Sunday, March 10, 2013

Centaurus A Imaged from Down Under

Today as Muir Evenden and I met via "Google+ Hangout"  discussing a strategy for acquiring data for observing asteroid P106IGI via iTelescope.net located at New Mexico Skies, we noticed that there were a couple of available telescopes for use at Siding Springs Observatory (SSO), iTelescope.net's Australian location. We figured this would be a good opportunity to test run one of the telescopes "Down Under". Unfortunately, there were some scattered clouds that hindered our first image attempt at the spiral galaxy, M83. After having some time waiting for the clouds to clear, we consulted with the Stellarium astronomy software and decided rather than M83, our first target should be a bright object such as NGC 5128, also known as Centaurus A or Caldwell 77.

Image of Centaurus A color image processed with Photoshop
Centaurus A color image processed with Photoshop
Centaurus A is a prominent galaxy in the constellation Centaurus. There is considerable debate in the literature regarding the galaxy's fundamental properties such as its Hubble type lenticular galaxy giant elliptical galaxy and distance (10-16 million light-years, NGC 5128 is one of the closest radio galaxies active galactic nucleus has been extensively studied by professional astronomers. The galaxy is also the fifth brightest in the sky, making it an ideal amateur astronomy target, although the galaxy is only visible from low northern latitudes and the southern hemisphere.

Image of Centaurus A (NGC 5128) processed with FITS Liberator
Centaurus A (NGC 5128) processed with FITS Liberator
The center of the galaxy contains a supermassive black hole weighing in at 55 million solar masses, which ejects a relativistic jet that is responsible for emissions in the radio wavelengths. By taking radio observations of the jet separated by a decade, astronomers have determined that the inner parts of the jet are moving at about one-half of the speed of light. X-rays are produced farther out as the jet collides with surrounding gasses resulting in the creation of highly energetic particles. The radio jets of Centaurus A are over a million light years long.

The remote robotic telescope specializing in astronomy education used for imaging Centaurus A was a Takahashi SKY90 3" (90mm) Apochromatic Refractor with a 500mm focal length and an f/ratio of 5.6 mounted on a Paramount PME. The CCD camera used for imaging was an SBIG ST2000XMC One Shot Color CCD.

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