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Astronomy with an online telescope
Astronomy with an online telescope

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4 The COAST facility

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As Jo describes in the video, the Open University has two telescopes supported by other instruments at the Teide Observatory. The weather station is by far the most important of these supporting facilities. With no one on site, it is important to know what the weather conditions are at the observatory and to determine when it is safe to open the domes and allow the telescopes to take observations and when to protect them in adverse weather.

The weather station itself monitors the outside weather conditions (temperature, humidity, wind speed, wind direction, cloud base, rain and light level) as well as the temperature and humidity inside both the PIRATE and COAST observatory domes. All of these parameters ensure that the telescopes and their associated equipment are kept in safe conditions and allow the automated system to protect equipment should it start to rain. Other factors such as humidity and wind speed are also monitored and the domes will close should these exceed safe limits. The system is also programmed to open the domes only during the hours of darkness.

As Jo explains, the larger of the two telescopes at our site is PIRATE – a reflecting telescope with a 24-inch (610 mm) primary mirror mounted inside a 4.5-m clam-shell dome. The telescope you shall use in this course is the slightly smaller COAST, which has a 17-inch (430 mm) main mirror and is installed inside a 3.5-m clam-shell dome. Both of these telescopes are equipped with sensitive CCD cameras allowing imaging of very faint objects. Collectively these telescopes, domes and other equipment are known as the OpenScience Observatories.

Both telescopes are mounted on computerised equatorial mounts, which can be controlled precisely to point with extreme accuracy to any part of the night sky and track the motion of objects across the sky as the Earth rotates, making long exposure images possible. Being remotely operated over the internet, all of the operations of pointing, tracking and imaging can be controlled through a website interface. In the next two weeks you will learn how to use the website to operate the COAST telescope and be able to take your first images.