Saturday, November 24, 2018

Flying Saucer, Meteor, Airplane, Satellite, or Ghost?

This morning, I revisited some of the images captured from the last astronomy session.

This image of the Orion Nebula had a really interesting addition to the nebula.

Something left a diagonal trail through the left portion of the capture.

(click to make bigger)

Orion Nebula with unexpected guest

What do you think it is?  Flying saucer, meteor, airplane, satellite? Ghost?  Marvin?

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Fun with the New Imager

Beep. Beep.  Beep.

That's the sound that my wrist alarm made at 1am this morning.  I set an alarm on my running watch to awaken me so I could do an early morning astronomy session.

I like to use the running watch for astronomy purposes because it's GPS accurate and strapped to my wrist.  No risk of dropping my beloved Pixel phone on the concrete driveway while fiddling with the time and date settings of the telescope's hand controller.

The moon was 98 percent illuminated -- it flooded the entire night sky, drowning out all but the brightest stars.

No matter.  I was merely interested in getting some under-the-sky time with the newly arrived ZWO ASI294MC imager.  The full moon is useful for testing new equipment.  It lets you see what you are doing while whirling unfamiliar knobs and twiddling unaccustomed levers in what would otherwise be pitch blackness.

I pointed the telescope at some of my favorite objects, getting a feel for the benefits of its comparatively larger field of view.

The brightness of the moon emphasized to me that "serious" astronomy was not to be done during this session.


Take for instance, this image of M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy.  It's washed out by the moonlight.  This object was one of the first that I visited this morning.  It's pretty much the best I could do with the brightness of the moon.  I was happy to see that the image is largely free of bloated stars, but with a taste of what the new imager could do, I wanted more than just washed out space objects . . .
M51, washed out by moonlight

(Note that clicking on images in this post will open slightly larger, greater resolution versions of the images.)

Monday, November 19, 2018

Staging for Astronomy

I'm risking the wrath of the "New Equipment" curse.

I'm probably doubling my chances for months of clouds and rain by writing this blog post about new equipment.

New equipment arrived in the mail today.

As I always do with new equipment, I put it on the scope and played with it until I was comfortable that I knew how to use it.

In this case, I was concerned that I wouldn't have enough downward focuser travel for the newly arrived imager.  Not enough travel would mean that I wouldn't be able to achieve focus with the new imager without changing the length of the focuser tube, or shortening the length of the scope's truss tubes, or perhaps even moving the primary mirror upwards a smidge.

So, I staged the equipment to see if I had a problem.  I opened the front door and pointed the scope at the chimney of a house some distance away. 

Through the storm door, peering at the chimney to the left
Visible in this photo is the new imager attached to the focus tube.  The imager has a USB3 link to the laptop and SharpCap is showing frames from the imager.

The verdict?  The focuser has plenty of travel for the new imager.

Here is a frame capture of the chimney.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Dust Lanes in Outer Space

Excellent transparency last night.  

I took advantage of it despite the bone chilling cold.  It was 26 degrees Fahrenheit -- not all that cold, really.  I'm just not acclimated yet to Winter temperatures.

The number one object on my observing list was Comet 46P/Wirtanen.  It should be easily visible with my SkyWatcher dobsonian. 10 inches of aperture gathers a lot of light.

At the time of observation, 46P should have been 20 degrees above the horizon. 

I did a local alignment on the stars of the nearby constellation, Fornax, to no avail.  46P was nowhere to be found.  Fornax was barely visible, too.  That should have been my clue.  

46P is still too dim for me to see when it is this low in the sky.

I'll keep trying over the next month as it gets higher and brighter in the sky.  Stay tuned.

With that disappointment, I spent some time looking at a brighter object in the sky, the Andromeda Galaxy.

The Andromeda Galaxy is huge and bright.  It's apparent size is about 6 full moon widths in the sky.

Its size and brightness make it a challenge to capture images with my equipment.

Andromeda, Big And Bright
The bright nucleus blows out the image.

What I usually do with objects like this is place the bright portion out of the field of view and then image the periphery.

Here are some of the captures:

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Hello Deep Space Objects, Goodbye Mars

Clear dark sky last night.

Transparency was not great, but the Milky Way was visible.

I planned ahead and created an observation list for SkySafari via LiveSky.

Here are a couple of deep space objects from my list.  Not astrophotography, per se, but actual image captures made using electronically assisted astronomy techniques.  

NGC 1514

Also known as the Crystal Ball Nebula, this is a planetary nebula discovered by William Herschel in 1790.  Last night was the first time for me.  I'll keep it on my list to revisit on another dark night when the transparency is better.

NGC 1514, A giant crystal ball in space
NGC 1514 is basically a binary star illuminating a cloud of gas that is expanding away from the dying larger of the two.  The smaller star is a white dwarf and is not visible here.

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