Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Annular Eclipse time lapse from SkyCenter

Throughout the special eclipse program we had at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter, Adam and Miwa Block faithfully snapped images of the eclipse every few minutes.  The result is the time lapse video seen below.  Be sure to watch it full screen with the volume on as it gives a nice sense of what we experienced.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Video stream from Annular Eclipse

During our special Solar Eclipse program at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter, we streamed live video of the eclipse via the Night Skies Network website.  Our stream was delivered using my Lunt Solar Systems 60mm pressure tuned Hydrogen Alpha telescope and an Imaging Source DMK 41 camera.  This stream went fairly well and was a dry run for our planned live stream of the Transit of Venus on June 5th.

One of the administrators of the Network, made a video capture of his monitor and posted it on You Tube...this is video of the portion of the eclipse which includes mid-eclipse...that is the time of greatest eclipse, when 87% of the Sun was hidden by the moon at our location atop Mt. Lemmon.

Monday, May 21, 2012

2012 Annular Solar Eclipse

Unless you are nocturnal, you no doubt realize that yesterday many folks on Earth were treated to a very spectacular Annular Solar Eclipse.  The reason that this eclipse was annular (coming from the Latin, annulus, meaning ring) is that the moon was at it's furthest point from earth in its elliptical orbit when it passed between us and the Sun.  This was a very beautiful event to witness from start to finish, and I was fortunate to be working with my colleague Adam Block as we conducted a very special eclipse program at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter.  We set up multiple telescopes providing guests views in both white light and hydrogen alpha, as well as providing everyone with specialized eclipse viewers.  While we had about 80 individuals on top of Mount Lemmon viewing the eclipse, we had literally thousands who watched a live stream of the eclipse over the internet.   We will do this again for the Transit of Venus on June 5th, and if you would like the web address, drop me an email.  I took the image at left near the time of greatest eclipse (6:38 PM local MST).

I made a white light sketch of the Sun prior to the eclipse to note the days spots, and then drew in the approximate maximum eclipse.  I was quite busy keeping an eye on our live feed as well as entertaining guests, so my sketch is truly an approximation as I lost track of which part of the Sun's disc was not eclipsed.  You can see in the sketch that we experienced about 87% of the Sun, including all the sunspots eclipsed by the moon.  Click the sketch to enlarge it.

I took many pictures with my trusty point and shoot camera and you can see a slide show of them at the bottom of the post.  For those of you suffering with devices that will not correctly display the slide show, I am pasting a few highlights here.  Below are shadow images of the eclipse, cast on our domes as the sunlight filtered through the pine trees.

 Here are some images of our guests enjoying themselves.

And of course sunset was spectacular!  There are wildfires to the north and the smoke attenuated the brightness of the Sun just enough that we could view the eclipsing Sun set naked eye...it was a beautiful magenta color and at the end, looked like a shark fin swimming on the horizon.  It was awesome to hear the guests break out in spontaneous applause when the Sun finally set.

And at last, here is the slide show!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Observing Jets in Centaurus A

I am a pretty faithful reader of Phil Plait's blog for Discover Magazine titled "Bad Astronomy."  Phil is an entertaining and informative science writer who frequently utilizes images generated at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter as the subjects of his posts.  For example, see this post on NGC 5426/5427 from a few days ago.

Today, Phil posted an interesting piece on the jets emanating from the black hole at the heart of the "Centaurus A" galaxy.  As soon as I read the piece, I laughed to myself and thought how ironic it is that an Astronomer like Phil, (and I am sure he is far from alone in this) is surprised that these jets can be seen in visible light.  At it's heart, Astronomy is an observational science...yet, Phil's post is a reminder of how far the science has gone from having Astronomers spend time at the eyepiece.  This is not a bad thing, simply a reminder that the machines are not yet ready to take our place...I hope.  Incidentally, the image of Centaurus A (NGC 5128) at right is from NASA and can be found here with an accompanying article on the jets.

At left is a page from one of my observing logs from April 9th 2010.  Click on the image and enlarge it and read what is inside the red box I have drawn...yes, I believe I saw one of these jets visually in a 9.25 inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescope.  I was in Portal, Arizona under approximately magnitude 7.5 skies with my good friends Jerry Farrar and Bill Gates.  Bill was observing the galaxy with us and noticed these jets.  When he pointed them out, I was able to spot one of them by gently bumping the telescope back and forth.  Now I can not say for certain that our observations of light streaming from the galaxy is necessarily the same feature that Phil points to in his article, but it is hard not to believe they are related.

In case the writing is hard to decipher, I wrote "Bill Gates pointed out the bright areas streaming from the galaxy, perpendicular to the dark lane.  This was extremely low contrast and resembled the faintest of cometary tails streaming south (generally).  He could see glow to the north as well, although this was a "maybe" for me using the 9.25 inch SCT."

EDIT:  I actually wrote about this observation in a blog post back in April 2010!!  Read it here.

Were these the jets we saw?  Who knows...Either way, Bill is an amazing observer, and as my friend Jerry commented upon seeing Phil's blog post, the ESA, NASA, and the NSF should consider funding Bill to look through his telescope!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

TEC 140 - A face anyone can love

Now this is a face anyone can love (see previous post).  Last new moon I was in Portal, AZ with some good friends (still need to write up my observing highlights from the trip...maybe I'll get to it this weekend...)...My friend Mike Wiles snapped a very sleek and sexy image of my TEC 140 waiting for dark...she raises the hairs on the back of my neck just looking at her...as always, click the image to enlarge and have a close up look.

For more information on the equipment I use there is a link at the top of the page, or you can click here.  I'd also recommend Mike's blog as he is a talented writer.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Faces only a mother could love

Occasionally I have posted about my dear spouse and son on the blog, and I have had a couple folks ask about the "Others" in our family...so without too much fanfare, I give you Cosmo, our mutt.  He is also affectionately known as Mo-Mo after my nephew Evan first called him that as he was learning to speak (Evan, not Cosmo), and also occasionally as Cosmonaut, Mo-Mo Jones, or when misbehaving - knucklehead.  cosmo is 8 years old and is finally, maybe, done with the puppy years!?!

The other male member of the clan is Spike, our desert tortoise.  We adopted Spike about 7 years ago when I was actually wanting a goat (think milk, cheese and free weed control)...I got to discussing my desire to adopt a goat with a woman at the dog park who indicated she needed to find a home for her tortoise as she was relocating to northern climes.  Well, this was all Beth and Ian needed to hear and my goat plans went by the wayside.  Spike is a pretty cool character and other than hanging out, well, he pretty much hangs out.  He is somewhere in his mid 40's which is early middle age.  A toroise like Spike can live to around 100!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

NOAA Active Region 11476

I was super busy yesterday as I was leading a program at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter, yet early in the day I was hearing reports of a strong flare and coronal mass ejection emanating from a new active region on the Sun. As I did not really have time to set up my solar telescopes I did look on the Solar Dynamics Observatory webpage and discovered that the "latest" image, at left, was indeed spectacular.  The in progress coronal mass ejection was coming off of the northeast limb of the Sun.  As it turns out, this ejection was associated with an M class flare- quite a powerful event.  Be sure to click the image to enlarge it.

This morning, I set up both my hydrogen alpha and white light solar telescopes to check out the Sun.  While impressive in hydrogen alpha, the newly emerging region on the northeast limb is incredibly complex as seen in my white light sketch below.  I made the sketch at a magnification of approximately 50X, and the new region 11476 is sporting some dozen spots.  While this region is stealing the show, there are four other regions with spots as seen in the sketch.  Regions 11474, and 11475 in the northeast each contain one dark spot.  Region 11471 in the southwest contains 2 spots, and region 11472 contains a very large spot as well as 5 trailing spots.

Sketch completed at 1640 UT
Carrington rotation No. 2123
Solar Diameter: 31' 42"
Solar altitude: 51 degrees
Solar Azimuth: 104 degrees

Click the sketch to enlarge it

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Perigee Moon - Luna de Perigeo

This Saturday, May 5th 2012 is a Perigee full moon, meaning that the moon will be at the closest point to earth in its elliptical orbit while fully illuminated.  This happens on average about once per year (most recently on March 19th 2011) and unfortunately these events, popularly called 'Supermoons', seem to take on a life of their own.  It is true that the moon is closer and will appear larger and brighter in the sky than a typical full moon. The difference, however, is marginal and certainly not noticeable to an observer looking up in the sky.  The only way to appreciate the difference is to have an image of the Perigee moon to compare to an image of an Apogee moon, the point when the moon is farthest in it's orbit...as in this image.

For those of you hoping that this post would be translated into Spanish, La Luna de Perigeo, I do not speak Spanish...yet, it happens that this Luna de Perigeo falls on Cinco De Mayo so here in the southwest we have two reasons to have a margarita on Saturday.  By the way, Perigee is about 8:30 PM MST.  Watch the NASA video below for a nice explanation of the event.