High-speed network links telescope to the Web
Researchers at the University of Bradford (West Yorkshire, England) have developed a fully autonomous, robot-controlled telescope that can be remotely accessed using a standard Web browser. According to the developers, Mark Cox and John Baruch, the automated telescope can decide if conditions are good enough to make observations--astronomers need not be present.
Situated on the Pennines in West Yorkshire, England, the 46-cm reflecting telescope uses a cooled CCD camera from Jonathan Wright Instruments (Wembley, London, England) to capture images. Four PCs interface with the telescope to control instruments and perform administrative duties. A control computer handles job scheduling, system logging, and communication over an ISDN interface to computers at the University of Bradford. Environmental and security sensors are monitored by a separate weather computer. When conditions are good enough to make observations, the telescope`s sliding roof is opened and images are captured. This computer also controls the focusing and viewing filters of the telescope. A fourth computer controls telescope positioning, finds positions in the sky, and tracks stars as they move.
Communication from the telescope and user interface is provided by a Sun Sparc workstation ten miles from the telescope. "The telescope`s robotic mode allows operators to schedule and upload operations to the telescope," says Cox. During the night, the telescope is fully operational, returning processed results, statistics, and weather details the next morning. To operate the telescope remotely, Cox and Baruch wrote a Web interface that can be accessed at http://www.gifia. brad.ac.uk/rti/. Using the interface, astronomers can control the telescope and read more about the hardware and software used to build it. For more information, contact Baruch at firstname.lastname@example.org.