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Happy Birthday SPIRIT II

SPIRIT II was officially launched on September 6, 2012.

SPIRIT I and SPIRIT II continue to provide teachers and students access to research grade astronomical imaging and data collection via the internet, supported by a full life-cycle of SPICE teacher learning opportunities and student activities. In 2013 alone, 212 participants from 26 different institutions attended some 15 SPIRIT professional learning workshops at the Centre for Learning Technology.

Students from Western Australia and beyond continue to utilise SPIRIT to take stunning images of distant astronomical objects, as well as undertake ‘real science’ with these unique instruments.

Happy 2nd Birthday SPIRIT II

SPIRIT_II_TD

Understanding the celestial sphere

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Understanding the motion of astronomical objects across the sky is important when planning an imaging session with SPIRIT. Two documents available on the Guides and documents page provide an explanation of the celestial coordinates system and target planning for objects in the skies above Perth.

A quick guide that explains the celestial coordinates system.
Celestial coordinates (PDF file, 2.1 Mb)

Fine tune your understanding of celestial motion and choose the best time to image objects of interest with SPIRIT.
Target Planning (PDF file, 3.4 Mb)

Cleaning the SPIRIT optics

Cleaning the optics of  SPIRIT telescopes requires a great deal of care. The surfaces of primary mirrors in particular are extremely delicate, and can be damaged using conventional cleaning techniques. Telescope optics should never be touched, though traditional surface cleaning techniques usually include surface contact. Washing mirrors introduces other problems such as streaking and can be difficult to undertake with telescope optics in situ. Moisture ingress at the edge of primary mirrors can also affect coatings over time.

The annual SPIRIT mirror cleaning routine includes the application of a polymer solution called First Contact that absorbs surface dust and debris. It dries as a flexible film that has minimal surface adhesion so that it can be safely removed without affecting delicate surface coatings.

The SPIRIT II primary mirror before cleaning:
mirror_before

Application of First Contact polymer solution:
mirror_polymer

Removing the cured ‘film’:
mirror_cleaning-e1399362432927

A clean SPIRIT II primary mirror:
mirror_after

The SPIRIT Sky in February

Giants in the sky

February 2014 is dominated by two celestial giants – the great nebula in Orion (M 42) and the planet Jupiter.

The constellation of Orion the hunter features prominently in the sky for much of February. Its well known and often targeted nebula (M 42) is easily imaged by SPIRIT with exposures less than 60 seconds. A more challenging target is the Horsehead nebula (IC 434). It is best imaged when near or just past the meridian using the H-a filter on SPIRIT I and exposures upwards of 60 seconds.

In the south, the large Magellanic cloud – one of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies – features strongly. A naked eye object under rural skies, the “LMC” contains an endless variety of interesting clusters and nebulae, including the bright Tarantula nebula (NGC 2070). Later in the evening, and as the month progresses, the Eta Carina region will follow the LMC across the southern sky and is similarly rich in nebulae and clusters including the area in and around NGC 3372.

Although low in the northern sky, Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, can be imaged using filtered exposures of less than half a second. Jupiter’s four Galilean satellites appear easily within the field of either of the SPIRIT telescopes, and if imaged over several nights will show changing positions as they orbit the giant planet. Once imaged, the moons can be easily identified using planetarium software such as Stellarium.

For those interested in something different, a number of very bright open clusters are rising during February. These include M 93, M 46 and M 47. These interesting and extended clusters are best imaged with the wide field of SPIRIT II, and exposures of 30 seconds or less.

The moon is full on February 15th, so the best times to image faint objects will fall within the first week, or during the last week of the month.

The Perth night sky facing south at 8:00 pm on February 15th
(click on image to enlarge)

February-Chart

SPIRIT guides and documents

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The SPIRIT guides and documents web page has been updated. A number of new items have been added, including a revised LRGB Photoshop guide, and additional material on FITS file conversion. An exposure guide has also been added to assist new users with target planning.

As always, the guides and documents web page provides a ‘one stop shop’ for all SPIRIT information.

The page can be accessed here.

Getting “into the zone” for image processing

Zone_Cover

Author and astronomer Ron Wodaski has generously provided his book The New Astro Zone System for Astro Imaging free to teachers and students using SPIRIT.

The ‘Zone System’ provides invaluable information for getting the most out of your astro images using Adobe Photoshop, and is particularly useful to teachers and students who have attended the SPIRIT 103 workshop at SPICE.

Authorised teachers and students can download a PDF copy of the book here.

A password to unlock the file can be obtained by contacting us.

Additional support materials and tutorial images can be downloaded free from the Tzec Maun web site.

New for 2013 – Variable Star Photometry

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A new student activity on variable stars is being developed. A hands on workshop will provide information on how to undertake photometric observations of short period variable stars using the SPIRIT telescopes, and then create light curves that can complement existing published data.

A half day student workshop for advanced SPIRIT users will be offered later this year. Anyone interested in participating in pilot activities should contact us.