Oct 232014

The PTO made its first road trip today to get a view of the partial solar eclipse visible from the panhandle. The tree line here at the observatory would not allow a view so I had to pack up everything and head to my favorite western horizon; the military drop zone just south of I-10.


I had not used the new Point Grey camera with the Lunt H-Alpha scope before so some time was spent this morning in the driveway figuring out the correct configuration for the telescope / camera combination. A new voltage converter also made its debut to ensure the laptop wouldn’t stop mid eclipse and to power the camera. With so much equipment making its rookie start a dry run was in order. I wanted to make sure all the cables would reach where they needed to and that I brought along everything I would need. It was time well spent as all the bits and pieces were on hand, the cords and cables got where they needed to go and I was up and running and focused a good half hour before the estimated time of first contact. I also brought along a filtered Orion 4.5″ Starblast telescope so I could view the event in white-light and in case the spectacle drew any passers-by.

My plan was to start taking images 5 minutes before the eclipse started and get an image every 10 seconds from then until the celestial pair dropped below the distant tree line.

At least, that was the plan.

First deviation: timing. Luckily, my impatience took hold and I started the camera about 7 minutes early. First contact is just visible in image 4. Yep, between 30-40 seconds after I pushed the button.

And as always, Mother Nature marches to her own drummer and well before the tree line came into view, the Sun-Moon pairing dropped behind some distant clouds and the event was over.

The above image was taken just before the clouds made their entrance. This H-Alpha view does not give active region 2192 its due. The white-light view shows the largest sunspot complex that I have ever seen. The sunspot is large enough to view naked-eye with an old pair of eclipse glasses. Along with active region 2192 there are also two impressive filaments visible. Ultimately, I got 241 images before the clouds became objectionable. I will massage those into an animation and post it when finished. All the equipment played well together and there were no injuries. All-in-all a successful event.

Finally, I would like to thank one of our county’s finest. Just after the clouds started to intrude into the eclipse a patrol car passed by, saw the hood open on the van (remember the voltage converter), turned around and came back to make sure I didn’t need any help. Of course, I didn’t, but could have. Thank you Officer.

 Posted by at 22:25
Aug 252014

I’ve finally gotten a chance to put a camera on the Lunt 60mm H-alpha scope. Future plans are for a small dome dedicated to solar observing and this telescope is the first optical component toward that goal. I put the PTO’s DMK21AS planetary camera on the scope just as a test and the image below is the result.

h_sun 14-08-20 09-39-55

I set the scope up on my portable mount in the yard with a very long USB cable carrying the imagery into the observatory. Currently, I don’t have a remote focuser for the telescope nor did I have the mount connected to a computer so I spent the morning running back and forth between the telescope and the control room monitor displaying the camera output. I was finally able to get the scope pointed at an interesting portion of the solar disk and a somewhat focused image. I captured several 2500 frame series before the clouds rolled in and then ran a couple of them through RegiStax 6.

sun 14-08-20 09-39-55 closeup
The series of undulating prominences on the upper right edge of the Sun is reminiscent of a very large Loch Ness monster. Nessie appears to be heading around the edge of the Sun to prevent any further observations. No wonder we can’t find her in Scotland.

 Posted by at 17:01
Jul 092014

I haven’t had the chance to do much imaging lately so I stepped into my WABAC machine and dug up an image from the archive.



The large nebulous object in the image is M87, a very large elliptical galaxy visible in the constellation Virgo. Elliptical galaxies are visually quite un-remarkable. Spherical, featureless and usually devoid of gas, these galaxies consist of very old stars. The lack of gas results in little to no stellar creation. All this leads to a fairly bland appearance.

So, why did I take a set of images of this one?

Every once in a while, I will try to image something unusual just for the challenge. Most of the time the local light pollution combined with the small aperture of my telescope prove too much for the intended target.

But, not this time.

Although discovered in 1781 by comet hunter Charles Messier it wasn’t until 1947 that the galaxy was identified as a powerful radio source. Photography showed a visible jet of material and it was suggested the jet was the source of the radio energy. Further investigation showed the galaxy was a very strong X-ray and Gamma ray source as well. Hidden deep within the halo of stars that make up M87 is a beast. A supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy powers the jet and provides the energy for the X-ray and Gamma ray emissions. My equipment cannot image the black hole, the X-rays or Gamma rays, so my personal challenge was to image the jet.

I had tried several times before but it always seemed that I could not capture enough light. I took a lot of exposures and stretched the combined stack well beyond a pleasing image but just couldn’t find it. I kept thinking that I would have to get a larger telescope. (I do need a larger telescope.)

M-87 jet

M-87 jet

However, this time while processing the images, I accidently slid the stretching control the wrong way.
It was then the jet revealed itself. The jet is only 5000 light years long. The galaxy is much much larger. So only by reducing the overall brightness does the jet, buried deep in the galaxies glow, finally become visible. I had been looking too far from the galaxies core.

The image is ten 300 second exposures.

 Posted by at 18:22
Feb 012014

Although the irregular galaxy M 82 is approximately 12 million light years from the Milky Way, it is considered a close neighbor. On the 21st of January that neighbor became the talk of the neighborhood when it was found sporting a brand new supernova. Of course, in Astronomy, brand new is a relative term. It is a sobering thought to realize this several week long pulse of light has been traveling for 12 million years and will pass us by and continue on out into the universe.

It was first noticed by students using one of the 0.35 meter reflectors at London University’s observatory. Threatening weather forced a cancellation of the regularly scheduled instruction for a quick demonstration of CCD usage. The students choose M 82 as the target. A check of the image showed a star that the instructor did not remember from earlier observations. A quick search of archival images verified the interloper as transient, and the rest is history.

SN 2014j in M 82

SN 2014j in M 82

As the announcement of a potential supernova (PSN J09554214+6940260) spread, many telescopes turned their attention to M 82. Spectroscopic images showed it to be a type 1A supernova a couple of weeks shy of maximum brightness.

My ‘after’ image was taken on the evening of the 22nd of January. It measures a magnitude 11.2 but that is too bright as I cannot measure the star without including light from the galaxy. Measurements taken on the 31st show a magnitude of 10.5, but modeling shows that it will peak during the first couple of days in February, so it won’t get much brighter.

By pure chance I took the ‘before’ image on the 3rd of January. Since the image on the 3rd was taken for 30 seconds through a luminance filter, I used the same settings on the 22nd in an attempt to match the two for the animation. I am surprised how close the images match.

 Posted by at 23:58
Jan 102014

The first item listed in Charles Messier’s list of not comets is a supernova remnant in the constellation Taurus.  It was recorded by Arabic, Chinese and Japanese observers in 1054 and was visible in broad daylight.  It is 6500 light years away and by now has a diameter of 11 light years.  It is expanding at a rate of 3,355,404 mph.

The Crab Nebula (M 1) [L:30x30s;R:30x30s;G:30x30s;B:30x30s]

The Crab Nebula (M 1) [L:30x30s;R:30x30s;G:30x30s;B:30x30s]

I took a monochrome image of the nebula in 2009. That image is still in the image gallery. Since then a scientifically significant discovery has been made concerning M-1.

The nebula is one of the brightest high-energy sources in the sky. For 40+ years the X-ray energy emitted was considered steady enough to be used as a calibration target. In fact, it was steady enough to have a unit of measure defined based on its output. That unit, a Crab, may have to be re-visited as close examination of X-ray output using a newer more sensitive sensor has shown a totally unexpected variability. Data taken over two years show an intensity decline of about 7%.

 Posted by at 00:07