyPi.

John of SkyPi and Muir of Insight Observatory installing the 16" Primary Mirror
John of SkyPi and Muir of Insight Observatory installing the 16" Primary Mirror.

Because of our week-long stay at SkyPi for the telescope installation, we were able to experience the dark and crystal clear skies that this corner of New Mexico has to offer. We were also fortunate to be able to look thru a 20" Dobsonian telescope at the spring and summer objects that frankly took our breath away... The consensus was that these were some of the best views of objects like the Lagoon Nebula, the Veil Nebula, and others that we had never seen before such as the Crescent Nebula in Cygnus. Our deepest thanks to our host, Michael, a staff member of SkyPi, who was generous enough to share his telescope and time with us!

We planned for a full week at the remote observatory site which allowed us to take our time unloading, installing and configuring the telescope. As we tested the components of the setup, we realized there were improvements that could be made to the focuser. Fortunately, SkyPi has resources in the surrounding area such as a talented machinist who was able to modify the focuser so it would perform with better precision. We were also able to configure all of the networking parameters to allow the public to access the telescope.

 Michael of SkyPi Preparing the 16" Mirror for Installation
Michael of SkyPi Preparing the 16" Mirror for Installation.

This is an important milestone for the ATEO, but our work is not done yet; testing and configuration of the scope needs to be performed and completed, completion of the first iteration of our software has to be released, and other sundries that although minor is still important for success. All in all, we are excited and relieved to finally have the ATEO equipment delivered and installed at SkyPi, and now the real work begins!
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