Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Observing With NASA: An Open Platform for Citizen Science

Messier 51: 
The Whirlpool
taken 28 June 2021
Processed 9 July 2021
I have no problem with failure. I do not like failing, but I am not afraid of it. As a child, I took Minnows swimming three times before I was a Fish and then a Flying Fish, and I am really comfortable in the water and under it. I took freshman calculus three times to get an A (F, C+, A) and freshman physics three times: C+, B+, A. I just like to get it all right no matter what it takes. And so, I signed up to use the remote citizen science telescopes from NASA in order to practice taking and processing astrophotography images.

The telescopes are a collaboration project with the Harvard Center for Astrophysics and are labeled “Observing With NASA” because it is as if you had your OWN telescope and camera in a dark sky location. Their website is here:


They provide online training via YouTube and also have downloadable PDFs to explain the same material. 


Jupiter: a little shaky

I found the lectures easy to understand. In fact, I like it as a model for how such videos should go. I just finished a project where the subject matter experts (SMEs) did not want to be bothered, so they made videos for me to watch, and it was pretty much a waste of their time and mine. These talks were all excellent, even though the results were often disappointing. 


On the one hand, this takes some finesse and I am still developing that. Like opening the nut on a threaded fastener without bruising a knuckle, finding the right balances for the scales requires more practice. 

Astrophotography and Me (January 5, 2020)

Astrophotography is a Lot Like Love (July 15, 2020)

Amateur Astrophotography is Baloney (April 17, 2021)

That being so, it remains that the unattended instruments are not always locked on their targets for whatever reasons. I requested images of Jupiter, Jupiter's moons, and our Moon. All of them had problems, the Jovians worst. Our Moon was not centered on both of my requests.


However, they do provide a long list of existing image captures for practicing with. And that’s a plus.

Gray scale of Blue filter. Red
and Green did not come out so good.

The telescopes are 6-inch (152.4 mm) Maksutov designs with focal length 560 mm (therefore f/3.47) with 5.25-inch (133.3 mm) correctors and 1.875 (1-7/8) inch (47.6 mm) diagonal mirrors, or about 31% center field interference. The cameras are charged couple devices (CCD) Kodak KAF 1400 (1000 x 1400 resolution). They have two magnification modes for 1-degree and ½ degree field of view (FOV) with 5.0 or 2.5 arc-seconds per pixel respectively. 


You can read all of the details here:

“MicroObservatory Net: A Network of Automated Remote Telescopes Dedicated to Educational Use,” by Philip M. Sadler, Roy R. Gould, P. Steven Leiker, Paul R. A. Antonucci, Robert Kimberk, Freeman S. Deutsch, Beth Hoffman, Mary Dussault, Adam Contos, Kenneth Brecher & Linda French; Journal of Science Education and Technology, volume 10, pages 39–55 (2001), Published: March 2001.

They say:


The Hercules Cluster M13 27 June 2021 
Many students have a deep interest in astronomy, but a limited opportunity to use telescopes to explore the heavens. The MicroObservatory Network of automated telescopes is designed to provide access to classroom teachers who wish their students to conduct projects over the World Wide Web. The intuitive interface makes it easy for even 10-year-olds to take pictures. Telescopes can be remotely pointed and focused: filters, field of view, and exposure times can be changed easily. Images are archived at the website, along with sample challenges and a user bulletin board, all of which encourage collaboration among schools. Wide geographic separation of instruments provides access to distant night skies during local daytime. Since “first light” in 1995, we have learned much about remote troubleshooting, designing for unattended use, and for acquiring the kinds of images that students desire. This network can be scaled up from its present capability of 240,000 images each year to provide telescope access for all US students with an interest in astronomy.

Full article from Springer for read-only here:


Ground Truth 

Physics for Astronomers: The Works of Steven Weinberg 

An Online Class in Astrophysics 

Turn Left at Orion 



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