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News Release

Contact: Patricia Sievert, NIU STEM Outreach
(815) 753-1201

August 31, 2009

NIU will hold workshops on how to use
robotic telescopes accessible via the Internet

DeKalb, Ill. — Northern Illinois University STEM Outreach will hold two upcoming workshops that will allow participants to capture spectacular photographs and explore the heavens using high tech robotic telescopes that can be accessed online.

The workshops, titled Capture the Colorful Cosmos, will be held from 9 a.m. to noon on both Saturday, Sept. 12, and Saturday, Sept. 19, in NIU’s Digital Convergence Laboratory at Founders Memorial Library.

Registration is limited. Participants will attend both workshops and must be at least 10 years old. They are encouraged to register with a partner.

During the Sept. 12 workshop, participants will learn about telescopes, light and filters. They also will be able to request images from the MicroObservatory, a network of five automated telescopes that can be controlled via the Internet. Free software that allows users to manipulate MicroObservatory images also will be provided.

“The MicroObservatory’s telescopes are high tech and can track astronomical objects for up to a minute,” says Patricia Sievert, STEM Outreach coordinator. “When you open a camera in a telescope for a full minute, it collects more light and more information.

“We’ll be teaching participants how to use special processing software that helps pull information out of the raw images, which at first might not look like much. Photographs can be taken through three color filters, and the software helps bring out all the objects in the picture, such as planets, star groupings or nebula. The resulting images can be spectacular.”

The robotic telescopes are operated by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, with funding from the National Science Foundation and NASA. The telescope network is designed to enable students and teachers nationwide to investigate the wonders of the deep sky from their classrooms.

Users of MicroObservatory are responsible for taking their own images by selecting the celestial object to be photographed, selecting exposure times, filters and other parameters. The educational value lies not just in the image returned by the telescope, but in the satisfaction and practical understanding that comes from mastering a powerful scientific tool.

During the Sept. 19 NIU workshop, participants will download and process their images and create an exhibit to be displayed at DeKalb and Sycamore public libraries later this fall.

Sievert is encouraging parents to register for the workshops with their high schoolers or middle school students. Capture the Colorful Cosmos is supported by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. For more information or to register online, see

NIU’s STEM Outreach delivers off-campus programs and on-campus activities designed to increase science, technology, engineering, and mathematics literacy and enthusiasm among students, their families and educators. The STEM Outreach office provides a central place to find information on the numerous outreach programs offered by NIU's colleges and STEM departments.

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