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Bringing the Universe to Your Classroom!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Featured Deep-Sky Object - NGC 2403

It's been a while since we profiled a deep-sky object on our blog, as we have been working hard on getting our affiliate remote robotic telescope, ATEO-2, operational for educational and public use. As Insight Observatory's Project Developer, Michael Petrasko, was preparing a list of deep-sky wonders to possibly image with a class using the Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach, ATEO-1, and ATEO-2, he came across an interesting galaxy in the inconspicuous constellation of Camelopardalis that may be of interest.

NGC 2403 - Spiral Galaxy in the Constellation Camelopardalis. Image by Michael Petrasko - LRGB 2x300 Seconds each. Binning 2. Image Processed with CCDStack2.
NGC 2403 - Spiral Galaxy in the Constellation Camelopardalis. Image by Michael Petrasko on ATEO-1 - LRGB 2x300 Seconds each. Binning 2. Image Processed with CCDStack2.

The constellation contains no bright stars, but some interesting galaxies wait for observers that happen to point their instruments in this part of the sky. One of these galaxies is NGC 2403, the showpiece of Camelopardalis. NGC 2403 (also known as Caldwell 7) is an intermediate spiral galaxy. NGC 2403 is an outlying member of the M81 Group and is approximately 8 million light-years from Earth. The object has a striking similarity to M33, The Triangulum Galaxy being about 50,000 light years in diameter and containing numerous star-forming H II regions. The northern spiral arm connects it to the star-forming region NGC 2404.

Finder Chart for NGC 2403 - Image Credit: IAU and Sky and Telescope Magazine.
Finder Chart for NGC 2403 - Image Credit: IAU and Sky and Telescope Magazine.

NGC 2403 can be seen easily as a large hazy spot in 10x50 binoculars, and a telescope will show a bright elliptical haze surrounded by a faint outer halo. A definite degree of mottling becomes apparent with larger telescopes, the effect of dust scattered throughout the spiral arms.

Anyone can image this galaxy and other deep-sky wonders by signing up for an account on Insight Observatory's online ATEO Portal or by using our Public Image Request (PIR) form.
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Sunday, December 9, 2018

ATEO-2 Doubles Up!

Insight Observatory's affiliate telescope ATEO-2 (owned by SkyPi Remote Observatory) that was originally set up solely with a Williams Optics 5" f/7 refractor now has a companion. The staff at SkyPi Remote Observatory has installed a Celestron 11" Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope (ATEO-2B) to the same mounting system in the observatory. The 11" SCT is planned to be used primarily for remote planetary imaging. The crew at SkyPi has also been working tirelessly, testing and fine-tuning the mounting system as well as making modifications to the observatory, designated as Omega that houses ATEO-2. The Williams Optics 5" refractor (ATEO-2A) imaging system is now back in operation after it needed to be disassembled to add its companion, the Celestron 11".

ATEO-2 Shown with the Tandem Remote Imaging Sytems inside of SkyPi Remote Observatory's Omega Roll-Off.  Williams Optics 5" Refractor for Deep-Sky Imaging and Celestron 11" Planetary Imaging Telescope.
ATEO-2 Shown with the Tandem Remote Imaging Sytems inside of SkyPi Remote Observatory's Omega Roll-Off.
 Williams Optics 5" Refractor for Deep-Sky Imaging and Celestron 11" Planetary Imaging Telescope.

The planetary imaging system will be equipped with an Optec Focuser and Celestron Skyris 236C Color CMOS Camera. The timeline for availability of this imaging setup is planned for February 2019. However, being that the 5" refractor is now available, John Evelan, managing partner at SkyPi Remote Observatory, has thoroughly tested the imaging system from his home in Mesa, Arizona. John acquired some imaging data of M38 and NGC 1907 open clusters in the constellation Auriga on the night of December 5th, 2018. This data was taken with the Starlight Xpress SXVR-M25C color CCD camera that replaced the ATIK 490EX Color camera that was originally installed on the refractor. Although the ATIK performed well, we collectively agreed the wider field of view on the SXVR-M25C would be more impressive.

M38 Open Cluster in the Constellation of Auriga. Image Taken by John Evelan and Michael Petrasko on ATEO-2 with the Williams Optics 5" f/7 Refractor Imaging System.
Open Clusters M38 and NGC 1907 in Auriga. Image Taken by John Evelan and Michael Petrasko on ATEO-2
with the Williams Optics 5" f/7 Refractor Imaging System.

ATEO-2 will be accessible on the ATEO Portal in the near future, however, it is now available via Insight Observatory's Public Image Request Form (PIR) and Educational Image Request Form (EIR) for gathering astronomical images from the classroom.
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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Imaging Extragalactic Supernovae

Since the Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO-1) went online back in May 2017, we have since had the chance to image galaxies and galaxy clusters with a 16" f/3.7 astrograph telescope. Besides using the remote robotic telescope for acquiring "pretty" pictures of deep-sky objects such as galaxies, it can also be used as a tool for gathering data for extragalactic supernovae search.

Professional astronomers distinguish between two main classes of supernovae. The distinctions have to do with the type of explosion occurring, how it is triggered, the resulting light curve and the atomic elements visible in the spectrum of the supernova. However, for amateur astronomers’ purposes, we can consider two very basic types of a supernova: galactic and extragalactic. Our primary concern is with extragalactic supernovae, as a galactic supernova is far more infrequent an event than even a brilliant comet, solar eclipse, or any of a number of other “rare” astronomical phenomena. In fact, more than a dozen generations have passed without any human witnessing a supernova in our own Milky Way galaxy!

ASASSN-16cs/ SN 2016asf - Image Credit: PanSTARRS-1 Image Access
ASASSN-16cs/ SN 2016asf - Image Credit: PanSTARRS-1 Image Access

Imaging supernovae involve imaging galaxies as mentioned above. There are few other considerations than those normally applied to capturing a CCD image of a distant galaxy. Supernovae usually occupy the briefest time span of the three main transient events discussed in this section. Comets are often visible for weeks or even months, and even rapidly-moving near-Earth asteroids stick around for a week or more. Supernovae, on the other hand, may last only a few nights, appearing as a single brilliant star outshining the light of 100 billion companions in its host galaxy.

There is a list published online by the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams that gives the latest discoveries and the name of the host galaxy (or position if the host galaxy is uncataloged). Due to the short time available to image supernovae, subscribing to the IAU Circular is recommended as well. This email circular lists recent astronomical headlines including supernovae, novae, comets, interesting asteroids, and other events. Often the information in the circular is not available immediately through any other source.

Photometric (brightness) measurements can be made of a supernova as it fades. This information tells scientists about the type of explosion and can even lead to information about the distance to the host galaxy or the redshift (recessional velocity) of that galaxy, leading to a better understanding of the universe.

ASASSN-16cs Extragalactic Supernova Confirmation (Right) - Image by Issac Cruz.
ASASSN-16cs Extragalactic Supernova Confirmation (Right) - Image by Isaac Cruz.

One of our neighbors at SkyPi Remote Observatory, Isaac Cruz, discovered an extragalactic supernova on March 7, 2016. This one was in the constellation of Gemini (The Twins). Isaac received a notification of a transient from the ASASSN system from Ohio State University. Isaac stated, "Luckily I've been given the opportunity to do remote observing from the great folks at SkyPi Remote Observatory in New Mexico so this was the perfect time to do it." Isaac connected to his remote system and pointed the telescope to the given coordinates. He took a 10-second image at 1/3 the resolution (Bin 3) and the supernova was obvious just south of the galaxy. Discovery! Isaac then took a 10-minute image at full resolution and sent it for verification. In a few minutes, he received the confirmation that the new star had been certified and designated ASASSN-16cs and SN 2016asf.

Now that our hosting neighbor at SkyPi Remote Observatory has proven this type of discovery is possible with remote robotic telescopes, it has inspired us to craft an extragalactic supernova search program of our own that would allow students and individual users of the ATEO network to participate in such an endeavor.
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Thursday, November 1, 2018

What's In the Sky - November 2018

Clear November night skies offer incredible celestial sights for stargazers to be thankful for, so bundle up and get outside for stargazing fun! Brought to you by Orion Telescopes and Binoculars.

Taurids Meteor Shower

On the night of November 5, the Taurids Meteor Shower will peak and with an early setting moon, there should be desirable dark skies for viewing. Look near the constellation Taurus, but be aware that meteors can appear anywhere in the sky.

Radiant of the Leonid Meteor Shower - Graphic by Univers Today.
Radiant of the Leonid Meteor Shower - Illustration by Universe Today.

Leonid Meteor Shower

Bundle up and get outside after midnight on November 17th to see the peak of the Leonids meteor shower as "shooting stars" appear to radiate outwards from the constellation Leo. The waxing gibbous Moon will set shortly after midnight, so the best time for meteor-gazing will be in the wee hours of November 18th when the skies will be nice and dark.

M45 - The Pleiades (the Seven Sisters) - Image by Insight Observatory.
M45 - The Pleiades (the Seven Sisters) - Image by Insight Observatory.

The Pleiades

November is sometimes called "The month of the Pleiades," since the star cluster is visible all night long for observers in the Northern hemisphere. From a dark sky site, M45 is easy to see with the unaided eye and resembles a small "teaspoon" pattern in the sky. Use astronomy binoculars for immersive views of this open star cluster, or use a telescope with a lower-power eyepiece for a closer look at the Seven Sisters.

Mercury

The next night, November 6, will be the best time to observe the smallest and innermost planet in the Solar System as it will be at its greatest eastern elongation. It'll be low in the western sky shortly after sunset.

New Moon

This is the best time of the month to observe the fainter deep-sky objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.

Double Cluster in Perseus

Use a pair of big binoculars or a shorter focal length telescope with a wide-field eyepiece in November to seek out the sparkling Double Cluster in Perseus - two side by side open star clusters NGC 884 and NGC 869.

All objects described above can easily be seen with the suggested equipment from a dark sky site, a viewing location some distance away from city lights where light pollution and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars.
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Saturday, October 27, 2018

ATEO-1 Zooms In On NGC 7094

Planetary nebulae are interesting deep-sky objects because they are very similar yet very different. ATEO-1 recently imaged NGC 7094. This relatively bright planetary nebula in the constellation Pegasus is embedded in this faint integrated flux nebula visible in this image cataloged as LBN152.

The primary exercise of imaging the nebula was to demonstrate how the Proline 16803 CCD camera that is attached to the 16" f/3.7 astrograph remote online imaging telescope can not only capture a nice wide-field but also have the capability of zooming into a deep-sky object without losing very much resolution. 

Planetary Nebula NGC 7094 in Pegasus cropped image on the 16" f/3/7 astrograph (ATEO-1) - Image by Insight Observatory.
Planetary Nebula NGC 7094 in Pegasus cropped image on the 16" f/3/7 astrograph (ATEO-1) - Image by Insight Observatory.

The image above is displayed at 100% and cropped for the purpose of concentrating on the planetary nebula itself. Below is the original sized field of view image of NGC 7094. 

Planetary Nebula NGC 7094 in Pegasus with original field of view on the 16" f/3/7 astrograph (ATEO-1) - Image by Insight Observatory.
Planetary Nebula NGC 7094 in Pegasus with original field of view on the 16" f/3/7 astrograph (ATEO-1) - Image by Insight Observatory.

The central star of this nebula belongs to the class of PG 1159 stars - hydrogen-deficient post-AGB-stars on their way to the white dwarf cooling sequence. However, a fraction of them show small amounts of atmospheric hydrogen and are referred to as hybrid PG 1159 stars, which is the case for this object.

We look forward to all of our ATEO Portal users capturing planetary nebulae displaying their unique characteristics.
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Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Pleiades and Triangulum Galaxy

Fall is the time of year when a few deep-sky gems make their way into the night sky once again. The Pleiades, Messier 45 and the Triangulum Galaxy, Messier 33, are among the long list. The Pleiades are also well known to the unaided eye as the Seven Sisters. That is how many stars can only be seen in this open star cluster under dark skies. The image below taken on Insight Observatory's Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO-1) displays many many more stars in the cluster.

M45 - The Pleiades imaged at LRGB 600 sec, 2x2 bin on ATEO-1 by Insight Observatory.
M45 - The Pleiades imaged at LRGB 600 sec, 2x2 bin on ATEO-1 by Insight Observatory. 

The cluster is dominated by hot blue and luminous stars that have formed within the last 100 million years. A faint reflection nebulosity around the brightest stars was thought at first to be left over from the formation of the cluster (hence the alternative name Maia Nebula after the star Maia), but is now likely an unrelated foreground dust cloud in the interstellar medium, through which the stars are currently passing.

Computer simulations have shown that the Pleiades were probably formed from a compact configuration that resembled the Orion Nebula. Astronomers estimate that the cluster will survive for about another 250 million years, after which it will disperse due to gravitational interactions with its galactic neighborhood.

M33 - The Triangulum Galaxy imaged on ATEO-1 at LRGB 600 sec, 2x2 bin by Insight Observatory.
M33 - The Triangulum Galaxy imaged on ATEO-1 at LRGB 600 sec, 2x2 bin by Insight Observatory.

The Triangulum Galaxy (also known as M33) that is about 3 million light-years away from Earth. While its mass is not well understood, one estimate puts it between 10 billion and 40 billion times the sun's mass, what is known is it's the third largest member of the Local Group or the galaxies that are near the Milky Way. Triangulum also has a small satellite galaxy of its own, called the Pisces Dwarf Galaxy.

Under dark sky conditions, M33 is just barely visible with the naked eye in the constellation Triangulum, just west of Andromeda and Pisces.
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Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Andromeda Galaxy Revisited and NGC 6822

Now that the ATEO Portal is complete and in full use for accessing imaging data on ATEO-1, we decided to revisit an old friend... M31, The Andromeda Galaxy. It was just a little over a year ago that we acquired our first image of our closest galactic neighbor. Insight's first image of M31 was a 60-second Luminance image taken remotely with TheSkyX software on the Raspberry Pi that controls the 16" f/3.7 remote telescope. This was before the ATEO Portal was ready for beta testing.

M31 - "The Andromeda Galaxy" Imaged via Insight Observatory's ATEO Portal on it's 16" f/3.7 Remote Robotic Telescope (ATEO-1).
M31 - "The Andromeda Galaxy" Imaged via Insight Observatory's ATEO Portal on it's
16" f/3.7 Remote Robotic Telescope (ATEO-1). 

The latest image above was taken completely through the ATEO online access portal. This image, a bit more impressive, was taken on the morning of October 5th, 2018, with filters Luminance 600 seconds along with Red, Blue, and Green at 300 seconds. All binning 2x2 and the image processing was done in PixInight and Photoshop CS6.

While the Andromeda Galaxy makes quite an impression, we thought why not image another galaxy of a completely opposite type. NGC 6822 was loaded into the Telescope Console on the ATEO Portal as a target as well. The specifications of this image are Luminance 300 Seconds, RGB 120s, and all 2x2 binning.

NGC 6822 - "Barnard's Galaxy" Imaged via Insight Observatory's ATEO Portal on it's 16" f/3.7 Remote Robotic Telescope (ATEO-1).
NGC 6822 - "Barnard's Galaxy" Imaged via Insight Observatory's ATEO Portal on it's
 16" f/3.7 Remote Robotic Telescope (
ATEO-1).

NGC 6822 (also known as Barnard's Galaxy, IC 4895, or Caldwell 57) is a barred irregular galaxy approximately 1.6 million light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius. Part of the Local Group of galaxies, it was discovered by E. E. Barnard in 1884, with a six-inch refractor telescope. It is one of the closer galaxies to the Milky Way. It is similar in structure and composition to the Small Magellanic Cloud and is about 7,000 light-years in diameter.

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Thursday, October 4, 2018

21P Giacobini-Zinner On the Move

Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner has been putting on a good show recently, so I grabbed some shots of the speedy comet as it cruised through the inner Solar System with the Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO).

From the 16" f/3.7 reflector, ATEO-1, I thought it would be interesting to capture the motion of the comet. On September 21st around 5:15 in the morning I imaged with 2-minute exposures every 10 minutes, for a total of 15 images captured. Since the comet was low on the horizon during the first part of the exposure run, we see some glow near the horizon which you see at the bottom of the image on the first few frames of the loop. After processing: normal image reduction and aligning all the images, the animated GIF was created that you see below. Elapsed time in the GIF: 1 hour 20 minutes.

Time-elapse GIF of Comet 21P/ Giacobini-Zinner imaged by Muir Evenden on ATEO-1.
Time-elapse GIF of Comet 21P/ Giacobini-Zinner imaged by Muir Evenden on ATEO-1.

Next, I wanted a shot from the 5" f/7 refractor, ATEO-2. A few days later on September 23rd at 3:30 in the morning I captured a 10-minute image with the one-shot color camera while the mount was set to track the comet. The result was this nice picture of the comet moving along...

Comet  21P/Giacobini-Zinner Imaged by Muir Evenden tracking the comet on ATEO-2.
Comet  21P/Giacobini-Zinner Imaged by Muir Evenden tracking the comet on ATEO-2.
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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

ATEO Portal Released with Instructional Videos

Insight Observatory is pleased to announce the official release of its Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO) Portal. This online gateway allows educators and the general public to access their network of remote robotic telescopes for astronomical imaging and research. Unlike Insight's Public Image Request Form (PIR), the portal allows users to create a user account, reserve telescope time, and enter in specific image data requests. The image data is then uploaded to a secure cloud folder after the observing run is completed.

Screen Capture of the Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO) Online Telescope Portal.
Screen Capture of the Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO) Online Telescope Portal.

ATEO Portal Instructional Videos have been published on Insight Observatory's YouTube Channel that covers each module of the online telescope access portal, from creating a new user account to planning what objects are to be imaged during a scheduled reservation.

The Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO) Portal can be accessed at https://ateodev.insightobs.com.

ATEO Portal New User Registration

ATEO Portal New User Registration - Instructions on how to sign up for a user account on the Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO) Portal that accesses Insight Observatory's network of remote robotic imaging telescopes.

ATEO Portal User Profile

ATEO Portal User Profile - Instructions on how to use the Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO) Portal User Profile to edit user information, purchase imaging credits, and access image data.

ATEO Portal Scheduler

ATEO Portal Scheduler - Instructions on how to use the Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO) Portal Scheduler to reserve imaging time on Insight Observatory's remote robotic telescopes.

ATEO Portal Telescope Console

ATEO Portal Telescope Console - Instructions on how to use the Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO) Portal Telescope Console to plan what objects are to be imaged during a scheduled reservation.

If you are interested in creating an account on the ATEO Portal or have any specific questions, please contact support@insightobservatory.com.
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Monday, October 1, 2018

What's In the Sky - October 2018

October nights will be full of celestial treats to see with binoculars and telescopes. Here are some of Orion Telescopes and Binoculars' top October stargazing suggestions.

Draconids Meteor Shower

The annual Draconid meteor shower peaks just before nightfall October 8th. While the Draconid isn't usually the strongest of meteor showers, it is known to have spectacular outbursts. Look towards the constellation Draco for your best chance to catch a glimpse of a Draconid meteor.

New Moon

For the best conditions to see the galaxies and clusters described above, plan a stargazing session for the night of October 9th, when the New Moon will provide dark skies. This is the best night of the month to observe the night sky since light from stars and faint deep sky objects won't have to compete with bright moonlight.

NGC 281 - "The Pacman Nebula" - Imaged on ATEO-1 by 5th-Grade Students at Plymouth South Elementary School, Plymouth, MA.
NGC 281 - The "Pacman Nebula" - Imaged on ATEO-1 by 5th-Grade Students at Plymouth South Elementary School, Plymouth, MA.

A Challenging Nebula

Making a small equilateral triangle with the stars Eta and Alpha Cassiopeiae is the elusive Pac Man Nebula, NGC 281. The Pac Man is a famous target for astrophotographers, but it's not very easy to observe visually. From dark sky locations, you can pick out its faint glow with large binoculars, but a telescope at low power with the help of an Oxygen-III filter will show it best.

NGC 253 - Imaged Michael Petrasko and Muir Evenden of Insight Observatory.
NGC 253 - Imaged Michael Petrasko and Muir Evenden of Insight Observatory.

The Sculptor Galaxy (NGC 253)

Around midnight local time on October 3rd, the Sculptor Galaxy (NGC 253) will be well positioned for viewing as it will be at the highest point in the sky. Cataloged as both H V.1 and Bennett 4, this 7th magnitude beauty is also known as Caldwell 65, and due to both its brightness and the oblique angle is often called the "Silver Dollar Galaxy."

Orionids Meteor Shower

After midnight and before the Sun rises October 21 – 22, you can feast your eyes on the Orionid meteor shower. Look towards the eastern sky, where the constellation Orion will rise, for your best chance to see an Orionid meteor. As many as 50-70 meteors per hour will appear to radiate out of Orion Telescopes and Binoculars namesake constellation. The full Moon’s brightness may hamper visibility of all but very bright meteors.

Uranus at Opposition

Take advantage of the elusive planet Uranus as it reaches opposition on October 23rd. With Earth positioned between Uranus and the Sun along a roughly straight line, an opposition is when Uranus will be in its orbit's nearest point to Earth. Grab a star chart or StarSeek app to track down this magnitude 6.5 planet, which is just below naked-eye visibility, in the constellation Pisces. Since it's so far away from Earth, Uranus will be a very small bluish-green dot in large telescopes. While sighting the ice giant planet can be a challenge, it's worth the effort to know you're looking at one of the most distant planets in the Solar System.

All objects described above can easily be seen with the suggested equipment from a dark sky site, a viewing location some distance away from city lights where light pollution and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars.
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Sunday, September 30, 2018

Collaboration with SkyPi Remote Observatory

Sublime Skies, LLC DBA Insight Observatory is pleased to announce a joint Education Outreach collaboration with SkyPi Online Observatory, LLC!  

SkyPi Remote Observatory was conceived as an installation of automated roll-off observatories with telescope piers with the purpose of hosting remote imaging telescopes by John and Jan Evelan of Mesa, Arizona back in 2012. "The facility is dedicated to providing a superb remote imaging environment for the discriminating astrophotographer" as stated by John Evelan. "The remote observatory site is located in Pie Town, New Mexico with a population approximately of 200. It is arguably among the darkest sky sites in the lower 48 states. There are many other advantages that come along with this site. As I began planning the observatory, I realized that sharing and hosting the site was a natural evolution for it. The goal is to make remote observing accessible and more affordable to the astronomy community."

Remote Robotic Telescopes hosted in SkyPi Remote Observatory's Alpha Observatory.  Image courtesy of SkyPi Remote Observatory.
Remote Robotic Telescopes hosted in SkyPi Remote Observatory's Alpha Observatory. 
Image courtesy of SkyPi Remote Observatory.

The comments above are exactly why the founding members of Insight Observatory, Michael Petrasko, and Muir Evenden chose the location for hosting their 16" f/3.7 Dreamscope Astrograph imaging telescope that was installed in May 2017. After carefully searching for the ideal location to host their Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO-1), they chose SkyPi Remote Observatory. Not only did the physical location turn out to be phenomenal for imaging and research but the service provided by John and his talented technicians, Michael and Caleb went completely above and beyond what their expectations were during and after the installation of the telescope. Their response time to any technical issues and special requests is extremely prompt. Insight Observatory could not imagine hosting their remote robotic telescope anywhere else.

IC 405 - The Flaming Star Nebula imaged by Insight Observatory on 16" F/3.7 Remote Telescope  hosted at SkyPi Remote Observatory.
IC 405 - The Flaming Star Nebula imaged by Insight Observatory on 16" F/3.7 Remote Telescope 
hosted at SkyPi Remote Observatory.

As their business relationship flourished and Michael Petrasko was onsite this past May on a routine telescope maintenance visit, John and he were discussing the online ATEO Portal Muir had designed and developed for accessing the ATEO-1 remote telescope via the internet. John asked if "any" telescope could be accessed via the online portal and when Michael replied yes, John opened up one of SkyPi's roll-off observatories that houses a Williams Optics 5" f/7 with a one-shot CCD camera attached. John then continued, "Even this one?".  That's when SkyPi's 5" f/7 refractor became Insight Observatory's very first affiliate imaging telescope on its network and has been designated ATEO-2. Currently, the crew at SkyPi are in the midst of configuring an 11" f/10 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope that will be dedicated to planetary imaging. This imaging system will be known as ATEO-3.

M51 - The "Whirlpool Galaxy" imaged by Bob Birket on his Optics 12-inch RCOS Astrograph hosted at SkyPi Remote Observatory. Automated Roll-Off Roof Observatories Alpha, Bravo, and Gamma to the right.
M51 - The "Whirlpool Galaxy" imaged by Bob Birket on his Optics 12-inch RCOS Astrograph hosted at SkyPi Remote Observatory. Automated Roll-Off Roof Observatories Alpha, Bravo, and Gamma to the right.

John and Jan Evelan share the same passion for educational outreach the founding members of Insight Observatory do. After ATEO-2 was configured by the crew of SkyPi to be accessed by Insight Observatory, it became accessible on Insight Observatory's Educational Image Request (EIR) Form for classroom projects. ATEO-2 can also be accessed on their Public Image Request (PIR) Form as well. The telescope will be added to the online ATEO Portal within the next couple of months.

An Observatory housing n 18" Dobsonian Telescope was constructed so clients could enjoy observing in the dark skies at SkyPi. The telescope will also be used for Education Outreach events as well.  Image courtesy of SkyPi Remote Observatory.
An Observatory housing n 18" Dobsonian Telescope was constructed so clients could enjoy observing in the dark skies at SkyPi. The telescope will also be used for Education Outreach events as well. 
Images courtesy of SkyPi Remote Observatory.

Both companies met on a video conference call this past Labor Day weekend to discuss possible joint ventures where both entities may accomplish their common goals for education outreach. Insight Observatory could not be more enthusiastic to partner up with SkyPi Remote Observatory on these!

If you are looking for the ideal spot to host your imaging system, we strongly recommend SkyPi. Other Astro-imagers have found SkyPi Remote Observatory to be the ultimate hosting solution other than Insight Observatory. You may read all of their positive feedback on their Testimonials page on their website. Also, check out the images taken by SkyPi's hosting clients on their image gallery.
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Thursday, September 27, 2018

Featured Deep-Sky Object - IC 1805

Now that the staff of Insight Observatory has their ATEO Portal working to its full capacity, they looked up a few unique deep-sky wonders to image remotely via their newly released remote telescope gateway. Insight Observatory Project Developer, Michael Petrasko chose IC 1805, The "Heart Nebula" as a target to script in the online application. This access portal to Insight Observatory's remote robotic telescope network located at an elevation of 7,800 ft. in western New Mexico is now available for use to educators, students, and the general public.

Currently only ATEO-1, the 16" f/3.7 Dreamscope Astrograph reflector imaging telescope is accessible through the ATEO portal. However, ATEO-2, the Williams Optics 5" f/7 refractor is available for imaging through Insight Observatory's Educational Image Request form (EIR) and their Public Image Request form (PIR). ATEO-2 is slated to be available on the portal within the next couple of months.

The central region of IC 1805,  the "Heart Nebula" in Cassiopeia - Image by Insight Observatory on  ATEO-1 3 x Luminance at 300 seconds, 3 x Red, Green, Blue at 120 seconds.
The central region of IC 1805,  the "Heart Nebula" in Cassiopeia - Image by Insight Observatory on  ATEO-1
3 x Luminance at 300 seconds, 3 x Red, Green, Blue at 120 seconds.

The Heart Nebula (IC 1805) is an emission nebula located at an approximate distance of 7,500 light years from Earth, in the constellation Cassiopeia. It is also known as Sharpless 2-190 (Sh2-190) or the Running Dog Nebula because, when seen through a telescope, it resembles a dog running. The nebula has an apparent magnitude of 18.3 and an absolute magnitude of 6.5. It is 150 arcminutes in size and known for its intensely red glowing gas and dark dust lanes forming a shape that resembles a heart symbol. It was discovered by William Herschel on November 3rd, 1787.

The very brightest part of this nebula (the knot at the western edge) is separately classified as NGC 896 because it was the first part of this nebula to be discovered.

The nebula's intense red output and its configuration are driven by the radiation emanating from a small group of stars near the nebula's center. This open cluster of stars known as Melotte 15 contains a few bright stars nearly 50 times the mass of our Sun, and many more dim stars that are only a fraction of our Sun's mass.

The Heart Nebula forms a famous complex known as the Heart and Soul with its smaller neighbor Westerhout 5, also known as the Soul Nebula, which lies just 2.5 degrees to the southeast.

Educators, students, and the general public interested in accessing Insight Observatory's online-remote telescopes to image deep-sky gems like this one may register for a portal account at https://ateodev.insightobs.com. They may also view ATEO Portal registration instructions on Insight Observatory's YouTube channel video below.

ATEO Portal New User Registration

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Sunday, September 23, 2018

NGC 7023 and NGC 7380 Imaged with ATEO-1

Now that the ATEO Portal (that allows online access to the Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach) has been completed and is fully operational, the crew at Insight Observatory scheduled multiple imaging runs on ATEO-1 for testing. Rather than image popular, brighter objects such as M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, and M33, the Triangulum Galaxy, both used around the time of first light, a few lesser known deep-sky objects became the targets for this portal test run. NGC 7023, the "Iris Nebula" and NGC 7380, the "Wizard Nebula" were the picks for this automated run on the ATEO Portal.

NGC 7023, the "Iris Nebula" imaged via the ATEO Online Portal at 300 seconds LRGB (Binning 1 for L / 2 for RGB) Image by Insight Observatory on ATEO-1 - 16" f3.7 Astrograph imaging telescope.
NGC 7023, the "Iris Nebula" imaged via the ATEO Online Portal at 300 seconds LRGB (Binning 1 for L / 2 for RGB) Image by Insight Observatory on ATEO-1 - 16" f3.7 Astrograph imaging telescope.

The "Iris Nebula", also known as NGC 7023 and Caldwell 4, is a bright reflection nebula and Caldwell object in the constellation Cepheus. NGC 7023 is actually the cluster within the nebula, LBN 487, and the nebula is lit by a magnitude +7 star. The nebula shines at magnitude +6.8 and it lies 1,300 light-years away and is six light-years across.

This reflection nebula can be fully appreciated through astrophotography and imaging, as seen in the 5-minute image above. The dominant color of this reflection nebula is blue, with interstellar dust lit up by the central young star.

NGC 7380, the "Wizard Nebula" imaged via the ATEO Online Portal at 300 seconds LRGB (Binning 1 for L / 2 for RGB) Image by Insight Observatory on ATEO-1 - 16" f3.7 Astrograph imaging telescope.
NGC 7380, the "Wizard Nebula" imaged via the ATEO Online Portal at 300 seconds LRGB (Binning 1 for L / 2 for RGB) Image by Insight Observatory on ATEO-1 - 16" f3.7 Astrograph imaging telescope.

The Wizard Nebula, also known as NGC 7380, is an open cluster discovered by Caroline Herschel in 1787. William Herschel included his sister's discovery in his catalog and labeled it H VIII.77. It is also known as 142 in the 1959 Sharpless catalog (Sh2-142). This reasonably large nebula is located in Cepheus. It is extremely difficult to observe visually, usually requiring very dark skies and an Oxygen-III filter.

Located 7200 light years away, the Wizard nebula surrounds developing open star cluster NGC 7380. Visually, the interplay of stars, gas, and dust has created a shape that appears to some like a fictional medieval sorcerer. The active star-forming region spans about 100 light-years, making it appear larger than the angular extent of the Moon. The Wizard Nebula can be located with a small telescope toward the constellation of the King of Aethiopia (Cepheus). Although the nebula may last only a few million years, some of the stars being formed may outlive our Sun.

Short timed exposures like these can surprisingly bring out so much detail with this telescope and imaging system and make it ideal for educational exercise as well as personal use. If you are interested in taking images like this with our newly released remote telescope portal, please view our recent instructional video on how to sign up for an account.
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Saturday, September 15, 2018

A "Tail" of Three Comets

There is something close to a dozen comets visible throughout the year on any given night in the night sky. Many are faint, usually in the range of 11th to a 13th magnitude that requires larger telescopes to see. This time around, we have a wonderful exception, Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner. However, this bright comet has the company of other fainter comets that were recently imaged on Insight Observatory's Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO-1). These comets that were imaged consisted of the bright comet named above, 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, 37P/Forbes, and 64P/Swift-Gehrels.

As Insight Observatory System's Engineer, Muir Evenden, was testing the latest updates on the ATEO Portal on the morning of September 13th, he realized that no comets have ever been imaged on the 16" f/3.7 astrograph imaging telescope. Knowing that there were a plethora of comets that were visible at the time he was imaging, he thought why not test the wide field of ATEO-1 on a few comets. The results were most satisfying due to the wide field of the telescope and resolution CCD camera.

Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner imaged at 300-second Luminance binning 1. Imaged by Muir Evenden.
Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner imaged at 300-second Luminance binning 1. Imaged by Muir Evenden.

The first target, 21P/Giacobini-Zinner is a periodic comet that was discovered by Michel Giacobini from Nice, France, who observed the comet in the constellation of Aquarius on December 20, 1900. It was recovered two passages later by Ernst Zinner from Bamberg, Germany while observing variable stars near Beta Scuti on October 23, 1913.

During its apparitions, Giacobini–Zinner can reach about the 8th magnitude, but in 1946 it underwent a series of outbursts that made it as bright as 5th magnitude. It is the source of the Draconids meteor shower. Giacobini–Zinner was the target of the International Cometary Explorer spacecraft, which passed through its plasma tail on September 11, 1985. In addition, Japanese space officials considered redirecting the Sakigake interplanetary probe toward a 1998 encounter with Giacobini–Zinner, but that probe lacked the propellant for the necessary maneuvers and the project was abandoned.

With an orbital period of 6.6 years, it's a common visitor to our night skies. 21P/Giacobini-Zinner is making a favorable approach at this apparition, passing just 58.6 million kilometers on September 10–11, the same date it reaches perihelion. That's just a few million kilometers shy of Mars's close encounter with the Earth this past July.


Comet 37P/Forbes faintly placed between two galaxies. NGC 7518 is the galaxy at the top. Imaged by Muir Evenden.
Comet 37P/Forbes faintly placed between two galaxies. NGC 7518 is the galaxy at the top. Imaged by Muir Evenden.

The next cometary target was 37P/Forbes is also a periodic comet in the Solar System. The comet was discovered on August 1, 1929, by Alex Rosebank and F.I. Forbes of, South Africa in the southern constellation of Microscopium. The comet nucleus is estimated to be 1.9 kilometers in diameter. The comet has been seen at every return since 1974.

Prior to the 1999 apparition, the best returns were those of 1974 (magnitude 13) and 1993 (magnitude 14). 37P/Forbes seemed to be heading for another normal apparition in 1999 when it attained its predicted total magnitude of 13 at the end of May and early in June. Then the comet seemed experienced an outburst around mid-June when observers began reporting a brightness of magnitude 11, if not slightly brighter. As the comet moved away from both the sun and Earth, it finally faded back to 13th magnitude by early September and was near 14 around mid-October.

Comet64P/Swift-Gehrels seen here with a small tail. Imaged by Muir Evenden at 600 seconds, binning 2
Comet64P/Swift-Gehrels seen here with a small tail. Imaged by Muir Evenden at 600 seconds, binning 2.

Imaged last, but not least was Comet64P/Swift-Gehrels. This comet is a periodic comet in the solar system which has a current orbital period of 9.23 years. It was originally discovered on 17 November 1889 by Lewis A. Swift at the Warner Observatory, Rochester, New York, and was described by Swift as being pretty faint. It was rediscovered on 8 February 1973 by Tom Gehrels at the Palomar Observatory, California who estimated its brightness as a very low magnitude 19. It was also observed in 1981, 1991, 2000, 2009 and 2018.

Now that we know comets are a prime target for imaging on ATEO-1, we will be attempting to push these "dirty snowballs" as subjects for education projects such as compiling color images and creating animations of their movement in the night sky. Amazing how one 10 minute exposure can capture the fainter wanderers!
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Saturday, September 8, 2018

What's In the Sky - September 2018

September nights are full of wonderful treats for amateur astronomers to enjoy with binoculars and telescopes. See some of Orion Telescopes and Binoculars top September stargazing suggestions below:

Spiral Galaxies

The fall stargazing season kicks off in September with wonderfully placed spiral galaxies M31 in Andromeda, M33 in Triangulum, and M74 in Pisces. Use a big telescope to see these distant galaxies.

The Northern Milky Way

Early in the month, around 9 PM, the "Summer Triangle" of three bright stars Vega, Deneb and Altair will be nearly overhead. In the northernmost portion of the Summer Triangle, you'll see a bright portion of the northern Milky Way. Point a telescope there and you'll discover that the fuzzy outlines of the Milky Way will resolve into vast fields of stars to explore.

New Moon

For the best conditions to see the galaxies and clusters described above, plan a stargazing session for the night of September 9th, when the New Moon will provide dark skies. This is the best night of the month to observe the night sky since light from stars and faint deep sky objects won't have to compete with bright moonlight.

Three Globular Star Clusters

Off the western side of the constellation Pegasus, three globular star clusters almost line up in a row from north to south in September skies. These globular clusters are, from north to south, M15 in Pegasus, M2 in Aquarius and M30 in Capricorn. From a dark sky site, you can easily find all of them in 50mm or larger binoculars.

Planetary Nebulas in the Summer Triangle

Use a star chart and see how many of these planetary nebulas you can find in September: the famous Ring Nebula (M57) in the constellation Lyra; the Dumbbell Nebula (M27) in Vulpecula; and the "Blinking Planetary," NGC 6826 in Cygnus. Not far outside the western boundary of the Summer Triangle is a small, but intensely colorful planetary nebula, NGC 6572. All these can be seen in a 6" or larger telescope. Enhance your views of these distant clouds of dust and gas with an Oxygen-III filter.

The Great Andromeda Galaxy (M31) - Imaged by Insight Observatory on ATEO-1
The Great Andromeda Galaxy (M31) - Imaged by Insight Observatory on ATEO-1

The Galaxy Next Door

In early September, lurking low in the northeast sky is another galaxy, separate from our Milky Way - the Great Andromeda Galaxy (M31). From a very dark area without a lot of light pollution, the core of M31 is visible with the unaided eye as a slightly fuzzy spot in the sky. A pair of 7x50, 9x63 or larger binoculars will give you a much better view and any telescope will help reveal some of the neighboring galaxy's subtle dust lanes.

Dip into the Whirlpool

If you haven't tracked down "The Whirlpool Galaxy," M51, just off the handle of the easily recognizable Big Dipper asterism, do it now while you still can! It will be too low for most to get a good view after September and you'll need to wait until late winter or next spring to catch a good view of this truly picturesque galaxy. An 8" or larger telescope will help you see faint details of M51 more clearly.

A Brilliant Open Star Cluster

Off the western end of the constellation, Cassiopeia is the beautiful Open Star Cluster M52. You can find it with 50mm or larger binoculars from a dark sky site, but the view is definitely better in a telescope. With an 8" or larger scope, and with the aid of an Orion UltraBlock or Oxygen-III eyepiece filter, you may even be able to catch views of faint nebulosity surrounding M52.

Don't Miss the Double Cluster

If you enjoyed observing M52, you'll love the popular favorite "Double Cluster in Perseus." Lying between constellations Cassiopeia and Perseus is a bright, fuzzy spot in the Milky Way, and a binocular will reveal two, bright open star clusters close to one another. For a real treat, use a telescope equipped with a wide-angle eyepiece to explore these sparkling clusters. In early September the "Double Cluster" appears low in northeastern skies around 9 PM, but it becomes a real showpiece later in the evening as it climbs higher in the sky.

Planetary Viewing

Viewing planets is always rewarding and September will provide ample opportunities. Mars and Saturn are still visible until late in the night (early in the morning). Jupiter is still up in the early evenings but will set fairly soon after dark. Go out and enjoy!

A Thinly Veiled Challenge

A challenging object to see in September is the supernova remnant called the Veil Nebula, located in the constellation Cygnus which is nearly overhead as soon as it gets dark. With the help of a star chart, aim your telescope at the naked eye star 52 Cygni. One branch of the Veil crosses over this star and to the east are brighter segments of this roughly circular nebula. While the Veil Nebula can be seen in big binoculars by expert observers under very dark skies, you will likely need at least a 6" aperture telescope and an Orion Oxygen-III eyepiece filter if you are anywhere near city lights.

All objects described above can easily be seen with the suggested equipment from a dark sky site, a viewing location some distance away from city lights where light pollution and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars.
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