Observatory First Light!

First Light was obtained from our observatory on Thursday, August 4th. The Observatory Control Web-based System was used to take control of the dome and telescopes, open the dome shutter, and take a single image of M57.

Messier 57 (M57), also known as the Ring Nebula, is a planetary nebula which was formed when a shell of ionized gas was expelled by a star during its evolution into a white dwarf star. M57 has a small angular size of 1.5 x 1 arcminutes, making it too small to be resolved with the naked eye, or even with powerful binoculars. A telescope resolves the object as a small elliptical ring, which consists of the ionized gas moving away from the central star. The central star is very difficult to spot.

After requesting an image of M57, the imaging system took control of the observatory, moved the telescope to point toward M57, which was nearly directly overhead at the time, and began the imaging process. A synthesized voice described each stage of the process as it occurred.

After the initial positioning of the telescope, a series of short images was made, and the imaged star field was compared to the star field database to identify the exact position of the scope. The observatory control system then calculated the movement needed to accurately position M57 at the center of the image, and moved the scope and dome to the new position.

Another series of short images was made, and another repositioning was done, all automatically. After the series of repositioning movements, a 30 second final image was taken, and the resulting image was stored on the server’s hard drive, allowing for subsequent download. The total imaging operation, from the initial request to final image, required about 5 minutes to complete.

The image of M57, included below, has a high noise content, as camera cooling and dark frames were not used during imaging.  M57 is the small “nebulous” ring at the exact center of the image.

Jeff Janover began his career as a structural engineer in the nuclear power industry. He worked as a Professional Engineer and consultant, performing computer-aided finite element analysis on a wide range of projects, and delivered seminars on advanced dynamics to many engineering firms. Mr. Janover is the Director of Technology with the Wall Township Public School System. His hobbies include tennis, scuba diving, amateur radio, and Olympic archery. Mr. Janover is married, has four children and two granddaughters, and lives in the Middletown, New Jersey area.