Jan 012015

Even though the clouds and near full Moon prevented any deep sky imaging this evening, together they provided the first image of 2015.


In this case, the ring visible around the Moon is a 22⁰ halo formed by light refracting through randomly aligned hexagonal ice crystals. The phenomenon lasted well over 4 hours. This image is a single exposure by the NMSU All-Sky camera.

 Posted by at 22:31
Dec 202014

Once again the PTO archive provides this image. Often misidentified as the Little Dipper, The Pleiades (M-45) is an asterism in the constellation Taurus.

M 45
Since this cluster of stars is very bright and a very prominent group in the sky, it is featured in many of the world’s cultures’ literature and folklore.

  • To the Greeks the stars represent the ‘Seven Sisters’. These were the seven daughters of Atlas (a Titan) and Pleione (a sea-nymph).
  • To several Native American tribes the cluster was seven wives who husbands rejected them because they constantly ate onions. The wives ran away but once they were gone, the husbands relented. So now, the husbands (the Hyades cluster) forever chase after their wives (the Pleiades cluster).
  • The Japanese word for the cluster is “Subaru” and a stylized representation of the cluster is used as the emblem on the cars of the company of the same name.
  • The Bible mentions them 3 times in Amos 5:8; Job 9:9; and Job 38:31; for example:

Amos 5:8 – Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion…

This open star cluster is ‘only’ 100 million years old or so. But, compared to the estimated 4.5 billion year old Sun, this cluster is just an youngster. Analysis of the cluster shows an estimated 1,000 stars as members and it has an estimated distance of 444 Ly. The group does not have enough mass to remain gravitationally bound for long and is destined to slowly drift apart. At one time the nebulosity that is apparent in the image was thought to be the remains of the cloud of gas and dust that the stars were born in, but it is now known that the cloud is unrelated and the stars just happen to be passing through it.

Although the cluster is a small group, it is larger than my camera/telescope field of view. The image above is a mosaic of 4 different exposures combined to capture the entire asterism.

 Posted by at 09:17
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