Astronomy with an online telescope
Astronomy with an online telescope

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Astronomy with an online telescope

4 The COAST facility

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So, though the top of Mount Teide is an excellent observing site, we are still at the mercy of the weather. And as you can see by the clouds gathering around me, it's an important thing for us to monitor. It may not look like much, but at the top of this pole is our weather station. We can monitor here humidity, the amount of rainfall, the wind speed, the wind direction, and various other parameters that allow us to keep the observatory safe.
We've also got, at the top of this pole, they all sky camera that you were looking at images from earlier. We also have the webcam, which if you're on the website, you'll be able to use to have a look at facilities. The Open University has two observatories here on Teide. The furthest one from me is COAST, but right next to me, we have PIRATE.
PIRATE is the largest facility we have on site. It's exclusively used for research and by our undergraduate students. But as part of this course, you'll be using COAST. So the COAST telescope is housed inside a clam shell-style dome. Because the dome drops completely out of the way, we can observe one object after another without having to worry about rotating the dome at all. It's also a very robust style dome, which is great for protecting the telescopes. Let's have a look inside.
So here, we have the COAST telescope housed inside its clam shell dome, which-- don't forget-- with the aid of the weather station, will automatically shut should should the weather get bad, to protect the telescope. So don't worry, you can't break it. The slightly unusual looking mount that we have here is because it's in equatorial mount. This axis is aligned to the north celestial pole and allows us to track objects across the sky without moving into many other dimensions with the telescope. So we can do some nice long exposure photographs.
What we use for those photographs is the telescope itself mounted at the top here. We also have the camera on the back, and the coloured filters here. And if you want to watch COAST taking your observations via the website, you can take a look through the webcam that we've got hiding up here.
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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 (the Physics Innovations Robotic Astronomical Telescope Explorer) – a reflecting telescope with a 17-inch (430 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 14-inch (350 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 Open Science 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.


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