by Rex Parker, Director
Remote Astro-Imaging Proposal for Members
Are you ready to move beyond the eyepiece and start doing astrophotography yourself? Would you like to be able to take awe-inspiring astro-images that impress your family and friends? Do you want to extend your technical knowledge by acquiring and processing your own celestial images? If you are thinking “yes” then read on. One of the facts about this avocation is that the equipment and software are expensive. And while you could jump in cold and start using the CCD camera that the club owns, there is another way to start on the learning curve. Through many years in this field I’ve had a chance to meet some very talented folks who have passed along their knowledge, so now it’s time to help pass along some of this to you.
First some background. Although I do a lot of imaging right here in central NJ, my remote observing group (SSRO, Star Shadows Remote Observatory) accesses a telescope in the PROMPT array at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in Chile in Chile. PROMPT stands for Panchromatic Robotic Optical Monitoring and Polarimetry Telescopes, designed to study the powerful distant explosions called gamma-ray bursts. Our arrangement to use this telescope is through the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, which runs several research programs at CTIO.
Last month I met with the professor who sponsors our remote imaging, Dr. Dan Reichart of UNC’s Physics and Astronomy Dept., at the Morehead Planetarium on campus (photos below). Dr. Reichart and his group developed “Skynet,” a prioritized queue scheduling program running on a computer at UNC. The Skynet Robotic Telescope Network controls several telescopes around the world at observatories in Chile, Australia, Italy, Canada, and US. Each is set up with CCD camera and filters for remote image acquisition. Would you be interested in participating in a “pilot program” for AAAP members to get experience in remote imaging with an account on the Skynet Robotic Telescope Network? A number of tutorial videos are available to help a user get up and running.
I have initiated a personal account on UNC’s Skynet with group account capabilities which allows me to administer sub-accounts for AAAP members. The Skynet by-line is “whether you’re a first-time astronomer or a professional, Skynet’s easy-to-use yet powerful interface allows you to get the images you need”. Skynet also has a basic image processing program “Afterglow” that runs on the server, so you don’t need any special software on your PC. You also can download and process your images locally if you like. While there are time limits on the length of exposures, as a training and learning tool Skynet is superb. For more training, you could also enroll in UNC’s for-certificate online astronomy course, which includes 30 min Skynet imaging time, at http://skynet.unc.edu/introastro/ourplaceinspace/. Skynet is ready for AAAP members now – if you are interested in using Skynet for remote imaging, send me a note or talk to me at the meetings as soon as possible.
A role for the Celestron-14 in professional astronomy.
In my meeting with Dan Reichart at UNC last month, he told a story about the Celestron-14 in the picture below. C-14’s are excellent large aperture amateur telescopes, we have one at the club’s observatory, but there’s no mistaking one for a professional research scope. Or is there? Dr. Reichart is an expert in gamma-ray bursts, the very distant, enigmatic and high energy cosmic explosions that have challenged astrophysics for years. As PI of the PROMPT gamma-ray burst project at CTIO in Chile, Dan’s group measures the optical afterglow of the bursts in a collaboration between space-based IR and ground-based optical telescopes. In Sept 2005 using the large 4.1-meter optical and near-IR SOAR telescope at Cerro Pachon in Chile, they detected the optical counterpart to the most distant cosmic explosion ever detected. It was a gamma-ray burst from the edge of the visible universe first seen by NASA/Goddard’s SWIFT telescope, with a redshift of 6.29 translating to about 13 billion light-years from Earth. As confirmation Reichart’s team studied the same exact location in space using a temporary telescope installed at the still-incomplete PROMPT array on the adjacent peak Cerro Tololo — none-other than a Celestron-14 (see photo below)! The data from the C-14 measurements confirmed the interpretation of the SOAR data. Here’s a report from 2005 https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=104440
Board Meeting June 6. The AAAP Board of Trustees will meet on Tues June 6 at 7:30 pm in the Dome Room at Peyton Hall. Board members, committee chairs are urged to attend, and other interested members are welcome. Topics include: Skynet proposal, Jersey Starquest, and administrative changes.
Members’ Night at the Observatory, June 24, dusk till midnight. May 27 did not work out but we’ll give it another try on Sat June 24. The night is reserved for AAAP members, friends, and family, at our Observatory at Washington Crossing State Park, NJ. Even if you know little or nothing about telescopes (especially so) we want to see you out there! Check out the new equipment and software which have improved the observing experience. Experienced members are asked to bring their telescopes to show others. See the website for directions.