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
Oct 122013

Nova Delphini continues to dim. The weather has not allowed continuous coverage but the skies recently cleared enough so I could finally get some updated magnitude measurements.

Nova Del 2013_131012

I have been able to take enough imagery to now provide a short animation showing the star dimming. This covers the time frame from 08/26/2013 to 10/07/2013. The stars magnitude starts at 5.93 and drops to the most recent measurement of 9.13.


 Posted by at 09:56
Oct 102013

In August 2011, an Atlas V rocket was launched from Kennedy Space Center. On top was the Juno spacecraft bound for Jupiter. Juno’s task is to study Jupiter’s atmosphere and interior in order to better understand the planet’s creation and by extension, planet creation in general.

Due to the hazardous radiation environment of Jupiter the spacecraft carries its sensitive control electronics in a titanium tub known as a radiation vault. Partly due to the mass of the vault, the size of the spacecraft and its solar arrays and partly due to the fact we don’t have an upper stage that has the necessary power, a direct trajectory to Jupiter was not possible. So, Juno needed some additional help achieving the speed necessary to go the distance.  

Copyright NASA

Observe the size of the human silhouette in comparison to the spacecraft in this NASA briefing slide.

The craft was sent into an orbit that took it out past Mars to the vicinity of the asteroid belt. It then fell back into the inner solar system with a planned close pass by the Earth. The spacecraft would then use the Earth’s gravity well as an aid to gain the necessary speed to make the journey. That close pass occurred yesterday the 9th of October with the closest approach at 1425 CDT at a distance of about 347 miles. Unfortunately for us, closest approach was at night above South Africa and Southwest Asia. Juno did not come into view at PTO until just before 0100 on the 10th. The following animation is a set of nine 300 second images.


North is to the right and East is up. By the time I took the images, the spacecraft was already 250,000+ miles away. In 1969, it took the Apollo astronauts 3 days to fly the 238,900 mile distance to the moon. Juno had already passed that distance in the 10.5 hours since closest approach.

I must thank Heavens-Above.com for the very accurate pointing data. It was spot on.

 Posted by at 21:49