Faulkes Telescope Observations

NEOs and Comet C/2012 C1 (McNaught)

Comet C/2012 C1 (McNaught) on 2012 February 10th. Images obtained using the Faulkes Telescope South, operated by Las Cumbres Observatory.

As four lower sixth students studying a range of different subjects, attending a week of work experience at Armagh Observatory from 6th - 10th February 2012 was an option attractive to us all. Although, as expected our first day when we were meeting each other for the first time there were undoubtedly nerves and fears about the week ahead. Fortunately, the staff at the observatory were hugely welcoming and immediately put us to ease. We were to be supervised by David Asher, an astronomer working at the observatory long-term, who spoke to us about one of his specialised areas - near earth objects (NEOs). We were informed of our plans for the week by David, who told us we were to be working with the Faulkes Telescope in Australia and Hawaii. The Faulkes Telescope Project and Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network had kindly given us the opportunity to use these telescopes and the observatory had booked us four sessions of controlling the telescope in order for us to make some observations on NEOs. On our first day we have one of these sessions but unfortunately the weather was not co-operating with our plans for research and so, as the telescope was not operating, we were forced to wait until our next opportunity, which was on the Thursday. Until then, we were instructed how to use a number of the programs used in the day to day work at the observatory, this was very interesting as we were collectively learning from scratch having never before used the programs such as 'Gaia' and The Faulkes Telescope before. We planned the objects that we were to attempt to observe at our next session and this involved using the Minor Planet Centre website in order to locate the moving objects we wanted to see. We recorded their position in the sky and calculated the exposure time needed to see the object we wanted. While waiting on our next session we got to work creating a user guide for the Faulkes Telescope with step-by-step instructions on the programmes we had used. We spent much of our day doing this as a lot of work was needed to improve the original guide and make it as clear as possible but we had a number of other things to keep us occupied during our visit. For example there was a guest speaker, Rob Izzard, at the observatory and he gave two talks, one on the quality of written communication from his students at Bonn University and another on the 'mischievous' J-stars. We thoroughly enjoyed these talks and found them extremely educational, especially the latter, despite being much less learned than the other people in the room. On Thursday we waited in anticipation for our second session on the Faulkes Telescope but unfortunately we were once again unable to use it due to weather conditions. So once again we located more objects to observe and set them up ready for our two sessions scheduled for our last day. Just before our first observing session on Friday, we were given a tour of the observatory building and its telescopes, by John McFarland. We all found this thoroughly enjoyable and interesting as some of the telescopes were over one hundred years old and still operational. In our final two sessions we managed to observe for the first time and received several pictures of the objects we were trying to look at, including an object from the Minor Planet Centre's confirmation page which turned out to be the recently discovered comet C/2012 C1 (McNaught). We were extremely successful and happy with our results and findings from these sessions as we were to eventually send off the data we discovered to the Minor Planet Centre in the hope it would be interesting to them also and provide them with some useful information. We were all conclusively very happy with our time at the Armagh Observatory and it has been exponentially beneficial in helping us decide on future career paths and life choices. We would like to thank all the staff for being so hospitable and especially David for teaching us so much.

By Michael Bell, Ben Hounsell, Paula Keenan and Helen McParland

2012 February 10th

More astronomical projects with the Faulkes Telescopes

Last Revised: 2012 February 29th