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Speckle Interferometry Research Experience: SIRE

SIRE was the pilot program for student run research seminars and took place May - August 2021. It was run by Ivan Altunin, Sophia Risin, and Amber Mistry.

Below you will find a brief outline of the program.

Introduction to the Seminar: This pilot program will give participants from all backgrounds the opportunity to participate as a team member in a genuine published research opportunity using the technique of speckle interferometry. Emphasis items will include astrometry, short period binaries, and historical data.


  • Produce a cohort of researchers familiar with the techniques of speckle interferometry.

  • Published research papers written by participants doing the best possible science at this


  • Understand the capabilities of BARO (the telescope we shall be using).

Motivation: Although Red Dwarf (RD) stars—spectral types late K and M on the Main Sequence—are the most common stars in the Milky Way, they are intrinsically faint and more difficult to observe than earlier types, so their population, even within the solar neighborhood, has not been fully explored. The RECONS survey has completed the census of all stars within 10 parsecs of the Sun, and the campaign to discover all the stars within 25 parsecs is continuing. Recent advances in low cost, red-sensitive, high speed but low-read-noise, back-side illuminated CMOS cameras has enabled the study of brighter RD stars with small telescopes.


A campaign to observe the brightest nearby binary systems containing a Red Dwarf was initiated with the Orange County Astronomers 22-inch telescope in 2019 (Wasson et al. 2020, RDSN-1). This campaign was continued in 2020 utilizing the 11-inch telescope at the FIRO, the Fairborn Institute Robotic Observatory (Altunin et al. 2020, RDSN-II). Two further continuations were started in 2020 (RDSN-III and RDSN-IV) focusing on RD’s with shorter periods. Papers are currently being written.


The teams in this research experience shall continue this campaign and produce the RDSN-V and RDSN-VI Papers utilizing the 0.5m Boyce-Astro Robotic Observatory (BARO) telescope in Southern California. The produced papers shall include the following:

  • New Speckle Observations of 10 Short-Period RD Double Stars - Astrometric and


  • Historical Observations from UKIRT and PANSTARS

  • Discussion on the Binary Nature of these doubles

  • Discussion on the capabilities of BARO



  • Starting May 28th, Meetings shall be held Fridays from 6:00-7:00 pm PT

    • Recorded for those unable to make it

    • A combination of instruction, mentoring, and guest talks

    • Weekly Office Hours will be held by assistant mentors

    • Teams are strongly encouraged to meet independently outside of weekly meetings.


Course Platforms:

  • Discord – Office hours, team meetings, discussion

  • Zoom – Weekly group meetings

  • FIRO Website – Student Portal with all course resources (


Course Staff:

  • Ivan Altunin – Research Experience Director, Primary Mentor

  • Amber Mistry and Sophia Risin – Assistant Mentors


We look forward to working with you! 


Please review Module -1 BEFORE May 28th to get everything set up.



RDSN-I: Journal of Double Star Observations V5, No4 (

RDSN-II: Journal of Double Star Observations V5, No4 (

Module -1: Getting Started

Start: May 21st | Finish: May 27th | Estimated Time to Complete: 1 hour


Note: There is NO meeting this week! However, Assistant Mentors are available by request to help answer any questions you may have (see contact information in the Welcome Module).

Summary: This module walks you through setting up some of the essentials necessary to participate in this experience. Please follow the instructions and if you have any questions reach out to our Assistant Mentors!

1. Install Discord: Discord is a messaging app that allows users to join specialized “Servers” for different communities. 

  • Create an account and Install: Discord | Your Place to Talk and Hang Out

  • Join the Server from the link sent out in the Welcome Email.

    • Once you join the SIRE Server you will see a few different “Channels” on the left-hand side. One of these is titled “rules.”


  • Select the “rules” channel to view it.

    • If your discord username is NOT the same as your actual name you can create a “nickname” that is visible for this server only:

      • Find yourself in the list of users in the server on the right-hand side and right-click on yourself and select “Change Nickname.”



  • Read and agree to the rules by clicking on the star icon.  You will know you selected it when it becomes highlighted and the number next to it increments by 1.


  • You will now have permission to see the “General” Category containing both text chats and voice chats.

    • Text chats enable users to message each other. Just type your message in the textbox and then hit enter. To tag a specific person, or group of people (such as Staff) use the @ symbol followed by the name of the person or group. Example: 


  • Voice Channels enable users to join a call with a single click. To join, just click on the voice room. Once in the room, use the icons at the bottom of the panel to control your audio, video, and screen sharing.


2. Textbook:

  • If you haven’t already please purchase out textbook (either hardcopy or electronic)

Textbooks | STAR Handbook | InStAR (


3. Please Review our Syllabus: *Subject to Change*

Week -1, May 21-28th

Setting up communication and getting started


Week 0, May 28th-Jun 4th

Introduction to the seminar and downloading software

Week 1, Jun 4th-Jun 11th

Double Star Review and Introduction to Speckle

Week 2, Jun 11th-18th

Introduction to the Telescope

Week 3, Jun 18th-25th

Creating Groups and Target Selection

Starting Observations

Week 4, Jul 25th-Jul 1st

Obtaining Historical Data

Continuing Observations

Week 5, Jul 1st - 8th

Continuing Observations


Week 6, Jul 8th-15th

Data Processing

Week 7, Jul 15th-22nd

Interpreting Results

Week 8, Jul 22nd-29th

Finish Paper Writing, send out for review

Week 9, Jul 29th - Aug 5th

Edit Paper Based on Review 

Optional Guest Talks (Topic TBD)

Week 10, Aug 5th-13th

Edit Paper Based on Review ​

Optional Guest Talks (Topic TBD)

Week 11, Aug 13th

Project Presentations and Next Steps

Module 0: Introductions

Start: May 28th | Finish: June 3rd | Estimated Time to Complete: 1-2 hours

Meeting: Friday, May 28th, 6:00-7:00 PT (Zoom link sent through Discord)

Summary: This module shall walk you through all of the steps needed to set up the software used for this course and setting up groups. 

1. Download Software: The software that you need to install is OS specific so please read the instructions carefully. 


  • Set up repository: It is recommended you create a folder somewhere on your computer titled “SIRE Tools” or something similar for easy access to all of these tools. As you follow the instructions below put the downloads or a shortcut to them within this folder. 


  • Remote Desktop Access Software: This shall be used to interact with the telescope and take observations later on. This will also be how initial data processing is done and how Mac users can use the software if they opted out of setting up a Windows 10 VM.

    • Install: TBD


  • Download Speckle Toolbox (Dave Rowe): If you are running Windows or a Mac with a Windows VM, download Speckle Toolbox from the resources tab. Skip this if you are on a Mac and opted out of setting up a Windows 10 VM. This is how the speckle data will be processed. 

  • Download the Gaia Double Star Selection tool (Dave Rowe): If you are running Windows or a Mac with a Windows VM download the GDS Selection from the resources tab. This is how we shall generate a target list. 

  • Group Assignment Form: Please fill out the form to be sent out in the Discord server to help us determine how to best form groups. ​

Module 1: Intro to Speckle

Start: June 4th | Finish: June 10th | Estimated Time to Complete: 1-2 hours

Meeting: Friday, June 4th, 6:00-7:00 PT (Zoom link sent through Discord)

Summary: This module shall walk you through all of the basic knowledge you need for speckle research of double stars, specifically red dwarfs. 


Teams: During Friday’s class, you should get assigned as a member of your team. In addition you will get assigned your team role on the Discord server. This will enable access to both your Team text chat and voice chat. 


Readings: We shall cover everything you need to know in our group meeting, however, if you still have questions afterward please feel free to review the following resources as needed:


Assignment: Meet with your team at least once during the week and work together to write: 

  • One sentence summarizing Double Stars and why we study them.

  • No more than two sentences Summarizing Speckle Interferometry.

    • Consider calculating and including the Rayleigh limit for the 0.5 m Boyce-Astro Robotic Telescope in the Sloan r’2 Filter (626 nm)


  • And finally, one sentence summarizing Red Dwarfs.  

    • In future modules, we will go over why we are studying Red Dwarf doubles in the first place. 


These sentences will later serve as a starting point for your paper introduction and will help ensure you understand the material and motivation behind your research. When this is complete, send your sentences to the Course Staff in the Discord Server in your Team Chat.  


Recording of Meeting:

Week 2 Presentation:

Screen Shot 2021-06-04 at 9.10.30 PM.png

Module 2: Intro to The Telescope

Start: June 11th | Finish: June 17th | Estimated Time to Complete: 1-2 hours

Meeting: Friday, June 11th, 6:00-7:00 PT (Zoom link sent through Discord)

Summary:  This module shall walk you through all of the basic knowledge you need to know about our telescope.  


Readings: We shall cover everything you need to know in our group meeting, however, if you still have questions afterward please feel free to review the following resources as needed:

  • Small Telescope Research:

    • Textbook Chapter 2.7-2.8

    • Textbook Chapter 2.10

Brief Overview of the telescope:

Boyce Astro Robotic Observatory
Location: 243.4005 + 32.5467
Current Observation Limits:
RA: 12 to 16 Hours    Dec: -20 to 50 Degrees 

Focal Length = 2939 mm     Aperture = 432 mm    


ASI 1600 Camera
4/3” CMOS 16 megapixel
Pixel Size: 2.8 Microns 


Assignment: Meet with your team at least once during the week and work together to write: 

  • The equipment section of your paper. This should cover the specs of the telescope and camera.


Recording of Meeting:

Module 3: Targets and Start Data Acquisition

Start: June 19th | Finish: June 25th | Estimated Time to Complete: 1-2 hours

Meeting: Friday, June 18th, 6:00-7:00 PT (Zoom link sent through Discord)

Summary: This module shall walk you through how to generate a target list for your team. As well as general observing instructions.


Observing: For the next 3 weeks we shall be observing on most days with good weather, assuming that the telescope cooperates. If you haven’t already please sign up for some observing sessions through the link sent out by email. These observing sessions are optional although highly recommended to attend if you want to get the most out of the course. To attend simply join our weekly Zoom, a reminder will also be sent to those who signed up several hours before. On your third night you might be able to control the telescope under the supervision of another experienced observer.  

Generating a Target List: These instructions make use of the GAIA Double Star Selection tool which Windows users should have downloaded earlier. If a team member would like to go through this process and does not have it downloaded please coordinate so that one member can share their screen/process with the other. Remote access to this software will be available in about 2 weeks for future reference. 


  • RA Limits: 14, 19 hrs

  • DEC Limits: - 20, 50 hrs

  • Gmag0 and Gmag1 limits: Both 6, 12

  • Delta Mag: 0, 2

  • Sep: 0.5, 2

After running the query “Write All Records to CSV File” being sure to “Include WDS Data” and “Write all Records”.

Calculate the color index for each star by opening the list in excel and subtracting BPmag0 - RPmag0 and BPmag1 - RPmag1. This will be the color index for the primary and secondary respectively. Choose 3 stars with a color index greater than 1.8 and those will be your team's Red Dwarfs. Unfortunately not many more are viewable, or at least weren't detected by GAIA in this part of the sky. Choose 3 other bright targets (6-8 mag primary) from the list that you think might be interesting! When your team has a list email it to the course staff by Friday the 25th for approval. 


Observation sessions before the 25th will collect data on other stars that should give guaranteeable astrometric results to be distributed to the different teams later. 

Assignment: Meet with your team at least once during the week and work together to write: 

  • The target selection section of your paper

  • Attend any observation session you signed up for


Recording of Meeting:


Module 4: Obtaining Historical Data

Start: June 26th | Finish: July 1st | Estimated Time to Complete: 2 hours

Meeting: Friday, June 25th, 6:00-7:00 PT  (Zoom link sent through Discord)

Summary: This module shall walk you through how to obtain historical data from your stars.

WDS Data: If your star is in the WDS Catalogue then email Dr. Brain Mason (email posted in discord) requesting the historical data files. It should look something like this:


Dear Dr Mason,

Can I please have the historical data on the following stars:





GAIA DR2 Data: This is the PA and Sep from 2015.5. This can be found in your target list.

GAIA DR3 Data: This is the PA and Sep from 2016.5 which can be accessed via vizier: 

Query-based on RA and DEC and then after fining the precise coordinates of both stars use this formula to determine their PA and SEP:

  • RA1 = Primary star RA in radians

  • RA2 = Secondary star RA in radians

  • Dec1 = Primary star Dec in radians

  • Dec2 = Secondary star Dec in radians

Sep = arccos[cos((RA2-RA1)cos(Dec1)cos(Dec2-Dec1)]

PA = 90 degrees - arctan[(sin(Dec2-Dec1)/(cos(Dec2-Dec1)*sin((RA2-RA1)*cos(Dec1)))]

The above formula was taken from this website where you can also find the derivation: Double Star Rho and Theta Measurements (

Assignment: Create a table with the last WDS historical measurement, the GDR2 measurement, and the GDR3 measurement. Each measurement should consist of a date, position angle, and separation.

Recording of Meeting:

Module 5: Reducing Data

Start: July 9th | Finish: July 16th | Estimated Time to Complete: 2-10 hours

Meeting: Friday, July 16th, 6:00-7:00 PT  (Zoom link sent through Discord)

Summary: This module shall walk you through how to reduce your data. This will take a lot shorter for your team if you divide and conquer rather than having one person do it all!

BARC: You should receive an email with instructions on how to log onto BARC, the server where you will access all of the data and the Software. 








Camera Angle: 1.05

Pixel Scale: 0.107


Filter Values: 

r’: 626 nm

I’: 764 nm

Assignment: Process the data for your team's 9 stars in all filters. If you require assistance please don't hesitate to reach out to us! 

Module 6: Interpreting Results

Start: July 16th | Finish: July 23rd | Estimated Time to Complete: 2-3 hours

Meeting: Friday, July 23rd, 6:00-7:00 PT  (Zoom link sent through Discord)

Summary: This module shall walk you through how to analyze your results.

Orbital Plots: You can either use this plotting tool written in Python linked here: 


Or you could use Richard Harshaw’s Plot Tool which can be obtained on the JDSO website under the Volume 16 no 4 Archive. 


Parallax and rPM: Richard Harshaw’s tool does this calculation automatically but you can determine the distance to a star by taking the inverse of its parallax value. The error is given by the error of the parallax divided by the parallax value squared. Based on these calculations for both stars you can estimate how far the stars are from each other. 



The relative proper motion is a value that describes how the two stars move in the sky relative to one another. This is the value of the difference in their proper motion vectors. 


Different rPM’s are defined below: 

Common proper motion: rPM < 0.2


Similar proper motion: rPM< between 0.2 and 0.6 


Different proper motion: rPM > 0.6


The rPM can be calculated as follows:

<rPM_ra, rPM_dec> = <PMra_2 - PMra_1, PMdec_2-PMdec_1>

Assignment: Create orbital plots for your stars and create a table with their relative distances and proper motions. The values needed for these calculations can be found through GAIA. See Module 4 for instructions on that.

Recording: Unfortunately it got corrupted. If you have any questions, reach out to Ivan or the Assistant Mentors!

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