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Bringing the Universe to Your Classroom!

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 - 10 hours of data from ATEO-1 processed by Utkarsh Mishra.
Color LRGB image of Messier 63, The Sunflower Galaxy - 10 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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