Friday, October 30, 2009

Filters, levels, masking, and mental saturation.

I'm writing this from the lobby of the Doubletree hotel in San Jose. Internet is free down here, the TV is acting funky, nothing to do in the room upstairs anyway. I'm here this weekend for the AIC (Advanced Imaging Conference). Spent the whole day in 4 seminars on image processing, and autoguiding. I'll just say my brain is full, but excited to try my new skills I learned - hopefully repeat a few times so I remember how to do it. Tony Hallas had a really great talk on Photoshop processing with some simple and amazing tricks with even more incredible results using an image of M81.
So far, I'm on the right track with my processing, but really need more work with using some of the Photoshop, levels, curves, layers, and definitely masking!
I just spent about $360 on a couple of filters for my Canon 350D camera - CLS filter for light polution, a H-alpha filter, and a book. Probably buy more stuff before the weekend is out.
Kind of fun meeting with a bunch of other astro-geeks. We all sit at tables, introduce ourselves, then pass around our netbooks and iPods sharing our "family" pictures of our backyard galaxies and objects. My little family of galaxies photos were kind of the "special needs" kid compared with some of the others that were shared (at least I think so!). There are people from all over the country, including someone from Australia and France. Always nice to meet others that share the same interest of staying out late at night, fooling around with expensive optics and computer gear while cursing into the darkness out of frustration. I did mention this is a rewarding hobby while being the most aggravating and frustrating activity around?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Coolest quilt I've seen in a long time.

I don't know anything about sewing or quilting, but I just know (from my mother) that quilting isn't an easy thing, and takes a long time to do. Mom often scoffs at people that make them at less than minimum wage when they finally factor in the time that they spent making it, and the very low price they sell it at the yearly Christmas bazaar.
I saw this site that sells some pretty good looking quilts that would attract the astronomer crowd. I think if this guy was a vendor at some of the summer star parties, he would do quite well. We do need more vendors up at Table Mountain Star Party, the bad economy has made equipment shopping pretty sad the last few years up there.
Here is a nice sample of the M64 galaxy in a quilt. Forget the Snuggie, I'll curl up under a galaxy while watching a good meteor shower!

The pads are full of old and new.

The Aries 1X and shuttle are both on the pads now. Just a few more days until Aries flies for the first time.
I was just thinking something else about this new rocket. It sure won't sound as good as the shuttle. One SRB rocket vs. the shuttle's 2 SRBs, and 3 SSMEs all firing at the same time. To quote Alan Bean when seeing Alan Shepard fly:
"He's gone higher than I've ever gone, and faster than I've ever gone, and most importantly, he's made more noise doing it."
NOISE! Will the Aries be the rocket equivalent of a Honda rice-burner with a fart can? I've seen a shuttle launch from 6 miles away and the noise that thing makes is almost worth witnessing it in person. Here is the best sounding video I've seen with a launch (this is the STS-117 launch that I was at).

I guess I should quit nit-picking The Stick.....sorry - Aries - before I even see it fly. I'm starting to sound like I'm talking about Star Trek XI!

NASA for your pocket.

NASA just released a really nice little iPhone/iPod touch application today. It's kind of a mini, pocket version of the NASA web page. There is a countdown/count-up feature on the front page showing how many days/minutes/seconds until then next launch. Then it also shows how many days since a certain mission started. The ISS has been in orbit 3,990 days I just learned today after installing the app.
Also has photos, videos, news, and of course "Twitters" if you are really into that stuff. I draw the line at Twittering personally. Just too much information I don't need to be more of a twit than I already am normally!
Best of all, it's free too. Or I guess we already paid with our taxes - what little NASA does get from the budget.
Always good to see NASA working on stirring up more public interest in this. Good job!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The "Stick" is on the pad (or in the bottle?)

A few nights ago NASA rolled out the future of manned space flight for the United States. Personally, I'm still not convinced this is the right path, kind of a step sideways and backwards rather than a jump forward from the shuttle. Sure, saving money and using shuttle booster parts is a good idea, but....?
"The Stick" as it's been nicknamed by some, is about 30 feet short of the height of the Saturn V, but it just looks like a very tall bottle rocket. Sure, can't judge a ship by it's looks (look at the Apollo LM!), but this one does still have it's problems. The problem with the vibration is one that was fixed by adding counterweights to absorb vibration. Adding weight to a rocket does that make any sense?
Download the Press Kit below, there is a lot of good information about the flight, and plenty of diagrams for you visual types - like myself.
Anyway, it's test flight is top priority in a few days, so we'll see if the stick flies when the fuse is lit!

Shields up!

I saw this image today and found that it was a great visual aid showing how well Martians are shielding their planet from the invading Earthlings. Some ships get through though, but most don't.
We have 6 countries (I guess Soviet Union is a former country) attacking Mars - Soviet Union, United States, Russia, Japan, Europe and soon China. The US is still the leader at getting through the shields and all the way to the surface!

(Click the picture for a full size view)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Today's Martian meteorite.... called "Mackinac".
Opportunity pretty much took a peek at this one, took a few photos, and has continued on it's quest. Maybe meteorites lying around on the surface are kind of a common thing on Mars but it really freaks me out that they have been sitting there just like this for over 3 BILLION years!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Soufriere Hills Volcano, Montserrat

I can't pass up a good volcano image. More activity on Montserrat. I guess those people there just don't get a break from this volcano. Here is a photo taken by an astronaut on the ISS last week.
Click the link for the size image, lots of small detail in the image. Then you can zoom in on the town at the opposite side of the island with Google Earth for a view.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The elusive LCROSS impact plume.

Yes, there was a plume. I wasn't visible from Earth, but the LRO spacecraft spotted it from orbit 600 km away. The plume was 6 - 8 km wide, which was about what was expected wasn't it? The image has been stretched to pull out the details in the darkness. Kind of looks like one of those ink splotch things, look at it long enough and you'll see things. I think I pick out a lobster and a moose!
The Centaur also created a crater that is approximately 92 feet wide. Hard to see it since it's in the dark corner of the crater, but the dark corner was the target anyway to hopefully find evidence of water. No results released yet, but NASA is very pleased with the results so far. The public? - I think they expected too much out of this.
Just give them time to sort out the data, I'm sure water will be found!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Just another one of those things I never see.

Every now and then (rarely!) I'm looking the right direction and see one of these, but it's rare to see one that looks like this. I did see a similar meteor last winter, and did read about it in the news the next day.
Most of the time I'll miss it. There was one about a year ago that was really bright, and I was outside in the observatory staring at the screen focusing the scope. Another time I heard those nearby saying "oooh!", but I was looking at my feet or something.
Anyway, how often does a nice fireball happen when you have a camera - and can use it quickly enough to get shots like this? Robert Mikaelyan was lucky and had a camera ready and got these shots. I think he is a professional photographer from the look of his photo site, so he was probably all set with his camera and could use it quickly.

Tattoo or Mars?

I saw this image today and my first thought was a scene in a movie I saw recently with Angelia Jolie's tattooed back was visible, some large twisty dragon like thing.
No, this isn't a tattoo, but kind of looks like it. It's sand dunes on Mars with dark tracks left by dust devils as the moved around on the surface. Strange stuff, but this almost looks like some kind of modern art. This would look good on a wall - Mars not the tattoo.

Monday, October 12, 2009

LCROSS public reaction - video

Not quite, but I saw this and thought it was perfect.

Space highway?

This isn't a new poster, I remember seeing it in an issue of National Geographic, or maybe it was one of those special space issues? It's a poster showing all the spacecraft launched to the planets and other places, all neatly diagrammed on a poster. Maybe if you stare at the spiral patterns long enough, you'll see some pattern of a 3D dinosaur when you glance at a blank wall?
Seriously though, this is a great poster and you can stare at this for a while!

Just kind of fun - Saturn V cross section.

I came across this image which was a scan from Stephan Biesty's book "Incredible Cross Sections" that was just fun to stare at. I always like his books since he seems to cram a whole lot of action into the drawings. This is a big scan, and shows a lot of details. Take a peek at it. (click the image)
I found this on what appears to be a French web site with some old (and newer) scans of Apollo posters.

Remember this old poster from National Geographic?

Friday, October 9, 2009

LCROSS: NASA - success! Public - dud!

The LCROSS spacecraft followed it's booster rocket into Cabeus crater early this morning. Cloudy here in Seattle, so I just watched NASA TV coverage and a live feed from one of the SLOOH remote telescopes. Nothing was seen of a plume either from the ground or the LCROSS itself. It was estimated that scopes of 10 or more inches would possibly see a 6 mile tall plume come out of the crater. Even Hubble was pointed there and didn't see anything. The spacecraft did what it was designed to do and the mission was very successful.
Good job NASA!
It will be a while before the data is processed, but I'm confident good information will be recovered.
I was pleased with the coverage, but it seems that the general public was expecting a fireworks show such as the destruction of Alderaan, which didn't happen. The news media hyped this up quite a bit probably raising the public's expectations to the point they expected to see a Space:1999 blast or a Bruce Willis comet bashing type of event. Even pasting in some "Star Trek" shakey camera with lens flares couldn't raise NASA's ratings on this one (don't get me started on that!). Wasn't it at least kind of cool to ride along in the front of a spacecraft on a doomed flight into the moon? We haven't had a ride like that since the old Ranger days. I guess the Deep Impact comet bashing was better since it had a big explosion of comet stuff.
The mission has been a huge success, and in the coming weeks the data could very well prove the existence of water - and confirm the data from the Indian Chandrayaan spacecraft that detected water recently.
The mission was executed for "a scientific purpose, not to put on a fireworks display for the public," said space consultant Alan Stern, a former NASA associate administrator for science.
Just reading the reports of two local news sources alone, really irriated me when I get down to the bottom of the article and read the comments people left about the mission. The stupidity of people shocked and really annoyed me when it appears that about 70% of the comments were those disappointed at the lack of a good fireworks show!
Anyway, read the following articles and post a comment on what you think.

| KOMOTV News (comments at bottom) |

Obama's backyard star party.

You gotta like a president who has a star party at the White House. Obama had a bunch of cool guest there too, NASA boss Charles Boldin, moon walker Buzz Aldrin, hubble fixer John Grunsfeld, and a few other guests.
Although, it looked kind of staged - at least his first look through the scope - they had him take a peek at a double star in bright stage lights through an 8 inch Celestron - after telling him what eyepiece to look through.
We did have Charles Simonyi at our meeting once, but we are still working on getting Obama to come to our summer star party.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Apollo 14 S-IVB found on moon.

This time is the S-IVB (3rd stage) of the Apollo 14 mission. The booster was crashed into the moon as part of the experiment to probe the inside of the moon with seizmometers left on the surface by the astronauts.
It ended up that the moon vibrated for several hours after the 14,000kg booster hit the moon. In comparison, this spacecraft was 7 time heavier than the Centaur which will hit the moon tomorrow. (Click image for full view)
I was just thinking, wouldn't an old wreck like this make a great destination for the Lunar X-Prize spacecaft? Just think of the pile of junk lying the with a big nozzle flattened at one end. Don't mess with the landing sites though, those are historical sites and shouldn't be tampered with.

LCROSS impact soon.....

Still keeping my fingers crossed that I'll see clear skies when I drag myself out of bed way too early tomorrow to crawl out in the backyard and open the observatory.
NASA just put out a good photo showing what to expect when the LCROSS booster hits the moon. It's a tiny splash, but I'll give it a shot with the 12" Meade and the new webcam.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Testing new camera and seeking Cebeus crater.

I got my new camera this weekend and the telescope adapter arrived today in the mail. Had to test it out on the moon since this will be the target of the LCROSS spacecraft Friday morning. The camera seems to work well and puts out a nice image. I think my old Vesta Pro was losing color for some annoying reason. Whatever I did, my Jupiter/Saturn images came out kind of gray scale.
I had to remove/reinstall the software a few times since it would work fine for a while, then Windows decided to forget about the camera and just ignore it. I then had to remove and re-install the driver software to get it to wake up again. Really annoying.
I'll have to test it out few more times this week to learn how to use it for the LCROSS moon smacking early Friday!
The arrow in the image I took is pretty much where the impact will happen. The moon should be directly south about 60 degrees up, so it's above the thick atmospheric gunk, and out of the neighbor's bushes.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

New webacam for planetary/lunar/spacecraft imaging.

I bought a new webcam on Ebay last week that I'll be using for my ISS imaging as well as lunar/planetary work. I've been using an old Vesta Pro webcam for many years and see that this one (Philips SPC900NC) has higher resolution, more pixels, and will go up to 90 fps. I won't go that high on the fps (frames per second) though. My hard drive on the observatory computer starts barfing frames at 10 fps, so I never go faster than that. I'll need a faster drive to go higher but 10 fps has always been perfect.
Camera was $40 and the adapter for the scope was another $18. I've been tempted by the Orion Starshoot III, but think this would probably do close enough for a fraction of the cost. Below is an example of some planetary imaging with a cheap webcam. (click for full size)

Galactic roadkill.

On Opportunity's drive to Endeavour crater, it has once again found more roadkill along the road. Yes, another big meteorite has been found. If the rover was driving on the freeway here on Earth, this is almost the equivalent of the amount of squashed raccoon 'flat meat' that I see between Renton and Bellevue on an average drive! I'm sure the meteorites smell better...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Calling All Space Buffs!

Do you love space? Are you good about sharing your love of the stars with the public? If so, here's a
chance to join a growing network of space enthusiasts who have volunteered as NASA Solar System Ambassadors.
Ambassadors are especially needed to represent Delaware and North Dakota.

The application period is being extended through Oct. 16. Ambassadors are U.S. citizens selected from all 50 states,
plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, or U.S. citizens serving U.S. audiences abroad.
The program is one of the longest-running NASA volunteer outreach projects.

Each ambassador receives online training from JPL, and educational materials supplied by various space missions,
such as the next Mars rover--Curiosity. Curiosity will check to see whether Mars has been favorable for supporting microbial
life and preserving evidence of life. The rover is scheduled to launch in October 2011.

You can apply to be a NASA Solar System Ambassador at: .

For more information on JPL's Solar System Ambassador Program, visit ,
or contact Kay Ferrari at or at 818-354-7581.

A calendar of events hosted by ambassadors is available at .

JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif.