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!
This was the first one of these I have observed. Obviously not the fanfare associated with the Venus event 4 years ago now. (see “Road trip to Venus” link at the top of the blog page) There have been 4 of these since 1999. The next one is in 2019, so not really that rare. Still it’s fascinating to witness the solar system in motion! I would say the most impressive thing about this is how small Mercury is. Basically a black dot crossing the Sun, not even as big as a sunspot! If you think about it, not surprising because it’s only a little larger than our own Moon. So needless to say the visual appearance through the telescope was very cool, but imaging not so much. Conditions were a bit windy, but I didn’t have to travel 500 miles to get out of bad weather to see it like I did for the Venus transit!
This was the set up to start off. I have a modified Orion ED80 with added HA filters. The visual observations were great but I could not image through the scope as it has accumulated a lot of dust and junk overt he years. Might be time to upgrade. I switched to white light observing which was a lot cleaner
The transit was already close to 2 hours in progress when the Sun rose. This is about 2 hours after that, toward the latter part of the transit. You can see Mercury is a mere pin dot on the right! There is a small sunspot group to the left. Mercury is even smaller than that! These were captured with Tak FS102 refractor and Canon 600D. ISO 400 and 1/4000 exposure.
Transit almost over. Mercury is seen on the far right about to exit the theater!
This is the entire sequence as observed from Las Cruces NM. Transit ended at 12:40 MDT
I took a break from the “intensity” of deep space imaging to have a relaxing Moon gaze! It’s been a while since I did any solar system observing but thought I would try my newly acquired Takahashi FS102 refractor and Skyris 132M mono camera on the Moon. Seeing was pretty good. The Moon tonight was a waxing gibbous but provided great views of the northwest limb. I don’t spend a lot of time on the Moon but after tonight I might! The views visually were spectacular. The Tak optics are second to none. Copernicus is a pretty popular target with its dramatic multifaceted terraced wall and 3 distinct peaks each over 1 km in height. The diameter is 93 km and the depth is almost 4. The first image is at prime focus which provided the best resolution. The higher mag image is taken with a 2x barlow. You can see we lose some resolution at 2x but it’s still pretty good.
Copernicus at center. Eratosthenes is the crater to the upper right. View at prime focus
Copernicus with 2x barlow. West is to the right I believe. North is therefore toward the bottom
This is the topic that’s dominating the astronomy newswires these days as the much hyped up comet ISON reached perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) yesterday. Even I thought it was completely fried as it approached the Sun and just about everyone was calling it a done deal, when somehow something emerged from the other side! Apparently there is something that certainly looks like a comet, perhaps a fragment of the original but comet..esque just the same! Many unknowns still at play so stay tuned!
In 5 days the comet flies through the Sun’s atmosphere. We will be waiting with great anticipation when it comes around the other side!