Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sun August 30th

Another quick image of the Sun early this morning-  As we head toward Fall, it is becoming obvious that I will not be taking these weekday images of the Sun on days when I have to work...I really need the sun to be higher above the horizon for the best images.

Compare today's image to yesterdays picture and you can see the increased activity in just 24 hours...there are new spot regions developing as well as the existing regions seem to appear more active.  Click the image below to enlarge to full size:

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Rise and Shine

Today is a very busy day for me and with the humidity levels lower than they have been in several weeks and the resulting blue(er) skies, I made an effort to get up early today to observe the Sun in white light.  Due to my schedule today I was out observing the Sun before 7 AM (MST) while it was less than 10 degrees above the horizon.  Given that I was looking through approximately twice the atmosphere than I would be during a mid-morning observation, I was pleasantly surprised at how steady the image was.  The picture below was taken with the Sun at an altitude of just 12 degrees above the horizon, at 6:56 AM local time.  For comparison, the image at right is from the Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Click to enlarge to full size

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Moonlit night with Neil Armstrong

Yesterday saw the passing of an American icon, Neil Armstrong- While I am not old enough to remember his footsteps on the moon (apparently I was engrossed at the time in whatever captures the attention of 4 month old babies) his legacy defined for kids my age what is possible-

"Maybe when we grow up, we can move to the moon!"

Not me, I am going to live on Mars!"

"Oh yeah, I am going to go to another star!!"

This was not an actual conversation, but we had many like it- and while things such as cell phones have become part and parcel of our existence, human exploration of space is no longer the stuff of present day childhood dreams.  The model rockets that adorned the bookshelves of our youth, the favorite astronaut that we all had, have been supplanted by ipods and star athletes.  I am not against progress and I am in fact a big sports fan-  but what has happened to our sense of space exploration?

Last night was relatively clear and to honor Neil Armstrong in my own small way I snapped a few images of the moon with my Canon T2i using my 12 inch LX200 SCT and a 2X barlow lens.

Montes Apenninus, Eratosthenes (Terraced crater, left of center at bottom)

Straight Wall (Rupes Recta), Mare Nubium

Archimedes, Autolycus, Aristillus, Cassini, Montes Alps, Plato 

In closing, the video below is a nice reminder of where we have been as explorers of space, and where we are headed-  Turn up your speakers and listen to Optimus Prime!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hawkish behavior

Last night I was up at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter doing some preparatory work with the 20 inch Jamieson Telescope which we will be using with several middle school groups over the next couple months.  Many days around sunset there are several hawks (likely a family) which play and hunt along the domed ridge.  The ridge is literally the summit of Mt Lemmon and the hawks are able to sit nearly still on the updrafts for long periods of time, without even flapping their wings.  It is hard not to believe that in addition to the playing and hunting, the hawks are coming to this place and facing west at sunset to peacefully appreciate the majestic view.

Unfortunately the skies were overcast yesterday around the time the hawks came out to play so it was very difficult to take pictures of them, as there were only fleeting moments of sunlight to illuminate them.  At left, a silhouette, and the one below from a brief moment when the hawk was illuminated slightly.
Click to enlarge

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Active Region 11543

Following my trial runs with a borrowed barlow lens, I purchased my own 2x barlow this week to use in imaging sunspots.  While the weather has been mostly overcast the past few days, I was able to get out this morning and snap some quick pictures of departing Active Region 11543 in white light.  The seeing conditions were rather poor with haze and passing clouds, but I was more interested in continuing to learn what exposure and ISO settings were best for closer up images of sunspots.  Already I have discovered just how sensitive the camera senor is and I am learning that depending on the location of the spot region I will need to utilize different settings.

For example, spot regions that are near the middle of the solar disc can utilize shorter exposures as there is more light reaching the sensor, as opposed to spot regions near the limb where a smaller portion of the solar disc is in the sensors field of view.  Shorter exposures are advantageous as they are less affected by atmospheric turbulence and vibrations from the mount/telescope/camera/operator combination.

Anyway, the image at left was taken this morning with my TEC 140 APO, a Lunt Solar Systems Herschel Prism, and a Canon T2i with a 2x barlow lens.  The color is false, only added as the comments I received from friends at work on my previoius post unanimously liked the false color...and I am all about appeasing the faithful readers!  Click the image to enlarge it to full size.

Monday, August 13, 2012


I thought that I would try adding a little color to my barlowed image of yesterdays sunspot, and the result is not bad-  The few folks I queried at work all liked the color version.  Is that because they expect the Sun to be yellow?  Who knows, but I also lightened the image and perhaps that makes it a bit more pleasing.  Either way, here are the original version and the one in color.
Click to enlarge to full size

Sunday, August 12, 2012

August 12 white light Sun

Another day of playing around taking pictures of the Sun in white light.  I again captured a full disc image, and again attempted using the Televue 2x Big Barlow.  I was not fighting clouds this morning which took away one degree of difficulty, and I discovered just how tricky it is to focus accurately at high power.

This morning I used the wonderful program BackyardEOS to capture the images and was attempting to utilize the frame and focus in addition to the 2x magnification of the barlow, I was using the 5x magnification of the software.  It was an exercise in atmospheric turbulence!  The Sunspots were large on the monitor and went from fuzzy to sharp to fuzzy so fast I was amazed.  In any event, below is a full disc taken without the barlow and a crop of the barlowed image containing the large spot region 11543.

Click the images to enlarge to full size

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Barlow experiment

I had been wanting to try out a Barlow lens with my Canon T2i and TEC 140 for taking pictures of sunspots with a larger image scale.  I borrowed a Televue 2x "Big Barlow" and unfortunately, seeing conditions this morning were rather poor.  The atmosphere was fairly unsteady and I was trying to grab pictures with passing clouds.   First up, is a full disc image taken with my usual recipe - 1/4000 second at ISO 100.  As it happens, this was the only image I was able to capture without clouds passing across the Sun.  Click the image to enlarge to full size:
Next up is an image using the Televue 2x "Big Barlow" and while the clouds are interesting, I was having to use an even slower shutter speed than I expected.  The image below was taken at 1/200 of a second.  The clouds were frustrating me and I did not think to try some different ISO settings.  That is an experiment for another day (tomorrow?)  Click to enlarge to full size:

So what did I take away from this exercise?  I believe that I need to try some additional barlow lenses.  While the 2x barlow certainly did what I expected, I am curious as to using some higher powered barlows such as 2.5x to 4x. Certainly the TEC 140 has the resolution to support the high power, however, I am not sure at what point I will be routinely fighting the atmosphere...I know, take multiple exposures and integrate them.  Maybe one day, but at the moment my desire to spend a lot of time on image processing is not high.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Mars Science Laboratory

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Back in March I posted one of my Mars sketches and mentioned the Mars Science Laboratory mission nicknamed Curiosity which was en-route to Mars.  Well, here we are three days after an amazing touchdown and already stunning images are coming back.  Unless you have been under a rock the past three days you have no doubt seen many of the amazing pictures and images coming from the HiRise camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showing the rovers descent by parachute (at left) as well as the hardware scattered about the Martian surface.  If not, visit the HiRise website!

It is, however, time to visit the surface of the red planet...and without further ado, Welcome to Mars!!!

Click to enlarge to full size

Image Credit: NASA/JPL - Caltech
According to NASA, "These are the first two full-resolution images of the Martian surface from the Navigation cameras on NASA's Curiosity rover, which are located on the rover's "head" or mast. The rim of Gale Crater can be seen in the distance beyond the pebbly ground.  The topography of the rim is very mountainous due to erosion. The ground seen in the middle shows low-relief scarps and plains. The foreground shows two distinct zones of excavation likely carved out by blasts from the rover's descent stage thrusters."

For those of you wanting to stay current with the MSL Curiosity mission, there are nearly daily updates on the mission website.

White light Solar image 8 August

I have spent the past two days at the Annual Meeting of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and had intended to write a brief post about that conference this morning...of course, being the avid amateur astronomer that I am, I could not resist the urge to observe the Sun and take her picture instead.

Seeing conditions were average this morning with a fair bit of haze and an unusual amount of turbulence for the early hour.  The image below was taken at 1540 UT (7:40 AM MST) with the Sun at an altitude of approximately 24 degrees.  You can see a fair bit of the facula (the bright regions surrounding the spots) on the East limb of the Sun, at left.  The Sun rotates from East to West, so these regions on the limb could be visible for up to approximately two weeks moving across the face of the Sun, should they persist as the Sun slowly rotates. Click the image to enlarge it to full size.

For comparison, here is an image captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory's Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) at 1500 UT, 40 minutes prior to my image...keep in mind that SDO has the advantage of being in space with no atmospheric distortion, and no camera shake from the imager:

Saturday, August 4, 2012

August 4th Sun

The Sun is cracking today!  I have been observing the Sun this morning in both hydrogen alpha and white light and despite some cirrus and haze which was diffusing the light, the seeing was stable for the most part.  Below is a single shot of the Sun taken with my Canon T2i in white light.  There are multiple spot regions, in the southern hemisphere as well as some large spots near the meridian in the northern hemisphere.  Click the image to enlarge it, and if your browser automatically re-sizes images you may need to click it again...Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Solar image ~ 1 August

I love it when a plan comes together.  Managed to capture a sharp image of the Sun this morning at 1546 UT using my TEC 140, Lunt Herschel Prism, and Canon T2i.  The atmosphere was fairly stable with high humidity, and as a result, you can see that the umbra and penumbra of the spot regions are more detailed than most of my previous images.

Click on the image to enlarge to full size and if your browser automatically re-sizes the picture you may have to click it again.