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
Sunrise from “Astronomers Headquarters” at the base of Mintaka Hill, Mayhill NM on Thanksgiving morning here in the US
6:30 AM on 11/24. Sunrise over the Sacramento Mountains. I came up to Orion’s Belt last night right after work to work on calibrating the new mount. It’s been a whole month since this key piece of equipment arrived. Since then I have been troubleshooting less than optimal pointing behavior. It turns out I have a lot of backlash in declination! So at least I know what the problem is. Sometimes you need to take a break from all this equipment hassle and just enjoy this amazing universe we live in! A cup of coffee on a brisk November morning with the sunrise could do the trick.
The much anticipated Paramount MEII arrives! This was on October 31st
Current setup which is temporary on this pier until the bigger optics arrive. This is a Tak TOA 130 refractor, Canon 60D
We now have a platform consisting of a mount, optical tube and camera! Yay! Unfortunately the mount is not performing as expected which of course is disappointing but we are determined to fix the problem. I have found with all this imaging stuff the more you spend the more trouble there is! You would think a telescope mount that costs as much as a car would be trouble free. I guess not. Anyway I keep telling myself they sent up the Hubble in 1992 with a mirror surface that was jacked up and required refiguring!! So I guess things aren’t that bad. At least my equipment is still Earthbound! More coffee and sunrises for me.
Finally completed this LRGB project of M15. This is not just another globular star cluster but is one of the most densely packed in the Milky Way and among other interesting stellar properties, contains the first ever discovered planetary nebula embedded within a globular, called “Pease 1″, named after the discoverer (see image below). Just 3 others have been found inside globular clusters since then! Pease 1 is dim (16th mag) but can be resolved by 12” telescopes. See image below. For full res image click on thumbnail at lower right under “my astroimages”
Pease 1 planetary nebula shown in this inset of the cluster marked by the white lines.
The 4 day Thanksgiving holiday has given me an opportunity to catch up on some unprocessed data. This was a 2 hour exposure of our neighbor Andromeda! M31 in the Messier catalog list. 2,000,000 light years distant, it is expected to merge with us in 3-4 billion years. I was happy with the result for only 2 hours of imaging time. The equipment used for this was the William optics GT102 refractor with flattener and Canon EOS 600D. I am able to use the SBIG camera’s guider during the 5 minute subexposures.
You can click on the thumbnail under “My astro images” for larger scale examples.
M31- Andromeda. Of note there are the galaxies M32 above and M110 at the bottom of the image
I took a break from my M1 project to visit my friend Tony on the other side of town. We did some imaging of Jupiter. I did planets for awhile in the past and one thing that I really began to understand was the importance of “good seeing”. Good seeing is the elusive variable we are all trying to take advantage of here on the Earth’s surface. We have to deal with this “thing” called an atmosphere. I tell people it’s like being on the bottom of a pool or other body of water and trying to see details of something floating on the top. The only way this is going to be even remotely possible is if there is no movement at all in the water. I mean it has to be like glass! That doesn’t happen very often unless you live in certain parts of the world, like the tropics or equatorial regions. Anyway we took some images of Jupiter which is very well positioned now high in the sky in the Northern Hemisphere. Tony has a nice set up with a 14″ Meade SCT housed in a structure with a roll-off roof. Those large aperture SCTs are definitely planet-killers! But again, you need the quiet atmosphere to take full advantage!
Here are 2 images of Jupiter taken 1 week apart. You can see the nice detail in the first image taken on 1/3/14. The second one is lacking in detail. I used to get frustrated with trying to get these high resolution images and would do my collimation and all the important fundamentals and could not understand why the results were so disappointing. It’s because of “seeing”.
Jupiter in good seeing taken 1/3/2014. Note the satellite transit in progress! Great Red Spot is clearly seen and nice detail in the cloud bands.
Jupiter captured in below average seeing. Note the surface features are “washed out” in this image.1/10/14