Saturday, January 30, 2010
Winjupos representing the time of my sketch. I brightened the image to simulate the effect of the cloud cover and resulting scattered light. Below is my sketch:
Finally, Ralph Aeschliman Planetary Cartography and Graphics provides excellent maps of Mars that are available for download.
Friday, January 29, 2010
This is not a great opposition for Mars because it occurs around the time that Earth is closest to the Sun and Mars is farthest. The gap between the two planets will be a hefty 62 million miles (99 million km). The smallest possible distance at opposition is about 35 million miles (56 million km), which happened a back in August of 2003, and prompted the infamous emails that now surface every August, that Mars would be as big the full Moon, which of course, is not — and was not — true. Mars appeared more than twice as bright then as it will this year, but was still a star-like dot in the sky.
This Nasa article provides more information on the Mars oppostion and has sky maps. The bottom line is that no telescope is neccesary, just head outside and look up!
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Carrington Rotation: 2092
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Typically I observe the sun for about 10-15 minutes prior to starting a sketch. Today, there were many passing cumulonimbus clouds that would completely blot out the sun. As a result, I spent about 30 minutes observing before I began to draw. The seeing was quite poor- the temperature was 46F, humidity about 50%, with 5-8 mph breezes.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Friday night was a very clear night, with the milky way burning bright right down to the southern horizon. While the seeing was above average, the transparency was close to perfect. In practical terms what this means is that the atmosphere was slightly unsteady, making stars twinkle and critical detail in planetary observation a little tricky. At the same time, the perfect transparency allowed for very faint objects such as nebula and galaxies to be obseved.
I have been working on observing the Caldwell objects for some time, and Caldwell 51 has been very difficult. Despite several tries I have never seen this object, until tonight! Caldwell 51, which is IC 1613 is a dwarf irregular galaxy in Cetus. It is an extremely difficult visual object and is only visible as a subtle brightening. Despite being listed as Magnitude 9.2, this ranks among the most difficult of visual observations I have made. In fact, once I had the correct star field, it took several minutes and slowly panning around to detect the brightening.
In addition, to these galaxies, I observed several others in Fornax.
NGC 749 - a faint magnitude 12.7 galaxy, slightly oval, with a bright core
NGC 823 - another magnitude 12.7 galaxy, elongated east-west with a star attached to the east end of the galaxy. (At first we thought this could be a supernova but a check of the DSS image revealed a star)
NGC 986 - An oval shaped galaxy with a bright nucleus extending about 2/3 of the length of the magnitude 10.9 galaxy
NGC 1097 - A very attractive elongated galaxy, with a bright nucleus and an oval halo. Just north of the 9.2 magnitude galaxy, its companion NGC 1097a is visible as a fuzzy spot.
Mars was blazing high in the east by about 11:30, so after viewing a few more galaxies (such as NGC 2292/2293 and NGC 2295 in Canis Major), I decided it was time to sketch Mars.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
AR 11040 has become quite dynamic, and now includes at least 10 spots. While the Hydrogen alpha wavelength does not show spot detail as well as white light filters, de-tuning the etalon reveals these spots clearly. There are a few filaments visible, and during the time the sketch was being completed, the small "eyelash" shaped filament south of the AR developed in under 5 minutes. The magnetic field lines surrounding the AR were easily observed and extended some distance from the bright parts of the region. Finally, there were some small, but quite bright and complex prominences.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Carrington Rotation: 2092 Diameter: 32.52'
Active region is not as bright as it was during my observation two days ago, however, it has taken on a distinctly horseshoe shape. A few small spots are visible inside the region, confirmed through de-tuning the etalon. Also, two small brighter areas are noted almost on the central meridian. There is one prominent filament visible, as well as a few darker areas that seemed to become more pronounced during the session. There are a few prominences that while small, are complex.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Carrington rotation: 2092 Solar Diameter: 32.52'
It shows active region 11040 which is the main feature visible on the face of the sun today. It includes two distinct bright areas (and a third smaller elongated bright area closer to the limb), as well as a large filament and several smaller ones. There are strong magnetic field lines surrounding this region, and they are most notable on the north side. These magnetic field lines showed changes during the sketching period. There are only a few small prominences noted around the limb, with the largest being quite faint and partly detached from the limb.
I would also recommend that if this interests you, you check out some of these sites:
Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) - A project of international collaboration between ESA and NASA to study the Sun from its deep core to the outer corona and the solar wind
Solar Monitor - Hosted at the Solar Physics Group, Trinity College Dublin and at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Solar Data Analysis Center (SDAC). These pages contain near-realtime and archived information on active regions and solar activity
Astronomy Blog of Victor Herrero, another solar observer in the TAAA.
Blog of Lunt Solar Systems
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Mars is a difficult object to observe visually as its features are dusky and low contrast. Seeing them is highly dependent on practice, patience, and even more importantly the atmospheric stability at your observing location. Tonight proved to be a decent night at the Lost Pleiad Observatory. Two mild days with little change in the weather made for a relatively stable night with good transparency. As evidence, I was able to observe the A through F stars in the trapezium easily at 122x in my 5.5" refractor. There was minimal dust in the air and the moon had not risen during my observation of Mars. I am working on finding a good technique for sketching Mars, including finding the right pencils and smudging tool (fingers!). Soon, I will have to learn how to better scan my images so that they do not show you every stray bit of graphite on the paper that are invisible on the original.
Instrument: 140mm Refractor at F/7
Eyepiece: 4mm Nagler Zoom (245x)
Time of sketch: 0500-0525 UT, 1/6/10 (10-10:25 PM MST, 1/5/10)
RA: 9h 26m 11.8s
Dec: 19 deg 15' 29"
Central Meridian: 330
Syrtis Major is obvious, as is the collar below the north polar cap. Interestingly, the Hellas Basin is visible as a bright area south of Syrtis Major. (I believe that the feature to the right is Sinous Sabeous, but I need to locate a good map of Mars)
Here is a simulated image of Mars from the freeware program Winjupos
That's all for tonight, I will post more on Mars in the coming days, including some of my sketches from 2003 when Mars was really close...
Sunday, January 3, 2010
Telescope: 9.25 inch SCT @ f/10
Eyepiece: 8mm Televue Ethos (293x)
The planteary nebula lies in the constellation Gemini and holds up quite well to high magnification. The cetnral star is bright at approximately magnitude 10.5. There is a brighter central region that is surrounded by a fainter halo of nebulosity. There appears to be increased mottling to the northwest, perhaps part of the eskimos face that is revealed in photographs of this object. Overall, the nebula has a distinct cometary appearance.
(This is the first sketch that I have ever scanned, and the magnified image tells me I need to practice making dots for stars...The original is much nicer!)
Friday, January 1, 2010
In late 2005, a coworker called me to let me know that she was going to be renovating her backyard and that there was an old roll off roof observatory that the previous owner had built. While she had not been inside in about a dozen years, she let me know that I was welcome to come by and see if there was any way to utilize the structure, which would otherwise be bulldozed. Of course, I was excited by the possibility of having an observatory, but did not hope for much when I saw the building from the outside. The inside proved to be even more exciting…
When it was first opened up, there was a floor to ceiling beehive as well as 4-6 inches of packrat detritus covering the floor. Fortunately whoever the original builder of the observatory was, he had built in a modular way so that it could be easily taken down. With the help of the contractors renovating the yard, I had the roof and walls taken apart in one morning. I abandoned the floor, pier, electrical wiring, and the roll-off rails, and then stripped the walls and roof down to the frames (the siding was destroyed by the rats and bees). Finally, I transported the roof and wall frames to my house, where I consulted with my father-in-law Charles, about his interest in helping me rebuild the observatory.
Needless to say, we jumped in headfirst and after about 3 weeks had the observatory up and running. Among our work, we built a new floor; poured a concrete slab and bolted down a pier; spent hours sanding packrat urine off the wall studs; installed new siding; put on new roofing and casters; built rails to roll off the roof; and lastly, painted. I later added electricity and a small window AC unit. As any observatory owner knows, I am always making little changes and improvements.
Without understanding at the beginning, we both realized during the process that the observatory project was very important for us. It allowed us to focus our energies and grieve a little less from what had been the most difficult year of our lives. As most of you know, Beth’s sister Laura had passed away from Brain Cancer in late April of 2005. What follows is an excerpt from the eulogy I delivered at her service:
“I would like to share with you another place where I will always see Laura. Many of you know that I also enjoy the stars. I have wonderful memories of spending time with Laura under that stars…from camping outside Crystal Cave, to the beach in North Carolina, to walking among the tide pools in Rocky point by headlamp - watching Laura, Mack, the girls and Ian delight in finding starfish, anemones, octopus, urchins and the like. Invariably, before we walked back up to the house, Laura would look skyward and point out to me where the Pleiades were at that moment. We would shut off our lights, let our eyes dark-adapt and see how many stars we could count in the cluster. Laura loved the Pleiades cluster, and for this reason, I brought along a picture today. It is over there. During our typical trip to Rocky Point in October, the Pleiades were above the horizon all night and directly overhead at midnight. Not only are the Pleiades probably the most universally recognized grouping of stars in the sky, but stories and mythology surrounding the Pleiades have existed in cultures around the world since the earliest days of recorded history. What is interesting is that in antiquity, cultures as geographically distinct and diverse as Australian aboriginal people and the ancient Mayan associated the Pleiades with death and with eternal life. It is not lost on me that on April 20th, as Laura was preparing to leave us, the Pleiades were setting below the Western horizon. Most common among traditions concerning the Pleiades are persistent stories about a lost Pleiad. Stories from the Romans, Greeks, Japanese, Australian, and various African cultures all share this theme. It is most likely based in the fact there are only six bright stars visible to the unaided eye in the cluster, when in fact there used to be seven. They are still commonly referred to as “the seven sisters.” The poet Aratus wrote:
“Their number seven, though the myths oft say,
And poets feign that one has passed away.
The sister stars that once were seven,
Mourn for their missing mate in heaven”
From now on, I will always look at the Pleiades and smile, thinking about my missing sister in heaven. I know she is up there, at peace among all that grace, magic and beauty, smiling back at me.”
By the time we finished hanging the door, I already knew that we had built the “Lost Pleiad Observatory”. And the picture of the Pleiades that I had at Laura’s service? It is hanging in the corner of the observatory.
Happy New Year!
Welcome to the Lost Pleaid Observatory Blog!
I decided to start this blog after reading some great blogs by members of the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Organization, particularly the Ketelsons. I hope to keep it updated with observing reports as well as other related astronomy information. In addition, I will offer up some personal information that I want to share such as stories of family trips, photos, etc.
Today I am celebrating 14 years of marriage to my lovely spouse Beth. I can't believe that it has been 14 years already, as I still remember getting weak in the knees watching her come down the aisle. I have to think about Ian and the fact that he is turning 11 this month to appreciate the time that has gone by. All in all, I am a very lucky man.
My next post will detail the short history of my backyard observatory, especially the reasons for naming it "The Lost Pleaid Observatory"