FAQs

Below are some questions we are frequently asked about the NSO which may help you to utilise this website, and the telescope, more effectively. If you would like to know the answer to a question which isn't here, then please contact us, or use the forums on the website and we'll let you know.

What is the National Schools' Observatory?

The National Schools' Observatory (NSO) is an online tool providing free access to the world's largest robotic telescope for school students and teachers throughout the UK and Ireland, and reduced access to anyone worldwide. We aim to use the wonder generated by space and astronomy to inspire the next generation to pursue science, technology, engineering and maths. You can read more about the NSO in the about us section.

How do I register?

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 and is aimed at teachers, home schooling parents, or technicians who actively want to engage their students with the NSO. 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 a user, but they won't get full access to the telescope.

What if I home school my children?

Home schooling parents are welcome to register as an NSO teacher and use the site, and the telescope just as teachers in schools would.

What if I'm not at school, or teaching, but want to use the telescope?

We have recently opened up access to the NSO to anybody around the world who is interested in taking observations from the telescope, or learning more about astronomy. However, this NSO user account has restricted access to the telescope as we are dedicated to using the telescope to engage more young people with science, technology, engineering and maths, and therefore schools and their students are our priority and must get the most access from the telescope.

How do I submit observations to the telescope?

Observations to the telescope are submitted through our Go Observing interface which can be used to take simple observations, for instance of part of the moons surface, all they way through to complicated observations for those studying GCSE 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. 

How do I look at the observations I've taken?

You can check on the status of your observation requests by heading to the My Observations page. When your observation has been taken the status of that observation 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. For help on using LTImage why not check out our help videos.

Why isn't my observation ready?

It can take time for the telescope to take the observations you've requested. When you submit your observations always look at the 'visibility bar' which will let you know when there's a good chance of getting the observations taken. By default the telescope will keep trying to take the observations for 1 month (but you can change this), if the observation hasn't managed to be taken in that time, then the request 'times out' and you'll need to resubmit if you still want the observation taking. Sometimes observations may be delayed if the telescope is taken over for some extraordinary astronomical event, like a supernova explosion. Although La Palma is also one of the best observing sites in the world, it too experiences poor weather which can stop the telescope opening up. In general, we expect the 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 what's happened.

How do I do my GCSE Astronomy coursework with the NSO?

The most advanced settings of Go Observing allow students to carry out their GCSE astronomy coursework - specifically B1: lunar features and B11: observations of Messier objects. There is guidance for taking these observations in the Discover pages linked above, and for teaching GCSE Astronomy via the website help page, but our recent video for teacher of GCSE astronomy may also be useful.

I am studying GCSE Astronomy but my teacher hasn't got an account - can I still do my coursework?

If you are keen on using the NSO to carry out observations for your GCSE Astronomy coursework then we would encourage you to first talk to your teacher and see if 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 for some reason it isn't possible to get your teacher to set this account up for you - then please get in touch and we will endeavor to create an account for you which will enable you to take your GCSE observations.

Why can’t I request 3-colour images?

If you are an NSO student or NSO teacher then you should have the ability to take 3-colour images through the Go Observing interface by initially selecting whether you'd like to observe a galaxy or a star. You will then be provided with the option of observing a 3-colour galaxy, or 3-colour nebulae. If you are an NSO User, unfortunately you do not have the ability to take a 3-colour imaging as we do not currently have capacity on the telescope to cater for the extra time this would require. However, it is possible to take 3-colour observations from the NSO data archive and use this data to create your own 3-colour image using the tools within the LTImage software.

Is there any training available?

The NSO does offer teacher training and CPD opportunities. When we have one scheduled we will email users via the NSO newsletter - so if you are interested make sure that you've signed up. You can do this when registering for an account, or if you have an account you can check this by going to your account and check your subscriptions. If we do not have one scheduled and you are interested in attending a session then please get in touch and we will see if something can be arranged. We are also looking to provide more 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.

Do you have material for teachers?

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 and astronomy, all written by professional astronomers and aimed at an audience of predominantly 11-13 year olds in order that it is understandable. We also have a range of activities in the Discover section, both quick activities which may be useful as a starter or plenary to a lesson - or for students to do on their own. There are also other activities which are designed to be used in a classroom setting should you want to do this. These activities have accompanying lesson plans and introductory presentations to the topics covered. There is more support in the teacher zone on this website.