Have a question about using the NSO? Below are some questions we are often asked. The answers to these may help you to use this website, and the telescope, more easily. If your question isn't here, then please contact us, or use the forums on the website and we'll let you know asap.
- What is the National Schools' Observatory?
- How do I register?
- What if I home school my children?
- What if I'm a student, not in education, or teaching in another country, but want to use the telescope?
- How do I submit observations to the telescope?
- How do I look at the observations I've taken?
- Why isn't my observation ready?
- I want to submit an image I've created using the NSO to a competition - is this OK?
- How do I do my GCSE Astronomy observations with the NSO?
- I am studying GCSE Astronomy but my teacher hasn't got an account - can I still do my coursework?
- Is there any training available?
- Do you have material for teachers?
- What's wrong with my images?
The National Schools' Observatory (NSO) is a website allowing schools to use the world's largest robotic telescope for free. Anyone around the world can register for an account, but schools in the UK and Ireland have enhanced access. Our aim is to use the wonder of space to inspire the next generation to pursue science, technology, engineering and maths. You can read more about the NSO in the about us section.
You can register for an account with the NSO here. We have a couple of different accounts. The main account type is for NSO teachers. This is for teachers, homeschooling parents, or technicians in the UK or Ireland. NSO teachers can create as many NSO student accounts as they need, so that each student can have their own account. We also have a more limited access option called NSO Users. Anyone can sign up as an NSO user, but they won't get full access to the telescope.
Home schooling parents in the UK and Ireland can register as an NSO teacher. This allows you to use the site, and the telescope just as teachers in schools would.
If your interested in using the telescope, or learning more about astronomy, anyone can register as an NSO user. However, this NSO user account has restricted access to the telescope. We currently don't have enough telescope time to open access completely. We are dedicated to engaging more young people with science, technology, engineering and maths. Teachers registering from outside the UK and Ireland can therefore still access all website resources and support but with limited telescope time.
Observations to the telescope are submitted through our Go Observing interface. This can be used to take simple observations, like part of the Moons surface, through to complicated observations for those studying astronomy. There is a host of information here to help you use Go Observing. From deciding what to observe, how to take 3-colour observations, or how to schedule your observing request.
You can check on the status of your observation requests by heading to the My Observations page. Once your observation has been taken the status will change to Ready to Download. You can then click on the observation code and download the files. These files can be viewed by using our free software called LTImage, or by any other .fits file software. For help on using LTImage why not check out our help videos.
It can take time for the telescope to take the observations you've requested. Objects are not visible all year round so when you submit your observations check the 'visibility bar'. This will let you know when there's a good chance of getting the observations taken. By default, the telescope will try to take your observation for 1 month (but you can change this). If the observation hasn't been taken in that time, then the request 'times out'. You will then need to resubmit the request if you want the observation taking. Observations can be delayed by science operations, when the telescope is looking at an unusual event, like a supernova explosion. La Palma is one of the best observing sites in the world, but it too experiences poor weather which can stop the telescope opening. In general, we expect observations to come back within a couple of weeks if they are possible. If you think that considering all of this, your observations should have been taken and haven't, then please get in touch and we'll find out why.
It is absolutely fine to submit the images you've created to competitions external to the NSO, the only thing we need you to do is make sure that you credit the Liverpool Telescope as the source of your observations, of course it would also be lovely if you credited the NSO as well! There's more information on how to credit the Liverpool Telescope here. Why not also think about submitting your observation to our #ShowtheNSO Forum and be in with the chance of having your image added to our Gallery. Find out how to get involved here.
We have up-to-date information on the GCSE Astronomy specification in our Teachers web area. The most advanced settings of Go Observing allow students to carry out their GCSE astronomy coursework. Notably projects B1: lunar features and B11: observations of Messier objects. There is guidance for taking these observations in the Discover pages linked above. Our video for teachers of GCSE astronomy may also be useful.
If you want to use the NSO to do your observations for GCSE Astronomy then please talk to your teacher first. They can set up a teacher account and then give you a student account. The process only takes a minute and is completely free. If this isn't possible - then please get in touch, and we will create an account for you, allowing you to take your GCSE observations.
The NSO does offer teacher training and CPD opportunities. Once these are scheduled we will email users via the NSO newsletter. If you want to receive these newsletters please sign up. You can do this when registering for an account. If you have an account you can check this by going to your account and looking at your subscriptions. If we do not have any scheduled CPD coming up and you are interested in attending a session then please get in touch. We provide information online to help you in your teaching of astronomy and if you'd like to stay up to date then subscribe to our NSO YouTube channel. If there is a topic you'd like covering then let us know.
Alongside access to the telescope we have other support available on this website. Our Learn section describes many aspects of science, engineering, maths and technology related to space. It is all written by professional astronomers and aimed at a young audience in order that it is accessible. We also have a range of activities in the Discover section. There are quick activities which may be useful as a starter or plenary to a lesson - or for students to do on their own. There are activities designed for the classroom which have lesson plans and presentations on the topics covered. There is more support in the teacher menu on this website.
Sometimes the images coming back from the Liverpool Telescope don't come out how you would expect them. Visit our information page to see if we can answer any common questions regarding your images here.