ads-medium

Astrophotography From Home: Telescope Live Review

Telescope Live is an interesting platform that puts data from a network of global telescopes at your disposal. I signed up for a subscription, which took just a few minutes, and was able to browse through thousands of frames of raw data from a variety of celestial objects.

There are a few ways of acquiring data, so we’ll go through a summary of how it all works, see a few processed images, and summarize the associated costs.

Telescopes and Equipment

Telescope Live certainly has an impressive array of telescopes to cover a very large range of focal lengths and fields of view.

The telescopes range from a 200mm focal length f/2.0 fast camera lens to a massive 1m RC with 6,800mm of focal length for observing small and distance objects.

The majority of the cameras are CCD-based with sensors like the KAF 16200, 16803, and the 09000. While these are good cameras, there are now new generations of CMOS cameras with excellent specifications that would work well with many of these telescopes. Telescope Live has said that some cameras are being upgraded soon.

The equipment is top notch, with components like 3nm Astrodon filters and high-performance direct drive mounts.

Examples of the large telescopes available from Telescope Live: Left: 24-inch CDK in Chile (CHI-1). Right: 70cm RC in Spain (SPA-2). Credit: Telescope Live

Locations

The telescopes are spread across three continents at remote sites that don’t suffer from the detrimental effects of light pollution that most typical backyard observatories so. Furthermore, these sites are chosen to be in regions that are known to have a large number of clear nights. With telescopes in both north and south hemispheres, you can access pretty much any object you are interested in.

The most impressive site is probably the El Sauce observatory in Chile at an elevation of 1525m (5,000ft), with the average seeing from 1.5 to 2.0 arcseconds.

El Sauce Observatory in Chile. Credit: Telescope Live

Subscribing

You sign up and subscribe to one of five plans. The currency and rates are calculated based on your location.

The lowest cost option is the “BRONZE” subscription plan that only costs about $5 per month, while the highest cost plan is about $250 per month. You can always buy additional credits when needed.

The differences in the packages are the number of free credits you get, the ability to submit advanced requests, discounts, and more. A full breakdown of the packages can be seen below:

Bronze, Silver, and Gold subscription packages. Click to enlarge. Credit: Telescope Live

Platinum and Diamond subscription packages. Click to enlarge. Credit: Telescope Live

How Does it Work?

The user doesn’t fully control the telescopes manually. Instead, you have access to data (and few other features). There are two main methods of obtaining data, which are raw individual FITS files that are downloaded and then processed:

Download existing data
One-Click Observations: You get a few frames taken with each filter.
Observation Bundles:  Similar to One-Click but with a collection of many more frames.

Request Your Own Custom Observations
Advanced requests that the user specifies for tailor-made imaging sessions.

One-Click Observations
One-Click observations are pre-existing data sets that have been taken by their telescopes. They’re typically a small set of 1 to 2 hours of data with a few images taken with each filter of an LRGB or HOS filter set.

Clicking on the details of any given set will give you a preview image, the details of the exposures, filters, dates, and telescope used.

There are hundreds of thousands of One-Click Observation images available and its very simple to filter them by specifying the object name, telescopes, filters, object types, and so on. New images are added daily so the catalogue is constantly expanding.

I found the One-Click sets very useful to determine what an object of interest would look like with either broadband or narrowband filters. That information could then be used to start a complete long integration time project. 

The best part of these One-Click observations is that they are very inexpensive, costing about $1 or less per set.

Examples of One-Click observation data sets. Note the low cost of 0.8 credits per set. Credit: Telescope Live

Observation Bundles

This is similar to the One-Click sets except that it is a collection of all the sets taken of a particular object with a particular telescope.

A particular object would have multiple LRGB or HOS exposures under these “Bundles”.  Total integration times vary, starting with several hours of data up to at least 46 hours (the longest I found).

Here, too, the user can filter by objects, telescopes, coordinates, and so on. These collections of exposures are long enough to be processed into compete high quality images.

Similar to One-Click observations, these data sets are also reasonably priced, ranging from a few dollars to about $25 for the most expensive ones.

Examples of observation Bundles. Note the long total exposure times. Credit: Telescope Live

Below are two examples of data sets I downloaded and processed from the raw FITS files. The Widefield Rim Nebula image was processed using 19 hours of data with a Takahashi FSQ, and the Whirlpool galaxy with the 1-meter RC telescope.

Processed image of the Rim Nebula with a bundled dataset downloaded. Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri

 

Processed image of the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) with 6.5 hrs. of an LRGB bundled dataset. The telescope used was the 70cm RC in Spain. Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri

 Advanced Requests (Requesting Your Own Observations)

Users can request specific observations, specifying exactly what data you would like to acquire. The requests are highly customizable with the option to specify which filters to use, exactly how many frames with each, and for how long.

A summary of the image series will be generated with the total exposure time as well as the overheads (time to focus, switch filters, download and so on – these are managed automatically).

An advanced observation request and image series with times calculated. Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri

Advanced Requests Costs

The cost will depend on total telescope time, telescope selected, and when the sessions are scheduled. Smaller telescopes cost about 1 credit per minute and the larger ones about 2 credits per minute (each credit costs about $1.40).

The user can use the automatic scheduling and the system will work out when the session will be depending on availability, target position, weather, and moon altitude. The user can also manually select dates for the session. The data will be acquired and made available when the task is completed.

In either case there are discounts calculated depending on moon illumination; the lower the interference from the moon, the lower the discount. Periods of high moon illumination will be calculated with a 50% to 75% discount.

Unlike the One-click observations, the advanced requests are not inexpensive. For those looking for long integration times in the 10 to 20 hours range, the overall cost can be substantial in the few hundred to 1,000+ dollar range (depending on the telescope). 

Data Download, Calibration, & Quality

Once you select an observation, the data will be made available through the Download Manager. The previously acquired data that I downloaded was fully calibrated. Advanced requested data can be calibrated manually, if needed.

I downloaded some half dozen bundles and the overall quality of the data was good, however, I did come across some frames having technical issues like tracking errors, focus, and imperfect calibration. As with any data set, the user has to sort and process the frames accordingly. 

Below is an example of a dataset I downloaded from the 24-inch CDK in Chile. The average star size (FWHM) is 2.2 to 2.4 arcseconds, which is considered average to good. The stars are round all across the frame, with almost no background gradients. Varying seasonal conditions mean some sessions will be better than others.

Individual frames measured for star size (FWHM) on the left. Mosaic of an image showing the center and corners up-close. Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri

The bundled observation set consisted of some 20 hours of data. It is seen below after being processed into a final LRGB image.

Processed image of NGC 6744 with the bundled data set of 20hrs. from the 24-inch CDK in Chile. Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri

Below is the data for M83 from the same telescope and the final image.

Analyzed star sizes of the M83 data set with the same 24inch CDK. Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri

 

Processed image of the M83 galaxy with the bundled data set of 15.8hrs. from the 24-inch CDK in Chile. Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri

Final Thoughts

I found using Telescope Live very straightforward and was able to efficiently acquire hundreds of raw data frames from a number of telescopes.  

Besides the data, there were a host of other useful features like a gallery with processed images, blogs, and a help center. There are also a number of video tutorials with step-by-step guides on data processing, which are helpful.

While the custom observations might not be affordable for everyone, there are plenty of previously acquired data sets available to download at a very reasonable cost. The ease and affordability make astrophotography attainable and convenient for a lot of users.

 

Website: telescope.live
Subscriptions: $5 to $250 per month depending on the subscription plan

 

 

About Rouzbeh Bidshahri

Rouzbeh Bidshahri is a mechanical engineer with a lifelong passion for astrophotography. He has tested dozens of telescopes ranging from 3 to 20 inches in aperture and has spent several years optimizing systems for very high-resolution planetary imaging in the sub 0.1 arcsecond/pixel range. He has contributed to several institutions such as ALPO (The Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers). His main area of interest has been designing and operating larger setups, and he is currently focusing on high resolution, long exposure photography for both broadband and narrowband deep sky imaging.

Related posts