The Wall Township Public Schools Observatory was funded by the Wall Foundation for Educational Excellence, and is available for use by its students, parents, community members, and other school districts. The observatory is fully controllable via web browser, enabling astronomers the opportunity to log on remotely, point the telescope array toward their desired target, and take digital images that can be downloaded and studied.
The observatory is housed in a 10′ x 10′ building with an 8′ dome, built at the south corner of the Allenwood Elementary School property. The location is relatively free from extraneous lights, and has an excellent fiew of the night sky.
The observatory affords our students the opportunity to conduct meaningful scientific research in the area of astronomy, and will help our staff teach the process of the scientific method, scientific research fundamentals, technical research paper writing, and ultimately, research paper publication. These invaluable skills will, without doubt, assist our students in competing for seats at the universities of their choice.
Observatory “First Light” was obtained on Thursday, August 4, 2016. The observatory control web-based system was used to take control of the dome and telescopes, open the dome and shutter, and take a single image of M57. Messier 57, 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 “run log” 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.
Some of the images taken with the Wall Township Public Schools Observatory are on display on the Observatory website main page, along with a few photos of the equipment housed under the dome. Please click on the “Getting Started” link on the Observatory website main page for an overview of observatory access.