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!
Thanks for reading!
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!
Thanks for reading!
August 4th the Backyard Observatories crew completed their mission in a most efficient and professional manner! I highly recommend BYO for anyone considering one of these. Unfortunately I missed a couple of days due to my work schedule. In any event Orion’s Belt Observatory is now complete!- sort of. Next is connecting the data and electric, painting and setting up additional equipment for remote operation. First light with the 16″ is not expected to happen until next Spring but it possible we could have our 5″ refractor operational by the end of the year.
You can see the entire build at orionsbeltobservatory.com!
Entry door on the west wall. Roof opens to the north
East wall looking west
Inside the observatory. The 2 foot drop down panel is seen to the right. We had the roof insulated to prevent excessive heat build up in the summer
The warm room! We have a 4 foot window on each side to monitor the operations of each pier
Roof motor just outside the warm room
Inside the warm room. It’s about a 5 1/2 foot depth. Plenty of space!
Day 2 of the build was actually yesterday. Once the flooring is in, it goes pretty quickly except the crew got rained out. They are hoping to finish by week’s end
Bright sunny day to start off as the walls go up!
Entry door is on the west wall. This is where the walking trail takes you from the house.
The south wall has a 2 foot drop down to facilitate viewing of the precious southern deep sky objects! The wall height is 7 feet. I can adjust the pier height accordingly. I kind of got tired of ducking every time I go into the smaller structure I have in Las Cruces and I am over 6 feet tall myself
To the north is the warm room. The great thing about a roll off is you have the option if you make the structure big enough to have more than 1 pier. Since I will have 2 piers, I will also have 2 stations in the warm room. The weather is starting to turn for the worse. It is our “monsoon season” this month.
Floor detail showing the 2 piers.
Detail of the framing inside the structure
Two things really surprised me last night while I am spending the weekend up here on Mintaka Hill watching the observatory build. A while back I purchased a used Tak FS102 refractor basically for visual use up here in the dark sky. The Tak FS is a fluorite doublet, since discontinued by Takahashi in favor of the TOA and TSA triplet optics mainly for the supposed imaging advantage, the perfect color correction. Anyway the older Taks have a superb reputation and I can’t tell you how amazing the views are through this thing. However, as an imager by nature, I just had to see what the images were like. Now I am used to big optics with self guiding dedicated ccd cameras. This is completely new to me, which is just one of the things so great about this hobby in that you can discover new things all the time…even if it’s not dark matter! I had also acquired in the past a Celestron AVX equatorial mount also for the purpose of goto visual observing. But wait a minute! There is a “guide port” on the mount. So now we have a scope and a mount that can guide. I looked into this at length and of course there is a “Celestron VX” Yahoo group. It turns out that yes you can guide! And you don’t even need to connect the mount to your computer to do it! So next thing was to figure out what to use. This set up was not going to hold much weight so next thing I needed was a guide scope and a lightweight guider. I decided to go with a lodestar guide camera and a small 50mm scope compatible with my set up (shown below). With my Canon 60D which can easily reach focus on the longer FL Tak and a freeware guiding program called “PHD” I was able to test the new platform! I was blown away by how accurate the guiding was for only rough polar alignment. I’m still learning how to fine tune that on this mount. Perhaps more on that in another post. Anyway you be the judge. The stars are not perfect. They may not even be in the best focus since I had to do that on the fly. But I think you can agree that this is going to be a worthwhile activity going forward! So the 2 things I learned that surprised me:
- The Tak FS102 CAN take very good images. Also the field is pretty flat.
- You can guide accurately with the Celestron AVX with no planetarium program and no direct connection from the mount to the PC!
Portable visual/ imaging set up. Tak FS 102 on a Celestron AVX. 50mm guidescope is mounted on the Tak as you can see. How guiding works: Connect your dslr as you would normally to your computer. Attach the guide camera to the guidescope. You should have 2 cables with your guide camera. One cable is an ethernet like cable that connects directly to the guide port on the mount. The other is a usb cable that connects to your computer. Download the freeware program “PHD guiding” and follow the instructions. When asked to select your guiding configuration, choose “on-camera” which means the camera is connected to the mount. That’s totally it!
This is a completely raw unprocessed image of our good friend in the Milky Way, the Lagoon Nebula. 4 minute exposure using the set up described above. This was with very rough polar alignment. I was within about 20-25 arc minutes of the pole in both altitude and azimuth!
The BYO (Backyard Observatories) crew finally arrives and construction starts on Orion’s Belt Observatory! Completion of the structure is expected in a week. Day 1 went fine. No disasters. The foundation was a little off level to the north and west so they had to put shims but otherwise no issues.
The crew finally arrives! Construction begins. View to the West
Completion of subflooring and connecting the conduit from the piers to the electrical panel and warm room
Flooring is done. It appears to be pretty level with the piers. One data conduit per pier enters the warm room
Day one is in the books with floor done and 2 walls
A successful day 1! View to the north from Alnitak Trail
Probably everyone who visits a dark sky site with any regularity has the urge to take “that shot” of the southern Milky Way. With spectacular weather up here for the 4th that’s exactly what I did at about 1 AM when the Milky Way was just past meridian. So while I don’t have the observatory up and running yet, we have a large deck where I can set up a camera and tripod, and with the aid of the Polarie Star Tracker (Vixen Optics) I took 24 frames each 3 minutes long. The Polarie device is basically a small synchronous motor, battery powered with 2 AA batteries, that you can screw your camera onto and it will allow time exposures of the sky. There is a small site hole in the body of it to site on Polaris. The tracking is decent. I used a Canon 60D modified with a 10-18mm zoom set at 10.
Southern Milky Way from Mayhill NM. Single raw image 3 minutes. Canon 60D, 10-18mm lens set at 10, 1600 ISO, Polarie Star Tracker. About 1 AM Mountain Daylight Time