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Motorized telescope for middle school!


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Hello fellow stargazers! I'm more of a lurker on this site, but the time has come where I need to ask some advice!

I'm an earth science teacher with a lot of astronomy experience, just not much with motorized mounts. We're looking to put a telescope on the roof of our school.

We've picked out a motorized observatory for a telescope, but we'd like a telescope that can be controlled via computer so we can control it from the classroom. We would more than likely need tracking software and such. Our school is pretty new, so when it was being designed we had tubing put in that leads to the roof for this reason, so cords will not be an issue. The observatory can hold up to a 10" telescope based on its side.

 

Do any of you know of anything that would fit these needs? I can think of some telescopes that I really like, but I'm out of my element when it comes to motorized tracking.

 

Thank you so much!

James

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It's not so much the telescope but the mount that you need to consider.  What's your total budget; there will be other costs along the way  - software & hardware?

Jim 

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Here's some very good well priced mounts which would be ideal for a school observatory. Either of these would allow you to have remotely controlled operation and would be fine for visual/astrophotography. 

SkyWatcher AZEQ6-GT

iOptron CEM 120

Depending on your budget there are less expensive options and as always more expensive :)   If you want a mount and telescope package then maybe something like Meade or Celestron would be worthwhile exploring . 

Meade LX 90 ACF

Celestron  Nextstar Evolution 8

 

Do you know what type of thing you want to be doing with the observatory - general visual of say planets/deep sky,  perhaps leading on in the future to astrophotography. Do you envisage perhaps eventually doing any scientific work such as spectrometry or measurements.  You wan't to give your setup room to grown but equally there would be little point in investing in a very capable mount/telescope if you are never going to use the capability.   As far as the telescope is concerned I personally would go with 8 inch Newtonian or Schmidt-Cassegrain  (give the pupils decent visual experience of say the planets and the likes of the more visible nebula).  I would be tempted to invest in the mount first (by a little future proofing) and perhaps save a bit on the telescope itself  - here was my first serious scope (still used today) .  It really all depends on your budget and what your aims are . Hopefully something to start the process off - what a fun project you have ahead of you, good luck. 

Bresser-Messier NT 203

Jim 

 

Jim 

Edited by saac
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5 hours ago, GoodOleJim said:

Hello fellow stargazers! I'm more of a lurker on this site, but the time has come where I need to ask some advice!

I'm an earth science teacher with a lot of astronomy experience, just not much with motorized mounts. We're looking to put a telescope on the roof of our school.

We've picked out a motorized observatory for a telescope, but we'd like a telescope that can be controlled via computer so we can control it from the classroom. We would more than likely need tracking software and such. Our school is pretty new, so when it was being designed we had tubing put in that leads to the roof for this reason, so cords will not be an issue. The observatory can hold up to a 10" telescope based on its side.

 

Do any of you know of anything that would fit these needs? I can think of some telescopes that I really like, but I'm out of my element when it comes to motorized tracking.

 

Thank you so much!

James

I assume this is mainly electronically assisted astronomy, so a camera allowing you to see Deep space objects in near real time?

You must have some sort of budget so what is the budget?

I assume that will need to include a camera and many other pieces of equipment too.

Adam

Edited by Adam J
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On 17/10/2019 at 14:12, Adam J said:

I assume this is mainly electronically assisted astronomy, so a camera allowing you to see Deep space objects in near real time?

You must have some sort of budget so what is the budget?

I assume that will need to include a camera and many other pieces of equipment too.

Adam

 

On 17/10/2019 at 11:18, saac said:

Here's some very good well priced mounts which would be ideal for a school observatory. Either of these would allow you to have remotely controlled operation and would be fine for visual/astrophotography. 

SkyWatcher AZEQ6-GT

iOptron CEM 120

Depending on your budget there are less expensive options and as always more expensive :)   If you want a mount and telescope package then maybe something like Meade or Celestron would be worthwhile exploring . 

Meade LX 90 ACF

Celestron  Nextstar Evolution 8

 

Do you know what type of thing you want to be doing with the observatory - general visual of say planets/deep sky,  perhaps leading on in the future to astrophotography. Do you envisage perhaps eventually doing any scientific work such as spectrometry or measurements.  You wan't to give your setup room to grown but equally there would be little point in investing in a very capable mount/telescope if you are never going to use the capability.   As far as the telescope is concerned I personally would go with 8 inch Newtonian or Schmidt-Cassegrain  (give the pupils decent visual experience of say the planets and the likes of the more visible nebula).  I would be tempted to invest in the mount first (by a little future proofing) and perhaps save a bit on the telescope itself  - here was my first serious scope (still used today) .  It really all depends on your budget and what your aims are . Hopefully something to start the process off - what a fun project you have ahead of you, good luck. 

Bresser-Messier NT 203

Jim 

 

Jim 

Indeed. The mount is pretty ideal here. I'm gathering information still on our preferences for viewing, though I'd like to focus mainly on lunar and planetary viewing. 

Really we just need something we can control remotely! I've bookmarked all of your suggestions.

On 17/10/2019 at 14:12, Adam J said:

I assume this is mainly electronically assisted astronomy, so a camera allowing you to see Deep space objects in near real time?

You must have some sort of budget so what is the budget?

I assume that will need to include a camera and many other pieces of equipment too.

Adam

Right. Real time astronomy is what we're striving for. Our budget is pretty wide open right now, but don't want to spend above our needs. 

Based on our needs, we'll need the mount, telescope, and camera capable of real time viewing.

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11 hours ago, GoodOleJim said:

 

Indeed. The mount is pretty ideal here. I'm gathering information still on our preferences for viewing, though I'd like to focus mainly on lunar and planetary viewing. 

Really we just need something we can control remotely! I've bookmarked all of your suggestions.

Right. Real time astronomy is what we're striving for. Our budget is pretty wide open right now, but don't want to spend above our needs. 

Based on our needs, we'll need the mount, telescope, and camera capable of real time viewing.

Based on what you have said above then I would go for the Skywatcher AZEQ6-GT (room for growth)  and an 8 inch reflector something like the Bresser-Messier NT 203 or a SkyWatcher  200p (the one in the link is bundled with an EQ5 mount which whilst a budget mount will still allow it to be controlled remotely - this will save some money for you).   Usually refactors are favoured for planetary use but I'd suggest that your pupils would be delighted to see the Andromeda Galaxy some of the globular clusters and nebula so a reflector would  be a good choice. As far as software is concerned to allow remote operation you are in lucky as most of it is free and excellent at what it does.  For controlling the telescope download and take a look at EqMod and Stellarium or Cartes du Ciel.

Jim

Eq Mod Youtube

DemoCartes du Ciel

Stellarium

Skywatcher Explorer 200P

 Bresser-Messier NT 203

SkyWatcher AZEQ6-GT

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On 17/10/2019 at 16:01, GoodOleJim said:

We've picked out a motorized observatory for a telescope, but we'd like a telescope that can be controlled via computer so we can control it from the classroom. We would more than likely need tracking software and such. Our school is pretty new, so when it was being designed we had tubing put in that leads to the roof for this reason, so cords will not be an issue. The observatory can hold up to a 10" telescope based on its side.

No disrespect intended, but I would suggest the simplest possible set up. While there is no such thing as a computerised telescope that is ready "out of the box" there are ones that only require the minimum intervention to start using once it has been set up.

I am thinking of the Meade LX850 Starlock system. It is as close as you will get to one that only requires switching on and it does its own alignment and automatic "centreing" and tracking ready to take images.

You will still have to choose a camera for this. I would suggest staying with a "one shot colour" camera. This avoids the added complication of colour filters and having to take different images for red, green and blue light - then needing to use additional software to combine them into a full-colour end result.

Furthermore, it would be worth your while contacting your local astronomy club. Not only can they provide local advice (which suppliers to use) and assistance in the initial setup and troubleshooting, but they may be willing to work with you for public outreach events too.

 

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I would caution against looking to do astrophotography at the outset, certainly not for a whole class experience. To be honest sitting waiting for multiple exposures to be taken and then processing will be tedious for pupils and they will quickly lose interest. However that is definetly something to work up to in teh future. The best option I would suggest is either visual, certainly for the moon, solar observing, supported by some form of video capture if you want to view real time images in the classroom.  Astrophotography is a bit of  steep learning curve which brings in a whole set of additional requirements and where it is something you can work towards as a growth project I would not recommend it for a class activity. That said, astrophotography is perhaps something that a smaller group of more dedicated and patient group of pupils such as an astro club could engage in.   

As a secondary school teacher myself (Physics) I have offered both whole class and astronomy group activities in school and by far the most successful has been the visual experience.  I have used a video setup for solar observation including our last partial solar eclipse and will be looking to do similar for the transit of Mercury in Nov. The advice offered by Pete above regarding seeking help from a local Astro club is definitely something you should consider.  For what it is worth there is a lot in a project like this for a school to benefit from with respect to cross curricular engagement;  you could engage pupils who are interested in design and manufacture, electronics, programming, art and their associated departments.  Definitely worth pursuing. :) 

Take a look at the ATIK Infinity , search it out on YouTube to better understand its capability, If it is within budget something then like this would be excellent for remote viewing (whole class or small group). I would also try negotiating a supply deal with a retailer for single supply, most are willing to offer some for of "educational discount" especially for a whole set up.  

Jim 

ATIK Infinity - Video Astronomy

Edited by saac
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Seems you are talking about 'electronically assisted visual astronomy'.  Be aware that this is a field for which no turnkey or off-the-shelf solutions exist yet, though many of us have experimented with various combinations of kit, often to our own satisfaction.

From my own experience, I can point out some pitfalls.  For the Moon and planets, your students may be under-impressed by the fuzzy, trembling live video view of a planet. A stacked image from the same data will reveal far more detail.   It is quite difficult to get a telescope aimed accurately enough for a planetary close-up (e.g. Jupiter part filling the screen), possibly beyond the capability of remotely controlled GoTo.  Unlike with visual, you can't change the field of view width. The field of view for a high resolution planetary image is exceedingly small.

If you use a wide-field setup (small widefield scope + planetary camera, or longer focal length scope + large sensor), you can use GoTo with some confidence that the desired object is in the field of view.  With a minute or so of live stacking, quite faint objects can be seen.  I have been astonished at the performance of a 102mm f5 achro refractor coupled with a ASI224MC camera.  On a cheap Goto mount it showed galaxies fainter than mag 11 and imaged a starfield including the minor planet Pluto (m14.3).   Whether your students will be impressed remains to be seen.

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