Robot Telescopes Online for Everyone

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”  ―    Carl Sagan

Looking at the Stars

by Mike Macartney

One of the best things about camping out is to lay in the sleeping bag at night, high up in the mountains, and look up at the night sky. All those familiar objects like the belt of Orion, Vega, Polaris, and the Big Dipper are gone. Well not really, there are just another million or so lights up there with them. There are huge rivers of stars, blotches of stars and gaggles of stars everywhere. That does not count the shooting stars, satellites, and the occasional bat flitting by.

On Mother’s Day I saw an article about narco submarines and that had me looking up blue-green lasers for penetrating seawater to track submarines, which lead to tripping over telescopes. Hmm, there must be places where you can use robot telescopes online, right?


I found one site called Bright Hub with a list of available online telescopes. So I tried a couple.

The first one was the Micro Observatory by way of NASA and Harvard. It looks like the telescope is in Southern California from the web site. I chose a suggested view of the Lagoon Nebula in color and with a few clicks and my email I got this back the next day:

The return email had instructions on how to use the software and align the three filtered photographs of the observation I had selected to make the color image. There is a link to free software to doing the assembly and adjusting the image quality. (You can also just get black and white images that are very good also.)

Yes, this is a real image of the night sky from telescope you can order made yourself. There are many great pictures of this particular nebula that you can find, and this one is not in the drawer with National Geographic, but it is one I had done in real-time from my own computer.

Very cool.

I also visited the Bradford Robot Telescope in Spain. I set up an account as a LGM (Little Green Man) checking for the home planet. Yes, that was an option for signing up for the account. Now I will have to figure out how to request an observation and of what. In the meantime here is a stock shot from one of their telescopes:

Job ID              J2545

Request ID      R3690

Object Type     SSBODY

Object ID         MARS

Exposure Time 150 ms

Filter Type        Colour

Dark frame       Instant

Site Name        Tenerife

Telescope Type Name Galaxy

Telescope Name          Galaxy Camera

Request Time   11:53 on Monday 27 June 2005 (10:53:59 UTC)

Completion Time         04:42 on Tuesday 28 June 2005 (03:42:17 UTC)

Status              Success

This is not quite as much fun as ordering your own observation, but you can try that yourself and see what you come up with. It might be fun for your children or their school also. I recommend some unsupervised playing around with the telescopes for them to get the most out of it. (Trying to look in the neighbor’s windows down the street is great fun, but they probably will not be able to do that with these telescopes.)

Unsupervised play is most of what good scientists and engineers do most of the time, according to some uninformed pundits, I am told.

Have fun, I have to go get the laser pointer and see what color water in a glass blocks it….

About the Author – Mike Macartney

Mike holds a BS and MS in mechanical engineering with emphasis in heat transfer and computational fluid dynamics. As a staff system engineer he developed advanced cooling systems for more than 15 different spacecraft and missiles, ranging from cryogenically cooled sensors and pre-amplifiers to on-orbit problem resolution of failing spacecraft. Mike has managed over 200 proposals for advanced aerospace systems, and terrestrial IT systems and custom code development for corporate customers.

Mike has advised start-up companies and high-tech incubators wishing to “spin-in” technologies from NASA and the National Laboratories as well as helped Russian enterprises do business in Silicon Valley. Mike has been a founder in three start-up companies for enterprise SW and publishing as well as a trade show manager for NASA technology transfer activities, and an executive liaison manager to facilitate business cooperation between aggressive Fortune 500 competitors. Mike has developed reengineered business processes for quality control, proposal development, and lean manufacturing.

He currently operates a small publishing company, Shoot Your Eye Out Publishing.

2 thoughts on “Robot Telescopes Online for Everyone

  1. Interesting post and nice pix. I think most creative people would call their “work” unsupervised play. :)

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