On 15 February last, the Montegancedo robotised astronomical observatory was presented at Cosmocaixa in Alcobendas (Madrid). The Montegancedo observatory is Spain's first robotised astronomical observatory that is open to the public free of charge. The observatory was conceived and developed by a team of researchers at the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid's School of Computing (FIUPM) led by professor Francisco Manuel Sanchez Moreno.
The Cosmocaixa demonstration included a collective Internet observation of the Madrid's night sky via the UPM's Robotised Astronomical Observatory. This observatory is part of Astrocam, Madrid Regional Government's Astrophysics Network, partnered by other research institutions and universities (CSIC, UCM, UAM, ESAC, UPM and UEM), as well as a number of companies.
Also, the observatory is to transmit the eclipse of the moon that is due to take place on the night of February 20th to 21st live. Both the eclipse and the Cosmocaixa presentation will be broadcast live via Astrocam.
The observatory is installed inside a dome on the roof of Building 6 at the FIUPM's Montegancedo Campus in Boadilla del Monte. The dome is fitted with a 10'' robotised and computer-automated telescope, plus several computers operating as web applications servers to connect and broadcast the images and videos captured by the webcams arranged around the dome. They all run on GNU/Linux operating systems. These machines also serve the purpose of desktop computers, equipped with the respective development, web navigation and star map viewer applications. Additionally, they can store and manage photo albums.
The facilities are also fitted with four webcams, one coupled to the telescope and another to the browser. They have both been modified to take long-exposure photos. The other two give a partial view of the observatory.
The facilities are complete with a weather station. This station supplies real-time data on the weather, which is vital for proper observatory use.
The FIUPM's robotised astronomical observatory is remote controlled by software called Astro Cyclops. This software includes a number of tools for running astronomical experiments, building astronomical scenarios and remote controlling tools, such as telescopes, cameras and domes. This software is at the final stages of development and will be available in the second half of 2008.
The key objective of the robotised observatory is to be able to control every last detail of an astronomical project. It aims to automate all the tasks and make them accessible and controllable over the Internet.
This application will be a means for shared astronomical learning and discovery and, generally, for educating in astronomy. The observatory aspires to become a centre of astronomical learning and education within the Madrid Region, as well as turning out new astronomers within society thanks to the potential of this technology. All internauts have free access to the observatory.
The potential applications of this virtual observatory range from collaboration between amateur astronomers, supervised by professionals, to guided tours around different regions of the universe, the development of virtual classes or the monitoring of once in a lifetime astronomical events. Additionally, this observatory will be able to measure users' knowledge levels and also examine the social networks participating in the experience.
The observatory is based on a collaborative working methodology, specific to the new Internet level known as Web 2.0, like the wikipedia, where it is the user or client who takes centre stage and inputs the web content. Astro Cyclops is different in that, apart from enabling content input, it provides users with a platform for real experimentation.
The observatory's control interface is accessible from home using just a browser (no software needs to be installed) and targets different user types. Each user's participation is regulated by a reputation system based on what is known as Karma. This way, more active users get to use the telescope longer.