The Faulkes Telescope on Haleakala is part of a network of educational telescopes called the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network. Faulkes Telescope North is on Maui and Faulkes Telescope South is in Australia. These telescopes are made available to educational institutions for the purpose of remote viewing. This past Friday, July 1, 2011, I got a chance to experience an actual viewing from the Faulkes Telescope on Haleakala from Second Life, the virtual world environment. Periodically, Faulkes invite the public to a classroom on Maui where they set up a screen and show realtime observations as part of their outreach program. This is simultaneously shown in Second Life. It's quite a system, when it actually works. The middle screen in the image above would show the video image of the room, which could include audience, telescope observations and computer screens. The operator can switch between the different views. Unfortunately the SL screen never quite worked. The staff instead substituted the middle screen with a separate live webcast link which was almost as good. The program included real time views of a variety of planetary and stellar objects. One of the best shots was this one of M99, Spiral Galaxy. The telescope controller would input the coordinates of the viewing object and capture an image, much like maneuvering a camera with a extra large lens. Interestingly, exposure times really mattered and was not an automatic setting. This shot of Saturn was over exposed resulting in a very washed out image. A cloudless sky over Haleakala made for a evening for perfect viewing. The team obviously knew their galaxies and picked M104, the Sombero Galaxy for observing. The telescope took about a minute to process this image which got quite a response from the group. Although the SL viewing was limited, it was our primary means of communicating back with the Faulkes personnel on Maui. Audio was fed through SL and we communicated back through chat. I still enjoy the SL interface for its immersive feel. Participants in the SL viewing was as far as New York and as near as UH Manoa. Announcements for future viewings are done through SL by the UH College of Education in coordination with the Institute for Astronomy. If you are interested in getting on their distribution I would suggest first setting up your SL account. Let me know your SL username and I can pass the info to the coordinators of the next viewing. It's a great way to do remote star gazing.
There's a lot of interesting things happening at the University of Hawaii's Second Life region. Today's launch of the College of Education's Second Life Island is one of them. Peter Leong (aka Ikaika Miles in SL) had a ribbon cutting ceremony in both real life (RL) and Second Life, with Donald Young, Director of Curriculum & Development Group kicking off the festivities. Presentations were by Ekaterina Prasolova-Forland, Diane Nahl and Dongping Zheng. During Diane Nahl's presentation, she mentioned an event happening in SL that would have particular interest to Bytemarks Cafe listeners. We are always talking about the Pan-STARRS telescope on Haleakala and its work to categorize and track near-Earth asteroids. Although we would seldom have an opportunity to visit the telescope the Institute of Astronomy is hosting a live Pan-STARRS exhibit on Saturday, March 5th at 7pm, HST in Second Life. This is a perfect example of how educators can use this virtual environment to share an experience that in RL would be difficult to attend. In order to attend the Pan-STARRS event you will need to signup and download the Second Life client. Once in SL you will then need to teleport to the University of Hawaii's region which consist of several major installations like Aquaculture Island and the COE's Second Life Island. If you are new to SL it is probably a good idea to explore the place beforehand and get used to the movement controls. Teleporting and flying take a little getting used to but once you get the hang of it you will be traveling all over the place. Also building your avatar is a requirement so careful thought should be given to how you want to be portrayed in this virtual world. If you attend you can find me there as Zen Thunders. Please feel free to introduce yourself. You might ask why Zen Thunders? At the time I signed up for SL back in 2006 you could only pick your first name and the system gave you a last name. I stuck with since this is Second Life and I might as well have a second identity. Nowadays you can sign up on SL and choose your own username. I did that also and you might guess what that name is.