It takes quite a bit of money to keep the Telescope Project operational - up to now we have sought grants, subsidies from the the University of Bradford, payments from schools for visits, led lessons and access to our dedicated schools web site, and we have straight-up asked for donations.
As part of the project's continuing efforts to become self-sufficient, over the last few months I have been working on several upgrades to the main telescope.org web site, including the ability to support paid subscriptions. On one hand it is a shame that we will eventually stop free access for all to our telescope, but on the other it seems unfair that schools are effectively subsidising amateur astronomers' sky surveys. So, in an effort to balance things up a little, it will now cost £3 per month for a regular telescope.org account. Compared with the cost of a Starbucks, an astronomy magazine subscription, half of a Netflix subscription, etc, we are hoping that this cost seems reasonable for continuous access to real telescope hardware on Mt. Teide, Tenerife.
So, what are the website upgrades?
- New theme: Designed to look cleaner, more modern and simpler to use. Featuring more icons and graphics, a drop down user-menu at the top right, and a new project logo.
- A new personal dashboard menu: Making better use of the page you see when you log in - it now shows the latest news and telescope status, and looks a lot nicer.
- Request list management: If you have a lot of requests completed in your account then this feature is for you. There is a new folders system which you can organise all your requests into. There are standard system folders, but you can also make your own - as many as you like. There is a trash folder where you can send your ... less-good ... pictures to forever.
- The web-cams page is much improved - no new page load for each image, automatic refreshing of the current camera periodically and thumbnail images for the cameras.
- Viewing a request now looks a lot cleaner. The JPEG opens immediately, but the other options are in tabs across the top of the page. Ed's Flash FITS editor has been promoted to front and centre; the Java editor now takes a back seat. On the technical side, the new interface relies a lot more heavily on the "Image Engine" FITS processing back-end software that we use. This makes the site more reliable under heavy load since the processing software is a lot more efficient and shares resources much better than the old way of doing things.
- The HTML 5 Real-Time Data display is now the default; the Java implementation is still available for older browsers but is now basically deprecated.
- The account management page (available from the drop down user menu - top right) has been upgraded to support managing subscriptions via PayPal.
There are many other things on our to-do lists. I am aware that there are still areas of the web site which need upgrading which I will be working on shortly. In addition to these web site upgrades there are some exciting projects in the works which will enhance the web site (and other things), but I can't discuss those or I might get shouted at... :)
If you have an account on telescope.org already then you have another (roughly) three months of free access from now.
For a technical view on changes to the telescope itself, see Dan's blog.
Please feel free to comment here or in our forum, or email us if you have any questions.