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Andy Wilson's picture
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Projects

I moved this discussion on projects for BAA funds out of the 2021 AGM Livestream thread.

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Projects

Setting up our own robotic telescope in a good observing location with access for both members and e.g. schools would be a good use of our money in my view

Americo Watkins's picture
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Projects

Roger in many respects I'd agree, particularly if the whole set up was geared towards science rather than pretty picture imaging as many of the remote robotic private enterprises are. I have some reservations with regard to schools etc they already have access to the Faulkes telescope set up. There seems to be little available to the "scientific amateur astronomer". That said, some availability to schools, colleges and local astronomical societies could be used in attracting or supporting financial funding or grants, e.g. the national lottery grants.

The idea has apparently been mooted and discussed within the decision making circles of the BAA and been rejected. An alternative could be to provide financial assistance to approved projects from members for time on remote robotic telescopes. This has been done in the past, and I have received such assistance for which I am grateful. However, this facility has been suspended and left apparently dormant.

I note that the AAVSO has access to a number of professional observatories with reasonably sized telescopes; a route for variable star observers?

Regards,

Eric

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Science

Eric: I strongly agree with you emphasis on scientific value. The BAA has had a strong ethos of scientific research for its entire existence.

In my view we should be investing more heavily in spectroscopy. We've been doing photometry very productively for well over a century now. Precision astrometry is a more recent phenomenon but now well established. Spectroscopy remains a field sadly neglected by most amateurs, though some impressive work is being performed by BAA members. I say this as someone who is not (yet) a spectroscopist.

Americo Watkins's picture
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Spectroscopy

Paul,

Indeed spectroscopy appears to be a growing and expanding area.  It is something I would like to do. At the moment I'm not in a position to do so, but would like to learn.  As far as I'm aware there are no remote rental facilities which could be used.

 I've just acquired a rather nice 0.5m F:5 Newtonian reflector with Surrier truss OTA which I will erect next spring/summer  and I would like to dedicate some imaging time to spectroscopy.

Andy Wilson's picture
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Projects

I must admit to having mixed feelings about the BAA setting up a remote telescope. I'm torn as I think it is a fabulous idea but could easily go horribly wrong unless you have someone experienced in setting up remote observatories running the project. If such a person or even better a group of people could be found then I'd have much more confidence in such an endeavour.

I wonder if a first step would be to partially or fully fund access to existing remote observatories for members. I think this existed in the past but I am unsure how well it was used. If that proved popular or couldn't provide what members want such as a scientific photometry capability, then look at our own remote setup.

Another thing to consider with a remote setup. It is not just getting it up and running and serviceable onsite. It is also setting up a way for members to access the telescope including time allocation. The existing providers have solved these problems.

Unless anyone has any objections, I propose we move this into a thread on project proposals or remote observing, rather than under the heading of the "AGM Livestream". I can have a go at sorting a switch early next week.

Best wishes,

Andy

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Research Only

Alternatively, how about setting up a scope at a hosted site and giving each section nights in turn so the VSS can go through dozens of VS a night, the comet section can do all comets visible from site and greater than mag 18, the Asteroid section could chase low phase angles and some compromise reached to allow good amounts of planetary observing at the most favourable point of the nights. You could cover a lot with a Paramount and co-mounted C11 and 11" RASAs.  

A simple criteria: data collected must lead to papers or it doesn't get collected.

David Arditti's picture
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Remote BAA telescope

Be assured that this idea is still under consideration and nothing has been finally decided, nor any possibility rejected.

We did subsidise members' access to commercial remote telescopes in the past, for projects approved by Section Directors. The take-up was very low.

Any insistence on 'research only' is also likely to lead to very few people using any facility that is set up.

Variable star, cometary/asteroid and planetary research all have rather different hardware and software requirements.

So the whole thing is not straightforward, and, as has been pointed out, there are plenty of risks and pitfalls. But they could possibly be overcome.

In the next few months I wish to gather together ideas such as this, suggested by members, for ways of spending our funds to benefit observers. Ultimately Council will make a choice, and decide which, if any, projects to pursue.

David (President)

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BAA remote telescope

David,

it is good to read that the idea of a BAA remote telescope is not closed.  I had been under the impression it had been " kicked into touch"

Eric

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Remote telescope

David

I have experience of both the iTel and SLOOH telescopes as I do not have my own kit.  I do not have my own kit because of the hassle of looking after the site, the dome, the telescope, insurance, computer hardware, software, internet access etc. I can understand why people might be concerned about setting up a BAA telescope from scratch. If it must be a BAA telescope  then I would probably recommend an existing telescope farm to cover most of these hassles at , I think, about £300-400 a month. That still leaves the issue of organising how individual users will get time on the instrument.

The other option is to subsidise members using iTEL or SLOOH ( or others). SLOOH offers five targets per night for $300 a year with various filters depending on their eight telescopes. I do VS observing.  Sites are available in both hemispheres. This route seems to be the lowest risk to get started as there is an easy way to bail out if it all goes wrong.

The AAVSOnet instruments do run well for periods but then stop for a long time as equipment goes down. Its a bit mixed in my experience.

Stewart Bean (SLOOH member and ex iTEL member)

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More M42s?

I would just note that the second paragraph of the website's About Us webpage makes a big thing about the society encouraging useful observation:

"Since the beginning the BAA has encouraged amateurs to make scientifically valuable observations, often in collaboration with professional colleagues."

I am a deep sky observer and so far from against taking the occasional "pretty pictures" as my personal Album testifies - IC342 for example. But, apart from as training exercises, what would astronomy gain from hundreds more images of the Messier Top Ten? What makes the BAA stand out from the vast majority of local societies is the degree to which it does encourage useful observation.

On the subject of instruments I suggested a RASA and a C11 as a wide field and narrow field/filtered co-mounted straw man option, but 2x C11 could also work nicely if a spectroscopic option was supported (and would not strain a Paramount or 10 Micron) - I just figured planetary observing would probably be more widely supported than spectral.

Will be interested to see what, if anything, transpires.

Grant (a humble ordinary member) :)

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spectrograph

A remote spectrograph in the southern hemisphere could be productive and is not something that the existing "telescopes for hire" provide. There is 2SPOT, a proof of concept dedicated remotely operated spectrograph on a telescope farm in Chile run by an amateur group, funded from commercial donations, individual personal investment and crowd funding. (The equipment was shipped out and commissioned on site and is maintained locally)

https://www.deepskychile.com/fr/

https://2spot.org/FR/

https://www.helloasso.com/associations/2spot/formulaires/2

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expertise

and we have a member with expertise in this area

https://britastro.org/video/13862/14770

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Expertise

I would more than happy to help. I also now have experience of doing very low resolution spectroscopy at a remote hosted site. I am develop a new instrument based on an alpy which will use similar techniques to the high resolution work.

Regards Andrew 

Americo Watkins's picture
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Spectroscope

Robin a good suggestion.  Some  access to the southern skies would be useful as would be these use of a spectroscope.  The underlying question would be how much finance would be available to purchase suitable equipment that could be hosted at  existing rental sites.  The telescope could be  set up and maintained by the site hosting staff.  After set up there would be fees for maintaining the equipment.  When not in use the equipment could be "rented out" to bring in additional income.  The purchase of equipment could possibly be supported by gifts, discount and advertising by equipment suppliers.  Discounts could be given to members wishing to use the telescope for non-research or approved imaging.

I'm sure there would be useful input for the general idea amongst the membership.

Eric

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Projects

I must confess that I rather like 'pretty pictures', regardless of their scientific value. For me, Astronomy has always been about more than science. In fact I see it as a meeting ground for the sciences, engineering, technology and the humanities (history, biography, mythology - even philosophy).

While I obviously support members who are willing and able to make significant scientific contributions, I do not expect to be able to do much work of that kind myself. I would assume though, given the considerable sum available, that some kind of formal submission process might be needed for the disbursement of funds to support special interest research projects. This would facilitate transparent decision-making and (hopefully) reduce the likelihood of rumblings and grumblings among the disappointed.

I think that apart from spending to support members interests, it would be desirable to invest in the future by fostering interest in Astronomy among the wider public, and especially younger people. Perhaps we could consider something similar to Professor Catherine Heymans' proposal (the new Astronomer Royal for Scotland), who intends to install telescopes at all Scotland's remote residential outdoor activity centres for young people.

Just a few thoughts from an even more humble (as more recent) ordinary member than Grant Privett! 

Alan

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public profile

Raising the public profile through funding permanent BAA sponsored exhibits promoting the role of amateurs in science museums and similar venues perhaps? Or perhaps taking a stake in the rebuilding of the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Observatory which (was) burnt down earlier this year?

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Galloway Forest observatory

The Board has been in correspondence with the Galloway Forest Dark Sky Observatory with a view to helping them rebuild.

David

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Unistellar

The 4" Unistellar you are currently using is quite capable of making useful observations. I am currently using a 4" Skywatcher Newt to look at variable stars and started submitting results - after a 30 year gap. Working out the magnitudes of the stars is something fun to do on the numerous cloudy nights. 

The instrumentation bar to participation in useful observing is very low. A pair of binoculars and a notebook can be a good starting point.

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unistellar

I agree with Grant, where I live in south wales we have awful LED lights and the glow from Cardiff, Newport and Bristol. I've taken an interest in variables and upload to the VSS database, it's a case of making the best use of the conditions with the equipment available. 

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Unistellar

Yes, thanks. I don't doubt it. The Unistellar offers involvement in several 'citizen science' projects co-ordinated,  as I understand it, by SETI, including asteroid occultation and exoplanet transits. I may well get involved with these or BAA projects at some point. But I am nearing my mid-70s and am on 'catch up' at the moment, seeing, often for the first time, a multitude of DSOs. I think once I have been indulging myself for a full year, I may take on some more serious observing. But that's enough about me . . . :-)

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Bleeding edge research

I had not heard that a 4" Unistellar can make useful observations of exoplanets but knew that a 6" reflector most certainly can.  It is good that I am now better informed.

As noted, much smaller apertures, a Mark-1 eyeball and some way of taking records is all that is essential.

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Small instruments

I note that many of the AAVSOnet instruments are small: BSM New Mexico and BSM Berry (Perth , Aust) are both 180 mm. For VS use they are suitable and are busy - when working.

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BSM

They used to  be even smaller I think (AstroTech 65mm/70mm refractors) They also had at least one with a Star Analyser 200 in the filter wheel which Arne Henden and I sorted. Unfortunately that does not work well with the  new  Takahashi E-180 astrographs which at f2.8 are too fast for the SA200

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BAA's own remote telescope could work

I own and operate a 315mm Dall Kirkham reflector on a remote site in Spain. I moved the telescope from my back garden to its remote site just over two years ago and it has functioned superbly. It hasn't had a human finger touch it in around 19 months as (touch wood) it has worked so reliably.

I think the BAA owning and operating a remote based telescope is a practical option although there a number of issues to overcome. For instance each morning after a dewy night I open up the observatory, move the telescope into the Sun to dry it out etc., who would do that? I am also familiar with the myriad of of controls that would puzzle a casual user. A User interface similar to those on a rental telescope would probably be required, but that would make it less flexible.

Despite obstacles, it could be made to work and even a single telescope would provide significant observing time provided it was located on a favourable site,

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Remote observatory

I recognize that La Palma isn't an ideal site right now but the eruption will be over long before any kind of decision is made.

Kevin Hills runs a robotic observatory with a 0.5m Newtonian astrograph on my land. He has used it to do some very good science.

Between his dome and mine is a concrete pad with power and ethernet supplied to it. A few years ago a European university ran a robotic observatory from there.

Here is a view from above:

https://www.google.es/maps/@28.6418055,-17.8679749,125m/data=!3m1!1e3

or search for "Tacande Observatory".

Just saying ...

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Remote observatory

Very interesting Paul.

By the way, I showed your picture of the volcano going off behind your observatory near the end of the Sky Notes in the October meeting.

I hope things have calmed down.

David

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Volcano

Yes, I saw that on the recording.

The volcano appears not to be getting any worse, nor better, but is undoubtedly changing. The latest sign is the appearance of elemental sulphur on the surface around the top of the cone. If you read Spanish, or know how to use a web translation service, this link contains a good picture and an explanation: https://www.eldiario.es/canariasahora/lapalmaahora/aparicion-depositos-a...

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17" CDK Option for BAA

My team is currently setting up a 17" CDK in Spain with IMX455-based CMOS. It will have a user-friendly interface for reservation, plan generation, etc. The telescope is already operational, but we need now to finalize all the scripting, web front-end, logic, and a few other things. Here are more details about this endeavor:

https://www.alnitakobs.com/

I would like to negotiate donating a specific portion of time on this telescope to BAA. I would appreciate if someone could provide me with any pointers on how to start this. It has UBVRI set of Johnson/Bessel filters, in addition to LRGB, H-alpha, OIII and SII filters, so fully ready for photometry. In fact, we are thinking about connecting my MetroPSF program to the front-end, so if you need quick photometry you can just quickly specify the target and get fully reduced photometry - automated, even in real-time, if needed. (But that's in the future...)

This is the first telescope our team is setting up and we would be very interested to be of use for BAA, especially if the data is used for scientific research and publications.

Maxim

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17" CDK

Thanks Maxim, I have messaged you about this.

David (President)

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That looks like a very nice

That looks like a very nice setup. I couldn't find it stated explicitly but I think your 60MP sensor is an IMX455. Combining the wide field of that system with automated plate solving and photometry would make it very powerful. Adding moving object detection and astrometry would be even better.

Are you using ACP for scheduling?

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Thank you, Nick. Yes, we use

Thank you, Nick. Yes, we use ACP and a web front-end so users could submit plans easily. MetroPSF can now detect all minor planets and comets (all SkyBoT objects) - this version is to be released, but the plan is to build it into the front-end as well. The sensor is IMX455 - back-illuminated CMOS, that is correct.