2006-2016: the first ten years of the Virtual Telescope Project.
If it is always hard to find the right words to celebrate something important, it is simply impossible when something epic is involved. And this is true now, while I’m trying to write something to say on the occasion of the first ten years (2006-2016) of activity of the Virtual Telescope Project.
It was Aug. 2006 when the idea to create a remotely accessible telescope for my own scientific needs popped into my mind: that way, I could use it very often, without the need to drive for hundreds of kilometers each time. Ten years earlier, I already created my own observatory in Ceccano, Italy, but to get the most from it, it needed to be used often, despite the distance between it and Rome, where I live. In principle, it was not an hard task, but making a reliable device, working flawlessly the whole night, without no humans around, was another story. I wanted a robotic facility reliable and easy to use: a dream.
To make the dream real, I needed money, but I was alone. I had to study a lot, finding solutions able to dramatically reduce costs, but keeping efficiency high. It took a lot of time, as you can imagine, mainly because of the money needed (and I used my personal money), but at some point I could start, with a system still needing of many improvements. I made a public announcement on 21 Aug. 2006, inviting people to use the system themselves, as they could send imaging requests.
As soon as I started working with this remote system, I was intrigued by another idea. As the telescope was basically connected to the internet, was it possible to have it send images, in real-time, on the web, properly commented, to be shared with people worldwide, simply using an internet browser? This sounds trivial, these days, but ten years ago it was almost science fiction. I did find a way, writing some software code, to push live images on a given webpage, providing textual, real-time, comments and receiving questions from the audience via a web forum. It worked.. and it was a planetary success. The Virtual Telescope Project was the very first facility in the world offering live views of the Universe, with comments from a professional scientists, thanks to a common browser. We made history here.
In the meantime, the internet technology developed quite a lot, offering tools for a much better public service. In addition, I looked for important technological partners, to improve the system thanks to their sponsorship. Over the years, a few of them made possible for the Virtual Telescope Project to exist, at the state of the art you all know. I want to proudly thank all of them here: Software Bisque, UnitronItalia Instruments, Baader Planetarium, Santa Barbara Instrument Group and Planewave Instruments. Thanks to them, the Virtual Telescope is now one of the most advanced and performing astronomical robotic facilities in the world, doing both science and public outreach.
In ten years, the Virtual Telescope Project gained an unbelievable reputation in both fields, despite there is only one person behind it doing ALL the job and despite it has absolutely no funds, surviving only thanks to personal money and to a few very generous donors, helping paying bills and maintenance. I wish to express my eternal gratitude to them, as if you enjoy what we do, it is thanks to them.
It is honestly impossible to summarize what happened in these ten years, on both the scientific and public sides: I cannot count our many, important contributions to science and discoveries in several astronomical fields, as well as the stunning online, public events, covering the most important cosmic shows and sharing them with literally millions of individuals from all over the planet. Since we started, we reached more than six millions of individuals from basically every Country on the Earth, something never seen in our field. This happens also thanks to an handful of brave collaborators providing their images when an astronomical event is not accessible from Italy and/or when such a cooperation adds value to the experience. Also, I wish to thank all the media which support us, featuring our events and using our original images/movies for their needs: it is a privilege for us to support their important work.
We offered some historic events, often providing a unique, worldwide coverage. You can browse the event’s list to have an idea of what was done. Also, we made possible for a lot of people to discover Astronomy. We regularly receive messages from fans telling us that our system made possible for them to discover something they now love, sometimes discovering friends with the same passion, again thanks to our platform. This is the most beautiful reward we could hope to have.
This year, it took some time for me to write this note, celebrating such an important accomplishment: the first ten years of activity. This delay was due to some personal reasons. My beloved Mom left this world on 21 Sept., leaving such a big void, but I wanted to honor her, also because of her deep and continued support of my interest in astronomy since I was a child. I named “Elena”, after her, our main robotic unit, to honor her memory.
Of course, I will continue working on this, with your help and energy, so keep following us, as your presence is vital to run such a big project as the Virtual Telescope is.
Soon we will announce an online event, to properly celebrate this epic goal.
We need your support, so you are welcome to help us by donations here.
Thanking all of you again for your presence, I’m looking forward to our next journeys across the Universe, exploring the beautiful Cosmos where we live!
founder, the Virtual Telescope Project
Rome, Italy, 14 Oct. 2016
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