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Bringing the Universe to Classrooms
and Homes Around the World!

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.

ust a few sample images were 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 were 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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