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The world’s first free, open access astronomical observatory officially opened

The Montegancedo Astronomical Observatory, based at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid’s School of Computing and part of the Madrid Region’s ASTROCAM network, was officially opened on 23 January 2009, coinciding with the International Year of Astronomy 2009.

Present at the opening ceremony were the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid’s Vice Rector of Research, Gonzalo León, the Dean of the School of Computing, Javier Segovia, the principal investigator of the ASTROCAM project and Spanish National Research Council professor, José Cernicharo, and the head of the observatory and School of Computing professor, Francisco Sánchez Moreno. At the end of the ceremony a commemorative plaque was unveiled.

In his brief talk, Francisco Sánchez explained the project history and development, highlighting the fact that this is the first free, open access astronomical observatory in the world. The observatory is remote controlled using software called Ciclope Astro, maintained by the UPM School of Computing’s research group.

This software provides a number of tools for running astronomical experiments, building scenarios and remotely controlling telescopes, cameras and domes. Also it enables internauts to access the observatory from their own homes and experience different astronomical events. Last December, Ciclope Astro was awarded second prize in the 8th New Applications for Internet contest, organized by the New Generation Internet Chair.

Other experiences

Last December the observatory started up an experiment to observe the Sun in the H-alpha band and distinguish sunspots and protuberances. Another aim of the experiment is to learn how to adjust camera parameters to get good astronomical images. Although advance booking is required to control the observatory, four webcams beam whatever is happening real time into your own home. Webcam images are updated every 20 seconds for unregistered users and every second for registered users.

The observatory is located in Building 6 at the School of Computing, based at the Montegancedo Campus in Boadilla del Monte. The dome is equipped with a computer-automated, robotized 10” telescope, and several computers operating as a web applications server. They also link and broadcast the images and videos captured by the webcams arranged around the dome. They all run on GNU/Linux systems.

The key goal of the robotized observatory is to control an astronomical project right down to the very last detail, automating all the tasks and making them accessible and controllable over the Internet.

Even before its official opening, the Montegancedo astronomical observatory participated in several successful events. Last July, for example, it took part in a popular observation of the Moon’s craters. The event was projected on a giant screen at the Cosmo Caixa museum in Madrid and was retransmitted live over the Internet.

The observatory was set up and developed by a team of researchers at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid’s School of Computing led by professor Francisco Manuel Sánchez Moreno.

Eduardo Martínez | alfa
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