Operating the Nieve Observatory Telescope

Using the ACP System: some do’s and don’t’s.

Now that you’ve selected an object for study, we can turn to operating the telescope.

What’s the ACP System?

SUO uses a software called the Astronomy Control Panel (ACP) to remotely control the telescope. We will use this system to take images of the sky remotely.

Step 1: Log into http://observatory.soka.edu/

You will be prompted to log in. Please refer to the handout for the credentials.

You will be presented with a UI that resembles the one below. Here’s a breakdown of what is going on in the UI.

1
Observatory Tab

This tab shows you the working status of the observatory, whether it’s in-use or in standby. Local refers to the local time (California, PDT); UTC refers to the Coordinated Universal Time, and LST refers to the Local Sidereal Time (LST), which depends on the longitude of the observatory.

2
Status

It’s either observing or sleeping, like Urania, the goddess of astronomy.

3
Telescope Tab

This refers to the current coordinates that the telescope is pointing at. The tab also specifies the tracking method of the telescope (sidereal by default).

4
Camera details

This is the details of the camera. You can see what the camera is doing. In this case, the camera taking a 900s exposure i’ image.

5
Activity Details

This section shows a preview of the image of the last image that the telescope has taken.

6
Details of Object

This section specifies the details of the imaging plan. In this case, the observatory is working on taking 3 i’ images of IC 1396.

7
Live Image of Telescope

The image shows you what the telescope is doing—in real time. For now, the telescope is looking at nebula in the night sky, with the student dormitories in the background.

8
All-Sky Camera

This image shows the image of the sky from the telescope’s perspective in real-time. We can see that the sky is clear, dark, and without clouds in this instance.

We will want to take images now with our telescope. To do that, we have to open the roof and turn the telescope on. However, to prevent exposing our telescope to the elements, we will want to check if sky conditions are good for the night. The Nieves Observatory is equiped with an all-sky camera and atmospheric condition measurement instruments for us to see if the sky is good and clear for viewing.

Step 2: Check if the weather is good for viewing.

Go to Observatory Info (side bar) > Local Weather.

A local weather data information listing should pop up in your control panel.

As long as the status shows “safe”, we can use the telescope with no risk of damaging it.

Step 3: Turn on the telescope

If the sky conditions are congenial for our telescope, we can start taking images of the sky. The telescope might be completely shutdown when you have access to it, and, if so, you should see something like this:

To activate the system, first click on “Scheduler” (in yellow). You should see the “Telescope” and “Imager” turn yellow after, as with the below:

Turn on the telescope and imager by clicking on them both. The sequence does not matter. Once you’re done, the cooler option is open as well.

Click on “Cooler”. You will see the following prompt.

Set the temperature to -25 (no need °C). After which, open the roof by clicking on “roof”. Once the system is ready, it should look like this:

1
Telescope is stopped.
2
Imager is idle.
3
Cooler is at -25°C.
4
Weather is clear.
5
Roof is opened.

Step 4: Take a Color Series

Now that the telescope is all set up, we can instruct the observatory to take an image of the sky according to our specifications. To create an instruction, go to Live Observing > Single Object Imaging > Color Series.

You will presented with the following input form for the image that you want. Here’s what each field means and what you should input for each field.

1
Object Input

The ACP has a whole database of objects in the sky. If you know the name of the object you’re looking at—for example, if I want to look at the galaxy NGC 5643—input the name NGC 5643 and click on “Get Coordinates or Ephemeris”. The RA and Dec of the object will come out automatically. If you want to look at objects like the Dumbbell Nebula, you will have to find its formal astronomical name (e.g., M 27) and input in the field.

2
Use

You can give a list of instructions to the telescope for it to take a bunch of images in one-go. For example, if I’d like to take an image in r’ and i’, I should tick use in two rows.

3
Count

To take multiple images with the same attributes (e.g. same exposure and filter), you can take more than 1 count of the image. Take as many as you want. For great astrophotography, you can take a dozen of them and stack the individual images later on.

4
Filter

The SUO has multiple Sloan filters. To get an RGB image, take your images in the g’, r’, and i’ filters. If you’d like to create an image with the Hubble palette, use the narrowband filters H-a, S-II, O-III.

5
Duration

This refers to the exposure time measured in seconds.

6
Submit

Click submit when done. Your instruction will be fed to the observatory immediately and If the telescope is not in use, it will carry out your instructions. If the telescope is engaged in another project, your instructions will be queued and will be executed once the telescope is done with the project before yours.

When you’re done filling up the form, it should look something like this:

Click “acquire image” and the telescope will run your instructions if there is no other instructions before yours. If, however, the telescope is already executing an instruction, it will continue to run the instruction prior to yours, and yours will be queued until the telescope is available for use. Your instructions will be execute automatically as soon as the telescope is free for use.

Download Images from System Dropbox

Once your images have been taken, they will be stored at our Dropbox. Please contact the system administrator (bpenprase@soka.edu) for access to the Dropbox account.

See how you can create a true color image with the images that you've taken. Click here