Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Lunar Eclipse on the Winter Solstice

Click on image for larger view
I hope you took a peek at a rare event going on over our heads on December 21.  A Lunar Eclipse is not rare, but the fact that it happened on the Winter Solstice is.  The last time there was a Lunar Eclipse on the first day of Winter was 372 years ago, and it won't happen again until 2094.  The picture above was taken a few minutes after the Moon started moving into the Earth's shadow.

Click on image for a larger view
It was cloudy all day but soon after the event started the clouds started to dissipate and cleared enough to get the above picture.  Note the red color caused by sunlight first passing through the Earth's stratosphere then reflecting off the Moon.  At the upper right there is a turquoise fringe.  This is sunlight first passing through the Earth's ozone layer.

Click on image for a larger view
As it started to emerge from the Earth's shadow the clouds started coming back giving a "diamond ring" glow to this wonder of nature.

All pictures were taken with my 300mm f/4 and Canon XTi on a tripod.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bubble Nebula and M 52

Click on image for a larger view

The Bubble Nebula, lower left, and the Star Cluster M 52, at upper right, create a beautiful contrasting duet of deep sky objects in the constellation Cassiopeia.

M 52 can be seen as a fuzzy patch in a pair of binoculars, but it takes a telescope to resolve about 200 stars in Cassiopeia's rich starry field.

Click on image for a larger view

The Bubble Nebula (NGC 7635) looks like a tiny soap bubble, but this bubble is six light years in diameter.  It definitely takes a telescope to detect it.  The bright star, upper right of the bubble's center, is 40 times the mass of our sun.  High energetic winds from this star blow the surrounding gas into a glowing shell.  In time, the star will explode into a supernova, pierce the bubble and scatter it and its surrounding further out into space.  Something we may be able to see even without a telescope.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

M33 - Spiral Galaxy in Triangulum

Click on the image for a larger view

My previous post was of a spiral galaxy (NGC 891) seen edge on.  Here is a spiral galaxy seen face on.  This galaxy is much closer to us, therefore almost filling the field of view of my 1000mm telescope.  Formally known as Messier 33 (M33), it is also call the Pinwheel galaxy due to its fantastic spiral shape.  If you know exactly where to look in the sky, you are away from the light pollution of a city and have good eyesight, you can just see it as a fuzzy patch of light without optical aid.  At 3 million light years away, it is one of the furthest objects you can see without a telescope.

Make sure to click on the image so that you can take a look at all the intricate detail scattered across the galaxy.  Because this is a very active star forming galaxy, you can see small pink areas that are hydrogen emission nebulae (star factories), large star clusters and many lanes of dust circling this incredible scene.

Friday, November 26, 2010

NGC 891 - Edge On Galaxy

Click on the image for a larger view
This galaxy, NGC 891 in Andromeda, is one of the most beautiful examples of a spiral galaxy seen exactly edgewise.  The above image shows the entire field of view photographed through my 1000mm focal length telescope.  The image is a combination of five exposures, fifteen minutes each.

Click on the image for larger view

In this close up, you can see the complex system of dark clouds extending across the entire galaxy.  These are clouds of gas and dust spraying out like filaments away from the galactic plane.  The galaxy is a member of the Local Supercluster of galaxies and is about 30 million light years away.  This is not an easy object to view through a small telescope, only seen as a smear of light, but in a large scope it is a grand sight.

The field is strewn with lots of smaller and more distant galaxies.  I have taken three sections from the full image and enlarged them 100%.  Click on each image for a larger view.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Horsehead Region

Click on image for a larger view
Every time I look at the famous Horsehead Nebula it brings to mind a giant, cosmic chess game.  Only this chess piece is 1600 light years away.  Probably the most famous "Dark Nebula" in the heavens, it was first recorded on a photographic plate in 1888.  Dark areas such as this were thought to be holes, or clearings, in space where we could see deeper, or just areas devoid of stars.  Edward E. Barnard photographed and cataloged 370 of these objects, then showed that they were actually clouds of gas and dust that blocked the more distant stars in the background.  The Horsehead is designated as "B33" in his catalog.

We see it as a towering, dense cloud in front of the red emission nebula (IC434) glowing behind it.  This strip of glowing hydrogen marks the edge of a huge dust cloud which extends below the Horsehead.

Below and slightly left of the Horsehead is a "reflection nebula" known as NGC2023.  At the bottom edge of the image is another one called IC435.

The brightest star on the left of the image is Alnitak, the eastern most star in Orion's belt.  At 850 light years, it is half the distance to the Horsehead.

Directly below Alnitak, also about 800 light years away, is the huge emission nebula known as the Flame Nebula. It is only one million years old, which, in cosmic terms is rather young.  More than half of the stars in the nebula have accretion disks.  Such disks of matter may be sites of planet formation and could eventually form into solar systems like ours.

Click on image for a larger view
The closeup image above clearly shows how the Horsehead stands in front of the glowing background.  Embryonic stars are forming inside the brighter areas of the horses neck.  Many, many generations into the future, the whole area will have collapsed into many clusters of stars.  Which shows that even large pieces can be captured in this cosmic chess game of the sky.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Helix Nebula

Click on Image for a larger view
Keeping with the theme of stars and the incredible things that they do, here is a photo I took earlier this month of a deep sky nebula known as the "Helix".  The star at the center of the Helix is the creator of this beautiful spiral shape.  During the red giant phase of this dying star, it expelled it's outer layers into space.  Hot stellar winds energize the layers of star stuff and makes them glow.  Also known as a planetary nebula, early astronomers thought they were giant planets when viewed through their small telescopes.  But even though we now know what they are, they are still called planetary nebulae.

The ejected material from planetaries and supernovae is of interest for one very important reason.  Our own star, the Sun, it's planets and life on Earth, were once this star stuff meandering through space, which over millions of years, coalesced into our solar system, and us.

Click on Image for a larger view
The image above was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.  Along the inner edge of the Helix is detail not seen in my photo.  Finger like cometary knots composed of shells of gas ejected by the central star are being stripped away by the star's hot ultraviolet radiation.

The difference in the resolution of the two images are caused by a couple of things.  My telescope's mirror is only 7.5" in diameter.  The Hubble Space Telescope's mirror is 7', 10" in diameter.  My scope is like a 1000mm telephoto lens.  The HST is like a 57,600mm lens, magnifying an image 57.6 times more than my scope..  But one more important thing is that I am shooting through a "puddle" of moving air making my image slightly fuzzy.  The HST is 347 miles in space, high above all that image destroying air.  So it can take incredible images such as this.

Technical Data:
Same as previous image, except I took Nine, 15 minute shots, totaling 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Crab Nebula -Supernova Remnant

Click on image for a larger view
My previous post was about a star that is shedding pieces of itself out into space.  The above picture is of another star, but in this case the star literally blew itself apart.  What you see is the remnants of a supernova.  Very large stars do this at the time when they start to run out of fuel when gravity takes over imploding the leftover material, then exploding soon after.

Astronomers have determined that the star exploded in 1054 A.D. and was recorded by Chinese and Arab astronomers.  The star they saw was so bright, it was visible in the daytime sky.  Almost 700 years later, John Bevis was the first person to observe the expanding remnants through a telescope.  It was rediscovered in 1758 by Charles Messier, a comet hunter, where he placed it as the number 1 non-comet object in his catalog.  The Earle of Rosse observed it in 1840, made a drawing of it in the shape of a crab, therefore also known as the Crab Nebula.

Part of the star that exploded is still at the center of the nebula.  It is now a pulsar, which is a spinning neutron star, only 12 miles across.  It spins at 30.2 times a second and emits pulses of radiation.  Photographs taken over the years showed that it is expanding over 900 miles per second.  It is now 11 light years across and is located about 6500 light years from us.

Technical Data is the same as the previous post.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Windy Star Erodes IC 59 and IC 63

Click on Image for a larger view

You wouldn't think it would be windy in the vacuum of outer space, but it is, just a different kind of wind.  Here on earth wind is caused by air flowing from a high pressure area to a low pressure area and we feel the air molecules moving by us.  In space, wind is caused by stars.

In the above picture, Gamma Cassiopeia, the bright star in the center is an eruptive variable star that sheds massive outflows of itself into space.  These stellar winds interact with clouds of gas and dust, such as the two (IC 59 and IC 63) you see to the right of Gamma.  The stellar winds are eroding this clouds and in time the clouds will disappear.
  • Technical Data:
  • Composite of eight 15-minute exposures
  • Camera: CCD-Labs Q453
  • Telescope: Orion 190mm f/5.3 Maksutov/Newtonian
  • Mount: Parallax Instruments 150C
  • Date: 10-03-2010
  • Location: ASKC Dark Sky Site near Butler, Missouri, USA
  • Captured with "Nebulosity" software; processed in "DeepSkyStacker", and finished in Photoshop CS3.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Comet Hartley Movie

Click on Image for a larger view
A fairly bright comet, 103P/Hartley 2, is now heading toward the Sun and passing by the earth.  I photographed this comet last week, Oct 9/10 through my 1000mm telescope.  The above image is a combination of 50 exposures with each shot lasting 4 minutes.  I started the exposure run at 11:12 p.m. and ended the 50th shot at 2:39 a.m.  The comet was moving fairly fast and went past the bright star at the top of the image at the time of the last shot.  With special software (DeepSkyStacker) I was able to combine all 50 images on top of the first image.  Without DeepSkyStacker a normal stack of the images would have created a long streak across the frame.

I have also created a short 50 second movie showing the comet as it trucked on by.  Click here to download the file Comet-Hartley.exe to watch the self running movie.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Yellowstone Grizzlies

 Click on images for a larger view
Two Summers ago, Gloria and I spent two weeks in Yellowstone National Park.  Early the first morning, we were visiting the first of many geysers and hot springs scattered throughout the park.  Click on picture above and look closely at the boardwalk.  Gloria just walked by fresh bear tracks.
 Here is a close up of the bear tracks probably made sometime before we arrived.  We were the only ones in the area.  Needless to say, I felt the hair on the back of my neck rise a bit and thankful to see other people arrive.
 Yellowstone is bear country, mostly grizzly bears.  We saw them practically every day we were there.  The grizzly above was mainly interested in rooting for muchies in the ground and paid no attention to me, although I'm sure she was aware I and many sightseers were there.
 This is a mother bear walking up a hill with her cub not too far behind.  This is the one and only time she actually paid attention to me.  She stopped for a bit and just stared, then kept going on her way.
 This is the grizzly cub, almost half the size of the mother, but probably as large as an adult human.

One day the pair was rooting around in Hayden Valley.  Here the mother crossed a small watery depression.

But the cub wasn't too sure he wanted to cross so he just sat for a while. 
He finally decided to test it out since his mother didn't seem to be coming back.
 Gotta hurry  and catch up!

Here you can see the difference in size between the two.
At one point the mother sat down creating an invitation for some mother's milk.

The time I spent at Yellowstone is one of the fondest memories of my life.  Watching these bears up close made it even more special.  It was amazing to see many families drive into Yellowstone one day and leave the next.  They missed the whole experience of America's first national park.  I spent two weeks and still didn't see everything.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sleeping Bears

 Click on Images for a Larger View

Earlier this year, Gloria and I traveled through the Great Smokey Mountains.  Their are many scenic stops along U.S. 441, the main road across the mountains.  At one of these stops I saw about four people looking into the forest.  Kidding, I asked if they were looking at a bear?  They nodded yes and pointed to a mother and baby sound asleep high up in a large tree.  I quickly grabbed my camera with my 70-200mm lens.  The baby bear you see above seems to be looking at the camera, but it is sound asleep in the crook of the tree.
 After a few minutes, the mother bear woke up and looked right at me.  She didn't seem too concerned.  We weren't too concerned either, because even though we were fairly close to the bears, we were standing at the edge of a steep hill.  At the bottom of the hill, was the the large tree and the bears where pretty high up, almost at eye level.
 The mother actually went back to sleep, but soon after that the baby woke up and saw us.  It must have made it nervous because it started to quickly climb down the tree.
The mother bear quickly woke up and followed the baby down the tree and dissappered into the brush.  Not knowing where they went, I quickly put my equipment away.  Sometimes serendipity and pure luck work together in amazing close encounters.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Other Side of the Veil Nebula

Click on the image for a large view
As you read in my last post, the "Witches Broom" is one part of a very large supernova remnant.  To the east of the Witches Broom, 3 degrees away, is the other half of this beautiful complex of gas expelled from an exploded star.  The remaining pieces of the star formed a shell of material similar to a bubble.  Just like a bubble, we can see right through the middle.  The shock wave that created the shell is expanding the filamentary matter out, away from where the star was located.  Only along the edges of the shell, where we see it edge on, can we see the fine branches of seemingly intertwining nebulosity.  The colors come from the presence of oxygen, sulfer and hydrogen made to glow from the energy of starlight.

There is another part of this wonderful nebula in between these two images called Pickering's (Fleming's) Wisp.  It is much fainter, but I am hoping to photograph it during the next new moon phase in a week or so.

The beautiful, delicate lacework is a wonderful sight in large telescopes.  Since the nebula is so large, one has to move the telescope along the wispy tendrils of gas to catch it all in the eyepiece.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Witches Broom

Click on image for a larger view
Just got back from one hell of a hot camping trip.  I spent eight days in 100 degree weather with a few amateur astronomer friends at the Astronomical Society of Kansas City's Dark Sky Site (near Butler, MO).  Thankfully, night time temperatures were in the 70's and night time is why I was there.  Six out of those eight nights were clear and therefore I got a chance to image several deep sky objects with my telescope.  The image above is one of those objects.

The Veil Nebula image is only part of a much larger complex of nebulosity also known as the Cygnus Loop.  This part is on the west side of the "loop", so it is also called the "Western Veil".  A much more descriptive name is the "Witches Broom".   It's true identity, however, is the leftover remnants of a supernova explosion. some 5000 to 8000 years ago.  The remnants have since expanded to a circular area some 3 degrees in diameter.  An area this big would fit 6 full moons across.  Even though it covers an area so big in the sky, it is rather faint and requires optical aid to see it.  The bigger the telescope, the brighter it gets.  Even getting images of this object is not easy.  I haven't been happy with previous images, but this time using my 7.5" Mak-Newt telescope, I took 10 images, each image 15 minutes long, for a total of 2.5 hours combined, calibrated those images with "Bias, Flat and Dark" images, then spent a few hours bringing out the details with Photoshop.  Not a simple "click", but hours of work for one image.

Technical Details:
* Telescope: 190mm (7.5") Orion Maksutov-Newtonian
* Focal Length: 1007mm
* Focal Ratio: f/5.3
* Mount: Celestron CGE
* Exposures:
> 10 Lights, 15 minutes long
> 20 Biases
> 20 Flats
> 1 Dark
* Calibration: Removed bad pixels on Lights using the single Dark with "Nebulosity" software
* Processing: Aligned and Stacked using "DeepskyStacker" software
* Finished: Photoshop CS3

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Baby Stars

Click on Image for a larger view
On the right side of the above picture is the famous "Double Cluster", one of the all-time favorites for amateur astronomers.  If you know where to look in the constellation Perseus, its a hazy patch of light to your unaided eyes, and in a pair of binoculars each cluster is resolved into a tight knot of stars against a starry backdrop.  For small telescopes, it is one of the finest clusters in the heavens, with many stars of contrasting colors.  Its existence was noted by Hipparchus and Ptolemy around 150 BC, but to them it was a nebula and its true nature had to wait until the invention of the telescope.

At the upper left of the image is another cluster of stars called Stock 2, but these are much more open, spread out and not as bright.  Through a pair of binoculars, Stock 2 looks like a headless stick man.  With your imagination running wild, you can even imagine one of his up raised arms holding a leash of curving stars that go down to the double "puffs" of a poodle.  Binoculars do not show as many stars as this photograph so seeing the stick man and the poodle will require you to go out and look for yourself.  To see it look about 15 degrees above the Northeast horizon soon after it gets dark.  By Midnight, it is about 25 degrees high.

Click on Image for a larger view
The Double Star Cluster look like they are neighbors, but the distance to this great swarm of stars is not identical.  The lower cluster, also known as NGC 884, is further away at 7600 light years. The upper cluster, NGC 889, is 6800 light years. 884 is also the older of the two.  However, when we consider the age of stars, these clusters are one of the youngest in our Milky Way galaxy, 3.2 million years old for 889 and 5.6 million years old for 889.  Millions of years may seem like a long time for us humans, but in astronomical terms, its very young.  Our own Sun is about 2.5 billion years old.  At the other extreme, are globular clusters, which are more than 10 billion years old.

Another interesting fact about these "baby stars".  If you were on a planet orbiting one of these stars and you looked toward our Sun, you would be hard pressed to see it.  This is because the brightest stars in these clusters are all great blazing supergiants of amazing brilliance compared to the Sun.  The brightest stars are 60,000 times brighter then the Sun.  Not only that, they are unimaginably large.  Placing of these supergiant stars in place of the Sun, it's diameter would go out beyound Earth's orbit.  Of interest is the presence of M-type red supergiant stars.  Some of these are located in the image below.
 Click on the Image for a larger view
One more interesting fact.  The Perseid meteor shower, which this year peaks during the evening of Aug 12 and morning hours of Aug 13, is near the radiant point of this shower. 
n other words, these "shooting stars" appear to come from this part of the night sky.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Storm Panorama

 Click on Image to see a larger view and scroll to see the whole image
Traveling west across Kansas to Colorado we came across a huge thunderstorm.  It looked like three storms racing across the wide open spaces.  We drove on I-70 right between two sheets of rain and extreme winds.  The sun low behind the storm adds background light adding nice color to the scene.  The panorama is made from six individual images.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Whirlpool Galaxy

Click on Image for a larger view
One of most popular galaxies for amateur astronomers is the Whirlpool Galaxy, a grand spiral in the consetllation Canes Venatici.  Even though it is 23 million light years away, it can be seen as a fuzzy spot of light in a pair of binoculars, although you will need dark skies away from the city lights and know exactly where to look.  In a telescope, the spiral structure starts to be seen along with a smaller galaxy seemingly attached to one of the spiral arms of the larger galaxy.
Click on Image for a larger view
But only through long exposure photographs can we see detail that is too faint for our eyes.  The top image is a view of the whole area covered by my 1000mm focal length telescope.  Back in March, 2009, I took an image of this galaxy with my 300mm telephoto lens.  Compare this view with the much wider view of that lens by clicking on this link: http://tomjmartinez.blogspot.com/2009/03/galaxies-near-far-and-really-far.html
The bottom image is a close-up view showing the interaction taking place between the two galaxies.  Radio astronomers have been able to show that the smaller galaxy has merged with the larger one at least twice before.  The faint extensions seen around the galaxies are caused by material from both galaxies being flung out by the gravitational forces during the interactions.

The image is a combination of five 10-minute exposures with my 190mm f/5.3 telescope.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Great Balls of Fire

 Click on Image for a larger view
Not the Jerry Lee Lewis rock 'n' roll rendition, but it really is a great ball of stars.  Some 500,000 stars, this is a Globular Cluster named M3.  This is because it is the 3rd object in a catalog of 110 objects created by Charles Messier in the late 18th century.  Like bees around a hive, these stars orbit around each other.  50% of the mass is within the central 22 light years, but there are stars rotating the main mass out to about 750 light years.  As we look at this cluster from a distance of some 34,000 light years, it seems that stars are touching each other, but they are not.  They are still very far apart, but if the Earth were inside M3, our sky would be very bright with no night sky.
Imaging Telescope: Orion Mak-Newt, 190mm, f/5.3, 1000mm focal length mounted on a Celestron CGE mount.
Guide Camera and Guidescope: CCD-Labs Q-Guider on a 50mm finderscope.
Acquisition Camera: CCD-Labs Q-453.
Exposures: Ten frames, 1 minute each.
Calibration Software:  DeepSkyStacker was used to stacked 20 Bias frames and 20 flat frames, then the 10 light frames were calibrated.
Final Process: Photoshop CS3

Monday, May 17, 2010

Venus and Moon

Click on Image for a larger view
The crescent Moon and Venus put on a fine show from my daughter's front yard in Castle Rock, Colorado this evening (05-16-2010).

Two second exposure on my tripod mounted Canon digital XTi at ISO 800 with my 18-55mm lens set at 31mm and f/5.6.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Galaxies In The Spring Sky

 Click on Images for a larger view
Here is the first Deep Sky image taken with the new telescope mentioned in an earlier post.  Taken from my front yard in Cleveland, MO, this is a Triplet of Galaxies in the constellation Leo.  Individually they are M65 (top right), M66 (bottom right) and NGC 3628 (left).  All grand spiral disks made up of stars, gas and dust, but look dissimilar because they are tilted at different angles from our view.  Below are close up views of each galaxy.  Notice that the outer parts of the disks in M66 and NGC 3628 are distorted.  This is due to the gravitational interaction of each galaxy on each other.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Spring Is In The Air

Click on any image for a larger view
You know Spring is definitely here when you see birds mating.  This House Sparrows do what comes natural when it starts to warm up.  Did you know that the House Sparrow was introduced to New York in 1850 and by 1910 had spread to California.  They are so prevalent that they have become pests, taking over a native bird's nest.  They have been known to aggressively destroy Bluebird eggs.
 Another pest of sorts, is the Dandelion, here seen as a yellow flower and what the flower turns into, a sphere of parachute seeds that fly with the wind to grow somewhere else.
Every Spring I look forward to seeing certain plants bloom.  This one, called the Bleeding Heart, did especially well this year.  Named after the pink, heart-shaped flower, from which a little "drop of blood" dangles at the bottom.  They only bloom for a short time, so I enjoy them every day that I can.
While walking the trails at the Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, we came across this deer.  He seemed just as surprised as we were.
Today, the wind was perfect for "whirlybirds".  These are the seeds of the Maple, which twirl like little helicopters down to the ground.
This is a daisy Gloria picked up.  It has a long latin name: Osteospermum, but it's also called an African Daisy.

One of my favorite trees is the Dogwood.  It bursts with flowers every Spring.  I love the creamy white petals yellow cluster of what is probably seeds.  It sure would be nice if it bloomed all year, but then we wouldn't look forward to the next Spring season would we.