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Old 30-11-2023, 09:28 AM
Taters (Liam)
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Help me spend some (hypothetical) government money on an education/outreach rig.

This is 100% hypothetical, I don't have authorization or a budget or a plan, but who doesn't like the thought experiment of spending someone else's money?

What is your ideal rig for education/outreach/citizen science?

I'm a maths/science/physics teacher at a high school, and I want to create an astronomy club as part of the school's extension program. Ideally I'm looking for a portable system capable of visual observing and imaging. One of the major foci of the school is community engagement so think: "star parties and newsworthy contributions". Can you think of any citizen science projects a small and intermittent setup could contribute towards? I know I could just invite a local astro club to the school but I want something I can run as a lunchtime club with regular observing nights that the school can promote.

The school has an active "maker" culture so I'd like to encourage students to create things like 3d printing bahtinov masks and other little DIY projects. We also have some VERY enthusiastic students who would really jump into some deep research projects, I'd like them to recreate Ole Romer's discovery by using the eclipses of Saturn's moons to estimate the speed of light, make regular observations of the Galilean moons to estimate their orbits, and create images of planets and DSOs which can be used instead of "off the shelf" posters in the labs.

The location is "outer suburbs" which will make observing and imaging DSOs difficult but not impossible, ideally I'd like to get a small roll-off observatory but there's no way the government will approve that so the setup will have to be tripod (or pier) mounted somewhere on the grounds and able to travel away for school camps. I've been doing astrophotography for over 20 years and have an undergrad in astrophysics so I'm comfortable with things like EQ mounts and imaging techniques, but ideally the system could be used by other teachers and students under supervision.

It's been years since I did any DSO imaging and I don't know any of the new technologies. My current thoughts: the new SeeStar50 looks cool, but lacks visual observing and I think it's a bit underwhelming to go to a star party to look at images on someone's ipad.

Step zero for me for ANY beginner setup is always a Dobsonian, maybe a 6" or 8". A future plan for me would be for the students to build a DIY Dob as a long term project, something like a 10-12" lightbridge with 3d printed parts and DIY encoders.

For the main rig I'm thinking a setup which can be built up slowly: an EQ mount and a small reflector or refractor? Eyepieces and a basic camera.
Then: Guidescope + autoguider, monochrome camera + filter wheel, electronic focuser...
The ZWO ASIAIR+ setups I'm seeing on youtube look cool, GoTo with plate solving, integrated support for guiding, dithering, filters, and capture really appeals to me (but does the anodize come in anything except red?)

I'd love to hear your thoughts, if you were starting from scratch how would you build a simple to use, portable, capable, imaging/visual rig? Go nuts, have fun with it, what is possible for less than $5000? What would you do with $25,000? Is it practical to do amateur radio astronomy? Spectroscopy?
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Old 30-11-2023, 02:44 PM
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wavelandscott (Scott)
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I applaud your effort!

I would seriously consider getting a few SeeStars for your described purpose. While not visual, I do believe the combination of technology and imagery will command student and public attention
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Old 30-11-2023, 03:45 PM
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Nikolas (Nik)
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A seestar and a decent sized Go-To dob for visual
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Old 02-12-2023, 01:46 PM
Taters (Liam)
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Thanks guys, the seeStar does look annoyingly good. My main concerns are the poor planetary imaging and not being able to change the filters in the filter wheel to do narrow band imaging in the suburbs.
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Old 05-12-2023, 10:01 AM
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AstroJunk (Jonathan)
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9.25" Celestron Edge HD ota,
AM5 Mount with counterweight or equivalent (The AM5 is small and light which is always handy) Must be equatorial to teach celestial dynamics,
Top shelf ultra wide (80-100 degree) 15mm give or take a couple of mm eyepiece which gives around 150x power. This is perfect for most popular fuzzies,
A bunch of good quality Plossls in the shorter fl's for planetary/lunar/double star use.

Imaging:
Whatever takes your fancy:
One shot colour with a l-enhance filter will give great results and teach about different wavelengths of light too and less fiddly than a filter wheel.
Get a small guide scope using a good colour planetary imager that can be dual purpose guiding or imaging on the main scope.

Science:
A QHY 174M GPS camera for around $2000 will deliver an enormous scientific payload. Asteroidal occultation timing, transiting exoplanets, lunar occultations, asteroid astrometry and the like with genuinely useful data to share with the professional community. Use it in the Lab with a DSLR lens to time experiments to the millisecond. BTW, it is a pretty useful monochrome camera in it's own right too.

Luxury:
V4 Hyperstar for ultra wide imaging or the .7 focal reducer.

And plenty of accessories!

Avoid anything that automates - the students will learn more learn by repetitive manual tasks. If there is any budget left over, but a couple of cheap equatorial refractors of the entirely manual type. Fighting with those things is an awesome way of understanding the sky and equipment. I used to teach observational Astronomy at university and getting a scope set up and pointing at an object was a real challenge for some students and the equipment took a real flogging
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