Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas

My good friend of many years, Bob Miranda from Colorado, sent me this picture of his Christmas tree. According to Bob, he did not expect this effect. I saw it and even though it is unusual, I thought it depicted a rather happy and colorful scene. So consider this my electronic Christmas card. I wish you all only the very best.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Red Giant become a video star

Below is a video showing the planets and a few stars to scale. One of the last stars in the video is Herschel's Garnet Star mentioned in the post below. The star is also known as Mu Cephei. Mu Cephei is so huge that if the Sun were to exchange places with it, the Earth would be inside the star. This red supergiant would also swallow up Mars and Jupiter and almost reach out to the orbit of Saturn.

Red Giant meets Red Nebula

Click on each image for a large view
IC1396 is cataloged as a star cluster embedded in a nebula. Right in the middle of the nebula, the star cluster is easy to see in binoculars, but in this long exposure photograph it is overpowered by the nebula. This is a very large nebula, about 2.5 degrees across (5 full moons would span across it), but it is very far way (2,450 light-years) and very hard to see visually.
The bright star at the top is one of the largest known red supergiants in the Milky Way. William Herschel described it as "a very fine deep garnet color" and is therefore commonly know as "Herschel's Garnet Star". So why is it yellow and not red in the picture? The main reason is that in long exposure images bright stars tend to get overexposed and loose their color. In this case yellow was the result. Astronomers who view this star through large telescoes see it more orange that red.
The bottom image was a very nice surprise! I wanted to create an image with legends pointing to the various known objects in the nebula, so I turned into in a black-and-white image. When I did this I tried using a red filter. The result was a much brighter nebula that constrasted nicely with all the dark dusty regions (5 of them are Barnard Dark Nebulae). On the right side is a dark globule known as the "Elephant's Trunk" and vdB142.
Technical Photo Info
Camera: Q453 CCD
Lens: 300mm f/4 L IS
Apeture Setting: f/4
Exposures: 9 X 10 minutes (90 minutes)
Darks: 2 darks to create dark pixel map
Flats: 0
Biases: 20
Mount: Celestron CGE
Guide Camera: CCD-Labe Q-Guider
Guidescope: 400mm Tasco refractor
Calibrated, Aligned and Stacked in Nebulosity
Final processing in Photoshop

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Not So Clear Sky Imaging

Click on image for a larger view
What to do, what to do? My imaging equipment is all set up for the night, but here comes the clouds. High cirrus are sailing across what was a clear and cloudless sky while I was setting up. I really want to try out my new lens on the sky, so I decide to try a few shots anyway. I take six shots, ten minutes each. By the time the last exposure is done, the sky is pretty well covered with clouds. As they come into my laptop I see that each image has halos around each star, with the last image having the largest halos. As I shut down the computer, I'm thinking that will be the last see of those pictures.
That was two months ago. Today I saw an image by Rogelio Bernal Andreo on the Astronomy Picture of the Day website that had practically the same framing and image scale of what I took that night. My my, what a picture it is. Here is the link to his picture: http://tinyurl.com/yj3txu2 After seeing this I decided to process my images to see what I had (a single image doesn't show much, only when they are aligned, combined and processed does the detail come out). My picture doesn't go as deep as Mr. Adnreo, for a lot of reasons, but I am happy the way it came out. The glow around the stars give the picture a mystical quality, and the Califonia Nebula and the Plieades Star Cluster still show through. The dusty dark nebulae throughout this part of the sky is also evident. The dark nebulae are labeled in the second image above, but as you can see, they are actually spread all over the area.
Technical Photo Info
Camera: Q454 CCD
Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS
Focal Length Setting: 70mm
Apeture Setting: f/4
Exposures: 6 X 10 minutes
Darks: 2 darks to create a dark pixel map
Flats: 0
Biases: 0
Mount: Celestron CGE
Guide Camera: CCD-Labs Q-Guider
Guidscope: 400mm Tasco refractor
Calibrated, Aligned and Stacked in Nebulosity
Final processing in Photoshop

Friday, October 23, 2009

Saturn, Venus, Mercury & Moon Conjunction

Click on picture for larger view
Planet conjunctions are some of the prettiest scenes in the morning sky. When a thin crescent Moon is in there, it is even more beautiful. About 6:30 a.m., Friday morning October 16, I looked out of my RV window and saw the above scene. I jumped out of bed, grabbed my camera, slapped it on my tripod, put a jacket over my pajamas and stepped outside and started shooting various exposures before twilight washed it out. These type of events last for only a few minutes, where the color and lighting is just right. Before that magic moment, the sky is too dark and afterwards the sky is too bright. This conjunction has Saturn at the top, Venus below it and Mercury near the horizon, and of course the Moon.

Click on the image for a larger view
Not all conjunctions appear in the morning sky. The next conjunction with the Moon in the scene is on December 20, 2009 evening sky, about 6:45 p.m. In this scene, the planets are Jupiter and Mercury. On this date, Venus and Saturn are still only visible in the morning sky, with Venus being only 5 degrees from the Sun and probably too close to see. How do I know this information? Well, I use a planetarium program called Starry Night Pro. It's very easy to find conjunctions like these. I lock the view on the Moon, then go forward day by day and watch for the Moon to be near planets, bright stars, etc. I then mark my calendar and wait for that date and hope for a clear sky.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mellow Yellow - Aspen Fall Colors in the Rocky Mountains

Click on picture to see a larger image
Mountain Valley Panoramic in Rocky Mountain National Park
For a slide show of the Aspens in the Rockies click here:
Once in the show, click the f11 key for a better view
I spent a few days visiting my daughter and family in Colorado. Her family moved to Castle Rock, CO from Florida. Quite a change in climate and altitude. She had a housewarming party for all the relatives in Colorado and got a chance to visit with a few I had not seen in many years.
The Aspens were changing color at higher elevations, so my wife Gloria, daughter Pam, four year old grandson, Tyler and I spend a wonderful day driving around looking for scenes of golden light to photograph. In the morning, we drove through Denver up to Loveland, the west up the Thompson Canyon to Estes Park. We had no time to stop and enjoy the towering canyon, nor buys Estes Park, except for a bit of lunch. Using Pam's State Park pass (saving me $20), we drove into the Rocky Mountain National Park. The Ranger at the entrance told us that the road to Bear Lake, where most of the Aspens are located, was congested with traffic, so instead we drove up Trail Ridge road. We found a few Aspens here, but not what I was looking for, so we backtracked to Estes Park, then drove south down highway 7, 72 and 119. Along this route we stopped at many places for some colorful views of the golden trees along the mountain sides, streams and valleys. Click on the above link to see a slide show.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The North American Nebula and Pelican Nebula

Click on picture for large view
Now directly overhead in my part of the world (Kansas City area), the North American Nebula and the Pelican Nebula are very rich areas of gas and dust in the Milky Way. The very dark area, right in the middle of the picture, is actually thick dust and gas in front of the nebulae, but it easily marks the similarity to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. The nebula that looks like a pelican holding a fish in its beak is to the right of the North American Nebula. The bright star at upper right is Deneb, the brightest star in the constellation Cygnus, the swan. This is a very large area of sky. Four full moons would fit in the North American Nebula. From a dark sky site, away from the light pollution of the city, you can see it without optical aid, looking like a brighter region of the Milky Way. Binoculars improve the view, but a telescope has too much magnification not allowing you to make out the over all shape. It is best seen in wide view photographs.
Techinical Photo Info:
Camera: Q453 CCD
Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS
Focal Length setting: 200mm
Aperture setting: f/4
Exposure: 7 X 10 minutes totaling 70 minutes
Darks: 2 darks to create a dark pixel map
Flats: 20
Biases: 0
Mount: Celestron CGE
Guide Camera: Q-Guider by CCD-Labs
Aligned and Stacked in Nebulosity with final processing in Photoshop

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Gone To The Dark Side

Click on the Images for a large view
Most of the time, astrophotographers try to image dim objects, trying to make them brighter so that they are easier to see. However, there is one type of object in the night sky that emits no light. Because they emit no light, they appear as dark regions among the starry sky. At the upper right of the top picture is the famous Plieades Star Cluster, with its glowing reflection nebulae. The rest of the picture has many areas with very few stars. These are the so called "Dark Nebulae". At one time astronomers thought these were holes in the sky, letting us see space beyond the stars. We now know that instead of holes, what we are seeing is dark clouds of dust and gas so dense that they block the light of the stars behind them. If you can't see the dark nebulae, you need to adjust your monitors brightness setting.
The first person to prove this fact was Edward Emerson Barnard in the early part of the last century. E.E. Barnard was a self taught astronomer, who was the first person to use the newly invented camera on the night sky. He obtained thousands of photographic images of the Milky Way, then selected the 50 best for publication in his "Atlas of Selected Regions of the Milky Way". He approved each photograph for each and every book, therefore there were only about 700 books published. Each picture in the book is an actual photograph, not a printing press facsimile. So this is a rare and much sought after book.
Along with the photographs, in a seperate volume, there are charts with all the dark nebulae numbered by Barnard. There are 370, with each number starting with the letter B. In the above image, I have captured 15 of these nebulae. Click on the bottom chart to see each numbered object.
If you would like to see images from the Atlas, they are on the internet. The Georgia Institute of Technology Library and Informatin Center scanned the book and placed them here: http://www.library.gatech.edu/barnard/
Technical Photo Info
Camera: Canon XTi
Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS
Focal Length setting: 70mm
Apeture setting: f/4
Exposure: 11 X 8 minutes totaling 88 minutes
Darks: 20
Flats: 20
Biases: 20
Mount: Celestron CGE
Guide Camera: Q-Guider by CCD-Labs
Aligned and Stacked in DeepSkyStacker with final processing in Photoshop

Thursday, September 3, 2009

What is it? An apple core, dumbbell, football or a planet?

Click on image for a larger view
345 years ago, while looking for comets, Charles Messier discovered this nebula in the sky and numbered it the 27th object in his list of objects that were not comets. He called it an "oval nebula". Sixty four years later, in 1828, another astronomer, John Herschel, wrote that it was shaped like a dumbbell, and it has been called that ever since. Looking through a telescope, I always have the impression that it looks like an apple core. With long exposure photography, dimmer areas become visible turning it into a football. These type of deep sky objects are also known as planetaries. Definitely not planets, in the 18th century astronomers coined them planetaries because they looked very similar to the gas giant planets, mostly round and diffuse. Unfortunately, that name has also stuck.
A planetary nebula is something that humanity will see up close and personal some time in the distant future. At that point in time, about 5 billion years, it will destroy the Earth and everything on it. What you see in the Dumbbell Nebula is the death throes of a star similar to our Sun. This dying star, which you can see at the center of the nebula, had previously grown into a Red Giant, and is now pulsating and shedding off it's outer layers into space. The extremely hot central star radiates ultraviolet light into these outer layers making it glow.
Technical Photo Info
Camera: Q453 CCD by CCD-Labs
Telescope: 10" f/5.5 Newtonian with a Coma Corrector in the optical path
Mount: Celestron CGE
Guidescope: 60mm Dia., 400mm Focal Length
Guide Camera: Q-Guider by CCD-Labs
Exposure Length: 7 X 10 min exposures for a total of 70 minutes
Darks: 1 Dark to create a Dark Pixel Map to get rid of hot pixels
Flats: None
Biases: None
Aligned and Stacked in Nebulosity with final processing in Photoshop

Friday, August 28, 2009

Another Iridium Flare

Click on Image for a larger view

I spent 5 days camping in my RV with some friends of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City at our Dark Sky Site. Located about 75 miles from Kansas City, it is far enough away from the city lights to give us amateur astronomers some really dark skies. Unbelieveably, all 5 days were clear. On one of those nights, fellow ASKC member, Eric Bogatin, said that a bright Iridium statellite was going to show up high in the eastern sky. I quickly set up my camera on a tripod and took the image you see above. When the flare was starting to brighten up, another member, Gary Pittman, pointed out where it was with his laser pointer. These laser pointers are so bright, they easily show up. The other short streak of light on the left side of the image is an airplane. For more info about Iridium flares, see my blog for Aug. 2, 2009, Iridium Flare and Extreme Numbers.


One of those 5 clear nights was on the foggy side, but that night was a super night for looking at details on Jupiter. Normally it is hard to see fine detail on Jupiter because of the turbulence in the atmosphere. All that turbulent air is also magnified by the telescope, stealing fine detail in the eyepiece. But, that foggy Saturday night, the air was perfectly still. Looking at Jupiter through a 20-inch telescope on a night like that is truely incredible. There was so much color and detail it was hard to take it all in. Jupiter's moons were seen as tiny little marbles instead of the twinkly stars I'm so used to. That night, I had three 20-inch telescopes to see it with, and their owners, Mike Sterling, Scott Kranz and Mike Meyers, were more than willing to share the fantastic view. Thanks guys for sharing the scopes. These type of night come only once in a very long time. I've only seen three nights like that in all of my 30 years of observing.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Fishing for Persieds

Click on images for larger view

I went fishing for Perseids Tuesday night and Wednesday morning during the peak of the Perseid Meteor shower. I cast my line out 1088 times between 10 p.m and 4:38 a.m., a little over 6 hours and caught only one little flash as it went behind the trees. My fishing pole was my Canon digital XTi mounted on a tripod. Even though, on average, there was at least one meteor per minute somewhere in the sky, my little part of the sky only had one meteor bright enough to get caught.
The top picture is the first image I took and the bottom picture is #340 out of 1088.
I believe most of you know that the bright stars in the top picture make up the Big Dipper, but take a look at the second star from the end of the dipper's handle. These double stars are Mizar and Alcor. This stars are a good test for "minimal" vision. If you have good eyesight, or a good pair of glasses, you should be able to see them as separate stars. Mizar, the brighter of the two is also a double star, but you need a telescope to see Mizar's fainter companion. Astronomers tell us that the two take at least 5000 years to make their orbit about each other. What is really interesting, is that each of these two stars also has a companion, making the system a "double-double". When you add Alcor, it creates a quintuple star system. Alcor takes 750,000 years to go around the quartet of stars that make up Mizar. I wonder what it would be like to live on a planet with 5 suns in your sky?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Iridium Flare and Extreme Numbers

Click on image for a larger view
The image you see above is a 27 second exposure of the sky from my home in Cleveland, MO using my digital Canon XTi with the lens set at 18mm (the image is cropped a bit). The bright streak is an Iridium communication satellite that increased in brightness from being almost invisible to the brightest thing in the sky, other than the Moon. Traveling from left to right at roughly 17,000 mph, it increased in brightness and diminished back to near invisibility in those 27 seconds.
Non-astronomers reading this may be wondering how I knew this was going to happen. It is actuallly pretty easy. A large group Iridium satellites, traveling around polar orbits, are used to provide satellite phone and data coverage around the world. Three door-size antennas on each satellite are highly polished and occasionally, sunlight is reflected down to Earth creating a brilliant flare lasting a few seconds. Iridium Flare prediction software has been developed so that now all one has to do is log in to the website http://www.heavens-above.com/ , give them your location on the Earth (latitude and longitude), and you will get a set of predictions for thenext 24 hours, the next 7 days and even daytime flares for the next 7 days. Yes, you can actuallly see them in the daytime. I've even seen some accidentally while driving down the road. Here is the predication I received to get the above image. Date: 8-1-06, Time: 11:00:43, Intensity (Mag): -7, Altitude: 27 degrees, and Azimuth: 60 degrees (ENE). That's all you need.
Terminology: Time is the period when it is at its brightest.
Intensity (Mag) is how bright it will be in Magnitude. The brightest one can get is -9 Mag. The dimmest are when they are not reflecting a spot on the Earth and that is about +6 Magnitude (about as bright as the dimmest stars one can see in a dark sky. A -7 flare like in the image is bright eneough to be seen in the daytime.
Altitude is how high it is in degrees.Azimuth is the direction to face measured from due North. North is 0 degree azimuth, East is 90 degrees, South is 180, West is 270.
I do one more thing, which is not really necessary, but to precisely know where to look, I use a planetarium program on my computer. Giving it the above parameters, it will tell me what stars and constellations will be up at that time and I can see what stars it will be near so that I can center my camera to that position.
Now for some fun with BIG numbers. There is something very interesting in this image. The camera has captured objects in great depth. In the foreground you see trees that are a mere 30 feet away. The Iridium satellite is a bit farther, about 600 miles away. The stars are even further. The star, Alpheratz, the point in the cone shape constellation of Andromeda (see the picture below), is 600 light years away. In miles, that is 3,527,175,223,910,165 miles (3.5 quadrillion miles). But the camera has captured something much, much further away. This is M31, the Andromeda Galaxy (that fuzzy spot that is quite not starlike). It is 2.5 million light years from us (146,962,495,353,380,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles [146.9 nonillion miles]). Yes, nonillion is a word. It is a 1 with 30 zeros behind it.
To find M31, I first find the curved-cone shape of the brightest stars in the constellation Andromeda, then I use the three stars connected with yellow lines to point the rest of the way. You need to be away from the light pollution of the city to find it and in a moonless sky. The camera did it, however, even with the moon out.
Click on image for a larger view

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Last Unknown Bug Identified

It is interesting that I didn't get very many responses on the caterpillar image by Joe Porter below. So, I decided to just start looking at caterpillar pictures and found it in a few minutes of Googling. Click on this link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/avian_pursuits/2824484555/ to see the image of the Sycamore Tussock moth caterpillar.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Another Unknown Bug

Click on the image for a large view
Another unknown bug, but first here is what I've found out about the last one.
The last post "What Is This?" is a post that more people responded to then anything else. Quite a few know what this bug is. It is called an Assassin Bug. An appropriate name, because it truely seeks out and assassinates other insects and even goes after animals larger than itself. What I thought looked like a tooth, is really a segmented tube for feeding, called a rostrum. They use the long rostrum to inject a lethal saliva that liquefies the insides of the prey, which are then sucked out. Some people thought it was a "Wheel" bug, but if you Google wheel bug, you'll see it looks similar, but, instead, the wheel bug has a circular wheel like protrusion on its back. One of the 7000 species of these bugs is the "Kissing" bug. This gruesome bug has been known to suck blood from the lips of sleeping humans or around the eyes. Even with all this going against them, they are considered benifical, because they control unwanted insects. Benifical or not, I'm not touching one of these guys. Check out this video:


Joe Porter sent this note and picture of another weird looking animal: This was the neatest little creature I have seen in a long time.. We were on a QRP radio outing weekend at Twin Bridges, Oklahoma and as one of my radio buddies started to get in his truck he spotted this little jewel on the door glass. It looked like a fancy caterpillar.

Does anyone know what this is?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

What Insect Is This?

Click on Image for larger view
What I thought was a spider, on closer inspection I realized it was not. I've never since this little guy before and looking through my insect book I couldn't find it, although I think it is one of the beetle species. Does anyone know what this is? It is about 1-inch long and walked around with it's tail up like you see. The inset picture at top right shows distinctive markings on its body. The inset picture at top left is a close-up of the inset below it. This shows what looks like a long "tooth" at the front of its head. Any ideas what this is?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Thunderhead Panoramic

Click on image for larger view
While camping at the Astronomical Society of Kansas City's Dark Sky Site last month, a few of us were enjoying some corn on the cob when we noticed a huge cumulonimbus building in the south. I grabbed my camera and took a bunch of shots. The storm stretched from due south to directly east, so it was not possible to get the whole thing in one picture, so instead I took 4 images overlapped slightly, then using Photoshop I combined them into the panoramic you see here. The colors come from the sunset in the west. The top of the cloud is lit by direct sunlight and the bottom of the cloud is lit by the light of the sunset. Make sure and click on the above image to see the larger view. Also, smaller monitors will require you to scroll from side to side.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

How To Take Pictures of Fireworks

Click on images for a larger view
Here's pics from the great display at Lewis-Young Park, north of Louisburg, KS. If you would like to take pictures of fireworks, but don't know how, here is how you do it: You'll need a camera that allows you to take at least a few seconds exposure and to be able to set the focus to manual mode instead of auto-focus. You'll need to attach the camera to a tripod, or at least be able to place it on something to prevent the camera from moving (a beanbag on top of your car will work). A shutter release so that you can fire the camera without touching it is great also. The settings I will mention next are for my Canon XTi, but most digital SLRs will have the same settings. Even some of the better non-SLR digitals will have similar settings. Read your camera's manual to learn how to set all of the following.
Usually you want to adjust the lens to its widest focal length. The lens I used at it's widest is 18mm. You next want to focus the camera to infinity. Do this while it is still bright daylight. I auto-focus the camera on a distant landscape. I then turn off auto-focus with a switch on the lens. The reason you do this is that the camera will find it very tough to auto-focus in the dark, and even if it does find focus, you will miss many shots and the majority of them will be out of focus. Once auto-focus is switched off, do not touch the lens or adjust the zoom. Doing this will throw the lens out of focus. If it is already dark and you need to re-focus, focus on a distant streetlight or the Moon, if it up.
Now change the shutter speed dial to "M" (manual) and adjust the speed to "Bulb". Then make sure the f-stop value is set to the smallest number. In my case it is f/3.5. The ISO speed should be set to its lowest value. In my camera it is 100 ISO.
Now all you have to do is frame the camera and wait for the show to begin. You will find that getting fireworks is just a matter of timing and looking at your view screen to see what you got. Most of the time you only have to hold the shutter open for 2 to 4 seconds, depending on how bright the show is. It's easy to over-expose some of the brighter displays. It's all a matter of luck, but with these instructions, you should be able to get some good shots. I took about 140 images and got just a few that I liked, so don't be afraid to take a lot of images. With digital cameras, taking pictures doesn't really cost anything until you print them.
One thing to be prepared for is dew. Here in the Midwest, most nights are very dewy, so I sometimes wrap the lens barrel with a dew heater. I made the heater by soldering a bunch of resistors and covering them with wide velcro so they don't short out. The wires from the heater are attached to a 12-volt battery.
So you don't forget how to do this a year from now, write this stuff down and keep it with your camera.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Pass the potato salad!

You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism. ~Erma Bombeck

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Oranges Are For The Birds

As soon as it starts warming up in the Spring, Gloria and I cut a couple of oranges in half and place them on a some branches near our backyard deck. We do this to attract Orioles as they migrate through the Kansas City area. To our surprise, it attracted some Mockingbirds. They come by every day. I have been wanting to get some pictures of Mockingbirds, but it hasn't been easy. They fly away as soon as they seen any human movement. I got lucky this time, however. I set up my 300mm lens and camera on a tripod with it pointing out a slightly opened door. I waited for about 20 minutes and got about 50 images of which a few are posted here. A few images of a Baltimore Oriole are also included, these from the Spring of 2008. Here is the web address for the images:

Monday, March 30, 2009

Winter-Spring Transition

I love Springtime. I imagine it is the favorite time of year for most everyone. The freshness of everything growing makes me feel wonderful and alive. I have been taking pictures of the early flowering plants and a few birds. The nice snowstorm we had over the weekend made me get up early to look for some photographic opportunities. I have created a small slideshow of some of these pictures. Click on this link to see it:

Monday, March 23, 2009

Galaxies - Near, Far, and Really Far

Click on the images for larger views
All of the pictures you see here were taken with the same lens, my Canon 300mm f/4 telephoto lens. They are all galaxies of various types and sizes. They also vary in incredible distances from us. The image above is the great Andromeda Galaxy (M31), our nearby twin sister. She is our nearest large neighbor, right next door to our own Milky Way galaxy. Someone (or Thing) is standing on one of M31's planets, looking at our galaxy right now and seeing a similar looking spiral of stars, dust and gas. M31 is quite a distance from us (2.5 million light years away), but it is so big, we can see it without optical aide as a fuzzy star in the constellation Andromeda. To see it, however, you need to be away from the light pollution of our cities and is best seen in our Fall and Winter sky. There are two companion galaxies rotating around M31, one fairly obvious on this side and one much smaller directly on the other side. Astronomers have studied it's motion, and it is on a collision course with the Milky Way. To see what this event will look like, see the image of the next galaxy below.
This the Whirlpool Galaxy, M51 and it's companion NGC5195. Click on the image to get a closer look and notice the the odd shape of the smaller galaxy. NGC5195 has collided with M51. What you are seeing it the stars of the galaxy pushed out and distorted like a water sprinkler. During the collision, the stars in the galaxies usually do not collide. This is because of the great distances between the stars, but gravitational attraction from the passing stars, dust, gas and dark matter, tugs and distorts the galaxies into new shapes. This image was taken with the same lens, but M51 is a smaller image because it is almost ten times further away (23 million light years). Lots of galaxies, even further away are picked up with the one hour exposure. The galaxy numbers you see are from various catalogs. If you know where to look and are away from the city lights, you can see it with a pair of binoculars, looking like a fuzzy star. It sits near the last star of the Big Dipper's handle like in the chart below.

Now we make a big jump. With the same lens (and same field of view), we are looking at galaxies that are about 60 million light years away, 24 times further away than the Andromeda Galaxy. These is a cluster of galaxies, known as the Virgo Cluster (most of them are in the constellation Virgo, now in the Springtime sky). We see quite a few galaxies in this image, but it is only a small part of the close to 2000 galaxies. This cluster is also part of an even larger Supercluster, of which our Milky Way, M31 and a few other galaxies (the Local Group) also belong to. Notice that a few of these galaxies look as big as M51, but this only shows you how huge these galaxies really are to take up the sames view and yet be almost 3 times further away than M51. I labeled the galaxies in the image below using star charting software.
It always amazes me how large the sky is above us. It is very hard to comprehend these great distances. It also amazes me that 99% of the people on the Earth never look up at the night sky.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Bald Eagle

Click on image for a larger view
Yesterday, I was driving through Swope Park, right in the middle of Kansas City, MO, I was amazed to see this Bald Eagle. He was busy looking down into a pond, trying to make a meal out of a fish I'm sure. I'll have to make sure to look for one whenever I'm in the area.
The photo was taken with my 300mm f/4 IS L lens on my Canon Xti. The IS stands for Image Stabilization. It really helps improve the sharpness of my handheld shots like this one.

Line 'em up! Head 'em out!

Click on image for a large view
I was filling up my gas tank when I spotted these geese and goslings crossing the street. Cars had stopped to let them by. I grabbed my camera and caught them as they were crossing in front of shopping mall stores. They looked so much like kids with their teacher and chaperones out on a field trip. You probably need to scroll the bottom scroll bar to see the whole image.
Taken with my 18-55mm zoom lens at 18mm.

Peek-A-Boo Meadowlark

Click on image for a larger view
While camping out last Summer I spotted a Meadowlark playing peek-a-boo with me in the tall prarie grass. I took many shots, but most were almost impossible to tell there was a bird there. Meadowlarks are extremely shy birds and hard to get close to them. This is probably an Eastern Meadowlark, but beacause I live near the edge of the territories between Eastern and Western species, it could be one or the other.
Taken with my 300mm f/4 IS L lens.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Winter Rose

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All roses are pretty, especially in the Winter sky. Astronomers have named this the Rosette Nebula. It sits in the constellation Monoceros, right next door to Orion (see the constellation diagrams above. The rectangle in the diagram is the area of sky that my 300m lens and camera combination cover in the sky). This a very large nebula, taking up 5 times the area of a full moon, but so faint it is impossible to see unless you are in very dark skies, and even then, special filters are needed at the eyepiece to see its faint nebulosity.

For as big as it is, the Rosette is still very far away, 4500 light years distant. It's diameter is estimated at 130 light years across. Remember, light travels at 180,000 miles per second, so the light you see left that object 4500 years ago. What makes the nebula glow is the cluster of stars in darker center of the rose. High energy light from the bright young stars ionizes the surrounding hydrogen gas clouds to light up the red emission nebula. The hot wind of particles from these stars is also evacuating the cluster center. Slowly, over millions of years, the gas and dust will eventually condense into 10,000 or so stars. A truely remarkable piece of nature that can only be seen at its best in photographs.
"The sky is the ultimate art gallery just above us." - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 82)
Technical Data: I took its picture while waiting for comet Lulin to rise above the treetops, and also to give "First Light" to a new CCD camera. My Canon 300mm f/4 lens was used on a CCD-Labs Q453 camera http://www.ccd-labs.com/Qseries/q453.htm The camers is cooled to -35C beyond ambient temperature. It does this to get rid of noise that is inherent in long exposure imaging. The imaging chip is 23.4mm(h) x 15.6mm(v) APS film equvilent, about .65 smaller than 35mm film. I took 6 images, 10 minutes each. 20 flat frames and 20 bias frames were taken, then all these images were processed in DeepskyStacker and final processing in Photoshop CS2.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Beautiful Snow Day

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Saturday morning I woke up to a nice snowfall. We had about 4 or 5 inches on the ground, so I had to go out and play with my camera. Even though it was around 20 degrees, my pond was not frozen, but made an idylic scene. Right before I went back inside I saw a colorful robin fighting the blowing snow. This is only the second time this winter that we have had any significant amount of snow in my area, south of Kansas City. Hopefully we'll have another one before the end of March.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Comet Lulin

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The two images above are of Comet Lulin as it approached it passage near the Earth. Cloudy skies and equipment problems have prevented me from taking its picture before this, but it all came together last Sunday morning.
Surrounding the comet's nucleus is a huge coma of glowing green fog caused by sunlight warming the ices on the comet's surface. You see two tails. The long pointy tail on the rights side is the dust tail, consisting of very small particles of comet dust. The tail on the left side is a gas tail and is actually being blown about in the eddy's of the solar wind (electrically charged paticles coming from the sun). Both tails seem to be pointing directly opposite each other, but in fact, the are both being blown away from from the sun. Only our perspective from the Earth makes it seem that way.
Notice, in each picture, the bright star trail at lower left. The glow you see around the star is actually part of the gas tail making it look foggy. The comet is much closer than the stars, so any part of the comet will block out those stars or make them look foggy.
Also, in the bottom image, notice a dark triangle shape just to the right of the bright, fuzzy star trail. I'm not sure what this is, but I see a much fainter and longer dark area in the top image also. My only guess is that it could be a small tail disconnection (which happens quite a bit).
The top picture consists of 40, one minute exposures combined into one. Each of the 40 images was aligned on the comet's nulceus. The comet is moving pretty fast, almost 5 degrees per day, so in the 40 minutes the stars trailed like you see. The bottom picture consists of 6, 10 minute exposures. All exposures were taken with my 300mm f/4 Canon lens, mounted on my CGE telescope mount. Each image was guided on the comet's nucleus with an autoguider.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sky-Wide Rays

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Today, I was honored with the "Optics Picture Of The Day". The above picture is a part of the event I photographed during a star party that my local club, the Astronomical Society of Kansas City, was holding out away from the bright city lights. The picture shows crepuscular rays extending away from the setting sun. Crepuscular rays are nothing special in themselves, however, when the rays extend clear across the sky (180 degrees), that is a "Kodak moment". Les Cowley, the webmaster of "Atmospheric Optics" is using the fisheye images I made of the event. The picture is changed every day, so you may not see my image if you click on this link on a day other than today: http://www.atoptics.co.uk/opod.htm so use this permanent link instead: http://www.atoptics.co.uk/fz190.htm
Make sure and click on the various links in the text to see explanations of what causes these rays. Also, be sure to look and read about all the fascinating optical events going on above our heads: http://www.atoptics.co.uk/index.htm

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Feathers In The Sky

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A few days ago, the temperature got up to 70 degrees, so Gloria and I went out for some fresh air by walking around the neighborhood. A big change in the weather was expected the next day, so I think these high cirrus clouds blowing out of the West was the start of it. Anyway, these beautiful sky feathers just tickled me into getting their picture.

Railroad Reflection

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I crossed a railroad track and noticed the reflection of the sky on the tracks, so I had to stop to photograph this wonderful play of light and dark. I took a few pics, then luckily a formation of geese added the final element in the composition.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Running Bird

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The astrophoto you see above commonly goes by the name "Running Man", but I always see this as a bird with running legs as outlined below. Actually, it is a huge cloud of dust and gas in the constellation Orion. It is blue because of starlight reflected off the small dust particles, similar to sunlight reflecting off the earth's atmosphere making it blue.
Seeing shapes in clouds is fun, and I'm sure everyone has done this, but did you know there is a name for this. It's called nephelococcygia. It comes from a play written a very long time ago. The play, “The Birds”, was written by a Greek comic poet, Aristophanes, in 414 B.C. The characters in this play are birds. They are looking at the clouds and seeing the different shapes they make. Another character in the play calls them crazy for doing such a thing. So, nephelococcygia literally means “cloud cuckooland”. Now it means to look for changing shapes and transformation in clouds. I found a website for nephelococcygiaites (gosh, is that a word) that is full of great images and information for cloud lovers: http://cloudappreciationsociety.org/
The Running Man (Bird) image was taken on October 30, 2008, with my 10" f/5.5 newtonian (1397mm focal length) and my Canon XTi. Ten images, 5 minutes exposure each, were processed in DeepSkyStacker and Photoshop.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Sun, Moon and Venus Pillars

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Beams of light like you see above are created by light shining through millions of ice crystals in the atmosphere. A great website http://www.atoptics.co.uk/halo/platpill.htm explains how this works. The above picture was taken January 5, 2002, six years ago. What reminded me of this picture was another one on Spaceweather.com but instead of sunlight creating the pillar, they were caused by streetlights. The neat thing about these is curved arcs at the top of the pillar. Something new and mysterious: http://spaceweather.com/archive.php?month=01&day=01&year=2009&view=view
Pillars can also be created by moonlight and even the planet Venus. I was looking at some pictures of these when I suddenly realized I had taken some myself and I didn't realize it until now. Take a look at the closeup picture of the Moon and Venus image from my blog of December 24 below. Click on the image to make it larger and you will see small pillars extending both above and below the Moon and Venus. I can't believe I missed these.
I have seen pillars coming off streetlights while driving my car, so be on the lookout for this cool weather phenomenon.