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!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Anyone want a loaner telescope?

Being the president and webmaster of our astronomy club, I quite often get offers for people who want to donate a telescope to our club.  This is how we got the Meade LX200 and recently the observatory dome.  Do I ever refuse the offers - sometimes - if they are obviously not very good scopes or something that would be found on the top shelf of a sporting goods store.
If a scope is pretty decent, I usually can't refuse the offer and will go pick it up.  After a while, my house may end up looking like a tripod farm.  It's starting to do that now.
So, I need to give these telescopes a good home.  How do you get one you ask?  Easy - just a few requirements.

  • Must be a member of our club (Eastside Astronomical society)
  • When we have our rare clear skies, take it out and let it play in the yard. 
  • Take it to a local star party viewing and show kids the moon, planet or some deep sky object. 
  • Come over and get it. 
Send email to request a scope. 
Six inch Celestron refractor - come get it!
What is available?
  • Celestron 6 inch refractor  - pictured above. 
  • Celestron 8 inch Compustar (this is a very early "goto" scope and has a lot of gear with it.  Needs a Y2K chip uptdate)
  • Meade 10 inch SCT (another early "goto" scope with a boxy computer with it.  NOTE: the drive on this one is kind of messed up and not working right, but it can always point and look). 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

It's always clear when the moon is big and bright.

Never fails.  When we get a clear night the moon is always there blowing away all the dim stuff with the natural light pollution.  Sometimes it's best not to fight the thing and take a shot at it.  So here is another image taken with the Canon 60Da.  This would look good in any camera, but this one has 18 megapixels!
Photo is a mosaic of 4 images assembled carefully and blended to hide the zipper line where it was put together.
Then a quick slew to M3 globular for a few shots.  This is a single image at about 2 minutes at ISO 1000.  Not a bad looking background, huh?  Hot pixels just aren't there!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

ARKYD Space Telescopes - affordable mini-Hubble?

Planetary Resources is a company in Bellevue, WA that is working on developing small space telescopes which will be used for finding near Earth asteroids.  Mainly for future resource mining, but also for tracking the dangerous ones that could impact the Earth, such as the one that hit Chelyabinsk a few months back.  It will also be used to find planets around stars, which is probably needed soon with the recent problems with the Kepler spacecraft currently scanning the sky between Lyra and Cygnus. At this time, 132 planets have been found.
Alex, we're in space!
Although, I think the really exciting thing about these spacecraft is the fact that they will be publicly available for astronomical imaging currently through where they are taking pledges to reach a $1 Million goal.  $200 will get you a chance to point it at an object of your choice, and $25 will get you an image of a photo you send up with the Earth in the background.  I did donate $25 to the program so I can get my own "selfie" photo as they call them, your photo with the Earth in the background (See my sample above).  The fee of $200 is a reasonable deal to get permission to point a space telescope above the clouds/smog/turbulent atmosphere and get a photo of M-51. (If you are a reader of my blog, you probably figured out that is my favorite target to image!)
The telescope is 200mm so that is somewhere between a Meade ETX-125 and LX-90 in equivalent aperture, but this is a fast scope at f/4 focal ratio.  The ETX is a fairly small scope, but above the atmosphere and light pollution for $200?  It's like a mini Hubble!
Here are the techie details about the telescope: (it's got some nice filters on board that I'd love to try here in my own backyard!)
  • Primary Optic: 200 mm aperture, f/4 primary optic
  • Resolving capability: ~ 1 arcsecond
  • Detection capability: to visual magnitude 19
  • 5 MP+ image sensor
  • Wavelength range: 200 nm to 1100 nm
  • Available filters: UV bandpass (< 300 nm), B, V, R, OIII, Hα, 1 μm bandpass, Luminence (Clear)
  • Active image stabilization
I did send Planetary Resources a letter and resume for a "General Space Nut" job position they offered.  I'm a perfect fit for a job like that.
Hey, Planetary Resources! Please take a moment to view my resume,  cover letter and LinkedIn page please call me anytime. I'd be very interested in talking to you about any job that I might be a fit for.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tidying up cables for the clear nights

Cameras in place
Showers were forecast today, but nothing happened rather than a windy day with big clouds and sun so it was a good day to work on the Astro-Shack.
I fit the new camera on the scope and got it all in place.  I finally did something I should have done years ago - put some tidy wrapping around the camera and other cables.  I found some wire wrapping stuff at Fry's and put that on.  Why? To make it look cool, and most of all, sometimes when slewing the telescope it will bog down and I'll look over and see that it's trying to strangle itself in it's own cables.  Ouch.
I left a large loop in the cable bundle now, so hopefully that problem is minimized.  Kind of clear tonight, but terribly twinkly from the winds, and drifting high clouds.  Just not very good.  So I wait again for a good night to try test run #2 of the camera and new cabling.
Tidy cable loop
In the left photo you can see the camera arrangement.  I have the Orion Starshoot auto-guide camera on the refractor, and the new Canon 60Da mounted on the LX200.  I would have tried a solar image today, but looking at the current sunspot data, there wasn't much there right now so I didn't try.
I also swapped out some speakers so I now have some great sounding Pandora streaming out there now too!

If nothing else, it looks pretty cool!

Friday, June 7, 2013

First light with new improved camera.

The 60Da.
I came across a great deal on Craigslist (thanks for finding that Traci!), on a Canon 60Da camera.  I won't mention the price, but I saved a lot of money on it. This camera is Canon's latest step back into DSLR Astro-capable cameras after about 7 years since they first came out with the short lived, but still popular, 20Da (the "a" is for astro).  So what sets this apart from a normal 60D?  This version has about 3x the IR/Red channel gathering ability (at least from what I read), and it has a super low noise ratio also for those long exposures.
The flip out screen - so nice!

I got lucky last night and actually had a chance with some clear skies.  Transparency was kind of lousy, and clouds rolled in as I was taking the 6th image, but I got enough for a quick image stack and processing to see what it can do.  I also bought a registration for a cool imaging software called "Backyard EOS" which has a lot of really nice features, and it's super easy to use.  I really like the auto-dithering feature it has with Phd Guider.  That's really slick.  It will move the scope a few pixels between frames to minimize the repeating noise.  As for noise, I was quickly impressed with how little background noise was seen even after a 3 minute exposure at ISO 1000.  Very clean data.  I didn't take any dark/flat frames in this test run, but it came out looking really great.  I did have some errors in autoguiding, which caused the elongated stars, but that's another issue.
Focusing this camera is going to be a HUGE time saver!  It has a live video mode so you get a live image on the screen. Combine that with the remote focusing from the computer and I had the image focused in just a couple minutes.  Usually, with the old camera, I would take a shot, focus, take another, focus, swear a bit since I went the wrong way, focus - and repeat until I was there.   A Bahtinov mask and a couple minutes and it's ready!
The camera has a few different RAW modes with maximum resolution a massive 18 mega pixels!  I'll need to invest in a bigger hard drive for my data.
So here it is, the "first light" image from the observatory armed with the new 60Da.
  • M-27 Dumbell nebula
  • Camera: 60Da
  • Filter: CLS
  • Scope: Meade LX200 at f/6.3
  • ISO: 1000   |  Exposures:  6 |  Time:  3 minute each
As always, click for full size

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Bowie in Space.

Not quite David Bowie, but pretty darn cool otherwise.  Not the first music video from space, but probably the most appropriate.  Chris Hadfield performed this video just before he left the station "close the Soyuz hatch and put your helmet on..."

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A couple clear nights in Renton.

Yes, I'll admit once again I've been slacking on new blog content here. Do I really have loyal readers of this that get a *Ding!* new entry to the Astro-Blog? I guess I should hope so. I have unintentionally come into some more free time lately when the loss of yet another job about a month ago, so I'm wandering around looking for a job on the internet, and getting things done around the house these days. The job hunting has been pretty bleak once again. Anyway, I've had time to get some more work done on the sticky observatory dome, cussed at Windows some more (that's pretty normal), and have done a little imaging this last week in our warm weather.
First image is what the observatory looks like on a nice, stable, clear night.  Sure, there is a bit of light pollution to the west from the city of Renton, but at least it's not bouncing off the bottom of clouds for a rare change in scenery.
Next, we have a shot of the NGC4565 Galaxy.  It's a nice example of an edge-on galaxy.  It's easy to see the center of the galaxy and the dust lanes through it as we see it from the edge.  The galaxy is 50 million light years away, so I feel honored that those wee little ancient photons made that long trip just to be sucked into my camera and preserved forever.  Just like a spider captured in a jar?
The techie details for those who care:

  • Scope: Meade LX200 Classic at f/6.3
  • Camera: Canon 350D (modified).  ISO800
  • Images: 21 exposures at 5 minutes each stacked and tweaked with Images Plus

Next is the familiar M51 Whirlpool Galaxy.  If you follow this blog and your computer goes *ding!* you probably know that I have taken many images of this one.  It's probably still my favorite and it's nicely located almost straight up this time of year.   I'm still working on getting the ultimate shot of this thing, and never quite satisfied.
Again the techie info:

  • Scope: Meade LX200 Classic at f/6.3
  • Camera: Canon 350D (IR modified).  ISO800
  • Images: 12 exposures at 5 minutes each stacked with Images Plus
As always, click the small images to see these in full size. 
That's it for now, more later hopefully!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

ISS images of Earth.

we can never have too many of these kind of videos can we? A nice 16 minute video of Don Pettit's photography from his time on the ISS. Go full screen with HD resolution if you have the bandwidth!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Asteroid solution - last desperate attempt.

Just a funny that I came across this evening!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Space rocks thrown at Earth.

The recent space rock sizes. The one that hit Russia, and the other bigger one (asteroid 2012 DA14)  that fortunately passed us.  Either way, if the little one didn't blow up high in the atmosphere and hit Chelyabinsk directly it would have been a major disaster - more than just broken windows and confused Russians with their car cameras.  If the big one smacked us.....well, you just guess!

Deep Sea Treasures

First there was the discovery of the lost Titanic, then Gus Grissom's lost Liberty Bell 7 spacecraft, now Amazon rich guy Jeff Bezos has found one of the ultimate in lost treasures. A couple of F-1 engines from Apollo 11's S-IC first stage! It may or may not be from Apollo 11 since it seems they still need to confirm serial numbers, but it's definitely from a Saturn V. But gets even better! Jeff, being a local Seattle guy and the owner of one of the upcoming private sector spacecraft companies (Blue Origin), is hoping to have one of the two engines on display at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.  Woo hoo!
Blue Origin already has their Charon test vehicle on display there, a vertical takeoff and landing vehicle with a bunch of jet engines.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Happy first day of spring!  Although here in Seattle, it starts out stormy with 40+ kt gust winds, lowered freezing level, heavy rain, and no view of Comet PanSTARRS.  Typical spring for the last 4 years now.  Global warming?  Nah...I call it more like "global climate shift".  
How many times have I had the Astro-Shack dome open since I built it last summer?  Uh....3 times maybe?

Anyway, here is a nifty video showing the seasons of Earth from above.  Spring/fall is when the terminator is straight up and down.

Friday, March 1, 2013


Now the frustration for Seattle astronomers can get started.  Early in March Comet PANSTARRS will be visible in the western skies after sunset.  When was the last time we saw a good sunset?  I think I remember one about 3 weeks ago.
The comet was giving some great views in the Southern skies - it is summer in Australia right now, and they have had their fair share of good comets over the years, so it's our turn now for us northern dwellers!
Keep looking west over the next weeks and if it's clear we may get lucky and see something.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Global warming = less clear nights?

Last week I received an email from Allison who was working on an infographic on the problem of global warming.  I looked it over and it looks pretty good, so I'm sharing it on my blog at her request.
(Click to see infographic)
I often get emails to our club site from people asking "when is your next star party?" I never have a really good answer for them other than nicely saying something like "we don't even try anymore since we'll end up with more cancelled events rather than viewings."  If scheduling a public viewing would cause skies to clear, we would do it a couple times a month!  But again, even during the summers over the last several years, we hardly get reliable weather to do this.  A couple summers ago, I worked for about a month to do a star party for a school group in Maple Valley - in early summer even - and after 4 tries had to give up due to weather.
I think I like to call this a "global climate shift" which I think describes the problem clearer than "global warming".  With all the harsh winters on the East coast over the last years (this winter is another bad one), and here in Seattle the last few years our summers haven't really started on the usual July 5th date when summer usually starts (no, I'm not joking about July 5th either - ask any native here!). I've also noticed with great disgust and frustration that the number of clear skies at night has decreased noticeably over the last 4 years or so.  Just a few years ago, we would have many clear winter nights (very cold of course, but very clear and stable atmosphere) with many chances to observe the winter skies visually or through astrophotography.  This winter is no exception, I've had our observatory open twice over the last 3 months - and even then conditions were not ideal, but it's all I've had.  Could it simply be the "new toy curse" that seems to plaque astronomers whenever they buy a nice piece of gear to try out?

Anyway, read the infographic link below to see the full size view and see if you agree also.  I think I would add a line to that says "less clear nights for Northwest Astronomers" to that graphic!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

More from Russia...

Another good one I came across. This looks like a space shuttle launch - but in reverse with the big smoke cloud behind it. Why don't we ever get lucky to see something like this in Seattle? Maybe it does happen, but it's cloudy!
Kind of interesting the similarities of this scene with the one in the Deep Impact movie from a few years back.


Fiction (Scene from Deep Impact - some similarities!)

Other side of the Russian Meteor

I came across another good video compilation of the Russian attack from space.  This time we see the impact of the shockwave as it hits as well as the windows breaking.
I wonder if the woman at 2:15 got the job she was interviewing for?  Ha!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Russian Meteor

So unless you have been in a cave the last few days, you have probably heard of the asteroid that passed close to Earth last week. That was fun, but what was even more impressive was the totally unrelated chunk of rock that hit over Russia the same day. Kind of like "Tunguska II" if it was a movie. But this one was probably smaller even though it was reported to have the power of the atomic bomb, it blew up at a high altitude and only broke a lot of windows and cut up a about 1,000 people from glass. Here is a good collection of videos of the event from a guy in Russia that collected them an posted them on a web page. I'll admit that I was quite unproductive this morning at work since I had to look at all these!

Infographic on the event. I just noticed one error, the "GPS orbit" should read "Geosynchronous orbit" (this is the orbit that the TV satellites live) - where "Honey Boo Boo" is beamed to Earth from.
| Russian meteor videos |

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

First deep sky image for 2013

Finally a break in the cruddy weather. At least for one night. That seems to be about what can be expected these last years. Here is my first image of the new year, I had a nice chance to give the observatory a workout and test out the systems. All was working pretty well, but I still don't have the dome rotation synced with the telescope mount yet. So I have to slew it manually. This is another attempt at my favorite winter object - Orion Nebula (M42) and the "Running Man" above it. The photo is made up of about 30 images varying from about 12 seconds exposure (to get the bright center) and up to about 5.5 minutes to capture the dim outer edges of the nebula. Taken with a Canon 350D at ISO 800, Orion 80ED Apo Refractor, piggybacked and guided by the 12" LX200. Once again, the wait for another clear night begins....