Labelling the Heavens – Using Astropy to bring the stars and planets a little closer

Speaker: Stephen Hulme

Track: Scientific Computing

Type: Talk

Room: Video Room 2

Time: Oct 08 (Thu): 13:40

Duration: 0:45

The Southern African Large Telescope is a 10 m optical telescope in the Northern Cape Karoo. It operates every night when the weather is good and the sky is clear to observe stars and galaxies. The telescope is unable to see through all but the thinnest clouds and needs to avoid them on nights when the weather is marginal.

The primary requirement is to show the where the telescope is pointing on-sky relative to the surrounding clouds in an informative image. This is to be updated on a 30 seconds interval, with positions marked to an accuracy of half a degree - the diameter of a full moon. It was required that existing libraries and frameworks be used as there is little time to devote to developing and maintaining the script. An all-sky camera is used to capture a near-real-time image of the night sky and Python is used to mark the position of the telescope along with the Sun, Moon, planets, and brightest stars. The observing astronomer can then compare the telescope position to the surrounding environment allowing a suitable science target to be chosen. It is hoped that the increased awareness of the night sky will inspire and educate both amateur and professional astronomers alike.

This talk will look at how Astropy (https://www.astropy.org) greatly simplified a task that would have been significantly harder 10 years ago. The data-reduction algorithm, high-level implementation, deployment, and pitfalls experienced along the way will be highlighted, before concluding with some interesting images captured from the sky-cam over the years.