Saturday, May 6, 2017

Zodiacal light and a bolide

Going through some pictures this morning and I found one that I took in Portal a couple weeks ago that I thought was worth sharing.  Not long after sunset I was setting up my camera for some late night attempts at the Summer Milky Way, and took the picture below as a test shot to make sure I had the focus set properly.  You can see the setting winter Milky Way, intersected by the zodiacal light, and in the lower right is a very bright bolide.  A bolide is a large meteor that is exploding in the atmosphere (they are often referred to as fireballs).  You can see the green color, which was easily visible to the naked eye.  Unfortunately, this one was on the horizon and not overhead-  Had it been overhead the streak would have been much longer, it would have appeared brighter (less atmospheric extinction of light), and there may even have been a visible vapor trail.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Portal to the stars

Just back from another weekend adventure out to the dark Skies of Portal, AZ.  Seems that my blog is slowly turning into the Portal any event, below is an image of the Milky Way just after it cleared sufficiently above the horizon for a picture.  In this image we are looking toward the center of our galaxy, in the constellation of Sagittarius.

The green glow just above the horizon is air glow- light being emitted by Earth's atmosphere.  This is from several sources, such as the recombination of atoms which were ionized by the sun during the day, light caused by cosmic rays striking the upper atmosphere, and energy emitted by the combining of nitrogen and oxygen in the upper atmosphere.

While the entire sky has air glow (and as a result it is never truly dark), the glow is most obvious about 10-20 degrees above the horizon.  This is because the glow is subtle, and we are looking through about twice as much atmosphere looking across the horizon than when peering overhead.  (We do not notice the air glow on the horizon due to atmospheric extinction of the light on the horizon).

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Having fun at work

I really do have a great job-  I always tell folks that somehow I married a great hobby with a lot of administrative experience at the University...and now I get to worry about the budget and work with telescopes at the same time!  Two weeks ago we held two first ever events at the SkyCenter- a DSLR milky way and star trail workshop and a Messier Marathon.   Here is a single shot of the summit as the milky way was rising on March 25th-

While I had to work and did not 'participate' in either event, I did manage to squeeze off a few pictures of my own during the night- First, this is a single 20 second exposure of M 13, the Hercules globular cluster, taken through the 24" Phillips telescope using my Canon 6D.  I was impressed with the image out of the camera, so I decided to try and process it a little using Photoshop...and while I know the color of the stars is a little saturated, I still like the result.

In addition, I took a 30 second exposure of the M 57, the Ring Nebula in Lyra.  The image below is a 100% crop, and my colleague (and professional photographer) Sean Parker worked the processing a bit to bring out the galaxy (IC 1296) nearby the ring...but the ring itself is very much what the Canon delivered.

Final image from the weekend, is an exposure I took inside the dome of the 32" Schulman Telescope during a break in the Messier Marathon while guests were waiting for the summer constellations to rise a little higher.  It seems bright in the dome, but consider all the lighting is coming from red led lights that illuminate the steps leading into the dome!

Hey, 2 blog posts in two weeks!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Winter Milky Way

Time for what is becoming a quarterly tradition...a blog post!

In February, I made a trip to the dark skies of Portal, AZ with my good friends, "The League of Extraordinary Ordinary Observers" for our regular gathering of opinions, half-baked ideas, conspiracy theories, and of course telescopes.  We had our usual good time and saw some wonderful celestial sights.

I have posted pictures before of the summer milky way from Portal (see my previous post, for example...remember, quarterly tradition!), yet I do not believe I have ever captured a decent photo of the winter milky way.  One reason for this is that we tend to take our trips when it is warmer than February and the other is that the winter milky way is much fainter than the summer.  To explain quickly, in the summer night sky we are looking toward the central bulge of our galaxy in Sagittarius, and the center of our galaxy contains a much higher density of stars.  In the winter night sky, we are looking out away from the center of our galaxy and our view across the plane of the galaxy is not nearly as bright as when we look inward toward the center.

Below is an image of the winter milky way, that I captured in Portal.  It is a stack of 3 individual frames and is to me, quite striking.  Not only can you see detail and dust lanes in the plane of our galaxy that are invisible anywhere near a city or town, but you can also see several subtle (and I mean subtle) pink nebula such as The California Nebula, Barnard's loop, The Rosette Nebula, etc.  Be sure to click the image to enlarge.

These nebula would be more visible if my camera was astro-modified to be more sensitive in the red, however, I am impressed that the Canon 6D and Rokinon 14mm combination caught them at all.  The (distorted) bright star lower left is Sirius and the double cluster in Perseus is visible in the upper right, just to give you a sense of how wide this shot is.  I would be remiss if I did not mention the zodiacal light reaching from the lower left up through the Pleiades into the milky way.  The Zodiacal light is sunlight, scattered by dust in the plane of our solar system left over from the time of our solar system formation.  It is visible in dark skies after sunset and before sunrise, and is brightest in the spring and fall.

The other fun thing that occurred during the trip to Portal, is that I took a day to drive to Socorro, NM where I met a fellow amateur astronomer from whom I was purchasing a dobsonian telescope.  It is my first dob after all these years and it reminds me I need to update the equipment page of this blog as the only telescope that I currently have listed on that page is my TEC 140!  In any event, at left is the new scope and I hope to share some adventures with it soon...In case you are wondering, it is a 12.5" Obsession Dobsonian, with a mirror by OMI.