The Palomar Observatory Sky Survey
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The Palomar Sky Survey

First, let's compare the SDSS to an earlier map of the sky. The First Palomar Sky Survey (POSS I) was carried out in the 1950's using the 48-inch Oschin Schmidt telescope at Mount Palomar in southern California. This survey was carried out using photographic plates. It has since been converted into a digital format and is easily accessible on the Internet.

The 48-inch Oschin Schmidt telescope at Mount Palomar Observatory

During the 1970's, the U.K. Schmidt telescope, nearly identical to the Oschin telescope, carried out the Southern Sky Survey. In the early 1980s, Palomar's Oschin telescope was upgraded and carried out a second sky survey called POSS II. POSS II is currently being converted to digital format. Portions of it are available on the web.

Let's start finding out how this survey is different from the SDSS. We will compare POSS I and the SDSS by looking at images of the same portion of the sky taken by each survey.

You can access the POSS I survey (and what is complete of the POSS II) by clicking here. Launch the navigation tool for the SDSS by clicking here. Both interfaces will open in new windows.

Let's look at the field containing Pal 3, a globular cluster discovered by POSS (also featured in SkyServer's H-R Diagram project). In the POSS interface, type Pal 3 in the field labeled "Object Name," then click Get Coordinates. You will see the coordinates appear in the box below. Click on File Format and change it to a .gif file (unless you have a special viewer for .fits files and want to use it). Now click on Retrieve Image.

Now get the SDSS image. If you have not already, open the Navigation tool. When the tool opens, you should see a screen like this:

In the "ra" and "dec" boxes, enter the coordinates for Pal 3: ra = 151.3801, dec = 0.072. Click Get Image. A picture of Pal 3 will come up in the main window. You should now have two images of Pal 3: one from POSS I and one from the SDSS.

Question 1. What differences do you notice between the pictures? Are the pictures oriented the same way, or are the rotated and/or flipped? Does one picture show fainter stars than the other? Does one show more detail? Does one show better color?

Now, use the zoom buttons (the magnifying glasses below "Get Image") and the directional controls (the NWSE buttons) to scroll through the Navigation tool until you find an area you think is interesting. Click on the area and note its ra and dec, which is displayed next to the green square. Use the ra and dec to find the same field in the POSS I survey by entering the ra and dec into the form.

Question 2. Compare the new images you obtained from the SDSS and the POSS I. What do you think are the most important differences between the images?