Discover the Virtual Telescope!

During a recent online astronomy event (see my One People, One Sky blog), I was fortunate enough to have been introduced to the wonderful world of remote telescope astrophotography. The northern hemisphere event (Big Dipper) was hosted by Dr. Gianluca Masi via his Virtual Telecope project from the Bellatrix Astronomical Observatory in Italy.

Following this event, I joined the Virtual Telescope Project Group on Facebook and was promptly invited to join their Discover The Virtual Telescope event on January 27th (28th here in NZ).

After logging in to the online event, I was delighted to see a number of familiar names from the Astronomers Without Borders and Sidewalk Astronomers groups already participating in the chat session with each other and Gianluca. These sort of events really show what a small world this really is! I’ve only been doing amateur astronomy for a year now, and already I have made numerous friends across the globe who share the same passion.

Anyway, back to the event. Unfortunately, Mother Nature struck again, and the skies above Bellatrix Observatory were cloudy. However, Gianluca is a wonderful presenter and did a number of demonstrations by webcam and screenshots of the software used to select targets for imaging, controlling the telescope and exposure settings for the camera to take your own images remotely from virtually anywhere in the world. What a great setup, and Gianluca deserves a lot of credit for what he has achieved in setting this all up.

The software to control the telescope (TheSky 6 Pro) is very easy to use, as is the camera control software (CCDSoft). The user (you!) gets exclusive, real-time remote control of everything, and there are options to use it by yourself or in ‘assisted’ mode where an astronomer will help you through the process of capturing and acquiring your images.

What really surprised me during the presentation was discovering that the Virtual Telescope project is a labour of love for Gianluca – this is not a huge profit-making venture, as a quick look at his pricing will confirm. He simply wants to give ordinary folks like you and me the opportunity to capture the beauty of the skies through a state-of-the-art observatory-grade telescope and camera. If your interests are more scientific (for example photometry), they cater for that too! If you compare pricing with other remote observatory facilities, such as LightBuckets, you’ll see that Virtual Telescope is not in it to get rich quick – they only want to cover fixed costs (such as broadband, electricity and equipment) and a little to put food on the table.

If you want to try this out for yourself, Gianluca has put together some extremely generous introductory prices, starting at 10 euros for 1.5 hours of telescope time!

Currently, they are planning to install another impressive telescope and camera system, which will make the facilities available to even more people without creating a strain on the professional activities of the observatory. Donations are very, very welcome!

If you missed the live “Discover the Virtual Telescope” event, don’t worry – there’s another one coming on February 4, 2010 from 8:30pm-10:30pm Universal Time (this is the same thing as GMT, so here in NZ it will be February 5, 2010 from 9:30am-11:30am). I thoroughly recommend that you join the event by visiting the Virtual Telescope website then and learn what it’s all about. You don’t have to participate in the chat session if you don’t want to – you can just sit back and watch Gianluca’s presentation if you prefer.

Clear skies!
– Mike

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3 Responses to “Discover the Virtual Telescope!”

  1. Joan Chamberlin Says:

    Hi Mike,
    This is a very nice write up of Gianluca’s Virtual Telescope. I hope even more people will discover this real gem! I have been having so much fun at his events where I get to meet people all over the world who share the same passion for astronomy. Gianluca is a passionate host who makes everyone at the event feel welcome there. I recommend it to anyone who loves astronomy.

    Clear Skies,
    Joan Chamberlin
    Parsonsfield, Maine, USA

    • Thank you Joan! Yes, Gianluca indeed a welcoming and passionate host, I couldn’t agree more. It’s always a pleasure to meet you (and many others) on these events too Joan! It is people like you who also make one feel welcome and confortable. I too hope many more will try the Virtual Telescope – I have signed up for the introductory session and will get to try it for myself soon!
      Clear Skies!
      – Mike White

  2. Joan Chamberlin Says:

    Hi Mike,
    I’m glad you are going to try the VT. I hope to do that some day too. Let me know how it goes for you.
    Joan

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