Introduction to the Van Allen Observatory

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M20 (Trifid Nebula) taken with VAO

The Van Allen Observatory is aа17 in f/6.8 Corrected Dall-Kirkham reflecting telescope, owned and operated by the University of Iowa Department of Physics and Astronomy. It is stationed on the roof of Van Allen Hall in Iowa City, and is used for undergraduate labs, public outreach, and instrumentation development.

1. In terms of cameras, what does resolution mean? What does field of view (FOV) mean?

2. Look at the Spec Sheet for VAO and determine the resolution and FOV of VAO.а

3. On a good night, to what extent can VAO observe fine details? What about a bad night? If from Earth, Saturns rings were only 3 arcseconds in size, what kind of night would you want to observe Saturn to see its rings? What would your image look like if you observed it on the other night?

4. Why does VAO have filters? For each filter, list what wavelengths the filter samples and explain the purpose of the filters. Use the Planning Tools page on the Iowa Robotic Observatory website to help you understand what each filter does.

TheаPlanning Toolsаpage on the Iowa Robotic Observatory website has general information about аfilters and exposure times.

Theаrise and set calculator (RST)аis helpful to determine what time your objects rise and set. Read through theаtutorialаon how to read the RST tool. The best time to observe a target is when it is transiting the meridian, which is when the target is at the highest elevation for the night.

аWhile it is useful to have RST calculator to be accurate for your observations, it is also important to know how to determine if a star is above the horizon without the RST calculator. Remember that we can do this byаknowingаthe right ascension of the Sun in the month of our observations.

5. Pick 4 objects from the provided list that will be up tonight during lab. You can use star wheels, Stellarium, or SC001 star Charts, or the rise and set calculator (RST) to aid you. Then, record the times that the objects are up tonight and what time is best to observe them.

  1. Solar System
    1. Jupiter
    2. Saturn
    3. Neptune
    4. Mars
    5. Pluto
    6. Ceres
    7. Vesta
  2. Galaxies
    1. M64 Black Eye Galaxy а(12:56:43.7 +21:40:57.5)
    2. M63 Sunflower Galaxy (13:15:49.3 +42:01:45.44)
    3. M104 Sombero Galaxy (12:39:59 -11:37:22)
    4. M102 Spindle Galaxy (15:06:29.5 +55:45:47.9)
    5. M82 Bode’s Galaxy (09:55:52 +69:40:46.93)
    6. M109 (11:57:35.9 +53:22:28)
    7. M51 WhirlpoolаGalaxyа(13:29:52.7 +57:11:42.9)
  3. Nebulae
    1. M42 Orion Nebula (05:35:17 -05:23:28)
    2. IC 434 Horse Head Nebula (05:41:00 -02:30:00)
    3. M43 de Mairan’s Nebula (05:35:17 -05:23:28)
    4. M1 Crab Nebula (05:34:31.9 +22:00:52.2)
    5. M78 (05:46:45.8 +00:04:45)
    6. M57 Ring Nebula (18:53:35 +33:01:45)
    7. NGC 3242 Ghost of Jupiter (10:24:46.1 -18:38:32)
  4. Star Clusters
    1. M46 (07:41:46 -14:48:36)
    2. M53 (13:12:55.25 +18:10:05)
    3. NGC 2506 (08:00:01 -10:46:12)
    4. M13 (16:41:41.6 +36:27:40.75)
    5. M92 (17:17:07 +43:08:09)
    6. M36 (05:36:18 +34:08:24)
    7. M3 (13:42:11.6 +28:22:38)


6. Choose one or two objects and determine which filters and what exposure times you would use for each object.

It’s important to choose the appropriate filters and exposure times for your object since some filters trace atomic transitions or specific elements. For example, if you wanted to learn about star formation forming in a galaxy, you might use the H alpha filter, and you would need between 60 and 90 seconds of exposure time.

7. Research your object and write a brief summary about it.


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