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Bringing the Universe to Your Classroom!

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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