Eight Years (2006-2014) with the Virtual Telescope Project: some thoughts for the Birthday celebration

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*** We need your support, so you are welcome to help us by donations here. ***

20 August 2006 – 20 August 2014: eight full years. Soon after calculating that, I stopped for a while and went back with my memories to that far day in 2006, when a pale idea knocked on my imagination.

As I said many times since then, at that remote time simply I could not imagine what was going to happen from that initial, blurred vision. It was the start of an idea going to make a revolution in the world of  both astronomical research and science communication. Something never seen before, starting with no funds, no supporting institutions, but strongly rooted in a endless love for the sky and the farsighted desire to share its beauty with people worldwide.

What made and still makes the Virtual Telescope a unique, winning Project is crystal clear: a new, original format, sharing live, astronomical events via the web, providing real-time images ready to be shared and commented by people on their own web pages/sites, with the addition of a live comment provided by a professional astrophysicist deeply involved in both research and science communication. Add the live interaction with the astronomer via a special chat and the recipe is done. But, clearly, those elements are not enough to explain this planetary success and love and tireless dedication to this effort are for sure key, vital points to be considered.

 I apologize, but at least I want to take a merit, just one: we never stopped developing the Virtual Telescope Project, always trying to optimize its potential to bring science, knowledge and fun to people, as well science to the professional community. All this, spending our own money, believing in the cultural return of these investments.

As you, reading this past, are a friend of us, I want to make you a confidence: running the Virtual Telescope is a very hard task. Trust me: much harder than one can imagine and incredibly time demanding. There are bills to be paid, maintenance to be done – and that is expensive – fights against light pollution to have the special laws protecting our observing site respected and much more. The Virtual Telescope as NO funds at all, NO support of any kind from institutions, NO employers, basically being a one-man facility: all is based on a volunteer effort, with the precious, vital support of two kinds of entities: at one side, our technological sponsors, deserving my deep gratitude, because without them, the Project would not be here; on the other side, those generous friends supporting the Virtual Telescope by donations, making possible for us to be alive, paying bills and maintenance.

But, above all, what makes possible to us to be here, facing the many difficulties we meet, is our public, are you, our friend. Your enthusiastic presence and support, your continued presence, give us all the energy we need to keep this cosmic exploration alive, no matter those – sometimes hard – difficulties making our journey not always easy.

Together with public outreach, research has always been a primary activity here. Because of its technology and thanks to the background of the scientific team, the Virtual Telescope Project played a key role many times, in particular with transient phenomena, as well as asteroids, comets, variable stars, exoplanets and more. The Virtual Telescope is a leading facility in the world in confirming supernova candidates and over the last year it produced spectroscopic confirmations of their nature, being in this the most productive facility of its size in the world.

The last year was, as the previous one, simply unforgettable, to say the least. 

From 20 Aug. 2013 to today, we offered more than 30 online, live events, including some very special ones like the April 2014 Total Lunar Eclipse, the April 2014 Solar Eclipse, the May 2014 Lunar occultation of Saturn and the May 2014 Camelopardalids meteor showers (those four, special events were possible thanks to a group on international collaborators, covering them from their Countries). We worked/were featured with/on several important partners/websites, like NASA/JPL, Yahoo, FoxNews, CBS, Ansa, space.com and more. In the same time span we had almost 2.900.000 unique viewers from 226 Countries, served 87.000.000 millions of web pages, registered 258.000.000  hits and a traffic of 5.5 Terabytes.  I’m not aware of any other similar facility on this planet, doing both science and outreach, with similar numbers.

I want to tell you again: running the Virtual Telescope Project is a very hard task. Being a one person project, with no funding from any institution, it can rely only on true love for its mission and support/donations from its users. Users? Friends, I must say. It was you, with many others around the globe, to give us enough energy, resources and motivation to keep the Virtual Telescope Project running.

In these difficult times, your support is most important than ever and I hope you will continue to help us going on! We are particularly grateful to our sponsors, too, making our project the best of its kind in the world. This time, I want to mention our sponsors explicitly here: UnitronItalia Instruments, Software Bisque, Baader Planetarium, Santa Barbara Instruments Group and PlaneWave Instruments. Also, we thank Tecnosky for providing the all-sky camera installed at the observatory.

We need your support, so you are welcome to help us by donations here.

While celebrating, it is time to start looking at the near future: many new things are coming and we will be introducing them from time to time, so stay tuned.

You are invited to celebrated our Birthday with us, joining our free online observing session on 21 Aug. 2014 here.

Thanking all of you again for your support, I wish you another new, great year of fun, peace and knowledge among the stars!

Gianluca Masi
founder, the Virtual Telescope Project
Rome, Italy, 21  Aug. 2014

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