JATObservatory  Meteor Cam

Meteors and other objects such as satellites that move across the sky are automatically imaged by the
SBIG All Sky and Meteor Camera  installed at the observatory.  Between 9:00pm and 4:45am eastern the camera will auto-upload images to the website every 3 minutes.

Some images of satellites taken by the camera can be be seen here.

The image above was taken with the camera from my very light polluted back yard sky. When the above image was taken the camera had not been permanently mounted yet. It was just sitting on a table in backyard.

On the left you can see the dome which is toward the East. Down and to the right of the dome is a triangle of 3 bright stars (from left to right) they are; Altair, Vega and Rasalgethi. You can also see the Milky Way running thru the triangle. On the far right near the trees the bright strike is plane heading West. Notice the dashed line pattern from it's flashing lights. Also see how well lit the trees are from the local light pollution?  Just consider this image was taken at 3 am! (That is the reason a dome was chosen instead of a roll-off as the observatory structure to help block the local light pollution.)  In the lower right of the 3 star triangle you can see a  meteor or something heading South. You can place the mouse over the image above to see the labels.

The camera (which is contained in a weather proof case) is operated in two modes. Mode 1 is in meteor mode. It takes 20 second images of the sky all night long. If it sees a meteor or satellite it will save that image to the weather station's hard drive. The amount of movement that will trigger the save is based on user supplied parameters. The length of each exposure can also be set by the user. The image above was a 20 seconds.  In this mode the camera will routinely  capture between 80 to 90 images a night. The software that controls the camera in this mode was supplied with the camera by SBIG.

The second mode I refer to as All Sky mode. In this mode the camera takes an exposure, and then uploads the image to the website. The camera will then pause and begin the sequence again. The length of the exposure and the length of the pause are user definable. It takes a number of pieces of software to operate the camera in the All Sky mode and get the images to the website.  A simple Windows scheduling script was written to start and stop the camera control software.  CCDSoft is the software interface  used to control the camera in All Sky mode. Ron Wodasi provided a script that saves the raw image taken with CCDSoft in JPG format. Another piece of software, Webdrive is then used to map a folder on the website as a drive on the local PC the camera is attached to. CCDSoft writes the JPG images to the mapped drive in effect automatically uploading them to the website. The process will then pause for 90 seconds before it takes another image. This will continue until the Windows scheduled script executes at the specified time and the camera is disconnected. The All Sky mode is really only useful for watching the stars and clouds, because  it will miss a lot moving objects in this mode as it spends more time paused than it does taking images.  Here is a screen shot of the programs running on the weather station computer that are used to control current control the All Sky cam. The movie at the bottom of the page was captured using  this mode with 20 second exposures and 5 minute pauses.

Above, the All Sky Cam can be seen mounted in its new home. This location proved to be better than just having the camera on a table at ground level as far as the camera's view of the sky goes, but a step ladder is needed to clean the filter. The white cable is the AC power cord. The grey cable is a CAT-5 Ethernet cable that is used to connect the 2 USB extenders.  (move your mouse over the door to look inside).

A top view of the meteor Cam. The filter widow is the dark red rectangle on the top of the case. Since to picture was taken the second screw was  inserted it the left hole and the mounting tab and exposed nut and washer have been covered with back tape in an effort to reduce the reflections on the filter surface. The cloud sensor can just be seen in back and to the right of the Sky Cam. The Sky Cam will also be used to help calibrate the cloud sensor. It will no longer be necessary to go out side and look up in order to estimate the cloud density during the sensor calibration procedure

This is the view of the sky from the camera's new location. The dome of the observatory is no longer visible and a  little less of the trees are visible but a bit more of the house.  The biggest problem with the new location is the reflections on the filter. They can be seen in the image above as hazy circles.  The moving ones are caused by the Moon, The stationary ones are reflections off of the house.  The other problem is the window on the house. When a light is turned on in the room the whole side of the image is washed out. I will try and put some shielding around the outside of the camera housing to stop the stray light. 

The movie was taken over about 8 hours. Each exposure is 20 seconds long with a 5 minute pause in between. There are 94 images in this animation. The version above is highly compressed with a fast frame rate, this was done to keep the file size low (519 KB) so it would be web friendly (the raw file is over 25 MB). Even though the file is highly compressed the Milky Way can still be seen. If you look closely you will see a number meteor flash by. You can also see Polaris (the stationary star on the upper right) as the stars rotate around it.

Imaged Date: 11-17-2006
Imaged Time: 16:42:00 GMT

Exposure: 20 seconds
Camera: SBIG All Sky Cam

 A close examination will reveal 2 streaks on the left side. Those streaks are 2 satellites in the same orbit.  Click here to see a 4 frame 375 KB animated GIF of the satellites moving from South the East. The streak in the center moving from East to West is an aircraft (notice the evenly spaced dots in the streak.  They are the strobe lights). These satellites would have been visible to the naked eye and would have remained visible for about 30 to 40 seconds.

Imaged Date: 08-11-2007
Imaged Time: 01:46:00 GMT

Exposure: 20 seconds
Camera: SBIG All Sky Cam

  The bright streak on the right is one of the Perseid meteors.  The Milky Way can be seen stretching from top to bottom on the left side.


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Updated 03/01/2009 - Please report broken links