Videos for Education

I have been spending some quality time working on videos for a variety of projects. One major project involved my heading out to the AAS meeting in Austin earlier this year. That took me away from a few classes that really needed some tech training. They were working on analysis of light curves taken from the Kepler Mission data set. That type of thing is easy to do in person, but it is one thing to be a student in a class with the teacher…. it’s a whole other ball game to be away from the teacher and trying this stuff out all alone. What to do? Videos! There’s some great screen capture software out there that allows one to record audio from a microphone while showing what the PC is doing at the same time. The results, some great videos now making history on YouTube:

Those being done, I decided to help out with another external-to-school project which needed some training in the astronomy software MaxIm DL. The result of this was a series of videos to show all the basic operations of the software. They wanted to learn about calibrations, darks, flats, biases, color imaging, etc. The result? Good enough reviews. A lot of people are sending in emails to say “keep ‘em coming!” I am amazed actually. Glad to be of help, people. That’s what the videos are for. So here they are:

They start with the very basic information and work their way up to the more complex topics: Astrometric reductions, time series photometry and the like. Enjoy!

A Twitter Feed

If you take a look in the right hand column of this page, you will see a Twitter feed widget. Here, the last five tweets from the observatory (PEA_Obs) will be posted. Look here for announcements about public observing sessions, open houses and weather related information.

By John A. Blackwell Posted in News

What is a Typical Observing Night like here at the Academy?

Students are told in class that day to be at the observatory at a specific time. I like to start the process just after supper time and as soon as it gets dark. Time is of the essence! In winter we start earlier, while in spring we have to wait until 9PM or even later.
Students arrive, sign into the log book, and have a seat in the Harkness classroom. The whole building and walkways outside are in red-light mode to preserve night vision. Once we’re all ready to go, I will give instructions for the night and assist in the setup of the telescopes for the class. We have a couple of observatory proctors as well. They assist in this entire process, making sure that people sign in, use the telescopes properly and help to monitor the site as a whole.

Observing the Moon
One observing opportunity I like to do each term with the introductory students is to have them sketch the moon while using the smaller telescopes on the observing deck. They work in pairs, one holding a flashlight while the other sketches. They then swap duties, allowing the other partner the opportunity to try their hand at the subtle art of lunar sketching. Once done, the students then bring those sketches into class, and, while using an online lunar chart, attempt to match objects on the chart to those things that they have sketched. It’s a good lesson in pure observation and seeing, while also allowing the students some time to get used to the telescopes and managing magnification and the earth’s rotation. Students also get a lesson in staying warm! Many never stay that still for such a long time while out at night under the stars.

Welcome to ExeterAstro

Welcome all to the new ExeterAstro blog. The primary focus of this area will be to disseminate news, images and more from the Phillips Exeter Academy observatory in Exeter, NH.  Seeing as this is post #1, you might also be interested in following us on FaceBook and Twitter. On Facebook the observatory can be found as the Phillips Exeter Academy Grainger Observatory page. On Twitter we are known as PEA_Obs.  The Twitter site is used to present time-dependent information. Examples of this include:

  • Rapidly changing weather conditions that either open or close the observatory.
  • Weather warnings.
  • Open houses.
  • Changes to instrument availability and use.
  • and more!

We hope you enjoy this blog and the other social media sites as well.

By John A. Blackwell Posted in News

Clear Skies at the Observatory – or Not?

One very helpful tool in our observatory operations has been the Clear Sky Chart. This timely clock shows the conditions of sky clarity, haziness, moisture, wind, and temperature all in one handy plot. Skies are generally clear when both Cloud Cover and Transparency fields are dark blue to black in color for any given time. Time is the x-axis with a red vertical line showing midnight. Darkness is measured by both sunlight and moonlight: perfect for those deep sky astronomers who dislike lunar brightening. More information about this chart and how it was made can be found at the Clear Sky Chart Homepage.