Telescope & Observatory Technical Capabilities

This page gives a brief overview of the equipment and capabilities of the Trottier Observatory at SFU. It is intended to provide some information for those who are considering how to use the facility for observation projects.

At present, only SFU students, staff and faculty can use the observatory, along with members of the RASC Vancouver (who must coordinate use through the Centre’s Executive). However, high school instructors are invited to submit proposals for observatory use, as described here:

Telescope

The telescope is the PlaneWave Instruments CDK700. It has a 0.7m aperture, and at f/6.5 has a comparatively wide field of view of about 0.5 degrees (the apparent angular diameter of the full Moon), when used either visually (with our widest angle eyepiece) or with our imaging camera. Technical information on the telescope design can be found at PlaneWave.

The telescope has an alt-azimuth mount and two observation ports. The main imaging camera is is installed at one port (visible above in the image on the left), which has a built-in field de-rotator, and an integrated guiding camera. The the other port has a “periscope” (visible above in the image on the right) that is used for visual observation, and also for interfacing with other equipment, including our spectrographs.

The observatory has two astronomical imaging cameras, and two spectrographs, which are described next, followed by some information on the software that controls the various systems.

Cameras

Our main camera is intended for deep-sky imaging (galaxies, star clusers, nebulae): it is the Finger Lake Instruments ProLine PL16803, with a 16 Megapixel-chip having 9 micron pixels. The image scale is 0.4 arcseconds/pixel, and the camera field of view is about 25 arc-minutes. We have an externally-mounted filter wheel with a complete set of broad- and narrow-band filters. Technical specs on the camera can be found here.

We also have a high frame-rate camera that is suited to planetary “lucky” imaging. It is the ZWO ASI174MC colour-one shot camera, 

The first full colour image taken at the observatory was reviewed by the Editor of SkyNews, Canada’s magazine of popular astronomy:

Some examples of planetary images (taken with another camera, not as well-suited to planetary imaging as the ZWO) are shown in this report by an observatory user named Oleg Mazurenko

If you are considering to take deep-sky images, you will want to consider objects that “fit” within the camera’s field of view, and that are bright enough to produce a satisfying result with a limited amount of telescope time. You should also realize that good astronomical images take a lot of experimentation with image processing! A helpful introduction to deep-sky imaging and image processing can be found at this Sky&Telescope website.

And here’s an inexpensive book with an informative monthly guide to deep-sky imaging targets

A helpful introduction to the techniques for processing planetary images can be found here.

Spectrographs

The observatory has two spectrographs. Only one spectrograph is currently installed, and it is designed primarily for high-resolution stellar spectroscopy. An extensive report on the first results obtained with the spectrograph can be found here.

The report includes detailed information on how the spectrograph is used, and has many examples of interesting astrophysical targets, with explanations of how the data is analyzed and interpreted, along with references to many on-line resources.

Software and Remote User Information

High schools that are awarded time to use the observatory will be able to conduct their observations remotely, with the assistance of a fully-trained operator who will be present at the observatory throughout the observing run. High-school users do not have to have experience in the use of the software that controls the telescope, cameras, and spectrographs – the on-site operator can implement the specified observing program, and will use Skype for live communication with the school users. For school users who want a more “hands-on” experience, we can schedule remote daytime training sessions using Skype.

The observatory has an interior camera in the dome area that will allow remote users to see what the facility looks like before beginning an observing session. Remote users will also have access to live feeds from outdoor cameras with views of the observatory site, as well as live images of the night sky from an all-sky camera located on the roof, along with data from a weather sensor.

An observatory operation checklist, which describes the initialization of the software systems that control the dome, telescope, and camera, is available by request: email Howard Trottier at trottier@sfu.ca.

For remote users who want to use the main camera for deep-sky imaging, there is the option of using a high-level web-browser interface to select targets and specify imaging times, filters, and related imaging options; this will provide a certain level of direct engagement with observatory control, with little or no familiarity with the underlying systems; this high-level interface is called ACP Observatory Control, by a company called DC-3 Dreams, and is detailed here.

The software that controls the telescope, and integrates control of the dome, also serves as a powerful “planetarium” interface, and is called TheSky X, by Software Bisque.

The deep-sky camera is controlled by a sophisticated program that integrates auto-guider control, and interfaces directly with TheSky X: it is called MaxIm DL, by a Canadian company called Diffraction Limited:

Diffraction Limited also make our weather sensor, called the Boltwood Cloud Sensor II:

For information on the software that controls the spectrograph, please see this report.