Saturday, November 14, 2009

Time Warps ... and ... Space Pictures

First the Time Warp ...

This morning I was watching TV while eating breakfast. When the Today Show (which I sometimes suffer through on weekends) ended the host said something about your 9AM news begins now.

My eye caught the time on my VCR/DVD player which said: 9:27 AM. Meanwhile, the time on the TV said 9:00AM. I immediately became confused. I asked Char to check the time on the microwave oven. It too said: 9:27 AM. Confusion and illogic ruled! How could it be 9:00 when all my clocks said 9:27 ? Yikes! Did we have a time warp and I missed it ?

Then logic and reason caught up with my increasingly dumb-founded brain. While the Today Show was on, I paused 'Live TV' (we have TIVO) to make breakfast so I could see some scenes they were going to show from the upcoming movie: '2012'.

After cooking some sausage and eggs I un-paused 'Live TV' and watched the last 30 minutes of the Today Show. Apparently, I had the TV paused 27 minutes while cooking breakfast and forgot. Char and I had a good laugh over that one. Makes me wonder what kind of trouble Char and I will get ourselves into when we are Geezers.

Now the Space Pictures ...

I finally had an opportunity to do some deep space imaging last Sunday evening after weeks and months of clouds, humidity, rain and exhaustion when conditions were good but I was too tired to care.

Here are a few 'raw' images of some deep space objects I photographed that night. By raw image, I mean that I have not retouched these images with software. They are shown as I captured them. Using special astronomy software I can stack several of these images together and come up with a more defined picture, but that is time consuming and I don't have time to do that right now.

Messier Object 31 (M31) - The Andromeda Galaxy is our closest neighbor in the galactic neighborhood. Some astronomers think Andromeda and our galaxy, The Milky Way will collide in about 8 billion years. Uhhhhhhhmmmmm, I for one am not concerned about what happens 8 eons from now.

Messier Object 42 (M42) - The Orion Nebula is a very bright winter object that can be seen naked-eye in very dark skies and easily seen with binoculars. You will see many more photos of M42 as winter progresses and it gets higher in the sky. The picture looks so washed out, because M42 is low in the sky right now and is affected by light pollution.

Messier Object 45 (M45) - The Pleiades, or Seven Sisters as some call it is an open cluster that contains seven blue stars and dozens of other bright stars. It is easily seen in the ENE sky just after dark in the Fall and is straight overhead in the winter. The haze around the seven blue stars is left over dust from when the stars were born.

I also photographed M1, The Crab Nebula and M33, The Triangulum Galaxy, but these pictures were too faint to appreciate. Guess who I will be imaging next ?

That is it for now. Hope you liked the pictures.

Star Pilot, AKA Star Geezer

P.S. - I am planning a post sometime soon to dispel the hype that the movie 2012 is causing, so stay tuned. In short, the world will NOT end on 12/21/2012". Besides, if it did, what could we do about it anyhow ?


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

That's One Small Step For Man ...

When important events occur in life we sometimes relate "Hearing the News" to where we were when the event happened. I have always been an avid space enthusiast, so when Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon I can tell you exactly where I was.

On July 20th, 1969, this 11 year old was parked in front of our family's color TV taking in every word as news anchor Walter Cronkite described the scene.

When the announcement was made that: "The Eagle Has Landed" I was excited and thankful that the lunar module landed intact.

When Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface and uttered the historical quote: "Tha's One Small Step For Man ... One Giant Leap For Mankind", my eyes filled with tears and huge lump grew in my throat.

When both astronauts planted the American flag in the ground on another world and saulted it, I could not have been more proud of my country (AND STILL AM).

Before my eyes, I was watching two heroes discover a new frontier, one that was exterrestrial.

These astronauts accomplished this impossible feat with less computing power that we have in our $10 Walmart watch, without the Internet and cellphones, without flush toilets with no way to come home if something went wrong and for no more money than the military pays.

Ever since I can remember I wanted to be an astronaut. I even applied for the Shuttle program in 1981, but was turned down because they were only accepting jet pilots at the time.

I never did realize that dream, but you never know what may happen in the future. NASA and other space agencies are planning to put permanent bases on the Moon in the next decade to prepare for the jump to Mars.

I will pass on going to Mars, because the trip may take 2-3 years to complete, and that is way too long for this Earth boy to be away from his home planet. I wonder who will be the household name that first sets foot on the 'Red Planet"

Congratulations to the Apollo 11 crew, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong for being brave enough to face possible death endure cramped quarters and survive arduous training to be the first humans to set foot on a world that is not ours.

As a backyard astronomer, I look upon the Moon, planets and the heavens from the confines of Earth, but you looked upon the Earth and the heavens from the surface of an alien world.

I salute you!


P.S. - Here are a couple of links to follow:

First is a NASA link that shows the Apollo landing sites 40 years later.

Second is an excellent pictoral story of Apollo 11 from the Boston Globe (not bad for a bunch of libs...)


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Weather: 1, Starpilot: 0

Until I get the opportunity to do some actual astrophotography, here are a couple of ramblings to entertain you. Click on each picture for a larger image.

Rambling 1: Clouds!

Has anyone else wondered how long it will be until the clouds part and allow the sun to shine during the day and stars to twinkle at night ? Until today (when the sun finally reappeared) I was wondering if we were becoming the new Seattle. The following picture gives an indication of how the weather has been for the past several months.

This is where my telescope has been hanging out for more weeks than I can remember.

There is a light at the end of the rainbow, because it is supposed to be clear the next few days. I hope I can enjoy some star gazing before the clouds roll back in.

Rambling 2: Don't Keep Secrets, Spouses Will Find Out

Ok, Starpilot put a 'want' before logic and bought an expensive new astrophotography camera, without clearing it through my lovely young bride. Oooops! That made for a few interesting evenings around the ole' backyard observatory. I ended up in ... yup you guessed it: "The Dog House" It is a nice camera though.

To make up for my blunder, Starpilot has been living in 'Honey-Do' purgatory. My lovely young bride and I are revamping the backyard by putting several flower beds, hanging bird and critter (nuisance) feeders, and lining the deck with several 'pretty' flowers. Following are pictures of the work I have been doing to pay for my lack of wise judgement. :)

The Chain Gang!

No Daisy Dukes here, just daisies!

They're everywhere, and their plotting a takeover.

If you can't beat them, join them. I selected this hanging dingle-ball looking thingie.

If I can't take pictures of stars, I will resort to all things terrestrial.

The Secret Garden.

We ran out of time before running out of weeds, oops, I mean flowers. I say the following with enthusiasm and a big smile on my face: "Oh joy, my lovely young bride and I get to plant the rest of these flowers over Memorial weekend".

Wonder if my daughter Jacki will share her secret for 'OFFING' plants before I get overrun with them.

What the Hell is this you may ask ? It is a pine cone covered in peanut butter and rolled in bird seed. It is also symbolic of my last shred of manhood being ripped away, as I got the task of hanging these treats for the squirrels (nuisances).

Before you know it, my lovely young bride will have me building bird houses ...

... and putting squirrel feeders all over the deck.

Until the skies clear ...

Monday, May 4, 2009

Clusters, Galaxies and Nebula ... Oh My!

Been a while since I have been able to post, but life has not slowed down enough to allow me to edit, post and share astro images I have taken recently until now.

Good thing I took these pictures when I did, because it has been cloudy for three straight weeks and we are on our second straight week of rain. ICK! Makes one consider getting into radio astronomy, which can be detected through clouds rather than visual astronomy, which cannot.

With no further ado, here are some globular clusters, galaxies and nebula that I imaged while under the stars the night of 17-18 April. (Click on each picture for a larger view)

M5 - Globular Cluster

M5 was discovered in 1702 and initially described as a nebulous star. The cluster lies 24,500 light years from Earth and is believed to contain between 100,000 and 500,000 stars. M5 is associated with our Milky Way Galaxy, but has maintained its own gravitational characteristics keeping it from being absorbed by the galaxy.

M13 - Great Hercules Cluster

M13 was discovered in 1714 by Edmund Halley (the namesake of Halley's comet) and added to Charles Messier's catalog in 1764. The cluster is 145 light years across and contains several hundred-thousand stars. M13 is 25,100 light years from Earth and was once chosen as the most likely place to harbor life outside our solar system. In 1974 a message was sent from the Aricebo antenna in Puerto Rico toward M13 in hopes to one day contact intelligent life. (However, if the message recipients in M13 try to contact Earthlings while the current administration is in Washington D.C., they will wonder if there is intelligent life here on Earth)

M57 - The Ring Nebula

M57 is a classic example of a planetary nebula which forms when a 'red giant' star depletes its fule and explodes. M57 lies 2,500 light years from Earth in the constellation Lyra. It is one of the brightest and most compact palnetary nebula in existance.

M92 - Globular Cluster

M92 is located in the constellation Hercules and is second in brightness to M13, also in Hercules. The cluster contains some 330,000 stars and is 109 light years across and is located approximately 26,700 light years from Earth.

M97 - Owl Nebula

The Owl Nebula is one of the faintest Messier objects in the sky, but easily seen in dark sky conditions. M97 is a planetary nebula in the constellation Ursa Major. The "Owl Nebula" name was given, because viewers can see what appears to be owl eyes when looking at the object through a telescope. M97 is located along the bottom of the dipper in the "Big Dipper" portion of Ursa Major.

M101 - Pinwheel Galaxy

Like many other northern hemisphere galaxies, the Pinwheel Galaxy is located in the constellation Ursa Major. It is located some 27 million light years away from Earth. M101 is believed to contain some 100 million solar masses (stars) and is 170,000 light years in diameter (nearly twice the size of the Milky Way galaxy).

M104 - Sombrero Galaxy

This spiral galaxy, which contains a bright central bulge and a large duct cloud at the galaxy edge resembles a Mexican sombrero. M104 lies in the constellation Virgo and is part of a group of nearby galaxies called the "Virgo Cluster", which the Milky Way galaxy belongs to. At the center if the Sombrero Galaxy is a super-massive Black Hole, a space object so dense that ligh itself cannot escape it.

That's all for now. I hope to get back out in a week or so and image some of the other interesting space objects. That provided the rain pushes out.

Doing an anti - Rain Dance

Star Pilot


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

M3 Globular Cluster

At long last, I was able to take my telescope and camera out for an evening when there was no wind, little haze and a new Moon.

The picture I am posting tonight is of Messier Object M3, one of the brightest globular clusters in the sky.

Under dark skies M3 is naked eye visible, and under city lights the cluster can be seen with binoculars, if you know where to look.

M3 rises in the eastern sky after sunset and is visible shortly thereafter. This very bright globular cluster is located in the constellation Canes Venatici. It is magnitude 6.3 (bright for a cluster) and is a mere 11 light years across.

M3 has been said to contain over 240,000 stars, 25,000 of which are variable stars (the most of any deep space object).

The object is located 33,900 light years from our Solar System, a distance farther than the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, but it outshines the glactic center, at least from our perspective.

Stay tuned for more images from my most recent night under the stars.

Clear Skies at Last!



Thursday, March 26, 2009

Something New

At long last I had a chance to take some astro photos. I have a loooooong way to go to master my new telescope, mount and camera, but these two images, though raw and untouched are better than anything I have done previously.

M42 - The Great Orion Nebula (My hopes of imaging several Orion deep space objects have been dashed from consistently cloudy skies. Orion is moving out of sight quickly, so I may have to postpone that task until Fall).

M81 (Bodes Galaxy) & M82 9Cigar Galaxy) upper-right & lower-left respectively, are two of many deep space treasures in the constellation Ursa Major (The Big Dipper). In the weeks to come I hope to image many of these objects.

Come back soon. If the weather cooperates, i will have many more pictures to share.

Star Pilot (soon to become Sky Voyager, maybe)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Thirty-Something Collection

On December 29th I had a chance to give my new telescope mount a spin. I decided to take images of the "thirty-something" Messier objects (M31 - M39, less M30 which is not visible).

Hope you enjoy the pictures as much as I had viewing and imaging them.

M31, The Andromeda Galaxy is the brightest galaxy visible from Earth and is an easy naked-eye and binocular target for star gazers. M31 has two close neighbors, M32 and M110, both of which are much smaller and will eventually be absorbed by M31. This Grand Galaxy lies 2,900 light years (ly) from Earth and is due to collide with our galaxy, The Milky Way in about 1-Billion years. M31 was referred to as the "little cloud" to famous Persian astronomer Al-Sufi who depicted the object in his Book of Fixed Stars in 905AD.

M32 (at center, M31 is lower-right) is a companion galaxy of M31 and will eventually be absorbed by its huge neighbor.

M33 the Triangulum Galaxy (also the Pinwheel) is a spiral galaxy that is a companion of its much larger neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy. M33 is 3,000 ly from Earth and is moving toward our solar system at a rate of 240 km/s. Don't worry though, at that rate it will take a billion years or so to get here.

M34 is an open star cluster in the constellation Perseus. It consists of about 100 stars and lies about 1,400 ly away from Earth. The object is naked-eye visible under dark sky conditions and can be seen any evening in the Fall, Winter and early Spring.

M35 is an impressive open star cluster that lies in the constellation Gemini. The cluster consists of several hundred stars, many of which are brighter than magnitude 13. M35 covers an area larger than the Moon, is 24 lyacross and is about 2,800 ly from Earth.

M36 is one of three bright open clusters in the constellation Auriga. M37 and M38 are the other clusters. From our perspective M36 measures 14 ly across and is 4,100 ly from Earth.

M37 is the brightest of the three Auriga open clusters. It contains over 500 stars, 150 of which are brighter than magnitude 12. M37 is 4,400 ly from Earth and spans 24 ly across.

M38 is the last of three open clusters in Auriga. Lying very close (2.5 degrees north) of M36, this is 4,200 ly from Earth and 25 ly across. It contains a very large yellow star that would dwarf our meager Sun many-fold. Some astronomers have seen a 'cross' pattern in some of the brightest stars while others have seen the math symbol 'Pi'. I will leave you to decide what pattern, if any you see in M38.

M39 is an open cluster in the constellation Cygnus. The cluster is 800 ly away and a about 7 ly in diameter. M39 contains 30 proven member stars, though some star catalogs put the number closer to 50.

My next outing (when the rain stops & clouds part) will include a journey through the constellation Orion.

There are several sky treasures to discover in that group of stars.

I just need to wait for the weather to cooperate.

Clear Skies


Sunday, January 4, 2009

M42 - The Great Orion Nebula

Pictured is: The Great Orion Nebula.

This deep space object is the brightest and most recognizable Nebula visible from Earth.

Here are a few facts about The Great Orion Nebula, also known as Messier 42 (M42):

* The nebula is located in the constellation Orion, specifically the Belt of Orion.

* It is located 1,270 light years from Earth and measures 24 light years across.

* The nebula is the nearest active star-forming region to our solar system.

* Orion is one of the most easily recognized constellations in the winter night sky.

* The Great Orion nebula is visible to the naked eye.

M42 is one of my favorite astrophotography targets, because even an amateur like me can produce a robust picture.

The picture is RAW and was not manupulated in software except to enhance brightness. Equipment used to produce the image included:

Orion (Celestron) 9.25" Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope
Celestron f/6.3 Focal Reducer/Corrector
Orion Atlas GoTo Mount (tracking via SkyScan)
Nikon D80 DSLR (Unmodified)
Sensitivity: ISO-500
Exposure: 85 Seconds

Check back in a couple of days for my next post which will include a whole series of Messier objects that I photographed recently.

Clear Skies!