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Bringing the Universe to Classrooms
and Homes Around the World!

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Online Learning Opportunities Using ATEO

During these unusual and stressful times, Insight Observatory has been fortunate enough to be able to offer and provide online learning opportunities with teachers and students from their homes. One instance was a recent collaboration with Plymouth South Elementary School 5th-grade teacher, Ms Christine DeSantis, from Plymouth, Massachusetts. Insight Observatory and Ms. DeSantis had scheduled an education program earlier this year to take place in April 2020. Fortunately, due to Insight's online Educational Image Request (EIR) application, Ms. DeSantis and her 5th-grade students could still proceed with the class project as planned.

Plymouth South Elementary School Student, Aidan F., examines his image of M27, The Dumbbell Nebula, taken on Insight Observatory's 16 f/3.7 astrograph reflector (ATEO-1) remote telescope.
Plymouth South Elementary School Student, Aidan F., examines his image of M27, The Dumbbell Nebula, taken on Insight Observatory's 16 f/3.7 astrograph reflector (ATEO-1) remote telescope.

"We are very grateful to have been able to benefit from Insight Observatory’s educational outreach program, especially during this difficult and challenging process of distance learning!" states Ms. DeSantis. "Students first visited Insight Observatory's website to learn more about the online remote telescopes and their locations. The students discussed why New Mexico was an ideal location for deep space photography, and how Insight Observatory Co-Founder, Mr. Petrasko, first became interested in space photography. It was inspiring and motivating for the kids to learn how a hobby and interest in space could eventually develop into this type of program."

 Plymouth South Elementary School Student, Morgan H., displays her image of M57, The Ring Nebula.  M97, The Owl Nebula and M108 Galaxy on the right were imaged by Brook C. and Cameron J. All deep-sky objects were imaged by the students on Insight Observatory's 16" f/3.7 astrograph reflector (ATEO-1). Plymouth South Elementary School Student, Morgan H., displays her image of M57, The Ring Nebula.  M97, The Owl Nebula (upper right) and M108 Galaxy (lower left) were imaged by Brook C. and Cameron J. All deep-sky objects were imaged by the students on Insight Observatory's 16" f/3.7 astrograph reflector (ATEO-1).
Plymouth South Elementary School Student, Morgan H., displays her image of M57, The Ring Nebula.  M97, The Owl Nebula (upper right) and M108 Galaxy (lower left) were imaged by Brook C. and Cameron J. All deep-sky objects were imaged by the students on Insight Observatory's 16" f/3.7 astrograph reflector (ATEO-1).

"After their research, students were 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 nebulae. They were thrilled when their images arrived. After seeing their images, students discussed the immensity of distances in space and reviewed the variation in galaxy shapes. This was such a wonderful project, especially since it allowed my students to visit faraway places without having to leave their homes."

More images acquired by Plymouth South Elementary School 5th-grade students using ATEO-1. M51, The Whirlpool Galaxy imaged by Trevor B. (left), M27, The Dumbell Nebula, imaged by Aidan F. (upper right), and M3, Globular Cluster imaged by Nathan B.
More images acquired by Plymouth South Elementary School 5th-grade students using ATEO-1. M51, The Whirlpool Galaxy imaged by Trevor B. (left), M27, The Dumbell Nebula, imaged by Aidan F. (upper right), and M3, Globular Cluster imaged by Nathan B.
Insight Observatory would like to thank Ms. DeSantis and her 5th-grade students for participating in a classroom project for the 3rd year straight year! Even during these challenging learning conditions, we are very happy we could still make it possible!

If you are an educator and would like to participate in an online learning opportunity using our Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO) remote telescope network, please Contact Us
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Sunday, April 19, 2020

Northern Hemisphere Forecast for April and May: Showers - With A Chance Of Bolides!

This time of year, presents us with a unique, "all-sky", observing situation: double-header meteor showers - and, the possibility of 'fireballs', and/or, 'bolide' meteors, thrown in!

First comes the Lyrid meteor shower, peaking on 22APR and followed by the Eta Aquarids, peaking on 5MAY.

Ah-Ha! But - the bases are loaded...

There is also, a good chance, for spotting a 'fireball' meteor or two, and, even a "near-once-in-a-lifetime" bolide. This annual recurring situation is where the term, "April Fireballs" comes from (see my article, "The Great Fireball of 1966").

A meteor from the Lyrids meteor shower crossing the milky way - single exposure. Image credit: iStock by Getty Images.
A meteor from the Lyrids meteor shower crossing the milky way - single exposure. Image credit: iStock by Getty Images.

Lyrid meteors originate with the short, long-period comet, C/1861 G1. This comet has one of the shortest periods of all, long-period comets, at just over 400 years. Therefore, its 'wake' is broad and rather dense. Zenithal Hourly Rates (ZHR), is only around 10, for most years - but, with meteor showers, one can never tell. The Lyrids have provided, in, roughly, 60-year outbursts, up to 90 meteors, per hour! The Lyrid radiant in Lyra is close to that constellation's brightest star, Vega, which rises around 8:30 p.m., in the east.

The Eta Aquarids, peaking on 5MAY, is the debris train, left, by the 76-year period comet, 1P/Halley (yes, that one - "Halley's Comet", for you newcomers (oh, you'll learn!))

The Eta Aquarids radiant, rises at around 2:45 a.m. and the hour or two just before dawn will be the best viewing (That's what you get for becoming an Astronomer!) The Eta Aquarids occur, this year, near the full moon - but a full moon was never a deterrent to me, for a meteor shower. And, there is assistance at hand...

Meteor showers are the type of event that, you don't want to use a telescope at; at least, not for watching meteors. Typically, meteor showers are viewed with the unaided eye. Some observers will use, low powered, standard-style binoculars - I've tried that myself and, probably, missed, half of the meteors during a shower, by constricting my field of view in using them!

Orion 2 x 54 Ultra Wide-Angle Binoculars
Orion 2 x 54 Ultra Wide-Angle Binoculars

Orion Telescopes and Binoculars has come up with a unique-sounding aid directed at the meteor shower, and, Milky Way density viewer: Orion 2 x 54 Ultra Wide-Angle Binoculars! Somebody finally did it!

Although I haven't tried these, for myself, I get it -- I've imagined similar optics in my, "deep-astronomical" past (around 50 yrs., total!)

Rather than missing out on some meteors by using the confined field of a standard pair of binoculars - these 2x54 ultra-wides sound, more like, an enhanced, 'unaided-eye' field of view, with their offering of a 36° FOV, and 70°, apparent field of view. I can only imagine what the denser portions of the Milky Way look like through these!

IF YOU DO HAPPEN ACROSS A BOLIDE – LET ME KNOW ABOUT IT!

Dale Alan Bryant
Senior Contributing Science Writer
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Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Coming of Comet C/2019 Y4 ATLAS

One of the great things about staying at home - you just, might discover a comet! Ninety-four (94) new comets were discovered by Amateur Astronomers, last year.

The last, great comet that I saw was comet Hale-Bopp, in 1997. When I say, "Great" - I mean that it was so prominent in the sky that, if you were facing about 70-80 degrees away from it, it still caught your attention out of the corner of your eye. Now, THAT's, "Great"!

Another comet that I've always considered to be, "Great" - was comet Hyakutake (C/1996 B2). Most people don't remember that one - but, that's only because, it was so large, that it was difficult to see as a singular, intact object. The tail of the comet was so wide, and was positioned, directly overhead, that it looked more like a disintegrating, diffuse, airliner contrail - spanning nearly the entire sky, and with no, distinct "head".

Comet C/2019 Y4 ATLAS imaged on the 16" f/3.7 astrograph reflector, ATEO-1 on the evening of April 10, 2020, by Muir Evenden. Processing by Utkarsh Mishra and Michael Petrasko.
Comet C/2019 Y4 ATLAS imaged on the 16" f/3.7 astrograph reflector, ATEO-1 on the evening of April 10, 2020, by Muir Evenden. Processing by Utkarsh Mishra and Michael Petrasko.

But, enough about those "Great visitors" to the Inner Solar System - there just might be, another, looming presence in the night. Enter, comet C/2019 Y4 ATLAS, or, comet "ATLAS", for short!) ATLAS is a sort of, "Rip Van Winkle"; it's been "asleep", since about the year 3000 BC! The chart, here, shows the comet's expected positions in the sky, from, 20MAR, in Ursa Major - 28JUN, 2020 in Orion. Currently, it is "cat-napping", in the northern constellation, Camelopardalis. On 12MAY, the comet moves into the constellation Perseus, and on the 23rd, it will be at its closest to Earth. It will be at its closest to the sun on 31MAY 2000.

The dirty "snow-ball" - as we like to call these things - was discovered by one of the Asteroid Terrestrial-Impact Last Alert System's (ATLAS) 0.5 m (20 in) reflector telescopes, situated at the top of Mauna Loa, Hawaii. At the time of discovery, in December of 2019, it was 3 AU's from the sun, at magnitude 19.6. By the beginning of February, it brightened to magnitude 17, and then, to mag. 8, by the end of March of this year.

The predicted path of Comet C/2019 Y4 ATLAS thru June 18th, 2020. Graphic credit: www.cometwatch.co.uk
The predicted path of Comet C/2019 Y4 ATLAS thru June 18th, 2020. Graphic credit: www.cometwatch.co.uk

ATLAS has a very distinctive coloration; green/aqua, due to, diatomic carbon molecules, within its coma. Its orbital period was originally thought to be around 4,400 years. ATLAS, has some orbital characteristic similarities with the Great Comet of 1844 (C/1844 Y1), suggesting that this "new" (to us) comet might, actually, be a remnant fragment of the same parent body as C/1844 Y1. This apparition of ATLAS, was, initially, held to be, possibly a spectacular one - and, that may still be the case. However - recent observations have shown a decrease in magnitude, after having brightened to magnitude 8, as it crossed the orbit of Mars. It is currently at magnitude 8.9 - 9.2. This is not even naked, or, unaided-eye visibility. That's because the comet is fragmenting. It is still possible, that, the fragments will maintain enough structural integrity, to give the broken comet, higher scores - possibly, something along the lines of comet Shoemaker-Levy's plunge into the atmosphere of Jupiter, years ago! (We couldn't see that from the ground, but it was spectacular on a spacecraft video feed!).

Well, who knows?! When ATLAS is done, doing what it's going to do - it will head back out into the cosmic depths, on a 5,200 year-long loop, eventually, to bring it back around to the sun, once again. Along the way, it may even leave behind, a generous portion, of its disintegrating self in the form of a new meteor shower stream!

Dale Alan Bryant
Senior Contributing Science Writer
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Sunday, April 5, 2020

Telescopius - Astronomy Planning Made Easy

Insight Observatory recently developed a beneficial partnership with Telescopius.com (formerly known as DSO-Browser). Telescopius is a great online tool for astrophotographers who are planning an astrophotography session. The website provides plenty of useful information covering the deep-sky objects visible from your telescope's location and hosts an active community with an image gallery to share your images.

The Insight Observatory Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO) locations are listed on the Telescopius Observatory Parameters section.
The Insight Observatory Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO) locations are listed on the Telescopius Observatory Parameters section.

Since developing and releasing the ATEO Portal, Personal Image Request (PIR) and Educational Image Request (EIR) online applications for accessing Insight Observatory's three remote telescopes, we have always provided a link to Telescopius.com to allow imagers to get some recommendations of deep-sky targets. Our online applications, in text, provided the ATEO remote telescopes' geographic coordinates and locations so the user or student could enter them on Telescopius.com to view and choose targets from our two remote observatory locations. Recommending using Telescopius to our users was very helpful with selecting targets both in the classroom and for personal use.

In late February this year, Insight Observatory and Telescopius have partnered up to bring the perfect deep-sky target selection possible with the use of the ATEO remote telescope network. Insight Observatory's two remote telescope locations are now integrated into the website. When a user or student chooses one of our three telescopes to image with, then clicks telescopius.com to look for target recommendations, the location of the telescope and observatory is immediately selected. There is no longer a need to enter in the coordinates and locations manually. If you go directly to telescopius.com and click in the "Observatory Parameters" field, you will see Insight Observatory listed. When clicked on, it displays all three ATEO remote telescope locations. SkyPi Remote Observatory for ATEO-1 and ATEO-2A and Deep Sky Chile for ATEO-3. One of my personal favorite "What's in the Sky Tonight" feature is the hourly and monthly altitude graph that displays the rise, transit, and set times of a deep-sky target. That gives imager information for the best time to capture that object.

Screenshot of Telescopius.com's Telescope Simulator tool demonstrating the field of view of M45, The Pleiades through Insight Observatory's 16" f/3.7 astrograph reflector, ATEO-1.
Screenshot of Telescopius.com's Telescope Simulator tool demonstrating the field of view of M45, The Pleiades through Insight Observatory's 16" f/3.7 astrograph reflector, ATEO-1.

Telescopius' owner and developer, Sebastian Garcia, went above and beyond in addition to the features he developed previously mentioned. Sebastian also added all three ATEO remote telescopes to the Telescopius Telescope Simulator. This tool allows users and students to select a telescope and deep-sky target to analyze the field of view (FOV). There have been numerous occasions when working in the educational environment when we would receive questions from instructors asking which telescope would be the best to image certain objects. Now users and students can see how the object "fits" in the field of view of the telescope they are choosing. This makes the process of our educational programs more intuitive than they already are.

Insight Observatory would like to thank Sebastian Garcia for his contributions and efforts to our ongoing mission of "Bringing the Universe to Classrooms Around the World!"

Telescopius is a free online application and is funded largely on donations via Patreon and PayPal.
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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

What's In The Sky - April 2020

Explore the starry skies of April! There will be a number of intriguing celestial sights to enjoy with the help of a binocular or telescope. Here are a few of Orion Telescopes and Binoculars favorites:

Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) Imaged on ATEO-1 by Muir Evenden as it makes its way thru the constellation Camelopardalis on March 30, 2020.
Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) Imaged on ATEO-1 by Muir Evenden as it makes its way thru the constellation Camelopardalis on March 30, 2020.

Comet ATLAS

C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) was discovered by the ATLAS comet survey in December of 2019 but grabbed observer's attention when it dramatically surged in brightness in January of 2020. So far the comet has reached a magnitude of approximately 8.0, and it's predicted that in April it might get bright enough to see with the naked eye. The comet is located in the constellation Camelopardalis throughout April and is placed well for Northern hemisphere observers during April nights. Grab a telescope or some binoculars to observe the comet, or if it gets bright enough try observing without equipment!
International Dark Sky Association logo
International Dark-Sky Week

Sunday, April 19th through Sunday, April 26th, celebrate International Dark Sky Week by keeping your outdoor lights turned off after sunset to reduce light pollution. Endorsed by the International Dark-Sky Association and the American Astronomical Society, International Dark Sky Week presents an opportunity to appreciate the beautiful night sky without the adverse effects of light pollution from outdoor lighting. Turn out those lights and enjoy views of the starry sky from your own backyard! Find out more at https://www.darksky.org/dark-sky-week-2020/.

NGC 4565 Galaxy in Virgo imaged on ATEO-1 by Muir Evenden back in 2018.
NGC 4565 Galaxy in Virgo imaged on ATEO-1 by Muir Evenden back in 2018.

Spring Brings Galaxy Season

April skies provide stargazers with ample opportunities to observe far-off galaxies. With the Virgo Galaxy Cluster and bright galaxies in the Big Dipper and Coma Berenices well-positioned in the sky, April evenings are truly a gift for galaxy hounds. Check out a few of our favorite galaxies: M101, M51, and M106 near the Big Dipper asterism; M86, M87, M84 and M104 in the Virgo Galaxy Cluster; and don't miss NGC 4565, M64, M99, and M100 in the constellation Coma Berenices. While a humble 80mm telescope will show most of the galaxies we mention, a big reflector like our SkyQuest XT10 Classic Dobsonian will provide jaw-dropping views of these distant beauties!

New Moon, Dark Skies

Take advantage of the dark skies provided by the New Moon on April 22nd to scope out the many star clusters, galaxies, and other deep-sky gems April has to offer. Bundle up, grab a telescope and your astrophotography gear and get out there to view and image those elusive fainter deep sky objects.

Lyrids Meteor Shower

Get outside after midnight on the night of April 16th to enjoy the start of the Lyrids Meteor Shower. Look for meteors to radiate outwards from the constellation Lyra at the peak of the shower, after midnight on the 21st into the early hours of April 22nd. The Lyrids is a medium shower, which should produce about 18 per hour this year. The peak is close to the new moon, presenting almost no interference. The Lyrids shower often produces meteors with impressive dust trails that can last several seconds. You don't need a telescope to enjoy the show — just sit back in a comfy chair and watch bright dust trails flare across the sky. More information is available at https://www.amsmeteors.org/meteor-showers/meteor-shower-calendar/#Lyrids.

April's Deep-Sky Challenge: M87 in the Virgo Galaxy Cluster

This is a great challenge for experienced observers. It's been said that the jet of light, famous in photographs, emanating from the core of M87 can be observed visually in telescopes possibly as small as 10" from a dark sky location, on the clearest of nights.

If you're up for the challenge, try to view M87 as high in the sky as possible, and use as much magnification as the conditions permit. Look for a short streak of light emanating from the core, slightly brighter than the surrounding haze. The key to this challenge is finding the right viewing condition. When trying on different nights, note the visibility of the stellar core — this is a good indicator of the quality of the night and the suitability of a particular eyepiece. A Barlow like the Orion Shorty 1.25" 2x Barlow Lens and an eyepiece such as the 15mm Orion Expanse Telescope Eyepiece provide a good starting point for viewing.

With some patience and a dark, clear night, you may just find Virgo's hidden treasure. Good luck and clear skies!

This challenge is adapted from "Focus on Downtown Virgo" by Observing at Skyhound at Skyhound.com.

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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