Thursday, February 6, 2014

Curiosity does some planet imaging.

Just another one of those amazing images that make you stop and think of the tiny blue dot we stand on.  Curiosity turned its camera toward the sunset and captured a bright "star" in the sky.
That star is US! Everyone we know, will know, used to know, everything in history that happened, dinosaurs, wars, disasters, even a few football games (now that will really make the Superbowl look like nothing!), and everything else.  All on that tiny dot.  The moon is visible also in the image, over 40 years ago humans traveled to that other tiny dot just below the brighter one - never any farther than that.  But then we see this photo taken from our rover sitting on Mars looking up the night sky.
Just another one of those photos that will make your brain go *ping!*.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Fresh craters on Mars.

The advantage of having spacecraft orbiting planets all the time is evident when the MRO orbiter finds new craters on the surface.  This is a fresh crater that formed recently, it's about 100 feet in diameter and has a "splatter" that goes out 9 miles!
Cool stuff.  Definitely a lot smaller than the rock that hit Russia a year ago.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Supernova in M82.

Again, a long time since posting new stuff.  But that's life as a Seattle astronomer as usual.  We got lucky again and had some clear skies for a few nights after SN2014J (the fancy name for a supernova) which blew up 11.4 billion years ago in M82.  Kind of cool, another one of those relatively bright Messier galaxies which are well known.   The star which blew up pretty much outshined everything else in the galaxy.  When I pointed the telescope at it, I could clearly see the star in just a 4 second exposure in my Starshoot autoguiding camera on the Orion 80ED.  It would have even been a good guide star if I wanted to use it.
The next night I just took a photo of an old favorite - M42.  It was up a lot earlier than the supernova, so I didn't gather more images of it.  The galaxy didn't clear my backyard tree until after 12:30am.

Friday, October 11, 2013

If the moon was in same orbit at the ISS.

Totally fictitious of course, but kind of a neat animation showing what it would look at if the moon was in the same orbital altitude as the International Space Station.  If the moon was really put this close, I think it would be well inside the Roche Limit and would be torn apart and turn into a ring similar to
Saturn's though.
Just imagine the daily solar and lunar eclipses, horrible light pollution and really messy tides!

Lost another of the original Seven.

Sadly, yesterday we lost another one of our space pioneer heroes. Scott Carpenter died from complications from a stroke, he was 88 years old. I'm glad to say that I did have a chance to meet him a couple times and do have his autograph in my collection. Scott was the 4th American in space and the 2nd to orbit the earth after John Glenn's shortened orbital flight (heat shield scare if you didn't know).

Scott was also the first to land way off course - about 250 miles - due to timing on the retro-rocket firing, but obviously he was found and it was a happy ending. He never flew in space again due to some reasons, but I'll let you read about that on the link below!

Now we just have John Glenn left of the original 7. He was the first American to orbit...and now the last of the Mercury astronauts. I always thought these pre-shuttle guys were all the best of the best, true heroes that we just don't seem to have anymore these days. Who will the next generation of space hero be?
  Godspeed Scott!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Russian SUV equivalent to a ride in the Soyuz.

I think this is a series of car commercials for a Russian car company.  Pretty funny stuff!  I'm sure the car they are selling has a lot more room in it than the Soyuz - at least they don't have to sit with their knees up a their chins!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Summer 2013 comes and goes....

Wow, this summer has had really great weather for a change!  We set a record for the most warm nights in August ever I think.  Astronomy has been kind of weak though.  Yeah, I do have a new 60Da camera and almost got the dome working well, but the skies have just not been super great again.  Either the hazy stuff moved in after dark, a full moon, or just plane gunky.
A very raw single image NGC891
I've been out of work since mid-April, so spending has been reduced to just a very tiny trickle of necessary things.  So $80+ set of new drive wheels for the observatory have been put on hold until finances start flowing the right way again.
I have been out a few nights at least, mostly collecting photon data that I still have to process.  This is a single raw image of NGC891 that is just extremely roughly processed.  It was about 6 minutes at ISO 1000 with the 60Da.  Stars look very round, so my autoguiding seems to be doing well!
I do have a handful of other images of this that I still need to stack and process, but waiting for a rainy day - which I think starts this week.
When the moon comes out, you can get a pretty nice shot of it before it goes full and just blows away the whole sky.  Either play with it, or close the dome and do other things.  This is a nice 1st quarter I took last week.  Canon 60Da, at f/10 on the 12" Meade.  It's three images attached together.  It does come out pretty, and the sunrise along the terminator down the middle is the best part where you get a nice 3d effect from the long shadows from the lunar mountains and crater rims.
Just a few more things and it will fly
So what else have I done this summer?  I've spent pretty much every weekday morning hunting for jobs and spraying my resume around.  I've started a very major project that I never thought I would ever dream of doing - building an airplane!  My girlfriend is a pilot and former aircraft owner (she has owned a few in the past and is currently between airplanes).  She didn't have to twist my arm when she said she has always wanted to build a Van's RV-7A aircraft.  So I've been teaching myself metalwork and the art of riveting this summer.  It is nice and cool in the basement also on the very hot afternoons.  It's been pretty much my  full-time job over the summer during the day.
Horizontal Stabilizer done
I'm still waiting for a job interviewer to ask me "what have you done during your period of unemployment?" I'd reply and say, "Uh...I've been building a high performance aerobatic airplane in my basement for my girlfriend."  I can't wait to hear the silence and blank stares from that comment!
More on that project later.

It will look something like this in 2 years

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Reality and fiction again.

Today I got an email with the latest cool photo released from the Hubble Space Telescope.  Amazing and pretty as always.  The "official" description of Protostar  IRAS 20324+4057 is below.
Hubble image of IRAS 20324+4057
This light-year-long knot of interstellar gas and dust resembles a caterpillar on its way to a feast. But the meat of the story is not only what this cosmic caterpillar eats for lunch, but also what's eating it. Harsh winds from extremely bright stars are blasting ultraviolet radiation at this 'wanna-be' star and sculpting the gas and dust into its long shape.
What a resemblance!
The first thing I thought when I saw this image was a moment of fear from my childhood watching that somewhat scary episode of Star Trek.   Remember the "Doomsday Machine"? The large worm like ship that would go around eating star ships!  Scary stuff for a young trekker.
There it is, found out in the constellation of Cygnus.  It's currently 4,500 light years away, so we are pretty safe - for now.

Enterprise heading for another adventure where no man has gone before. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Earthlings wave at Saturn.

There we are!  When enlarging the "pale blue dot" image from Cassini, we all show up.  Notice that Seattle isn't quite visible so only my hand could be seen above the horizon.  :-)
Unfortunately, Saturn was too low for me to get a daylight image.

Ok, not really a photo of Earth if I confused anyone (hopefully my readers aren't that clueless!).  A fun image from NASA that was released the other day.

Click image to zoom in on humanity (it's a big image)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tiny little blue dot...

Last week we had another unique chance for a self portrait.  No, not one of those really lame "stand in front of the mirror with an iPhone" photos for a dating site or a Facebook profile, but from much, MUCH farther out that a counter width from your mirror.  
Yes, I'm guilty of the "selfie"
This time the photo was from 4 Billion miles away.  We were all in the photo.  May of us did go outside and wave in the direction of Saturn at the assigned time too!  I looked toward the horizon here and was hoping to take a photo of Saturn while Cassini was taking a photo of us.  I have done daylight planetary photography before, and it IS possible to see planets during daylight with a telescope.  Saturn was just too low at the time for my location. 
 I did get a shot of Venus though!
The photos have been processed and are here.  Eventually, this will be assembled into a large mosaic of the whole planet eclipsing the sun.  But the frame were were waiting for is in. 
The Messenger spacecraft in orbit around Mercury did the same.  It also turned around from it's studies to send a photo home of it's home planet.   Cool!
So when you look at these photos, think about this - everyone that has ever lived, famous, or infamous, all wars, all inventions, all art, dinosaurs, disasters....EVERYTHING that we know or have ever known in the past, and in the future has happened on that tiny blue dot.  If that doesn't make something go *PING!* in your head, I don't know what will. 

Tiny pale blue dot. 

That's us (click to enlarge)
Seen from the other side - Messenger at Mercury

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Crazy cat lady equivalent?

Filled my truck
It happens again.  I get an email in our astronomy club account from someone that has a telescope that they would like to donate to our club.  Many times they are the cheesy little "Trashco Tasco" types and I may politely decline the offer.  Every now and then a really nice one is offered, so I'll return the email asking more about the telescope.  Usually, I'll end up picking it up and giving the orphan a new home.
Some assembly required
Recently I got another email from Robert, who had a cute little 17.5 inch dob that he wanted to donate to our club.  A couple email exchanges for info on the telescope - mostly interested in how long it is - and I agreed to give it a home.
So I drove up to North Bend to pick it up and Robert opens his garage and there it was.  Much bigger than I imagined!  It filled the back of my truck and still hung out a few inches, but got it home safely.
At 206 lbs listed in the manual, this thing isn't too portable.  I'd love to take it to a star party sometime and see what it can do in a dark sky, but I'll have to figure out transportation since my poor truck has a failing transmission, and my lower back hasn't been doing well either.
It rolls now!
Anyway, it's big!  I spent about an hour re-collimating the  mirror and had a clear night so I gave it a try. Very impressive!  This thing sucks in light at a furious rate, you can almost hear the sucking sound if you stand near the open end of the tube (ok, not really!).  Saturn looked great despite being low in he murk, I could easily pick out 5 moons and the Cassini Division.  M57 Ring was fairly bright, not much need for averted vision.  M13 Globular looked amazing also, as well as other things I tested out on.  The skies were really hazy and transparency really sucked.  Not very good for photography, but sure is fun to just wander around the sky without any electronic guiding for a change and just look at things visually.
After a few internet searches, I decided on a method for moving it.  About $20 later, and two trips to the hardware store, I fixed the problem of moving it around the yard. The wheel/handles are removable to avoid a tripping hazard, and it can be dragged around easily now.
Some people collect stray cats, I seem to collect stray telescopes!
Looking forward to more clear nights with "Lil' Palomar" as I think it's going to be named.

Size DOES matter if you are an astronomer!