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Bringing the Universe to Your Classroom!

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. The 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 "Datasets 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 the image set) and downloaded. Purchasing an image set grants the subscriber access to all of the image set images.

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 was a demand of 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 datasets. 


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 midsts 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 "Datasets on Demand". As we continue to populate Starbase with image sets, we are continuing to take image data requests through our "Datasets 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 July 21, 2019, are as follows:
  • Standard: $0.10 per minute of image set exposure time
  • Education: $0.08 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 log into your ATEO Portal account, you will see an option on the dashboard for "Starbase". Simply click on the icon and it will take you into a screen where you can view all of the image sets that are currently available for subscription. There is a "Support" tab to the right on the Starbase portal page that explains in-depth how to use the new Starbase module.
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Friday, July 19, 2019

"On the Moon Again!"

On July 20th, 1969, 600 million people on all the continents followed the first step of a man on the Moon, together with their family or friends, around a radio, and sometimes a television set. Fifty years later, "On the Moon Again" was created to share this enthusiasm for the Moon again in a global, universal movement, transcending all borders.

Insight Observatory and Blake Planetarium collaborated on the evening of July, 12th 2019, by participating in the global event "On the Moon Again".
Insight Observatory and Blake Planetarium collaborated on the evening of July, 12th 2019, by participating in the global event "On the Moon Again".

Scientists worldwide gathered behind "On the Moon Again" and invited Insight Observatory to participate in this unifying event. Their support committee promoted the values of sharing and cooperation. "On the Moon Again" was an initiative of French scientists who coordinated this event with the contribution of thousands of volunteers. Once Insight Observatory was invited to join this global event, we immediately approached the Blake Planetarium located in Plymouth, MA to see if they would have an interest in putting on a joint event with Insight Observatory. The planetarium was very responsive, to say the least. Being that this event was for public outreach, the planetarium was kind enough to offer four showings of the planetarium's program "Earth, Moon, Sun", every half-hour free of charge to the public. This collaboration with Insight Observatory was highly publicized and the result was many reserving their spot ahead of time.

Interior view of the Blake Planetarium theater prior to the evening's event "On the Moon Again".
Interior view of the Blake Planetarium theater prior to the evening's event "On the Moon Again".

While the programs were running in the planetarium theater by Blake Planetarium Program Provider, Steven Davies, I represented Insight Observatory's contribution by providing a small a Celestron 2.4" refractor telescope set up in the front of the school where the planetarium is located. Using this small instrument would make it easy to pick up and run inside with in the event the skies opened up. Although the telescope was small and designed for the novice astronomer, it still provided decent views of the moon. There was also a back-up plan in case we were completely clouded out in Plymouth, MA. John Evelan, the owner of SkyPi Remote Observatory had his Insight Observatory affiliate telescope ATEO-2B, the Celestron 11" f/10 planetary telescope ready to broadcast images of the moon into the planetarium theater. Unfortunately, he was challenged by cloud coverage in western New Mexico and could only provide a few images of the moon.

Yours truly giving a thumbs-up after the clouds gave way to the moon, Dr. Patt Steiner providing views of the moon through her refractor telescope, and a quick shot of the moon through the Celestron refractor using my iPhone.
Yours truly giving a thumbs-up after the clouds gave way to the moon, Dr. Patt Steiner providing views of the moon through her refractor telescope, and a quick shot of the moon through the Celestron refractor using my iPhone.

As folks were arriving and departing the planetarium, I had the waxing gibbous moon in the telescope's eyepiece for all to see. The weather started out unsettled however fortunately cleared out for most of the outdoor part of the event. Nearly all of the attendees that stopped by to look through the telescope had never seen the moon up so close before. The groups of adults and children of all ages were amazed by the detailed view of the craters, mountain ranges, and mare (seas) they could see with such a small backyard telescope. It was most rewarding guiding them where to look through the telescope for Mare Tranquillitatis (the Sea of Tranquility), the landing spot of Apollo 11.

Blake Planetarium has many public programs throughout the year. You can see what programs they have to offer by visiting bit.ly/BLAKEPLANET.
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Sunday, July 14, 2019

Mosaic of Reflection Nebula NGC 6914

Recently we wrote a post covering a collaborative on a mosaic of NGC 7023, The Iris Nebula, imaged by accomplished astrophotographers, Paul C. Swift and Carmelo Falco. This is an image that Insight Observatory was fortunate to be able to contribute to by providing luminance data from the 16" f/3.7 astrograph reflector (ATEO-1). Paul and Carmelo have since produced another astonishing mosaic image, NGC 6914. This deep-sky object is a reflection nebula located at approximately 6,000 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus and the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy. The nebula was discovered by Édouard Stephan on August 29, 1881.

This mosaic of the reflection nebula NGC 6914 is made up of data from different focal lengths. 380mm, 1330, 1525mm, and 3400mm. Image processed by Paul C. Swift.
This mosaic of the reflection nebula NGC 6914 is made up of data from different focal lengths. 380mm, 1330, 1525mm, and 3400mm. Image processed by Paul C. Swift.

The final image data was processed by Paul C. Swift with data acquired from his back yard with a VSD Vixen 380mm & AG14 1330mm Newtonian astrograph. The filter wheel an SX-46 with an SX Maxi wheel from Starlight Xpress Ltd. A formatted array of 27 x 21.6 mm and 6uM square pixels. Newtonian telescope at 1330mm and Chroma Filters RGBL mounted on a Paramount MX.

Data for the central area of the nebula was imaged by Camelo Falco using his Ritchey-Chretien C 410mm f7.8 customized at 3400mm and an Apogee Aspin GG16m imaging camera. The mount is a customized RM500 Mount. Carmelo's guiding system is an Orion SteadyStar + Lodestar. Filters used by Carmelo was a Baader LRGB set.

Finally, additional Luminance data for outer areas taken from Insight Observatory's 16" f/3.7 Astrograph reflector 1525mm (ATEO-1).

The Three imaging systems used to collect data of NGC 6914, a reflection nebula in Cygnus. Carmelo Falco's 16" f/7.8 Ritchey-Chretien (left), Paul Swift's VSD Vixen 380mm & AG14 1330mm Newtonian astrograph (above right) and Insight Observatory's 16" f/3.7 Dream astrograph reflector, ATEO-1, (lower right).
The Three imaging systems used to collect data of NGC 6914, a reflection nebula in Cygnus. Carmelo Falco's 16" f/7.8 Ritchey-Chretien (left), Paul Swift's VSD Vixen 380mm & AG14 1330mm Newtonian astrograph (above right) and Insight Observatory's 16" f/3.7 Dream astrograph reflector, ATEO-1, (lower right).

From the image of NGC 6914 processed by Paul, obscuring interstellar dust clouds appear in silhouette while reddish hydrogen emission nebulae, along with the dusty blue reflection nebulae, fill the cosmic canvas. Ultraviolet radiation from the massive, hot, young stars of the extensive Cygnus OB2 association ionizes the region's atomic hydrogen gas, producing the characteristic red glow as protons and electrons recombine. Embedded Cygnus OB2 stars also provide the blue starlight strongly reflected by the dust clouds. The nearly 1-degree wide telescopic field of view spans about 100 light-years at the estimated distance of NGC 6914.

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Saturday, July 6, 2019

A Perspective of M57 - The Ring Nebula

Recently one of Insight Observatory's generous Patreon supporters, Luis V., requested a dataset of M57, The Ring Nebula, from the 16" f/3.7 Dream astrograph reflector (ATEO-1). After processing the data myself in CCDStack for him, I realized how good the data of M57 really was. Unfortunately, my processing skills don't come close to what most astrophotographers are capable of doing with good image data. Therefore, I shared out the dataset of M57 with Utkarsh Mishra, one of Insight Observatory's Starbase dataset subscribers who is also an accomplished image processor.

Cropped image of M57 - The Ring Nebula in the constellation Lyra. Image data acquired by Insight Observatory's ATEO-1 and the 2 Meter Liverpool Telescope. Image processed by Utkarsh Mishra.
Cropped image of M57 - The Ring Nebula in the constellation Lyra. Image data acquired by Insight Observatory's ATEO-1 and the 2 Meter Liverpool Telescope. Image processed by Utkarsh Mishra.

What surprised us both was that with such a small amount of data, Utkarsh was able to pull out so much detail of the planetary nebula as well as the background. Utkarsh processed close to only 4 hrs of data acquired from the 16" f/3.7 reflector remote online telescope. 1 hour of Luminance, 50 minutes of Red, 40 minutes of Green, and 45 minutes of Blue (all binning 1x1). He also added H-Alpha data from the 2 meter Liverpool telescope at 120 seconds with a 35% blend of RGB from the telescope. The H-Alpha data exposed the outer part of the Ring Nebula much more than the LRGB data from ATEO-1 could do alone. The 15th magnitude spiral galaxy IC 1296 is also visible just to the upper right of the nebula in the cropped frame above. The software applications used by Utkarsh for processing were Pixinsight, Photoshop CSS and DeepSkyStacker.

The complete field of view (FOV) image of M57 - The Ring Nebula in the constellation Lyra. Image data acquired by Insight Observatory's ATEO-1 and the 2 Meter Liverpool Telescope. Image processed by Utkarsh Mishra.
The complete field of view (FOV) image of M57 - The Ring Nebula in the constellation Lyra. Image data acquired by Insight Observatory's ATEO-1 and the 2 Meter Liverpool Telescope. Image processed by Utkarsh Mishra.

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Monday, July 1, 2019

What's In The Sky - July 2019

Get ready for summer stargazing! With the weather warming up, July is a great time of year to enjoy relaxing evenings under starry skies with your telescope or astronomy binoculars. Here are a few of Orion Telescopes and Binoculars top picks for July stargazing:

Saturn at Opposition

Saturn will shine brightly for most of July and reaches opposition on July 9th. Opposition is when the Earth passes directly between Saturn and the Sun. Since Saturn will be directly opposite the Sun in the sky as seen from Earth, the ringed planet will rise at sunset and set at sunrise, providing an excellent opportunity for great views in a telescope.

Saturn imaged at MasCot Observatory in 2003 with an 11" f/10 Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope (C11) and a NexImage Solar System Imager. - Image by Michael Petrasko and Harry Hammond.
Saturn imaged at MasCot Observatory in 2003 with an 11" f/10 Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope (C11) and a NexImage Solar System Imager. - Image by Michael Petrasko and Harry Hammond.

Saturn also makes a close approach to the Moon on July 16th and should be close enough to fit both bodies in the field of view of most telescopes.

During opposition, Saturn’s rings will be inclined at 24 degrees to us, close to their maximum angle of 27 degrees. Combined with the planet's close approach to Earth, this makes July an excellent time to observe Saturn and its rings!

New Moon

July 2nd is the darkest night of the month and therefore the best time to observe the more faint objects like galaxies and star clusters. Grab your observing gear and enjoy!

Hercules almost directly overhead and Scorpius

M13 - The Great Hercules Globular Star Cluster - Imaged on ATEO-1 by Insight Observatory.
M13 - The Great Hercules Globular Star Cluster - Imaged on ATEO-1 by Insight Observatory.

With constellation Hercules almost directly overhead and Scorpius to the south, there's plenty to see in July skies as summer continues. Check out globular star clusters M13 and M92 in Hercules, and explore Scorpius to find numerous deep-sky objects including open clusters M6 and M7, and globular clusters M4 and M80.

Late July Meteors

July winds down with the Delta Aquarids meteor shower. For the best chance to see meteors, look towards Aquarius after midnight on July 29th into the early morning hours of July 29th. The Delta Aquarids is an average shower that can produce up to 20 meteors per hour. A 27-day old moon should present minimal light interference to enjoying the meteors!

The Summer Milky Way

From a dark sky location in mid-July, the glorious Summer Milky Way shines as a band of light that stretches from the southern horizon to nearly overhead. As the night progresses, the Milky Way will arch across the entire sky. From a dark observing site, scan the Milky Way with 50mm or larger binoculars or a wide-angle telescope to explore some of the hundreds of open star clusters, emission nebulae and planetary nebulae that lurk among the star clouds.

July Challenge Object — Hercules Galaxy Cluster

About half a billion light years from Earth in the constellation Hercules, not far from the star Beta Hercules in the southwest corner of the "keystone" asterism, lies the "Hercules Galaxy Cluster." This association is a group of 200-300 distant galaxies, the brightest of which is NGC 6050 at about 10th magnitude and can be seen with an 8" reflector like the Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian under very dark skies with good seeing conditions. A larger aperture, 14"-16" telescope like the Orion SkyQuest XX14g GoTo Truss Dobsonian will begin to show about a half-dozen or more galaxies in one field-of-view. How many can you see in your telescope?

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, June 30, 2019

Illuminating The Iris Nebula

Insight Observatory had the opportunity to be involved in another imaging collaborative. This time, a mosaic image of The Iris Nebula, also known as NGC 7023 and Caldwell 4. This deep-sky object is a bright reflection nebula in the constellation Cepheus. Paul Swift, a talented and well-known astrophotographer teamed up with another accomplished astrophotographer, Carmelo Falco, to produce this illuminating image of the Iris Nebula below.

Mosaic image of The Iris Nebula, also known as NGC 7023 processed by Paul Swift using data collected by Carmelo Falco, Insight Observatory and the majority of the data by Paul himself.
Mosaic image of The Iris Nebula, also known as NGC 7023 processed by Paul Swift using data collected by Carmelo Falco, Insight Observatory and the majority of the data by Paul himself.

This mosaic of the Iris Nebula is made up of data from different focal lengths. 380mm, 1330mm, 1525mm, and 3400mm. This image shows some magenta at the core in the form of reddish photoluminescence. The data collected by Paul Swift was from his back yard in Valencia, Spain. His setup consists of VSD Vixen 380mm and 14" Orion Optics AG 1330mm Newtonian astrograph on a Paramount MX mount, an SX-46 CCD camera with an SX Maxi wheel (with Luminance, Red, Green and Blue filters) from Starlight Xpress Ltd.

The central area image data of the nebula was collected by Carmelo using a 16" f/7.8 (customed 3400mm) Ritchey-Chretien telescope on an RM500 mount accompanied by an Apogee Asping GG16m CCD camera, Orion SteadyStar - Lodestar guiding system, and a Baader Luminance, Red, Green and Blue filter set.

The Three imaging systems used to collect data of NGC 7023, The Iris Nebula. Carmelo Falco's 16" f/7.8 Ritchey-Chretien (left), Paul Swift's 14" Orion Optics AG (above right) and Insight Observatory's 16" f/3.7 Dream astrograph reflector, ATEO-1, (lower right).
The Three imaging systems used to collect data of NGC 7023, The Iris Nebula. Carmelo Falco's 16" f/7.8 Ritchey-Chretien (left), Paul Swift's 14" Orion Optics AG (above right) and Insight Observatory's 16" f/3.7 Dream astrograph reflector, ATEO-1, (lower right).

Additional Luminance data for the outer areas of the nebula was collected by Insight Observatory's 16" f/3.7 astrograph reflector, ATEO-1. This image data was purchased by Mr Swift as part Insight's "Datasets on Demand" service where astrophotographers may request data to be acquired from ATEO-1 and ATEO-2A for the purpose of combining the image data with their own. After delivery of the requested image data, it is then added to the Starbase dataset library. Starbase is a deep-sky dataset subscription service that will be accessible via Insight Observatory's ATEO Portal this mid-summer.
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Sunday, June 23, 2019

Eagle Nebula Collaboration Project

Insight Observatory's remote telescope was recently involved in a deep-sky imaging collaboration between two experienced astrophotographers. Utkarsh Mishra and Zhuoqun Wu teamed up to combine and process datasets resulting in the image below of Messier 16, The Eagle Nebula. The Luminance, Red, Green and Blue data was acquired by Utkarsh with Insight Observatory's 16" astrograph reflector (ATEO-1hosted in Pie Town, New Mexico and the H-Alpha data was taken from Chilescope by Zhuoqun using a 20" ASA Newtonian astrograph. The data files were stacked using PixInsight and processed in Adobe Photoshop.

Insight Observatory has recently had an increase in deep-sky dataset subscribers that are involved in image collaborations with other astrophotographers using equipment at other locations around the world. Very exciting!

Messier 16, the Eagle Nebula imaged by Utkarsh Mishra and Zhuoqun Wu. 10 300-second Luminance, 14 300-second Red, 11 300-second Green and 10 300-second Blue frames taken from ATEO-1 along with 50-Minutes of H-Alpha data acquired from Chilescope.
Messier 16, the Eagle Nebula imaged by Utkarsh Mishra and Zhuoqun Wu. 10 300-second Luminance, 14 300-second Red, 11 300-second Green and 10 300-second Blue frames taken from ATEO-1 along with 50-Minutes of H-Alpha data acquired from Chilescope.

The Eagle Nebula (catalogued as Messier 16 or M16, and as NGC 6611, and also known as the Star Queen Nebula and The Spire) is a young open cluster of stars in the constellation Serpens, discovered by Jean-Philippe de Chéseaux in 1745–46. Both the "Eagle" and the "Star Queen" refer to visual impressions of the dark silhouette near the center of the nebula, an area made famous as the "Pillars of Creation" imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope. The nebula contains several active star-forming gas and dust regions, including the aforementioned Pillars of Creation.

The Eagle Nebula is part of a diffuse emission nebula, or H II region, which is catalogued as IC 4703. This region of active current star formation is about 7000 light-years distant. A spire of gas that can be seen coming off the nebula in the northeastern part is approximately 9.5 light-years or about 90 trillion kilometers long.

Source: Wikipedia
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Saturday, June 22, 2019

Euclid: Challenge the Machines

There is a new Astronomy project by Zooniverse available that anyone with an internet connection can get involved with...

Have you ever wondered what shape the Universe is? What about dark matter and dark energy? Would you like to know what they are and how they behave? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, then you aren’t alone. The quest to understand these mysterious and fundamental phenomena occupies many professional astronomers and cosmologists on a daily basis.

This artist's concept shows ESA's Euclid Space Telescope, to which NASA is contributing. Image credit: ESA/C. Carreau.
This artist's concept shows ESA's Euclid Space Telescope, to which NASA is contributing. Image credit: ESA/C. Carreau.

To gather the observational data that they need in order to test our theories, scientists and engineers from around the world designed the Euclid Space Telescope. Euclid will survey a huge area of the sky in unprecedented detail, providing exquisite images of millions of galaxies spanning the history of the Universe from just 4 billion years after the Big Bang, right up until the present day. For a tiny fraction of the galaxies that Euclid will observe, the light that they emit will be distorted by a phenomenon called "gravitational lensing". Gravitational lensing happens when the light from one distant galaxy passes close to another foreground galaxy on its journey to Earth. The gravity of the foreground galaxy bends the light around it, acting like a lens and distorting the distant galaxy’s image distinctive ways. If we can find enough gravitational lenses and study their properties, we’ll be many steps closer to understanding the most fundamental constituents and properties of our Universe.

Examples of lensed galaxies, blue arcs around a central object.
Examples of lensed galaxies, blue arcs around a central object.

To learn how to do this Zooniverse needs your help! They have millions of galaxies to search for gravitational lensing signatures and it turns out that doing this automatically is really difficult. Simple computer algorithms just aren’t up to the task and modern AI techniques need gigantic sets of pre-labelled training data to be effective. On the other hand, volunteers like you only need to see a few examples to become very adept lens spotters. Euclid: Challenge the Machines is a brand new Zooniverse project that asks you to identify simulated gravitational lenses that the automated searches might miss so that we can learn how to do better. They hope that your classifications can be used to teach the machines what to look for so that they can do the really heavy lifting and find every single lens that those millions of galaxy images contain.

Get involved at https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/hughdickinson/euclid-challenge-the-machines/classify

As well as the browser version of this project, this project is available to complete using the app version of Zooniverse. The app version allows you to swipe yes or swipe no for each image, speeding up classifying the galaxies (and it is more fun). The Zooniverse app is available for both Android and iOS and can be downloaded for free from the Google Play Store and the App store for Android and iOS respectively.
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Saturday, June 1, 2019

What's In The Sky - June 2019

Get ready for summer stargazing! With the weather warming up, June is a great time of year to enjoy relaxing evenings under starry skies with your telescope or astronomy binoculars. Here are a few of Orion Telescopes and Binoculars top picks for June 2019 stargazing:

Jupiter at Opposition

Jupiter shines brightly in the constellation Ophiuchus during June and will be at opposition to the Sun on June 10. Around the same time is also its closest approach to Earth, making it an ideal time for observation. Use a SkyQuest XT6 PLUS Dobsonian along with the 10mm Plossl eyepiece and Shorty 2x Barlow lens that come with it to get views of the largest planet in our solar system at 240x magnification! Or, pair it with the Orion StarShoot 1.3mp Solar System V Imaging Camera for an affordable planetary imaging system!

M13 - Great Globular Cluster in Hercules imaged on ATEO-1 by Insight Observatory.
M13 - Great Globular Cluster in Hercules imaged on ATEO-1 by Insight Observatory.

Summer is Globular Season!

Globular star clusters are densely packed balls of stars that are concentrated towards the center of the Milky Way. June skies offer some of the finest globular cluster viewing opportunities. While you can detect most globular clusters in 50mm or larger binoculars, a moderate to high-power eyepiece in a 6" or larger telescope offers the best chance to resolve individual stars. In the constellation Hercules, look for M92 and the “Great Cluster” M13. In Scorpius, look for M4 and M80. The constellation Ophiuchus is home to six globulars – M10, M12, M14, M107, M9, and M19. Can you spot them all?

The Virgo Cluster

A treasure trove of galaxies can be explored if you point your 6” or larger telescope toward the Virgo Galaxy Cluster. The Event Horizon radio telescope array released the first image of a black hole in April, of the supermassive black hole in M87. While the black hole might need an Earth-sized radio telescope array to resolve it, the galaxy itself can be viewed with more affordable equipment. Aim your telescope at M87 in the constellation Virgo and start scanning the surrounding night sky. How many galaxies can you see?

Summertime Star Party

Take advantage of the New Moon on June 3rd and the galaxies and globular clusters visible to put on a star party! Not only will the dark skies of the moonless night provide great opportunities to see fainter objects more clearly, but the warm June weather will make it easy to enjoy starry sights all night long with friends and family.

Swirling Spirals

Around 10pm in mid-June, two glorious, face-on spiral galaxies M51 and M101 will both be in a great position for viewing and imaging. Look for M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy, to the southwest of the star Alkaid at the end of the Big Dipper's "handle". Scan the sky to the northeast of Alkaid to find M101, the Pinwheel Galaxy. Under very dark skies, these distant galaxies can barely be detected in smaller telescopes, but a 10" or larger reflector will reveal much more impressive views. If you're viewing from an especially dark location, try to resolve the delicate spiral arms of M51 in a 10" or larger telescope.

M101, M27, and M51 imaged on ATEO-1 by Mr Daniels 8th-Grade Students from the Plymouth Community Intermediate School, Plymouth, MA.
M101, M27, and M51 imaged on ATEO-1 by Mr Daniels 8th-Grade Students from the Plymouth Community Intermediate School, Plymouth, MA.

Gems of the Summer Triangle By 10pm in mid-northern latitudes, the Summer Triangle, comprising beacon stars Vega (in Lyra), Deneb (in Cygnus), and Altair (in Aquila), will be fully visible above the horizon. Several celestial gems lie within its confines, including the Ring Nebula (M57), the Dumbbell Nebula (M27), open star cluster M29, and the visually challenging Crescent Nebula (NGC 6888). To catch a glimpse of the elusive Crescent, you'll almost certainly need an Orion Oxygen-III Filter in a larger telescope.

Summer Sky Challenge Discovered in 1825 by the German astronomer Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve, NGC 6572 is bright enough to be seen in a humble 60mm refractor telescope from a dark sky site; but it is very, very small! At only 8 arc-seconds in size, it takes a lot of magnification to distinguish this from a star. The easiest way to find it is to look in the target area for a green star. NGC 6572 is one of the most intensely colored objects in the night sky. Some say this is green, some say it is blue; what do you think?

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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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The O-TEAM: A Thousand and One Nights

(Late - very, very late; one night in 1989...)

As one-third of that, one-time, infamous trio of hard-core, dedicated, 'back-woods', 'MacGyver'-ish, observational astronomers: the 'O-Team' - Mike Petrasko, Muir Evenden, and myself, who's late-night and, sometimes, 'deep-freeze' telescopic adventures, back around 1989 (typically, in below-freezing temps) -- I would never, ever have believed that one day - our telescopes would be able to, practically, "take us by the hand", and give us a detailed, orated tour of the night sky - all by their artificially intelligent selves. Nope - that's the kind of thing that only happened in sci-fi films...

Moreover, how could any of us possibly have imagined, that, variable stars - those, peculiar stellar anomalies who are light-output, vary over periods of time, from about a few hours to several days, should turn out to be *variable* - because there were planets getting in the way! - by crossing the faces of those stars (as seen from our perspective)...of all things!!

Telescopes used by the O-Team on The Woods Hole Golf Course - Illustration by Dale Alan Bryant.
Telescopes used by the O-Team on The Woods Hole Golf Course - Illustration by Dale Alan Bryant.

Many times, over the "O-Team years", some 30-something years ago, I had made painstaking efforts at trying to capture such things, as, the North America nebula, or the galactic core in Sagittarius, on film, using a piggy-backed, 35mm SLR, loaded with Fujichrome 200, acetate slide-film. With a lot of patience, and, even more, practice, something like this could be gotten - in as short a span as 45 minutes - using the telescope, as a guide scope, during the exposure. I could never have imagined (not even in any of my wilder dreams) that, film - the conventional platform for photography, since its invention - the century, before last - would soon be replaced with the microchip capable of generating an equivalent image in 10-20 seconds - un-guided!!

Unfortunately: I have missed out - entirely - on the GOTO, computerized, Dobsonian-mounted telescope revolution: that is - the kind of amateur astronomical telescopes that are capable of re-positioning themselves, by 'slewing' across the sky, via, computer-controlled, stepped servo-motors - to any celestial object in the heavens, using the celestial coordinates, right-ascension, and declination - by converting them into their alt-azimuth counterparts - all on command!"....

I've never used one. In fact - I've never even SEEN one (at least, not 'in person').

No. My active days (or rather, nights) as an observational astronomer with the O-Team were the kind, where, in the cold months, you got dressed for the weather using three layers of outer garments, three layers of warm socks for your feet - wrapped over, with plastic trash bags to keep the warmth in under your boots - and, at least, one wool cap and a pair of mittens (mittens hold in heat better than gloves).

If you didn't look like you were ready to start training attack-dogs - you were missing some clothing.

When you were finally ready - you disassembled your scope and packed it into the back seat, trunk, or bed of your vehicle, and - if you could, still, just slide into the front seat - you were ready to drive yourself, along with your gear, to one of your, very, best-kept secrets: a chosen, dark, secluded and, preferably, isolated observing site! (We actually had two sites that we frequented, but, one, in particular, was, by far, our preferred nocturnal "delinquency". You see: on many, many starry nights, you could find me, and my telescope (well - and, my truck!), and Mike and Muir, and their vehicles, perched on one of the fairways at the Woods Hole Country Club's plush, green carpet, of highly-manicured grass. To say that we were obsessed - well, that would be a really, really accurate statement...

On any, given, clear night, we would abandon the warm, blissful comfort of our cozy beds at around 12:00 midnight, and drive out to our, apparently, God-given observing station; or any party-cloudy night, for that matter - just in case. And if you've never seen the unlikely, ominous sight of a silhouetted Volvo, parked in the middle of a golf course in the middle of the night - before, well, you just haven't lived!

From our perspective, golf courses were built, and designed, for astronomers. They offer wide expanses of sky, and - serendipitously - are covered with a durable, and, surprisingly well-kept swath of grass - which, seems to run on, in all directions, forever! Now, what philanthropic soul had done this great service for science? (I never did believe in the rumors, that, they also used these green havens, for other, unimportant 'sporting activities', as well).

Here's how it usually went...

After arriving at the golf course, and, having driven, up, onto the fairway, you set up your scope and connected it, via, mini-jumper cables w/alligator-clips, to your vehicle's battery. This was to run the electro-mechanical clock-drives, that, slowly moved the scope, in synch with Earth's rotation, across the sky to follow the particular celestial object you were observing. Muir used an 8-inch Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain. Mike had an Edmund Scientific, 4.25-inch AstroScan, and I used an 8-inch Meade Newtonian reflector.

The next step was to set up the card table and lay everything out on it: a very good, laminated star atlas with reticle templates, a red-filtered, military-style elbow flashlight, eyepieces w/case, pocket shortwave radio, tuned to WWV (for timing anything you wanted to time) along with, Mrs. Holmes' home-made brownies, if you were fortunate enough - and pray that you didn't completely drain your vehicle's battery, by dawn. (There were actually statements, like: "Oh, well; if my battery dies, I'll just call a tow-truck in the morning.", made, frequently...who cared?!)

Now, all this was usually set up near the frozen, ice-covered, first-hole putting-green of the WHGC - regardless of winter, or its threat of frostbite, or - of the threat of getting booted off the course by the local law enforcement. You see, we once (once?!) had a brief encounter with a police officer, who, was out on his rounds and, spotting, three, parked automobiles - in the middle of a golf course - had decided to drop by our private, highly-manicured observatory.

Having noted our three, rather large-ish, optical instruments, tables, chairs, ladders, and vehicles - electrical connections and all - the officer, slowly and cautiously approach our bunker, and asked, "What kinds of weapons", we were using to, obviously, protect ourselves against, the potential, horrors of the night sky. Naturally, we all-too-excitedly broke into a rather lengthy discourse about the myriad wonders - galaxies, nebulosities, etc., that we had seen that night, and offered him a view for himself; with such fervor and passion (which, he, apparently didn't share with us), that, he probably just couldn't wait to escape the bizarre situation.

Over time, they eventually learned to ignore us, entirely and, for the most part, we continued to have the WHGC, all to ourselves for our continuing, awesome onslaught of the universe, at large.

And that's how those days went.

But times have changed dramatically. Today, all this is done, remotely, with a laptop, or tablet, or even, smartphone - right from the comfort of your own bed!!

What will the next, 30-something years in amateur astronomy bring?.....

Dale Alan Bryant
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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Annual Visit to SkyPi Remote Observatory

Its that time of year again! Insight Observatory Systems Engineer, Muir Evenden and I are onsite at SkyPi Remote Observatory in Pie Town, New Mexico performing annual maintenance and systems upgrades to the Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO). Since we installed the 16" f/3.7 astrograph reflector, ATEO-1, exactly two years ago this month, we have been running the remote robotic telescope entirely with a Raspberry Pi. Although the Pi was very dependable to run the entire imaging system, we figured it was time for an upgrade. We successfully installed a Fitlet 2 Mini PC installed with Linux to run the ATEO Portal software that is integrated with The SkyX. With the upgrade in memory to 4GB and the 64GB external USB storage devices, we have noticed a difference in speed performance. The Raspberry Pi will remain in place for redundancy.

Insight Observatory Managing Member / Systems Engineer, Muir Evenden with ATEO-1.
Insight Observatory Managing Member / Systems Engineer, Muir Evenden with ATEO-1.

Another priority item on the "to do" list on our visit is collimation of the telescope's mirrors. The last time we performed this was on our last visit a year ago. Fortunately, we have found it necessary to only perform collimation only once a year so far. However, if collimation needs to be done again before our next visit in 2020, the reliable staff at SkyPi Remote Observatory is there to perform the task if needed in our absence.

Insight Observatory team members Michael Petrasko and Muir Evenden performing maintenance on ATEO-1.
Insight Observatory team members Michael Petrasko and Muir Evenden performing maintenance on ATEO-1.

Another important task to be completed was installing a new flat field table in Gamma observatory where the ATEO-1 imaging system is housed. Muir has been successfully acquiring sky flat fields in the past at twilight using a script he wrote, however, although that method was successful, it can be tricky at times. John Evelan, Managing Member of SkyPi Online Observatory, LLC, was gracious enough to install an LCD backlit flat field table on the observatory wall for our use. Other items on the list of tasks for ATEO-1 completed consisted of adjusting the shutter on the Proline 16803 CCD camera, LRGB, V filter inspection, performing a T-Point adjustment in the SkyX, focusing the guide scope and having a tree topped that obstructed the southern view from the observatory.

Affiliate remote telescopes ATEO-2A and ATEO-2B at twilight during testing with Venus rising (lower left).
Affiliate remote telescopes ATEO-2A and ATEO-2B at twilight during testing with Venus rising (lower left).

After our chores are completed with ATEO-1, we will be moving on to our affiliate remote robotic telescopes, ATEO-2A and ATEO-2B. We will be working with John, who owns the Williams Optics 5" f/7 refractor, ATEO-2A and the Celestron 11" f/10, ATEO-2B dedicated planetary telescope. John and his staff at SkyPi have fully modified Omega observatory where both telescopes are tandemly mounted on a Software Bisque GT1100S mount. We will be working on integrating those two imaging systems into the ATEO Portal as well as Insight Observatory's new "Starbase" dataset library that is currently in development to be released in mid-June 2019.
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