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Remote Observing is an ill-defined concept that means different things to different people. For some, it means automated observing. To others, it means simple eavesdropping during observations. Some people even define it to be unachievable, independent of bandwidth or other resources, until the smell of a burning resistor can be sent over a wire.
In designing the WIYN 3.5m Telescope Control System, we have decided to avoid defining Remote Observing, and have instead simply set about to chip away at the problem by designing a network-transparent command and control system, a spacecraft-style platform-independent telemetry system, and an innovative method of image compression that lends itself to the progressive transmission of large digital images over low-bandwidth communications links.
We found that our users were quite happy with the capabilities of the system. Engineers found they could measure plant response and tune servo loops from half a continent away. Control System designers could monitor operations without disturbing the use of the telescope by on-site personnel. Large images could be sent from the observatory for quick-look analysis or target acquisition in a way that provided useful images in a short time, with an observatory bandwidth requirement that is independent of the number of recipients of the image.
The WIYN Telescope will begin science operations in 1995, and time will tell which of these features turn out to be popular with the observers. Rather than remove the astronomer from the dome, they may promote more collaborative observing, provide for more effective observations of targets of opportunity, or allow easy and effective access for students of all types to address important educational objectives of home institutions.
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