Sunday, October 26, 2008

Windy Night on the Mountain

The skies were to be clear Saturday Night, so I took the AMOV onto the mountain for some astrophotography. Once I arrived, the skies were, indeed, clear, but the wind was fierce, gusting to well over 30mph at times. I decided that I did not want to waste the trip, so I set up the two AstroTrac mounts, and placed my cameras on the mounts. I decided to use my older Olympus lenses instead of my larger Canon lenses to reduce the profile of the cameras to the wind. Wind buffeting against the cameras would surely introduce motion to the images, so I wanted to reduce the chance of that happening. I guess it did pretty good in some instances, but not in others. As long as I was shooting with the wind hitting the side of the camera, no induced motions was visible in the images. However, when I photographed areas here the wind was hitting the back of the camera, I noticed alot of wind induced blurring in the images. Lesson learned. Here are a couple of the images that I have processed from last night.

In the image above, you can see a wider field image of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). If you look within the disk of the main galaxy, below and right of the bright center, you can see a small satellite galaxy of M31, called M32. Above and left of the bright center, just outside of the main galaxy disk, you can see another satellite galaxy, M110. These galaxies are gravitationally interacting, and are located about 2.5 million light years away from us, and heading in our direction.

Camera - Canon EOS 40D

Lens - Olympus 200 MM f4 Lens, set at f5.6 - ISO 800 - (320MM effective focal length)
63 Minutes of exposure (21 x3 minutes)
AstroTrac TT320 Astrophotography mount for tracking

In this image above, you can see a wide field image of the tail and wing area of the constellation Cygnus. In this image, the bright star in the upper right is Deneb. Above it, and to the left is the North American Nebula (because it resembles the North American continent). Just below that, and slightly fainter is the Pelican Nebula. Directly above the North American Nebula, and at the edge of the image is the open cluster of stars, NGC7039. If you look below and left of Deneb, the next bright star you see is Sadr. You will notice the Sadr Nebula around that star, as well as the upper left of the star.
Now, if you move from Sadr toward the left of the image, you will see another bright star. Just past that star you can see an arch of nebulosity. This is the western part of the Veil Nebula. If you make an imaginary circle completeing that arch, you will see the rest of the Veil Nebula. The eastern portion of the nebula passes through the brighter star below the arch, called 52 Cygni. To the right side of the imaginary circle is an area of the Veil Nebula called the Waterfall.
If you look between the veil nebula and the bottom of the image, you can see another open cluster of stars called NGC 6940.

Camera -
Hap Griffin Modified Canon EOS 350D
Lens - Olympus 50 MM f1.8 Lens, set at f2.8 - ISO 800 - (80MM effective focal length)
45 Minutes of exposure (15 x3 minutes)
Imaged using an IDAS LPS Light Pollution Filter
AstroTrac TT320X Astrophotography mount for tracking

Friday, October 24, 2008

Astronomy at Mountain Lake

I had the pleasure of teaching some astronomy at Mountain Lake last night. When I arrived at the hotel, the skies were mostly cloudy. I set up a couple of telescopes, snapped a few pictures, and then headed in to the hotel to talk with the participants in the astronomy program. The attendees came out a bit later to observe the night sky. The clouds had dispersed, and the sky was clear. However, seeing was less than normal, and the objects did not hold their clarity as they would on a more still evening. We observed Jupiter and it's moons with a 6 inch ARO custom Maksutov Cassegrain telescope on a Mountain Instruments MI-250 mount. We took in the Ring Nebula (M57) in the constellation Lyra, The Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and the Double Cluster open cluster in Perseus in a StarGazer Scopes 15 inch truss dobsonian reflector. In the 8 inch Celestron Schmidt Cassegrain telescope on a Celestron CGE mount, we observed the Hercules globular cluster (M13) in the constellation Hercules, and the beautiful double star, Albireo, in the constellation Cygnus.

This was a great group of people, and I really had a good time showing them around the night sky. If you have a group that would like an astronomy talk, please let me know.

Here is the Astronomy Mobile Outreach Vehicle (AMOV) near the area where we set up the scopes. We set up near the hotel to minimize the distance to walk, given the cold temperatures that evening.

Another shot, this time showing the nearly dry Mountain Lake bed, as well as some beautiful fall foliage. That is one dry lake. Hopefully, it will fill up again soon.

Here is the Astronomy Mobile Outreach Vehicle (AMOV) with the Mountain Lake Hotel in the background. Clearly visible in this photo is the Audiotronics logo on the side of the vehicle. Audiotronics has been a big help in supporting our effort to take science and astronomy to the youth and general public. I highly recommend their business.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Cool, Nice, Sunday Night

The Clear Sky Clock ( ) said that the skies would be good last night, so I headed up for a night of astrophotography, and testing some astronomy gear. I had a chance to finally try out the new AstroTrac TT320X mount. I trained my modified Canon DSLR on the Pleiades, which was rising in the east. Using a Sigma 70-200 f2.8 APO zoom lens, I shot the open cluster for 30 minutes, trying to bring out the subtle nebulosity around the starts in the cluster, without blowing out (overexposing) the stars. The image and info is below.

Camera - Hap Griffin Modified Canon EOS 350D
Lens - Sigma 70-200 MM f2.8 Lens, set at 200MM - f2.8 - ISO 800 - (320MM effective focal length)
30 Minutes of exposure (10 x3 minutes)
AstroTrac TT320X Astrophotography mount for tracking

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

First Image with the Notatakahashi

I have been working on a prototype Maksutov Newtonian reflector telescope (Mak-Newt) that I bought recently in disassembled form, in an attempt to bring it back to life. Now called the "Notatakahashi Mak-Newt Astrograph", it is a 152mm aperture, 600mm, f4 wonder. I have been working to figure the optimum configuration for the front menicus lens, the position of the spherical primary, and the ideal point of prime focus outside the tube. I believe I am getting close, as I was able to shoot an image of the moon through the hole where the focuser will be installed. This image was shot hand held, without the help of the focuser. The colors and contrast look pretty good, so I am pleased with this configuration.

This image of the full moon was taken with the Notatakahashi Astrograph.
Focal Length - 600mm
f Ratio - f4
Aperture - 152mm (6 inches)
Camera - Canon 40D
ISO - 800
Shutter Speed - 1/2000 sec.