What celestial objects should I request?

There are literally thousands and thousands of objects to choose from! Here are some tips:

  • You have to choose objects visible from Nova Scotia - objects too far south can't be observed! The telescope will tell you this if you try.
  • The objects you choose must be reasonably visible in the next 4 weeks.
  • Choose objects visible in the current season or the next one. When we say current season it refers to what is visible in the evening sky (when humans are awake), but since the telescope does not sleep, it can observe things until dawn, or about a season or two ahead.
  • Don't choose objects that are too big! The camera has a field of view of about the size of the Moon, or 0.5 degrees (30 arc-minutes).
  • Don't choose bright stars (they are boring, will be over-exposed, and are not allowed - see this FAQ) and don't choose a constellation. They are too big!
  • Don't choose the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, or Saturn, or the Moon - they are all too bright for our telescope and camera.

The telescope does a great job on "deep sky" objects - these are open and globular star clusters, nebulae, galaxies, etc.

Comets are fun too. They are constantly changing even from one night to the next - this website gives weekly comet information.

So, how do I choose something and know how to name it properly? Here is a table of some of the best Deep Sky Objects in the sky. Choose objects from the table that meet the following:

  • SIZE: choose less than 30'
  • DEC: choose objects greater than -10 (first 3 digits). Below that and they are too far south (DEC is the same a latitude in the sky).
  • RA: choose objects in season or the next season (first 2 digits). RA is the same as longitude in the sky.
    • Winter: 03 to 08
    • Spring: 09 to 14
    • Summer: 15 to 20
    • Autumn: 21 to 23 and 00 to 02
  • NAME: this is the name of the object that you use, either beginning with M or NGC. M stands for Messier and NGC stands for New General Catalog.

You can do a web search of the object names to learn about them before you request them.

Why can't I take a picture of a constellation?

The camera attached to the telescope has a field-of-view of about 0.5 degrees. That is about the size occupied by the Moon. Constellations are much larger - typically 5 to 40 degrees in size.

Why are images of bright stars and some other objects not allowed?

The short answer is that bright stars (and stars contained in some other objects) are too bright for our large telescope and they will be overexposed, even when the shortest exposure time is used.

The long answer is:

  • images containing bright stars will be overexposed and leave ghost images that are visible on subsequent images taken by the telescope. In a shared telescope, we cannot allow that to happen.
  • some objects, such as large or bright star clusters, contain individual stars that are too bright. An example object in this category is the Pleiades star cluster.
  • if you have an educational or scientific reason to observe a bright star, contact a #human.
  • the telescope will automatically reject observations of stars brighter than magnitude 6.5 and any other observation where a star brighter than magnitude 3.5 is in the same field of view.

My observation request has been in the queue for a while, why has not not been completed?

This could be for a number reasons. First of all, you can check your place in the queue anytime here or by using the #myrequests command. Recent requests are towards the top and older requests are towards the top. To find all of your requested and completed observations, go here and search for your name.

In general, observations are run in order from oldest to newest, but there are several other factors that decide when an observation is run.

The most important factor is the need for clear skies at night! In Halifax, we typically get only 2-3 nights a week with the skies clear enough for part or all of the night. And the clear skies available may not have occurred at the time of night needed to observe your request!

Another factor is the choice of object - if an object is only visible for a short time each night, it competes with other observations observable at the same time. This "competition" isn't always fair! The observations requested by our astronomy students, as they are our "paying customers" with project deadlines have priority (this is usually only a factor from about mid-September to early April each year).

For more details on how the telescope's programs decide when to run an observation, see the next FAQ.

How does the telescope decide what requests to observe?

When the telescope is running, the skies are clear and dark, and it is about to run an observation, the first thing it does is scan through the entire observation request queue to see which requests can be observed right now. The factors it checks include:

  • that the object's altitude above the horizon at the beginning and anticipated end of the observation is ok
  • that the anticipated end of the observation will complete before morning twilight begins
  • that the Moon is not too bright and is not too nearby in the sky

From the list of observable requests a "points game" is then played and the observation request with the highest score is run! The factors scored include:

  • a benefit for older queue entries - older requests are favoured over more recent requests.
  • a benefit for objects with limited visibility - objects that can be observed tonight for a shorter time than others are favoured.
  • observer priority - each observer is assigned a priority, either more or less than the default. This is used to give our students and those working on special projects greater priority.
  • observation priority - each observation request can be given a priority, either more or less than the default.
  • same or opposite side of pier - our telescope is attached to what is known as a German Equatorial mounting. That means that it has to "flip" sides when moving from the east-to-west or west-to-east sides of the sky. This takes a few minutes so a penalty is applied if needed.
  • distance from current telescope position - objects near where the telescope is currently pointed are favoured.