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Bringing the Universe to Your Classroom!

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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Thursday, May 2, 2019

What's In The Sky - May 2019

Get outside with your telescope on clear May evenings to see celestial treats! With the weather warming up and skies clearing up, there's no shortage of celestial delicacies to view with telescopes and binoculars. Here are a few of Orion Telescopes and Binoculars top suggestions for May observing:

Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower

Grab a blanket or a comfy lounge chair to sit back, relax and watch the Eta Aquarids meteor shower, one of two annual showers caused by dust particles from Halley's Comet. Catch the peak of the dazzling show before dawn on May 6th. The approximate peak rate is 10-30 per hour, but meteors should be visible from April 24th through May 20th. Look for meteors appearing to radiate from the constellation Aquarius.

M97 - The "Owl Nebula - Planetary Nebula in Ursa Major. - Imaged on ATEO-1 by Joe Masi.
M97 - The "Owl Nebula - Planetary Nebula in Ursa Major. - Imaged on ATEO-1 by Joe Masi.

Four Big Planetary Nebulae

Use a 6" or larger telescope and an Oxygen-III filter to catch nice views of four relatively large planetary nebulae in May skies. See the "Ghost of Jupiter," NGC 3242 in Hydra; M97, "the Owl Nebula" in the Big Dipper; NGC 4361 in Corvus, and the famous "Ring Nebula", M57 in Lyra just a few degrees from the bright star Vega. To help you locate these objects, use the Orion DeepMap 600.

New Moon, Dark Skies

Take advantage of the dark skies provided by the New Moon on May 4th to scope out the many star clusters, galaxies and other deep-sky gems on display. Pack up your astronomy gear using our full line of telescope and accessory cases and head to a dark sky site for the best viewing conditions.

M13 and M3 Imaged on ATEO-1 by students from Plymouth South Elementary School, Plymouth, MA.
M13 and M3 Imaged on ATEO-1 by students from Plymouth South Elementary School, Plymouth, MA.

Five Glittering Globulars

Five picture-perfect examples of globular star clusters will be visible in May skies. Check out M3 in the constellation Bootes. M13, the "Great Cluster in Hercules" will be visible near the zenith. M5 can be found in Serpens and M92 in the northern section of Hercules. Be sure to track down M4 (NGC 6121) in Scorpius on May 27th, as it will be in a great position for telescopic study throughout the night, reaching zenith around midnight. Big telescopes will provide the best views, but even a pair of humble 50mm or larger binoculars will show you these dense balls of stars from a dark sky site.

M101 and M51 Imaged on ATEO-1 by students from the Astro Club at Sacred Heart High School Kingston, MA
M101 and M51 Imaged on ATEO-1 by students from the Astro Club at Sacred Heart High School Kingston, MA.

Four Face-On Spirals

Use a large telescope to see the classic pinwheel shapes of galaxies M51 and M101 in the Big Dipper asterism of Ursa Major, and M99 and M100 in the Virgo galaxy cluster. There are also dozens of additional galaxies to explore in the Virgo cluster with a large aperture telescope.

May's Challenge Object

May skies present some of the best opportunities to grab a view of Omega Centauri - the brightest globular star cluster in the sky! While it's big and bright, even visible as a "fuzzy" star in binoculars, the challenge Omega Centauri presents is its low position in southern skies, which can make it unobservable from higher northern latitudes. If you're having trouble locating the famous globular cluster, Bruce McClure from EarthSky.org suggests letting the sparkling blue-white star Spica help you. He explains that when Spica climbs highest up for the night, so does Omega Centauri - look for it 35 degrees directly below Spica.
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Sunday, April 28, 2019

Messier 63 - The Sunflower Galaxy

As the spring night sky looms overhead, there are a plethora of galaxies and galaxy clusters for targeting with the Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO) at Insight Observatory. One such galaxy is Messier 63, the "Sunflower Galaxy" located in the constellation Canes Venatici. One of Insight Observatory's Starbase dataset subscribers, Utkarsh Mishra, processed roughly 10 hours (color) and 6 hours (monochrome) of data integration of the galaxy acquired by ATEO-1, the 16" f/3.7 Astrograph reflector located in New Mexico. Utkarsh's processed image of Messier 63 is one of the best we at Insight Observatory has ever seen. We were very excited to see his final processed color and monochrome images of the galaxy. It is the first time an image from ATEO-1 has been processed with so many integration hours.

Color LRGB image of Messier 63, The Sunflower Galaxy - 6 hours of data from ATEO-1 processed by Utkarsh Mishra.
Color LRGB image of Messier 63, The Sunflower Galaxy - 6 hours of data from ATEO-1 processed by Utkarsh Mishra.

Although M63 only has two spiral arms, many appear to be winding around its yellow core. The spiral arms shine with the radiation from recently formed blue stars and can be more clearly seen in infrared observations. By imaging flocculent spiral galaxies like M63, astronomers hope to gain a better understanding of how stars form in such systems.

Messier 63 or M63, also known as NGC 5055 was discovered in 1779 by the French astronomer Pierre Méchain and was the first of 24 objects that Méchain would contribute to Charles Messier’s catalog. The galaxy is located roughly 27 million light-years from Earth. It has an apparent magnitude of 9.3 and appears as a faint patch of light in small telescopes. The best time to observe this galaxy is during the month of May.

Monochrome Luminance image of Messier 63, The Sunflower Galaxy - 6 hours of data from ATEO-1 processed by Utkarsh Mishra.
Monochrome Luminance image of Messier 63, The Sunflower Galaxy - 6 hours of data from ATEO-1 processed by Utkarsh Mishra.

In 1971, a supernova with a magnitude of 11.8 appeared in one of the arms of M63. It was discovered May 24, 1971, and reached peak light around May 26. The spectrum of SN 1971 I is consistent with a supernova of type I. However, the spectroscopic behavior appeared anomalous.

Sources: NASA.gov and Wikipedia
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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

5th-Graders Image Spring Deep-Sky Objects

Insight Observatory, once again, had the pleasure this school year of working with Ms. Christine DeSantis and her 5th-grade students at the Plymouth South Elementary School located in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The students used Insight Observatory's Educational Image Request (EIR) form to acquire deep-sky images from the 16" f/3.7 reflector remote robotic imaging telescope (ATEO-1) located in the dark skies of Pie Town, New Mexico.

M3 - Globular Cluster in Canes Venatici - Image by 5th-Grade Students Lily B., Danielle S., and Hannah M.
M3 - Globular Cluster in Canes Venatici - Image by 5th-Grade Students Lily B., Danielle S., and Hannah M.

Ms. DeSantis states; "As part of our science unit on space, our class received the exciting opportunity to receive some images via a remote telescope in New Mexico. Students visited the Insight Observatory website to learn more about the telescope and its location. They were then paired up to choose some deep sky images to have photographed. It was particularly exciting for the students to find out that the spring sky is loaded with galaxies. Students chose from a list of open star clusters, spiral galaxies, globular clusters, and planetary nebula. They were thrilled when their images arrived. After seeing their images, students discussed the immensity of distances in space and the variation in galaxy shapes. This was such a motivating and inspiring project. We are very grateful to have been able to benefit from Insight Observatory’s educational outreach program!"


More Spring deep-sky images taken by Ms. DeSantis' 5th-grade students using Insight Observatory's  Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO-1).
More Spring deep-sky images taken by Ms. DeSantis' 5th-grade students using Insight Observatory's
Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO-1).
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Friday, April 5, 2019

Insight Observatory Reflections: NGC 2264 - The Cone Nebula

As posted previously, Insight Observatory is currently collaborating with Mr Michael Gyra and his "Astro Junkies" at Barnstable High School, Barnstable, Massachusetts. Mr Gyra has all five of his senior astronomy classes utilizing the Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO) online remote robotic telescopes to image deep-sky objects in the night sky. The students are using Insight Observatory's Educational Image Request (EIR) form to submit their image requests to its 16" f/7 reflector remote telescope located remotely an elevation of 7,778 ft in Pie Town, New Mexico.

This program was made possible by a generous grant from the Barnstable Education Foundation. After the students received their deep-sky images, Mr Gyra tasked them with an assignment designated "Insight Observatory Reflections". The assignment includes students writing about their experience using Insight Observatory's ATEO-1, the result of their image, and some scientific facts about the deep-sky object. Here is the second instalment from Class D, NGC 2264, "The Cone Nebula"...

NGC 2264, The "Cone Nebula" in Monoceros - Imaged on ATEO-1 by Colby P. and Anthony A.
NGC 2264, The "Cone Nebula" in Monoceros - Imaged on ATEO-1 by Colby P. and Anthony A.

"I, along with all of the astronomy classes, am very grateful that Insight Observatory gave us the privilege to image celestial objects of all kind, and am thankful for the Barnstable Educational Foundation for their generous grant to make this possible. Not only did this opportunity allow us the chance to learn more about telescopes, imaging, and celestial bodies, but it, more importantly, gave us a picture to call our own and carry around with us forever. My partner and I knew we wanted to image a diffuse nebula so we searched for the coolest gaseous shapes we could find. We ended up by choosing the Cone Nebula which is shaped like a cone, hence the name. The Cone Nebula is catalogued as NGC 2264 located in the constellation Monoceros, located nearly 2,700 light years away from Earth. We were expecting a very cool image, but what we received was even better than I could have imagined. Not only did the telescope capture the Cone Nebula, but it captured the Christmas Tree around it as well. In the image, you can see stars of all colors and magnitudes, gases from nebulae, and much more to wow the eye. 

Insight Observatory provided us with the opportunity of a lifetime because I’m sure many of us may never have a chance to image the heavens again. I hope that many other classes and schools can provide their students with the educational outreach our teacher Mr Gyra has, in finding wonderful opportunities like Insight Observatory has to offer. Not only is this an educational learning experience, but it is more than that, possibly life-changing. It has given me a different perspective on what is beyond Earth and our solar system and has piqued my curiosity about what is over our heads in the cosmos.

Colby P., Barnstable High School "Astro Junkie"."
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Monday, April 1, 2019

"Where Is Everybody?!"

The answer to the question, "If there are, other, intelligent civilizations out there - why haven't we detected any kind of signals from them?", is best answered, I think, by Seth Shostak, astronomer/astrobiologist and director of the SETI Institute in his 2009 book, Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist's Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

I have learned (finally), that if I have to ask a question that, I feel, should have an obvious, up-front, readily available answer - but there doesn't seem to be one - then I'm missing something - usually, something embarrassingly fundamental - and that I should either know better - or, have kept my big mouth shut, and researched it, beforehand!! I can't tell you how many times this has happened to me.

SETI’s mission to seek out evidence of extraterrestrial life in order to understand and explain the origin of life in our universe. Graphic by Evolving Science.
SETI’s mission to seek out evidence of extraterrestrial life in order to understand and explain the origin of life in our universe. Graphic by Evolving Science.

But I have learned, that: I don't know everything. That, all is not obvious -  just because I want it to be. And, that variables exist - just to be variables - and just because they can be, that's all! (Or so it seems, sometimes).

I am very familiar with large - outrageously large - numbers. I've got a good grasp on what it means, that: the Moon is 237,000 miles from Earth, and that Earth is 92.8 million miles from the Sun. I've even seen, with my own eyes, what a million looks like; so, I have good imagery of what a million marbles, or better, a million Hershey bars, looks like. I've got numeric multiples memorized, all the way up to "undecillion" (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000)! So, when I read that the SETI (the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) organization has monitored, hundreds of thousands of stars, for electromagnetic spectrum signals, I figured that was more than enough to find what they were looking for. And if they haven't found anything by now, it's probably not going to happen.

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Official Logo.
The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Official Logo.

About a month ago, I had e-mailed Seth regarding the progress of SETI, since the advent of the discovery of more than 4,000 exoplanets, out there in our Milky Way galaxy. He told me that the discovery is a big plus for SETI because now they can be more directional with their listening equipment. He also reminded me that, all of the hundreds of thousands of stars that SETI has monitored, against the number of stars still available for monitoring, represents a ratio, analogous to one grain of sand - from an entire beachful!

In other words, given the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy (approximately 300 billion), SETI has only just begun. The number of potentials, calculated intelligent civilizations in the Milky Way (using the Drake equation formula), easily fits within the remainder of stars left to monitor. In fact, compared to the rest of the Milky Way in the context of the number of possible, intelligent civilizations - it's almost empty. It will be like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. Needless to say, happily - my capacity for numbers is not as great as I once thought it to be!

By Dale Alan Bryant
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Saturday, March 16, 2019

Insight Observatory Reflections: IC 1805 - The Heart Nebula

Insight Observatory is currently collaborating with Mr Michael Gyra and his "Astro Junkies" at Barnstable High School, Barnstable, Massachusetts. Mr Gyra has all five of his senior astronomy classes utilizing the Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO) online remote robotic telescopes to image deep-sky objects in the night sky. The students are using Insight Observatory's Educational Image Request (EIR) form to submit their image requests to its 16" f/7 reflector remote telescope located remotely an elevation of 7,778 ft in Pie Town, New Mexico.

This program was made possible by a generous grant from the Barnstable Education Foundation. After the students received their deep-sky images, Mr Gyra tasked them with an assignment designated "Insight Observatory Reflections". The assignment includes students writing about their experience using Insight Observatory's ATEO-1, the result of their image, and some scientific facts about the deep-sky object. The "Astro Junkies" from his first class (Class D) were kind enough to share their papers with us. All of them were very inspiring and we would like to share a few of them with you in our blog starting with IC 1805, The "Heart Nebula"...

IC 1805, The Heart Nebula in Cassiopeia - Imaged on ATEO-1 by Lauren S. and Kristen A.
IC 1805, The "Heart Nebula" in Cassiopeia - Imaged on ATEO-1 by Lauren S. and Kristen A.

"I was working with a friend, scrolling through Insight’s website, gazing at all of the opportunity we had. We could pick M42, or M1, or M57! The possibilities seemed endless--nebulae, planets, star clusters. Finally, we came to a decision: IC 1805, The Heart Nebula in Cassiopeia. Valentine’s Day is around the corner, the nebula was in flawless view in the nighttime sky, the timing seemed perfect. This emission nebula was laced with hydrogen, the reddish hue screaming to be imaged from the website. The decision was made in record timing: we had to image this beautiful nebula. Since it is only 7,500 light years away from Earth, the Heart Nebula would have an advantage over some of the farther-away images. The telescope would be able to capture the detail that we had seen in the professional images online.

And then came the waiting period. This was the hardest part of our project. We ached to see the beautiful nebula in all its glory. Every day was 24-hours closer to the most exciting part of our week. Finally, Mr Gyra showed us our images. My partner and I were astonished. The image came out so much better than we could have ever hoped for; the outlines of the hydrogen were exquisite, the foreground stars had the most beautiful diffraction lines I had ever seen before. The Heart Nebula had finally reached us, here on Cape Cod. This experience was completely made possible by the Barnstable Educational Foundation’s funding for our astronomical learning and the great minds over at the Insight Observatory. I personally am wholly thankful for their dedication to our education and the expansion of our horizons out into the unknown. If it weren’t for them, I probably never would have experienced something so outwardly, especially not to this degree. The BEF and Insight Observatory made it possible for students to do their own research on something they were passionate about, which is really the true essence of learning and education. This is why I am grateful for their kind efforts, and this is why I wanted to become a varsity stargazer in the first place.

With gratitude, Lauren S., Barnstable High School "Astro Junkie"."
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