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First light #2

From the new (partial) Celestron 14″/Paramount MX+ rig, this is a single unguided, manually focused, un-flat-corrected, 60-second image of the Dumbbell Nebula, Messier 27, from my backyard observatory last Friday night, with hazy skies and substantial wind.

Not sure how much detail you can see in this 420×280 scale-down of the original 3072×2048 image. There’s perhaps a trace of coma, but that won’t be sure until the polar alignment and guiding are set. Already the whole-sky pointing RMS is down to 13 arcseconds. Pretty good for 3 hours after bolting all the pieces together, and it promises to be plenty good for variable-star photometry.

Quick image of Messier 27

Getting my ancient Celestron 11″ rig up and running after it sat for years in various boxes. Here’s the Dumbbell Nebula, Messier 27, in a single 60-second guided image taken through a clear filter from my Bois d’Arc Observatory. First Light in Kansas!

First light C11 in Kansas -- Messier 27

OK, not the most glorious image. But at least the guiding and image calibration etc are working. And in any case this old rig will be dedicated to variable-star photometry, where sharp, perfectly round stars are not quite as important as in aesthetic astrophotography.

Links from the June 28 General Meeting

Thanks to all who attended NEKAAL’s June 28, 2012 General Meeting at the Topeka/Shawnee County Library. I had the honor of presenting a three-part program, and there are a lot of websites you can visit to expand on my all-too-rushed subjects. Rather than watch the attendees trying to scribble in the dark, I thought I would have mercy and tell them the website addresses will be available here.

Don’t just surf–DIVE DEEP. Join a program of your choosing, DO SOME SCIENCE!

Part I: SAS

Society for Astronomical Sciences

SAS Newsletters etc

Part II: Citizen Science — Astronomy

The Sky is Your Laboratory (book)

Galaxy Zoo

the Milky Way Project

Moon Zoo

AAVSO, the American Association of Variable Star Observers

Center for Backyard Astrophysics

Lowell Observatory

LARI, the Lowell Amateur Research Initiative (9 programs)

Part III: Secret Weapon Websites

Heavens Above (satellites, iridium flares, sky charts)

Comet Chasing

CalSky (local nightly almanac)

Astromart (Classifieds, etc)

See you at next month’s meeting!  [July 26, 7:00 pm, at the Topeka-Shawnee County Public Library]

More Arp Galaxies

And still taking images of Arp’s Peculiar Galaxies for the Astronomical League program, I’ll post a few recent ones. These are taken at Farpoint Observatory with the 27″ “Tombaugh” reflector.

Arp 120 (above) is a seriously disturbed galaxy pair, with an amazingly distorted trails of stars. Those small dark patches in the star trails are real–rogue dark nebulas blocking some of the light.

Arp 242 is a crowd-pleaser, two galaxies that appear to be making several passes at each other and gravitationally smearing each others’ shapes before parting ways or (more likely) eventually merging. Not sure which, yet–please ask again a few billion years from now.

Two more gravitationally interacting galaxies. If your monitor is adjusted well, you’ll see two streams of stars between the galaxies. The tiny bright spots in the galaxies’ arms are star-forming areas. Any time you have stars and surrounding gas colliding with this bulk and force, you have to expect lots of new stars to form.

Arp 286 shows yet more galaxies being distorted by each other’s gravity. And it’s almost always gravity that makes the shapes of Arp Peculiar Galaxies so, well, peculiar. It’s not their fault–if we had 200 billion solar masses stretching us up close for billions of years, we might look a bit peculiar, too.

video: Minor Planet discoveries

Recommended: a time-lapse video of minor planets (asteroids) as they are discovered over the past 30 years or so. This new one is updated to mid-2011.

Watch it in the highest resolution your PC will allow. Now, here’s the link!: Turn off the music if you don’t care for it. This video compresses 30 years into about 3 minutes; it might be easier to follow details of the 7-minute version:

Notice 3 things as you watch:

  • Discoveries (flashing in white) follow the earth around its orbit. You can’t discover distant rocks in broad daylight!
  • There are more discoveries in northern winter (top of screen) than in northern summer (bottom of screen).
  • Discoveries tend to “pulse” 12-13 times per year, especially in later years when we’re looking for fainter and fainter objects. You can only see them on nights near the new moon.

video: Our Place in the Cosmos

Highly recommended: a recent presentation given on the Google campus by Prof. Raja GuhaThakurta of UC Santa Cruz.

It runs an hour and a quarter, but it’s so packed with interesting ideas, pictures, and simulation videos of galaxy collisions, etc that you don’t notice the time. Give up that Seinfeld rerun and give it a try. Google Tech Talk videos like this one are offered in several resolutions to match your PC and web connection speed–use 720 HighDef if you can. Just make sure you view it full-screen.

Here’s the link!: Our Place in the Cosmos

Arp Peculiar Galaxy 227

Continuing Astronomical League programs, I’ve started taking images of Arp’s Peculiar Galaxies, which actually more often than not groups of galaxies acting oddly because of mutual gravitation effects. Here’s number 227 (from Arp’s list of 338; 34-minute monochrome exposure):

The halos around the galaxy at left are real–they are thin streams of stars and dust around the galaxy proper. “Thin” of course being relative to the galaxies’ size, so in this case some tens of thousands of light-years.

Now, the Arp images being taken in this program are Dual Purpose, since the 40-60 minutes of imaging needed to define an Arp galaxy when using NEKAAL’s 27″ reflector matches the typical time needed to detect a minor planet and to get a first measurement of its motion. Last month bagged 9 new minor planet designations for Farpoint.

NASA: planet 55 Cancri e is “weird”

From the article: “New observations by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope suggest that 55 Cancri e may be wetter and weirder than anyone imagined.”

planet 55 Cancri e next to Earth

OK, it’s bigger than earth, cyan in color, and oozes. But does that make it weird? Um, there’s more, so apparently yes.

Read all about it here…

Flat Galaxy Zoo

Flat galaxies aren’t strictly flat, as in having zero thickness. They do have thickness. And that’s not really a contradiction: if zero thickness were the only meaning of flat, flat tires wouldn’t be flat either…

No, flat galaxies are simply galaxies of a roughly disk shape, and ones that we happen to see edge-on. (Actually, that’s the only vantage from which you can tell they aren’t perfectly flat.)

So, this year I launched into the Astronomical League’s Flat Galaxy program, taking images of flat galaxies using the big Tombaugh telescope and its ccd camera. My trial attempts were, well, trying:

Flat galaxy 1172, UGC 3697, poor first attempt

The Integral Galaxy (so called for its shape) is warped by gravitation from a nearby dwarf galaxy (not seen here). It’s a very nice galaxy, but this image is noisier than it should be, and the star shapes are not really round.

Over this last summer, I got some skills:

Flat Galaxy 553, NGC 973

The above is NGC 973. This image’s noise is lower, stars are tiny (well focused) and round, structure of the galaxy is obvious, and you can even see several other galaxies in the image–I count 5, your mileage may vary.

By the end of the summer and the end of my flat galaxy program, I had better control of the situation:

Flat Galaxy 2335, NGC 4565

The above is the Needle Galaxy, NGC 4565. So last month I sent the Astronomical League 100 (!) flat galaxy images and details about how I took them and more details about geometric measurements I made on them, and then last week I received certificate number 9 for AL Flat Galaxies. But mostly this was imaging (elementary) school for me. My next AL project concerns the more difficult Arp galaxies, some images to be posted soon…

NASA: Tornado Warnings from Space

New satellites can let the National Weather Service give a lot more warning of tornado conditions.

North American cloud map of large storm

How will this work? Read all about it here…