Part 1B: Skynet Telescopes and CCD Cameras


Josh is the software engineer for Afterglow Access, the image processing program used in this Exploration. Let’s meet Josh in the first video, and then find out about the Skynet Robotic Telescope System in the second video.


Teacher/Leader Resources for Section 1, Parts A – G:

Skynet use anywhere from 10-20 or more more telescopes spread around the world. The use of these telescopes depends on their equipment and software maintenance schedules, and of course, the weather at their location. If you have an account, you can see the “live” telescopes by going to the Skynet site and the appropriate tab.

The original idea was to get a visual on any “gamma ray burst” detected by a gamma ray telescope stationed in space. The system would immediately slew all of its available ground-based optical telescopes to the location of the gamma ray burst. Gamma ray bursts are not that frequent, so most of the telescope time is used by astronomers around the world for their own projects. It is operated out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. If you are curious, look up what a “gamma ray burst” is.

Journal Questions

The journal questions asked throughout this exploration are to help keep you focused. Additional research or discussion may be required. You can find the answers in the resources.

1. What was Skynet’s original purpose?

2. Why are the telescopes spread out around the world?

3. Why are some in the northern hemisphere and some in the southern hemisphere?


1) ACTIVITY: Skynet Telescopes

You  may find this a fun activity to get a feel for where the Skynet telescopes are. The materials will benefit low vision individuals.

A) Materials Needed:

a. Tactile world map or globe (could be a simple relief map or relief globe)

b. Some type of tactile marker (anything that sticks) for locations.

c. The list of observatories that are part of Skynet (see below).

B) Procedure:

Look up the locations of each of the following observatories. Place markers (tactile if preferred) on the map or globe at each approximate location.

A) Athabasca University Geophysical Observatory

B) Athabasca University Geophysical Observatory II

C) Banner Creek Observatory

D) Perth Observatory

E) Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory

F) Dark Sky Observatory

G) Dolomiti Astronomical Observaotry

H) Fan Mountain Observatory


J) Mars Desert Research Station

K) Meckering Observatory

L) Morehead

M) Green Bank Observatory

N) Northern Skies Observatory

O) Shed of Science Observatory

P) Siding Spring Observatory

Q) Yerkes Observatory

Journal Questions

4. What hemisphere is the Cerro Tololo observatory in?

5. What does longitude mean? (There will be more on this later)

6. What is the longitude of the Cerro Tololo observatory?


2) Activity: CCD CAMERAS

What happens to the light collected by the telescope? How can it be used for research?

The activity on CCD cameras,on the Main Page of this Exploration, is a great, hands-on, tactile way to understand pixels and a CCD camera and how it collects information from space. The hands-on activity, which either uses a 16×20 inch foam poster board with a 3×3 grid on it  to represent the pixels of a camera, foam stickers (or gemstone stickers) of different shapes to represent photons of light, and white map pins (or white sticky or clear gemstones) to represent electrons knocked off the detector (pixel) by the photons. Alternatively, an 8.5 x 11 piece of cardstock with a 3×3 grid could be used for individuals. The number of pins is the number of “counts” recorded in the computer for that pixel. The resource has images of the finished products if you find that helpful. The link is here for the resource:

CCD Activity

It might be helpful to look at one of the finished models from the CCD Camera activity while listening to Dr. Harper review the CCD camera in this 3:05 video.

Journal Questions:

7. What part of your eye acts like a light “detector” or pixel?

8. How does Dr. Harper simulate measuring the number of electrons each detector (pixel) has collected?

9. Why is it impractical to collect light one pixel at a time?