Telescope News

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Come with us on our journey to the stars. Monitor our progress with this telescope news blog. It's our way of sharing the behind-the-scenes work that will get the RASC Robotic Telescope ready to explore our universe.

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The latest news is at the top, and you can scroll down to see a few images and our progress.

2018-11-09 update (pm)

Wanted to share some images of the scope. These were taken during the previous full moon. You can see the telescope with the Canon6D/200mm lens riding piggyback. In the side shot, you can see the optical train of the main scope with the camera, filterwheel, guider and Adaptive Optics (AO) unit.  The shot of the full moon was taken through the main 16" scope. It gives a great representation of the field of view which just fits the moon. This should give everyone a sense of scale of what the main scope can capture.

We're looking forward to getting some great shots of 46P Wirtanen as it gets higher and brighter in the sky during December. But if you're looking for comets, the image below of M31 shows comet 64P Swift-Gehrels sitting nearby in the shot taken with the Canon6D/200mm lens combo.

Notice the libration of the moon providing a great view of the northern portions of the moon.

comet 64P Swift-Gehrels near M31. The comet is located by the two markers.


2018-10-07 update (pm)

Over the past week we had conference calls with the Operations and Photography teams. Documentation and training plans are in the works for the Ops team and the Photo team will be putting together a list of targets to test the software capturing and processing.

Photo-Opportunity this week: Comet 21P will be passing through IC2177 (Seagull Nebula) around this coming Tues, Wed and Thursday mornings. Hopefully members with clear skies will try this target. Here is a single frame from this morning with the Canon DSLR and 200mm lens. Comet 21P is just above M50 and IC2177 is below. While the comet has faded over the past few weeks, it is still passing other interesting objects as it flies along the winter milky way. The brightest star in the field is theta canis majoris and Sirius was just outside of the field of the image.


2018-10-06 update (pm)

Here's a shot from SRO's all-sky camera showing the sky at the remote site in California.

all-sky image of sky and milky way



2018-09-28 photos  (pm)


Have installed FocusMax V4 and getting some VCurves to build the focus profile.

While we have made great progress installing and testing out the new camera, I wanted to share a few images from both to highlight some of the capabilities of what can be done with the wonderful equipment at this amazing dark site. The initial astrophoto team will be working with the data and practice scheduling targets with the system.

CCD with 16" f/8.9 RC:

- Helix Nebula: single raw 30 minute CCD frame taken with h-alpha filter on a night with thin clouds. The AOX unit was used for guiding. It is great having the camera's great sensitivity to easily pick up the first outer loop of the helix in a raw frame. OIII and SII frames will also be taken for testing the other narrowband filters.

helix h-alpha raw

Not circumpolar: a 10second image testing out the rotator on a random star.

DSLR + 200mm lens: Orion - A single 3 minute unguided shot @f/4, ISO1600. Just photoshop levels and curves used. Lots of dust and nebulosity showing up. M78 at upper left including a portion of Barnard's Loop.

great progress is being made.  Now it's about training teams, tackeling the data storage, and putting processes in place.

We appreciate your continued support in this National effort.

2018-09-28 Progress Report

An email went out to all members requesting volunteers to form the telescope                  operations, astrophotography and science teams. 23 people reesonded. The teams are now being trained. Meanwhile the telescope cameras are being tested and imagery taken.

One problem being tackeled is data storage - where to put all of the images coming down from the two cameras after every night run.

2018-08-31 Hunting for Asteroids

We've all heard how a rogue asteroid smashed into the Earth near the Yucatan Peninsula, and wiped out the dinosaurs. In happier news, the RASC, the Burke-Gaffney Observatory at St. Mary's University in Halifax, and Pan-STARRS observatory in Hawaii received an interesting request on August 26th.  The idea was to attempt an image of Asteroid (11580) Bautzen, as it was near opposition, when it would be detectable due to being better lit by the Sun.  SMU's Dave Lane calculated it would likely be too close to the moon, and difficult to detect. 

We decided to attempt this challenge with the RASC Robotic Observatory in California, and you can see the result below.


Paul used the new CCD Camera and a Hydrogen Alpha filter to block out most of the moon's glare. 

We were pleased to hear the Pan-STARRS survey telescope also captured an image, on the 26th.

2018-08-30 Planning Meeting

We held a 2-hour planning meeting in Vaughan, Ontario, on Thursday evening to discuss current state of the project and immediate next steps.  Executive director Randy Attwood will be sending an update out in the next newsletter to members.

We touched on the remaining technical activities and science-related activities as well as astrophotography ideas, and the challenges of managing all the data that the system can produce and how best to share it. We'll be working through many of these ideas and issues over the next few weeks.

2018-08-22 Planned Down Time

We receive timely and advanced notice of any work planned at SRO so that we can adkust our activities or suspend the scheduled work for the telescope.  Mel Helm let us know about some upgrades that they would be doing over the next few days. 

Jim Goetz took this nice picture of Mel beside our telescope.

Mel Helm

The time around full-moon is always best for everyone to schedule updates, maintenance, and other work, as the bright night sky isn't ideal for capturing images of faint objects.  We have to plan around the moon for many of our activities.

2018-08-15 Telescope Performance

How much work can the telescope do?  What can we expect?  This depends on the type of task.  Deep sky images take a lot longer than a hanful of shots to look for a specific asteroid.  The exposure times are different, but there are "overhead" steps that must be done for any image.There's a limit to how much the telescope can do. We need to understand what is possible and what is practical. 

Getting a single image involves these steps, and each step takes time. Here are some factors that go into it:

  • Time to slew to the target - can be up to about 120 seconds
  • Focus Adjustment - could be 30 seconds or more. We need to test this out. Not needed for every image
  • Rotate to desired position angle - perhaps 30 seconds.
  • Select desired filter - perhaps 5 seconds
  • Take initial image - 30 second exposure, 2 second digitization, 10 second download = 42s
  • Plate solve to verify pointing - 3 seconds
  • Start guiding - 5 seconds
  • Take image - for some objects, 30 minutes = 1800 seconds + 2 + 10 = 1812 seconds
  • Plate solve and save - 3 seconds

Total: 2050 seconds, or about 34 minutes. That's about 250 seconds (4 minutes) lost to do the  "overhead".

To do a tri-colour image, we have to do two more images and two more filter changes.  Each filter change could potentially require a small focus adjustment. Exposures are often longer on certain filters. So, a total of 2-3 hours or more. A high quality deep sky image can easily take 20 hours of telescope time.

We will need to work on optimizing the performance of the telescope once we better understand how long steps typically take. We can do this once we start getting real data, and start examining the logs. Reducing the overhead will help us get more images in a given night.

2018-08-10 Twenty Days of Continuous Testing and No Sleepless Nights

 Automation testing ran for 20 days.  We gave ACP Scheduler control of the telescope on July 21, and began monitoring for any issues.  Each night, ACP Scheduler would go through its nightly routine, subject to the weather/smoke/roof status.  It would happily report:

Dispatch Stopped

The Dispatcher is the part of the scheduler that figures out what to do and when.  This includes figuring out the eligibility of a plan. Plans are used to determine what target you want to observe, and the details of the image set, which filters to use and how long an exposure.  Criteria can include things like seeing conditions, proximity to the meridian (eg it is high over head), moonlight, and so on. We had a small handful of objects scheduled, and when we remembered to submit the observing plan, scheduler startup, review the eligible plans, and the Dispatcher would send the activity to be run.

A few issues did pop up in the logs, and happily the telescope successfully shut down every time without any manual intervention.  We never needed to reboot anything or get out of bed.

2018-08-08 New MaxIm DL Pro 6.18 released

Our sponsor Diffraction Limited released a new update to their MaxIm DL software, enhancing its capabilities.  We've decided to evaluate the new release and to monitor the Diffraction forums to assess if there is any risk to installing te new software.  Initial reports are good, and my local installation went smoothly.  We'll decide when to update the production system, and feel it's best to be conservative with any updates or introducing any changes to the system.

2018-08-03 Smoke Detection Initiative

Smoke from the nearby forest fires continue to be an issue. SRO purchased and installed a laser particle detector. This device shines laser light through the air, and can differentiate between large particles from pollen and smaller particles from smoke. They are adding this to determine if it is safe to open up the roof of the buildings A sample graph from the particle detector is shown below.

Air Quality


2018-08-02 Connecting the CCD Camera

The new CCD Camera includes the filter wheel, a self-guider ahead of the filters so that it does not receive filtered light, and an AO-X adaptive optics unit to take some of the shimmer out of the stars.  This means that there is less distance between the front of the camera and the Preciision Instrument Rotator (PIR) on the back of the telescope. A custom adapter has been ordered from Precise Parts to solve this. It will be several days before the new part arrives. This is one of those items that you can't totally anticipate in advance.

Last modified: 
Friday, November 9, 2018 - 12:49pm