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Bringing the Universe to Your Classroom!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Featured Deep-Sky Object - NGC 2403

It's been a while since we profiled a deep-sky object on our blog, as we have been working hard on getting our affiliate remote robotic telescope, ATEO-2, operational for educational and public use. As Insight Observatory's Project Developer, Michael Petrasko, was preparing a list of deep-sky wonders to possibly image with a class using the Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach, ATEO-1, and ATEO-2, he came across an interesting galaxy in the inconspicuous constellation of Camelopardalis that may be of interest.

NGC 2403 - Spiral Galaxy in the Constellation Camelopardalis. Image by Michael Petrasko - LRGB 2x300 Seconds each. Binning 2. Image Processed with CCDStack2.
NGC 2403 - Spiral Galaxy in the Constellation Camelopardalis. Image by Michael Petrasko on ATEO-1 - LRGB 2x300 Seconds each. Binning 2. Image Processed with CCDStack2.

The constellation contains no bright stars, but some interesting galaxies wait for observers that happen to point their instruments in this part of the sky. One of these galaxies is NGC 2403, the showpiece of Camelopardalis. NGC 2403 (also known as Caldwell 7) is an intermediate spiral galaxy. NGC 2403 is an outlying member of the M81 Group and is approximately 8 million light-years from Earth. The object has a striking similarity to M33, The Triangulum Galaxy being about 50,000 light years in diameter and containing numerous star-forming H II regions. The northern spiral arm connects it to the star-forming region NGC 2404.

Finder Chart for NGC 2403 - Image Credit: IAU and Sky and Telescope Magazine.
Finder Chart for NGC 2403 - Image Credit: IAU and Sky and Telescope Magazine.

NGC 2403 can be seen easily as a large hazy spot in 10x50 binoculars, and a telescope will show a bright elliptical haze surrounded by a faint outer halo. A definite degree of mottling becomes apparent with larger telescopes, the effect of dust scattered throughout the spiral arms.

Anyone can image this galaxy and other deep-sky wonders by signing up for an account on Insight Observatory's online ATEO Portal or by using our Public Image Request (PIR) form.
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Sunday, December 9, 2018

ATEO-2 Doubles Up!

Insight Observatory's affiliate telescope ATEO-2 (owned by SkyPi Remote Observatory) that was originally set up solely with a Williams Optics 5" f/7 refractor now has a companion. The staff at SkyPi Remote Observatory has installed a Celestron 11" Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope to the same mounting system in the observatory. The 11" SCT is planned to be used primarily for remote planetary imaging. The crew at SkyPi has also been working tirelessly, testing and fine-tuning the mounting system as well as making modifications to the observatory, designated as Omega that houses ATEO-2. The Williams Optics 5" refractor imaging system is now back in operation after it needed to be disassembled to add its companion, the Celestron 11".

ATEO-2 Shown with the Tandem Remote Imaging Sytems inside of SkyPi Remote Observatory's Omega Roll-Off.  Williams Optics 5" Refractor for Deep-Sky Imaging and Celestron 11" Planetary Imaging Telescope.
ATEO-2 Shown with the Tandem Remote Imaging Sytems inside of SkyPi Remote Observatory's Omega Roll-Off.
 Williams Optics 5" Refractor for Deep-Sky Imaging and Celestron 11" Planetary Imaging Telescope.

The planetary imaging system will be equipped with an Optec Focuser and Celestron Skyris 236C Color CMOS Camera. The timeline for availability of this imaging setup is planned for February 2019. However, being that the 5" refractor is now available, John Evelan, managing partner at SkyPi Remote Observatory, has thoroughly tested the imaging system from his home in Mesa, Arizona. John acquired some imaging data of M38 and NGC 1907 open clusters in the constellation Auriga on the night of December 5th, 2018. This data was taken with the Starlight Xpress SXVR-M25C color CCD camera that replaced the ATIK 490EX Color camera that was originally installed on the refractor. Although the ATIK performed well, we collectively agreed the wider field of view on the SXVR-M25C would be more impressive.

M38 Open Cluster in the Constellation of Auriga. Image Taken by John Evelan and Michael Petrasko on ATEO-2 with the Williams Optics 5" f/7 Refractor Imaging System.
Open Clusters M38 and NGC 1907 in Auriga. Image Taken by John Evelan and Michael Petrasko on ATEO-2
with the Williams Optics 5" f/7 Refractor Imaging System.

ATEO-2 will be accessible on the ATEO Portal in the near future, however, it is now available via Insight Observatory's Public Image Request Form (PIR) and Educational Image Request Form (EIR) for gathering astronomical images from the classroom.
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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Imaging Extragalactic Supernovae

Since the Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO-1) went online back in May 2017, we have since had the chance to image galaxies and galaxy clusters with a 16" f/3.7 astrograph telescope. Besides using the remote robotic telescope for acquiring "pretty" pictures of deep-sky objects such as galaxies, it can also be used as a tool for gathering data for extragalactic supernovae search.

Professional astronomers distinguish between two main classes of supernovae. The distinctions have to do with the type of explosion occurring, how it is triggered, the resulting light curve and the atomic elements visible in the spectrum of the supernova. However, for amateur astronomers’ purposes, we can consider two very basic types of a supernova: galactic and extragalactic. Our primary concern is with extragalactic supernovae, as a galactic supernova is far more infrequent an event than even a brilliant comet, solar eclipse, or any of a number of other “rare” astronomical phenomena. In fact, more than a dozen generations have passed without any human witnessing a supernova in our own Milky Way galaxy!

ASASSN-16cs/ SN 2016asf - Image Credit: PanSTARRS-1 Image Access
ASASSN-16cs/ SN 2016asf - Image Credit: PanSTARRS-1 Image Access

Imaging supernovae involve imaging galaxies as mentioned above. There are few other considerations than those normally applied to capturing a CCD image of a distant galaxy. Supernovae usually occupy the briefest time span of the three main transient events discussed in this section. Comets are often visible for weeks or even months, and even rapidly-moving near-Earth asteroids stick around for a week or more. Supernovae, on the other hand, may last only a few nights, appearing as a single brilliant star outshining the light of 100 billion companions in its host galaxy.

There is a list published online by the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams that gives the latest discoveries and the name of the host galaxy (or position if the host galaxy is uncataloged). Due to the short time available to image supernovae, subscribing to the IAU Circular is recommended as well. This email circular lists recent astronomical headlines including supernovae, novae, comets, interesting asteroids, and other events. Often the information in the circular is not available immediately through any other source.

Photometric (brightness) measurements can be made of a supernova as it fades. This information tells scientists about the type of explosion and can even lead to information about the distance to the host galaxy or the redshift (recessional velocity) of that galaxy, leading to a better understanding of the universe.

ASASSN-16cs Extragalactic Supernova Confirmation (Right) - Image by Issac Cruz.
ASASSN-16cs Extragalactic Supernova Confirmation (Right) - Image by Isaac Cruz.

One of our neighbors at SkyPi Remote Observatory, Isaac Cruz, discovered an extragalactic supernova on March 7, 2016. This one was in the constellation of Gemini (The Twins). Isaac received a notification of a transient from the ASASSN system from Ohio State University. Isaac stated, "Luckily I've been given the opportunity to do remote observing from the great folks at SkyPi Remote Observatory in New Mexico so this was the perfect time to do it." Isaac connected to his remote system and pointed the telescope to the given coordinates. He took a 10-second image at 1/3 the resolution (Bin 3) and the supernova was obvious just south of the galaxy. Discovery! Isaac then took a 10-minute image at full resolution and sent it for verification. In a few minutes, he received the confirmation that the new star had been certified and designated ASASSN-16cs and SN 2016asf.

Now that our hosting neighbor at SkyPi Remote Observatory has proven this type of discovery is possible with remote robotic telescopes, it has inspired us to craft an extragalactic supernova search program of our own that would allow students and individual users of the ATEO network to participate in such an endeavor.
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