Norman's Story of Discovery
I have my own telescope (an Orion Optics 300 mm Newtonian) which I have used mainly for lunar and planetary imaging and in recent years my interest has broadened to include asteroid discovery. My problem was that the light pollution levels of suburban London made it difficult for me to reach the magnitude 19 levels at which most new discoveries are made.
A breakthrough came when an internet search took me to this page on Andrew Lowe’s website in which he describes how he had overcome the problems of imaging from a large cold Canadian city by using the iTelescope.Net resource.
I emailed Andrew for further information and received what was to be the first of many helpful and informative responses to my queries. As a result of this I contacted its staff, and very shortly afterward found myself at the controls of an iTelescope.Net Takahashi Epsilon 250 mm hyperbolic flat field astrograph fitted with a SBIG ST8XE camera.
Even on my first day I began to appreciate the advantages of using professional grade equipment at a truly dark site. My home is about 120 feet above sea level and the Milky Way is rarely visible. The iTelescope I use is 7,300 feet up in the mountains of New Mexico at a site dark enough for the Milky Way to cast a shadow.
Left - Norman sharing intricate telescope mechanism with his grandson Alex
I found the telescope operation to be amazingly simple. All I had to log in and enter the RA and Dec coordinates and the required exposure time and then click on the “Acquire Image” button. Rock-steady tracking and crisp focussing all happened automatically and at the end of each exposure I could view the image obtained.
At the end of my observing session my images were sent to my personal file on the iTelescope server from where I could download them to my own computer.
As I became more experienced in using the remote control telescope, I realised the one great feature of the iTelescope facility is the real-time support that iTelescope can give you via Email or Skype. On the rare occasions when I had a problem the team would always be there to make the necessary adjustments to the system and get me back on track.
I began my search for new asteroids by first checking that I could detect and measure the positions of known ones. I used the Astrometrica software package to process my images and report the asteroid positions to the Minor Planet Center (MPC). I am especially grateful to Gareth Williams, Associate Director of MPC, for his help and advice at this time.
During December 2008, while working to improve my measurement techniques, I noticed that my images included a moving object which did not appear to correspond with any known asteroid. Not daring to believe my luck, I reported the positions to MPC and received confirmation that it was new asteroid (designated 2008 YF31) and that I was the discoverer.
I continued searching through January and February of 2009 without success but, just as I had begun to believe that my earlier discovery had been a fluke, I was rewarded by a second discovery in March and, unbelievably, three new ones in April all in the same field of view of the iTelescope remote telescope.
If you are interested in discovering asteroids then iTelescope is definitely the place to be but it is important to realise that this is not the only type of work carried out there. Some users specialise in discovering supernovae, while others produce stunning images of deep sky objects.
Finally if the object you want to observe lies below the New Mexico or European horizon this is not a problem, you just log on to the iTelescope site in Australia and you will find your object high in the sky. Too Easy!