High Speed Network Connectivity to a Telescope: Bringing the Electronic
Universe to the Classroom
A Proposed NERO Demonstration Project
Gregory D. Bothun, Department of Physics , University of Oregon
David M. Meyer, Network Services, University of Oregon
Cliff Fairchild, Department of Physics, Oregon State University
(note this proposal is available at URL http://zebu.uoregon.edu/nero.html)
- 1.0 Project Overview
- 2.0 The Need for High Bandwidth
- 3.0 The Pine Mountain Observatory
- 4.0 Educational Underpinnings
- 5.0 Proposed Network Structure
- 6.0 Summary Remark
- 7.0 Project to Date
- 8.0 Project Budget
1.0 Project Overview:
Most all scientific research is now done from the desktop WorkStation
of the individual scientist. In many cases, this includes the
acquisition of the data itself, across the INTERNET. An excellent
example of this process is provided by modern day astronomy and
digital imaging devices ( CCDs ).
We propose to use a real
telescope, with digital camera, as a network device which will allow
students in a remote classroom to acquire and analyze real data.
In this way, students can go through the
same set of procedures that a scientist does in the analysis and
eventual publication of the data. This program would be unique in
the nation and would clearly show the educational power that high
speed networking can provide. Some aspects of this project have
received preliminary support from the NERO project. These are
detailed in Section 7.0 below. This proposal is to upgrade our
preliminary configuration by providing better ON line facilities
and T1 connectivity to the Internet.
2.0 The Need for High Bandwidth
Advances in astronomy are generally made through better instrumentation
and/or the opening of new wavelength windows with improvements in
detector technology. The current state of the art of imaging is
provided by CCDs with format 2048x2048 pixels. As each pixel is 16
bits deep, one image, stored in integer format, consumes 8 Mbytes of
disk space (uncompressed). Hence, one requires a high bandwidth
connection to the image acquisition site in order to deliver the image
to the remote classroom in a reasonable period of time.
Alternatively, one can use the resources of a
host computer and X-windows connectivity to the INTERNET to perform
digital analysis of the acquired image using a remote computer.
Modern Image Processing in astronomy makes use of a powerful set of
programs under the IRAF (Image Reduction Analysis Facility) Package which
has been developed by the National Observatories.
The IRAF package
itself is some 200 Mbytes big and is the only sensible package to
use when trying to analyze a CCD picture that itself is 8 Mbytes big.
Fortunately, IRAF can be made to have a very intuitive interface and
various procedures can be easily scripted and followed by students.
Hence, using professionally acquired images and excellent image processing
programs, we have the capability of leading students towards discovering
the same things that professional astronomers can discover, from data,
and which form the foundation of the science. Use of this image processing
software through X-windows would also demand high bandwidth connectivity
as the image file, which are painted on a remote screen, are still quite
large. Note that this mode of observing and image acquisition is now
routinely used by the PI when he has time on telescopes in Chile. All
the observing is done from Eugene, using the INTERNET. The connectivity
between the Chilean Observatory and the telescope is maintained and
funded by NASA.
3.0 The Pine Mountain Observatory
The Pine Mountain Observatory is owned, operated and maintained by the University
of Oregon. The PI arrived at the University of Oregon in 1990 September as a tenured
member of the Department of Physics and serves as the Director of Pine Mountain.
Although nominally a research facility, recent years have seen the
telescopes used exclusively for public programs. The observatory is located
32 miles S.E. of Bend, Oregon at an elevation of 6300 feet. Three domes are on
the site which contain telescopes of aperture diameters 32, 24 and 15 inches.
In fact, the 32-inch telescope may well be the largest telescope in the world which
offers regular public access. Currently, a citizens support group called the
Friends of Pine Mountain Observatory (a non-profit, all-volunteer organization)
is in charge of the summer visitors program. The University of Oregon provides
funds for an Observatory Superintendent and routine maintenance.
of Pine Mountain represent a unique resource which serves as
a valuable conduit for the purposes of public education and awareness of
astronomy in particular and science in general. Due to dramatic decreases in
the cost of computing and digital imaging devices, a greatly expanded program
in public education in Astronomy is now possible. Currently at the
observatory we offer an Electronic Universe program in which members of
the public can actually take a digital image
home with them.
This existing program could be effectively
coupled with the high bandwidth network connectivity to make possible
remote observing at any centrally located facility which has an INTERNET
connection. Such a service would have great educational value for both the general public and the students in the state of Oregon. The University of
Oregon is willing to offer this resource as a testbed for the educational
aspects of the NERO project. The Department of Physics has already
committed $50,000 (of which $20,000 has been spent) towards modernizing the facility, including the
purchase and fabrication of an advanced CCD camera system (a paper
letter of suppport from the
Department Chairman is available upon request).
4.0 Educational Underpinnings
It is envisioned that the Pine Mountain facility will serve as a remote
scientific laboratory that will serve as a supplement for astronomy
classes, no matter where they are taught in the state. There is a great
deal of interest in astronomy and it perhaps is the best medium whereby
science can be taught as a discovery process. Our proposed use of a live
facility is a much superior alternative to
putting students and teachers in front of a PC running some inferior commercial
software for the purposes of analyzing canned data. In the proposed
system, their will be a scientist in charge to ensure that real
experiments using real data can be conducted by interested students.
This can be accomplished either through the acquisition of live data or,
on cloudy nights, by means of browsing the digital image archive that
has been previously acquired. In fact, the PI is part of a NASA group
(located at the Goddard Space Flight Centered) which has proposed the
project which is a K12 outreach project that utilizes a high bandwidth
network connectivity and the X-windows protocol to deliver NASA date
bases directly to the K12 classroom.
There is a tremendous potential offered by a high speed network to
deliver real science to a remote audience.
The ability to perform unbiased and accurate observations is
crucial to scientific advancement.
If we are to develop a scientifically informed public
that has the ability to objectively analyze important issues (such as environmental
ones) we need to promote awareness of how science is done and cultivate the spirit
of inquiry in people of all ages as well as skepticism.
Moreover, failure to understand this central
concept obscures the real nature of science as being a discovery
process. Rather, science becomes a collection of 'facts' which we have learned about the
physical world. This serves to perpetuate the common misconception of science; namely
that it is a collection of rigorous
facts, boring in its methodology, with little relevance to society.
Such a total misrepresentation of science to the general public easily leads to
gullibility in terms of accepting scientific data/theory as truth. This also leads
to an unfortunately high level of public acceptance of pseudo-science (astrology,
scientology, etc) or outrageous scientific claims (cold fusion). Without an informed
public that appreciates science as a search for knowledge and not just the obtainment
of knowledge, how can we ever increase public support for its practice?
It is clearly in the National interest to formulate
and practice an effective strategy for deterring this view of science and revealing
the true nature of science as a discovery process.
One effective strategy is to make science more exciting and
hands-on. All of us, regardless of our level of intellectual sophistication are
intrinsically excited and curious when we discover (see or observe)
something for the very first time. This excitement generally translates
into motivation to learn and it is a skill which we should never lose.
Children enter this world wide-eyed with excitement about discovering
everything that is in it. Why should such excitement for discovering the
natural world diminish over time? With the proposed high bandwidth
connection to what is essentially now a digital astronomical camera,
we can indeed serve science as it really is, a discovery of the unknown.
Indeed, imagine the excitement this project can generate when some classroom
can watch the moon literally drift across their X-windows screen.
5.0 Proposed Network Structure
Our proposed network connectivity is outlined in the figure below. Existing
components are in blue and proposed components are sketched in red:
The various components of this connectivity are the following:
We emphasize that the instrumentation and infrastructure at Pine Mountain
has been slowly evolving to accommodate an INTERNET connection when
funding can be acquired to do so. We are basically ready to go ON line
as a remote educational laboratory.
- The telescope control computer (TCC). Currently this is a 486 PC
which is hooked directly to the drive system of the telescope and receives
TTL pulses from digital encoders in order to control positioning and
tracking. This is a DOS based program.
- The instrument control computer (ICC). This is another 486 PC which
directly controls the CCD camera electronics. Images are acquired
and initially downloaded to
- The TCC and ICC are connected with Ethernet. A remote control
protocol called ReachOut (from Ocean Isle Software) effectively simulates
a LAN. With these components we can dial in to the ICC with a modem,
switch to the TCC, position the telescope, switch back to the ICC and
acquire an image. That image, when downloaded, then appears on the
remote screen at the other end of the modem connection.
- We can effectively replace the slow speed modem connection (which
is not a hindrance for actually moving the telescope) with a T1 with
IPX running over it. This will allow direct access to the Reachout LAN.
Note, that in the very near future we expect, using new communications
protocol packages, to be able to run IP directly over the PC LAN.
- The data processing computer (DPC). This will be a Sparcstation 20
running IRAF. Data from the ICC will go directly to the DPC for
processing. Data transfer will be over the local ethernet via FTP
running under LAN Workplace for DOS. The DPC will be the main point
of remote access as it will act as the X-server. This computer will
also have at least a 2 Gbyte SCSI disk to store the image archive.
- On a scheduled basis, this entire system can then be accessed,
using T1 connectivity over the INTERNET from a PC which doubles as an
X-terminal (by running X-windows emulations such as Exceed/W). The
telescope can be controlled and the data can be acquired using IPX
over the T1 line as the remote PC can now communicate with the TCC
and ICC. By turning the PC into an X-terminal, the DPC can then be
accessed and manipulation of the data can be occurred via a menu driven
system. This system will successfully reproduce what is done at
a modern, professional, astronomical facility. We propose to offer
this as an educational facility 50% of the time (between first and
third quarter lunar phases). The other 50% will be used for research
and the development of a large image archive to serve as a full time
educational data base.
6.0 Summary Remark:
Using the available technology as embodied by INTERNET, CCDs and Workstations offers the
potential for creating a vast educational resource for either the University
or the K12 classroom. The specific
focus of our proposal is to transform, through a high speed network
connection, a resource whose educational potential is currently underutilized.
Local interest (e.g. the K12 community, LANE ESD Planetarium, OMSI)
in this program is high and if funded, would certainly serve as
a model for others to copy. In addition, the PI already has an approved
OSSHE productivity proposal which involves delivering astronomy resources
through the INTERNET via the Mosaic interface to the World Wide Web . These astronomy (and other) resources on the WWW are
accessed about 800 times per 24 hour period from all locations in the
Placing Pine Mountain on the INTERNET would be a nice addition to this
productivity program. Finally we emphasize that our proposal would be
a unique and innovative use of the INTERNET as an educational tool.
The benefits to students and the general public in Oregon
offered by this program are high. Students can work with real data, draw
inferences from the data and hence participate in the scientific process
in a much more robust way than any textbook based classroom learning
experience can offer.
7.0 Progress to Date:
We have been given approval to install the following components
to enable initial 57 Kbaud connectivity. These components leverage
off the existing ATM infrastructure established for the NERO
project as a whole:
The components are here and connectivity is in the process of being
established at the Pine Mountain End. We suspect to be operational
(at least at the connectivity level) by the end of the month. The
PI will make 2 or 3 trips over to Pine Mountain in the coming
days to insure this.
- Installation of Frame Relay service at the 57 Kbaud level.
Montly cost is 73.11 per end (146.22 total)
- A Router + DSU/CSU for this 57 Kbaud Connection
- A SUN Workstation to serve as the initial DPC. This is currently
a Sparc 1+ which has been donated (on long term loan) by SUN
- Purchase of a 2 Gigabyte Disk to serve as the initial data
8.0 Project Budget:
Approximate costs are given below. Note, this cost is for
getting the 32-inch telescope ON Line. Additional funding
would be required to bring the 24-inch telescope on line
as well. While there is a CCD detector available for that telescope
as well, the positioning of the 24-inch telescope is not yet
under computer control. The UO will cost share on this project
by building a larger CCD camera and by connecting the Mountain LAN
to the point of presence of the T1 circuit.
- Installation of T1 Circuit --> $5000
- Monthly Leased Line Charges --> $282.61 per month per end
- Sparc 20 for X-server --> $8750
- DSU/CSU for T1 --> $3000
- 4 Gigabytes of Local Disk --> $2000
- Improvements to Mountain LAN --> $2000
- Various Administrative Costs --> $7500 per year
- Upfront Equipment Costs = $20750
- On going costs = $14283 per year
- Total Project Cost for 2 Years = $49316
- Cost Sharing:
- UO Physics Department $30,000
- UO Network Services $5,000
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