|2008 July 31st Andromeda, Eagle and LagoonNebulas|
|2009 May 28th This May's stars||2009 April 30th Saturn|
|2009 March 1st Lulin,_Alnitak,_Betelgurse,_Rosette & Orion Nebula||2009 Feb. 20th Comet Lulin|
|2009 Jan. 16th Herschel's Garnet Star||2008 Dec. 13th A Windy Camp|
|2008 Nov. 3rd The Pleiades||2008 Oct. 1st The Heart Nebula|
|2008 Sept. 21st Jupiter||2008 Sept. 7th The Veil Nebula and Cygnus Loop|
|2008 Aug 11th The Bubble Nebula and Star Cluster M52||2008 July 21st Barnard 92 and The Large Sagitarius Star Cloud|
|2008 June 1st The North American Nebula||2008 May 20th Spiral Galaxy NGC 4565 and NGC 4562|
|2008 May 3rd M108 Spiral Galaxy and The Owl Nebula||2008 April 26th The Leo Trio of Galaxies|
|2008 April 12th The Perseus Double Cluster||2008 Mar. 28th The Crab Nebula|
|2008 Feb. 20th Cycle of a Lunar Eclipse||2008 Feb. 5th The Great Orion Nebula|
|2008 Jan. 14th Andromeda and Triangulum Galaxies||2007 Dec. 12th Comet Holmes|
|2007 Nov. 23rd The Helix Nebula||2007 Nov. 11th Comet Holmes|
|2007 Nov. 5th The Pleidies||2007 Oct. 6th Wide Field Astrophotography|
|2007 Sept. 22nd The Eagle Nebula and The Pillars of Creation||2007 Sept. 2nd Falling Aurigid Meteor (and Orion)|
|2007 Aug. 30th Total Lunar Eclipse||2007 Aug. 26th The Veil Nebula and Cygnus Loop|
|2007 July 10th The Ring Nebula||2007 July 1st M22 Globular Cluster|
|2007 June 24th The Triffid Nebula||2007 June 17th The North American Nebula and The|
|2007 June 3rd The Swan Nebula||2007 May 27th The Pinwheel Galaxy|
|2007 May 20th The Moon and Venus||2007 May 6th The Cassini Division (Saturn's rings)|
|2007 Apr. 29th The Dumbbell Nebula||2007 Apr. 22nd The Rosette Nebula|
|2007 Apr. 15th The Horsehead Nebula||2007 Apr. 6th The Orion Nebula|
|2007 Apr. 1st The Pleidies (M45)||2007 Mar. 25th Saturn is leaving|
|2007 Mar. 18th The Whirlpool Galaxy||2007 Mar. 2nd Moon of the Golden Boar|
|2007 Feb. 4th Bode's Galaxy (M81) and the Cigar Galaxy (M82)||2007 Jan. 28th Triangulum Galaxy and NGC604|
|2007 Jan. 21st The Great Orion Nebula and De Mairan Nebula||2007 Jan. 16st Andromeda Galaxy|
|2007 Jan. 12th Astrophotographic plates|
While both Anromeda and the Milky Way are spriral galaxies, ours is a fairly rare "barred-spiral" galaxy, similar to NGC 1300:
here is an artist's conception of how it might look from many light years away:
The results of new research published earlier this year show that the Milky Way (our home galaxy) is set to crash into Andromeda sooner than was previously believed.
This discovery is the result of the new understanding that previous calculations underestimated the mass of the mass of the Milky Way and in fact the size as well.
For decades, it has been believed that our neighbor Andromeda was larger than our home galaxy but new measurements of the relative motions of several bright newborn stars in our galaxy with and array of 10 large radio telescope antennas indicate that our galaxy is rotating about 15% faster than previously thought (568,000mph versus 492,000mph). Higher rotational speed translates into more mass and the new estimates of the mass of our galaxy have increased by approximately 50%, meaning that our galaxy is actually a bit more massive and about 15% larger in size than Andromeda or, that we're roughly twins-
New maps of the spiral arms of our Milky Way (from Iowa State University) show that in fact, it has just two spiral arms that split into four rather than four major spiral arms as previously believed (excluding minor arms like the nearby Orion Arm):
These changes in our understanding of the size and shape of our home galaxy particularly relative to Andromeda certainly represent a bit of a paradign shift for me. I'd be curious to hear what others think about this or if you were aware of these new findings.
The implications of this new data are that the impending collision of Andromeda with our own galaxy will occur sooner than previously thought (though still a couple billion years out) and that the first pass of our galactic nuclei is more likely to result in significant deformation (versus a glancing blow) with a more rapid merger of our galaxies into "Milkomeda".
More on Andromeda:
Andromeda Jan 14th 2008
Andromeda Jan 16th 2007
About the Eagle:
The Eagle Nebula and the Pillars of Creation Sept. 22ndh 2007
About the Lagoon:
The Lagoon and Triffid Nebula June 24th 2007
What a difference a year makes. Saturn is looking very odd these days, It's rings are tilted just 2.3 degrees or so toward us. Just a year ago at this time, it's ring system was tilted toward us a full seven or eight degrees (second photo below). From the perspective of earth, this August will mark a ring-plane-crossing for Saturn, wherein the south side of the rings (which are currently visible) will cross over horizontal and the north side of the ring system will become visible for the first time in 15 years. Bummer though, Saturn will be positioned behind the sun (it's not always that way but it will be that way in 2025 as well...) during this ring-plane-crossing. When last Saturn's rings were edge on (Feb. 11, 1996) the planet was approaching earth and came closest to us in December 2002 on it's way to perihelion (closest approach to the sun) in July 3rd 2003. It has been moving farther away for the past few years and will continue to do so for some time.
Hubble View of saturn at maximum tilt
More on Saturn:
The Cassini Division (Saturn's rings)
Saturn is leaving
Comet Lulin was short-lived, exciting but also really challenging to see. Many of the best images that I've seen of this comet came from amature observers. The finest image (taken from New Mexico) of this short encounter that I have seen can be found at:
When I snuck out on the 20th of February to look for it, my hope was just to locate it in preparation for it's closest approach a few days later when I had hoped to see it passing by Saturn in the early morning hours. I did go out to try to catch a peak during several consecutive nights and even set up a scope on the 25th though the skies were cloudy; -in the end, I never got a second peak at the comet through thick and consistent clouds so I feel lucky to have collected a few frames of this streaking beauty back on the 20th.
I've since spent some time combining the images I recorded on the 20th. Overlaying several individual exposures to bring out more detail. The trails in the stars are the result of the motion of the comet.
The fast moving (its rotation around is counter to that of earth) Comet Lulin had two tails, one was a trailing tail of dust and debris from friction against the slightly denser space of the inner solar system and the other was a tail of ionized gas that at times appeared to point off in directions perpendicular or even 180 degrees to the trailing dust tail. Comet tails of ionized gas become ionized by stellar wind and move away from the comet in the direction of the prevailing solar wind. In the case of comet Lulin, observers detected on several occasions, gaps and broken spots in the ion tail that are thought to be the result of buffeting and irregularities in intensity of the solar wind.
This phenomenon has been little observed in the past.
Alnitak is actually a triple star system called Zeta Orionis and is only 800 light years or so away. One of the three stars, is a massive blue supergiant and easily outshines it's companions. Blue supergiant stars are dense massive stars (up to 50 times as massive as the sun) and burn hot (up to seven times as hot) as fast. Blue supergiants stars are: contracting and emit intense but low density "wind" while red supergiants are expanding and emit dense although slow wind. Blue supergiants can transition to red supergiants and vice versa. In fact, a star may fluctuate between these two states as it nears the end of its life. Most but not all stars in this size class end in supernovas.
More on the Alnitak region:
Archive April 15th 2007
Betelgeuse (Orion's orange left shoulder) is a luminous red supergiant star and is among the largest known stars
Collected 2 nights in January 2009 from 3000ft on Mt. Diablo.
One hour total exposure (17 individual frames) recorded with a Canon DSLR and 80mm flourie doublet on an equatorial tracking mount.Monoceros is the constellation just next to Orion and home to a great molecular cloud where open star cluster 2244 has recently sparked to life, illuminating the Rosette Nebula.
Download 2.0 MB.jpeg file
Images collected over several nights in late 2008
Comet Lulin was discovered in 2007 and it's parabolic (rather than elliptical) orbit suggests that it is a "first-timer" in the inner solar system. For this reason, it may be putting on an out-gassing show that you won't want to miss though you'll have to be quick, this comet is moving at a frantic pace. The best window for observation is from mid to late February. It will make it's closest approach on the 24th and will be passing Saturn at around this time (depending on your location). Now get this, -with a pair of binoculars, you might be able to see the comet moving!
I had my first opportunity to get a look at Comet Lulin last night as the skies have been stormy. During the hour and a half that I was shooting at the Comet (before dew and high clouds stopped the fun) Lulin made significant progress across the sky and it's apparent motion is still increasing. The unusually fast pace of this Comet and the return of the moon later this month mean that your best (only?) chance to see Lulin will be this coming week.
Look to the south east after midnight (after 1am is even better) for Saturn. Lulin will pass Saturn on the 23rd/24th of February on its journey out of Virgo and into Leo. The comet will reach peak brightness the following evening and will quickly recede back into the depths of the solar system.
The Garnet star (lower left) in the constellation Cepheus is one of the largest stars known in this or any other galaxy and it is visible to the naked eye under good conditions, though it can be tough to find at first.
It doesn't appear bright enough to earthly observers (because it is partially obscured by nearby dust and gas) to have been given a name more personal than Mu Cephei but as a red supergiant star, it's significance was recognized by Sir William Herschel, discoverer of infrared radiation (and Uranus) and so today it is often referred to as Herschel's Garnet Star.
At 1650-2536 times the size of the sun, Mu Cephei would fill the solar system all the way out to Saturn. It's huge; -one of the largest known stars in this or any other galaxy.
Mu Cephei is a rare type of star, a cool (3700K at the surface) or M-type red supergiant. There are only a handful of these in our neighborhood here in the Milky Way, a couple of other notables include Betelgeuse in Orion and Antares in the constellation Scorpius.
It is believed that Mu Cephei is fusing heavy elements in its core and that it's relentless loss of material from the surface will shortly trigger its explosion as a supernova (at any time based on the best estimates).
The Garnet star sits near the edge of a large (six times as wide as the moon) hydrogen emission nebula (IC 1396) . In this cloud of gas sits another interesting celestial structure, the "Elephant Trunk Nebula".
The Elephant Trunk Nebula (upper right) is an area of recently discovered (2003) proto-star formation. Some young stars just inside the (bottom) end of the Elephant's Trunk have hollowed out a cavity in the gas there and light from a bright nearby star (below the bottom of the elephant's trunk) now reflect off of the rim of this bubble of ionized gas, giving the Elephant's trunk it's unique form.
The Elephant's trunk and the larger cloud of gas extend well outside the perspective of this image.
Download3.3 MB.jpeg file
below is the same image stretched out to 30second (with some extra frames added to the ends.
The Pleiades are high overhead;
All Hallow's Eve. lead the way for The Day of the Dead
Check out some pics of the parade yesterday (I'm learning me some html)
The Mayans based their calendar on this brilliant star cluster that they called "Tz'ab ek". It is the tail of a rattlesnake that crosses the sky each year. This year as we think of it corresponds to the Haab' in the Mayan calendar but this idea of a year was secondary to the Tzolk'in, a 260 day count of thirteen sets of twenty days. The Tzolk'in was the most important calendar and dictated the timing of religious ceremonies.
The time when the tail of the snake crosses overhead at midnight is full with foreboding and every 52 years, the Tzolk'in and the Haab' harmonize and the superior conjunction of the Pleiades with earth aligns the cluster along the meridian and completes the "Calendar Round", a particularly inauspicious time that we'll next see in 2012 when to our great luck or distress the calendar round will coincide with the end of the first "long count" (~5000years), of the Mayan calendar. At that time, our planet will complete its current precession around its polar axis (at 23,000 years, the shortest of its three eccentricities; tilt, wobble and precession), and the earth will pass between the sun and the black hole at the galactic center once again beginning it's journey through the constellations of the night sky.
A whole in the Heart Nebula? (IC 1805)
Next door in the Perseus arm of Milky Way lies, arguably, the heart of our galaxy. This heart shaped cloud of (mainly) hydrogen takes its shape from the energetic star cluster (IC 1805) at its center. The largest of these stars in the center of the heart are massive (50 times as large as the sun) and short lived in the cosmic sense- Interestingly, one of these massive stars recently (within millions of years) burst into a supernova and then collapsed into a newly discovered class of objects known as "micro-quasars".
A micro quasar is (either) a very small black hole or a neutron star that remains gravitationally bound to another star forming a binary star system. As the micro quasar strips material from its neighbor, it sends out jets of x-ray and other high-energy radiation in polar jets that permeate space, announcing its presence over great time and distance.
If we had the opportunity to look at our solar system from some distance away in interstellar space, we would notice that Jupiter dominates the planets in physical size and would be the first of the planets to resolve in a telescope from points far away.
Here is a photo of Jupiter and its nearest moon Io that I collected on August 2nd 2008.
Researchers from the University of Toronto recently released what may be the first ever picture of a planet orbiting a sun-like star outside our solar system. The image was collected using the adaptive-optics equipped Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea Hawaii. Adaptive optics applied to telescopes is a recent technical advance wherein many lasers are used to sample atmospheric disturbance many times a second and then the information is relayed to electromagnets that line the backside of one of the optical surfaces (mirrors) in the telescope. These electromagnets then push or pull on individual areas of the mirror, deforming it in accordance with the measured atmospheric disturbances and thus correcting for deviations in the clarity of the atmosphere.
More research is needed to determine if in fact the star and the planet (which is roughly 8 times as large as Jupiter and has a surface temperature of ~1500 degrees) are in fact gravitationally bound.
For more info and the picture of the extra-solar / possible sun like companion:
It has been just over a year now since I offered my last photographic attempt at capturing this area and I thought it a good time to see how things are shaping up.
The Veil Nebula (NGC6960) refers to the eastern portion of a supernova remnant called the Cygnus Loop that now spans three degrees in our summer night sky. The whole loop is actually a luminescent shell of gas lighted by the energy of the shockwaves from the supernova event expanding through clouds of gas that were ejected by the star in the years before it went "supernova". In my photo, the greenish blue areas are rich with doubly ionized oxygen or "OIII" (at 496 and 501 nm) and the redish areas represent ionized hydrogen gas or HII (at 656 nm).
The supernova event would have been visible to our contemporaries who lived at the time that the light would have reached earth, likely less than 10,000 years ago. To those alive then, it would have been visible as a star as bright as a crescent moon (visible during the day) and would have persisted for some time. The site of the explosion revised with observations from the Hubble Space Telescope is now thought to be almost twice as close as believed until 1999. At that time, the distance was calculated to be 1470 light years. This was supported when researchers using a satellite in 2003 calculated that the distance of the bright star 52 Cygnus on the edge of the eastern portion of the supernova remnant (appearing behind the nebula) to be 1860 light years.
Picking's Triangle is a patch of luminosity that occurs to the inside of the more prominent eastern Veil Nebula.
Williamina Fleming who worked for Picking at Harvard discovered picking's Triangle. She was also the first to point out the famous Horsehead Nebula in one of Picking's photographic plates and so she could also rightly be credited with the discovery of dark nebula. Picking rightly speculated that dark nebula were clouds of dark matter (of the normal variety) obscuring the luminescent gas.
I have been taking pictures of this area of the sky for a couple years now, and I've compiled (literally) hundreds of images of the area. Sorting through and figuring out which of these images are "good ones" is tough and usually involves a certain amount of post-processing of the image. Additionally, the sheer size of this object which would appear as wide around as six full moons if it were visible to the naked eye means that images captured at high magnification must be patched together in a mosaic and painstakingly matched for intensity and hue. The resulting "base-map" of the area will serve as a template, on which I can overlay future photographic attempts.
About 11,000 light years away in the constellation of Cassiopeia, near the globular star cluster M52 is a 10 ly wide, glowing bubble of gas called NGC 7635 or "the bubble nebula".
The bubble nebula is a really unique and very rare type of object in our galaxy called a Strömgren sphere. Though it resembles a planetary nebula in shape, the glowing gas forming the bubble was not ejected by a dying star but rather deformed by a massive energetic one.
The star at the center of the bubble belongs to a special class of stars called OB stars (referring to their spectral designation either O or B). They form in clusters within a common molecular cloud but as they come to life, their large size and energetic emission pushes or "blows" away much of the surrounding cloud, so much so that the decrease in mass of the molecular cloud causes the stars to become gravitationally unbound and they slowly drift away from each other. Most OB stars are short lived, on the order of a million years, but during that time they emit fantastic levels of energy and wind.
Ultraviolet emission from an OB star (rather gravitational shockwaves) is responsible for ionizing the hydrogen cloud that forms the emission nebula NGC 7635.
14 exposures totaling 1hour 10 minutes during the morning of August 8 2008 from 3000ft on Mt Diablo.
Maybe the most surreptitious of the nebula are the dark nebula and they are perhaps the most easily understood.
Dark nebula are areas of gas and dust that emit no light themselves and from our perspective, reflect no light either. As such, dark nebula appear to the earthly observer as dark patches in the night sky where no stars or light can be detected.
Observing (and photographing) dark nebula require truly dark skies. I spent some time during the past dark cycle of the moon at high altitude in the San Jacinto Wilderness and caught this look at the Sagittarius Star Cloud.
Within this "cloud" of stars in my picture, a pair of prominent dark nebulae are visible. The striking dark blob in the upper middle of my photograph (that looks here to me like the head of a jellyfish) is Edward Barnard's 92nd cataloged object (B92) and just above it at the extreme top of the picture is dark nebula, B93. A bit to the left of B93 (also near the top of the picture) is a pleasing bright patch of clustered stars: open cluster NGC 6603. On the lower left, is an H2 emission nebula (red in color) called IC 1283/1284 (also called SH-37) which is flanked by a couple of reflection nebula (blue in color) NGC 6589 and NGC 6590.
The dark sky allowed me to capture a luxurious 15minutes worth of photons (manually guided) with my 80mm objective and digital camera in only two exposures.
I wish the sky were dark where I lived.
While space can be pretty action packed at times, many objects that are visible from earth change little over the years and so new pictures can be overlaid upon old pictures to bring out more detail in the resulting image. Until I recently lost some of my wide field imaging equipment, I had been working on one of my favorite deep space objects, the North American Nebula. As I may not get up and running again on my wide field work before this nighttime gem sinks again into the west, the attached image represents three additional nights efforts compiled with data dating back to 2005.
The North American Nebula is a cloud of (primarily) hydrogen gas that lies within our Milky Way galaxy. Many believe that the star responsible for ionizing the gas to emit light (at the hydrogen alpha wavelength) is Deneb. If this is true then the cloud of star forming gas is only about 16,000 light years away. The entire cloud covers an area of the sky as large as 10 full moons. Visible in the upper right of this image is a part of the cloud complex called "The Pelican Nebula". Can you see a pelican there? The bird's eye is a bright star (57 Cyngi) and just below that you might see the top of his bill trailing down into space. The Pelican's large S-shaped neck leads away from his eye to the right and joins up with his (use your imagination) body. If your really imaginative, you might see his large wings arching upward; if not then I promise I'll try to convince you again next year!
31 minutes of exposure; Canon 300D, 555mm fluorite doublet objective, guided manually with 1540mm Maksutov Cassergrain on motorized equatorial mount, processed in Photoshop
About 31 million years ago, the light recorded in this image set off across space on its way to my camera. Maybe it was less than 31million years considering that space(time) is expanding-
The light recorded here is of a large spiral galaxy like our own, designated NGC 4565. We see it from the side or "edge-on", as if looking at a bicycle wheel lying on the ground. The dusty outer regions of the galactic disc obscure a thin strip of the bright central core. Just visible above and to the right is another much smaller galaxy (NGC 4562).
Galaxies that exist today are generally one of three varieties, spiral, elliptical or irregular. Irregular galaxies are a sort of "odds and ends" grouping of galaxies who are in general tortured by outside forces; -usually collisions with other galaxies or cosmic jets, and emit radiation strongly in the high energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum.
We understand that spiral galaxies like our own milky way condensed out of the remnants of massive population II supernova star explosions. Up until only recently, elliptical galaxies were something of a mystery to us. We knew that they are large, spherical or ellipsoid and that they have no apparent spiral structure. We also knew that elliptical galaxies are composed of older low mass stars and that very little new start formation exists within them. But how they formed or where they came from was a mystery.
A new school of thought that has developed in only the last few years by way of (believe it or not) supercomputer model simulations of galaxy collisions. This new emerging theory of galaxy evolution answers the question of where elliptical galaxies come from and how they are related to spiral galaxies.
In short, the thought is that spiral galaxies grow larger by merging or swallowing other spiral galaxies until the central black hole becomes massive enough to draw most of the gas toward the center and ignite rapid star formation in the central disc. The black hole swallows these stars, transforming into a quasar (which pumps out jets of high energy radiation at an angle perpendicular to the galactic disc). These high-energy jets basically blow away the remaining gas and stars that in the galaxy. The material is blown out into a halo around the quasar, which begins to starve as it quickly exhausts the supply of nearby matter. When this system reaches equilibrium, the result is a large featureless round(ish) galaxy or cloud small old stars. This will be the fate of all spiral galaxies in the universe.
It's a dynamic and changing time that we live in.
Early this past April, I was out looking for galaxy M108. After locating it and exposing a few short images to line things up in my telescope, (something that couldn't be done before digital cameras) I recorded about 10 pictures of 2-3 minutes each, often checking the images after closing the shutter as they popped up on the back of my camera. I didn't notice the Owl Nebula at all until I got home and started working with the digital files on my computer but the two objects offer each other pleasing contrast.
M108 is a spiral galaxy like our own Milky Way, viewed here from the side and at a distance of 45 million light-years. It appears in the constellation Ursa Major. Visible within the galaxy are several "knots" of luminescent gas (areas of high star density and/or star formation) but not much indication of a bright central core region. M108 is believed to be a very dusty galaxy and the dust obscures the light from the bright central core but perhaps highlights some of the other details visible here.
I had not had the inclination to look for the Owl Nebula (yet) because small dim objects can often be frustratingly hard to find but I realized this past month that my apprehension of this celestial object was unfounded. The Owl Nebula's proximity to the bright star Merak (in the big dipper) make it reasonably easy to locate and while it requires dark-adapted eyes and a dark sky to view, it photographs surprisingly well.
The Owl Nebula sits at a distance of perhaps less than 2000 light years and appears to be blue in my photograph but in reality, it glows with more of a greenish hue, indicative of ionized oxygen (OIII). It is described as a cylinder of gas with low density of material at the poles (the ends of the cylinder) with a surrounding spheroid gas shell. -and it really looks quite a bit like the face of a (barn?) owl!
These three, known colloquially as "The Leo Trio" appear in the constellation Leo, where they lay outside of our local group of galaxies some 35 million light years away. Here NGC 3628 is at the left, M65 on the top and M66 on the bottom. The disc of NGC 3628 is seen as "edge-on" from our vantage and so appearing slightly dimmer, it just barely escaped discovery by Charles Messier (using some of the first telescopes) around 1780 only to be discovered in 1784 by William Herschel, with the benefit of improved telescope technology. I can see its slender silhouette through my scope under dark skies but it is definitely less noticeable than its companions.
a nice look at NGC 3628 can be found at:
It's hard to tell my picture but both NGC 3628 and M66 show signs of close encounters with their neighbors. Each of their galactic discs are warped by nearby gravitational fields but M65 (on top) appears little affected at this point.8 frames, 17minutes exposure ISO 400; Canon 300D with 555mm Fluorite doublet, Manually guided on GM8 equatorial mount, Dark subtracted, stacked and processed with Photoshop CS.
These twin open star clusters can easily be seen on the next arm of our galaxy over (the Perseus arm).
They are active star forming regions, just like the Pleiades, but because they're farther away (about 7000 light years), so it's likely that most of the people who observed them throughout history, never considered the similarity. Without the aid of a telescope, they look like little stationary minute clouds against the otherwise dark sky.
They're both young, (3 and 5 million years old) and although younger, 884 has several red giant and red super giant stars (undergoing the last stages of stellar life) while 869 appears to have none.
Red super giants (up to 1500 times as big as the sun) are boiling, onion-like stars that typically end their days of shining as Type II supernova. Layer upon layer of fusing and defunct shells of progressively heavier elements burn out in series from the surface to the center's increasingly large core of iron. Iron fusion is never energetically favored in nature so eventually the gravity of this whole thing means that the electrons get pushed together with the protons inside the big iron ball forming neutrons at the center of the belching orb of gas.
That saves a lot of space and the star lives happily ever after.
…-no, just kidding, -that squishes neutrinos out of the neutrons setting a shell of Leptons racing through space in all directions (at light speed) forever and just a moment before a spectacular wave of energy and light is generated from much of the mattter. Waves like this make all the heavy elements in the universe.
12 minutes 24 seconds exposure, canon 300d, 80 x 555mm fluorite doublet, manually guided with motorized equatorial mount.
7 exposures23min. 43sec.
This supernova remnant has been expanding through space since 1054AD. In that year, it was noticed by civilizations around the world as an unknown star that would have shined much brighter than Venus in the night sky, visable for 23 days DURING DAYLIGHT and for almost two years in the night sky.
The remnants of exploding gas now cover an area 10 lightyears wide but it appears quite compact from earth at a distance of 6,300 lightyears.
The first "pulsar" which we now understand to be the rapidly rotating (1800 rpm) radio-emmiting, super-dense neutron star (remnant of the exploded 1054AD parent star) was discovered here by the air force in 1947 but went unreported until it was independently discovered some months later.
To really knock your socks off check out the Hubble Space Telescope image:
I was skeptical that tonight's lunar eclipse would be visible because Northern California is in the midst of a series of rainstorms but perhaps some of you caught enough of a break in the clouds to check this one out too.
This past cycle of the moon has been an eventful one. I first noticed its crescent cutting through the dusky blue western horizon as I topped the Black Point Trail at Mt. Diablo.
Several days later, on the flanks of Mt Olympia (Mt. Diablo) the moon was floating spryly and dancing with hawks overhead in a sea of blue as the afternoon moved toward evening.
The days have been cloudy and I had not crossed paths with this moon again until early this evening, when its airy disc came out of hiding cloaked partially in the earth's shadow. It climbed cloudy stairs past the nearby palms in the western horizon.
Rising higher, Saturn finally burned its way through the low stratus clouds of an oncoming weather front here in the west, and Joined the moon while the last rays of sunlight drained away, replaced by the uncertain glow of totality.
What is certain is that we on the west coast will not have the opportunity to view another total solar eclipse until the year 2010.
This latest alliteration of The Great Orion Nebula is a close up of the central star-forming region. The image draws heavily on data that I collected with my 1540mm compound scope (at high magnification) that was then overlaid with wide field image data from my 555mm. The image contains data collected between 2006 and 2008 using two different cameras and an unknown amount of total exposure.
Having recently traveled to Europe (Spain and Italy), it was interesting to note that my latitude on the planet remained roughly the same as at home here in California. As a result, most of the very same stars and celestial objects that are visible in California were also the same ones that were visible in the countries where I traveled. What was different was that I was seeing stars at times during the night that would correspond to an earlier part of the year here in America.
For example, The Great Orion Nebula was rising into the sky and staying up all night long there in Europe while here at home, it has begun to sink into the horizon and disappear as the night progresses. It wasn't so long ago that the hunter was up all night around here- perhaps a few months.
The great Orion nebula is the brightest nebula in the sky (visible to the naked eye) and quite large (over 1 degree). In fact it is part of a much larger cloud of gas and dust that stretches for about 10 degrees over half the constellation of Orion. Around the perimeter of this area is a diffuse semi-circle ribbon of hydrogen gas that emits a dull light. The arc is known as Barnard's Loop (Sh 2-276) and while it is possible to view the brightest portions of this loop under exceedingly dark skies using averted vision- I personally have not yet noticed or photographed it (although it's on my list of things to do).
The great Egyptian pyramids of Giza (including smaller satellite structures) are laid out according spatial arrangement of the stars in the constellation of Orion. Strangely, there is no mention of the Orion Nebula in western text until about 1610 or 1611 when Nicholas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc and Johann Baptist Cysatus, both using telescopes, reported it independently.
Charles Messier published a sketch of the nebula in 1771 and the Orion Nebula was the first emission nebula to be photographed in 1880. It is thought that the nebulosity in Orion is a result of a shockwave generated by gravitational forces acting on the disc of our Milky Way Galaxy.
In the picture you can see Andromeda (M31) as well of two of its companion galaxies, M32 and M110. M110 is the fuzzy oval patch in top portion of the picture and M32 is the small, bright, round, fuzzy patch at about 5 o'clock from Andromeda 's core. M32 and Andromeda are interacting and stars stripped from M32 add to the luminance of the outer bands of Andromeda.
Observations with the Hubble telescope have revealed that Andromeda has a kind of "double core", likely two super massive black holes circling each other. This suggests that Andromeda consumed one of its neighbors. Andromeda is speeding toward us at 300 miles per second and will likely narrowly miss us in 2 billion years but perhaps collide with us on the next pass. That won't be until after the sun burns out.
In 1864 William Huggins noted that Andromeda (known as a nebula at the time) emitted light in the same spectrum as stars (and not that of emission nebula). At the time, no one knew galaxies existed. It was first photographed in 1887 by Isaac Roberts, revealing its spiral arms. Edwin Hubble showed in 1923 that the "starlight emitting spiral nebula" was farther away than the stars of our galaxy by measuring the distance to a Cepheid variable star in Andromeda. He published his observations using the words "extragalactic stellar system", in 1929.
Today we know Andromeda is about 2.9 million light years away and destine to collide with our own galaxy. It's not our closest neighbor. The large and the small Megellanic Clouds are the nearest two galaxies in our local cluster and if we were in Australia, we could see them, large in the night sky. Andromeda is 3rd closest and the nearest spiral galaxy (like our milky way although ours is thought to be a rare barrel type spiral galaxy) and roughly the same as the Milky Way.
The nights have been cold and seldom clear lately so I 've been choosing my viewing sessions carefully. One of my goals for this winter was to collect some good "data " on some nearby galaxies.The Triangulum Galaxy is one of the most distant objects that can be observed by the unaided human eye (at about 3 million light years) although only under exceptional seeing conditions. Its orientation to us is more "face on" than "edge on" when compared to the Andromeda galaxy and it appears as a diffuse, slightly lighter patch in the sky through my telescope, (not nearly as dramatic as Andromeda).
The Triangulum Galaxy is a galaxy in our local group of galaxies (in the constellation Triangulum) and is the second nearest spiral galaxy (second to Andromeda) to our own Milky Way. It is of average size (about four times smaller than either Andromeda or the Milky Way) and it is currently approaching us but not as rapidly as Andromeda. It is possible that Triangulum is a satellite (gravitationally bound companion) of the great Andromeda galaxy. Two giant spiral arms extend out from the center of Triangulum galaxy with several secondary arms filling in the gaps.
The Triangulum Galaxy was the subject of the first search for extra terrestrial intelligence (SETI) in 1984 though today, the search has been expanded.
In my recently compiled picture of Triangulum (M33), you may be able to see some areas of dense stars. Some of the areas with really high numbers of stars are in the spiral arms of the galaxy and actually appear here to be a single star. You may even detect a color difference between with some of the small bright areas looking kind of off red in color while others appear blue-white. The reddish "knots" of stars are actually gigantic emission nebula like the Orion nebula in our own nearby night sky (though these are many times larger)
An interactive 3-D map of the local group is available at:
PHOTO DETAILS (ANDROMEDA):
Manually guided, 8 frames, 1586 seconds of exposure (4 ISO 800, 1 ISO 400, 3 ISO 200) canon 300D / 555mm fluorite doublet refractor; RAW images dark frame subtracted, aligned, and processed with Photoshop CS Data was collected on two nights, one in September and one in November.
Manually guided, 7 frames, 1090 seconds of exposure (2 ISO 400, 5 ISO 200) canon 300D / 555mm fluorite doublet refractor; RAW images dark frame subtracted, aligned, and processed with Photoshop CS. Data was collected in September 2007.
Comet Holmes seemed to disappear from the sky to naked eye observers as the moon brightened at the end of last month. The skies are once again dark though and last night I was easily able to locate Comet Holmes with the aid of my glasses. It's apparent motion remains slow; it is now just above the red giant star Mirfak in the constellation Perseus, and seemingly headed for Andromeda at a snail's pace.
The comet has dimmed considerably and appears much more diffuse now with more of a tail becoming evident if you compare the two attached pictures that I captured on November 11th and December 7th.
(recently dubbed "the eye of god" after high resolution images revealed the presence of an "iris")
Check out a Hubble Telescope image at:
Manually guided, 11 frames, 33min. 36sec. total exposure; 5xISO 200, 2xISO400, 4xISO1600 Collected September 15, 2007; Canon 300D; 80mm fluorite doublet. Dark frame subtracted, stacked, rotated, aligned, and processed with Photoshop CS.
The Helix Nebula never really gets to high in the sky in this neck of the woods so the window for photographing this interesting object is quite fleeting. I never even found it in 2006 but this year I did find it (photographically) and then I was able to observe it directly at high magnification. This is one of those objects that you have to convince yourself that you're seeing when observing through a small telescope. Mostly what is visible is slight variations in the blackness.
Like the Ring and Dumbbell nebula, the Helix nebula is considered a "planetary" nebula, so named for it's compact and roughly spherical appearance.
* also see my image comparing these three planetary nebula (below)
It sits about 650-ly away in the constellation Aquarius and is 2.5-ly wide. It's believed to be around 11,000 years old and will likely fade to black within the next 10,000 years.
Planetary nebula are formed when sun-like stars (in terms of mass) transition from "red-giants" (toward the end of their lives) to "white dwarfs" (last dying stages).
These "suns" spend most of their lives fusing hydrogen in their cores and the energy released is enough to resist the gravity of the gas surrounding the core until the hydrogen is exhausted. As gravity begins to win out over the nuclear furnace pushing out from the core, the star collapses and heats up to the point where fusion begins in the surrounding gas layers or "shell". This new source of heat will drive the outer layers to expand rapidly and as a red giant is born. It burns hot enough to fuse Helium into Carbon.
Red giants are short-lived though. A sun may spend only 1/10th of its life at this stage. When the shell Helium has been exhausted, gravity begins to win the battle once more and the core collapses again until it becomes unstable and explodes outward with energy released in fusion of helium to carbon and oxygen among other light elements.
It is the remnants of this explosion that we see as a planetary nebula expanding slowly away from the white dwarf star at the center of the nebula.
It is interesting to note the similarities in the appearance of the Helix and Ring Nebula. Their appearance is due to the fact that we see these objects from the polar region (straight down from the top or bottom). The Helix is much older and a bit farther away and so it's not surprising that it appears to cover much larger area of the sky (about half the size of the moon) and has a much lower surface brightness than the ring.
While the Dumbbell nebula appears different, it is believed that this is simply due to our more "equatorial" vantage point. If we could look down on it from the polar region, it would likely appear "ring-like" instead of helical. The helices of planetary nebula are likely created by the spin and / or magnetic fields of imploding red giants.
Comet Holmes is a periodic comet that was discovered in 1892 when it underwent an outburst in magnitude or "brightness" as it recently did in 2007.
No one can say for sure why the comet has flared-up again this past October (or in the past) but this is the first time since it's discovery that it has done so so brilliantly.
After its discovery, it was seen again in 1899 and 1906 though much dimmer- It was then lost until 1964. Upon its re-discovery, calculations aided by computers allowed observers to refine their understanding of the comet's periodicity and the comet was subsequently observed at every return from 1964 through the present.
It was not until the 24th of October 2007 though that the comet brightened by a factor of a million times to reach magnitude 2 and it has remained bright and visible for over two weeks now.
The Comet is easily visible to the naked eye in the constellation of Perseus. It is growing in apparent size and slowly decreasing in surface brightness although it is predicted to remain bright for many more weeks.
From our vantage, we are looking right up the tail of the comet so it appears to us as a less familiar circular shape although recently it seems to have grown the beginnings of a tail.
I have been itching to get out to observe it for a while and finally found the time. I took this image Sunday evening.
But first I'm going to toot my own horn for a second.
Today I finished third in the annual Mount Diablo Trail Adventure summit run. ~4000ft 10 + miles bottom to top.
I also have
3rd place (2003) and
5th place (2005) finishes in the half marathon.
This was the first nebula discovered through photographic means around the turn of the century by the University of London Observatory using their 24-inch reflecting telescope.
**Below, see a copy of the original silver oxide photographic plate from the 24-inch scope. The fact that there is more detail in my image recorded with a 3.5 inch telescope highlights the advances in photographic technology since its advent around the turn of the century as a means to record faint celestial objects.
The nebulosity surrounding the stars of this cluster is simply cool clouds of space dust illuminated by the starlight of the star cluster in the distant background.
Right around Halloween each year, the Pleiades is at its highest overhead near midnight (although it varies with a period of 52 years) and so many cultures in the northern hemisphere have associated this cluster with lore surrounding spirits of the dead.
Wide field fixed-mount astrophotography has to be one of life's lesser-known simple pleasures.
All that's required are a tripod and a camera that is capable of taking long exposures. There is no elaborate set-up, no polar alignment, no squinting through a dim eyepiece at unusual angles for excessive periods of time at a dim star wandering around the center of two illuminated cross-hairs while making drive inputs to the tripod
And the results are often unexpected- In the old days when I did this with 35mm film, there was much more guesswork involved since there is no immediate way to trouble shoot exposure, focus and subject composition.
Lately, I've been working in a little fishing / surf town on the north coast where last week I caught a nice picture of a star falling over the ocean.
Below are several other wide field-fixed-mount images from over the years. There are several air-traffic "trails" visible in the other images but no falling stars.
In the wee hours of the morning tomorrow (Sunday) if you look for the crescent moon on the eastern horizon just before dawn, you will find it surrounded by the planets of Saturn and Venus as well as the bright star Regulus. Perhaps you noticed this last night when the moon was just a little bit further away but still close to this trio of bright objects.
Manually guided, 9 frames from two nights (Jun 17th and 24th 2007) 3 x 555mm fluorite doublet refractor + 6 x 1540mm Maksutov Cassergrain. 32 min. total exposure: 2 X ISO 400, 3 X ISO 800, 4 x ISO 1600. Dark frame subtracted, stacked, rotated, aligned, and processed with Photoshop CS.
**I had been meaning to gather one more night of data on this target but I let things go for too long- The recent wildfires in Henry Coe state park obscured the skies during the past cycle of the moon and the Eagle will be in the other hemisphere till next year.
Perhaps the most iconic astronomical photograph of all time is the 1995 Hubble Space telescope image of the heart of the Eagle Nebula. The photograph was dubbed "The Pillars of Creation", a name that it shares with a book from a series of fantasy novels by author Terry Goodkind.
I think that this photo was so striking because in addition to the spectacular color and resolution of the area's gas clouds and evaporating gaseous globules "EGG's" (these are sort of dense bits of gas mixed with matter; the stuff that stars are made of), the composition of the photo gave the illusion of an order that strikes a chord with gravitationally-bound observers.
More recent research involving infrared, ultra-violet, radio and X-ray mapping of this area has dramatically changed our understanding of this nebula since the famous 1995 image. The nebula is very much nearer to the end of its life than anyone thought. In fact, we are bearing witness to the absolute, very end of the life of a large nearby emission nebula. To put things in relative terms: it may already be gone.
The structure of these pillars has been brought about by stellar winds and ultra-violet radiation blowing outward from the associated open star cluster M16 (on the right side and above the mid-line of the nebula in my photo). The gasses responsible for the nebula and the star-cluster have been condensing for perhaps the age of the earth (these gases were themselves remnants of supernova explosions of long gone population III and population II super-massive fast burning stars) but the bright blue supergiant stars of M16 sparked to life only in the last couple million years. As the blue-giants of M16 ignited, they pushed away much of the gas. If you imagine trying to hose a bunch of rocks and sand off of the sidewalk, you may see a parallel between the intense winds of M16 and the "pillars" which are capped by EGG's (rocks in the sand) proximal to M16. This erosion by ultraviolet wind, which excites the gasses of the pillars to luminescence, is called "photoevaporation".
It was though at the time of the 1995 photo, that the eagle was an active stellar nursery like so many other emission nebula but newly forming stars emit lots of infrared and X-ray energy. Our new X-ray telescope space telescope "Chandra", shows that there is very little X-ray emission emanating from within the gases of the pillars. (below) Star birth has all but ceased there and the very last generations of stars of the Eagle are igniting in the most massive, visible EGG's at the caps of the pillars and in seemingly open space where the pillars have recently "evaporated".
This is the only such nearby "late-stage" stellar nursery that we have to study. Researchers have determined that only four of the remaining EGG's within the pillars are massive enough to become stars. One of them, "E42" has a mass that is sun-like. Thus, in E42, we may see in some way, the birth of our sun-
Left to it's own devices, The Eagle Nebula / M16 would burn itself out in less than a million years leaving only the star cluster set against the blackness of space. In January of 2007, French astronomers suggested that a glowing cloud of scorched dust adjacent to the pillars might be the extending shockwave of a nearby supernova. If so, then the pillars may have been vaporized 6000 years ago. We will know for sure in 1000 years when that light reaches earth. It is possible that proto-star E42 is massive enough to have survived such a wave.
Make a wish
Our old friend the hunter has returned to the early morning sky- kind of a bittersweet time of the year. Orion is a familiar beacon through much of the year in the night sky and it's usually the first object I target during a viewing session (because it's beautiful and easy to focus my camera on). Orion's return also means that the most diverse portion of the sky (toward the center of the Milky Way) is fast slipping below the horizon and soon the days will be shorter and colder. I'm planning on tracking down some galaxies off the dark side of the boat this winter to pass the time.
In the attached 73-second exposure, an Aurigid Meteor is falling in front of the slowly rotating hunter. The red glow on the left of the frame is dawn breaking on the horizon (the image is rotated).
The Aurigid Meteor yesterday was the first one in history to ever be predicted in advance and it will likely be the last one to occur in any of our lifetimes. Few people have viewed previous Aurigid showers in 1935, 1984 and 1994. (below)
The Aurigid shower is the result of a long-period comet (Comet Kiess) which passed the sun about 2000 years ago leaving behind a trail of relatively exotic comet dust. Exotic because long-period comets spend very little time being baked by the sun and so retain much of their original chemistry including volatiles like water and potassium. The dust has been pushed away from the sun by the solar wind so that it now orbits just further than earth but on rare occasions, the alignment of planets exerts gravitational forces that can move the dust trail into earth's path. Such was the case yesterday.
The entire meteor shower lasted only about 2 hours and I would describe it something like a bag of microwave popcorn going off- increasing and then decreasing in frequency. The meteors themselves were very impressive. Mostly bright yellow with long tails although I saw a nice red one and some white green and blue. Credit the unusual chemistry of the dust.
It was weird to watch them and consider that the timeless forces and motion of the planets and sun could produce such a fleeting star shower.
Also attached is a movie that I created depicting last weeks lunar eclipse. The movie has 23 frames that compress 4 hours and 8 minutes into a little over 3 seconds.
This perhaps the most impressive of the lunar eclipses that I've witnessed thus far- The conditions were excellent from my typical observing location, ~400ft on the northeast flank of Mt. Diablo. The atmosphere was clear and stable and the air was warm.
Lunar eclipses are relatively common but this was the longest duration lunar eclipse in seven years and totality occurred in the utter dark of the night @3:37. The moon sometimes appears to have a red-orange glow during a total eclipse, an effect created by particulate in the earth's atmosphere.
After setting up my equipment including three cameras, two tripods bedding pad and pillow, I settled in for a long evening capturing the passing of the moon through earths shadow. I snapped a few pictures of the full moon accompanied by coyote songs. Later, the cows howled wildly as the penumbra became noticeable. A stripped skunk seemed oblivious to the moon and me and rummaged around in the brush loudly next to me, occasionally wandering through my camp. Imaging on 10-minute intervals, I had some time to sleep between making my rounds to press buttons (this made possible by a digital kitchen timer). Just a few minutes or so before totality of the eclipse, as I stumbled around in the darkness of a chaparral hillside making my way toward one of my cameras, I saw a kangaroo rat! -something that I've never seen out here in the east bay before! It was either Dipodomys heermanni or Dipodomys venusstus but based on ear size, I'll go with heermanni.
The color of the moon and the fluctuation in ambient light were somehow unexpected. Got some good pictures too; (not the k-rat though) -didn't get a picture of the k-rat
The Veil Nebula (NGC6960) refers to the eastern portion of a supernova remnant called the Cygnus Loop that now spans three degrees in our summer night sky. The whole loop is actually a luminescent shell or ball of gas lighted by the various shockwaves expanding through who knows what. (well really,- everything element from 27 through 117 is only created naturally in supernovas as far as we know)
The supernova would have been visible to our contemporaries who lived at the time that the light would have reached earth, perhaps less than 10,000 years ago. The site of the explosion revised with observations from the Hubble Space Telescope is now thought to be almost twice as close as believed until 1999. At that time, the distance was calculated to be 1470 light years. This was supported when researchers using a satellite in 2003 calculated that the distance of the bright star 52 Cygnus on the edge of the eastern portion of the supernova remnant (appearing behind the nebula) to be 1860 light years. This explosion would have been visible as a star as bright as a crescent moon and likely visible during the day.
You may be able to detect "Filaments" (shockwaves illuminating the media that may only be visible only when viewed edge on) in my close up images of the Cygnus Loop (below)
Pickering's Triangle is a patch of luminosity that occurs to the inside of the more prominent eastern Veil Nebula. You may be able to detect it in the middle bottom left corner below:
Williamina Fleming who worked for Pickering at Harvard discovered Pickering's Triangle. She was also the first to point out the famous Horsehead Nebula in one of Pickering's photographic plates and so she could also rightly be credited with the discovery of dark nebula. Pickering rightly speculated that the Horsehead was dark matter obscuring the luminescent gas.
When I began experimenting with astrophotography, one of the very first objects that I attempted to photograph was the Ring Nebula.
It's a pretty striking sight at high magnification- It appears to be a grey doghnut fading into black at the center which is contrary to everything one would expect to see when exploring the heavens with a telescope. It is also quite compact (about a light year wide and sitting at a distance of ~2000ly), appearing about the size of Jupiter but much much dimmer and more subtle. At lower magnifications, my eye easily mistakes the whole thing for a star.
There is actually a star in the center of the Ring Nebula. In stars like our sun which are not massive enough to "go supernova" at the end of their lives after burning up most of their hydrogen, the products of fusion (mainly helium) build up in the core and hydrogen fusion becomes limited to the outer layers which begin to cool. The core itself remains (increasingly) hot as the helium eventually fuses into carbon and oxygen. The wind from this accelerated fusion begins to drive off the outer layers of (primarily hydrogen) gas causing the star to expand into a supergiant while the (white dwarf) core (typically no larger than an average planet but exceedingly bright) is left behind to slowly cool into a "black dwarf".
I've been collecting data on the ring nebula for well over a year using a total of three different instruments and today as I wade through my (perhaps an hours worth?) data, I'm happy to say that I believe I can now clearly see the ring nebula's central star (photographically; but not directly)
Discovered in 1779 and referred to as a "planetary nebula" (the central star was discovered in 1800) the dark doughnut hole emits strongly in UV but not visible light. The innermost ring of dark blue (green in many exposures of this object) corresponds to ionized oxygen; the middle layer of light blue corresponds to ionized nitrogen (here) and the red outer shell is the remaining ionized remnants of the hydrogen which only 6000-8000 years ago would been part of the integrated surface of this star.
Manually guided, 5 frames, 10min.16sec. total exposure: 5xISO 800 Collected June 26, 2007; Canon 300D; 1540mm Maksutov Cassegrain. Dark frame subtracted, stacked, rotated, aligned, and processed with Photoshop CS.
I haven't had much luck photographing globular clusters up to this point. The high density of stars toward the core of these snowball-like clusters (as many as a million stars!) are difficult to resolve due to their high surface brightness and scant angular separation. Imaging at 1540mm, drift and field rotation quickly become a problem with a non-equatorial mount.
Globular clusters are a different breed of stars. Most of the Globular Clusters that are easily visible from earth are in elliptical orbits around the core of our galaxy but generally not within the "disc" of the Milky Way. Rather, they form a halo around the disc of our galaxy. Imagine our galaxy as analogues to the rings around Saturn; the planet of Saturn then is like the halo of globular clusters orbiting around the galactic center.
Termed "Population II" stars, globular clusters formed form the condensation and collapse of the primordial matter of the universe at or before the time of formation of galaxies themselves (although gravitational shockwaves generated by galaxy formation likely spurred the formation of many of the last generations of globular clusters). These are extremely ancient stars at 10-15 billion years old. They live so long because they lack the heavier elements that are present in galactic stars (population I stars) like the sun. The death of population II stars as well as the ongoing collapse and re-birth of galactic (pop I) stars has given rise to the metals and heavier elements that are present in trace quantities among the clouds of hydrogen and helium that exist in star forming regions today.
M22 was the first globular cluster to be discovered and it was discovered before the invention of the telescope (credited to Abraham Ihle 1665) although Charles Messier was among the first to resolve individual stars in a globular cluster in the 1770's (using a telescope). William Herschel went on a tear in the 1780's, identifying 37 new globular clusters and today we know of about 150-200 orbiting our galaxy.
Manually guided, 8 frames, collected May 18th 2007, 17 min 49 seconds total exposure: 8 X ISO 400; 555mm fluorite doublet refractor. Dark frame subtracted, stacked, rotated, aligned, and processed with Photoshop CS.
Very near to the Lagoon nebula sits M20, or the Trifid Nebula as it was named by William Herschel. The Trifid and Lagoon Nebula are part of the Sagittarius Arm of our Milky way and are likely roughly equidistant although the distance is not well known, they may be on the order of 5,000 light years away. Like the Lagoon Nebula, the Trifid spawns stars from its core. The cluster forming in its center will eventually push away the surrounding gas with their stellar wind. The blue color is not due to light emission by excited atoms in the gas cloud but rather it is the component of the full spectrum light produced by nearby stars that is then reflected off of cool dust clouds that are infiltrate the gases. These same dust clouds are responsible for obscuring portions of the nebula, especially the three dark lanes for which the nebula was named.
I had a memorable week and clear dark skies and warm nights meant that it was favorable for astrophotography as well. Monday evening I headed up Mt. Diablo to camp and catch the stars.
I've been trying to image this one for a long while but its low surface brightness (it is a strong Hydrogen-alpha emitter) and awkward size (the nebulosity spans 3 degrees or about 10 full moons) make it a difficult target from even moderately light-polluted skies. So up the mountain I went.
In this image, I have combined 35mm film data that I collected in 2006 along with new digital data collected at two focal lengths (the middle of the picture has more detail than the perimeter) to come up with this wide-field look at the 50 light-year tall and 1600-ly. distant, North American Nebula.
Recently, I've been rebuilding a very accurate and stable German equatorial telescope mount that came to me in non-functional shape. Saturday night I took it out for the first time and collected this image of the Lagoon Nebula. I'm really happy with the results, the mount is a pleasure to use and I have high hopes for the future!
Manually guided, 10 frames, 21 min 42 seconds total exposure: 1 X ISO 200, 190 sec; 8 X ISO 400 1044 sec; 1 X ISO 800 68 sec; 555mm fluorite doublet refractor. Dark frame subtracted, stacked, rotated, aligned, and processed with Photoshop CS
Like NGC 7000, the Lagoon is a star-forming region with associated star clusters. Rapid star formation occurs currently (it's a bit over 5000 light years away) in that bright patch toward the bottom-right, which resembles an hourglass at higher resolution.
Manually guided, 5 frames, collected May 18th 2007, 9 min 10 seconds total exposure: 1 X ISO 200, 151sec; 4 X ISO 400 399sec; 555mm fluorite doublet refractor. Dark frame subtracted, stacked, rotated, aligned, and processed with Photoshop CS.
The Swan Nebula, also known as the Omega, Lobster or Horseshoe nebula, is in the constellation of Sagittarius near the Eagle nebula where the Hubble Space Telescope took the famous "Pillars of Creation" image in 1995.
The Swan is an emission nebula emitting light form ionized hydrogen although the cloud of cold dust surrounding the Swan also reflects significant amounts of starlight in a couple areas leading to the bright patches on the wing of the swan. The swan is about 15 light years from bill to tail feather with the greater gas cloud perhaps 40 light years across. It lies maybe 5000-6000 light years away, which places it close to the Eagle Nebula. It is not known whether the two are part of the same complex of star forming gas and matter but they are components of the same spiral arm of the Milky Way.
In May, some new objects began making appearances in the morning hours and I was happy to catch several usable frames of this proud cloud in the early twilight one morning in May.
Manually guided, 8 frames, collected during 3 nights in March and April 2007, 28 min 45 seconds total exposure: 8 X ISO 200; 555mm fluorite doublet refractor. Dark frame subtracted, stacked, rotated, aligned, and processed with Photoshop CS
M101 is a grand spiral galaxy like our own (nearly face on from our vantage point) but it lies well outside our local group 20 something light years away near the handle of the big dipper. M101's local group includes galaxy NGC 5474 which can also be seen at the bottom right corner of my image. At least nine other notable (large) occur in this group and many observers have speculated that the M101 group may be gravitationally linked to the nearby M51 group (astrogeek 3/18/07) although with new data, this idea seems increasingly unlikely.
I can see the core of this galaxy under dark skies but I've yet to glimpse the spiral arms. Astronomer Halton Arp described M101 as a spiral with one heavy arm. Interesting because without the benefit of enough exposure, it does seem very asymmetric (I've noticed this in processing the image) but with sufficient aperture or time exposure, M101's symmetry is revealed.
Speaking of which, in digging through Hubble images of M101 I noticed a dwarf companion (galaxy) embedded in one of the spiral arms (you may also convince yourself that it is visible in my image; -I did) that bears a striking resemblance to M101 itself. Take heart all you super-symmetry believers! (attached Hubble composite image)
The moon and venus put on a bit of a show yesterday (Saturday night) coming within 1.2 degrees of each other for viewers near San Francisco (just under a degree for viewers on the east coast).
It was mostly cloudy but I caught a lucky five minute break in the clouds.
I had the impression while observing that venus was actually casting the light on the moon.
Saturn has the most well developed ring system among the gas giants in our solar system. Remnants of comets and moons, the ice and rock of the rings extend into space about 2/3 as far from the planet as our own moon.
The rings are divided into "ABCDEF and G" by gaps in the material with the largest of the gaps occurring between the A and B ring. This gap is known as the Cassini Division and is approximately 3,000 miles wide. Observing the Cassini division from earth would be roughly equivalent to resolving North America from Saturn.
I've seen the gap a few times during moments of exceptionally clear seeing conditions. It tends to fade in and out with turbulence in our atmosphere (heat and water vapor produce brief and erratic lensing effects). I caught a few clean frames on April 3rd and was able produce my first convincing image of the Cassini Division in Saturn's rings.
Manually guided, 16 frames, collected during 3 nights in March and April 2007, 48 min 15 seconds total exposure: 16 X ISO 200; 555mm fluorite doublet refractor. Dark frame subtracted, stacked, rotated, aligned, and processed with Photoshop CS.
When a star like our sun gets too old to maintain enough fusion in its core to support the mass of its gaseous shell, the shell collapses inward. The heat and pressure of this inward collapse result in an explosion that drives away most of the gasses from the dying core of the star. The radiation, heat and stellar wind cause the expelled gases to ionize and luminesce. Over time, the radius of the ejected gas cloud increases while it's apparent brightness decreases.
The Dumbbell nebula is the remnant of a star thought to have exploded about 3,000 to 4,000 years ago and is located at a distance of perhaps 1000 light years, so the event would have been visible from earth @5000 or so years ago. The central star is still hot (a bluish sub dwarf at about 85,000 K) and while it emits very little visible light now, its intense high frequency radiation causes the expelled gas cloud to fluoresce in visible wavelengths. Thus the star visible (its in the middle) as its image is projected from the surface of the gas bubble, now several light years in diameter.
Our vista of the greater cloud is from the side rather than form one of the polar regions. If we were to look down on it, it is believed to be roughly doughnught shaped with a hole in the middle like the Ring Nebula (another planetary nebula that I'm still working on).
Manually guided, 13 frames, collected during 3 nights in March and April 2007, 49 min 6 seconds total exposure: 13 X ISO 200; 555mm fluorite doublet refractor. Dark frame subtracted, stacked, rotated, aligned, and processed with Photoshop CS
Probably the most challenging object I've imaged thus far, this nebula is very large and very dim and diffuse. Not only can I not see it in the telescope, I can't even see it when looking at RAW individual time exposures as they come off of the camera. One good night imaging from New Hogan Lake (Highway 4) in the sierra foothills finally gave me enough good data to put together a reasonable image.
The Rosetta Nebula is 130 light years wide, and covers nearly a degree of the sky not too far away from the Horsehead and Flame nebulas. It is too wide for me to image in a single frame so my picture is a mosaic of images, (arranged side by side and vertically) all arranged and stacked together prior to processing.
This is a young area of star formation. It is thought that the bright cluster of stars in the center was formed from the surrounding gases less than a million years ago! Since their formation, the stellar wind from this central cluster of stars has been pushing away the gasses and creating the apparent central cavity in this rose shaped nebula. The radiation from the bright central cluster of stars is responsible for creating the florescence in the surrounding gasses. Star formation is still occurring (a newly created star was recently discovered here) but as the new stars continue to burn, they will eventually push away their surrounding gas cloud. Visible in the surrounding gas cloud are several dust lanes where billowing cool, dark matter (dust) partially obscures the glowing gas.
Manually guided, 12 frames, 29 min 42 seconds total exposure: 4 X ISO 200, 15 minutes 50 seconds total; 1 X ISO 400, 2 minutes 50 seconds, 7 X ISO 800, 12 minutes 2 seconds total; 555mm fluorite doublet refractor. Dark frame subtracted, stacked, rotated, aligned, and processed with Photoshop CS
Following the Pleiades and Orion out of town are the Horsehead and Flame nebulas. The horsehead and flame nebulas are near the third star on the left side of orion's belt, and are imbedded in the edge of the same large diffuse gas cloud as the Orion Nebula. Both emit light strongly in Hydrogen alpha and Hydrogen beta wavelengths. I can't see these features through the telescope in my common observing location, just the familiar distribution of stars around Alnitak, the brightest blue supergiant (UV emitter) star in the night sky (the middle of my attached photo). Alnitak is actually a binary star system with smaller companions. Lots of exposure begins to bring out detail in the nebulas but it's a challenge to suppress noise from terrestrial lights when imaging such dim and diffuse sources of light. Hydrogen filters (narrow-band transmission filters) and automatic guiding (with computerized camera control) can help to bring out more detail but for now but this image is my best unfiltered composite (from 2006/2007 data).
The dark area in the middle of the flame nebula is a lane of dust that obscures a young star cluster burning brightly in the center of the flame nebula. This invisible cluster (detectable in infra-red) is the source of the "electromagnetic wind" that creates the fire-like tendrils of fluorescing gas in the flame nebula as dislodged electrons re-combine with ionized hydrogen atoms. (Some of the light is also reflected from Alnitak).
The horsehead nebula (named for its resemblance to the head of a horse) (best viewed at even higher resolution) is the dark patch in the upper center-right region of my photo (one-o'clock from Alnitak). It is an area of billowing stellar dust set against the backdrop of a wave-like cloud of dimly emitting hydrogen.
Below: The Horsehead Nebula (taken with the NOAO Mosaic CCD camera on the 0.9-meter telescope located at Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, AZ And The Horsehead Nebula (taken with the Hubble space telescope).
Manually guided, 9 frames, 14min 48 seconds total: 2 X ISO 400 93 seconds; 7 X ISO 200 795 seconds. March 7th 2007; 555mm fluorite doublet refractor. Dark frame subtracted, stacked, rotated, aligned, and processed with Photoshop CS
Following the Pleiades off to the west is the Orion Nebula. While the Pleiades will return as a morning constellation as early as June, Orion is a true winter constellation, plunging deep into the horizon and not returning to the morning sky until August or September. As the days grow short and the nights long, one of the few perks for me will be the return of this familiar constellation. On one good night in March I collected this image, which I think is a significant improvement in detail over my previous best.
Previous Orion Archive : January 21st 2007
Manually guided, 8 frames, 8minutes 42sec. total: (4 X ISO 400 299seconds total, 4 X ISO 800 223seconds total; 2 nights Feb.-Mar. 2007; 555mm fluorite doublet refractor. Dark frame subtracted, stacked, rotated, aligned, and processed with Photoshop CS
This large bright open star cluster is one of the most recognizable features in the night sky, for us in the northern hemisphere it's also something of a fixture there. It is visible throughout most of the year although autumn and into the winter is the best time to observe the cluster. Right around the end of October, (Halloween) the Pleidies is nearly overhead at midnight although it varies reaching directly overhead with a period of 52 years, a fact that the Mayans and others throughout history were well aware of. It is said that the pyramid of the sun at Teotihuacan is aligned to the setting point of the Pleidies on the night that it reaches its highest point overhead. Myths surrounding the significance of this star cluster seem to center on the idea that it represents the spirits of those who have gone before and now watch over those of us on this world.
My favorite story is a Native American one. The Kiowa Indians of Wyoming who lived near Devil's Tower (a geographic feature that they called "Mateo Tepe") tell the story of the creation of the tower: Once seven maidens camped near the river in a region known to have many bears. One of the bears began to chase the maidens, who knelt to pray for help, calling upon the gods. The ground was raised into the sky. The bear tried to follow in vain and clawed the side of the rock, the marks of which are seen on the Tower. To protect the maidens, the Great Spirit allowed them to remain in the sky as the seven sisters, the Pleiades.
It has now moved off toward the west and is setting early but before it moved away, I had the opportunity to collect a few mediocre frames with my new 80mm objective. I'm sure I can do better next time around but in this picture, I was able to capture some of the stratification in the dust clouds or "dust lanes" that create the nebulosity around Merope
Sad news- Saturn is leaving but will return in 2031 ¨ sort of
Saturn moves toward and away from the earth (and the sun) with a period of about 28 years. Additionally, the ring system tilts toward and away from us so that the rings open or close every 13-14 years. In 2003, as in 1974, conditions for viewing the planet were optimal, Saturn was close and its rings were open to earth, reflecting sunlight and increasing the overall apparent brightness of the planet. Viewing conditions have remained good as the rings have begun to close over the past few years but the increasing distance from earth and the decreasing visibility of the ring system mean that this spring is probably the last time to get a really good view of Saturn for many years to come. Saturn disappears through the summer and fall and will be much further and appear dimmer due to the closing of the rings by next winter. The rings will disappear altogether in 2009 and between then and about 2024, the rings will open and close while the distance to Saturn remains great. In the year 2018, Saturn will begin to move closer to the earth again. In 2031, conditions will once again be optimal for observing our ringed neighbor and if we are lucky enough to see it, Saturn will come closer and appear brighter then, than it did in 2003.
Manually guided, 9 frames, Total time: 26minutes50seconds [4X ISO200 total time: 996seconds; 4X ISO400 total time: 500seconds; 1X 800 124seconds]. Canon 300D, RAW mode, 5 nights Feb.-Mar. 2007; 555mm fluorite doublet refractor. Dark frame subtracted, stacked, rotated, aligned, and processed with Photoshop CS
The Whirlpool Galaxy and its smaller companion NGC 5195 are about 31-37 million light years away. They lie in a small group of galaxies outside of our local group and appear in the night sky near the end of the handle of the Big Dipper.
In my photo, you can see a spiral arm connecting The Whirlpool to NGC 5195. Like the Cigar and Bodes Galaxies these two are gravitationally bound and will eventually form a new larger galaxy. Many stars from both galaxies will be thrown off into space the smaller NGC 5195 will be most changed by the process but for now, it is generating some striking spiral arms in the Whirlpool Galaxy where the gravitational tidal force of NGC 5195 causes rapid bursts of star formation among interstellar gas clouds in The Whirlpool.
The Whirlpool Galaxy was one of Charles Messier's early discoveries (1773) but it was his friend Pierre Mechain who discovered the smaller NGC 5195. They are fairly compact and not very bright. I can barely see them through the telescope but for the past couple months, they have been rising at just the right time and angle to photograph after dark in between cycles of the moon and passing clouds.
The full moon is rising overhead tonight. For those people living in Africa and Europe, tonight's moon was totally eclipsed by the earth. We will have our next chance at observing a lunar eclipse on August 28th 2007. Today is also the first day of Chinese New Year (based on a lunar calendar). This year is a special year, the year of the golden boar, which comes around once every 60 years when the cycle of 5 elements and 12 animals is complete.
Tonight's moon also goes by the names:Full Crow Moon: crows cawing signaled the end of winter
This image is a composite of three images that I captured (shooting between clouds) as the moon waxed toward tonight's grand finale. The crescent at top is of the two-day-old moon on the night of Feb. 20th. It is actually a composite of 10 individual images and has exceptional detail even at reduced size (check it out!).
Download hi-res (6.9MB) file; right click here
The half moon and full moon are single images from Saturday the 24th and tonight, the 3rd of March.
Manually guided, 22 frames 44 minutes total: (20 ISO400 2min, 2 ISO 200 2min) canon 300D, 330mm (equiv) RAW mode, canon EF f4.0 lens; Stacked, aligned, rotated, dark frame subtracted and processed with Photoshop CS
12 million light years away from us but still in our local cluster are M81 and M82. In this image, the elongate fuzzy patch in the middle of the frame with the strange red color is the Cigar Galaxy. To its right is Bode's Galaxy and at the bottom right corner you may see a third galaxy, NGC 3077 barely visible next to the lower of two large blue (slightly blurry) stars.
M81 and M82 are in a gravitational dance, circulating around each other, preparing to merge into a new larger galaxy that will eventually engulf NGC 3077 as well. Only tens of millions of years ago, when M81 and M82 made their most recent & closest approach, the gravity of each galaxy was tearing away at the structure of the other. The Cigar Galaxy, now in turmoil, appears to us an irregular or "starburst" galaxy, much less in tact than M81. The red blotch near the center of M82 is an area of intensely energetic radiation including x-ray and infra-red emission. Here stars are being born and dying at accelerated rates due to gravitational shockwaves generated by the galactic close-encounter. I'm hoping to try to image this one at higher magnifications in both infra-red and visible.
Things in M82 are much less chaotic than its neighbor but you may be able to see an upper and lower arm trailing off of M82 in this picture (if you strain your eyes and angle your computer) the arms are dotted with nebulas (cant see these in the picture) where the gravity of M82 has sparked off areas of new star formation. The lower arm trails off in the general direction of M81.Below: 4 images of the Cigar Galaxy taken by the Hubble and Chandra space telescopes.
Finally, an interesting Wide field view of the Orion, Flame and Horsehead nebulas- I imaged the regions of the picture near the nebulas several times, stacked and processed them, then blended them into a widefield background frame of shorter exposure in order to accentuate the nebulas without also bringing too much field rotation into the picture. It is heavily re-touched and as I said, the relative levels of the nebula to each other and the background here are arbitrary but I had fun putting it together and of course it's got me plotting my strategy to return here and try again
Manually guided, 13 frames 35minutes total: (5 ISO200 3min, 1 ISO 200 4min, 1 ISO400 2min, 2 ISO 800 1min, 4 ISO800 3min,) canon 300D, 330mm (equiv) RAW mode, canon EF f4.0 lens; Stacked, aligned, rotated, dark frame subtracted and processed with Photoshop CS
Manually guided, 25 frames, 75minutes total: (4 ISO 400 3min, 17 ISO800 3min, 4 ISO 1600 3min) canon 300D, 330mm (equiv) RAW mode, canon EF f4.0 lens; Stacked, aligned, rotated, dark frame subtracted and processed with Photoshop CS
The Triangulum Galaxy is one of the most distant objects that can be observed by the naked eye (at about 3 million light years) although only under exceptional seeing conditions (I've not seen it). Its orientation to us is more "face on" than "edge on" when compared to the Andromeda galaxy and it appears as a diffuse, slightly lighter patch in the sky through my telescope, (not nearly as dramatic as Andromeda).
The Triangulum Galaxy is another galaxy in our local group (in the constellation Triangulum) and is the second nearest spiral galaxy (second to Andromeda) to our own Milky Way. It is of average size (about four times smaller than Andromeda or the Milky Way) and it is currently closing on us but not as rapidly as Andromeda. It is possible that it is a satellite (gravitationally bound) of the great andromeda galaxy. Two giant spiral arms extend out from the center of this galaxy with several subordinate arms filling in the gaps. At the end of one of the giant arms is the largest currently known Hydrogen Beta emission nebula, NGC 604. (See accompanying Hubble Space Telescope image ) NGC 604 is larger than the entire Orion Nebula Complex in our Milky Way and in its core, researchers have identified over 200 new, hot, massive (15-60 solar masses) stars.
The Triangulum Galaxy was the subject of the first search for extra terrestrial intelligence (SETI) in 1984 although the search has since been expanded-
Composite infra-red (central region of Orion) / visible image (widefield) 28 frames; 17 X 15seconds unguided w/ IR sensitive (modified) canon IX230 and 127mm Maksutov Cassergrain f12.1/f9
Manually guided, 11 frames 27 minutes total: (1 ISO400 1min; 3 ISO400 3min; 1 ISO800 1min, 4 ISO800 3min, 1 ISO1600 1min, 1 ISO1600 3min) canon 300D 330mm (equiv) RAW mode, canon EF f4.0 lens; Stacked, aligned, rotated, dark frame subtracted and processed with photoshop CS
The great Orion nebula is the brightest nebula in the sky (visible to the naked eye) and quite large (over 1 degree). In fact it is part of a much larger cloud of gas and dust that stretches for about 10 degrees over half the constellation of Orion.
The great Egyptian pyramids of Giza (including smaller satellite structures) are laid out according spatial arrangement of the stars in the constellation of Orion. Strangely, there is no mention of the Orion Nebula in western text until about 1610 or 1611 when it was reported independently by Nicholas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc and Johann Baptist Cysatus, both using telescopes.
Charles Messier published the attached sketch of the nebula in 1771 and the Orion Nebula was the first nebula to be photographed in 1880. It is thought that the nebulosity in Orion is a result of a shockwave generated by gravitational forces acting on the disc of our Milky Way Galaxy.
Manually guided, 8 frames, 19minutes total: (1 ISO200 3min; 1 ISO800 1min; 1 ISO800 2min; 4 ISO800 3min, 1 ISO800 4min) canon 300D, 330mm (equiv) RAW mode, canon EF f4.0 lens; Stacked, aligned, rotated, dark frame subtracted and processed with Photoshop CS
In the picture you can see Andromeda (M31) as well of two of its companion galaxies, M32 and M110. M110 is the fuzzy oval patch in the foreground. And M32 is the small, bright, round, fuzzy patch at about 9 o'clock from Andromeda’s core. M32 and Andromeda are interacting and stars stripped from M32 add to the luminance of the outer bands of Andromeda.
Observations with the Hubble telescope have revealed that Andromeda has a kind of "double core"", likely two super massive black holes circling each other. This suggests that Andromeda consumed one of its neighbors. Andromeda is speeding toward us at 300 miles per second and will likely narrowly miss us in 2 billion years but perhaps collide with us on the next pass. That won’t be until after the sun burns out.
In 1864 William Huggins noted that Andromeda (known as a nebula at the time) emitted light in the same spectrum as stars (and not that of emission nebula). At the time, no one knew galaxies existed. It was first photographed in 1887 by Isaac Roberts, revealing its spiral arms. Edwin Hubble showed in 1923 that the "starlight emitting spiral nebula"" was farther away than the stars of our galaxy by measuring the distance to a Cepheid variable star in Andromeda. He published his observations using the words "extragalactic stellar system"", in 1929.
Today we know Andromeda is about 2.9 million light years away. It's not our closest neighbor galaxy. The large and the small Megellanic Clouds are the nearest two galaxies in our local cluster and if we were in Australia, we could see them, large in the night sky. Andromeda is 3rd closest and the nearest spiral galaxy (like our milky way although ours is thought to be a rare-ish barrel type spiral galaxy) and roughly the same as the Milky Way.
The past couple nights have been cool and clear and I've been trying some new shooting configurations; first a little history
Astrophotographic plates, http://www.ulo.ucl.ac.uk/images/old_plates/ preceded the invention of photography and it was the refinement of these original techniques that lead to modern day terrestrial and astrophotography. Below is a copy of one of the first ever photographs, a silver oxide photographic plate.
The first nebula (a reflection nebula)(others are emission nebula and planetary nebula) to be discovered by photographic means was M45 Pleiades; Tempel's Nebula or "Merope Nebula" (NGC 1435) In my photo below, it's the largest blue smudge. Reflection nebula are generated by light bouncing off of dust while emission and planetary are less well understood.
The horsehead and flame nebula are in the vicinity of the Orion Nebula and emit strongly in Hydrogen and Hydrogen Beta wavelengths. They are formed by EM emission from excited gasses. The cause of the excitement varies quite a bit from one nebula to another-
These color digital photos I shot with my new canon 300d and 330mm equivalent f4 canon lens (1989) 3 frames @ 5 minutes X 3 in RAW mode, images were converted to tiff then dark frame subtracted; level adjusted; aligned rotated and stacked and processed in Photoshop.
The results aren't spectacular, try googling them-. But I'm working on getting the camera hooked up to my telescope so stay tuned-