Thursday, September 29, 2011

Solar Sketches 9-29

Today is the first day of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year-  To everyone reading, I wish you a happy and healthy year!  Being that I am off work, I set up the solar scopes today and made some afternoon sketches of the sun.  I am quite pleased that the weather has changed enough to allow for 2 PM sketching.  Only a couple weeks ago, I would have been overcooked by the time I placed pencil to paper.  Not so today.  While the temps are in the mid 90's, it actually feels nice out.  Maybe I am truly turning into a desert rat?

The sketches below were made at the times reflected in the captions, and the images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory also have the time of capture below them.  It is worth mentioning that neither my white light sketch, or the SDO white light image contain the detail and number of spots that were visible in AR 11302.  I would estimate that that region alone contains in the neighborhood of 50 spots.  It is interesting that while there are a half-dozen numbered active regions on the face of the sun, all of them are in the northern hemisphere.

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2100 UT

2045 UT

2138 UT

2000 UT

Finally, the Mount Wilson Observatory in California has a 150 ft. Solar Tower from which they create a daily sunspot drawing.  Not too many professional observatories create sketches, and below is today's sketch:

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Chiracauhua Astronomy Complex Grand Opening

Price Ranch and Perseus intersection
"Eat more chicken"
This past Saturday night, the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association (TAAA) held the grand opening to show off the completed "phase 2a" construction of the new Chiracauhua Astronomy Complex (CAC).   I had wanted to take my telescopes to some dark skies this weekend, so on Friday afternoon I packed up and headed to the site one night early.  I had checked the weather forecast and while there was a slight chance of thundershowers each night, Friday looked to be most promising.  As I approached the CAC, I was met by the official bovine sentries, who upon seeing all the gear I was hauling, decided to let me pass unharmed.  Here are a few quick images of what has taken shape under the dark skies of Cochise County.  In hindsight I should have taken pictures of the amphitheater, the 18 inch dobsonian, and the inside of the observatory, but perhaps I can add some images to this post if any of the TAAA folks in attendance would like to share (Keith...are you listening?)

At left, you can see my scope cooling down on Friday night when I was alone at the site.  The sky was incredible and if I had a decent camera (and knew how to use it), I could have taken some amazing images.  Below left, is a picture of the roll off roof observatory that houses the new C14 and AP1200 mount donated by Wally Rogers.  The picture is taken from the amphitheater looking southwest.  In the background you can see some of the new member observing pads.  In the picture at right, you can see that there are ten of these pads, each measuring 12 x 12 with electricity.  This is a great size for a pad as there is ample room for a large telescope, a table and two or three chairs.  At one point, I had two telescopes set up on my pad, and still had room for all my gear.  The pads are spaced several feet apart, with just enough room to navigate but close enough that you can still chat with your neighbors without having to shout.  As you can see in the picture, we filled up all 10 pads on Saturday night for the grand opening.

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In terms of observing, Friday night was excellent, with transparency around 9/10.  Using my 12 inch SCT I observed many objects, and made a sketch of comet 2009 P1 Garradd.  I have observed and sketched this comet several times over the past month, and this was the first time that I was able to detect streams in the tail.  The sketch at right was completed at 0320 UT on September 24th.

Overall, despite getting clouded out early on Saturday, it was a fun weekend at a great astronomy complex.  Kudos to everyone in the TAAA that had a hand in the development of the CAC.  Not only are the skies excellent, but having access to an observatory housed 14 inch telescope, restrooms, showers, and observing pads with power make for an amateur astronomers dream.

Update...below is an image of the attendees preparing for "first light" of the clubs new 18 inch Obsession Telescope...Thanks to Bill Lofquist for this image.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hydrogen Alpha sketch of the Sun

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Now this is why amateur astronomers love Southern Arizona...dry climate, crystal clear skies, steady air...just last week we received the most significant rainfall of the year with several inches falling over several days, and now there is little trace.  The air is dry, no clouds from horizon to horizon, and observing conditions that are the envy of many.

Having spent the last two days observing the sun in white light, I had more time today to observe and sketch the sun using my Hydrogen Alpha telescope.  There are many active regions on the face of the sun, and it is now looking like the solar cycle (24) is truly in an upswing, albeit several years late.  As the Sun exhibits increasing levels of activity, it naturally takes an increasing amount of time to make a sketch.  Thank goodness for the weekend!

My sketch was completed at 1609 UT and during the time of my sketch, Active Region (AR) 11298 was exhibiting some weak flaring.  This region is quite dynamic with several dark filaments and bright plage throughout.  The flaring was occurring just to the north of the obvious spot in this region.  All of the regions on the sun today were moderately bright, with the exception of 11294 which appeared fairly weak.  The long filament in the northwest quadrant is impressive, and should it persist until on the limb may provide for some awesome prominences.  The images below are for comparison, with the black and white image from the Big Bear Solar Observatory and the colored image being from the Solar Dynamics Observatory.  Both images are from slightly after I completed my sketch.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Spotapalooza - A festival of sunspots!

I am working remotely from my home office today, which provided me an opportunity to grab a quick peek at the Sun while eating some lunch.  I did not have enough time to make a hydrogen alpha sketch, but the white light view of the Sun revealed as many spots as I can remember seeing in several years.  It is a downright spotapalooza!  A festival of sunspots!  As it is mid-day, the atmospheric seeing conditions are a bit unsteady and it is difficult to tell how many small spots are in the larger regions.  Regardless, there are too many to accurately sketch them all while eating a sandwich and stressing out about job related nonsense.  Below is my sketch from 1840 UT, and a comparison image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory taken at 1824 UT.  I completed my sketch using my TEC 140mm APO and a Lunt Solar Systems Herschel Prism.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

80 degree(!) Solar observation

The last two nights have brought some remarkable thunderstorm activity to the Lost Pleiad Observatory.  While I do not have a rain gauge, those in the vicinity would suggest that we received around 1.5 inches of rain last night.  That may not sound like a lot to many of you, but consider that our annual rainfall total this year was less than 10 inches. There were several funnel clouds spotted last night around the Tucson valley along with unconfirmed reports of a tornado touching down.  The low pressure system that is causing these storms remains in place over Los Angeles and more storms are likely tonight...which means that the atmosphere remains fairly unstable.

I made an observation of the Sun this morning, and while the atmospheric stability was only fair, it was wonderful to be sitting at the scope under my towel without a continuous stream of sweat pouring off my body.  I had forgotten what 80 degrees feels like!  The sketch below was completed at 8:44 AM MST (1544 UT) with my Lunt Solar Systems 60mm Hydrogen Alpha telescope.  To the right is an image from Big Bear Solar Observatory captured 5 minutes after my sketch at 1549 UT.

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There are four numbered active regions visible (to me) on the face, as well as what appears to be a developing region near the east limb on the equator.  The most impressive region is 11289 which sports some very large and dark spots, as well as a long snaking region of plage trailing to the east.  Consider that it would take about 110 Earths lined up to cross the diameter of the Sun, and you can see that these spots are larger than our own planet!

Departing region 11283 on the west limb was also showing some bright plage this morning as well as a few associated prominences.  This region was difficult to observe due to the atmospheric turbulence making the solar limb appear as if it were under water.  Both regions 11287 and 11290 appear weak, although my lack of observations this past week leave me unable to determine if these regions are decaying.  11287 does appear to have a spot.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Supernova 2011fe

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On Saturday night, I was fortunate to be able to make an observation of the supernova that has developed within the Pinwheel Galaxy, M101.  I was leading a program at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter and showed the supernova to the guests, who were rather delighted to see something so unusual.  I did not have time to complete a sketch during the program, so simply noted the locations of the galactic nucleus and nearby stars on paper.  After the guests departed, I then added the glow of the galaxy to my sketch.  The view suffered quite a bit from light pollution, as it was nearly first quarter moon.  In addition, M101 was low in the sky, well within the glow from nearby Marana.  As a result, I doubt that even with time to really study the view I would have seen any additional structure within M101.

The good news is that the supernova is extremely bright, and easy to identify.  It is approximately magnitude 10 and was the brightest object in the field of view. North is at the up in my sketch, with east to the right.  In observing the supernova, we were using the 32 inch Schulman telescope and a 21mm Ethos eyepiece, resulting in a magnification of approximately 271X, and a field of view of .4 degrees.  The easiest way to identify this supernova is to look for the star just northeast of the nucleus.  The supernova is exactly opposite this star, to the southwest, between two bright stars in the field of view.  Torsten Hansen has imaged the supernova as well as analyzed it's spectrum, which is the image at right.  Spectral analysis is the means by which astronomers are able to study the composition of a star.  In addition, astronomers can glean information on the temperature and velocity of the object, particularly whether the object is moving toward us (blue shifted) or away (red shifted).  Supernova like 2011fe are further useful to astronomers as they can help to more precisely measure the distance to the host galaxy.

For further information on supernova in general, visit this wikipedia page. This is an informative video from the astronomer who first noted the supernova:

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hot, Hot, Hot

Quite the day for solar observing today, with crystal clear skies and slightly lower humidity than we have had these last several weeks.  I completed a sketch of the Sun in hydrogen alpha this morning at 9:42 local time (1642 UT). Skies were quite steady and I was able to see much more detail within each active region than I could possibly capture in a sketch .  Active region 11280, which is on the extreme northwest limb, was producing a spectacular prominence that was changing so rapidly that it appeared different each time I looked back to it while sketching other areas.  Next to my sketch below is an image from the Big Bear Solar Observatory taken at 1650 UT, just minutes after my sketch.

Click the images to enlarge them

Update- Andy Devely in the UK maintains The Solar Explorer website which I highly recommend you visit.  He posted the animation below of the spectacular prominence erupting from AR 11280 during the time I made my sketch: