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Thursday, December 26, 2019

Buy A Real Telescope!

There are two kinds of people: those who own an astronomical telescope - and those who want to own one!

If you're of the 2nd variety, you may not own a telescope on the grounds, that, "they're, just too expensive!" Well, some telescopes ARE too expensive! - like those, situated beneath state-of-the-art observatory domes on the summits of Mauna Kea, and Mauna Loa, in the Hawaiian Islands. Now, THAT'S too expensive; for most of us, anyway.

Believe it or not - there are telescopes on the market, that actually approach the optical quality, and sizes, of some of those gems of the tropics. And, there are some that DON'T! And, it's the ones that don't - that are the, truly, expensive items! I will stay clear of those kinds of "powerful", "600X"-type "mockeries", except to give a brief overview and tell you where they can most likely be found.

Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescope Kit.
Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescope Kit.

Certain kinds of telescopes, or, maybe more accurately, items that LOOK like real telescopes, that are marketed using high, but, ambiguous numbers - are likely to have the overall construction, as well as, overall usefulness, of a high-priced "toy". Although there are some rare exceptions, any type of optical instrument sold by department stores, or other chain store outlets, is likely to consist, mostly, of hype - and disappointment. Don't buy one. I could write a short book on my reasons for telling you that (maybe I will!) - but, not here.

There. That's that! Now, let's look at real, astronomical optical instruments that are available for the non-rich, amateur astronomer, or anyone else who wishes to acquire a well-made optical instrument, for other purposes, as well (I understand that "other" purposes exist - but, I'm not familiar with any of them!)


Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope Kit.
Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope Kit.

This will be short, and sweet, mainly because I only know of one telescope manufacturer which meets all, of what, I consider, the most important criteria: quality, price, available accessories, reputation, and general knowledge of telescopes - based on my experience and familiarity them: Orion Telescopes and Binoculars of Cupertino, California.

Because of the necessity of variety, and of combinations of variety - much of it aimed at the more advanced, "intermediate" amateur astronomer - Orion carries many types of telescopes, and telescope 'packages', which, I cannot possibly give decent coverage to here, so, before I briefly go over a few of their more 'general-purpose' telescopes, I'll just mention that, they also carry instruments for the advanced amateur, as well as, professional astronomer.

I will note here - NEVER buy a telescope, based on advertisements of "power". I think that statement should be embossed on every telescope's packaging, just above, "DO NOT USE TO LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN". Any telescope, in theory, can provide high, even very high magnifications. That's not what you're interested in. Advertising a telescope by "power"-"magnification", is a marketing device. It's done, only because it can be, and it sounds so good. But, magnification is the least of your concerns; aperture - is a major concern. The cost is a close second.

Orion SkyQuest XX12g GoTo Truss Tube Dobsonian Telescope.
Orion SkyQuest XX12g GoTo Truss Tube Dobsonian Telescope.

There are a few, basic types of scopes: Refractors, Reflectors, and Cassegrainian, "folded" optics types. All of these come in a variety of aperture sizes. Refractors, typically, are in the smaller ranges, mainly because they are more expensive to make. Reflectors, come in small, medium, and large. Folded optics types, come in medium and large. My recommendation, for a beginner, is to purchase a reflector telescope of at least 4-4.5-inch aperture, but that's because I'm partial to reflectors and there, generally, larger apertures.

Here are three scopes from Orion, that I recommend for someone who has never before purchased a telescope, and/or, is a beginning-intermediate amateur astronomer. Prices are, as of their latest catalog.

  • StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescope Kit: This is a 4.5-inch tabletop model, swivel-base, Dobsonian mounting, and is supplied with two eyepieces (for change of magnification) - 17mm and 6mm (26x and 75x, respectively). 0-power finder-scope. This model features an alt-azimuth dual-axis system for manual repositioning. Best suited for the beginner. Good for observing the moon, planets, and brighter deep-space objects.

  • Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope Kit: An 8-inch "floor" model-style, Dobsonian mounting. Comes with 2x Barlow lens (doubling mag. of the eyepieces): 35mm and 25mm (34x, 48x, 68x, and 96x w/Barlow) and 0-power finder-scope. This model features an alt-azimuth dual-axis system for manual repositioning. Best suited for, beginner-intermediate. Good for observing the moon, planets, and dimmer deep-space objects.

  • Orion SkyQuest XX12g GoTo Truss Tube Dobsonian: This telescope is my personal "dream-scope". 8-inch aperture, computerized "GoTo" drive mechanism. Laser-based finder-scope. This model features the GoTo computer-automated drive. Stepper-motors, on both axes, and a hand-held computer controller, allow automatic repositioning of the telescope, based on controller input (keyed or voice). Includes 28mm and 12.5mm eyepieces and 2x Barlow (54x, 108x, 120x, and 240x). Best suited for intermediate-advanced amateurs. Good for observing the moon, planets, and harder-to-reach deep-space objects, such as distant galaxies.

I could continue down the list, as, there are other models in all of the classes I've mentioned, with varying degrees of accessory inclusion. All of the models mentioned here will be very good for observing a variety of celestial objects. Orion carries an entire line of accessories, from extra eyepieces, solar filters, to planetary and deep-space digital CCD cameras and adapters. Your best bet, though, is to view their current, full catalog on-line, at telescope.com.

Unfortunately, they no longer provide a real, paper catalog! But, according to their associate, Rick, they will likely be back (as soon as people realize that, paper, is actually, a much faster, more intuitive browse than a screen!)

Dale Alan Bryant
Senior Contributing Science Writer
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Sunday, December 8, 2019

The 2019 Mercury Transit

Transits of Mercury occur more frequently than transits of Venus, but - the next Mercurian transit won't happen again, until November 13, 2032!

A transit of Mercury happens only 13-14 times per century, currently, either in May or in November. But the reasons for their occurrence - at all - rely on Keplerian orbital elements, that, is far too complex, to even begin to describe, here.

Map of where 2019 Mercury Transit was visible from.
Map of where 2019 Mercury Transit was visible from.

The last transit before the most current one occurred on May 9, 2016. A typical transit lasts several hours. I timed the 5+ hour transit of November 11th, using SkySafari 5, for Android.

The 2019 Mercury Transit imaged on an 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope with a Celestron Eclipsmart Solar Filter and a Canon 70D. Location was from the Costa Esmeralda Panama Republic of Panama. Images by Luis Velasquez.
The 2019 Mercury Transit imaged on an 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope with a Celestron Eclipsmart Solar Filter and a Canon 70D. Location was from the Costa Esmeralda Panama Republic of Panama. Images by Luis Velasquez.

According to that app, the transit began (from my location at Cape Cod), at 7:31:08 EST, and ended at 12:57:25 EST, with the third contact (the eastern limb of the planet making contact with Sun's Eastern limb), at 12:55:46 - a difference of 1.79 minutes. This brief interval demonstrates the small size of the planet, against the size of the Sun.


Video of the 2019 Mercury Transit through some clouds courtesy of Luis Velasquez.


Dale Alan Bryant
Senior Contributing Science Writer
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Saturday, December 7, 2019

What's In The Sky - December 2019

December brings cold winter nights and some of the clearest skies of the year for many locations. Bundle up to keep warm and get outside for some holiday stargazing fun with equipment and accessories from Orion Telescopes and Binoculars!

Star Party Time

Thanks to the New Moon of December 26th, skies will be dark enough for nice views of distant deep-sky objects with a telescope, making it a great night for a holiday star party. Check out open cluster M45 (Pleiades), the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and the many gems within our namesake constellation Orion, including M42 the Orion Nebula, emission nebula M78, and the large emission patch NGC 2174/2175 also known as the Monkey Head nebula. If you have a 10" or larger aperture telescope with a Hydrogen-beta filter, take advantage of the New Moon to go after views of the elusive Horsehead Nebula located near Alnitak - the easternmost star of Orion's easily recognizable belt.

IC 434 or Barnard 33 - The Horsehead Nebula imaged on ATEO-1. Image processed by Muir Evenden.
IC 434 or Barnard 33 - The Horsehead Nebula imaged on ATEO-1. Image processed by Muir Evenden.

Geminids Meteors

One of the most famous meteor showers, the Geminids, will be most active on December 14th. This impressive shower is known to produce up to 120 multicolored meteors per hour at its peak. This year, the 4-day old moon will be rather bright, causing some interference at peak. While this shower can produce meteors nightly from December 4th through the 17th, the best chance to see a high concentration of meteors will be on the night of December 14th.

Best Binocular Targets 

While 50mm binoculars are good for December stargazing, bigger 70mm, 80mm, or larger binos will reveal brighter and better views of celestial gems, of which there are plenty to enjoy in December skies. The glorious open star cluster M45, also known as the Pleiades, will be nearly overhead in the constellation Perseus. A little more north and overhead you'll find the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), which really shines in big binoculars. Slightly to the northwest of M31, you'll see the beautiful Double Cluster of Perseus.

NGC 253 - The Sculptor or "Silver Dollar" Galaxy imaged on ATEO-3. Image processed by Franck Jobard.
NGC 253 - The Sculptor or "Silver Dollar" Galaxy imaged on ATEO-3. Image processed by Franck Jobard.

Best Telescope Targets 

All of the binocular targets listed above also make great telescope quarry, but December skies offer great opportunities to see objects that require a telescope too. First, slew your scope just a few degrees southwest of M31 to find M33, a distant face-on spiral galaxy that's about 2.5 million light-years (MLY) away from Earth. In the constellation Sculptor far to the south, try to find NGC 253, the impressive "silver dollar" galaxy. There's a swarm of other galaxies to see in the general area of NGC 253 - all part of the "Sculptor Group" of galaxies. Use a star chart or the Orion StarSeek app and hunt them down! In Pisces, look for M74, another face-on spiral galaxy like M33, but one that is almost 30 MLY farther away from us. Finally, check out NGC 1300, a classic barred spiral galaxy that is approximately 61 MLY away from Earth with a monster black-hole in its nucleus.

December Challenge

With a 10" or larger telescope from a dark sky site, try to track down the picturesque Horsehead Nebula near the eastern star of Orion's belt, which is named Alnitak. Using an Orion H-Beta Nebula Filter will improve your chances of seeing this faint absorption nebula.

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, November 3, 2019

Primary Sources

How do we know that the sun is a star? -- and, that we live in a galaxy full of stars?

How do we know what the distances between those stars are?

How did we conclude that the moon and planets are illuminated by reflected sunlight, and, not through their own, intrinsic illumination?

How do we know how big the universe is, and, of what materials it is composed?

By guesswork? By simple reasoning? By concluding what we want to conclude?!

No -- never...

Vintage Engraving, Early Spectroscope Using Prisms -  Drawing by Luisa Vallon Fumi
Vintage Engraving, Early Spectroscope Using Prisms -  Drawing by Luisa Vallon Fumi

The answers to some of those questions come by way of Newton, Galileo, Herschel, the telescope, and the spectroscope - (and, yes - true, genuine, unadulterated genius, at least, in the case of Newton).

To understand these things, one has got to have some grasp, of the long hours of hard work, done by many people - sometimes, extended out, over several generations.

But, all of it was done, methodically, one step at a time. Those steps are preserved in records - written at the time, by the very people who took those steps - and exist in the various university libraries, public archives, etc. These documents, and others like them, are known as, "Primary Sources", or, "Original Sources". One notable example of an original source document, is Galileo Galilei's letter to the Duchess of Tuscany, on what he had observed through his telescope, which, has been, ever since, preserved by the Royal Archives, in Great Britain, and is available for public view. Most any college or university has a Primary Source repository, or access, to one.

One, major distinction, in perusing any primary source, is its wonderful lack of hype, sensationalism, opinions, fake news and, perhaps, best of all (in my opinion) -- no "pseudo scientists"!

Insight Observatory's network of remote robotic telescopes - ATEO-1, ATEO-2A and ATEO-3.
Insight Observatory's network of remote robotic telescopes - ATEO-1, ATEO-2A and ATEO-3.

Astronomers - professional, amateur, and citizen, alike - are, still, today needed to make observations, visually, or photographically of the night sky. One way to do this is by the use of remote, robotic telescopes and astrographs, like those, here at Insight Observatory.

Dale Alan Bryant
Senior Contributing Science Writer
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Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Telescope, and the Center Of The Universe

In the beginning, there was "us" - and, just us. (So we liked to think)

(fast-forward a few hundred thousand years...)

Around the Middle Ages, it was discovered that we inhabited a "world" - a round, spherical one. And so now, we and our world were all that there was.

But, a little later, in 1610, a physicist named Galileo Galilei, using a new and revolutionary optical instrument called a "telescope", discovered that the moon, Saturn, and Jupiter - were not just dots of light in the sky, but rather, they were, actual, "other" worlds. Not only were Jupiter and Saturn planets, in their own right, but they possessed satellites, as well. Galileo, and then others, noticed that these satellites were orbiting around their host planets - resembling miniature Solar Systems.

None of this new and revolutionary information would have been revealed, had it not been for a new and revolutionary instrument - Galileo's hand-made, tiny, 2-inch diameter instrument - the refracting telescope. (This new revelation caused a lot of problems - both, for Galileo, and for society, in general - because, just maybe - there were "others" on these "other worlds")

While Galilei did not invent the telescope, he very successfully built one and used it for astronomical observations. This image shows two telescopes in his possession. Image Credit - DPA-Picture Alliance.
While Galilei did not invent the telescope, he very successfully built one and used it for astronomical observations. This image shows two telescopes in his possession. Image Credit - DPA-Picture Alliance.

In 1783, amateur astronomer, William Herschel, made the discovery that all of these "other worlds", were, actually, a conglomeration of worlds - an "island universe", which we, today, call the "Milky Way" galaxy. Using one of his - very large, for the day (40") - reflector telescopes, Herschel was able to, roughly, determine the general shape of the "Milky Way" (something like a double-convex lens, or, the way I like to imagine it: two, inverted Frisbees!). It was apparent then that, we reside in some, isolated structure of stars, and we named our isolated home galaxy after the dim band of cloud-like light that splits the sky into two "hemispheres". (This band of diffuse light, or the "Milky Way", can still be seen from some places in the world, so I understand).

William Herschel's sketch of the Milky Way Galaxy.
William Herschel's sketch of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Sometime later, comet-hunter, Charles Messier, using his own, small, hand-made reflecting telescopes had found that the sky contained, seemingly, hundreds of small, cloud-like patches of light, similar to the milky band that circled the sky - ranging in size, up to, just larger, than the full moon. It was thought that these tiny "fogs", were just that - some type of cloudy matter, nearly, randomly distributed about the sky. All that Messier knew, was, that they were not the "comets" he was searching for. And so, they stayed, just fogs.

Then, in the 1920s, a debate took place, now known historically as the "Great Debate", on the nature of these luminous patches of fog. The debate focused on whether these structures were portions of our own galaxy, or, whether they were external structures. Around that time, a slightly pompous - but, generally brilliant astronomer, Edwin Hubble, had made another revolutionary discovery that ended the debate, altogether - these luminosities in the sky were not cloudy in nature. Hubble was able to resolve these hazy patches into individual stars, using the Hooker telescope. It turned out that they were actually, distant "island universes" (galaxies) in their own right!

In a spectroscopic analysis of the motions, of the millions of other galaxies that lie beyond our own island galaxy, the Milky Way - nearly the entire mass of the universe is receding into the distance - i.e. apparently, away from us. What's more, the velocity of any given galaxy's recession, is proportional to its distance - i.e., the farther away the galaxy is, the faster it is receding into the "background"! This situation is what produces, what's called, the "red-shift effect" - light's, own version, of sound's, "Doppler" effect. The result is that the spectra of those receding galaxies are shifted towards the red (longer wavelength) end of the visible light spectrum; in the same way that the tone from, say, a passing vehicle's horn, in a fluid, continuous way, drops in pitch as it passes by us and on to a direction that carries it farther away from us.

All of this is due to the general expansion of the universe, as a whole (hence, the "Big Bang", or, "Great Expansion" event, when began universal expansion). This condition was discovered by Edwin Hubble, back in 1929. It was his observations, now, using the 200" reflector at Mt. Palomar that revealed that the universe was in a general state of expansion. Only, a very few galaxies, appear not to be receding from us. This includes the 25 or so, member galaxies of what is called, the "Local Group", of relatively nearby galaxies, and the two satellite galaxies of the Milky Way galaxy, called, the Large, and the Small "Magellanic Clouds" (the LMC, and SMC, respectively), as well as the next, nearest, large spiral galaxy similar to our Milky Way galaxy, the Andromeda galaxy, or, M32. That galaxy is so nearby, cosmologically speaking, that it can just be detected in a clear, dark sky with the unaided eye. The galaxy lies in the constellation of Andromeda and it is a prime target for astrographic imaging, or, astrophotography.

But, from our own galactic island, it appears as if the Great Expansion event, itself, took place at the position of the Milky Way galaxy! And to make matters worse - this expansion is undergoing an apparent acceleration - one that increases, proportionally, as its distance from the Milky Way! Could it be that we are in some, privileged location, in relation to the rest of the universe? Can this really be so?

(I was going to have some fun with this, but I won't!)

The answer is, of course: No, it can't.

From the beginning of human civilization, man has revered himself to be the pinnacle of creation - whether he placed himself at some, centralized position, either on the Earth, or whether he placed the Earth, itself, at the center of - at first, the Solar System, and then the Milky Way galaxy - both of which were dead wrong. By small gradations, he has slowly discovered that there is no true center to the universe, nor is there any, true, up or down. Today, we know that our "island universe", is only one of the billions of other island universes - revealed to us, by the power of an inherently, very simple, optical marvel - the telescope.

Because of the telescope - we've not only revealed the nature of particular objects in the universe but also, general ideas as to the nature of the universe, on the whole.

Dale Alan Bryant
Senior Contributing Science Writer
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Friday, November 1, 2019

What's In The Sky - November 2019

Clear November night skies offer incredible celestial sights for stargazers to be thankful for, so bundle up and get outside for stargazing fun!

The May 9th, 2016 Mercury Transit at 9:15 am EDT - Image by Nolan D.

Transit of Mercury

On November 11th from 04:34 to 10:30 PST, Mercury will pass directly in front of the sun. Visible as a tiny shadow against the disk of the sun, a telescope with a properly installed solar filter is essential. This transit will next occur 13 years from now in 2032, so don't miss seeing it! Grab a solar filter for your telescope, or a convenient solar telescope to view the transit safely!

CAUTION: Never look at the Sun, either directly or through a telescope, without a professionally made protective solar filter installed that completely covers the front of the instrument, or permanent eye damage could result.

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

November 26th will be 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.

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

Leonids 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 Moon will rise just before midnight, so the best time for meteor-gazing will be before then when the skies will be nice and dark. The estimated peak rate is about 15 meteors per hour.

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 19, 2019

The Most Incredible Photograph Ever Taken

Yes - I have given this title, to the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, just a few years ago.

Why?!

Think about this: take a look at any one of those colorful, oval "smudges", within the image, and enlarge it, to its maximum, reasonable resolution and magnification on your device.

Each one of the "oval smudges", is a galaxy of stars - just like our Milky Way galaxy!

Our galaxy contains, roughly, 300,500,000,000 stars, including our sun ("Sol") - a typical, standard, type G2, yellow-dwarf star - the kind of stars that are a dime a dozen in any spiral galaxy.

Hubble Ultra-Deep Field - Image Credit: NASA, ESA S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team.

Each one of the galaxies in the image also contains a comparable number of stars, planets, comets, asteroids, silicate and metallic specks of dust, and various, volatile gases.

Who knows?? -- how many other beings, in how many other galaxies, hosting, how many other suns, that have, how many other planets in orbit around them -- that, accommodate living beings, just like planet Earth -- just, might be looking right back at us!

THAT'S why!?!

Dale Alan Bryant
Senior Contributing Science Writer
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Monday, October 7, 2019

The Omega Nebula Imaged on ATEO-3

Insight Observatory is excited to announce its first deep-sky image set acquired by ATEO-3 that is now available on its Starbase image set repository. M17, the Omega Nebula in the constellation Sagittarius was the first target imaged from the Insight Observatory affiliate remote telescope. ATEO-3 is a 12.5" f/9 (2860mm focal length) Quasar Optics Ritchey Chretien owned and operated by Franck Jobard. This telescope is located at an elevation over 5990 ft at Deep Sky Chile remote telescope hosting in the dark skies of the Rio Hurtado Valley in Chile.

M17, The Omega Nebula in Sagittarius imaged and processed on ATEO-3 by Franck Jobard at Deep Sky Chile.
M17, The Omega Nebula in Sagittarius imaged and processed on ATEO-3 by Franck Jobard at Deep Sky Chile.

The Omega Nebula, also known as the Swan Nebula, Checkmark Nebula, and the Horseshoe Nebula (cataloged as Messier 17 or M17 or NGC 6618) is an H II region in the constellation Sagittarius. It was discovered by Philippe Loys de Chéseaux in 1745. Charles Messier cataloged it in 1764. It is located in the rich starfields of the Sagittarius area of the Milky Way.

The Omega Nebula is between 5,000 and 6,000 light-years from Earth and it spans some 15 light-years in diameter. The cloud of interstellar matter of which this nebula is a part is roughly 40 light-years in diameter and has a mass of 30,000 solar masses. The total mass of the Omega Nebula is an estimated 800 solar masses.

M17 is considered one of the brightest and most massive star-forming regions of our galaxy. Its local geometry is similar to the Orion Nebula except that it is viewed edge-on rather than face-on.

The open cluster NGC 6618 lies embedded in the nebulosity and causes the gases of the nebula to shine due to radiation from these hot, young stars. It is also one of the youngest clusters known, with an age of just 1 million years. The Swan portion of M17, the Omega Nebula in the Sagittarius nebulosity is said to resemble a barber's pole.

Source: Wikipedia

12.5" f/9 Quasar Ritchey Chretien, ATEO-3, affiliate remote telescope (pictured right) housed in a roll-off observatory at Deep Sky Chile remote telescope hosting facility. Photo by Franck Jobard.
12.5" f/9 Quasar Ritchey Chretien, ATEO-3, affiliate remote telescope (pictured right) housed in a roll-off observatory at Deep Sky Chile remote telescope hosting facility. Photo by Franck Jobard.

ATEO-3 is available as an option on Insight Observatory's Educational Image Request (EIR) form for educational research and classroom use. This remote online telescope is also an option on the Public Image Request (PIR) as well. To make an image set request for ATEO-3, please visit Insight Observatory's "Starbase Image Sets on-Demand" form.
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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

What's In The Sky - October 2019

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

The Sculptor Galaxy, also known as the NGC 253, is an intermediate spiral galaxy in the constellation Sculptor. Imaged on ATEO-1 by Insight Observatory.
The Sculptor Galaxy, also known as the NGC 253, is an intermediate spiral galaxy in the constellation Sculptor. Imaged on ATEO-1 by 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 oblique angle is often called the "Silver Dollar Galaxy."

New Moon

For the best conditions to see galaxies, nebulas, and other deep-sky objects, plan a stargazing session for the night of October 27th, 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.

Orionids Meteor Shower

As Orion rises on October 21st around midnight, you can feast your eyes on the peak of the Orionid meteor shower. Around 15 meteors per hour are expected at the peak, but the shower will be active from October 2nd to November 7th.

The Pacman Nebula, also known as the NGC 281, is a bright emission nebula and part of an H II region in the constellation of Cassiopeia. Imaged on ATEO-1 by Insight Observatory.
The Pacman Nebula, also known as the NGC 281, is a bright emission nebula and part of an H II region in the constellation of Cassiopeia. Imaged on ATEO-1 by Insight Observatory.

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.

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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Friday, September 13, 2019

Announcing Remote Telescope ATEO-3

Insight Observatory is proud to announce the addition of ATEO-3 to its network of Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach. ATEO-3 is Insight's third affiliate telescope located in the dark skies of the Rio Hurtado Valley in Chile. Rio Hurtado is far away from large cities and offers the darkest skies and the best conditions found in Chile. This location shares the same sky as Cerro Tololo, Gemini South and the brand new LSST professional observatories. The ATEO-3 remote imaging system is owned and operated by Franck Jobard and is hosted at Deep Sky Chile. Deep Sky Chile is a remote telescope hosting facility constructed on a flat mountain top over 5590 feet.

Deep Sky Chile remote telescope hosting located in the Rio Hurtado Valley, Chile where the 12.5" f/9 Quasar Ritchey Chretien (ATEO-3) affiliate remote telescope is housed.

This remote telescope configuration consists of a 12.5" f/9 (2860mm focal length) Quasar Ritchey Chretien with an SBIG STL11000 CCD camera with Luminance, Red, Green, Blue, H-Alpha (6nm) and Oxygen III (3nm) Astrodon filters and is mounted on a Losmandy Titan. An ATEO-3 imaging system is now an option on Insight Observatory's Educational and Public Image Request forms. Multiple hours of deep-sky data integration will also become available in Insight Observatory's Starbase image repository for subscribing. Image data requests can be made on our "Image Sets On-Demand" form to be added to the Starbase imaging queue.

12.5" f/9 Quasar Ritchey Chretien (ATEO-3) and image of NGC 6164 imaged and processed by Franck Jobard.

One of the most exciting aspects of receiving image data from this fine instrument is Insight Observatory now has the ability to capture deep-sky gems of the southern hemisphere to offer to educational programs and astronomical image processors. If you have any questions regarding the expansion of our remote telescope network by adding ATEO-3, please feel free to Contact Us

We would like to welcome Franck to the Insight Observatory team and thank him for sharing his remote imaging system, helping us fulfil our mission of educational outreach utilizing online remote telescopes.
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Monday, August 12, 2019

Observing and Photographing Meteors

On just about any evening under a dark sky, you’re likely to see a meteor or two streaks across the starscape. They catch you by surprise, serving as a reminder that space is not static - things are moving out there, and fast. With the annual Perseid meteor show upon us, Orion Telescopes and Binoculars provides the following guide on how to successfully observe and photograph meteors.

What Are Meteors? 

Often called "shooting stars," meteors are really particles from outer space - fragments of comets and asteroids - that burn up from friction as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere. While still in space, the particles are called meteoroids. A very bright meteor is about the size of a grape; typical meteors are more the size of tiny pebbles or grains of sand. A very large meteor may break up as it penetrates the atmosphere, throwing off sparks. Occasionally, a meteor may even make noise as it shoots through the air, though this is rare. The largest meteors do not completely incinerate and actually land on Earth as rocks, called meteorites.

A fireball is a very bright meteor loosely defined as being brighter than the planet Venus, whose maximum magnitude is -4.7.

Perseid meteor shower to illuminate night sky the week of August 11th - Image by Mansfield News Journal.
Perseid meteor shower to illuminate night sky the week of August 11th - Image by Mansfield News Journal.

Ordinarily, you can see about one meteor per hour at a dark-sky location if you watch the sky continuously. These are sporadic (random) meteors, not associated with specific meteor showers. You will see more meteors after midnight since you are then on the "forward" side of the Earth as it moves along in its orbit.

Meteors En Masse - Meteor Showers 

A meteor shower happens when the Earth enters a swarm of meteoroids, usual debris from a comet that trails along in the comet’s orbit. At certain times of the year, the Earth’s orbit intersects that of a comet, and we get pelted with the debris.

Then, the meteor rate rises to 10 or 20 per hour, and possibly even 100 or more per hour at the maximum of some showers! The meteors in a shower all appear to come from the same general area in the sky. More precisely, if you trace the path of each meteor backward, you’ll find that they converge near one point in the sky. That point is called the radiant, and it is different for different showers. Each shower is named for the constellation in which its radiant is located. For example, the Perseid shower in August has its radiant in the constellation Perseus. It is often hard to tell whether a meteor belongs to a particular shower or not since even during a shower, some meteors appear far from the radiant or are moving in slightly different directions.

Because they occur at particular positions in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, meteor showers recur on the same date every year. Most showers last two or three days; some are longer, and some are very brief.

Some meteoroid swarms have orbital periodicities of their own, so we don’t encounter them every year. For example, the Leonids were spectacular in 1933, 1966 and 2001. In the "off" years, few or no Leonid meteors are seen.

Below is a list of major showers; there are many minor ones producing smaller numbers of meteors. One major shower, the Quadrantids, is named for an obsolete constellation corresponding to part of Bootes.

Observing Meteors

Meteor watching is like fishing. You cast your sights upward, sit back, wait a while, and see if you get any bites. You’ll increase your chances by going to a dark-sky location, away from suburban light pollution. Most meteors aren’t very bright, so you’ll see more of them if you go to a dark country site. Your chances of logging meteors are also improved when the Moon is below the horizon, or during the new Moon phase, as moonlight can wash out all but the brightest fireballs.

Observing meteors is a naked-eye activity. You don’t need, or even want, a telescope or binoculars to view meteors, as these will only restrict your field of view. You want to be able to visually canvas as much of the sky as possible because meteors can flash anywhere. For scientific work, you’ll need a star chart (for plotting meteor paths) and a ruler (to hold up against the sky to note exactly where a meteor went). More important is a lawn chair and, if appropriate, blankets to keep you comfortable during your vigil.

You will notice that meteors not only differ in brightness but also in speed and length of travel. Some appear to move relatively slowly, glowing for a second or two while others streak quickly and are gone in a fraction of a second. Some of the brightest meteors leave vapor trails in the sky that can linger for several seconds after the meteor has disappeared.

While looking for meteors you’ll see plenty of airplanes and satellites, too. How do you distinguish them from meteors? For one, meteors move much faster. Another dead giveaway for an airplane is a blinking light. Binoculars will help you identify airplanes, which normally have more than one light. A satellite looks like a slowly moving star. An iridium satellite occasionally reflects sunlight so that it looks like a bright, slow meteor; however, the movement is much slower and it fades out rather than burning up suddenly.

Telescopic Meteors 

Occasionally, you’ll see a tiny, distant meteor in binoculars or a low-power telescope. These are called telescopic meteors and are so rare that you probably shouldn’t spend time looking for them — but take note when you happen to see one while viewing other things.

Photograph a Falling Star

Photographing meteors is relatively easy — if you encounter a meteor at the right place and right time! The technique is to use a DSLR or camera with a manual exposure setting using a normal or wide-angle lens (preferably f/2.8 or faster) and take a long exposure of the stars. If a bright meteor comes through the field, the camera will probably catch it.

The camera can stand on a fixed tripod (recording the stars as trails due to the Earth’s motion) or on a clock-driven telescope (to get pinpoint images of the stars). Light pollution and your local sky quality conditions will limit how long the exposure can be before the image quality degrades. Experiment with different exposures and ISO settings to determine the best results for your set-up and location.

You’ll likely catch a lot of airplane and satellite trails in your pictures, too. You can distinguish them from meteor trails by their uniform thickness (or the regular-spaced, dots from an airplane’s blinking light). A meteor trail is usually not uniformly thick, but rather almost always exhibits a bright "head" where the meteor burned up.
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Thursday, August 1, 2019

What's In The Sky - August 2019

Warm summer nights seem like they're tailor-made for backyard astronomers. Evenings throughout August are great opportunities to get the whole family outside for summer stargazing fun with a telescope or your favorite pair of binoculars. Here are a few of Orion Telescopes and Binoculars' top picks for August stargazing...

Perseid Meteor Shower 2012. Image by David Kingham.
Perseid Meteor Shower 2012. Image by David Kingham.

Perseid Meteor Shower

Go outside on the night of August 12th-13th for the best chances to see the peak of the Perseid meteor shower! Some may be visible each night from July 23rd through August 20th, but the peak is on the 12th -13th. Unfortunately, the Moon will be 12 days old at this time, which will limit visibility due to its brightness. However, with up to 80 meteors per hour expected at maximum, this is still one of the most popular meteor showers of the year.

Mercury high in the sky

On the morning of August 9th Mercury will be at its greatest Western elongation, rising early before sunrise. Because Mercury is so close to the Sun, it is best viewed during an elongation like this, since it is at its maximum separation from the Sun. Look above the Eastern horizon before sunrise to catch a glimpse of the innermost planet!

Messier 16, the Eagle Nebula imaged by Utkarsh Mishra and Zhuoqun Wu.
Messier 16, the Eagle Nebula imaged by Utkarsh Mishra and Zhuoqun Wu.

Nebulas

Many excellent examples of gaseous nebulas are on display in the skies of August. The brightest are M16 the Eagle Nebula, M17 the Swan Nebula, M20 the Trifid Nebula and the very bright M8, Lagoon Nebula. All are visible in binoculars from dark locations with good seeing. Use a small to moderate aperture telescope with the aid of an Oxygen-III eyepiece filter or SkyGlow Broadband Filter to see these nebulas from locations plagued by light pollution.

New Moon

New Moon is August 30th and therefore the best time to observe the more faint objects like galaxies and star clusters. Grab your gear and enjoy!

August Challenge Object

Orion's challenge this month is a surprisingly easy object to see with a telescope, but not so easy with binoculars. Look for M27, the Dumbbell Nebula in the constellation of Vulpecula, just south of Cygnus. M27 is one of the nearest and brightest planetary nebulas visible from Earth. It's so big that it can be spotted in humble 7 x 50 binoculars, but it does present a challenge! Try to track M27 down this August with your astronomy binoculars; it will be a small dot, slightly larger than the surrounding stars, but definitely visible through 50mm or larger binoculars.

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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Thursday, July 25, 2019

Introducing "Starbase"

There has been a new module added to Insight Observatory's ATEO Portal. This new module has been designated "Starbase". Starbase is a repository of images captured by the Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO), organized by the image target into image “sets”. These image sets can be purchased (referred to as “subscribing” to) and downloaded.

M13 - Globular Cluster in Hercules processed from Starbase Image Sets by subscriber Utkarsh Mishra.
M13 - Globular Cluster in Hercules processed from Starbase Image Sets by subscriber Utkarsh Mishra.

An "image set" is composed of one or more images of a specific deep-sky target or subject. Images captured as part of an image set will typically be imaged within the timespan of a few months. On the Starbase portal page, the "Image Sets" tab will display a list of all the available image sets in Starbase.

After the ATEO Portal was rolled out last year, Insight Observatory started receiving requests from image processors asking to deliver image data from the ATEO remote telescopes. Although there are a few avid ATEO Portal users who take advantage of the Scheduler and Telescope Console to gather image data, we also realized there were many image processors that simply wanted the image data from the telescopes. They had no interest in reserving time and imaging on the telescopes themselves. Therefore, we came up with an intuitive design for a new portal module that would allow portal users to browse, purchase, and download previously imaged image sets. 


Screenshots of Insight Observatory's newly released Starbase image datasets repository accessed thru the ATEO Portal.
Screenshots of Insight Observatory's newly released Starbase image datasets repository accessed thru the ATEO Portal.

In the midst of developing Starbase, we were simultaneously populating the image library and by doing so taking requests of deep-sky targets from image processors.  We called the process "Image Sets on Demand". As we continue to populate Starbase with image sets, we are continuing to take image data requests through our "Image Sets on Demand" form.

Starbase Subscription Rates:

Subscription rates are determined by whether you registered with Insight Observatory as a Standard or as an Educational user.

The rates as of January 2020 are as follows:

ATEO-1
  • Standard: $0.10 per minute of image set exposure time
  • Education: $0.08 per minute of image set exposure time
ATEO-2A/2B
  • Standard: $0.18 per minute of image set exposure time
  • Education: $0.15 per minute of image set exposure time
ATEO-3
  • Standard: $0.20 per minute of image set exposure time
  • Education: $0.17 per minute of image set exposure time

To access Starbase, log into your Insight Observatory ATEO Portal account. If you don't have a portal account, you may sign up for one HERE at no cost. Once you are logged into Starbase, there is a "Support" tab to the right on the portal page that explains in-depth how to use the new Starbase module.



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