Saturday, October 6, 2018

October 5th - Slooh your way to the stars

What's in an acronym? Paige Godfrey, Slooh's research director, gave us an overview of the services offered by this online observatory. As of today, Slooh provides access to six telescopes. The majority, 5, are located in the Canary Islands. These include their largest instrument with an aperture of 0.5 meters (20 inch). Another telescope in Chile gives access to the many interesting objects located in the southern sky, and a solar scope equipped with a narrow band H-alpha filter allows observations of the solar chromosphere. By locating their observatories under some of the darkest skies, they facilitate access to high quality observations to individuals who would live in areas that suffer from light pollution (all cities).

Individuals can access the data obtained by the cameras attached to Slooh's telescopes. Paige showed some examples of work done by members of their community, from processed images, mosaics and gifs, to discoveries of new comets. Since the processing of astronomical data can have a rather steep learning curve, they're developing materials to make it easy for anyone to get started.

Paige explained how these resources allow schools to incorporate observational astronomy into their curriculum, and they're launching a specific program, AstroLab, with the support of the National Science Foundation.

As an illustrative example of how Astronomy can help answer some of the most fundamental questions we've asked ourselves through history, Paige introduced the use of Drake's equation, a way to quantify the number of communicating civilizations in a given volume, and applied it to the set of stars visible in a typical image taken with one of Slooh's telescopes. Turns out vulcanians may be out there for real!

-- Jose Zorrilla (graduate student)