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Amateur Astronomy Research Experiment


WTasker

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Note that this has been approved by the Stargazers Lounge administration team.

Introduction
Greetings people of Stargazers Lounge¬†ūüôā

My name is Will and I am currently writing a dissertation on amateur astronomy, identifying the methods that could potentially enhance the experience of amateur astronomers. From my research, it appears there are a few gaps in current observational tools, but I feel it is appropriate for amateur astronomers themselves to test my proposed algorithms and to see if they enhance the hobby.

The Project
Many of the present observational astronomy tools focus on providing virtual planetariums, which also allow for basic object searches to be done. Furthermore, these tools make it easier for beginners to identify bright objects they are looking at in the night sky. With enough of these bright objects observed, amateur astronomers will want to move onto dimmer objects such as galaxies (Andromeda, Bode's Galaxy, etc) and nebulae (Orion Nebula, Ring Nebula, etc).

How can amateur astronomers easily find more currently-visible objects to observe with quick and easy-to-find previews of their appearance? Where can they interactively learn the process of star-hopping and how to navigate to objects not visible with the naked eye? Where can they find objects nearby or similar to others, possibly based on their own observation history? You may have thought of a few separate tools, guides or books to do this, but would it not be nice to have these features in a collective tool? This is the heart of my project, which will be an experimental prototype of these features built into a single web-app, accessible from desktop or mobile.

I should note that this is not to act as a replacement for current tools & learning methods. Instead, I want it to act as another option for learning & partaking in amateur astronomy, especially if the results of the experiment prove its usefulness.

The Experiment
The experiment will be held online (done in your own free time, no calls or meetings required) over a set number of days, targeting those in the Northern Hemisphere (to keep questions consistent across participants). It will follow a 4 stage process:

  1. Ask participants to find numerous objects in the night sky (scaling in difficulty) with their present resources, acting as a baseline of skill & knowledge before the tool is used.
  2. Give access to the tool for roughly a week or two, giving time to use its features and potentially finding usefulness in what it provides.
  3. Once again ask participants to find objects in the night sky, allowing the tool to be used during the observation period along with any other resources they previously used. Furthermore, some optional questions will be asked regarding the tool, allowing participants to give their input on its features and possible improvements.
  4. Compare the results and work out the overall difference of skill.

Results will be anonymised, so please do not worry about specific people being named for their performance.

What Comes Next?
Once the experiment is complete, I will release its results along with common feedback given regarding its features & improvement ideas. Furthermore, I will attempt to add the suggested features whilst also making the code open-source. This means that, if any other developers wish to integrate these features into their own / present applications, they have example code to use.

I myself have a passion in the hobby (currently using a 10" Dob) and wish to continue contributing to the community, so do expect more experimental tools from me once this project is complete!¬†ūüôā

Taking Part & More Information
If you have any questions, feel free to either respond to this post or message me on here. Otherwise, if you are interested in taking part, please fill out this initial participant selection survey: https://solent.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/amateur-astronomy-research-experiment-participant-select

The survey will ask for your Stargazers Lounge username and optionally your email address, which will be used to update you if you are chosen as a participant for the experiment. General updates will also be given in the replies of this post, so do keep an eye on this if you are interested. In addition, if you know someone who could benefit from these features (e.g. someone who struggles to find objects), then feel free to let them know about it (but they will need a Stargazers Lounge account).

Clear skies,
Will 

Edited by WTasker
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Posted (edited)

Some common questions I have been asked, for those who may also have similar questions:

  1. Do I need to have a particular level of knowledge?
    You can take part as long as you have a telescope! So, whether you're a beginner wanting to use the tool to learn, or a professional who may find the tool useful / want to take part in the experiment as a challenge, all are welcome!
     
  2. How long will it take?
    The observations before & after the tool (separated by roughly a week, when you have a clear sky) should not take longer than 30 minutes, especially for those who already have experience in observational astronomy.
     
  3. How many participants are needed, how many do you currently have?
    I hope for at least 10 people to express their interest (ideally through the form, but this could also be done by messaging me or replying to the post, for those uncomfortable with external sites), but the more the better! I currently do not have many.

 

Edited by WTasker
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1 hour ago, Cjg said:

Happy to help, and completed your form.

Might be challenging to find a night of clear skies soon though!

Chris

 

Thank you!

The tool is nearly complete, so there will hopefully be a few clear skies during the experiment. I'll try to avoid purchasing anything astronomy-related too, otherwise we'll get cloudy skies for 2 more weeks!

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  • 3 weeks later...
Posted (edited)

An update to those who wish to participate: the code is now complete! Thank you to everyone who has expressed interest in taking part.

A link to the experiment (of which will ask you to find 15 objects scaling in difficulty) will be sent shortly. Once complete, you will be given a link to the tool as well as the follow-up experiment, for you to take at any point (whether that's 30 minutes after using the tool or a few days). If possible, it would be great to have these done by some point next week!

Here are a few of its features that are currently implemented, which may help you decide what you're going to do with it:

  • Catalogue of over 100k objects, each of which have associated images, light pollution information (estimated Bortle value needed for the object to be visible), etc.
  • Easy browsing and searching of objects, more dynamically load as you scroll and immediately tell you if they're currently visible.
  • Viewing object positions at any time and location, times of which automatically adjust to the time-zone of the given¬†location.
  • An "observation mode" which suggests star-hopping paths to get close to the target object.
  • Finding nearby & similar objects, as well as being recommended objects to observe based on your object interest¬†patterns.
  • Gamified features such as an interactive¬†tutorial and achievements, to make observing a little more interesting.
  • A very experimental red-mode which does not seem to work on all devices, but if it works on yours, then you won't have to worry about blue light ruining your night vision!

Feel free to fill out the initial survey (from the first post) if you'd like to join and haven't filled it out yet! I will keep checking it over the next few days.

I also have an update for those who are not partaking in the experiment, but may still be curious about the code / tool. Once I have collected responses from most people, I will put a link to the tool here so that everyone can try it out, ask any questions, and give feedback. The source code will then be released once my dissertation is complete (roughly after the 5th of May).
 

Edited by WTasker
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  • 1 month later...

Thank you to everyone who partook in the experiment! The dissertation has now been completed.

Based on the results of the pre-tool and post-tool phases of the experiment, a skill increase (defined as the number of objects successfully observed) of 18.72% was encountered. Furthermore, a decrease of 12.14% was encountered in star-hopping times. This is despite the fact that the star-hopping algorithm has areas that can be improved for beginners (e.g. ensuring it does not jump too far when close to a faint target object), making these results very promising!

I am now waiting for my supervisor to review my work, which should hopefully be done in the next few weeks. Once reviewed, I will release the tool & code here for public testing & feedback.

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