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Remote Observing at the Dark Ridge Observatory. And Beyond…. Thomas C. Smith, Director, Dark Ridge Observatory STAR 2008, San Luis Obispo, California. A Statement of Fact.

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remote observing at the dark ridge observatory

Remote Observing at the Dark Ridge Observatory

And Beyond…

Thomas C. Smith, Director, Dark Ridge Observatory

STAR 2008, San Luis Obispo, California

a statement of fact
A Statement of Fact

Students that utilize remote observatories to conduct their scientific research are often at the mercy and whims of the observatory owner/operator

what is the problem
What is the Problem

In today’s growing arsenal of remote observatories, many have provided the use of their equipment for both research and astrophotography but for most remote sites the support ends there

so what s different
So What’s Different

At the Dark Ridge Observatory students are made a part of the entire observatory and observing process including data reduction, analysis and incorporation into scientific papers in both refereed and non-refereed scientific journals

a bit more detail
A Bit More Detail
  • At the Dark Ridge Observatory the student is guided through the nuances of the host equipment to achieve scientific accuracy for their measurements
  • This process provides mentoring for the student in areas of data collection, reduction and understanding of the use of astronomical images in science
  • Three fall semesters in 2005/6/7 (Cuesta Community College and the California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, California)
  • Hands-on observations made at the Dark Ridge Observatory in Atascadero, CA.
  • Remote observations made at the Dark Ridge Observatory in Weed, New Mexico
  • Having “the” expert on the equipment a major part of the science project
dark ridge observatory
Dark Ridge Observatory
  • The Dark Ridge Observatory (DRO) is now located in the Sacramento Mountains of southeastern New Mexico
  • Elevation 7100 feet (2164 meters)
  • Winter/Spring best with monsoon-like conditions in the summer and early fall
  • Clear night seeing (0.7 – 2.0 arc-seconds typical, early measurements of a prototype DIMM seeing monitor)
  • 501(c)(3) non-profit observatory utilizing the equipment and facilities of the Dark Ridge Ranch
dro continued
DRO (continued)
  • Early vision of the observatory phase one.

The proposed rendition looking at phase 1 of the DRO construction effort.

dro continued1
DRO (continued)
  • Current construction progress.

View out the control room window to the first of three roll-off observatories in phase 1 of the construction work.

equipment available at dro
Equipment available at DRO
  • One 8” LX200R telescope w/DIMM (seeing) capabilities
  • Two 14” LX200/GPS(R) telescopes w/ parallel-mounted 5” f/5 refractors
  • The Dark Ridge 20” Alt-Az Ritchie-Chrétien (being rebuilt)
  • The Morgan 24” Cassegrain hosted for the AAVSO (soon)
  • One SBIG ST-7XE CCD camera w/ UBVRcIc filters
  • One SBIG ST-8XME CCD camera w/ UBVRcIc filters and external guide head
  • One Apogee AP-8 CCD camera w/ UBVRcIc and Hα, Hβ and OIII narrowband filters (for the 20” RC)
  • One Meade DSI (color) CCD camera
  • One Meade DSI Pro II (monochromatic) CCD camera
  • One SBIG ST-402 CCD camera (clear filter only)
  • One SBIG DSS-7 Spectrograph
  • One SBIG SGS Spectrograph (1800rules/mm in Hi-Res and 600rules/mm in Low-Res)
  • Focal reducer/field-flatteners for the LX200 systems
  • Davis site weather station
science collaborations
Science Collaborations
  • Students have been involved in the following areas:
    • Double star astrometry using CCD cameras
    • Exo-planet follow-up using time-series photometry
    • Newly discovered variable star time-series photometry in conjunction with the Global Network of Astronomical Telescopes (GNAT) directed by Dr. Eric Craine
    • New hardware investigations (dual-channel photometer SAS2006)
    • Discovering instrument limitations (Purposeful Defocus paper AAS 2005)
    • And more…
so what makes the difference
So What Makes the Difference
  • Deciding the science to be performed
  • Having the equipment expert or “SME” mentoring the students
  • Choosing the observing parameters and iterative testing to obtain the proper setup
  • Near real-time data image collection and reduction
  • Sending the finalized data analysis to the student for inclusion in their publication
a typical collaboration
A Typical Collaboration

Hi Tom, I have done a little bit of 'data mining' in the WDS Catalog and have found a few interesting M type double stars. Only one is a confirmed binary (GRB 34AB). HJ 5453AB hasn't changed theta in almost 200 years and it's rho has only changed 0.1'. just judging by numbers alone (although I still have a lot to learn about it), STF 72 and STF 126AB seem to have similar proper motion, and their rho and theta are changing somewhat rapidly compared to HJ 5453AB. all are brighter than mag 11.1 and have separations greater than 23'. Jo

Hi Jo, The declinations of all the stars are well placed for decent observations. Most are quite bright however but this should not make it too difficult to image them. Right now I am in the middle of a horrific wind storm with gusts over 80 miles an hours. It has also been raining here and cloudy when not raining so I have done no imaging beyond what I did a week ago. If the weather patter holds to the predictions it should be really nice for the next three days/nights so maybe I can get a chance to image these systems. Have you looked at them on Aladin to see if you can identify the components? I'll let you know what I find. Thomas C. Smith Dark Ridge Observatory

  • During the start of a student collaboration there are many things that need attending to before the actual images are taken
  • Here is one such example email conversation that took place:

Hi Tom,attached are what I think are the components. for whatever reason, GRB 34AB is not centered. STF 72 has an incredibly sparse field very similar to 3 Peg. STF 126AB has several possible secondary stars. however, I believe the brightest one is the secondary because it is comparable to other tenth magnitude stars on Aladin.Jo


I managed to get the computer for the 14” fixed and imaged all four of the M stars tonight. I’ll put it together in an Excel spreadsheet like the previous ones but only after I get the paper parts that I owe you together first. Here is a teaser “RAW” image for you of STF 126AB.

Thomas C. Smith

Dark Ridge Observatory

collaboration continued
Collaboration (continued)
  • Although this data is from a different star than that of the previous conversation it shows the way that the student receives the data when fully processed at DRO, however it is encouraged that the student perform their own analysis, guided by DRO.
student papers
Student Papers
  • Here is a non-comprehensive list of papers, authored by the students, that have been reviewed by, produced at or in cooperation with the Dark Ridge Observatory
    • “Light Curves of Two GNAT MG1 Survey Stars: A One-Semester Community College Pilot Research Project”: JAAVSO 12/18/2006
    • “A Compact, Off-the-Shelf Low-Cost Dual Channel Photometer”. Presented at 2006 SAS
    • “An Experiment in Relating CCD Differential Photometric Precision to Varying Degrees of Image Focus”: AAS 2005
    • “Measurements of a Visual Double Star STF-2079”: JDSO
    • “High School Observations of the Visual Double Star 3-Pegasi”: JDSO
the real magic
The “Real” Magic
  • Students actually performing hands-on data collection that was used for a publication sited on the preceding slide.

A three-student team working at the Orion Observatory being advised and mentored by the Dark Ridge Observatory

  • Dark Ridge Observatory and the interactive work that is conducted between the students and the on-site SME really make a significant difference in the way the students both learn about science through astronomy as well as the way they get ENERGIZED for all their future endeavors.
  • It takes a lot of work and patience to accomplish first-rate astronomical science and in the production, presentation of their work into journals, speaking at recognized conferences and this is where Dark Ridge Observatory and student collaboration is really making a profound difference.
recent news at dro
Recent News at DRO
  • The Dark Ridge 20” RC Alt-Az telescope is in the shop for rebuild and placement in it’s new permanent roll-off observatory building.
  • The AAVSO has acquired the Lowell “Morgan” 24” Cassegrain telescope and has choose the Dark Ridge Observatory to upgrade and host it on the ridge top in Weed, New Mexico! This will be the AAVSO’s northern hemisphere research telescope.

What an honor!

the dark ridge observatory thanks you
The Dark Ridge ObservatoryThanks You!

Any questions?

Thomas C. Smith

Director, Dark Ridge Observatory

701 NM Hwy 24, Weed, New Mexico  88354

(575) 687-2168

a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, non-profit, scientific research and educational charitable organization.

“High on the ridge and high on astronomical research and education”