Saturday, May 26, 2012

The MicroObservatory Robotic Telescope Network: Shooting Andromeda

The Andromeda Galaxy taken remotely; processed using color filters.

I recently tried out the MicroObservatory Robotic Telescope Network through the Observing With NASA (OWN) program. The system is a partnership between  Harvard, NASA, and the Smithsonian. For those who are not familiar with OWN, it's actually an astronomy education system wherein students, or practically anyone who can access the web and has an email address, can remotely use a telescope to take pictures of planets, asteroids, and deep sky objects and then use their free software to enhance the digital images to produce stunning visible light and full-color RGB stacked images.

I tried the system, and chose the Andromeda galaxy. The website will show you if an object is visible or not  where the robot telescopes are situated. Strangely, it also shows the Sun as available for observation even when deep sky objects were among the choices. I used multiple filters for me to be able to produce a color image of the galaxy. After you input your email and other details, you just go on to the Submit page and you're done! You will get your pictures through the email address you provided. Consequently, they will also be available in the site's archive for viewing and downloading by other users of the site.

I downloaded the program's special image processing software called MicroObservatory Image (ver. 2.2 at that time). It ran on a DOS prompt, but was decent and worked pretty well. I did encounter a problem with alignment of the red, green, and blue filtered images. It seems that if you align three color "plates" using the big stars to guide you, the smaller stars with one pixel per point will be noticeably misaligned, and vice versa. However, the misalignment of the bigger stars were not so obvious if I used the little stars to align with, which I did. The result is the image of the Andromeda galaxy, above. It's not perfect, but it's good enough to be proud of.

I took another available light image of the same galaxy the next day and here's the result:

The Andromeda Galaxy taken with OWN without using RGB color filters.
Access to the robotic telescopes are easy, although at one point, the Continue button apparently disappeared, preventing me from proceeding to the Submit page. I wasn't sure if it's just the computer I'm using or it's the site itself. But for astronomy students and enthusiasts who want to check out OWN, it's well worth the visit even if for just browsing the site. It has a couple of upcoming features which will allow students to search for new worlds beyond the solar system and much more. Now that's cool.

Classic space station model: Pilgrim Observer - yours by ordering here, now.

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