Jul 012015

The NMSU All-Sky camera captured a bright object Monday at 0528 (UTC). At first glance I thought it was an airplane but what looked like a contrail was disappearing way too quickly. When two different objects became visible it was apparent to me that it was space debris. Notice the object initially becomes visible through beaks in the clouds along the tree line on the southern horizon.

After traversing the entire sky it appears to do the same at the roof line at the northern horizon. The American Meteor Society web page has over 150 reports of an event at the same time as the video time hack. Their initial identification is the earlier than anticipated reentry of a soviet rocket body.

 Posted by at 21:41
Jun 202015

NGC 6218 (M 12) [C:60X30s]

NGC 6218 (M 12) [C:60X30s]

Described by Charles Messier as a “nebula without stars”, this globular cluster was discovered by him in 1764. This cluster in located in the constellation Ophiuchus (the Serpent Bearer). It is about 15,700 lys from Earth and ancient in the extreme with an estimated age of 12.6 billion years.

Notice the two adjacent galaxies peeking through the cluster at about 8 o’clock just outside the central condensation. I’ve been able to identify the larger and brighter of the two as PGC 1103219.

 Posted by at 20:15
Jun 092015

Long identified as a tightly grouped open star cluster, spectroscopic analysis in the 1970’s showed this group of stars is a loosely grouped globular cluster. It is located in the constellation Sagitta (The Arrow) and is about 13,000 light-years from the Sun. At that distance, the cluster is about 27 light-years in diameter.

NGC 6838 (M 71)

NGC 6838 (M 71)[C:52x30s]

This image shows the cluster viewed through the disk of the Milky Way. Software analysis detects over 12,000 stars in the image.

 Posted by at 00:59
Feb 102015

Everything about the Sun is huge: temperatures, pressures, size and mass. Even though we know those fairly accurately, the Sun can still surprise. Last October the Sun sported AR 2192, the largest sunspot grouping in the last 24 years. This week the Sun exhibits one of the longest filaments ever recorded.


A filament is a portion of solar plasma that is suspended above the surface of the Sun by magnetic forces. Since it is being held above the surface it is slightly cooler making it appear darker. This one has been measured to be about 435,000 miles long. The Earth has a diameter of just under 8,000 miles and the distance from the Earth to the Moon is just under 239,000 miles. Those values put the length of the filament into perspective.

Right now, we view the filament from above. But as the Sun continues to rotate, the filament, if it survives long enough, will eventually be seen from the side. Once that happens the filament will become a prominence. A filament and a prominence are the same object, just viewed from different angles.

This image is a stack of 150 frames taken this afternoon through the PTO’s 60mm H-alpha telescope.

 Posted by at 22:42
Jan 312015

The three major craters in the image above are Ptolemaeus (top center), Alphonsus (mid left) and Albategnius (bottom right). The image was taken on the 27th of January when these craters were just on the terminator. This places the Sun low on the lunar horizon. The low light angle accentuates shadows highlighting the Moon’s terrain. The image is a stack of 150 frames.

Ptolemaeus is named after the ancient astronomer and mathematician Claudius Ptolemy. Classified as a walled plain, the crater is about 95 miles in diameter and about 1.5 miles in depth. The crater has a smooth lava filled floor with one prominent sub-crater: Ammonius. Notice the depression just to the upper right of Ammonius. This is a pre-existing crater that was filled in when lava filled the primary crater. There are several visible in Ptolemaeus and are known as ghost craters.

Albategnius is named for the ancient Muslim astronomer known for refining the length of the year to 365 days, 5 hours, 46 minutes and 24 seconds. His calculation is only 2 minutes and 21 seconds shorter than that accepted now. The crater appears more damaged by additional impacts than Ptolemaeus, the most obvious being the 27 mile wide crater Klein that interrupts the rim of Albategnius. Both Albategnius and Klein exhibit a central peak where lunar material rebounded after impact.

Alphonsus also has a central peak. In fact, the tip of the central peak is just about all that is visible in the image with the majority of the crater deep in shadow. The central peak is about 4,900 feet high. One of the numerous sub-craters in Alphonsus is manmade. The 1965 NASA probe Ranger 9 impacted the crater floor after sending back more than 5,800 photographs.

 Posted by at 01:30