British Astronomical Association

 

Robotic Telescope Project

 

Peter Meadows : Robotic Telescope Coordinator

 

The Robotic Telescope Project allows BAA members access to remote telescopes and imaging systems at attractive rates. Members are able to use the service at half the commercial rate and are provided with access to a wide range of equipment beyond a private budget. It also allows users to benefit from observing from a location with a better climate than Britain's, including access to telescopes in the southern hemisphere. Although individual members are able to use the service for their own purposes, the project enables groups within the BAA – perhaps organised via the Observing Sections – to undertake collaborative projects, which can be educational or more research-oriented.

 

The Association uses the telescopes of the Sierra Stars Observatory Network (SSON) – a 61-cm f/10 Cassegrain research-grade telescope located on the eastern side of the Sierra Mountains in California (IAU code G68), the University of Iowa’s 0.51m Gemini telescope in Sonoita, Arizona (857) and the Warrumbungle Observatory 0.51m telescope in New South Wales, Australia (Q65). The CCD images are around 1,500 x 1,500 pixels, covering about 20 x 20 arcmin, and with dark frame and flat field already applied. This reasonably large image size is ideally suited for deep sky objects, comets, variable stars, novae, supernovae, and asteroids. The 3-Mb zip file containing the image in FITS format is usually available for FTP download a few hours after acquisition.

 

To apply for telescope time, download and complete a short application form, and e-mail it to robotscope@britastro.org. This gives a short summary of your proposed observations and an estimate of the amount of observing time required. Your application will be reviewed, usually by a Section Director, before telescope credit is allocated to your SSON account. Participants in the RTP are encouraged to submit their observations to one of the BAA Observing Sections or form part of a BAA Journal Journal paper.

 

For all enquiries, please contact robotscope@britastro.org

 

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Some results obtained by members

Four asteroids: Peter Meadows Comet 81P/Wild: Nick James
SN2010au: Guy Hurst WZ Sge-type object in Pegasus: Guy Hurst
NGC 4319 & Markarian 205: Mike Foylan SN2011B: Guy Hurst
Comet 81P/Wild: Roger Dymock Comet 103P/Hartley: Roger Dymock
Comet C/2010 X1 Elenin: Roger Dymock SV Arietis: Guy Hurst
Comet C/2010 L3 McNaught: Roger Dymock Comet C/2009 P1 Garradd: Roger Dymock
Comet C/2009 P1 Garradd: Peter Meadows Comet C/2010 G2 Hill: Roger Dymock
Comet 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann: Roger Dymock Comet C/2010 R1 Linear: Roger Dymock
Comet C/2011 F1 Linear: Roger Dymock Comet 189P/Neat: Roger Dymock
Comet P/2012 NJ La Sagra: Roger Dymock Comet 260P/McNaught: Roger Dymock
Comet C/2012 J1 Catalina: Roger Dymock Comet C/2012 S1 ISON: Nick James
Comet C/2012 S1 ISON: Roger Dymock Comet P/2012 B1 PANSTARRS: Roger Dymock
GR Orionis: Guy Hurst Comet C/2011 UF305 LINEAR: Roger Dymock
Comet 63P/Wild: Roger Dymock Comet 117P/Helin-Roman-Alu: Roger Dymock

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Below are projects supported by the Robotic Telescope Project:    

  • Comparison of visual and CCD magnitudes of comets – to prove the proposed BAA Comet Section methodology for extracting visual equivalent or total magnitudes from CCD images.
  • Asteroid colour changes associated with rotation - using filtered photometric imaging to determine if asteroids exhibit any systematic colour variations as indicated by their colour indices.
  • High ecliptic survey for Edgeworth Kuiper belt objects - continuation of existing survey to fainter magnitudes and detect more EKBOs.
  • BAA variable nebulae survey - to establish the variability of these objects in terms of identifying the specific parts of the nebula varying, the frequency with which they change and the variation in brightness encountered. Objects include Gyulbudaghians nebula, NGC 2261 (Hubble’s Variable Nebula) & NGC 6729.
  • Investigation on the variability of Gyulbudaghian Nebula - to study the variability of the Gyulbudaghian Nebula and the possible correlation with the variability of PV Cephei both in time and in magnitude variation for at least one year.
  • Comet photometry and astrometry - to use the methodology as developed by a group of Spanish amateur astronomers to determine the magnitudes of comets selected, mainly, from the list ‘Comets reaching perihelion in 2010’ published in the 2009 December issue of the Journal of the British astronomical Association. Includes Comet C/2010 X1 (Elenin).
  • Confirmation of supernovae – to acquire images of newly discovered supernovae especially if there are problems acquiring confirmation imagery within the UK.
  • Photometry of novae and supernovae - this is to extend the study of the decline of these objects as this late part of the light curves has not been studied extensively. In the case of supernovae the disparity with SN Ia in establishing distances and absolute magnitudes appears to be linked to the rate of decline and light curve shape.
  • BAA discovery suspects – confirmation of suspects/potential discoveries from BAA members and other groups in need of immediate investigation (many are not easy to resolve without deep imaging such as available with the SSON 0.61-m telescope).
  • The recovery of wayward asteroids - if an asteroid has only been observed at a small number of oppositions (say 2) and has not been observed for a number of years, it is likely that its current location will not be known accurately.  The purpose of the project is for the support observations of asteroids with large positional uncertainties that have not been observed for a number of years.
  • Observations of the eclipsing binary system HS0705+6700 discovered by Drechsel et al (A&A 379,893-904,2001) with a view to completing the determination of the physical properties of the system.
  • To monitor comets subject to outbursts in order to improve our understanding of such phenomena.

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BAA Robotic Telescope articles, images and presentations include:    

  • Journal of the BAA, 2015 October (p284-291), ‘The eclipsing binary HS0705+6700 binary and the search for circumbinary objects’, D. Pulley, G. Faillace, D. Smith, A. Watkins & C. Owen. Errata in BAAJ 2015 December (p385)
  • BAA Comet Section Newsletter (The Comet’s Tale), 2014 January (p22), ‘Comet C/2010 X1 (Elenin)’, Roger Dymock
  • Journal of the BAA, 2012 April (p110), A revised rotation period for asteroid (2903) Zhuhai, Peter Meadows.
  • BAA Comet Section Newsletter (The Comet’s Tale), 2012 January (p7), ‘Dust to dust - Comet C/2010 X1 (Elenin)’, Roger Dymock.
  • BAA Comet Section Newsletter (The Comet’s Tale), 2012 January (p11), ‘Comet 81P/Wild’, Roger Dymock.
  • BAA Comet Section Newsletter (The Comet’s Tale), 2012 January (p18), ‘Comet C/2011 L3 (McNaught)’, Roger Dymock.
  • Journal of the BAA, 2011 December (p369), Dust to dust - Comet C/2010 X1 (Elenin), Roger Dymock.
  • Journal of the BAA, 2011 June (p129), Image of Supernova 2011B, Guy Hurst.
  • Journal of the BAA, 2011 June (p127), Image of T Pyxis, Nick James.
  • Journal of the BAA, 2011 June (p127), ‘From the President - The Robotic Telescope Project’, David Boyd.
  • BAA Winchester Weekend Presentation on the Robotic Telescope Project, 2011 April, Peter Meadows.
  • BAA Comet Section Newsletter (The Comet’s Tale), 2011 January (p8), ‘Comet photometry’, Roger Dymock.
  • Journal of the BAA, 2010 December (p379), ‘Gyulbudaghian’s nebula – the story continues’, Grant Privett.
  • BAA Exhibition Meeting Presentation on the Robotic Telescope Project, 2010 June, Peter Meadows
  • Journal of the BAA, 2010 June (p134), ‘Robotic telescope observing with the BAA’, Peter Meadows.
  • Journal of the BAA, 2009 December (p347), ‘The rotation period of asteroid (4080) Galinskij’, Roger Dymock.
  • Journal of the BAA, 2008 August (p224), ‘Robotic telescopes and the BAA: a remote observing proposal’, Richard Miles and Roger Dymock.

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The RTP was initially presented in the following short paper in Journal of the British Astronomical Association, 118 (4), 224–5, August 2008

 

Robotic telescopes and the BAA : a remote observing proposal

 

Richard Miles and Roger Dymock

 

Introduction

 

A significant advance in amateur astronomy in recent years has been the setting up and use of remotely operated or robotic telescopes. Access to tele- scopes positioned at various longitudes and in both hemispheres makes a wider range of objects available to the observer, and not necessarily in the middle of the night.

      Use of such facilities need not be expensive, especially when compared with the cost of setting up one’s own observatory from scratch. Robotic telescopes are available to suit the beginner – SLOOH, for example – and the more experienced observer, such as Global Rent-A-Scope (GRAS) and the Faulkes Telescopes. Figure 1 is typical of the images which can be obtained using the SLOOH telescope situated on Mount Teide in the Canary Islands. The image shown in Figure 2 was obtained by Martin Mobberley using a GRAS telescope located in Australia. This demonstrates that all of the sky, not just the hemi- sphere in which you are located, is available to robotic telescope users.

      An example of what can be achieved is shown by recent observations of asteroid 2008 HJ by Richard Miles using the 2-metre Faulkes South telescope. The lightcurve – Figure 3 – revealed that the object has a rotation period of 42.67±0.04s, which is the shortest known rotation period of any natural body in the solar system. The proposal below was developed by ourselves and presented to the BAA Council on 2008 April 30. It was unanimously supported by those present, and it was agreed that initially a sum of £1,200 (£100 per month) from the Ridley Grant fund should be used to support the project. It was also agreed that a Robotic Telescope Coordinator would be recruited.

 

Background

 

A prime raison d’être of the BAA is ‘To promote the association of observers... for mutual help, and their organisation in the work of astronomical observation’. (Memorandum of Association, 3(b).) Unfortunately, UK-based observers partic- ularly are often at a disadvantage because of poor weather, light pollution in towns and cities, or because of our latitude (50°–56° N), which prevents access to many celestial phenomena further south, and also means that our summer nights are very short.

      Facilities provided by remotely operated telescopes have come of age in the last few years, and it is suggested that the Association should investigate ways in which their utilisation can further the aims and objectives of the BAA. Activities in this area could be highlighted in a special section of the Journal and on the website, thereby furthering the Association’s aims.

 

Proposal

 

The proposal was to establish a new position – that of Robotic Telescope Coordinator – and to set aside funds to promote an active programme of remote observation by BAA members, probably initially using the facilities of Global Rent-a-Scope (GRAS).

      A study into available robotic facilities was carried out by the Asteroids and Remote Planets Section, mainly by Alan Cahill, the conclusion of which was that GRAS is the only facility which potentially meets observers’ requirements at present. Since then, several members have had positive first-hand experience of GRAS. GRAS has also upgraded its operation recently, establishing a scheme which encourages use of many of its telescopes for research – the telescope time costing a half or a third of that of the large-format CCD ‘imaging’ ‘scopes. Observers participating in the scheme should themselves pay a significant proportion of the cost levied by GRAS, possibly amounting to 75%. Since the Association should be able to negotiate an attractive discount, this might equate to a saving to individuals of about one half.

      Observing Sections expected to utilise the facility include the Variable Star Section, Comet Section, Asteroids and Remote Planets Section, and Deep Sky Section. Planet and planetary satellite observation can also be envisaged.

 

 

Figure 1 M41, Aristotle’s Cluster, imaged by SLOOH, Mount Teide, Canary Islands.

 

 

Figure 2 V5579 Sagittarii (Nova Sgr 2008) imaged by Martin Mobberley on 2008 April 19.771 UT with the 25-cm f/6 Ritchey–Chrétien telescope at GRAS, Moorook, Australia.

 

 

Figure 3 Lightcurve of asteroid 2008 HJ from Faulkes Telescope observations by Richard Miles.