Project Details – Astro IITM: Part 1

Finally!! The time has come when Astro club is gonna get its own decent set of projects!
This is gonna be a series of Three Posts describing the projects in mind and relevant material for the projects to be undertaken by Astronomy Club, IIT- Madras. (BTW, there’s something else too, which I can’t reveal as of now!).

Okay! So let’s get started! This post will concentrate on the short term projects of the club:-

  1. Barn Door Tracker v2.0: So, we had made a Barn door tracker, first designed by a guy named Gary Seronik. This is a mechanical “mount” for a camera used for “tracking” stars to take pictures. But why on Earth do you need to track stars?
    The answer is Astronomical seeing. Now what is Astronomical seeing? It so happens that the Earth’s atmosphere is full of turbulence and this introduces errors while taking images. We cannot identify the features of any particular object clearly, as it either gets distorted or hidden due to the Earth’s atmosphere. Hence, instead of taking static images , why don’t we take a video, or dynamic images ? Yeah, that’s what is done! And people try to eliminate all that’s not present consistently in all the images by stacking For more info, just google up and there are better explanations available!.
    So what has this got to do with our project? We know the celestial objects (except from our solar system) “apparently” go around the axis of the Earth, due to Earth’s rotation. Hence, we polar align our mount and track the stars, thereby getting multiple images of them and later processing to obtain a cool image, along the lines of those from Hubble space or Spitzer!
    In this project, we will be using a normal mount with an Arduino-controlled stepper motor drive. Be sure to have a look at the link and understand the principle of the Barn Door !
  2. Binocular Mount: This is a very simple project- like a barn door tracker, but this is for binocs.
    People using binocs often have a tough time viewing something at the azimuth- it’s such a pain in the neck! So, the idea is to have a mount to place the binocs (binoculars, for those who didn’t understand!). So, just sit on a chair and look through the binocs peacefully.This link will serve as a good starting point for those opting to do this project.
  3. Magnetometer: Pretty obvious what’s it, I guess? A magnetometer is used to map the magnetic field and fluctuations in the environment. We have come up with Two versions of the same:
    • Physical: This is a physical one which responds physically or electronically to magnetic field changes. This design is a bit sophisticated model of the same, while this one is a more basic model. So how is it useful? Let’s see:
      Heard of Solar flare? No, not the attack in Dragonball. This occurs in Sun/Stars. This can cause mass blackouts of electronics and communication systems, if directed towards our planet. The cause of such stuff? Magnetics. Scientists have some proof that the effect is primarily magnetic, but don’t know the exact reason. Fine. So how will you measure Magnetic Field? Magnetometer!
    • Virtual: Every smartphone in the market has an inbuilt magnetometer. We can use this to plot the magnetic field changes and all, interface with computer, analyze the data, and maybe even predict stuff like solar flares!.
  4. Eclipse Predictor: A simple project with a bit of coding- code out the loci and equation of Earth, Moon and the Sun and check their point of coincidence- and predict when eclipses will occur!
  5. Astronomy Clock: How about a clock which can show time on Earth, but also on Mars, Jupiter, Sidereal time etc ? Yeah, you don’t get a big deal out of it, but you will learn a huge deal of electronics- nope, no electronics club fundaes requried- we will teach all that’s required.
    So look at I found a quite complicated setup to do the same. Have a look at it.
  6. Smartphone Finder scope : Finder scope and smartphone? Don’t seem compatible? Only till you haven’t heard of SkEye. This is a wonderful app which shows one real-time location of N cataloged objects in the sky. So, the idea is to have a smartphone with SkEye and have a finder-scope like mount for it, and put it one the telescope, and voila! Point to the star or planet or whatever you want, and with the mount, the entire telescope can be moved to that location accurately! No more pointing randomly in the sky!
    So how do we do this? Look at this instructable! We are gonna make a professional-looking one for the club, using proper wood and all, but the basic is the one provided in the link!
  7. Sunspot Cycles: Wondered why there are “sunspots” and dark patches over the sun? Wanted to find out the period of sunspot cycles? The this project is for you. Look at this link. This gives the most basic version of the same. So how do we expand the same? We will try to machine learn the data, and will try predicting the sunspot cycle, if all goes well.
  8. Satellite tracker: There has always been thrill in finding out the location of ISS (International Space Station) and taking pics of it. So I thought why not have a project on finding out the satellites in your area?
    Go ahead and look at this guy’s DIY. He has almost finished everything. So, what we are planning to do is to optimize the code and expand into different stuff, which we shall see later!

This concludes the Part-1 of the projects. The Part-2 will include all research-level projects- for people who are very lazy- like me to work on. Not much of field work, but a lot of study and patience will be required!

You can find the next part of the series here!

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