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Bringing the Universe to Classrooms
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Friday, February 7, 2020

The Sky Show

Barnstable High School Senior Astronomy students, AKA, "Astro Junkies",  are recently focused on a unit called “The Sky Show” which challenges each student to learn the taxonomy of the heavens.

Barnstable High School astronomy students study the use of Insight Observatory's Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO).
Barnstable High School astronomy students study the use of Insight Observatory's Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO).

Similar to Zoology, where each organism is assigned a Class, Phylum, Order, Family, Genus, and species classification, each object in the nighttime sky is given a classification designation as well. As students learn about open star clusters, globular star clusters, spiral galaxies, elliptical galaxies, irregular galaxies, double stars, planetary nebulae, emission nebulae, reflection nebulae, dark nebula, variable stars, planets, moons, asteroids, and comets, they will select a specific celestial object that they would like to research and image with a partner. Together, they will search the skies, using the website Telescopius.com, to find “that image” that speaks to them and their specific interests.

Barnstable High School astronomy students research and select their deep-sky object to image on the ATEO remote telescope network.

Insight Observatory provides a wonderful opportunity for students to learn about deep space objects, telescopes (reflectors vs. refractors), and the nighttime sky (in both celestial hemispheres). Students truly enjoy being part of the imaging process. Ownership, which is key to learning, helps create crystallizing memories that will resonate with students for many years to come. If educators are thought of as being in the “memory-making business,” then Astronomy provides the magic for making this happen.

Michael Gyra - Astronomy Teacher, Barnstable High School, Barnstable, MA

A few images of deep-sky objects acquired by Barnstable High School seniors (Astro Junkies) - M1 imaged on the 16" f/3.7 astrograph reflector (ATEO-1), NGC 1499 imaged on the 5" f/5.8 refractor (ATEO-2A) and NGC 2024 imaged on the 12.5" f/9 Ritchey-Chretien (ATEO-3).
 A few images of deep-sky objects acquired by Barnstable High School seniors (Astro Junkies) - M1 imaged on the 16" f/3.7 astrograph reflector (ATEO-1), NGC 1499 imaged on the 5" f/5.8 refractor (ATEO-2A) and NGC 2024 imaged on the 12.5" f/9 Ritchey-Chretien (ATEO-3).

More images of deep-sky objects taken by the Barnstable High School senior astronomy students. Sh2-279 imaged on ATEO-3, M31 imaged on ATEO-2A and IC 1848 imaged on ATEO-1.
More images of deep-sky objects taken by the Barnstable High School senior astronomy students. Sh2-279 imaged on ATEO-3, M31 imaged on ATEO-2A and IC 1848 imaged on ATEO-1.

A special thank you to Mr. Gyra and his senior astronomy students, AKA, "Astro Junkies", for utilizing Insight Observatory's Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach for the second consecutive school year with their class projects. If you are an educator interested in accessing Insight Observatory's ATEO remote telescope network for a classroom project using its intuitive Educational Image Request (EIR) form, please Contact Us.
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Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Seeing Beyond the Stars

Recently, a student of Mrs. Runyon’s 8th-grade science spent this past Christmas holiday traveling around the state of Texas with a stop at the famed McDonald Observatory. This astronomical observatory is located near the unincorporated community of Fort Davis in Jeff Davis County western Texas, United States, where the stars are so brilliant one almost feels like falling up into them! Why are stars so much more brilliant in those western skies than they are to us on the east coast? And how can we see beyond them?

Mrs. Runyon's 8th-grade science students research possible deep-sky targets to image through Insight Observatory's Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO) remote telescopes in the computer lab at Plymouth South Middle School. Photo credit: Karen Runyon.
Mrs. Runyon's 8th-grade science students research possible deep-sky targets to image through Insight Observatory's Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO) remote telescopes in the computer lab at Plymouth South Middle School. Photo credit: Karen Runyon.

Grade 8 students in Mrs. Runyon’s science class at Plymouth South Middle School, Plymouth, Massachusetts discussed these and other questions before embarking on a journey through space via Insight Observatory's Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO) remote telescope network. Students selected deep-sky Messier objects to research, hunting for objects that both inspired them, as well as were visible in the January skies of the northern and southern hemispheres.

Just a few sample images taken by 8th-grade science students at Plymouth South Middle School, Plymouth, MA. M78 and M45 imaged on Insight Observatory's 16" f/3.7 astrograph reflector (ATEO-1) in New Mexico, USA and M42, and M43 imaged on the 12.5" f/9 Ritchey-Chretien (ATEO-3) located in the Rio Hurtado Valley, Chile.
Just a few sample images taken by 8th-grade science students at Plymouth South Middle School, Plymouth, MA. M78 and M45 imaged on Insight Observatory's 16" f/3.7 astrograph reflector (ATEO-1) in New Mexico, USA and M42, and M43 imaged on the 12.5" f/9 Ritchey-Chretien (ATEO-3) located in the Rio Hurtado Valley, Chile. 

Working in groups, the students presented and taught each other about these objects, and decided which ones to select for imaging using Insight Observatory's Educational Image Request (EIR) form. After the deep-sky image requests were uploaded to the telescope queues, acquired and processed, the students compared their images with those taken from the Hubble Space Telescope. They discussed the differences between the image qualities gathered from the ATEO remote telescopes and Hubble, both in location and structure.

Mrs. Runyon's 8th-grade students compare images of deep-sky objects such as nebulae, galaxies and star clusters taken with Insight Observatory's ATEO remote telescopes and the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo Credits: Karen Runyon.
Mrs. Runyon's 8th-grade students compare images of deep-sky objects such as nebulae, galaxies and star clusters taken with Insight Observatory's ATEO remote telescopes and the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo credits: Karen Runyon.

Insight Observatory would like to thank Mrs. Runyon and her 8th-grade science students for participating with its "Bringing the Universe to the Classroom" program. If you are an educator and interested in accessing Insight Observatory's ATEO remote telescope network for a classroom project, please Contact Us.
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Saturday, February 1, 2020

What's In The Sky - February 2020

Clear February nights present some great stargazing opportunities. Be sure to bundle up and keep warm while you get outside for some stargazing fun!

Here are a few of Orion Telescopes and Binoculars top picks for February stargazing:

New Moon

February 23rd should be one of the best nights for deep-sky viewing as the New Moon phase will provide the darkest night of the short month. Use Orion Broadband Filters to enhance your view.

On the evening of Monday, Feb. 10, Mercury (orbit is shown as red curve) will reach its widest separation, 18 degrees east of the sun. With Mercury sitting above a nearly vertical evening ecliptic, this will be the best appearance of the planet in 2020 for Northern Hemisphere observers. The optimal viewing times fall between 6 and 7 p.m. local time. Viewed in a telescope (inset), the planet will exhibit a waning half-illuminated phase. Image credit: Starry Night.
On the evening of Monday, February 9th, Mercury (orbit is shown as red curve) will reach its widest separation, 18 degrees east of the sun. With Mercury sitting above a nearly vertical evening ecliptic, this will be the best appearance of the planet in 2020 for Northern Hemisphere observers. The optimal viewing times fall between 6 and 7 p.m. local time. Viewed in a telescope (inset), the planet will exhibit a waning half-illuminated phase. Image credit: Starry Night.

Mercury High In The Sky

On February 9th, Mercury will be at its greatest eastern elongation, meaning it is at its greatest separation from the Sun. Mercury will be at an altitude of approximately 16 degrees when the Sunsets at 17:34 PST, making it an ideal time to observe this tricky target.

Planetary Lineup Get up early on President's Day, February 17th, to see a lineup of three planets and the Moon. At dawn, the crescent Moon and Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn will form a line spanning about 39 degrees in the southeastern sky.

Before sunrise on the next day, February 18th, viewers in North America can watch the Moon occult Mars! Better yet, try snapping a sequence of high-magnification pics of the event.

Betelgeuse In The News

Betelgeuse has been in the news lately since dimming down to a magnitude of around 1.5, the lowest brightness in more than a century. The red supergiant is normally variable, but the unusual dimming has brought up the question of whether a supernova is imminent. Betelgeuse is close enough that if it went supernova it would be brighter than the full moon, a spectacular astronomical event. However, the consensus is that this probably won't be happening soon. The best estimate is sometime in the next 100,000 years, so it is more likely that this variability is normal, and we've still got a few millennia before the light show.

It may not be as flashy, but if you want to see a supernova now astronomer Koichi Itagaki discovered a supernova on January 12th. Located in the galaxy NGC 4636 in the constellation Virgo, it should be visible with a 6" or larger telescope. Referred to as SN2020ue, it is currently at magnitude 12.1 and should be visible under dark skies at around 60-100x magnification as a dim star just outside of the galaxy's core.


Galaxies M81 and M82 in Ursa Major - 5 x 300 Second LRGB Image by Insight Observatory.
Galaxies M81 and M82 in Ursa Major - 5 x 300 Second LRGB Image by Insight Observatory.

Bright Galaxies

In late February, bright galaxies M81 and M82 will be about as high in the sky as they will get for North American stargazers. From a dark sky site, these galaxies are visible with a 50mm or larger binocular, but we suggest you use a large telescope to chase these galaxies down just off the leading edge of the Big Dipper asterism. Many observers consider M81 & M82 the best pairing of visual galaxies in the sky!

If you would like to receive image data of galaxies such as M81 and M82 and other deep-sky objects taken on the Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO), please visit Insight Observatory's Custom Image Data Request form.

All objects described above can easily be seen with the suggested equipment from a dark sky site, a viewing location some distance away from city lights where light pollution and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars.
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Saturday, January 18, 2020

Southern Galaxies Now In Starbase

There are new image sets available on Insight Observatory's Starbase for downloading! Franck Jobard co-owner of Deep-Sky Chile and Insight Observatory's affiliate remote telescope, ATEO-3 captured around 8 hours of luminance image data of galaxies NGC 1365 and NGC 1316-17-18 located in the southern constellation, Fornax. The image data was acquired over November and December of 2019. ATEO-3 is a 12.5" f/9 Quasar Ritchey Chretien, that is available for image requests on our Educational and Public Image Request forms as well as image sets for subscribing to in Starbase. Between gathering data for Insight Observatory's educational programs, Franck is currently in the process of capturing many hours of red, green and blue image data through the 12" RC. This data combined will make for excellent color image processing of the galaxies.

NGC 1365 imaged on ATEO-3, 12.5" f/9 Quasar Ritchey Chretien - 8 hours of image data acquired by Franck Jobard and processed by Utkarsh Mishra.

NGC 1365 is barred spiral galaxy in the Fornax cluster. Within the larger long bar stretching across the center of the galaxy appears to be a smaller bar that comprises the core, with an apparent size of about 50″ × 40″. This second bar is more prominent in infrared images of the central region of the galaxy, and likely arises from a combination of dynamical instabilities of stellar orbits in the region, along with gravity, density waves, and the overall rotation of the disc. The inner bar structure likely rotates as a whole more rapidly than the larger long bar, creating the diagonal shape seen in images.

NGC 1316-17-18 imaged on ATEO-3, 12.5" f/9 Quasar Ritchey Chretien - 8 hours of image data acquired by Franck Jobard and processed by Utkarsh Mishra.

NGC 1316 is a lenticular galaxy about 60 million light-years away in the constellation Fornax It is a radio galaxy and at 1400 MHz is the fourth-brightest radio source in the sky.

NGC 1317 (also known as NGC 1318) is barred spiral galaxy in constellation Fornax, in the Fornax cluster. It was discovered by Julius Schmidt on January 19, 1865. It appears to be interacting with much larger NGC 1316, but the uncertainty of distance and scales of tidal distortions make this uncertain.

Source: Wikipedia NGC 1365 and NGC 1316-17-18.

ATEO-3 Starbase Image Set Subscriptions:
  • Standard: $0.20 per minute of image set exposure time
  • Education: $0.17 per minute of image set exposure time

To learn more about Insight Observatory's Starbase CLICK HERE. To access Starbase, please log in or signup here.
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Thursday, January 2, 2020

Goodbye Betelgeuse?

About five nights ago, I stepped outside, to take a look. That is, up. It's a habit, formed, long ago as a young, budding astronomer (and, 'Rock Star' Drummer...well, never mind about the 'rock-star' drummer part), but - any time that the night sky is clear of clouds - and I know about it - I do a "status" check; just, making sure that, "everything's there - and, things are the way they're supposed to be". Kind of like looking in on your kids, long after they've gone to bed...

While I'm out there, I do a sub-conscious, magnitude comparison, between the stars of the constellation, 'Orion' - a relative, close, loosely-grouped gathering of red and blue, 'super-giant' stars, out here at our 'end' of the galaxy. Throughout my entire life - the stars, "Betelguese", and "Rigel"; the 'right shoulder', and 'left foot', respectively; of the Hunter, Orion - have always appeared to be close in brightness, with the blue, Rigel, out-shining the red, and somewhat variable, Betelguese - by just a few "points". Every night. Every year. Always the same - my whole, life-long, life...

...but on the night of 21 DEC 2019 - something was, very, very different. Indeed -- things were NOT, the way, they were supposed to be.

Betelgeuse is generally the eleventh-brightest star in the night sky and second-brightest in the constellation of Orion. Image by Muir Evenden on Insight Observatory's 16" f/3.7 astrograph reflector (ATEO-1).
Betelgeuse is generally the eleventh-brightest star in the night sky and second-brightest in the constellation of Orion. Image by Muir Evenden on Insight Observatory's 16" f/3.7 astrograph reflector (ATEO-1).

The 'ancient's', had understood the stars to be, 'immovable', 'invariable', 'eternal' objects. No one could blame them; the distances to the stars - any star, even the very closest - is an un-fathomable number of miles away from 'us'. (24,900,000,000,000 - to be exact). Any motion through 3-dimensional space goes undetected; although the stars, *are* moving through space, in their long trip around the galactic core of the Milky Way galaxy (that's ours), they are so distant that their motion is not perceptible to us, here on Earth - and, not to the ancient's, either. Compared with the rest of the universe - we just live a 'fleeting' pace, but the truth is - the stars do move. And change; sometimes, catastrophically.

The stars of the Orion group are, in fact, a relatively, loosely-grouped, 'open cluster', in which, the grouping is moving through space, together, as a whole, around the galaxy. The group is between, about, 500 to 900 light-years (LY) distant. That's pretty close, by cosmological standards, and accounts for their relative brightnesses, being so high, compared with most other stars. These blue-white beauties are some of the brightest stars that can be seen from Earth - just a bit dimmer, than the brightest star, 'Sirius', which happens to lie very nearby. In fact, if you walk outside, on any, clear, winter night - the brightest stars that you will see will be those of the Orion group.

Astronomers have learned much about the 'Orion group', also known as the 'Orion OB-1 Association', over the decades. They are, distinctly, set apart from the other stars in our, somewhat, limited field of view, in that, quite a few of them are extremely large, bright stars, of a type of star, called a 'super-giant'.

Well, 'So what!?'

OK, well - *here's*, "what": beginning with a 3-star asterism that most people are acquainted with - "Orion's Belt", those three stars are part of the Orion OB-1 Association. The left-most star in the belt, 'Alnitak', is a blue type, supergiant, at 800 LY distant - Alnitak, shines in at a monstrous - 100,000 times - brighter than the sun! That's because it is 40 times the diameter of the sun!

The next star, the 'center' star of Orion's 'belt', 'Alnilam', another, blue supergiant, is 375,000 times as bright as the sun. That's because it is 84 times the sun's diameter. The last, or 'right-most' star in the belt, 'Mintaka', is 36 times the diameter of the sun, and blares in at 90,000 times the output of the sun. Another blue supergiant.

The constellation Orion the Hunter - Illustration Credit: Earth Sky and The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) captured this image of Betelgeuse, revealing its lopsided shape and a huge bright spot. ALMA (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO) / E. O’Gorman / P. Kervella
The constellation Orion the Hunter - Illustration Credit: Earth Sky and The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) captured this image of Betelgeuse, revealing its lopsided shape and a huge bright spot. ALMA (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO) / E. O’Gorman / P. Kervella

Most of the stars that you see, up there, in the dusky grey (it is not black anymore, where I live), are older, dimmer and somewhat redder stars than these 'Mavericks' of Orion. Supergiant stars are stars that are on their way out. They have near the end of their time on the main sequence, drifting toward oblivion, but, one star out of this group, has aged much faster than the others. And it is, now, visually, very obvious.

The red-supergiant, "Betelguese", is now, about ten times, less bright then I remember it as a kid. And it's dimmer, now, than it was, the last time I saw it, just over a year ago. The great, red, supergiant is now at the end of its lifespan. The constellation, "Orion", has changed.

The once, bright, red star, has begun to shrink, inward, toward a collapsing core. Having burned through all of its original hydrogen mass - and its converted, helium mass, it is in the process of fusing its remaining elemental composition, all the way down to iron. Once it has reached this stage, its thermal, expansion energy will no longer counter the energy of gravity, and it will collapse - blowing itself, in a crescendo of blazing light, metals, and x-rays -- to smithereens. It will leave behind, a cold, dead, neutronic core.

Betelguese, is now, ready to do just that.*

*It is difficult to know, exactly, when a star is going to actually go supernova. That could happen, anywhere, from - tonight - to a few more, thousand years. But, it could be - tonight!

Dale Alan Bryant
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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

What's In The Sky - January 2020

January kicks off the New Year with wonderful sights for backyard astronomers to enjoy with friends and family. Don't forget to bundle up on clear, cold evenings as you explore the sparkling night sky. Here are a few of our top picks for January stargazers:

Quadrantid Meteor Shower

The Quadrantid Meteor Shower will be the first substantial meteor shower of 2020, with an estimated peak rate of around 120 meteors per hour. The shower will be active until January 12th, but peak rates are expected around 01:00 PST on January 4th. The Moon will be at first quarter but fortunately will set around midnight providing little interference.

Don’t miss the Quadrantid meteor shower peak on 4 January 2019. Image Credit: Astronomy Now
Don’t miss the Quadrantid meteor shower peak on 4 January 2019. Image Credit: Astronomy Now

New Moon

The nights around January 24th will be the best nights for observations due to the dark skies resulting from the New Moon. Bundle up, grab a telescope and your astrophotography gear and get out there to view and image those elusive fainter deep sky objects.

January Close Approaches
  • The Moon & Mars 2°40' 07:00 PST January 20
  • Venus & Neptune 0°18' 18:00 PST January 27
Orion High in the Sky

Their namesake constellation will be well-placed for backyard astronomers throughout January. Some of our favorite targets in or near Orion are:
  • M42, The Great Nebula In Orion - Visible as the middle star of Orion's sword, this emission nebula looks amazing in everything from binoculars to a large aperture Dobsonian. Can you see the trapezium, the 4-star system at the center? Even viewers from moderately light-polluted areas can get a good sense of the glory of this object using an Orion UltraBlock or Oxygen-III filter.

  • M78 - Another, much fainter, emission nebula M78 is located just left and above the left-most star in Orion's belt. Again, an Oxygen-III filter can help.

  • NGC 2174/2175 - A large emission patch and star cluster, this complex is located near the top of Orion's raised "hand". Under dark and clear skies this can be seen in larger binoculars such as Orion's 15x70 or 20x80 Astronomy Binoculars.

January Challenge Object

Just west of Rigel, the bright blue/white star that marks the western "knee" of Orion, lies the Witch Head Nebula (IC 2118), in the neighboring constellation Eridanus. The Witch-Head is a reflection nebula that shines from reflected light off of Rigel, like the reflection nebula in the Pleiades, M45. You don't need a big telescope; a wide field of view, low power and a dark sky are needed to see this challenging nebula. (Hint: Don't use filters)

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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