Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bad science in space movies.

How does your favorite space movie rate?
Star Trek isn't on the list since it's science is way too screwed up. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Apollo 8 Christmas

William Anders 
"We are now approaching lunar sunrise and, for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
Jim Lovell 
"And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
Frank Borman 
"And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth."  

-- Apollo 8, December 24, 1968

Jupiter from Hubble? No.

...just another amazing shot from Damien Peach.  Some people manage to find places on the planet where the atmosphere is lacking (I guess Barbados is the place), very thin or maybe just more skilled (lucky?) than any other amateur astronomer on the Earth.
Be sure to click to enlarge the photo and notice that you can see details on the moons also.
Now I put my socks back on and pick myself up off the floor.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Weekend on Mt. Lemmon with Adam Block.

Those are BIG mirrors
Earlier this month I took a few days off from work and "snowbirded" myself south to Arizona like a silver haired retiree (but without the motorhome and small dog) for some sun and clear skies.  I did find what I was seeking with about 78 degrees and blue skies, while Seattle got pounded with inches of rain and flooding.
The main reason for going south was to attend a session of Adam Block's CCD Imaging Workshops.  This was 3 nights and 4 very full days of imaging, stacking, registering, normalizing, deconvolution, and a whole lot of other stuff.....and of course use of the big 32 inch Shulman RC scope.  Wow!  What a fine piece of optics that thing is. 5,500 lbs of scope which slews around the sky with barely a whisper of sound.  Adam is a lucky guy to have access to that - for public outreach and hard-core guys like us!
Where my brain filled up
The weather could have been a little better, we had some high clouds passing through, but down there if you don't like the sky, take a break and wait an hour or two.
At the start of the trip, we were taken on a tour of the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab where we saw where some of the mirrors for the largest telescopes on Earth are made.  The mirrors for the GMT (or Giant Magellan Telescope) are being built here.  The lab is on the side of the University of Arizona's stadium.  The location reminded me of the Manhattan Project where the first atomic bomb was being developed under the University of Chicago stadium seats.
Observatories in the moonlight
We later went up to the top of Mt. Lemmon and unpacked our computers and luggage into the dorm rooms.  The place we stayed in was a former military facility where there used to be radar searching for nasties which they would then direct Titan missiles to launch (another museum I'll have to see down there another time).  The place is nice, and still has a little military feel to it, the dorm style rooms were very comfortable and the restrooms just down the hallway.
I need one of these.
We spent most of the time in the classroom where Adam taught us a lot of his secrets to processing images using CCDStack and Photoshop.  A little was review, but most of the methods were new to me (or at least a different way of doing it that I never knew), so mental saturation did happen quickly.  Adam does publish some good CDs describing his methods so I did buy that from his website.  He can't sell the disks at the workshop, since it conflicts with the U of AZ, but I was sold on going to his site and ordering one for myself!
Photons collected here
We did get to use the big 32 inch Schulman telescope.  Mostly for imaging, but the last night we had finicky weather so we just did some visual observing.  Despite the hazy skies, I have never seen M42 look as nice as it did through the that scope.  You could easily make out the wispy details around the Trapezium and see way out along the edges of the nebula.  I wish I could have taken a few exposures of that to play with!
Rooms, plenty of good food (thanks Beth), and a ride from the airport and back where included in the cost of the workshop.  If you are interested in this kind imaging, I would highly recommend Adam's workshop.  I would say this was an intermediate to advanced workshop.  So I'd suggest that you know something about stacking, darks, flats, and have had some good practice with Photoshop before attending or you may get a bit overloaded.
Grade: A+
Far left dome is the home of the Schulman scope
NGC 157 sample image we processed
M 76 another practice image we used

NGC 1555.  From actual data we captured.

| Mt. Lemmon Sky Center |
| Adam Block's web page - Caelum Observatory |

Monday, December 20, 2010

Science fiction to reality.

 Phil Plait is doing his "Top 10 photos for 2010" on his blog site today.  I liked the comparison he had between these two photos.  We are still a long way from from grandma in space though!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Welcome to Santa Maria.

It's been a while since we had anything new from Mars from rover Oppy other than just flat dunes.  The little rover has just arrived at "Santa Maria" another large crater on Mars.  No view peeking into the crater just yet, but that will come!
Very cool new image.  (Credit to Ant103 on Unmannedspaceflight.com for the image creation)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Home in the ISS

ISS commander Scott Kelly gives a tour of his tiny closet home on board the ISS.   I like how he mentions he does his banking from space on his internet laptop.  Probably not too good for a multiplayer game of Halo or streaming Netflix movies though!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Monday, December 6, 2010

100 years of licensed women pilots.

Not astronomy related this time, but just something I did last weekend that was pretty darn cool.  2010 is the 100th anniversary of the first woman to get a pilot's license.  The local airport just down the hill from my house was trying to become the "most woman friendly airport" and the goal was to fly 154 women and girls.
I volunteered to fly and give rides.  We had about 6 planes on wheels, 2 on floats and a helicopter giving rides.  I took up about 33 people on 11, 15 minute flights about 7 miles out and back.  Former 5 time space shuttle astronaut Dr. Bonnie Dunbar even stopped by with some Museum of Flight goodies (There. I maintained the space theme of my blog!) .
Karlene Petitt, a Delta Airlines Airbus 330 pilot, organized the event and it all worked out very well other than a little confusion now and then which way we should taxi our planes back into the parking area to swap passengers! 
I took a few friends from work up on rides, and did get a ride in the helicopter at the end of the day. Good fun, good weather, and good exposure for general aviation.
THAT is an excited girl exiting my plane!

Rainier came out at sunset for an appearance.

All seats filled and heading toward the runway

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Astro cat

Facebook, Nintendo and texting are for kids.....astronomy is for CATS!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Amazing view of Phobos above Mars.

The ESA Mars Express orbiter has sent home another amazing shot, this time of the little moon Phobos above Mars.   ESA always seems so modest about their images, they have such great stuff, but we never really hear about them since they don't brag about them much!
I almost expect to see the Millenium Falcon in this nearly sci-fi (but real!) image.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Arctic Astronomy - Jupiter.

Arctic blast and the city crippling 2.5 inches of snow that causes Seattle to freak out has hit us this week.   I feel that I ducked La Nina's punch since my commute wasn't too bad the other day when the snow was falling, took me 1.5 hours on the bus and a 2.5 mile walk home.   Some coworkers were on their bus for over 5 hours.  Ha!  You didn't get me yet La Nina!
Clear skies last night and a miserable 18 degrees out when I got home.   I saw Jupiter in the sky tormenting me to play in the backyard.  A quick check on what was going on, and saw that there was an Io transit in progress, so I bundled up in my fuzzy pants, snowsuit and a few other layers of jackets and went out back to play for a while.
Details of the image:
Scope: Meade 12" LX200
Camera: Philips SPC900NC (Fancy name for a $40 Ebay webcam!)
Barlow:  Apo 2.5x
Stacks: about 250 of the best frames using Registax 5.1

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Proof that comets are dirty snowballs - or at least throw them

For years we have always been told that comets are "dirty snowballs" flying through the solar system until the sun warms then and melts off gas and dust. 
The guy on the science TV shows would always use the dry-ice, dirt and water stirred up to create the steaming model of a comet. 
We have proof now that they are correct. 
When I first saw those closeup images of comet Hartley 2 from the spacecraft, I was actually wondering about all those spots on the image.  Grainy image?  A lot of hot pixels on the CCD?  Or possibly stuff spewing off the comet?
Seems that it was spewing stuff!  The comet is spitting out snowballs which are possibly between the size of a golf ball to a basketball in size.  They are very light and fluffy, but at 27,000 mph, they could have still caused a big problem if the spacecraft was hit.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Closer view of 103P/Hartley 2 - not from my backyard this time!

It's always fun when you observe something from your little backyard observatory and a few weeks later, see the object again from a spacecraft.  Just the other day, this happened again.  Comet Hartley 2 which I had imaged a few weeks ago was visited by the Deep Impact (EPOXI) spacecraft and got a close view of this peanut shaped object.  The comet is only 1.5 miles long, and the smallest so far visited by a spacecraft.
Put on your red/blue glasses and see this animation in 3d.

(Thanks for always posting this great stuff Emily!)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Timelapse skies.

A couple of very nice timelapse videos with music that I came across recently.

TimeScapes: Rapture from Tom Lowe @ Timescapes on Vimeo.

Landscapes: Volume One from dustin farrell on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Another one of those rare clear nigths.

Got a brief peek at the moonless sky last night.  Back to rain again today, but had to take advantage of the clearing and try something.  It's always tempting (greed maybe?) to become a photon hoarder when we get some clearing like this.  I had to resist the temptation to try multiple objects and just stick with one thing for the evening.  Ok, I did try a shot at the ISS pass earlier, but like most times, my exposures weren't right and I just got some smeared view of solar panels.
I stuck with one thing and took 15 images at about 5 minutes each of NGC891.  This little guy is 30 million light years away...just some trivia to make your brain go "ping!".  ISO settings were mostly 800 ISO and I took a few at 1600 and mixed them in there.  Scope was the 12" LX200 at f/6.3 with the Canon 350D.  Click image for a full size view.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Slice of the atmosphere.

This is a very long and skinny image so you'll have to click on the strip on the left to see it.  This is an interesting diagram/slice of atmosphere showing the heights of a bunch of familiar things.  Interesting to see that Spaceship One made it a little higher on a single engine than the main engine shutdown altitude of the space shuttle.  Of course the shuttle is going a LOT faster and can stay in orbit while Spaceship One falls back down.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Another clear night with Jupiter.

Got another decent and stable evening last night.  The moon was out and bright, so the deep sky imaging is pretty much hopeless right now for the faint stuff that I like chasing.  The brightest thing in the sky now (not counting the moon) is Jupiter of course. 
Comet Harley is way over to the Northwest until way after midnight now, so it's out of view of the observatory since it's behind the big tree now.
Here is one of the Jupiter images.  Its taken with the 12" Meade LX200 with the 2.5x Apo barlow, and the Philips SPC900NC webcam.  Stack of about 250 images. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Same "UFO" seen in Port Angeles, now over New York City!

Sometimes don't you feel ashamed to realize that you are a member of the same species as these people?  Easy to see that reporters for the Fox Network (yes, the same network that brought us the infamous "Moon Landing Hoax" documentary) don't need any basic common sense to maintain their jobs.   If you look blond pretty and can speak and maybe read a cue card  (slightly) you qualify for a decent reporter job in the biggest city in the country.  Don't worry, even at minimum wage, you'll be earning more money than your IQ!
Same thing goes for the Fox photographer, point a camera and focus, don't worry about what you are seeing.  They probably all heard that Mars was as big as the full moon in August, but Jupiter will be closer to Earth than it has in the last 50 years....but only very few poeple know that.  Let just call that bright thing in the Southeast a UFO!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Comet, planet and fear of the attacking UFO

A couple weeks ago, Jupiter reached opposition. That is when the Earth is exactly lined up between Jupiter and the sun.  Therefore, Jupiter will rise at sunset, be at it's highest point in the sky at midnight, and set at sunrise.  Also, it's the closest point the planet will come to the Earth, and appear at it's largest in telescopes.  This opposition will be the closest pass to Earth in almost 50 years.  Next time it's this close will be in 2022, so get out and take a look at it.
Those who don't understand the basics get a little confused and probably frightened of the bright thing in the sky and feel they need to call 911 for protection against the alien spacecraft!  Some people in Port Angeles, Washington are now famous (and probably learned a little about astronomy) in the recent clear nights here in the Northwest since they have called the authorities to report a UFO in the sky.  Fortunately, officers knew that the danger was only Jupiter and informed them not to fear the big planet.
I took a few shots of Jupiter last week and here is the best of the batch.  My astronomer friend David and I got together on a cloudy night and combined our processing skills and came up with this nice image of the planet.  The dot on the left is the volcanic moon Io.  The image is made from a stack of about 250 images taken with a cheap $40 webcam on the 12" Meade LX200 scope.
I then swung the scope around to the east and captured some images of Comet 103P/Hartley which is just passing below Cassiopeia these evenings.   The first image is 11 images stacked with the comet head as the reference.  The next is an animation showing the movement of the comet over a period of about an hour.  See here for location in the sky of the comet. (click image below to see the animation)


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Publicity for Seattle's Space Shuttle.

I just came across an article and a photo of the Space Needle in support of getting a shuttle here in Seattle next year.   2 more flights of the shuttle are left (maybe 3?) and Discovery is sitting on the pad right now in Florida getting ready for it's final trip.  After that, Discovery will be given to the Smithsonian, and the other 2 shuttles will be up for grabs.  I find out that 21 museums are fighting for a shuttle.  Seattle has a very good chance, since we have the 2nd best flight museum in the country, and a 10,000 foot runway to land the 747 on when NASA delivers our shuttle next year. 
Today the Museum of Flight has raised a flag on the Space Needle to support the Space Shuttle and hopefully encourage NASA picking us as one of the lucky museums.  See link to article.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

T-shirt for space geeks.

I saw this on Emily's blog on the Planetary Society's web site - she always finds all the coolest stuff!  It's a t-shirt with 23 robotic and human space exploration missions.  I just had to have one, so my order is in and the shirt is on it's way.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Restoration of a 60s vintage telescope

I've spent the last week and a half in my basement working on some old junk that I had lying around for a little too long.
The telescope is a Criterion RV-6 that was donated to our club a few years back.  I got a good deal on mirror re-coating about 2 years ago, and had the mirror sent in to Optic Wave Labs for restoration.  The mirror came back looking pretty much new.  It sat in the box for a long time.
I had the idea of turning the old scope int a Dobsonian, but then started taking apart the mount and figured I better see what I can do with that before I mess up this classic old device.
Secondary parts before paint
I took everything apart, sanded, primed and repainted the hardware and the telescope tube. I found some really pretty brass under the tarnish of the focuser.  I had to do some work on the clutch between the RA axis and motor in the scope.  It used a ring of cork between the gears so you can just shove the scope around and let the clutch provide the holding friction once it's stopped.  Kind of a clever idea!  I took a couple tries, and finally used some gasget material from the auto parts store since all the cork I found was too thick.  Everything was taken apart and cleaned up. 
The tube is blue and fits
I got the mount all put together again, and it looks pretty nice.  The tube was repainted and put back together, but I have to shamefully admit that I made a horrible mistake.  The mirror had a small smudge on it, and I wiped it with a soft cloth, but something happened and I smeared off some of the coating.  I nearly cried.  It was along the edge, and I put a lot of time into it already, so I just continued.  I installed all the optics, collimated the best as I could without using a fancy laser tool, and took it out and pointed at the moon in daylight.  Not bad, but I'll see what happens after dark.
Pointed at the moon.
 Lucky me, it was actually clear for a couple nights and tried it out on the moon and Jupiter.
Pretty and functional
Stunning!!  I'm so impressed with the view this thing gives.  Jupiter was sharp, details in the clouds could easily be seen, and the moons appeared as small disks.  Some "x" shaped glare around the bright planet from the secondary support, but that's expected.
Despite being as old as me, I'm very pleased with how this telescope performs.  I'll have to put a webcam on it and see how well it can image Jupiter now that it's at opposition.  Want to see a view?  Come to our next club star party - if we ever manage to have one that isn't a "star party cancellation" which is more common in the last few years.

I hate these finders, but it does work
The last thing a photon sees
Motor plugged in and tracking the moon
$194 was a lot of money back then

InOTMN - September 18

This is a new public outreach program that I just found out is starting tomorrow night, and will be a yearly event.  International Observe the Moon Night.  Basically, a lunar star party.  The moon is just past 1st quarter so there is plenty of detail that can be seen on the surface and as most astronomers know - the terminator with the long shadows!
Looks like a fun evening, but I don't have plans for our club for obvious reasons...

First light with new autoguiding camera.

Our lousy "summer", if you can call it that continues with what we have been calling "Septober" with the lack of summer weather - or skies for that matter.
M27 with 7 exposures
I received the new Orion Starshoot autoguiding camera last week, and only had to wait a couple days for some skies that I won't call clear, but hazy with stars visible.  I had to give the camera a try though!
Of course the cloud curse, attacked Windows XP on the observatory computer so it became USB challenged and refused to see the imaging camera.  Some computer shuffling, cussing, and a few hours of work, I got something limped together that is functional, but not pretty.
M33 with 4 exposures
Anyway, I'm pretty happy with the performance of the guider.  I have it on the Orion 80ED and imaging with the 12" Meade with the f/6.3 reducer on it.  I'll have some more work on the error correction, but it's looking much better than the old Meade DSI camera!  The stars aren't perfectly round yet, but much better.
Now I just wait again for the skies to be seen again....

Monday, September 6, 2010

Watch out for the cloud curse you Seattle astronomers....

We know that anytime money is spent on astronomical optics or gear, when you open the box, you let the clouds out.  The more you spend, the more clouds are compressed into that box.  So if a 12" LX200 is bought, there are months of non-visible night sky crammed in there.
I'm trying something new with my autoguiding setup.  I just bought an Orion Starshoot autoguider from a guy on CloudyNights.com classified.  I was just over $200, so I'm expecting to try this thing out by....April maybe? 
My idea is to use a lightweight (reduced flexure) finder scope with the new guide camera.  Hoping I can retire the Meade DSI as a guider and go to something more specifically designed for this use. 
I'll share my progress when I can.  Until then, I watch for holes in the clouds.