This kind of stuff never gets old! A crisp Sunday morning, a cup of hot coffee, and a glorious sunrise with our friends Venus, who is a morning planet now after passing through inferior conjunction,, and of course a waning crescent moon.
Spring hasn’t quite sprung yet up here on the Hill. This morning the temp didn’t quite break 30 degrees. Strange patch of high humidity came through last night and when I checked the scope after last night’s session there was frost on it! Had to throw out about 75% of the images as a result. But, we did get one hour’s worth of new data on a new imaging project, the galaxy pair M81 and M82. I have never actually imaged these together before. Looking forward to the finished result! Then to top it off I found one of this month’s binocular bright comets, PanSTARRS, making its way through Aquarius now. I caught a glimpse of it about an hour and half before sunrise. Not enough time to do a full imaging sequence but enough to see a tail! Comet Lovejoy, supposedly more impressive is just too low now for me to get a good look at it. We’ll have to revisit these next month perhaps!
Comet PanSTARRS (C/2015 ER61) just passed closest to Earth on April 19 at 109.5 million miles. It should continue to brighten up until May 10 when it reaches perihelion, closest to the Sun. This is just a 1 minute single frame uncalibrated luminance image taken with the 5″ refractor
New project! The galaxy pair M81, M82 are part of the “M81 galaxy group”. There is a third galaxy, NGC 3077 which is interacting with the other 2 gravitationally but not in this field. The interactions have stripped away hydrogen gases from all 3 forming intergalactic filamentary structures called the Integrated Flux Nebula, I hope will be revealed in the final image. This is a single raw uncalibrated 6 minute luminance image taken with the 5″ refractor. Note the vertical lines through some of the stars. This ccd is very sensitive and what is called non-antiblooming, meaning that for these stars the charge in these pixels have exceeded the saturation level and then start to fill adjacent pixels. The sensor is designed to allow for vertical shifting of charge but not horizontal. So yes, this is kind of an “accepted inconvenience” , which has to be processed out of the image at some point, in exchange for higher quantum efficiency and data preservation but perhaps a topic for another day!
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After a fairly long course of gremlin battling (since October of last year!) I finally completed a full automated imaging project. Note this is “automated” but not “remote”, meaning I still have to go up there to turn everything on but once that’s done I can go back to the base house to do everything else. That’s the first step. Once we can do that fairly reliably, the next step is total remote operation off site. A lot to do before that!
Still trying to figure out guiding issues with CCD autopilot but we did get this done. It was a relatively short project, just over 7 hours and only 1 channel, Hydrogen alpha ,but a very interesting area that I had not visited before! SH2 249 is an emission nebula visible in the constellation Gemini. Currently March through May/June is really galaxy season and our equipment is not particularly suitable for that…yet! So this was a good initial target. Stewart Sharpless (Hence the designation ‘SH’) back in 1959 published a catalog of HII regions. What is an HII region? Here is the explanation (from Wikipedia):”An H II region or HII region is a region of interstellar atomic hydrogen that is ionized. (H is the chemical symbol for hydrogen, and “II” is the Roman numeral for 2. It is customary in astronomy to use the Roman numeral I for neutral atoms, II for singly-ionised—H II is H+ in other sciences—III for doubly-ionised, e.g. O III is O++, etc. H II, or H+, consists of free protons.) It is typically a cloud of partially ionized gas in which star formation has recently taken place, with a size ranging from one to hundreds of light years, and density from a few to about a million particles per cubic cm. The short-lived blue stars created in these regions emit copious amounts of ultraviolet light that ionize the surrounding gas. H II regions—sometimes several hundred light-years across—are often associated with giant molecular clouds.” Probably the most famous of these is the Orion nebula, but there are many many others! This is one I discovered, never imaged before, designated SH2 249. The object to the upper right has been called by astronomers the “Jellyfish nebula” for obvious reasons. Equipment used is shown here. Right now we have a Tak 130 NFB refractor, SBIG STXL 6303 camera with self guiding filter wheel. 29 exposures with a hydrogen alpha filter, each 15 minutes long.
First operating platform from the new observatory. Takahashi TOA 130 NFB, Moonlite “Nitecrawler” focuser-rotator, SBIG STXL 6303E camera, Paramount MEII mount
HII region in the constellation Gemini (see text above). Taken with 5nm H-alpha filter. March 2017. Orion’s Belt Remote Observatory. See the images link in the right panel for full resolution version!
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Had a chance to take a few days off from work to spend up at Mintaka Hill. My wife and I met a number of the neighborhood astronomers in our area. They live on both sides of the valley. I did get a lot done at the observatory. The focuser/rotator is operational and I have set up automation for the Tak refractor. We still have to figure out the roof remote operating system but have plenty of time for that. Meanwhile I paid a visit to Joe D.’s observatory. Joe lives across the valley from us and a little higher up. His passion is spectroscopy. I looked at his set up because I will be using some of the same equipment when it arrives in a few months from now. Anyway I had a chance to view my observatory from a unique vantage point as you can see! I guess we did clear a lot of trees!
Looking back across the valley to Orion’s Belt. B is the “astronomer’s living quarters”. A is the Orion’s Belt Observatory
What a difference a couple of years makes! Our community known as Talavera continues to grow like crazy along with the town of Las Cruces, NM. Along with huge growth comes increase in lighting and unfortunately the lighting is not exactly sky friendly. I am truly amazed in the 4 years I have been here the light dome from town has been steadily increasing to the point now where it is close to 50 degrees over the western horizon! Thankfully we now have Orion’s Belt Observatory in a dark site (for now), dedicated to deep space imaging and spectroscopy. So what to do with the Talavera Space Hut as we affectionately call it?
This is the equipment stationed in Talavera. An Astrotech 12″ f/8 RC scope on a Paramount ME and mounted on that is a William Optics GT102 refractor. The 12″ has a focal length of 2400mm. This is more than sufficient for planetary imaging.
I have thought about this for awhile now and what we decided to do was convert it to a planetary observing site. We can also do video astronomy for community outreach as we have in the past. Possibly narrow band projects etc but for now we have reinvented the Hut for the purpose of solar system observations. On Saturday March 4th I started this transition with a full evening of solar system observing and what an amazing night it was for that! I think the images are self-explanatory.
We already have installed a stepper motorized focuser. The camera currently is a Skyris 132M video camera with manual filterwheel. The Skyris is usb 3 and capable of frame rates as high as 100fps
We started out with the Moon. We’re using the software Fire Capture and you can see some of the lunar surface there on the screen
The space hut is a small roll off structure, only 8 feet square and manually operated. It is located in our backyard here in Las Cruces
A very cool Venus apparition! The bright planet is rapidly swinging between us and the Sun as it goes through inferior conjunction and will soon swing around to the other side of us and the Sun to become a morning star! In the meantime it appears as a very thin crescent. This is a capture sequence with a blue filter.
The fairly well publicized lunar occultation of Aldebaran, the red giant star in Taurus, occurred on Sat night the 4th. I am not much of a lunar observer but I was aware of the time it was supposed to re-emerge and since I was lucky to be out there testing this equipment for its new role I decided to try and capture it! The star’s relative motion is very fast and I was just in time! This is a single frame at prime focus.
Finally there was Jupiter! I do have some experience with planetary imaging prior to moving out here so I do know what to do. Unfortunately it appears I will have to add some extension to the optical train in order to use any additional magnification so sorry the planet is so tiny but this is an LRGB image obtained about 12:30 AM MST. No transits or other phenomena were visible at that time but I think this is promising. The image is pretty clean and seeing was not superb so perhaps this is a good sign of things to come!
Not too bad for a first night of solar system observing!
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