Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

First clear nights in many months - finally a chance to really try my new filters.

This last weekend our strange winter weather turned into spring.  Temps have been in the mid 50's most of the winter but last weekend it got up into the mid 60's and zero clouds for several days.  
Without clouds, and a sliver of moon, I got a chance to try my new CLS light pollution filter.  This was only the second time since I got it in late October.  I said the weather has been warm, not clear.
Here is the photon harvest from last weekend.  (Click each image to see it in full size)

Rosette Nebula:  best shot yet of this object.  I think I'm actually surprised and very happy how this turned out.  This was purely visible light with the CLS filter, no hydrogen alpha filter this time for the red stuff.  This is 12 x 5 minutes at ISO 800 with the Orion 80ED.
Asteroid 4-Vesta: One of those rare chances when the weather and some sky event line up correctly to see it when it happens.  Asteroid 4-Vesta was at opposition on February 17 - which makes it closest to Earth and brightest.  It was about magnitude 6.0 when I took these over 2 nights.   A few dim fuzzies are seen in here too down to 14th magnitude.  Light pollution?  No problem.

Mars:  was at opposition over a month ago, so it's on it's way out again farther from us.  It's already smaller in the scope than before, but this was the first chance I had to get a photo of it.  Atmosphere was somewhat stable this night, but not great.  At least the polar cap can be seen as well as some of the darker features on the surface.  This was taken with a fairly new webcam that I'm still figuring out.  Bought it last fall but haven't had skies to use it.

M42 in Orion: always a favorite target in the winter skies.  But I was almost thinking I would totally miss out this year since the sky has been cloudy.  Finally got some shots of it.  Again with the CLS filter.  I got some thin whispy details out of the far edge of the nebula.  This was something I didn't see before unless using the Hydrogen-Alpha filter.  I'll probably leave this filter on the camera all the time!  This photo is made up of 28 exposures from about 20 seconds up to 5 minutes. 

Leo Triplet galaxies:   This is the group of galaxies under Leo's rump.  You need to click the photo to see full size, then some of the details show up better.  This was only 5 exposures at about 5 minutes each.
Horsehead nebula:  Always a very challenging and frustrating object to image.  It's very diffuse and dim, and the really cool part of this nebula is obviously the dark horsey in the cloud.  This one is just north of M42 and just below the leftmost star of Orion's belt (the bright star at the top).  This thing is pretty much invisible if you look through the eyepiece, and you may get a hint if the right filters are used.  Otherwise, it really only comes out in photographs.  This one is only 3 exposures at 6.5 minutes.

Moon is bright again, clouds are back and no clearing forecast for at least the next week.  The wait begins again....

Friday, February 12, 2010

Rainbows CAN be shot down.

Not really a rainbow, but the idea is the same.  Yesterday morning the Atlas V carrying the SDO to orbit passed through some high clouds that were reflecting sunlight just right to create a sun dog next to the sun.
Watch the video as the Atlas passes through the clouds, the rippling of the shock wave causes the dog to be shot down.   Very cool!
(Photo credit: Anna Herbst)

UPDATE: Here is another view in HD I just came across.  Great intro soundtrack!

STS-130 approaching the ISS - very pretty photo!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Last night launch of the shuttle.....and I was there!

I guess there are some sad parallels with this.  Apollo 17 was the last mission to the moon, the last manned flight of a Saturn V and the only night launch of that spacecraft.  Apollo 18, 19, and 20 were canceled ending that part of history.
Early this morning shuttle Endeavour was launched on STS-130 mission to the ISS, this isn't the last shuttle flight yet, but it was the last scheduled night launch.  I'm writing this from Florida where I was at the launch on the NASA causeway this morning to see the launch in person.  I'm thrilled to have been present for this moment in history, but it's also very sad that another shuttle may not ever create another artificial sunrise at night.  There are only 4 more launches until the bird is grounded forever.
I'm seriously considering going to another launch this year, and possibly join the huge mob in September, but feel that the final launch could be very depressing too.  Once STS-133 has left Earth the US space program will be a total mess in my opinion.  The only way for US astronauts to get in space will be with the Russians, at least until one of the private companies come up with a manned spacecraft, but that is still way out.
I know that NASA boss Charles Bolden seems upbeat about the future but of course he can't just frown and grumble about it when making his speeches.
All my new friends I made over the last 2 nights have also agreed with me that this is a bad mistake canceling Constellation.  Ok....I'm not much of a fan of Constellation, since I feel it's a leap backwards, but at least it was on it's way to being operational.  But now that's gone.
I feel in a way that exploration is dying, and money is the more dominant motivation than curiosity.  Maybe I'm wrong, but wasn't NASA based on exploration rather than some CEO getting rich hauling cargo?  Not to point fingers at Elon Musk, I think Space X is the first hope for the future with their Falcon 9 rocket.
It also occurred to me that the James Webb telescope will need a ride.  With the Aries V dead, what will lift that?
Anyway, with that off my mind, the launch was fantastic!  It took 2 nights of hanging out in the cold (low 40s all night) waiting for the launch after 4am.  Didn't happen Sunday morning due to an overcast layer at about 4000 feet.  Familiar launch scrub once again.  Stayed up all night again the next night and was rewarded with the sky brightening up, and seeing the shuttle go.  It's alway shocking how bright that thing is, and I could see it nearly all the way to the horizon.  It disappeared at about 7:30 minutes after launch.  I was hoping to see MECO, but it was too far.  I read that viewers in New York could see MECO as well as the short blasts on the OMS engines at ET separation.
Ha!  If you know that lingo above, you are a shuttle geek too.

I took the video below with my little Panasonic pocket digital camera.  Quality isn't that great, and I wasn't intending it to be, but it's MINE, and I was there!

(Click the video to see full size)