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Bringing the Universe to Your Classroom!

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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