Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lightning strikes water.

I do "borrow" things from other blogs sometimes, but always give full credit to the author. I just came across this really awesome lightning photo on

This was taken by Francis Schaefers and Daniel Burger in the Netherlands.

On May 26th, photographers Francis Schaefers and Daniel Burger were chasing a thunderstorm along a beach in Vlissingen, the Netherlands, when "the storm turned around and came a little too close for comfort," says Schaefers. "We were able to photograph lightning hitting the water just 40 meters away." Here is the view through their Canon 400D:

I've done a little lightning photography myself, but good storms are rare in Seattle, but this is my favorite from a few years ago.

Black Eye Galaxy (Or M-64)

Strange to have a bunch of clear nights here in Seattle, all in a row! Sleep has been lacking on work nights, but thats one of the nice things about riding the bus to work, I don't have to wake up until sometime after I'm sitting at my desk!
I'm learning a few new tricks including "dithering" where I move the scope a little bit between every few frames. That really does smooth out the background noise nicely. I still have a lot to learn on processing, I'm getting nice data now, but just need to learn more about how to use my tools better.
The moon is growing brighter in the clear skies these nights, and it's to the point of being annoying for deep sky work, so I'm done gathering data until that thing is gone again.
Anyway, here is the latest. The Black Eye galaxy- M64. This is with 11 exposures at 5 minute each, with a bit of a nudged now and then to dither out the noise. Looking better but still not an expert at processing. I did take a bunch of frames of M106 the other night but then looking closer realized that my stars were out of focus. Files deleted....try again next time.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Galaxies, space stations and rings....

Good weather again the last few nights. Been testing out the newly re-aligned mount some more. Still doing much better than it has in years, how I went this long without fixing this properly, I don't know. I was just trying to depend on the autoguiding system to fix my errors, but then it can only do so much!
So, here are some galaxies to start with...

(click the images for a full sized view of each)

M101- a BIG galaxy, and relatively bright, but the problem is that the thing is smeared out over such a large area that it ends up not being so bright. But if you are in a dark enough sky, you can actually pick this out with binoculars. Here in the Great Seattle Nebula, you can just barely make out the center with averted vision. The details on this one - 17 images at 5 minutes each ISO 800 with F/6.3 reducer (for the hopefully few techie types that read my blog ).

NGC-4565 - probably one of the best example of an edge-on galaxy. Another challenging target, actually what target isn't challenging!? There is another little galaxy to the lower right. That one was about 14th magnitude, so you can see that I can pull in some deep stuff despite my light pollution situation here. Details: 11 images 5 minutes each also at ISO 800.M-51 - Probably my favorite galaxy. Why? It's just darn cool with that other little one sucking stars off the big one, and it's somewhat bright - but still hard to image well. This is probably one of my best images of this galaxy far, far away. I don't want to add up all the hours I've spent trying to get the ultimate image of this, probably an embarrassing amount of time pointed at this thing!
M-57 Ring Nebula - This is the remains of an old star that basically shed it's skin along with most of it's guts. Didn't explode in a neat way, but just let go of it's outer layers and became what we call a planetary nebula with a white dwarf in the middle (you can see the central star). It's a planetary nebula since it appears about the same size and shape (round) as a planet.
This one is another good indication that my guiding is doing better. I got brave and removed the focal reducer and worked at F/10 this time. Basically, the less reduction the more your sloppy autoguiding will show up when your stars look like Twinkies! Round like a Ding Dong is better, without the sticky chocolate.

ISS - Finally, the International Space Station has made some favorable passes the last few nights.

Finally, if you wonder why the station looks so bright at times, here is the answer. Sunlight reflecting off the solar panels. The thing flared up tonight to magnitude -5 at least when I took this. Blurry image from tonight, but this is a good one to show the panels shining back at us.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I have a lot to learn still about processing....

I've shared out some of my raw data on a web forum ( to see if there was someone out there that could give my data a try. Here is my version of M63 (left). Sure it's probably one of my best of this galaxy. But then I got Sal (aka: SGT500) to give it a try and he came up with this result (right). Wow! I had to match up the stars to see if this really was the image that I took, it was. I'm still doing something wrong and need to figure out some more tricks. I got the phtoton collecting working a lot better with the mount properly aligned, so I know I'm getting some good data. I just need to learn how to use my tools now.
I have a few more recent images that I'll post later, as well as a few more shots of the ISS. Station is passing in about 1/2 hour, so gotta go out and focus now!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

One clear but hazy night last weekend.

We have again had frustrating weather, and a freaky 1 hour storm last night with lightning and thunder. (See the Space Needle get hit a few times). The other lightning on the left looks like it hit the flag pole on top of 2 Union Square - the building next to the one I work in. I only got one blast of thunder here at home, but it felt like an inch of rain!
A few nights ago, it was clear but kind of hazy with high cirrus stuff drifting around. I had my second chance to test out the new alignment on the scope mount. Still seemed to be holding on fine. The stars are again round in this shot of M-63. We might have a week of clear skies coming up, so maybe spring is starting?
I still feel that I need work on processing, the image still has some noise in it that I want to improve. But maybe I can get a few nights of fresh data to play with....

A couple more STS-125 videos

There wasn't any live video of the release, but this was sent down from the shuttle and posted on the internet today. Notice when they give the shuttle 10 burns on the rockets to move the shuttle down. The Hubble then drifts right over the top windows of the shuttle.

...and here are the views that I never get tired of. The SRB cameras! I think these are some of the clearest videos I've see yet of this. I think they stuck HD cameras all over the place now. They also had a 3D IMAX camera on board for a future movie.
Notice the flex in the wings when the SRBs light, see how fast the shuttle passes those high clouds, and the clarity of the view of the shuttle pulling away. Very cool.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Is that a space shuttle in your pocket?

I got an email from Austin Meyer's list today. If you don't know, he's the guy who has been competing with Microsoft Flight Simulator for many years with X-Plane. There are several versions now for the iPhone or iPod Touch, that are very impressive.
I just saw that there is soon a space shuttle simulator for the iPhone coming out very soon. I'm looking forward to adding this to my iPod Touch. I'll try to post a review once it comes out.

Statement from John Grunsfeld on the completed spacewalk.

"This is a really tremendous adventure that we’ve been on, a very challenging mission. Hubble isn’t just a satellite- it’s about humanity’s quest for knowledge."

"A tour de force of tools and human ingenuity. On this mission in particular, the only way of finding the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible. On this mission, we tried some things that some people said were impossible….We’ve achieved that, and we wish Hubble the very best. It’s really a sign of the great country that we live in that we’re able to do things like this on a marvelous spaceship, like space shuttle Atlantis. I’m convinced that if we can solve problems, like repairing Hubble, getting into space, doing the servicing we do, traveling 17,500 mph around the Earth, we can achieve other great things, like solving the energy problems and climate problems- all of the things that are in the middle of NASA’s prime and core values. As Drew and I go into the airlock, I want to wish Hubble its own set of adventures and with the new instruments that we’ve installed that it may unlock further mysteries of the universe."

-- John Grunsfeld

Hubble mission, photo essay.

Yes, more Hubble stuff. Busy week again for the shuttle, and our favorite telescope. The final spacewalk completed today and despite a scary moment when John Grunsfeld bumped into an antenna and knocked something off (works fine, nothing to worry about) the Hubble is all closed up and ready to go again. John is most likely to be the last human to every have his hands on the scope. After this flight, the scope will never be seen again by human eyes. Kind of sad to think, but at least it will be sending down some more great images for more years before getting dumped in the Pacific ocean.
Anyway, has again come up with a fine photo essay of the mission. Check out the photos!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunspots or.....?

Look at this photo of the sun. Just looks like any other boring photo taken lately since there are no sunspots or anything interesting to see on the surface the last couple months. But wait....there's a spot down at the bottom. Click on the photo for a full size and look closer.
That larger sunspot should look familiar. The smaller spot is also a very popular object. Still can't figure it out? Click on this one.
You have probably seen these already, they have been spread all over the internet over the last few days.
(photos by Thierry Legault)

Crew interviews from shuttle

On the third day of the STS-125 mission to Hubble, Mike Massimino went around with a video camera and interviewed each crew member after the Hubble was captured. You need to watch the whole thing, it's pretty good, almost in a Jay Leno-ish way! It's really quite fun an entertaining.
Mike has also been the first person to "Twitter" from space. He only has a few Twitters sent down since they keep him pretty busy up there. I don't have a Twitter account, but you can see his messages here - ASTRO_MIKE.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More STS-125 videos

Always fun the few days after launch (or even the evening after) there are always so many videos to watch. I poked around on for good amateur videos - and there are a lot of them!
Although, not an amateur video, this is one of NASA's cameras near the pad. So far this has to be my favorite one so far. Watch this one and notice the shuttle climb, do the roll and then aim it's nozzles right at the camera. I've never seen this angle and just think it looks really cool. (On these videos, double click and hit the [HD] button to see it in higher resolution)

Another impressive view. This time the External Tank in high definition. This was the first time a HD camera was used for this. Notice how well cooked and blackened the end of the tank is, as well as the SRB burn marks on the top of the tank.

One more! This is a more familiar angle of the launch, but all in HD quality. Sure is nice that YouTube supports this now. This sure looks nice.

I'm sure in a couple days the SRB booster view videos will be out. Those are always great.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Spirit in a bit of trouble again....

The aging and tough little 5 wheeled rover seemed to have gotten itself stuck ankle deep in the Martian soil. There is some fear if the rover drivers keep trying to dig out, the rover may bottom out and be resting on it's belly. Lately, power levels have been improved due to some more wind blowing the dust off the solar panels, but despite the power, the rover is stuck. Rover drivers have stopped driving for now and are looking around at the ground to figure out how to get Spirit limping out of it's current sticky situation. One of the 6 wheels had quit working about 3 years ago, and it's been dragging it's leg like a limping puppy since then.

Quote from NASA:
"Spirit is in a very difficult situation," JPL's John Callas, project manager for Spirit and its twin rover, Opportunity, said Monday. "We are proceeding methodically and cautiously. It may be weeks before we try moving Spirit again. Meanwhile, we are using Spirit's scientific instruments to learn more about the physical properties of the soil that is giving us trouble."

Chase is on....

Atlantis just reached orbit safely, and now begins the chase to catch Hubble for it's upgrades. Ugh....I hate watching when those SRBs are burning. Even if they only failed once, those things are freaky scary. You gotta see one of these things go in person, it's amazing how bright those flames are. Powerful stuff!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

That always recognizable clinking sound of that shaken box.

You know that sound, LEGO! Today (one of my favorite geeky news sites) had a nice article today on the timeline of one of our favorite Lego themes. The space Lego sets. My first set was #367 in 1975, the moon landing with the blue LM and the square helmeted astronauts (you had to decapitate figures of their spherical yellow heads since Lego helmets were still not invented yet). Later when minifigs came out, there was this fantastic new kit with a rocket launcher and a couple little astronauts with it. I spent a weekend collecting newspapers and bottles to sell for recycling to save up the $8.95 for the kit....only to realize that I still needed a few more bucks for tax. Finally, another weekend towing the Radio Flyer around the block, I got the #462 kit and life was complete - at least for a while. I never got the Galaxy Explorer, but later got a few Star Wars kits, a Discovery Shuttle, and the large Mars Rover with 800+ pieces. I still must get that ultimate Millenium Falcon someday, but $300+ is pretty steep. Too old? No, it says for ages 16+ (I'm on the "+" side of the age!)

Free downloadable guides to faint stuff.

Alvin Huey has a website that he has a few guides that you can download for free. The guides are for those of you who like to find stars and objects the hard way (or the "right" way) without cheating and using a computer and/or the GoTo feature on your scope. The guides have star maps, a Telrad diagram and a reversed image photo so you can find the faint objects easier.
The guides are quite extensive and he goes into a lot of the more obscure faint objects like the Hickson, Abell, and Shakhbazian Groups of galaxies. I never heard of "Shakhbazian Groups" but he mentions that you need at least a scope of 25 inches or bigger for those. That's some pretty hard-core faint fuzzies!
Sure there are the more familiar Messier and NGC stuff in there too for us smaller scope guys who live amongst the light pollution nebulae of large cities.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Stargazing from Saturn

Cassini took a break from imaging Saturn and pointed it's camera out toward space. Here is a shot of the Pleiades from orbit around Saturn. It doesn't look any different than here on Earth, but it's just fun to see a familiar object from 8.85AU from home.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Shuttle to launch a day early for Hubble (May 11)

The first launch scrub (Oops...I mean LAUNCH!) will be moved up one day earlier for the flight of Atlantis on the STS-125 mission for a final visit to the Hubble for one last upgrade. Endeavor is standing by on the other pad ready to fly in a few days notice just in case something bad happens to Atlantis and the crew needs to be picked up. Again, STS-400 (rescue) is a mission that we plan not to fly, and a trained crew trained for nothing. If this flight goes, Atlantis is doomed, and the shuttle program will probably come to an earlier end than planned.
Anyway, no more talk about that. Here is a really nice graphic that I found in my Friday email from the Hubble list. I have this set as a wallpaper on one of my monitors on my computer at work.

Very nice Comet Lulin photo.

I saw this animated photo of Comet Lulin in my Friday morning email from Astronomy magazine. Photo is taken over a span of 2 hours 35 minutes by Robert Lockwood from San Diego. Yeah, San Diego has clear skies most of the time. Very nice work!