Friday, December 28, 2012

Solar maximum...did I miss something?

Click to enlarge
With some time on my hands today, I opened up my observatory at high noon to take a look at the Sun and see what was up.  As anyone who follows the Sun is aware, we are well along in solar cycle 24 and despite being somewhere near Solar maximum, things have been generally calm.  Sure there has been the occasional strong flare, and every now and again we have been treated to several active regions at once.  Overall, however, the Sun is relatively quiet.  It was no surprise then that there were very few spots today that were visible in white light.  There are a couple active regions that have rotated into view on the east limb, as well as a region departing to the west.  For the most part though, the solar disc remains featureless in white light.  At left is a sketch that I made at 12:40 PM local time (1940 UT) and I am embarrassed to say it is the first sketch I have made since the Annular Eclipse in May!

Thinking about the relative calm of Solar Cycle 24, I decided to visit and see what the sunspot number was for today (78, in case you were wondering).  Interestingly they had a story and graph from the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center addressing exactly how calm (in relative terms) this cycle has been as well as when maximum is predicted to occur.  Here is the chart they had reproduced:

Updated in early December, the above chart shows you the actual number of observed spots from January of 2000, through November of this year.  With the red line identifying the predicted sunspot values for the remainder of this cycle, it is curious to see that we are well below the line of even what was predicted to be a weak cycle.  And while the cycle certainly progressed slowly, has noted that we may already be past the maximum for this cycle!  I agree, as it appears to me that the actual observation curve (the blue line) has begun to taper down.  There are historical cycles that have had double peaks, so what happens over the next year will be interesting.  If you care to see the cycle that was predicted (in May of 2009) click on the graph at right.  You can see that the maximum was predicted to occur in mid-2013.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Best ISS video yet!

If you have not yet seen this video, grab yourself a cold drink (a soda...what were you thinking?) and settle in for an amazing 25 minute tour of the International Space Station.  If I had 20 million dollars, I'd buy my space tourist ticket right now!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sunset behind Kitt Peak

I first started this blog nearly two years ago, partly inspired by the blog of fellow amateur astronomer Dean Ketelsen and his wife Melinda.  In what has become an annual tradition near the winter solstice, Dean and Melinda trek up to near milepost 9 on the Catalina Highway and observe the Sun setting behind Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO).  Each year Dean and Melinda invite folks to come along, and this year I decided to join them for the first time.  At left you can see our little group set up, passing the time until sunset, observing the Sun through Dean and Melinda's big binoculars and 5 inch SCT.

In preparation for taking pictures of the sunset, I constructed a filter using Baader photographic solar film, cardboard, and high density foam.  Mounted on the front of my Canon 70-200mm f/4 L lens, I was prepared to take white light images of the sun setting behind the various telescope domes at KPNO.  As we were setting up, Dean offered to let me borrow his 1.4x teleconverter which effectively turned the lens from 200mm to 280mm.  This proved to be a great piece of hardware, and at right you can see a test shot of the Sun about 45 minutes prior to sunset.  Note the sunspot regions on both limbs, as well as the brighter facula surrounding the spot regions.

I aligned the camera on the center of KPNO, installed the solar filter and waited for the Sun to enter the cameras field of view.  As soon as it did, I started taking images every few seconds.  I did not really time the sequence, but took 20 images during the event.  Sunset lasts two minutes, so assuming I was close, that means I snapped off one picture about every 6 seconds.  It was really a learning experience as once the Sun was about halfway set I was having to change the shutter speed in between exposures.  The reason for this is the significant decrease in sunlight with each passing second.  Below are a couple of my favorite ones, including a shot of all the domes illuminated, as well as the closest I have come to capturing the green rim phenomenon in a picture.  As always, click to enlarge the images to full size:

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Las Cienegas observing

With all the excitement regarding the close pass of Asteroid 4179 Toutatis (see the previous post), I neglected to share that the night before I made the trek to the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area to do some dark sky observing.  For many years, the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association utilized an old airstrip within Las Cienegas as a dark sky site for monthly club star parties.  Despite being about 45 minutes from the east side of Tucson, the skies are quite dark, and it is my experience that the naked eye limiting magnitude at zenith can approach 7.0.  It is much darker than the clubs site west of town at TIMPA.  Over the last few years the TAAA has discontinued use of the site for regular star parties due to the acquisition and development of a club owned dark site about about 2 hours from town.  In addition, many members are uncomfortable driving down the sometimes rutted dirt road that leads to the old airstrip.

As mentioned, the site is about 45 minutes from Tucson, and from my house I can arrive in about 60-70 minutes.  This affords me the ability to work all day and then head to the site in time for darkness.  Last Monday night I made such a trip, joining my good fiends Jerry and Bill for several hours of dark skies, conversation, and of course observing.  Recently, we have identified a very nice spot in Las Cienegas to set up our telescopes, that is only about 5 minutes drive from the entrance.  The spot is in a slight depression in the rolling grasslands, which does seem to affect the temperatures, with cooler air settling in more quickly.  During our session temperatures were balmy, in the mid-20's, about 15-20 degrees colder than back at home.

Below is a 20 second exposure of Orion rising in the east.  The yellow glow on the horizon is the light dome from Fort Huachuca.  Despite how bright it seems in the image, the skies are still markedly darker than in Tucson as evidenced by the winter milky way extending down left of Orion.  Click the image to enlarge it.

I had decided to make the trip very lightweight and brought along an alt-az mount for the TEC 140.  I spent quite a bit of time panning through the milky way from Cassiopeia eastward.  This is the less bright region of the milky way in our sky, as we are peering away from the center of our galaxy.  I chose this area due to the simple fact that the summer milky way from Cassiopeia westward is where I have spent the last several months observing.  The skies were quite cooperative and I enjoyed my first extended views of objects such as the various nebulas in Orion (M42, M43, the Flame, The Running Man, etc).  One of the great things about a refractor are the beautiful low power wide field views one can achieve.  I was truly lost among all the open clusters in Cassiopeia, as every nudge of the telescope seemed to bring another into view.  At times, I would wonder what NGC cluster I was looking at, but before I could get up and go consult a chart I would again lose myself in the sheer aesthetics of the view through the eyepiece.

We had a great compliment of telescopes for the evening, with a 63mm Zeiss refractor, my 140mm TEC refractor, and a 9.25 inch SCT.   If you know Bill, it will not surprise you to hear that he was able to spot the same 14th and 15th magnitude Arp Galaxies in his 63mm Zeiss as we could observe in Jerry's 9.25 SCT.  Certainly there were no galactic details to be seen in the Zeiss, but the fact that we could detect the small, faint glow at all says something about the quality of the telescope and the transparency of the skies.  And yes, I said "we could detect," as I also observed some of them in Bill's telescope.

This has been a fairly long winded post for a Sunday morning, but if you are reading it and are a Tucson based amateur astronomer, I would strongly suggest that you consider the Las Cienegas area as a nearby location.  It's ease of access and reasonably dark skies make it quite enjoyable.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Asteroid 4179 Toutatis

Tonight was a first for the Lost Pleiad Observatory staff (that's me...sole proprietor, operator, custodian and resident trouble maker).  Asteroid 4179 Toutatis is in the process of making a close pass to Earth, and while I have observed asteroids previously, tonight I decided to take a series of pictures of the asteroid and then stitch them together to make an animation.

Before I provide the goods, it is worth knowing that asteroid Toutatis will only come within 4.3 million miles of Earth on this pass.  The images at left are computer-generated views of Toutatis, constructed using radar observations from NASA's Goldstone Observatory.

Toutatis is about 3 miles wide and makes one trip around the sun every four years.  Toutatis is a potentially hazardous asteroid, meaning that it could pose a threat to our planet at some point in the far future. The current flyby is no cause for concern, however, and I suppose that if you are reading this you know this to be true!  You made it through the night! At its closest approach, which was at approximately 11:40 PM MST Tuesday night, Toutatis was about 18 times farther away from Earth than the moon is.

Using my TEC 140 APO, along with my Canon T2i and the software program BackyardEos, I ended up with 49 usable exposures of the asteroid (don't ask about the others...even the dog managed to mess a few up!).  Each exposure was for 30 seconds and I have stitched them into the looping GIF below at 10 frames per second using Photoshop CS6.  I did no processing of the images, other than to reduce the size of each exposure so that the GIF was not a bazillion megabytes.  As it ended up the animation is a 12.8 MB GIF, so do allow it time to load.  The animation runs from approximately 8:59 to 9:48 PM local time, or 0359 - 0448 UT 12/12/12.  (Or, as folks in the UK would note the date, 12/12/12.)  Finally, you may notice that the background sky is brighter in the later frames...this is due to the asteroid appearing to move in the direction of the Tucson light dome.  Without further ado...the GIF!
Click to enlarge (and remember to give it time to load!)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Auriga Messier Clusters 36, 37, 38

Tonight I thought I would try something a little easier and I took some pictures of the three Messier open clusters in the constellation of Auriga, numbers 36, 37 and 38.  Again, I am using my Canon T2i and my TEC 140 refractor (f/7). The best part of the time I spent taking these pictures tonight was sitting back in my observatory and enjoying the crisp night air.  Carefully, so as not to touch the telescope, I also enjoyed the views through my 50mm Stellarvue finder scope while waiting for the camera to finish it's business.

Without further ado, here are the images (reduced in size for the blog)...each of them was 25 seconds at ISO 1600.
Click the images to enlarge them.

M 36

M 37

M 38 with NGC 1907 at upper right

M42 The Great Orion Nebula

So far this November and December has been unseasonably warm here in Tucson.  It is a bit disconcerting, actually, as the days are still comfortable for wearing shorts.  Working as I do on Mount Lemmon, I have this nagging feeling that we may not get much snowfall this winter, which the mountain needs.  This is not a post about climate change,  but I do want to point to an excellent piece by Phil Plait today taking on climate change denial.

With the high pressure system that seems to have permanently parked itself in our neck of the planet, we have had some phenomenal nights for observing at the Lost Pleiad Observatory.  With temperatures requiring only a sweatshirt, I spent the better part of last night cruising around the winter milky way.  Using my TEC 140 I spent hours enjoying many wide field views, especially those of my old friends the Messier objects.   Before retiring I thought to myself  "self, you should try and take a picture of the Orion Nebula!"

I brought out my laptop and camera and using BackyardEOS took a few images of the Great Orion Nebula.   Below is the result, of which I am shocked!  This was taken with the moon up in the sky, without accurately polar aligning my CGEM mount, and with a Baader UHC filter.  The single image is 50 seconds at ISO 3200, and was actually a little more detailed before I messed with it in Photoshop to try and make the background sky more black.  I should probably give the raw image to my friend Mike (are you reading this?) and he could make it very pretty.
Click to enlarge

Most amazing is our camera sensor technologies...look at images in astronomy texts from even 15 years ago and see what was being generated with large instruments over hours of exposure time...and consider that I am using a 140mm telescope and an exposure of less than one minute!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving animals

Deseret Chuckwalla
My sister and her family came to visit for Thanksgiving and after the Thursday ritual overdosing on Turkey etc., we visited the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.  We had a nice time walking around and checking out the animals- at left is what I believe is a female Desert chuckwalla that was hanging out in the Mountain Lion enclosure.  Either Mountain Lions prefer chuck steak to chuckwalla, or they are well fed, as this large lizard was quite brave in its choice of habitat.  The kids really enjoyed the cave and the bat ear demonstration as seen below.


The animals are of course the main attraction at the museum and the unseasonably warm weather had them out basking in the Sun and posing for all the visitors. As always, click the pictures to enlarge.

Bighorn Sheep

Prairie Dog
And yes, we even managed a picture of the elusive mother bat.  This is the first time that this animal has been photographed in the wild:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thimble Peak

Yesterday afternoon I had to run up Mount Lemmon to take care of some business, and on the way down I was treated to the Sun setting behind Thimble Peak.  Fortunately, if I have learned one thing from my friend Paul, it is to take the camera along on these types of outings.   Image below was taken at 5:19 PM (on November 22nd) with an exposure of 1/500 of a second at f/10 with an ISO of 100.  I was using my Canon T2i and an EFS 15-85mm zoom lens, although I am not sure of the exact zoom setting...I am guessing it was in the neighborhood of 50-60mm.

Click to enlarge

Just to the left of Thimble Peak, you can see Kitt Peak National Observatory  which is the flat top mountain in the distance.  Below is a crop of the peak at full resolution.

Click to enlarge

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Been a long time since I took a picture of the Sun!  I am working at home today and while I have been quite productive through lunch, I needed a break...and when I looked online to see what the Sun was up to today I noticed that there are quite a few spots.  Out I ran to quickly set up the scope and snap off an image.

Taken in a hurry, using an alt-az non-tracking mount at approximately 1900 UT, November 13 2012, using my TEC 140 APO and Canon T2i - through a Lunt Solar Systems Herschel Prism.  Seeing was average, but at 1/4000 of a second not a huge issue other than proving difficult to focus prior to opening the shutter.

Click to enlarge

Friday, November 2, 2012

Honor Roll and a bit of humor

This morning I was very happy to attend the honor roll ceremony at Emily Gray Junior High School, where Ian made the honor roll!  He has worked very hard this year and deserves the honor.  While the ceremony was centered on the students, it was pretty obvious to me this morning that it means as much to the parents as to the kids.  I had a seat in the front row so I could take pictures, and the parents around me were clapping for almost every student, even the ones they did not know...maybe it is because I was surrounded by the adults who always sat in the front of class as kids....Anyway, NICE JOB IAN!

As long as we are on family topics, I have to share three pictures that my sister sent me of my niece, Sophie, during her most recent soccer match.  Sophie is in first grade and it is pretty clear that she is a budding soccer phenom.  Team needs a goal?  Get the ball to Sophie who will dribble the length of the field and put it in the net.  While you can see Sophie driving down field prior to scoring the winning goal, take a look at the faces of the horrified parents from the opposing team in the pics...Click them to enlarge...they are priceless!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Youth Programs at the SkyCenter

Final post in my run of work related posts...but at least now when someone in my family asks "what is it exactly that you do?" I can point them to the blog...

Over the past two months I have been very fortunate to be working alongside NASA Space Grant Graduate Fellow, Pacifica Sommers, as she has developed broad based overnight science trips up Mt. Lemmon.  These trips have culminated in an overnight stay at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter where the students have learned how to operate the 20 inch Jamieson Telescope at the mountains summit. 

While our public observing programs continue to flourish and grow, these educational trips are a new facet of our programming, and already one of the most rewarding.  Feedback from students and teachers that have come on these trips has been excellent and we have already learned many lessons as to what works and what does not work with a bunch of middle school students.

While I am posting a few images below, I encourage you to read the UA News article that goes into some depth about these trips.

Discovery story of Comet P/2012 T7 (Vorobjov)

This is the second of three posts that relate to my work at the University of Arizona's Mount Lemmon SkyCenter.  In an earlier post I mentioned that a comet had been discovered using the 32-inch Schulman telescope at the SkyCenter and now UA News has written a piece that details the partnerships and circumstances that led to the discovery.  It was gratifying to have this comet discovered at the SkyCenter as this demonstrates exactly the type of public access that was envisioned when funds for the telescope were generously provided to the University by the Schulman's Foundation.

Read the UA News Story by following this link.

Next up...coverage of our pilot youth programs...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Adam Block and the Cosmic Canvas

Lots of exciting news coming out of the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter this week-  so prepare for a small run of blog posts regrading my day job.  First off, Adam Block who manages our public observing programs received a distinguished award this past weekend for his significant contributions in astrophotography and astronomical outreach.  The Hubble Award is presented annually at the Advanced Imaging Conference and everyone that knows Adam understands how deserving he is of this achievement award.  You can read a nice story about the award and Adam on the University of Arizona News Website by clicking the link below.

Adam Block and the Cosmic Canvas | UANews:

Next up tomorrow, a detailed story regarding the partnership that led to the discovery of Comet  P/2012 T7 (Vorobjov) at the SkyCenter last week (original post on this comet here).

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Comet Discovered at SkyCenter!

Most of you know that I work with the Mount Lemmon Skycenter at the University of Arizona, and this week we had a significant first!  A comet was discovered by an observer using our 32 inch Schulman telescope remotely.  Mr. Tomas Vorobjov discovered what is now known as Comet Vorobjov last Sunday night while acquiring data searching for Near Earth Objects. Mr. Vorobjov directs the Data Reduction Team of the International Astronomical Search Collaboration (IASC) project, and discovered the comet in data he acquired through work with IASC.   The comet was officially recognized, designated, and named Thursday afternoon through the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, as P/2012 T7 (Vorobjov).

At left is the sequence of discovery images acquired remotely, in partnership with the Sierra Stars Observing Network (SSON).  Ignoring the blue and green circled objects, the comet can be seen moving near the center of the image and a faint tail can be seen moving along with the comet on its right side.  As I mentioned, this is significant for us as we work in partnership with SSON to make the .8 meter (32 inch) Schulman Telescope available for remote use to astronomers, educators and citizen scientists world-wide.  This level of public access to the Schulman Telescope is central to our mission of education and public outreach.  This is the first comet discovered by Mr. Vorobjov, as well as the first comet discovered by observers using the Schulman Telescope.  Yippee!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Seeing the light in the dark

I just returned from Portal, AZ where I spent two nights with very good friends observing under some of the darkest skies in the western U.S.  I have blogged previously about Portal and what a great place it is to relax by day and observe by night, and this trip was certainly as rewarding as any.  We camp out at one of the premiere observing retreats known to amateur astronomers, the world famous Rancho de Farrar.  The early days of Rancho de Farrar are mostly unknown, however, historians have accepted local legends of it's beginnings...stories that seem to center on bonfires, whiskey, and heavenly bodies.  Speaking of amateur astronomers, below you can see our group of heavenly bodies as dusk settles over the ranch.   From left to right: Chris H., Shak (the 20 inch Dobsonian), Mike W., yours truly, Bill G., and El Jefe of the Ranch, Jerry F.

Folks living in places like Arizona are fortunate in that we often have clear views of the eastern horizon after sunset and can appreciate the beautiful colors of the "Belt of Venus."  The distant horizon and clear dry air in Portal combine to show beautiful colors as night approaches.  The blue color just above the distant hills is the shadow of the Earth being cast on our atmosphere and slowly ascending as the Sun continues to descend below the horizon.  As we say, often seen, rarely noticed!

Last week I acquired a very nice lens for my Canon T2i, a 15-85 mm EF-S.  I had wanted something that I could use to walk around with that was of higher quality than the kit lens, and also something that had a very wide field so that I could try to take some shots of the night sky.  I quickly learned that one of the most difficult parts is focusing the lens on the stars.  Simply turning the focus to infinity results in blurred stars, and there seems to be a sweet spot not quite to infinity.  The images of the milky way are far from perfect, however, I am  happy with them given that they are simply single shots, 25 seconds each with the lens at the 15mm setting...and that these are really my first attempts at this kind of photography from a dark site.

At left is an image of the Milky Way running nearly vertical into the foothills of the Chiricauhua Mountains.  This was taken at ISO 6400.  It is somewhat noisy, yet that is currently my trade off for obtaining the most color in the Milky Way.  Another reason why I need to get back to learning how to use Photoshop.

Below is an image of the Milky Way with a different composition, and I am not sure which I like better...And if you are a faithful reader that is not much into astronomy, I should point out that the reason that Milky Way is so bright in the south, is that we are looking toward the center of our galaxy in this area of the sky.

The image below was taken from a bit further back of the Ranch in order to capture some of gear.  It was also a 25 second exposure, but with an ISO of 3200.

 This next picture is a bit higher up in the sky and shows the Milky Way as it runs through Cygnus and the asterism known as the "Summer Triangle"

Despite all these pictures, I spent quite a bit of time looking through the telescopes that we had assembled within the circled wagons on the ranch:  a 20 inch Dobsonian, two 12 inch Meade SCT's, an 8 inch Celestron orange tube SCT, a TEC 140mm refractor, and a Zeiss 62mm refractor.  Truly, it was an embarrassment of astronomical riches.  And while we all enjoyed the various views, Mike was in and out of the "command center" where he was checking in on the data streaming in from his remote imaging set up.  Soon, I expect he will post a very impressive image of M 33, the Triangulum Galaxy, on his blog.

While he was imaging M 33, we observed it in nearly all of the telescopes on the field, save the 8 inch.  In my own 12 inch SCT I was blown away by details I had previously not seen in this low surface brightness galaxy.  Instead of the usual broad "S" shaped galaxy with two arms and a handful of bright knots, I was able to observe two additional spurs (arms) of the galaxy and more bright HII regions than I had ever seen.  Realizing how transparent the night was I pointed the scope at M 31, the Great Andromeda Galaxy and was again stunned by the detail.  Two dust lanes were easy and the edges of the lanes hinted at a mottled structure.  As I panned around, I was awestruck my M110, a satellite galaxy that is undergoing a merger with Andromeda.  As I pushed the magnification up to about 235X there was clearly mottling to this galaxy, and the bright nucleus was offset from center.  As I continued to observe  I realized that the reason the core seemed offset was that I was detecting an elongation of the galaxy back toward Andromeda.  This "light bridge" was confirmed by both Bill and Jerry.

I have been observing comet 168P/Hergenrother on and off over the past week and wanted to take a look at it from Portal.  I was not disappointed as the comet sported a stubby fan shaped tail- yet with averted vision there was clearly a long stream heading to the SE.  You can see this stream in my sketch at left, although it appeared fainter than in my drawing (obviously).  In addition to the comet, we observed a faint galaxy in the field of view, which Chris identified for us as NGC 7777, a 14th magnitude galaxy.  How dark was it last night?  We were able to detect this galaxy with averted vision in the 62mm Zeiss!  Had we not known it was there it would have been missed, however, with patience we were all able to tease it out of the background.

Another target that I had been planning to observe was the Veil Nebula, using my TEC 140 and an OIII filter.  With inspiration from the website of Steve Gottleib and using the chart at right I was able to observe many of the various labelled components.  I started at the "Witch's Broom" NGC 6960 and was able to easily identify the knot labelled 'D'.  I then moved back up to Pickering's Triangle also known as Simeis 3-188 and enjoyed the ethereal structure of this region while training my eye to pick out the fainter regions.  I then panned south and was able to detect the brighter portion of the "Thin Thread" as well as the knots labelled 'J' and 'I'.  I then relocated to the eastern portion of the Veil, NGC 6992 and 6995.  This is my favorite section of the nebula and my most traveled.  I made a point to observe IC 1340 and then located the star that would serve as a marker for knot 'A' which is Simeis 3-210.  This proved to be a little tougher than I expected given the glare from the star, but after careful observation I was able to positively identify the thin wisp of nebulosity.  Again, both Jerry and Bill were able to confirm this observation.

As the night wore on, we observed many targets from the popular Messiers, and double stars to interesting Arp galaxies, and of course Jupiter.  One of the highlights for me was Chris locating Comet 2012 J1 (Catalina) in the 20 inch despite it being close to the "Dob Hole" near the zenith.  This comet is cruising through Pegasus not far from Hergenrother and is approximately magnitude 14.5.  I had attempted this unsuccessfully in the 12 inch SCT.  I spent a few minutes revisiting some planetary nebula that I had observed from Portal two years ago with my buddy Christian (now back in Eurpoe), NGC 246 in Cetus, and IC 5148 in Grus  See this post for sketches of these objects.

Finally, a picture that was hard to take and that I had to mess with in photoshop to try and bring out the subject.  It is an attempt to image the Gegenschien, which is actually sunlight, back-scattered by interplanetary dust.    This soft glow forms opposite the Sun within the zodiacal light band and is only subtly brighter than the sky.  This is a phenomenon only visible under the darkest of skies.

All in all it was another great trip that ended all too quickly.  As great as the skies and observing are, it is the great friends and the unparalleled hospitality of the proprietor of Rancho de Farrar that make the trip.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Comet 168P/Hergenrother

Yesterday I heard reports that Comet 168P/Hergenrother had made a sudden brightening, with some observers estimating the comet to be around 10th magnitude.  Predictions for this periodic comet have it around 15 magnitude, which would be out of reach of my telescopes from my suburban yard.  Last night I opened up my observatory to look for this comet with my TEC 140.  I utilized the Minor Planet Centers Ephemeris Service to generate coordinates for the comet and sent my mount off into northern Pegasus to see  what this icy interloper was up to.

The comet was a nice visual treat after so many months without making any cometary observations.  It was obvious in the 140mm telescope, with a condensed bright nucleus and a short stubby tail.  I am notably poor at making estimates of magnitude but I would optimistically report that it was a little brighter than 10th magnitude.  Naturally, I wanted to try and take a picture with my Canon T2i DSLR, so below is a 25 second exposure at ISO 1600, taken at 0421 UT on October 6th.  Interestingly, this image is far less impressive to me than the visual observation of the comet.  I am headed to Portal, AZ next weekend and if the weather cooperates I will make some sketches of the comet.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Final September Sun

I had forgotten that on my way home from work on Thursday, I noticed a halo around the Sun that persisted long enough for me to arrive at home and grab my camera.  It was quite difficult for me to photograph, given my rank amateur status, but nonetheless at least the image gives you a hint of how neat it was in reality.

Below is an image of the Sun in white light taken at 1626 UT this morning through my TEC 140 and Lunt Herschel Prism.  I am still learning the ropes with Adobe Photoshop and I really need to identify a process that works and stick with it.  Overall, the image is not bad, however, I know that if I had a little more patience in both acquiring and processing the image I would end up with better results.  I guess that is why as much fun as I have dabbling in astrophotography, I'll always be a visual observer at heart.  (Do you hear that Mr. Wiles?)  As always, click to enlarge to full size