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jsandse

Is the sky at night out of touch with modern amateur astronomy?

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Themos,

Don't know who the Professor you talked to was but you don't need to have a big aperture to contribute to proam campaigns.

That would have been me -- though I'm afraid the Professor title is rather over generous John :(

My point was that whilst amateurs have made truly stunning contributions** to imaging by using small telescopes (i.e. 100mm refractors) and focusing on wide field objects, the same trick does not work with spectroscopy. For spectroscopy, you're focused on single objects, and what counts above almost everything else is the number of photons you can collect; and that needs aperture.

I agree there are many useful things you can do with an 8--10 inch telescope -- but you will be limited to relatively bright objects. Even then, an 8--10 inch telescope, with a mount capable of tracking it accurately enough to keep a star on a spectrograph slit, is not a trivial investment. It's a more substantial bit of kit than the majority of "starter" imaging setups.

The only thing that tops the number of photons you can collect, is (sometimes) *when* you can collect them. For anything which is time variable, getting any data at a certain point is infinitely more useful than getting no data! This is the area where amateurs can really make a massive contribution (both in spectroscopy and photometry). The recent Epsilon-Aurigae study is an excellent example.

In the not very distant future, there will be a lot of professional surveys coming online focused on detecting 'transient' events -- i.e. things that change. I think this could lead to an explosion of 'citizen science' driven projects, where amateurs gather important data on objects, primarily because they can observe at the right time. LSST for example is predicted to detect up to 10,000 transient events every night -- that number *cannot* be followed up by professionals. The plan (I believe) is for these events to be made immediately available to the public, so that any astronomer interested can point their telescope at one and follow it up in more detail. Spectroscopy will undoubtably be a very important contribution to that.

I think amateur spectroscopy is a fantastic area, and I'm convinced it can only grow. I'm really encouraged there is a nascent community on here (and elsewhere) pushing it forward. What people have achieved with relatively modest kit, and the inventiveness of how to take spectra, is very (very) impressive to me. I think though it will always be smaller than the imaging community. It is fundamentally harder and less intuitive than imaging (even for professionals), and that will always be the case I fear. It also doesn't produce as sexy a result (i.e. the pictures aren't as good), even if the result does contain more information! I think that is probably the key reason behind the lack of media coverage unfortunately.

I would not worry too much about the lack of media coverage (as frustrating as it might be). I think the people we should be targeting as spectroscopy converts are those already in to astronomy, and want to find out more -- the kind of people who are reading this thread. :( Just keep putting up your great results, and explaining how the interested observer can get started -- a community will build soon enough...

Fraser (impressed, of Oxford)

** "contributions" is far too ungenerous a term -- amateur astronomers lead professionals by a long way when it comes to making fantastic images (particularly when it comes to wide field objects).

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I was talking to an Oxford University professional astronomer last week. two things
  1. Spectroscopy requires large aperture
  2. The one thing where amateurs can really help is follow-up photometry data on supernovae.

Unfortunately the view of many professional astronomers who are not aware of the status of amateur spectroscopy is that amateurs cannot contribute in this area. It is incorrect. There are many areas of Pro-Am spectroscopic work going on currently, most of it at high resolution using <350mm aperture on bright stars where professionals dont have the manpower, time or funding. Examples I have been involved in are:

Be star activity monitoring and various ongoing projects on specific Be stars

The WR140 Periastron campaign

The Epsilon Aurigae eclipse

I am currently working with other amateurs helping in a professional study of CH Cyg. The professionals are using HST and Chandra and we are monitoring using optical spectroscopy. We have been running less than 2 weeks and already the pro we are working with is very enthusiastic about the things going on in our data that they were not aware of.

The ARAS website and forum is a good place to see an overview of the various campaigns and the capabilities of the modern amateur spectroscopist.

Astronomical Ring for Access to Spectroscopy

spectro-aras.com • Index page

Cheers

Robin

www.threehillsobservatory.co.uk

Robin

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On a little side note Ken. Picked your book this evening and a Star Analyser on its way.... :(

I would concur on "amateur" contribution as well. What several intelligent people can achieve, even though not one is professional in an area, is staggering.

I'm personally involved in "hackerthons". Throw 60 smart people in a room for a weekend, feed and water them, and give them a problem to solve. They will achieve more in that time than 60 professionals would do as they would have to have some meetings first :(. ( ok, over simplification ).

The point being that enthusiasm and interest can achieve just as much as professional skill.

(if this is your thing, checkout: International Space Apps Challenge it's something I'm involved in at my work! And applications to join the Exeter team are still open.).

Cheers

Ian

Edited by iwatkins

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I've tried to find resources for doing photometry with a DSLR. Any pointers from anyone?

Yes DSLR can be used for photometry and thanks to some pioneers, some very successful techinques have been developed. (Currently mainly limited to V magnitude but possibly for other bands in the future.) If you are a BAA member then the variable star section eclipsing binary secretary Des Loughney is the expert on this and has published some articles. Also a team at the AAVSO Citizen Sky website has developed a detailed turorial. (AAVSO accept DSLR V mag measurements)

Cheers

Robin

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Robin is correct!

In the March 2012 issue, p18 there's a report on the Epsilon Aurigae eclipse which confirms the very useful results obtained with DSLR's. See also the article in S&T, April 2011, p64.

I think I need to update my Library - most of the books on Photometry don't even mention CCD's!! - ("Introduction to Astronomical Photometry", 2nd Ed. by Budding and Demircan, does mention them) but we really need an update of Henden and Kaitchuck's "Astronomical Photometry"

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Remarkable! It is (probably) true that Popular TV Astronomy neglect the "really interesting" stuff? But, without criticism, Astronomy Forums rarely mention this stuff either... and then, only reluctantly? "Free" (at last?) from being a "professional scientist", I can make myself "look stupid", with impunity now? LOL. But if I "witter on", about a past life, it is to encourage... :)

GOOD STUFF though, guys! Pro-Am collaboration seems to encapsulate the "spirit of science", as I (once) understood it. I sense the problem for amateurs (sic) is "life"? Circumstances change, when your no longer a "student" working for yourself? Effort is never guaranteed. But never say never... :(

For my own education, I'd like to have a go at combining VIDEO Astronomy with my (as yet neglected) "Star Analyser 100". Aside from "boring" DSOs, the Video Cam (Watec) gives me ready access to quite FAINT stars? I casually wonder if there's an avenue to explore, with modest (8"/F4) scopes... :(

Edited by Macavity

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The rough limiting magnitude for SA100 spectra is about 5 mag above the limiting magnitude of the scope i.e. if your stellar limiting magnitude is around 14 mag, expect to be able to image spectra of stars down to 9 mag.

(Why is this so? - The grating spreads the starlight over the whole spectrum which is usually 100 times the size of the target star...simples!)

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The rough limiting magnitude for SA100 spectra is about 5 mag above the limiting magnitude of the scope...
Thanks for that rule of thumb. Saves me finding out the hard way? <G> All (good) grist for the mill... :(

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Thanks for that rule of thumb. Saves me finding out the hard way? <G> All (good) grist for the mill... :(

See also FAQ #10 here

Paton Hawksley Education ltd. - Star Analyser Frequently Asked Questions

I wrote these a few years ago when the Star Analyser first went in to production so they are in need of a tweak here and there (The camera types look dated and no mention of DSLR which can produce excellent results), but on the whole the advice their remains sound

Cheers

Robin

www.threehillsobservatory.co.uk

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I did manage to get amateur spectroscopy onto Sky at Night in a Star Party held in Patrick's back garden in 2005.

BBC One - The Sky at Night, Star Party

Until recently you could watch it on line and see me measuring the redshift of a Quasar (3C273) using an 8 inch scope, a school science lab diffraction grating (which later developed into the Star Analyser) and a modified webcam. Good fun, but Patrick is a traditionalist when it comes to amateur observations and to be honest was not that interested.

I tried again a couple of years later when I measured the flash spectrum of the solar eclipse in Turkey. Chris Lintott filmed a piece with me but it was not used as the producers felt it would take too long to explain what was happening :(.

There was a vague plan to do a piece on spectroscopy at my observatory but that never materialised.

I also contacted them about the work done by amateurs on Epsilon Aurigae (over 800 amateur spectra taken on this object in a worldwide campaign which included photometry and polarimetry by amateurs) but nothing came of it. you can read about it in March S&T though :(

Cheers

Robin

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Hmmmm

I would appear we're ( i.e. spectroscopy amateurs in general - not you Robin!) not "sexy" enough for TV?? The viewers would actually have to apply a bit of grey matter..and stay awake to get the hang of it...

May be easier with Radio??!!!

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I did manage to get amateur spectroscopy onto Sky at Night in a Star Party held in Patrick's back garden in 2005.

BBC One - The Sky at Night, Star Party

Until recently you could watch it on line and see me measuring the redshift of a Quasar (3C273) using an 8 inch scope, a school science lab diffraction grating (which later developed into the Star Analyser) and a modified webcam.

It is still there :(

http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/space/realmedia/sky_at_night_apr05.ram

Robin

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well there is no excuse for Chris Lintott not to mention it in the last sky at night even - I think they are all out of touch.....

In fact I could probably go further and say that the study of stars and stellar atmospheres is not even seen as that important in the professional community either! Its all cosmology related - where we don't have the systematic errors from astrophysics - and extra-solar planet work that has the priority as far as I can see. The pros doing the stellar atmosphere stuff I think are in the minority. As additional evidence to this Dimitri Mihalas in his stellar atmospheres book spends the first chapter trying to justify why stellar atmospheres (and the spectra from them) are so important to study.

cheers

John

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Interesting stuff guys. Do you reckon a skywatcher 12 inch driven dob would work with a sa100 and a SXH9 or atik 16ic? I've got a project to do for college on stars clusters (thinking of coparing M36 and M37) and to add some of my own spectra would be cool I think.

Helen

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Helen,

Most certainly!

With a drive platform you'll be able to record fainter stars..

I'd need to check my references for those clusters..there will probably be pre-existing data to assist you in target selection.

(BTW, Jack Martin works with a undriven dobbie and a SA100 -just letting the star drift widen the spectra in the FOV - works pretty well for brighter stars)

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Hi Helen,

Interesting stuff guys. Do you reckon a skywatcher 12 inch driven dob would work with a sa100 and a SXH9 or atik 16ic? I've got a project to do for college on stars clusters (thinking of coparing M36 and M37) and to add some of my own spectra would be cool I think.

Helen

The brighter members of these clusters would be in range but aligning the spectra to dodge interference from other stars in such crowded fields could be challenging.

As an aside, there is a nice example by Christian Buil here of spectroscopy of M45 using the very simple technique of a Star Analyser mounted directly in front of a DSLR with a telephoto lens (no telescope needed)

ISIS - Star Analyser tutorial

It uses a technique shown on my website here

ROBIN'S ASTRONOMY PAGE spectroscopy_11 Simple Spectroscopy with a DSLR

Cheers

Robin

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Thanks Robin. I'll do the main work using archive data from the Faulkes telescope and other sources, but I thought adding my own might make it a little different ;)

I might have a play tonight as the weather looks like its going off a bit and I've only got 3 more weeks for the project.

Helen

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Fraser,

Thanks for your reply. Firstly apologies not to give you your correct title.

The timescales for implementation of the LSST are not until 2022!!!! and thats if it is on time. See link here LSST Timeline | LSST

So with the inevitable delays of a big project like this maybe our children or grandchildren may have the benefit of this facility!

In terms of the nascent nature of spectroscopy in the UK I wanted to contrast that with what is happening in continental Europe where there is a far richer vein in terms of numbers of spectroscopists taking part in pro-am collaborations.

In terms of amateur spectroscopists being limited to only observing brighter stars I would only comment that there are a large number of these brighter stars whose behaviour are not well understood - you only need to read the papers on ADSABS to see that - and for most of these stars amateur observations would be of benefit to understanding the physical processes taking place in these stars.

Amateur astronomical spectroscopy has had a rich history from the 19th century and will continue to do so until we understand the nature of all the brighter stars - and I don't see that happening any time soon.

Watch out when that happens though because then you'll have all the amateurs writing proposals to get access to time on the large professional telescopes!

kindest regards

John

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Watch out when that happens though because then you'll have all the amateurs writing proposals to get access to time on the large professional telescopes!

They already are:)

On the back of the achievements of a team of amateur spectroscopists using home observatories and the (rather tatty student) 0.5m MONS telescope on Teneriffe during the Pro-Am WR140 periastron camapaign, a group led by Portuguese amateur Jose Ribeiro were awarded 10 days on the much nicer IAC 80 telescope last year to study Delta Scorpii periastron, supporting the professional PI Anatoly Miroshnichenko

Delta Scorpii Periastron 2011 In

Delta Sco campaign - Main page

Delta Scorpii 2011@TEIDE. IAC80

Cheers

Robin

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Glad to see they already are - Robin :0)

By the way hot off the press have you seen the research paper published this week in A&A entitled

"New activity in the large circumstellar disk of the Be-shell star 48 Librae⋆"

Nice para in there from the professionals referring to the use of amateur spectroscopic data in the BESS database:

jsandse-albums-spectra-picture16600-48-librae.jpg

The link to the article is here:

New activity in the large circumstellar disk of the Be-shell star 48 Librae | A&A

If you don't have access to the article because you are not on AA_toc let me know and i'll send you the article and tell you how to get on the distribution list

cheers

John

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I was talking to an Oxford University professional astronomer last week. two things
  1. Spectroscopy requires large aperture
  2. The one thing where amateurs can really help is follow-up photometry data on supernovae.

SN photometry is a red-herring to this discussion. I've attended Pro-Am conferences at Mill Hill and RAL Oxford etc and from experience amateur spectro [and most amateur work!] are largely ignored in UK by professionals due to low res results [the aperture problem] and incomplete analysis which is probaly true. Basically there are too few practisioners up to speed. Regular stellar photometry is a doddle by comparison :icon_salut:

And no need to move to France or elsewhere - exchange today is called the internet:headbang:

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