Sunday, March 11, 2012

Aligning of the Planets ... and Nature

Have you noticed the two bright objects in the Western sky after sunset ? They are Venus (brightest) and Jupiter, who are heading for a 'conjunction' (close passage) in the next few days. Venus is moving West-to-East and Jupiter is moving East-to-West.   This 'conjunction' will not happen again for many years, so take a few minutes to go outside and enjoy this rare event.

Taking pictures of Deep Space Objects can be challenging, fun and rewarding, especially when hours of imaging produces a frame-worthy photo.  However, taking photographs of stars, or planets (in this case) can produce a 'boring' picture, filled with black sky and a few points of light, unless you tap into your inner-creativity to make them more exciting. 

I set out this evening (03/10/2012) to take a few pictures of the Venus-Jupiter conjunction in a natural setting.  What I got was an even more rare event than I was expecting.  While photographing the planetary alignment, other forces of nature also lined up to make for an interesting photo.  As Veuns and Jupiter emerged from dusk's fading light, I was treated to a colorful sunset that reflected off the water and the silhouette of curious Swan that slowly swam toward me. 

Until next time ...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Orion Nebula

Here is an image I took of the OrionNebula (Messier Object: M42) Friday,November 12th.  This is a raw image. I have many more to stack as time permits and will post the processed picture at a later date.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

My wife and I went to Pigeon Forge, TN in mid-September 2010.  We stayed in a cabin in the hills about 5 miles out of town.  The air was clear, the daily walks were invigorating and just as important to an amateur astronomer, the skies were moderately dark.

I battled a waxing half-Moon, but in clear, unpolluted skies, the sky glow was bearable. 

Taking astro photos in Pigeon Forge gave me an opportunity to image several deep space Milky Way objects that I cannot see at home because of light pollution. Without further ado, here are some of the pictures that I took.

Lagoon Nebula (Messier Object - M8)

Eagle Nebula (Messier Object - M16)

Swan Nebula (Messier Object - M17)

Trifid Nebula (Messier Object - M20)

Andromeda Galaxy (Messier Object - M31)


The Pleiades (The Seven Sisters Star Cluster) (Messier Object - M45)

North America Nebula (NGC-7000)

Harvest Moon (September 21st, 2010 )

That's all for now.  I hope to capture images of other deep space objects on a clear weekend night very soon.  Check back often for updates.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I Know Where Freddy Kruger Lives

Saturday, August 29th, 2009.  I spent the afternoon and early evening with family celebrating my youngest daughter Mary's 29th birthday.  The other highlight of my day (night in this case) involved going to Crockett Park with other astronomy enthusiasts (nut-cases according to my wife) and viewing the heavens with our telescopes. 

I had all my astro gear in the SUV and was ready to go when I found out via email that Crockett was closed to astronomy that weekend and so was our alternate location, Great Meadows because of a polo match.  I found out that everyone was going to a place in Loudon County, VA called: "Camp High Road" (CHR).  I looked it up on Google maps and decided to give it a try.

I stayed at Mary's party too long and arrived at CHR after dark.  BIG MISTAKE!  I knew I was in trouble when I turned off of State Rt. 15, went through the samll town of Aldie, which was complete with a redneck sherriff manning a speed trap (I was doing the speed limit).  The town looked like a someone forgot to tell them the Civil War was over, and that they lost. 

Things went downhill quickly when I turned right onto the 'Snickersville Turnpike' (real name) and drove on some winding, barely paved road for 8 miles, climbing uphill the entire time.  I thought: "This would be a great place to film "Blair Witch III". 
At last, I reached the road leading to the CHR and the driving ordeal was over.  WRONG!  It was only beginning.  I ran out of asphalt after 20 feet and was dumped on a bumpy dirt road, complete with grooves and swirling dust. 

Directions from the astronomy club said to turn 'Left' just before the big white CHR sign.  Given the choice I rather would have gone to the camp.  It looked safe.  The left onto a narrow dirt road looked scary.  It was then that I realized:  "This is where they filmed Wrong Turn".  Only question was: Where were the uni-toothed Hillbilly cannibals hiding ?".

I started sweating when I saw ten or so abandoned cars, some on blocks littering the roadside.  As I peered through the mist and dust (real conditions) I saw a dimly lit building in the distance filled with stripped car parts (no lie).  Now I was worried, because I had not seen another living soul since turning off the Snickerdoodle, (or whatever it's called), road.  Then my mind recalled all the scary stories I heard and told as a kid.  As the road narrowed to where trees were brushing against the car on both sides, I replayed all the horror movies I had ever seen like: Texas Chainsaw Massacre, People Under the Stairs, Psycho, Halloween and The Flintstones Movie (the sight Rosie O'Donnell scares the hell out of me)

Just as I was about to carve my own road out of there, I emerged from the woods to find twenty or so cars set up in a field.  One guy with a red flashlight approached, and said welcome to Camp High Road.  I let out a BIG SIGH OF RELIEF, then I asked: "How the hell did you ever find this place ?"  He did not answer.  Personally, I don't think he has left since wandering up this way a few years back.  :)

I set up my telescope in a field near the road and commenced astro imaging.  I only got to take pictures for an hour before the Moon came up and washed the sky out, but the views prior to that time were great.  Because seeing conditions weren't that great, I decided to take some quick, unguided photos of Milky Way Galaxy deep space objects that I cannot see from the house.  The pictures are unmodified and are grainy, but gave me an idea what to take long exposure photos of during my next excursion.

M8 (Lagoon Nebula)

M16 Eagle Nebula)

M17 (Omega, Swan, Horseshoe Nebula)

M22 (Globular Cluster)

M24 (Milky Way Galaxy Center)

M27 (Dumbell Nebula)

Now that I am more confident that Freddy Kruger, the Hillbillies or Rosie O'Donnell aren't going to snuff me out, I plan to return to Camp High Road very soon to take better pictures of the objects I am showing here and some others I missed because of Moonrise.

Hoping Hurricane Earl Goes out to Sea



Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Chasing Omega Centauri

Friday, April 30th (6PM). I came home from work and tried to talk Char into accompanying me up to Big Meadow, a campground located along Skyline Drive while I did some astrophotography in a relatively dark-sky site. She looked at me like I was crazy and told me to have fun and write when I find work. :o)

Skyline Drive follows the Appalacian Mtns. in Virginia and is about 40 minutes from our house. Big Meadow is 30 minutes down the Skyline.

I loaded up the SUV with all my telescope and camera gear and proceeded to Big Meadow. An hour and fifteen minutes later I arrived just as twilight gave way to dark. I set-up my scope and other accessories while a herd of deer watched curiously from a distance.

The reason I was so intent on observing and photographing from the Skyline is because The Omega Centauri Star Cluster (NGC 5139) is visible in the northern hemisphere for two weeks this time of year. NGC 5139 was not due up until midnight so I photographed galaxies M51, M101 the Moon and star cluster M13 to pass the time.

I could not believe how dark it was up here compared to light polluted Northern Virginia. I thought: "What a great idea to come up here and experience nature at its finest".  Just then, a coyote howled in the distance and I could hear (but not see) a couple of animals hauling tail away from the coyote.

Then I though: "What a bad idea coming up here without a weapon, other than my aluminum softball bat". Fortunately, the coyote respected my part of the meadow, and I respected his.

Anyhow, I experienced a gloruous moonrise at 11PM and spent time filming the Moon, Saturn and Mars before turning my attention to Omega Centauri.

Midnight came and I trained my telescope to the southwest, only to realize that Omega Centauri was so low on the horizon it was obscured by trees. Too, the waxing Moon cast bright light on the horizon further blotting out the brightest deep sky object in the heavens next to the Andromeda Galaxy (M31).

I decided to take a couple of photos anyhow. Here is one of those photos. Sorry about the quality, but it is the best a northern hemisphere person can do with a southern hemisphere object.

In order to give you a better appreciation for the magnificance of this impressive star cluster, here is some information on Omega Centauri from the website:

Located in the constellation Centaurus, Omega Centauri is the biggest of all globular clusters in our Milky Way galaxy. With its almost 5 million solar masses, it is about 10 times as massive as other big globulars, and has about the same mass as some smallest whole galaxies. It is also the most luminous Milky Way globular, and the brightest globular cluster in the sky. In the Local Group of galaxies, it is outshined only by the brightest globular cluster 'G1' in the Andromeda Galaxy M31.

Here are a couple of professional photos of Omega Centauri taken from southern hemisphere sites in Chile and Argentina.

Next year I hope to travel south and up in elevation when Omega Centauri makes its brief two week appearance in April-May 2011.  Maybe, just maybe I can photograph it without interference from the full moon or the light dome from a nearby city. 

Hoping for Clear, Dark Skies


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Constellation Orion Revisited

We are having a 'real' winter this year in Northern VA, so there have been no opportunities to do any astrophotography. A double-shot snowstorm over the past week has kept me in the house, but has also given me a chance to process some astro photos I took in December 2009.

The pictures were taken with a (Hutech modified) Canon 50D DSLR, Orion 80mm ED APO telescope, Orion Atlas GoTo mount. The Atlas mount was guided by Skywatch 80mm refractor and Orion Starshoot Autoguider using PHD guiding software.

I am experimenting with image stacking software (REGISTAX 5) to enhance astro pictures I photograph. Here are two pictures I have produced using Registax.

M42 - The Orion Nebula. I shoot this nebula a lot because of its beauty and brightness. Above and left of M42 is M43, a much fainter nebula nebula with a light blue glow surrounding a grouping of stars. I hope to get better pictures of M43 before Orion slips into the western sky.

[Total exposure time: 12 minutes, (6 x 120 sec.) with the camera set at ISO-640.]

Two objects are pictured in this image:

(1) NGC-2024 (the Flame Nebula) is located just left of the brightest star (Alnitak).

(2) IC434 (the Horse Head Nebula) is the dark cloud (that some say looks like a horse head) located along the edge of the reddish gas cloud that trails downward and to the right of Alnitak.

[Total exposure time: 16 minutes (6 x 16o sec.) with camera set to ISO-640.]

Hope to post more images soon.

Clear Skies!



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 ?