Karl's Astro-Journal
 










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- 2015 Astro Journal -


Sunspot group 2443

Nov 04, 2015: A long string of sun spots formed near the Sun's equator this week. Sun spots are regions of magnetic disturbances that are a bit cooler than the surrounding surface and thus appear darker. This group of spots was pretty active and unleashed a slow moving CME that may spark aurora activity this weekend. The Sun rotates at a rate of one rotation in about 25 days near its equator. This sun spot group will soon move around to the Sun's far side as it is carried along with the rotation.





Lunar Eclipse From Durango, CO

Sept 28, 2015: This month's total Lunar Eclipse coincided with the last day of our trip to Durango, Colorado. A lunar eclipse is when the Moon's orbit carries it into earth's shadow. While eastern states were able to view the eclipse from beginning to end, in Durango, the Moon rose partially in earth's shadow. But Durango's 300+ days of clear skies per year came in handy and the lunar eclipse was a wonderful sight as soon as it appeared above the horizon. The rusty red color of the Moon during the eclipse is the result of all red sunrises and sunsets occurring on earth, with some of that light falling on the lunar surface and then being poorly reflected back to earth for us to see. I say poorly reflected because the Moon's albedo or reflectivity, is pretty low. One can only imagine what it must be like to be on the Moon, bathed in vivid red earth-light, during such an event.





Northern Lights

Sept 08, 2015: Labor Day in Greene, NY ended with fireworks both man-made and nature-made. I stayed awake for the man-made fireworks display in town but later that evening at home I fell asleep in a lawn chair during the brightest moments of aurora. I woke up after about an hour, a bit dew covered, to find that the camera had fortunately remained dry and wide awake the whole time. The brief display of Northern Lights dissipated around mid-night EDT but was a nice surprise to end the Labor Day weekend. Photo Details: Canon 60Da, ISO 1600, 30s exposure, 28mm Sigma.





Spring Creek Observatory Versus Mount Palomar

July 27, 2015: Google Maps recently updated their satellite images for our area and our humble backyard observatory is now visible ... "From SPACE!!!". (add lots of reverb when you read that.) As amazing as this may sound, additional humble pie is quickly served by comparing our little observatory in New York with Mount Palomar Observatory in California. These images are shown at approximately the same scale. Of course the price tags are probably on the same scale too, or much worse most likely. So we're quite happy with our little astro-shack, or "Lawn Pimple" as we sometimes call it.


Northern Lights

UPDATE, Oct 03, 2015: My wife insisted that I add this comparison of our humble observatory vs. Mount Palomar. It kind of shows just how far imaging technology has progressed that even a consumer grade digital camera can capture similar images to that of the professionals 50 years ago. Amateurs with even better equipment and higher quality telescopes can easily rival the images of professional scopes from only a few decades ago. However, the ability to collect scientifically relevant images and data still goes hands-down to the pros.





Venus

July 11, 2015: Venus is currently in a thin crescent phase setting in the west not long after sunset. Last evening we had clear skies and virtually no wind at ground level. Of course, at high altitudes the wind is still ripping, creating turbulence, and causing Venus to dance around in the telescopic view. Still, as evenings go it wasn't too bad. Imaging a crescent Venus from our home observatory requires imaging while the twilight sky is still mostly blue. Waiting any longer and Venus will move below the lower edge of the observatory hatch or behind the tree line of hill that rises a few hundred feet to the west. (I'm not sure which would happen first.) The image here was made from a 2000 frame movie, with Registax software picking out the best 25% of frames to align and stack into the final image.





Image Credit: SOHO



June 22 Aurora from NY

June 23, 2015: The last few days have seen a dramatic increase in solar activity with several large explosions occurring on the Sun with CME's (Coronal Mass Ejections) hurling sun-stuff in earth's direction. It's a wonderful example of cosmic cause and effect, i.e. CME's explode from the Sun and a few days later earth experiences geomagnetic storms as the sun-stuff hits earth's magnetic field. Strong geomagnetic storms often lead to brilliant displays of the Aurora Borealis. Such was the case this week, but ... as usual, New York had more than its share of clouds blocking much of the view. Still there are more CMEs on the way and some clear skies in the forecast. Let's keep our NY fingers crossed for some awesome Northern Lights later this week!

NOTE: Visit the NASA/ESA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) Website at: http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/ for more fantastic info and images of the Sun.





Saturn

May 17, 2015: Saturn is approaching opposition this week which is the best time to image the ringed planet. At nearly twice the distance from earth as Jupiter, Saturn is a challenging planet to image. Its weather bands are less distinct and of softer hues than its fellow gas giant. The image shown was taken with an astro-video camera and represents the best 20% of 2000 video frames. It was taken through a 120mm Sky-Watcher refractor and 3X barlow lens. The next challenge in imaging Saturn will be to try and produce a larger image on the video camera's sensor. With my current equipment that means trying to figure out an eye-piece-project scheme that does the job. Opposition occurs on May 22nd and if the skies are clear and steady I will try again.





Galaxy M81 in Ursa Major

April 14, 2015: M81, also known as Bode's Nebulae, is a bright classic spiral galaxy in the constellation Ursa Major (the Big Dipper). At magnitude 6.90 it's a great target for a small telescope. This picture is an improvement over my last attempt at imaging M81. Since then I have spent more time drift aligning the telescope, balancing it with appropriate weight offsets, and have added a auto-guide capability (in RA only at this time) to track the target with improved accuracy. After taking several images, next comes calibrating, aligning and stacking the images into a combined image for additional software processing. That process too, needs improvement.





Galaxy NGC 3953, Not M109

March 24, 2015: In an attempt to improve upon last year's dismal image of Messier 109 (M109), a beautiful galaxy in the constellation Ursa Major (the Big Dipper), I accidentally imaged its nearby companion galaxy NGC 3953, sometimes referred to M109b. Oops! M109b is slightly dimmer than M109 but is remarkably similar in structure, having a bright, barred center and wispy spiral arms. How could I make such a mistake, you ask? Well ... instead of using the RA/Dec setting circles on my non-goto telescope mount to find the target galaxy, I used the tried and not-so-true method of just "point & shoot." Again ... Oops! However, M109b is a nice galaxy so I'm not totally bummed and, as usual I learned a few lessons about imaging that will come in handy the next clear moonless night when I finally find and image M109! At magnitude 10.1, NGC3953 is about as faint a galaxy as my 120mm scope can image and still make out some details. A close examination of the original full-frame image revealed objects as dim as magnitude 14.8, but they appeared as just faint hazy pactches. I will probably write up a review of the Sky-Watcher 120mm ED in the near future. There are pros and cons but overall I'd buy it again. It's a nice little scope that performs quite well for its cost.





IO Transit of Jupiter

March 12, 2015: The sky still had a good deal of blue twilight remaining as I started to image the, already-in-progress, transit of the moon Io across the face of its parent planet Jupiter. The air was fairly stable with many of Jupiter's surface details dancing in and out of visibility in the video image. The shadow of Io was quite visible on the cloud tops of Jupiter's dense atmosphere as it seemingly chased Jupiter's Great Red Spot across the surface of the giant planet. The stable "seeing" finally gave way to more turbulent upper atmospheric conditions as the transit neared completion.





Jupiter and Ganymede

March 09, 2015: The record setting cold weather of February has finally broken and I scrambled to repopulate the observatory with enough equipment to image Jupiter last night. Seeing was about 3.0 "fair" (using Upstate New York scale of 0 to 5, i.e. terrible to not-half-bad). Ganymede was moving towards transiting Jupiter but I ran out of gas and it was still cold enough to make my fingers and toes a bit uncomfortable. The transit would have been interesting to image as a test of the ZWO camera's resolution and whether it would have been good enough to see Ganymede's shadow on the big planet's cloud tops. But, I was happy for the chance to get refamiliarized with the camera and given the conditions and my equipment, I'm pretty happy with the results.





Conjunction of Mars, Venus and Moon

February 20, 2015: Super cold but super clear. The western sky was the meeting place for a trio of solar system objects as the Moon, Mars and Venus all converged on the same celestial neighborhood. Although astronomers and scientifically minded sky watchers enjoy these predictable happenstances of nature for their beauty and contrast, it can make one wonder what ancient observers would have to say about these occurrences. If I had to add some extra meaning to the conjunction, I'm going with the prediction that the stars say winter will be over soon. (a pretty safe prediction since March is about one week away). This image was taken from a bedroom window which was opened and then quickly closed since the outside temperature was -2oF, on its way down to an overnight temperature of -12oF. In addition to the super cold weather this month, there have been few opportunities during January and February for much in the way of astronomical observing from Upstate NY. At times like these I certainly thank the stars for the internet and its abundant supply of astronomical websites.





Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy

January 10, 2015: The coldest weather of the winter has moved into the Northeast. But many times the coldest weather can bring the very clearest of skies. With temperatures hovering at around 3oF (-16oC), I set up an 80mm telescope in our south-facing garage door opening to try an image Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy which has become quite bright in recent weeks. Discovered by Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy in August of 2014, the comet has moved into Northern Hemisphere visibility and is at about magnitude 4 just West of the constellation Orion. Comets can be tricky to photograph since a comet can actually move relative to the background stars during the time it takes to take several exposures of a few minutes each. The image shown here is an average of 2 X 2 minute exposures with the contrast and color adjusted in Paint Shop Pro.





Conjuction of Venus and Mercury

January 10, 2015: There are some interesting astro-events in the skies to begin this New Year 2015. In the western sky just after sunset, the planets Venus and Mercury had a very close alignment today, separated by only 0.7 degrees. From our house, we do not have a good view to the west. So I headed over the hill to Cummings Road and found a good spot to take pictures of the planets at dusk. It was a bit cold out at 10oF (-12oC) and there was a stiff wind which really was the fingers/toes freezer. Fortunately, I had some handy HotHands hand warmers that I received for Christmas from my niece Ashley. I stuffed one in each glove and boot and they sure did the trick! (Thanks Ashley!) This conjunction of planets will begin to drift apart but remain identifiably close together for a couple weeks. It's a good time to go out and find the difficult to spot Mercury, using bright and easy to find Venus as your guide. Start looking for the pair about a half hour after sunset in the West near the horizon. The planets will be in the twilight sky following the path of the setting Sun.




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