FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT USING THE STUDENT TELESCOPE NETWORK OBSERVATORY 01
(New Mexico Skies):

Got other questions/comments? Email rstencel@du.edu.

1. WHERE IS NEW MEXICO SKIES Observatory LOCATED?

New Mexico Skies [(505-687-2429, Lat. N32d 54' 14", Long. W105d 31' 44")] is located off Highway 82, 31.6 miles east of Alamogordo (driving time about 40 minutes). See website www.nmskies.com for details and maps. Tel: C-14, 154 in. folcal length, CCD: SBIG SBIG ST-1001E (see www.sbig.com) binned to 48 Micron pixels, 2.55 arcsec/pixel.

2. PROBLEM: WHY CAN'T I LOGIN TO THE INTERNET TELESCOPE?

a. Have you taken the
certification quiz? and been approved to request and schedule telescope time?
b. If you are scheduled, check your local time and MST -- you will be able to login only during your exact scheduled times.
c. If (b) if true, then either your server or NMSkies server is having a problem. Send an email to STNTrouble@nmskies.com describing the problem. More reasons for failure to connect.

3. WHAT'S A PROPER EXPOSURE TIME FOR THIS OBJECT?

Depends. The range of useful exposures is 0.11 sec to about 5 minutes. Longer exposures are possible, but co-adding shorter images achieves better results with lower risk and noise. Start with 10 sec for bright clusters, and increase the time as needed after you see the first result. We are accumulating recommended exposure lengths in a database -- see webpage: http://www.bisque.com/thesky/tom/sdbdemo.asp
--What program do you recommend the>students use to view them? (I am a Hands-on Universe Teacher Resource>Agent and highly recommend the HOU software: http://hou.lbl.gov) -- Kevin in Illinois
Several software sets can work with FITS format -- do a search on keywords 'FITS format'. We recommend CCDSOFT (www.bisque.com), but freeware such as Kevin describes provides a good starting point.
DATA PROCESSING: Sample question (Sven in Iceland): How do I handle the dark current? Have you taken exposures with the shutter closed? How do I take a flat-field image? Do you find it realistic to take 6 or 10 images of 1 minute for each target?
Our automated processing takes care of dark subtraction and flat fielding - in fact some of the maintenance time will be devoted to obtaining fresh values for those processes. We automated most of that because most users are not familiar with the details. On the STN scope page, you will see a link for CAMERA CONTROLS under the skymap (above logoff), which allows you to get dark frames etc if you wish, but I think the processing has been acceptible (see attached 180 sec galaxy image). In terms of exposure times, start with 30 sec to insure good point and track (sometimes settling takes a minute after slew ends), and then try 2 or 3 minutes. I believe even 5 and 10 minutes are possible, but co-adding shorter frames avoids the chance of tracking errors (assuming you have suitable image processing software -- see www.bisque.com).

4. HOW DO I SAVE IMAGES TAKEN WITH THIS TELESCOPE?

Easy, just right click on the picture once the download is complete, and SAVE AS to your local disk (gif format that Paint and other software can deal with). There is also the option to download the FITS format image, which contains all the data detail you'll need for scientific work (photometry). Download can be slow depending on your connection, and you'll need to find a FITS CONVERTER freeware from another website.

5. WHY DOESN'T THE TELESCOPE POINT TO THE MIDDLE OF THE OBJECT I WANT?

The following excerpted from Tom Bisque's webpage: http://www.bisque.com/thesky/tom/catalogs.asp
"Errors in catalogs are becoming more prominent with the growing capabilities of astronomical software coupled with the escalating size of databases and instantaneous communication via the Internet. Amateurs need to keep the vagaries of astronomical catalogs in mind when using software. Otherwise, like a motorist who discovers that the street he or she is on isn't plotted on a map, you could find yourself on a road of confusion."

6. HOW CAN I POINT TO A PART OF SKY WITHOUT A NAME LABEL?

UPDATE 18 Apr 2002: MPL = minor planet list (asteroids): We yesterday loaded the entire 150,000 plus MPL catalog which now calculates upon boot of the software. There are however some problems accessing it with Browser Astronomy that we have reported to Tom Bisque and I expect he will help with this soon. The brightest 200 MPL have been loaded for some time. The entry form will be as: "MPL 8 Flora", but we still need to get some help from Tom who has managed to implement the full catalog on his server. (2) Entry by RA and DEC is under development and we should have a test copy soon. It will be a major addition to the software. Supposedly to work as follows: You can use coordinate information in the slewto box, but the format is RA in decimal hours, Dec in decimal degrees (example 19.746668 +50.516666).
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MORE REASONS FOR A FAILURE TO CONNECT SITUATION:
The most common reasons for not being able to log on are weather or daylight
or some other user is logged on....campers who are logged in but inactive
gum up the works. Using the wrong username or password would also be very
high on the list.  Some servers will drop the connection after several 
minutes of inactivity -- so keep your exposures under 10 minutes.

If it starts to precipitate
while someone is on, the roof will close...and since precip is a major
source of activity here we will not be able to put an immediate notice on
the sign on page.  And there is no way we can broadcast to their browser
that we have closed the roof because of weather....especially if the roof
closes at 3:00 AM.  There is other weather that could cause us to close the
roof...high winds, for example.

We should put a FAQ about using our < a
href="http://www.nmskies.com/Weather.htm">weather site.  It will
probably answer
most questions about why we are down...if there are clouds over or near (to
the East) of the red mark on the IR satellite image.  If we have high winds
with gusts over about 25 mph.....if we have a very narrow
dewpoint/temperature spread, for example, we may be in fog that will not
show on the IR satellite image.

We can go down for technical reasons, but it will be low on the list when we
are in production mode.  The satellite failure the other night was the
second time the satellite system has gone down in a year...it is highly
reliable (and we now have included a test in the set-up routine).  That
reliability is why companies like Exxon and WalMart use Tachyon satellite
service rather than phone lines for there credit card connections.

We can certainly have more than our share of power failures here in the
mountains over 70 miles from the power distribution site..but we have $5000
worth of UPS equipment to keep us up in the Pod building.  The batteries
will not last forever..they are good for probably 40 minutes.  We do not yet
have an autostart generator for backup...which we will likely install when
we have leased 6 or more telescopes.

We will be happy to receive trouble reports at STNTrouble@nmskies.com We
will give these our high attention, but generally we will not be able to
respond to the writer immediately.  It is possible down the road that we
can install some kind of autoresponder on these messages, but it is not a
high priority at this time.  We can program the special
address STNTrouble@nmskies.com to ring bells and send alarms.
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