Tigra Automatic Observatory (TAO)

Tags: observatory, history, equipment

The name Tigra Automatic Observatory was chosen partly because it is a good description and partly because we liked the acronym 'TAO' and its allusion to the fundamental essence of the universe. According to Wikipedia:

Tao signifies the primordial essence or fundamental nature of the universe. In the foundational text of Taoism, the Tao Te Ching, Laozi explains that Tao is not a 'name' for a 'thing' but the underlying natural order of the universe whose ultimate essence is difficult to circumscribe and is likened to silence. The Tao is "eternally nameless” (Dao De Jing-32. Laozi) and to be distinguished from the countless 'named' things which are considered to be its manifestations, the reality of life before its descriptions of it.

Tigra Automatic Observatory with Orion

TAO and Orion
Photo: Chris Daniel

Construction on Tigra Automatic Observatory began in November 2014. At the time of writing, construction is still in progress. The building structure and dome are complete; the dome automation system is installed and functioning; the pier for the telescope has been installed; and we are waiting for the telescope, which is having its drive system refurbished by AWR Technology.

TAO will be a modern, robotic, internet connected completely automatic observatory. It will include a 12-inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescope with an astronomical CCD camera, mounted on an equatorial fork mount. It is housed in a wooden structure with a fiberglass dome, fabricated by Technical Innovations in Maryland, USA.

Tigra Automatic Observatory, February 2015

Tigra Automatic Observatory, February 2015
Photo: Tim Long

Operation will be controlled by Astronomer's Control Program (ACP), an advanced observatory control and automation suite from DC3 Dreams, based in Arizona USA. The software includes a web server and ACP Scheduler, a very innovative system that decides what target the observatory should go to next. Thus, observations can be submitted days, weeks, months in advance before the targets are even visible and ACP will always try to make the best use of the telescope on any given night, notifying observers by email when their observations are complete.

The observatory will have its own weather station, which will allow it to decide, on its own, whether it is safe to open the shutters. It will quickly shut down at the first sign of clouds or rain, then when the rain has passed, it will open up again and carry on observing. In this way, once the observatory is fully operational it should be able to make observations continuously on every clear night.

Many members of the Monkton Stargazers community have helped with the construction and although the installation is owned and operated by Tim Long of Tigra Astronomy, it has been a community effort and will be available to members of Monkton Stargazers. We also hope to be able to open up the facility to schools and other community groups. The observatory will be used to contribute images into the University of Kent's citizen science project known as "HOYS-CAPS", Hunting Outbursting Young Stars with the Centre for Astronomy and Physical Sciences. This is a long term project that will span several decades and investigates the way new stars are formed.