Astronomy Round-Up

A collection of snippets from the world of Astronomy, I’ve found whilst holed up inside the house. The weather here in the UK has been a mixture of heavy snow and ice since the Christmas break and there has been no opportunities for observing the night sky. If it has been clear, I didn’t fancy the prospect of transporting my telescope kit outside with four inches of lying snow on the ground.

However, there is the prospect of the weather improving this weekend so fingers crossed.

Here are a few links to some intresting stuff I’ve across whilst browsing Twitter:

Near-Earth Asteroid Passes Earth at One-Third Distance of Moon on January 13th:
www.astronomynow.com/news/n1001/14NEA (Found via @SpaceFlightNow)

Campaign to Protect Rural England Dark Skies Survey:
http://bit.ly/6YbFpn
(Found via @astronomy2009uk)
I’ve taken part in this survey and if you have any sort of interest in looking up at the night sky, then please submit your experiences of light polution in the UK. It can all help to make a difference!

2010 Launch Schedule Forecast:
http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/launches/launch_schedule.html (Found via @SETIInstitute)

Lets hope it is more accurate than the weather forecasts we have had in the past few days!

Posted by Wordmobi

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Christmas for the Beginner Amateur Astronomer

Well, Christmas has been and gone and what has Santa brought good little astronomers? Whatever you’ve wished for, I hope you’ve got what you wanted and your enthusiasm continues to rise for astronomy.

I’ve been very lucky and after a little searching around the internet and visits to bookshops, I’ve compiled my list of ‘Got It’ (this Christmas) / ‘To Get’ of material helping me towards getting to grips with digital astrophotography and astronomy in general.

Here I will give a short overview of the books I’ve been lucky enough to receive and some bits to get.

‘Got It’
1. Introduction to Digital Astrophotography (Book, Willmann-Bell Inc.) Link here
I’ve been looking for a book that emcompasses general digital photography techniques allied with practical application in astronomy. I personally have a tendancy to look for a book that is like a ‘magic bullet’ that not only covers the subject material I want, but also in a style that immediately appeals to me. For several months I have been trying to track down something that matched my requirements, with no luck. At one point I even searched ‘play.com’s’ entire list of astronomy books and came up with nothing! A search via Google bought up the Willmann-Bell website and I browsed their list of books, including this one. What attracted me to the book was the available index list in a PDF, which included basic photography techniques and practical astrophotography.

The book was available to order from the US online and after calculating the shipping to the UK, it worked out at about $72. The book arrived around 10 days later, very well packed and my wife promptly hid the box, keeping it for Christmas!

So, far I’ve been very pleased and impressed with the book, there is so much information contained in the book it will keep me going for months if not years. The writers style, though the book is packed full of information, presents in a very easy, clear manner and this has helped me to dive straight into the book and start to apply some of the techniques immediately.

2. DK Digital Photographers Handbook.
A more general photography book, picked up cheaply from an exhibition, I picked this up for its more general photography information and advice. First impressions are good, I’ll add more information on the book shortly.

3. Practical Astronomy (Book, Philips)
The Philips series of Astronomy books are an excellent reference for beginner and the more advanced amateur astronomer. I’ve already got the ‘Stargazing with a Telescope’ and the ‘Stargazer’ pack and found them very useful.
The Philips astronomy books can be found at: link here . Lots of pointers for beginners and the basics are well covered.

‘To Get’
1. Canon CA-PS700 Mains Adapter.
For those long exposure shots of the night sky…

2. Some form of afocal digital camera adapter for my Skywatcher Explorer 130PM telescope.

3. A new set of rechargable batteries as my six-year old spare set of 1500mAH NiMH’s have fianally given up.

Thats it for the moment, I’ll report on how the reference material helps out…

Posted by Wordmobi

Blue Sky Moon

Getting back from a day out early one evening gave me the chance to image the moon that was high in the sky, whilst there was still some colour blue/light left.

Viewing the moon can gve some interesting results in daylight (from what I’ve read!) so I dragged the Skywatcher 130 down to the front of the house and brought the digital camera as well.

As I’d spent some time prviously setting up the polar alignment, adjusting the RA/Dec axis proved extremely easy, in using only one adjustment to keep the moon in view. I’d also sorted out the red dot finder alignment, so I got an immediate view through the 20mm lens.

I took several shots with my camera, again employing the Heath-Robinson method of simply shoving the camera lens at the eye piece and firing off shots, with various adjustments to the exposure control. This is known as the ‘afocal’ method. The best of the images is below, unforunately the ‘seeing’ wasn’t brilliant so I resolved to get a decent view from the lens I hadn’t really tried yet: the 2mm.

This was the first time that the view really came into its own and I was able to image large areas of the surface as it made its transit across the sky. The view through the 2mm lens can be seen at the bottom of this post. It was difficult to get the camera to capture an image, much adjustment using the afocal method was made and after this shot the batteries gave out on the camera and that was the end of the image capture session.

Coming up next: looking at methods to fix the camera to the eyepiece and Christmas shopping for the Astronomy amateur…

Bluemoon.jpg

moonquarter.jpg

Posted by Wordmobi

Filtering out the Brightness

As mentioned in my last post, I tried out the lens filters during Saturdays observations that were supplied as part of the accessories kit. There are four; a moon filter, a neutral density filter, an amber filter and a blue coloured filter. I guess these were chosen for the accessories kit because they are probably the most common types you are likely to use.

Lenses.jpg

Because there was no sign of the moon, I didn’t bother with trying out the moon filter. Targeting Jupiter, I fitted the neutral density filter to the bottom of the 5mm lens, using the screw-type attachment. The lens then fitted into the telescope eye-piece as usual as the filter is flush with the lens.

This actually produced reasonable results, where the dark bands of Jupiters atmosphere could be seen with a little more clarity. The other coloured filters were of less use though. The blue filter only seemed to make the edge of Jupiters disc appear with a blue tinge, but not much for the surface features. The amber filter really did nothing at all, simply turning Jupiter and its moons into several traffic-light blobs. I’m sure the blue and amber filters will be useful, I just haven’t found the correct usage yet.

Now that the moon is starting to climb higher in the sky earlier in an evening now, the next main target to try with the ‘scope is the moon.

Posted by Wordmobi

Bright Lights, Big City

Saturday was a clear night to try out the new lenses that were delivered earlier this week from OVL. Probably one of the best nights so far for getting my telescope out, I set it up in the back garden and as Cassiopeia was high in the sky, decided to hunt for my first object; the Andromeda galaxy, M31.

Having studied my Philips ‘Guide to the Northern Skies’, I had arough idea of the patch of sky where it could be found. Deciding to use the smallest magnification lens in my new kit (the 20mm) to help me have a good chance of being able to pan around the sky and chance upon the object.

Surprisingly enought, it didn’t take me that long to happen upon a faint, fuzzy grey blob. Changing down to the 15mm lens and re-centering the ‘scope, then again to the 5mm lens, the problems of light pollution and living near a big city became apparent. The most resolution I could make out was simply a larger version of the fuzzy blob I spied earlier. The 2mm lens was even worse and I changed back to the 5mm. Satisfied this was the best view I was going to get, I turned the scope around to target Jupiter, which was just coming into view from behind the trees.

This is where is started to get a few problems. I noticed that even though I had a clear aim and lined up the red dot scope direct on Jupiter, the view through through the lens was of the trees a short distance away. Having spent about 15 minutes moving the scope, fiddling with the red dot finder and getting a little exasperated not getting Jupiter in view, I decided that I must have moved one of the adjustment dials on the red dot finder so I simply started to move the RA/Dec dials until I came across Jupiter by chance. Sure enough it came into view and I started to change the lenses so I could get a better view of Jupiter and the Galilean moons.

Changing to the 2mm lens, I came across something that I’d read about in the Astronomy books; ‘poor seeing’, ie. poor focusing due to atmospheric effects. No matter how much I tried to focus, the image of Jupiter continued to ‘wobble’ and be indistinct.

This is caused by heat/turbulence in the atmosphere and makes focussing on the object downright impossible. There isn’t a lot you can do about it so I changed back to a 5mm lens to get back a sharper view.

I did get to try out the filters before I packed up, but I’ll save my findings for my next post.

Posted by Wordmobi

Bits and Pieces

Lots of short mentions in this post, so I’ll jump right in.

My subscriber copy of ‘Sky at Night’ magazine has arrived and I’ve read it death already. Useful stuff:- Jupiter observing tips, astro photographer of the year results, observing forms for the planets to print. Will hit the newstand on Thursday the 22nd of September.

I’ve ordered the special offer kit from Optical Vision Ltd, where if you buy a Skywatcher telescope you can order (in a carry case) a complete starter kit of lenses, red light torch and filters. It has to be ordered within four months of purchase of the telescope, so I’m hoping for delivery very soon!

In a previous post I waffled about the ultimate mobile browser. In the past week or so I’ve upgraded two on my E71; Skyfire and Opera Mini.

Skyfire has reached version 1.1 and there is a noticeable improvement in speed. A difference I’ve found with it is that on a ‘live’ website that updates in realtime, Skyfire handels it fine. This was useful when tracking the ISS (see my latest post below).

Opera 5 Mini Beta – only just installed it, first impressions very good, very fast rendering of webpages except for one major annoyance. Because its written in Java, there seems to be a major omission in that you cant copy and paste from the system clipboard. Therefore getting web addresses from Gravity (the S60 Twitter client I use) is a no-no… Along with anything else stored on the clipboard. Hopefully there is a workaround hidden somewhere, or it will be added in a full release.

Posted by Wordmobi

And then two came along at the same time

After waiting for weeks (for one reason and another, not just the weather), it was finally a clear night last night. Intending to get the telescope out later that evening, I started browsing my twitter updates and noticed one that said ‘ISS viewable from the UK from 9:45pm, approaching from the west, getting dimmer as it passes overhead’. I looked at the time – 9:45pm! Dashing outside, I started scanning the skies; true enough, it didn’t take long for a bright pin-point of light, surprisingly bright, approach from the west. I called my wife to see it and we watched as it passed almost directly overhead, getting dimmer and dimmer until it was lost amongst the night sky, directly overhead. ‘Wow’ was both our response and as there was nothing else to see, we both went back inside.

So I started looking for websites that would give me real-time updates of the ISS and its current position. The best one seems to be:-

http://www.n2yo.com/?s=25544|35817

This link will give the current position of the ISS and the Japenese H-2 transfer vehicle, which are currently docked (or near as). A useful feature of the site is that it will give a 5 day prediction of where it will be, useful for planning your next observation.

Whilst I was scanning the sky, I noticed another bright star in the south-west. Seeing a good opportunity for a quick observation, I decided to get the telescope out and set it up in the back garden. I didn’t bother with getting it aligned or level, simply to get the aim and ‘scope pointed at the object and to view it as quickly as possible. Using the red dot spotting sight, the ‘scope was lined up and I fitted the 25mm lens. Once it was focused and the object was in sight, I was puzzled by three faint dots spaced around the main object. Heart sinking, thinking this was a problem with the lens, I quickly realised this wasn’t the case when I focused the main object a little more and noticed two horizontal bands – I’d found Jupiter! The three dots along the horizontal axis were some of the Galilean moons. I’d read earlier in the week that one would be out of view, either in rfont or behind of Jupiter itself.

For the next 20 minutes I swapped the 25mm lens for the 10mm and mixed the Barlow lens, looking to get the best possible view. I found that using the 10mm lens on its own offered the best level of sharpness and contrast when looking at the dark atmospheric bands on Jupiter. The Barlow lens appeared to give a slight colour distortion around the edges of Jupiter. I couldn’t also believe the speed that the object moved across the sky; I was changing the lens and within a few seconds, the view had changed and I had to re-align the ‘scope, using the red dot viewer or the 25mm lens, to centre the object.

Satisfied with my discovery, I packed the kit away for the night.

However this morning, still intriged by what moons I had seen, I searched the web for some answers. I found them at:-

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/objects/planets/3307071.html#

…where you can enter any time/date to get the positions of Jupiters GRS (great red spot) and main moons.

Jupiters moons at 11:55pm 12/09/09

Jupiters moons at 11:55pm 12/09/09

So I’d spotted (L to R) Callisto, Ganymede and Europa. Io was transiting Jupiter at the time. Don’t forget this view is inverted, as I’m using a reflector telescope.

If I can get hold of some more lenses with a higher magnification (I have some in mind), this should enable me to achieve even better views of Jupiter and its moons. I feel the credit card getting itchy…