How the Project Galileo observatory works
Background history & main ideas
Clifton College school was donated a telescope and ccd camera back in December 2000 – the benefactor asked if the school might be able to house the setup in an observatory. In July 2005 this became a reality – you can see the pictures here.
Since the beginning of the project, we wanted the system to be able to be controlled remotely, at first in real time, and eventually in a scheduled-access manner, so other school could use the setup as local weather conditions permit.
At the time of writing this intro, we have the real time web interface up & running (in a kind of web 1.0 way, using a web interface written in php which interfaces with the various command line tools that control the hardware), but scheduled access will be a much greater challenge, as it depends on accurate & reliable pointing of the telescope. More on this later!
So, students at my school can access the system via a normal web browser, controlling the focusing, image acquisition and telescope positioning – though, the last bit of this is a bit primitive and needs work.
Once the image(s) are acquired, they pop up in the web browser, with an option to download the FITS images via a download link. Ideally, I’d like to be able to integrate this real time interface with the scheduler that has been written for me (many thanks to the programmers Tim Northover & Ross Hellings who worked tirelessly whilst at university to get the scheduler working), but that will take more time than I currently have, so I’m touting for volunteers – which is why I’ve created this lens
The really exciting part of the project for me has been the vision I had to use completely open source software in all parts of the project.
The main reasons for this are as follows:
- To ensure the maximum amount of funding goes into the expensive hardware, rather than being spent on software
- To allow the system to evolve over time, and this aspect of the project to be used as a case-study & possible teaching in programming (for secondary & tertiary education computer-based academic courses)
- To make it more likely that other academic institutions can reproduce what we’ve done, as a result of the significant cost-savings associated with using free, open source software and standard hardware,and lastly,
- To be as reliable and robust as possible, so that we’re not constantly worried about possible computer ‘freezes’.
Whilst the commitment to using open source software has meant the project has probably developed more slowly, I hope that the final product will be more robust – most especially if I can attract experienced programmers who are able and willing to put in the time needed to implement some of the plans that are as yet unfulfilled.
What we can observe
- what can you see from a murky urban location like Bristol???
Here are some examples of what we’ve managed to image from the observatory so far (click on the images to be taken to the Project Galileo gallery):
The Orion Nebula, imaged in March 2008, by the Project Galileo observatory
Composite image of Saturn, imaged remotely in December 2005 from the Project Galileo observatory. The out of focus halo image surrounding Saturn is due to infra-red radiation being detected by the webcam. We’ve since placed an infra-red filter in front of the webcam to prevent this happening in future
For more images, visit the Project Galileo gallery.
Shopping list of equipment you can use for your robotic observatory
Although this list isn’t meant to be proscriptive and you can choose your own hardware, this is a list of the equipment we’ve used for the Project Galileo observatory.
- a Robodome:this is an amazingly well-built remotely-controllable mini-observatory which contains its own hardwired computer (called a “Digital Domeworks” controller)
- a a remote-control focusser: we use a Robofocus, as it can be seemlessly integrated with the Robodome hardware computer
- a solid base/platform to which the Robodome is connected:
We’ve used 3/4 inch marine ply, as its much more durable than ordinary ply. This plywood base is in turn screwed to a solid aluminium base which is suspended above a flat roof. We had to use this method, because the roof would’ve been very likely to leak if we’d bolted the Robodome directly onto it. The image below shows how it all goes together:
- stainless steel bolts
- solicone sealant