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Frequently Asked Questions



General

  • What is MyTelescope.com?
    In a sentence, MyTelescope.com is about providing observing equipment at remote sites and putting you, the user, in control! That's live remote control! Serving the general public, the astronomy community, school systems and whoever has a curiosity for the skies above us.
  • What kind of computer do I need?
    To use MyTelescope.com, you need a computer with an internet connection (preferably high speed!), and with a "modern" browser - that is, a browser that supports Java, JavaScript and cookies. Java is used to run an applet that allows you to control a telescope.

    To see if your browser will work, visit the Browser Check page.

    Also, you'll need to enable pop-up windows from our site - see Why do pop-ups need to be enabled?.

  • Why do pop-ups need to be enabled?
    Pop-up browser windows are used in a number of places in the MyTelescope system: on the booking page, in the live telescope control window, and in a few other places. If your browser is configured to block pop-ups, you won't be able to book telescopes or control them.

    To configure most browsers to enable MyTelescope pop-up windows, look in your browser's menus under either Edit/Preferences/Content or Tools/Options/Content, and where it says "Block pop-up windows", click on "Exceptions" and allow "www.MyTelescope.com" , "nba-site.MyTelescope.com" , "nmhd-site.MyTelescope.com" , and "dyer-site.MyTelescope.com" .
    For more detailed instructions, see the University of Alabama's How to Allow Popup Windows page.

  • How do I enable/install/upgrade Java on my computer?
    Java is needed in order to run the Live Telescope Control applet. If Java is not installed on your computer or if it is not enabled in your browser, you will need to install and enable it. You can visit the Browser Check page to see if you need to do anything.

    For information on how to enable Java in your browser, see Sun's Enable Java in your Web browser page.

    If you need to install or upgrade Java, visit Sun's Free Java Download page. Often the problem is solved by upgrading to the current version of Java.

    Note that after you have installed or upgraded Java, you will need to re-start your browser (for information on this, see How do I re-start my browser?). Re-start the browser and then visit the Browser Check page again to see if the upgrade / install worked properly. If the version of Java reported has not changed, it may mean you need to re-boot your computer for the change to take effect.

  • How do I review past sessions?
    Images from past sessions may be available for some period of time after a session is over (though this is not guaranteed: to ensure your images are not lost, you should download them when they are taken during the session).

    To review past sessions, click on the "My Bookings" link in the top navigation bar. You should see a list of your bookings, both past and future for the current month (previous months can be listed by choosing a month from the month/year pull down menu). Clicking on the "Review Session" link should open a pop-up window which will start the Live Telescope Control applet on that session. Once the applet is running and has indicated it is connected to the session, you can right-click on either the primary camera display or the spotting camera display and select "Image History" from the menu. This will list the images taken during that session and allow you to select and display (and then "Save As...") images. See Saving Images in the Live Control Applet section for more details.

  • What do I have to do to access a telescope at MyTelescope.com??
    We are trying to keep this as simple as 1,2,3:
    1. Sign up (register).
    2. Purchase viewing credits.
    3. Book "Live Telescope Control". When your session starts, you are in control!
    Details on each of these steps can be found in the Getting Started pages.
  • Can I be notified when the weather looks good?
    Yes - you can ask for "Clear Weather Alerts" to be emailed to you when the viewing conditions are expected to be good. Visit the Account Info/Change Notifications page, select "Clear Weather Alert" and click the "Change Notifications" button.
  • How do I re-start my browser?
    It is sometimes necessary to re-start the browser (e.g., after upgrading Java, changing a Java parameter, or to fix the Java runtime after it has locked up). To re-start
    • FireFox: select File/Quit and then start it again.
    • Internet Explorer: close all open browser windows and then check your system's toolbar tray (typically at the bottom of the screen) for the browser's icon. If it is there, it may mean the browser is still running (a "Quick Launch" feature): right click on the browser icon and select the "Exit" option.
      If this does not work (that is, the situation that led you to try re-starting the browser is still present), it may be necessary to restart your computer (ug!).

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Bookings and Costs

  • How much does it cost?
    The cost depends on the telescope. We currently have 10-inch Schmidt Cassegrains. The cost ranges between us$10.50 per hour to us$15.00 per hour depending upon the observing package that you buy.

    In general, you purchase credits and then use those credits to book telescope time. When you have run out of credits, you can purchase more.

    A user's session costs consist of a setup time cost and a observing time cost. The setup time is covered by a fixed "base charge" per session (1.2 credits on a 10" telescope), while the observing time cost depends on the length of the session, the time of day and the viewing conditions (weather). For a 10" telescope on a clear night, the observing time cost is 15 credits per hour, while during the day or on cloudy nights it is 0 - that is, free - very useful for practice sessions.

    When you are booking a session, the estimated cost of the session will be displayed before you confirm the booking (once booked this amount is placed "on reserve"); when your session is over, you can get the details of the final cost (which will never exceed the cost estimate) by visiting Account Info/Transactions, locating the entry for the session you are interested in, and clicking on the "View Details" link. This shows a variety of information about the session including a "Billing Details" section where you will find the "Billed Amount", as well as how that amount was arrived at (the "base charge", the observing time charge, and, if applicable, any cancellation charges).

  • What is your cancellation policy?

    Cancellations by user:

    • When a session is cancelled while in progress, normal charges apply for the time already used, plus there is a cancellation fee of 5% of the remaining time on reserve for the session.
    • When a booking is cancelled less than 4 hours before the scheduled start time, the "base charge" is applied and there is a cancellation fee of 5% of the time that was reserved for the booking.
    • When a booking is cancelled more than 4 hours before the scheduled start time there is no cancellation fee.
  • How do I cancel a session?

    Sessions can be canceled in a number of ways, from both the web pages or from the Live Control applet:

    • You can go to the "My Bookings" page, locate the session you want to cancel and click the "Cancel" button;
    • Or you can go to the "Book Live Control" page, locate the session in the schedule, click on it (this should open a pop-up) and then click on the "Cancel" button;
    • Or, if you happen to be in the middle of a session and are running the Live Control applet, you can cancel the remainder of the session by selecting "File/Relinquish (cancel) session..." and then clicking the "OK" button.
  • What happens if I do not show up for my booking?
    If, after 30 minutes past a scheduled start time, the user has not connected to their session, the session is cancelled. The charge for the session is the same as if a user had cancelled a session after 30 minutes.
  • What happens when the weather is bad?
    Inappropriate weather conditions at a telescope site or unscheduled downtime will result in closing of observatories for the time interval that is affected. There is no observing time charge for these periods, but the "base charge" still applies.
  • Why are the observatory roofs closed?
    There are a number of things that can cause the observatory roofs to be closed. Unfortunately, this sometimes happens in the middle of an observing session. The reason for the closure is displayed on the booking page, just under the "current site conditions". The reasons include:
    • day time: at present, our scopes do not have sun filters, so the roofs can't be opened during the day. (Without sun filters, the cameras would be in danger of being burned by the sun.)
    • wind: wind causes the telescopes to shake which leads to blurry images. In order to avoid this, when it is windy the roofs are either only partly opened or are completely closed. If the roofs are partly opened (light wind), the amount changed is reduced.
    • rain: if it is raining, was recently raining or is raining nearby, the roofs are closed to protect the equipment. Both a rain sensor at the site and a weather radar are used to watch for rain.
    • cloud: if it has been cloudy for a while, then the roofs are closed.
    • no weather reports: if the weather stations are not reporting, then the roofs are closed as a precaution.
  • What happens if my session encounters errors?
    The MyTelescope.com system is capable of recovering from a number of error conditions relating to the observing devices (for example, filter wheel, telescope, focuser errors). Recovery is usually within a minute or less and sessions can often continue. Users are not charged for recovery time. In addition their session bill is reduced by an amount to compensate for each interruption. A cancellation fee is not charged if a session encounters hardware errors and the user chooses to relinquish the session.
  • I've booked a session in advance and now it is time - How do I access it?
    To access or "Join" a previously booked session, you can either visit the "My Bookings" page or the "Book Live Control" page.

    In the "My Bookings" page, there should be a listing for your session (check the "Start Time" column) - locate it and click the "Join" button. This should open a small pop-up window with a red background (don't close this window!) - this in turn will start the Live Control applet in another window.

    Alternatively, you can visit the "Book Live Control" page, locate your session (there should be a bright green area representing your session in the schedule), and click on the green area. This should open a small pop-up window with a red background (don't close this window!) - this in turn will start the Live Control applet in another window.

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Sites and Equipment

  • Where are the telescopes located?
    We currently have two operational sites, one located in New Brunswick, Canada, the other in New Mexico, U.S.A. The site in New Brunswick is roughly at:
    Latitude: 46.7 (46:42 North)
    Longitude: -65.15 (65:09 West)
    Altitude: 70m

    The site in New Mexico, U.S.A. is around:
    Latitude: 32.0 (32:00 North)
    Longitude: -108.95 (108:57 West)
    Altitude: 1340m
    (Note: coordinates are approximate).
  • What kind of telescopes, cameras, etc. do you provide?

    At present, all of our telescopes at the New Brunswick site are 10" Schmidt-Cassegrains equipped with mega pixel monochrome CCD cameras. They also all have focusers, filter wheels, and spotting cameras (and more, but these are the main devices that you have control over).

    Details on the New Brunswick and New Mexico telescope configurations:
    Optical tubes: 10" Schmidt Cassegrain f/10. (focal length ~2500 mm)
    Primary camera:
    Type: monochrome CCD (Sony ICX085 HyperHAD)
    Resolution: 1300x1030 pixels
    Field of view (FOV): approximately 10 arc minutes RA by 8 arc minutes Dec:
    at 4x4 binning, approx. 2 arc seconds per pixel;
    at 2x2 binning, approx. 1 arc second per pixel;
    at 1x1 binning, approx. 0.5 arc seconds per pixel.
    Chip size: 10mm by 8.7 mm; active area is 8.71mm x 6.9mm.
    Quantum efficiency: peaks at around 48% in the green.
    Filter wheel (primary camera): 7 positions: blank, neutral density (10%), ir-block, red, green, blue plus opaque.
    Focuser (primary camera): Temperature compensating, draw tube.
    Spotting camera:
    Type: monochrome, CMOS (Sony ICX254AL)
    Resolution: 510x492 pixels (converted to 768x480)
    Field of view (FOV): about 55 degrees RA by 44 degrees Dec (+/-5 degrees)

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Live Control Applet

  • Why do I have to log in again before the applet starts?
    If, when you start or join a session, the pop-up window contains the MyTelescope login page (or if you get a warning from your browser about the web site using a certificate from a different web site), it probably means your web browser is not sending cookies between the MyTelescope web servers. This happens with InternetExplorer (under Vista) if www.MyTelescope.com is in the browser's "trusted security zone" and the telescope web server (one of nba-site.MyTelescope.com , nmhd-site.MyTelescope.com , or dyer-site.MyTelescope.com ) are not in the trusted security zone. The section on saving images explains how to fix this.

    It is also possible that your login session has simply timed out or that your browser cookies have been cleared, in which case you should only see the login page occasionally and can login as normal.

  • The applet window disappeared! What do I do?
    First ensure that the window is actually gone - it may be hidden under other windows or may be minimized: check the task bar at the bottom of your screen and see if it is mentioned there.

    If the applet is actually gone (the most common cause of this is closing the red "session" browser window), then follow the instructions for I've booked a session in advance and now it is time - How do I access it? .

  • How do I locate a star whose name I know?
    If you know the name of a star or deep sky object, you can search for it using the "Tools & Devices/Star Name Search..." dialog. Simply enter the first few letters of the object you are looking for and click "Search". It will list the names of all the objects it knows that start with the text you entered; you can select objects from the results list to get details on that object. Once you've found the object you are looking for, you can click the "Select" button to highlight it on the Sky Maps.

    The applet's database of names includes common names, Bayer and Flamsteed names, SAO names and Messier names. The database includes stars up to 8th magnitude.

  • How do I goto a star that is not known by the applet?
    If the "Star Name Search..." tool doesn't know the star you are looking for and you know its right ascension and declination, you can use the "Tools & Devices/Devices/Scope Positioner" to enter the "RA/Dec". Then simply click the "Goto" button.

    (If you don't know the star's RA/Dec, you can try searching the internet to find it; in future, the applet may provide a way of doing this).

  • Why is the applet continually displaying "Server Processing..." and no images?
    How can Java's memory pool size be increased?
    If the applet is showing "Server Processing..." for a long time and not displaying any images, it probably means the Java runtime system doesn't have enough memory to store the images. This is especially likely to happen if you are taking images with 2x2 or 1x1 binning.

    To solve this problem, Java's configuration can be changed to allow it to use more memory. The default setting is typically 64 or 96 Megs (OK for light use and 4x4 binned images only). We have found that 128 Megs works well but you can try 256 Megs if your computer has a lot of memory.

    To change the configuration, start the "Java Control Panel":

    • For Windows:
      1. Select Start/"Control Panel"
      2. Select "Java Plug-in".
      3. (continue with the common directions below)
    • For MacOS X:
      1. Select Applications/Utilities/Java.
      2. Select "Java Plug-in Control Panel".
      3. (continue with the common directions below)
        (Note: for MacOS X 10.5.x (Leopard) there is no Java control panel; see Apple's knowledge base article for how to proceed; the file that needs to be edited is ~/Library/Caches/Java/deployment.properties ; the argument that needs to be added is "-Xmx192m"; be careful with the Java version - you may have a newer version).
    • For Linux:
      1. determine where Java is installed - it may be /opt/jdkNNN where NNN is the version of Java.
      2. run /opt/jdkNNN/bin/ControlPanel
      3. (continue with the common directions below)

    Once the "Java Control Panel" is running, do the following:

    1. Select the Java tab.
    2. In the "Java Applet Runtime Settings" area (the top area), click the "View..." button - this should open a "Java Runtime Settings" window.
    3. There should be a table with a row for each version of Java on your system. Double click in the "Java Runtime Parameter box" of the most recent version to edit the value: add (or change) a -Xmx parameter:
      -Xmx192m
      ensuring that there is a space between this and any other parameters. You may want to do this for all the versions if you are not sure which version is being used.
      Also, you can use 256m instead of 192m.
    4. Click the "OK" button (closes the "Java Runtime Settings" window).
    5. Click the "OK" button in the "Java Control Panel" (closes the window).
    6. Important: close all browser windows - the browser must restart for the change to have an effect (for information on this, see How do I re-start my browser?).

    NOTE: If the version of Java on your system is updated, you will need to re-do this procedure! (unfortunate, but beyond our control.)

  • How do I save images to my computer?
    To save an image, first display it in the applet. You can get a list of images that were taken in a session by right clicking in the camera area, and selecting "Image History...". Select and show the image you want to save and then do a right click on the image and select "Save Image As...". You can then enter a file name to save it in; be sure to select one of "Adjusted levels", "Unadjusted" or "Accumulated" (the first will save the image with the levels adjustments applied, the second saves the image with no levels adjustment, and the last is used when accumulating images (not described here)).

    NOTE: in order to save images, the applet must be "trusted", that is, when you start the applet for the first time, your browser will ask if you want to trust the applet - answering yes allows the applet to save images; answering no will prevent it from doing so. If you answered no, you will get an error when you attempt to save an image.

    NOTE: People using both Vista and Internet Explorer will likely encounter problems saving images. The applet will appear to save images (no errors will be displayed, the files will be visible within the applet), but they won't appear on your disk. This is because of an added level of security. Two possible solutions are (1) use a different browser, for example, Firefox; and (2) make the MyTelescope.com web sites trusted and turn off "protected mode" in the browser:

    1. go to the www.MyTelescope.com web site;
    2. double click on the bottom of the browser window where it says "Internet | Protected Mode: On";
    3. in the "Internet Security Properties" window that appears, click on the "Trusted sites" icon;
    4. clear the "Enable Protected Mode (requires restarting Internet Explorer)" check box;
    5. click the Sites button;
    6. use the Add button to add these sites:
      http://www.MyTelescope.com
      https://www.MyTelescope.com
      http://nba-site.MyTelescope.com
      http://nmhd-site.MyTelescope.com
      http://dyer-site.MyTelescope.com .
    7. clear the "Require server verification (https:) for all sites in this zone" check box;
    8. click the Close button;
    9. click the OK button of the "Internet Security Properties" window.
    After doing this, the status line at the bottom right of the browser window should read "Trusted sites | Protected Mode: Off". You may need to re-start Internet Explorer for these changes to take effect (for information on this, see How do I re-start my browser?).
    Or you can use Firefox...
  • What are filters and how are they used?
    This question is answered in the filters section of the Getting Started/Using the Telescope page.

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