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Bring the Universe to Your Classroom!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Comets ISON and Lovejoy Now Visible to Naked Eye

According to reports from Space.com and Sky and Telescope magazine, the much-anticipated Comet ISON is now visible to the naked eye according to reports from many observers. Comet ISON - the potential "comet of the century" - has suddenly brightened in an outburst of activity with just two weeks to go before it literally grazes the surface of the sun.  In recent months, Comet ISON has repeatedly befuddled forecasters trying to anticipate just how bright it will ultimately become. 

Comet ISON imaged by Julian Durnwalder on 11-10-2013 using itelescope.net's T21 in Mayhill, New Mexico
Comet ISON imaged by Julian Durnwalder on 11-10-2013
using itelescope.net's T21 in Mayhill, New Mexico

But earlier this week, the comet's brightening trend again seemed to sputter and stall, but more recent observations suggest a sudden and radical upsurge in brightness. Comet ISON has brightened suddenly in the last few days to 5th magnitude as of November 15th - a popsicle shaped comet with a round, sharp-edged, bright green head and a long, thin, dim tail. It's speeding sunward near the bright star Spica in Virgo and Mercury low in the east just before dawn. The comet passes less than 2° from Spica on the mornings of November 17th and 18th for the Americas, accelerating every day toward its November 28th perihelion and trial by fire.

According to veteran comet observer, John Bortle, Comet ISON was shining only at magnitude +8.5 on Monday (Nov. 11) morning - more than six times too dim to be visible to the unaided eye. But by Wednesday morning, the comet’s brightness had increased three-fold brightening to +7.3.

In just 72 hours, Comet ISON increased nearly 16 times in brightness. Carl Hergenrother, acting co-coordinator of the comet section of the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers, has confirmed Bortle's observations. "ISON has dramatically brightened over the past few days," Hergenrother told SPACE.com via email. "The latest observations put the comet around magnitude 5.7 to 6.1 which is a 2+ magnitude increase from this weekend. My own observations from this morning in 10x50 and 30x125 binoculars show a nice 'lollipop' comet with a very condensed blue-green head and a long narrow tail. The tail was over 1 degree in length even in the 10x50s. The comet may continue to brighten as the outburst is still in its early stages."

Bill Martinec captured this image of Comet Lovejoy remotely using iTelescope.net's T16 in Nerpio, Spain
Bill Martinec captured this image of Comet Lovejoy
remotely using iTelescope.net's T16 in Nerpio, Spain

Meanwhile, Comet Lovejoy glows only a little less bright much higher before dawn. Both comets are visible in binoculars despite moonlight returning to the morning sky. They're being detected naked-eye by skilled observers under good conditions.

As of Nov. 6, based on a consensus of worldwide observers, Comet Lovejoy had reached magnitude 6.5, which is considered to be the threshold of naked-eye visibility in a dark sky, far from any bright lights.

The new comet is getting progressively brighter with each passing day. This is because while en route to its Dec. 22 rendezvous with the sun, Lovejoy will make its close approach with Earth on Tuesday, when it will pass within 36.9 million miles (59.4 million km) of the planet.

At its best around that time, Comet Lovejoy "might" become as bright as magnitude 4.5, still a moderately faint object, yet bright enough to be glimpsed with the naked eye and certainly a fine object for binoculars and small telescopes. Unfortunately, the moon will be two days past full that morning and well up in the west, lighting up the sky, probably preventing any naked-eye viewing opportunity.
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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Blake Planetarium Receives Grant from itelescope.net

With a generous research grant awarded from iTelescope.net, a research project utilizing remote robotic telescopes for astronomy education called "Discovering our Milky Way Galaxy" will be a collaboration between the W. Russell Blake Planetarium, Insight Observatory, iTelescope.net and a group of students in grades 6-8. The planetarium will place a large printout of the Milky Way Galaxy, the way we see it from Earth, on the outside wall of the planetarium. The printout of the Milky Way will cover the view from both hemispheres. The students will be paired in groups of two and each group will be assigned a deep-sky object in or near the visible arm of the visible Milky Way. 

Northern Arm of Milky Way Galaxy imaged from iTelescope.net's New Mexico Skies location
Northern Arm of Milky Way Galaxy imaged from iTelescope.net's New Mexico Skies location

They will be in charge of imaging this object and writing a paragraph about it. When the images are returned, Michael Petrasko and Muir Evenden, Co-Project Directors from Insight Observatory will assist them with processing the images. The final pictures of the students' deep-sky objects will be placed along the image of the Milky Way on the outside of the planetarium for all of the school and visitors to see and learn from.

The research project is slated to take place in October 2013. Planetarium Instructor, Monica Ares, will have the students come to the planetarium for an overview of the project and to look at the Milky Way on the dome. They will pair up and use iPads to fill out a form through Insight Observatory's website with their image request, exposure time and telescope location. The form will also require a paragraph about their object. The students will return a week later to process their images in the computer lab. The photos will then be printed and overlaid on the image of the Milky Way along the outside of the planetarium.

Image of the Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy over the Southern Hemisphere took at  iTelescope.net's Siding Spring Observatory, New South Wales, Australia.
Image of the Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy over the Southern Hemisphere took at
iTelescope.net's Siding Spring Observatory, New South Wales, Australia.

The goal of the project is for students and teachers to understand not only what lies beyond our own night sky but also how we use the clues of distant objects to help us understand our own galaxy. Since we cannot take a picture of our entire Milky Way galaxy, we can study the images we capture of distant galaxies, both edge on and front facing to better understand the part of the Milky Way that we can see in our sky. We can also study nebulae both within our galaxy and those that we see in distant galaxies to help us understand the life cycle of our stars and our ever-changing universe. We hope to create a permanent display of both the Galaxy Project and the Milky Way Project using digital posters along the outside of the planetarium.
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Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Galaxy Project - What Lies Beyond Our Stars

Ms. Campbell's 6th grade class at Plymouth Community Intermediate School in Plymouth, Massachusetts was part of an exciting collaboration with the W. Russell Blake Planetarium and the Insight Observatory to image objects beyond the visible stars in our night sky. The students were given access to high-powered remote robotic telescopes for astronomy education located in New Mexico and Spain facilitated by Insight Observatory. Each group was asked to image an item in deep space found near the patch of sky containing the constellations of Ursa Major, Leo, Coma Berenices, Canes Venatici, and Virgo.

Display of Galaxies Imaged by PCIS Students
Display of Galaxies Imaged by PCIS Students

The images that the students took of galaxies, a globular cluster, and a planetary nebula are breathtaking!  A large printout of the night sky along with the students' images is on display near the entrance of the planetarium. This hands-on experience not only taught the students a great deal about remote imaging with a telescope, but it also enabled them to grasp the profoundness of the images they captured.

Special thanks to Monica Ares, Planetarium Program Instructor, Michael Petrasko, Insight Observatory Project Developer and Kellianne Campbell, 6th Grade Teacher at PCIS. Together they designed this amazing opportunity for our students that they hope will grow in the years to come. Below are a few of the images the students acquired by using a 17" telescope remotely in Mayhill, New Mexico with all image exposure times at 5 minutes. You can view all of the images the students acquired on Insight Observatory's Image Gallery page.

M51 - Image by Mark R. & Peter H.
M51 - Image by Mark R. & Peter H.

The Whirlpool Galaxy (also known as NGC 5194) is an interacting grand-design spiral galaxy in the constellation Canes Venatici. Recently it is currently estimated to be 15 and 35 million light-years from our own Milky Way Galaxy. The galaxy and its companion (NGC 5195) are easily observed by amateur astronomers, and the two galaxies may even be seen with binoculars under dark skies and good seeing conditions. The Whirlpool Galaxy is also a popular target for professional astronomers, who study it to further understand galaxy structure (particularly structure associated with the spiral arms) and galaxy interactions.  

 M97 - Image by Bianca T. & Cassidy B.
M97 - Image by Bianca T. & Cassidy B.

The Owl Nebula (also known as Messier 97 NGC 3587) is a planetary nebula in the constellation Ursa Major. It was discovered by Pierre Méchain in 1781. M97 is regarded as one of the more complex of the planetaries. The 16th magnitude central star has about 0.7 solar mass and the nebula itself about 0.15 solar mass. The nebula formed roughly 6,000 years ago. The nebula gets its name from the appearance of owl-like "eyes" when viewed through a large 200mm telescope under dark sky conditions with the aid of a so-called "nebula filter." The eyes are also (albeit, not so easily) visible in photographs of the nebula.

NGC 4565 - Image by Olivia F. & Nachelle S.
NGC 4565 - Image by Olivia F. & Nachelle S.

NGC 4565 (also known as the Needle Galaxy or Caldwell 38) is an edge-on spiral galaxy about 30 to 50 million light-years away in the constellation Coma Berenices. The 10th magnitude galaxy sits perpendicular to our own Milky Way galaxy and is almost directly above the North Galactic Pole (in the same way Polaris is located above the North Pole). It is known as the Needle Galaxy for its narrow profile. First spotted in 1785 by Sir William Herschel (1738–1822), this is one of the most famous examples of an edge-on spiral galaxy. "Visible through a small telescope, some sky enthusiasts consider NGC 4565 to be a prominent celestial masterpiece Messier missed."
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Saturday, April 27, 2013

One Shot Color of Carina Nebula

The southern hemisphere is full of "deep-sky wonders" as much as the northern hemisphere. Having access to remote robotic telescopes in locations such as New South Wales, Australia, allows us northern hemisphere observers to image and research a whole new frontier. Here is an image of NGC 3372, The "Carina Nebula" captured by Michael Petrasko on the evening of April 26, 2013 (local time NSW). This image was taken with a full moon in the sky at the time. Its clearly evident that there is no "wash out" from the light of the moon whatsoever.

NGC 3372 - Carina Nebula imaged by Michael Petrasko
NGC 3372 - Carina Nebula imaged by Michael Petrasko

The Carina Nebula (also known as the Great Nebula in Carina, the Eta Carina Nebula, or NGC 3372, as well as "Grand Nebula") is a large bright nebula that surrounds several open clusters of stars. Eta Carinae and HD 93129A, two of the most massive and luminous stars in our Milky Way galaxy, are among them. The nebula lies at an estimated distance between 6,500 and 10,000 light years from Earth. It appears in the constellation of Carina and is located in the Carina–Sagittarius Arm.

The Carina Nebula is one of the largest diffuse nebulae in our skies. Although it is some four times as large and even brighter than the famous Orion Nebula, the Carina Nebula is much less well known, due to its location far in the Southern Hemisphere. It was discovered by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in 1751–52 from the Cape of Good Hope.

iTelescope.com's T-13 - Takahashi Sky90
iTelescope.com's T-13 - Takahashi Sky90

The image is a 15-minute exposure taken with an SBIG ST2000XMC One Shot Color CCD camera through a Takahashi SKY90 3" (90mm) Apochromatic Refractor (pictured left) provided by iTelescope.net. Processing was done with SBIG CCDOps software and Adobe Photoshop CS6. 3x5 images were stacked with 3 synthetic luminance images created from each color image for noise reduction.

One shot color CCD camera can provide interesting images (if processed properly with synthetic luminance images) just as well, if not better, than high-end monochrome CCD cameras that use Red, Green and Blue color filters.
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Monday, March 25, 2013

The Great Globular Cluster in Hercules on a Moonlit Morning

After experimenting with iTelescope.net's remote robotic telescopes for astronomy education, imaging galaxies, and galaxy clusters, I figured it was now a good time to target another type of deep-sky object. First thing this morning around 3:00am, MDT, Telescope T-21 (Planewave 17" f/4.5 CDK) was available for imaging at New Mexico Skies. The moon's phase was near full in the western part of the sky and Messier 13 (M13) , the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules was becoming high in the eastern part of the sky. This was my first attempt at imaging a deep-sky object when the moon was so bright using these telescopes. 

Image of M13 - Globular Cluster in Hercules - 300 Second Exposure
M13 - Globular Cluster in Hercules - 300 Second Exposure

After making a 5-minute exposure with only a luminance filter, the result is what you see to the left. I used the FITS Liberator and Adobe Photoshop CS6 for post-processing. I converted the FITS-processed grayscale image to RGB in Photoshop and added a blueish hue to the image for effect.

I find it absolutely amazing that when there is nearly a full moon in the night sky, observers are still able to take images of deep-sky objects with no interference from the moonlight. As I referred to the "All-Sky Camera" at New Mexico Skies to check the sky conditions before imaging, I could barely make out only a few of the brightest stars accompanied by an overexposed view of the moon. Also, because of today's technology with advanced CCD Cameras and precision mounts that track the sky so accurately, it only takes about 5 minutes to get an image like the one above.

Image of M13 - Globular Cluster in Hercules - 30 Minute Exposure
M13 - Globular Cluster in Hercules - 30 Minute Exposure

The image to the right is of M13 as well taken back in May 1988. My friend Harry Hammond of Mashpee, MA captured this nice shot of M13 using his Celestron 8" telescope with an Olympus OM-1 camera body attached to the telescope. This method of astrophotography is known as "Prime Focus" astrophotography. The image of M13 was published in Sky and Telescope magazine later that year. Before CCD technology became readily available to amateur astronomers, this was the contemporary method for photographing deep-sky objects. This image took 30 minutes on ISO 1600 print film with manual guiding to make sure the object did not drift due to periodic errors in the telescope's clock drive. Although the image I took this morning was faster to create and has more detail, the equipment and technology is far more expensive and not an as readily available for most amateur astronomers.

M13 is in "armpit" of Hercules constellation

Messier 13 (M13), also designated NGC 6205 and sometimes called the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules or the Hercules Globular Cluster, is a globular cluster of about 300,000 stars in the constellation of Hercules.M13 is about 145 light-years in diameter, and it is composed of several hundred thousand stars, the brightest of which is the variable star V11 with an apparent magnitude of 11.95. M13 is 25,100 light-years away from Earth. 13 was discovered by Edmond Halley in 1714, and cataloged by Charles Messier on June 1, 1764. The Arecibo message of 1974, containing encoded information about human race, DNA, atomic numbers, Earth position, was beamed there for being picked up by a potential extraterrestrial civilization. It will reach the cluster in 25,000 years.
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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Galaxies Galore

Since my independent discovery of SN1989B in the spiral galaxy, M66 in the constellation Leo back on February 11, 1989, I have always been fascinated with observing galaxies and galaxy clusters. Over this past weekend, Muir and I wanted to try to capture a few galaxy clusters in the spring sky using the remote robotic T-5 (Takahashi Epsilon 250mm) telescope in New Mexico Skies. Over the weekend we referenced the Stellarium astronomy program to find a field of view that may catch multiple galaxies in a single image. One group of galaxies that caught our attention in Stellarium was in the constellation of Coma Berenices. We chose one galaxy in the group that would make a good "center point" for the image. 


Image of Galaxies in the Coma Cluster - Click on Image to Enlarge
Galaxies in the Coma Cluster - Click to Enlarge


That object was NGC 4872. We scheduled a 300-second exposure at 2:45 am MDT when the galaxy was near transit. After examining the data we received post-processing, we noticed a few different galaxies in the frame. Using the Aladin Sky Atlas astronomy software, I loaded up the DSS color image of NGC 4872. As I zoomed into the Aladin image with NGC 4872 at center, I observed numerous galaxies. Referring back to our image taken with the T-5, what I thought were faint stars were actually galaxies. After the excitement set in, I decided to use telescope T-11 (Planewave 20" CDK Astrograph) the next day to get a magnified image of the galaxy cluster. After waking up this morning around 5:00 am EDT (3:00 am MDT), I jumped on T-11 and acquired the image above. After processing the image, I magnified and saw the same detail in all of the galaxies I observed in the Aladin Sky Atlas software.

NGC 4872 and Surrounding Galaxies in the Coma Cluster Identified with Aladin Astronomy Software
NGC 4872 and Surrounding Galaxies in the Coma Cluster Identified with Aladin Astronomy Software

There were so many galaxies in the field of view that I could not keep count. I then thought it would be a fun exercise to identify a few of the brighter and more interesting looking galaxies using the SIMBAD Astronomical Database overlay in the Aladin Sky Atlas. I was able to successfully identify the galaxies in the image above using the technique pictured left.

Wide-field image of the Coma Cluster of galaxies taken at the Mount Lemmon SkyCenter using the   0.8m Schulman Telescope. Image courtesy Adam Block
Wide-field image of the Coma Cluster of galaxies taken at the 
Mount Lemmon SkyCenter using the 0.8m Schulman Telescope. 
Image courtesy Adam Block

The Coma Cluster (Abell 1656) is a large cluster of galaxies that contains over 1,000 identified galaxies. Along with the Leo Cluster (Abell 1367), it is one of the two major clusters comprising the Coma Supercluster. It is located in and takes its name from the constellation Coma Berenices. The cluster's mean distance from Earth is 321 million light years. Its ten brightest spiral galaxies have apparent magnitudes of 12–14 that are observable with amateur telescopes larger than 20 cm. The central region is dominated by two giant elliptical galaxies: NGC 4874 and NGC 4889. The cluster is within a few degrees of the north galactic pole on the sky. Most of the galaxies that inhabit the central portion of the Coma Cluster are ellipticals. Both dwarf and giant ellipticals are found in abundance in the Coma Cluster. The image (right) shows some of the same galaxies that are in the field of view of the image (top of post) I obtained using the Planewave 20" telescope this morning.
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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Toyotas, iPads and Galaxies... Oh My!

Waiting for my vehicle to be serviced has never been so exciting! Yesterday as I waited for my Toyota Rav4 SUV to be serviced in the dealership's waiting room, I experimented with iTelescope.net on my iPad. iTelescope.net does not recommend using Safari for a web browser (only Firefox and Chrome), however, because the Toyota dealership had such good wi-fi reception, I thought I would experiment and make an attempt imaging a galaxy from iTelescope.net's remote robotic telescope location at Siding Spring Observatory, Australia. 

M83 - Barred Spiral Galaxy in Hydra  - 300 sec. exposure
M83 - Barred Spiral Galaxy in Hydra  - 300 sec. exposure

The iTelescope.net remote robotic telescope "Launchpad" page in Safari worked flawlessly until I got to the "One Click Image" page that lists a catalog of recommended objects with the exposure times already programmed. I was not able to execute the "Submit Image" button. The workaround for this was to go into the "Single Image" page and manually set the object desired as well as the exposure settings. After inputting the settings, the "Acquire Image" button worked just fine. The object I imaged was the barred spiral galaxy, M83 in the constellation of Hydra. Messier 83 (also known as the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy, M83 or NGC 5236) is a barred spiral galaxy approximately 15 million light-years away. It is one of the closest and brightest barred spiral galaxies in the sky, making it visible with binoculars and small telescopes. Six extragalactic supernovae have been observed in M83 making the object a good candidate for the part of a continued supernova search program.

T9 - 12.5" Ritchey-Chrétien Cassegrain
T9 - 12.5" Ritchey-Chrétien Cassegrain

The instrument I used via my iPad to capture the above image of M83 was the Medium Deep Field (T9) which is a 12.5" Ritchey-Chrétien Cassegrain with a long focal length of f/9. This telescope is typically used for imaging & some photometry. It has a selection of color imaging filters and a photometric V filter. Its teamed with an STL-11000M CCD Camera. T9 is a prime imaging platform in the southern hemisphere and is capable of brilliant narrowband imaging with several Astro Photo of the Day (APOD) prizes under its belt already. It is a highly reliable telescope which has enabled countless iTelescope.net users to capture southern glories as well as valuable science data. It has often been used in Hubble Space Telescope support missions.

After having success imaging a galaxy visible from the other side of the globe, using my iPad, I feel that making appointments that require extensive wait times just got a lot more painless!
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Asteroids Everywhere...

What is it like to capture an asteroid? As an exercise in imaging some minor planets with the 17" remote robotic telescope provided on the iTelescope network in New Mexico, we ran two 5 minute exposures 1 hour apart on the exact same part of the sky. With these images, we could then compare them and note any objects that appear to move between the images. To help us in our efforts we processed the images with a software application called Astrometrica, which not only identified the stars in the image but also any known minor planets as well. The results?

Animated GIF of Asteroid 12618 imaged by Muir Evenden
Animated GIF of Asteroid 12618 imaged by Muir Evenden

Of the many asteroids identified to be in the image, most were too faint to be visible; we were, however, able to visually identify a few asteroids between 17 and 18th magnitudes. The image displayed here (which is a closeup of a small region on the entire image) is one such asteroid - it appears to move in the image because we are quickly shifting between the images to make the movement of the asteroid more apparent. Astrometrica identified the asteroid and labeled it: the name or numerical designation is in red, followed by its magnitude in parenthesis. As you can see, even just a 5-minute exposure with a moderate-size telescope can reveal a wealth of information beneficial to astronomy education!
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Friday, March 15, 2013

NGC 4565 and M63 Imaged with the Planewave 20 Inch CDK

Every morning this week after I got up at 5:00 am,  EDT, here on Cape Cod, MA., I found myself logging on to iTelscope.net to check out the weather conditions. The past five days in a row the skies have been clear. To my surprise, I would find that there were many telescopes available to use as well. My favorite remote robotic telescope, T-11, the Planewave 20" (0.51m) CDK was available on the mornings of Wednesday, March 13th as well as this morning.

NGC 4565 - Spiral Galaxy in Coma Berenices imaged by Michael Petrasko - 300-second exposure.
NGC 4565 - Spiral Galaxy in Coma Berenices imaged by Michael Petrasko - 300-second exposure.

On Wednesday, I captured this image of the spiral galaxy, NGC 4565 (above) in the constellation of Coma Berenices. The exposure was 300 seconds and was processed in FITS Liberator and slightly colorized in Adobe Photoshop. NGC 4565 (also known as the Needle Galaxy or Caldwell 38) is an edge-on spiral galaxy about 30 to 50 million light-years away in the constellation Coma Berenices. The 10th magnitude galaxy sits perpendicular to our own Milky Way galaxy and is almost directly above the North Galactic Pole (in the same way Polaris is located above the Earth's north pole). It is known as the Needle Galaxy for its narrow profile. First spotted in 1785 by Sir William Herschel (1738–1822), this is one of the most famous examples of an edge-on spiral galaxy. This galaxy is visible through small telescopes and some sky enthusiasts consider NGC 4565 to be a prominent celestial masterpiece Charles Messier missed.

M63 - Sunflower Galaxy in Canes Venatici imaged by Michael Petrasko - 300-second exposure.
M63 - Sunflower Galaxy in Canes Venatici imaged by Michael Petrasko - 300-second exposure.

This image of the spiral galaxy, M63 also known as the Sunflower Galaxy in the constellation of Canes Venatici, was acquired this morning at 3:25 am, MDT. The exposure time was the same as NGC 4565 (pictured above) at 300 seconds. I have concluded that 1 exposure at 300 seconds on galaxies like these is more than sufficient to capture detail to conduct scientific research such as extragalactic supernova search. The Sunflower Galaxy was discovered by Pierre Méchain on June 14, 1779. The galaxy was then listed by Charles Messier as object 63 in the Messier Catalogue. In the mid-19th century, Lord Rosse identified spiral structures within the galaxy, making this one of the first galaxies in which such structure was identified. In 1971, a supernova with a magnitude of 11.8 appeared in one of the arms of M63.
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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

M51 - Whirlpool Galaxy - Monochrome vs. One Shot Color

While drinking my morning cup of coffee before getting ready to go off to work, I thought I would log into iTelescope.net's remote robotic telescopes for astronomy education and see what the weather was like at New Mexico Skies. Once I logged into Insight Observatory's Launchpad, I noticed there were several telescopes available that we have not tried yet. Telescopes T-11(Planewave 20" CDK) and T-20 (Takahashi FSQ-ED 106mm (0.1 meters). I have been looking forward to trying out T-11, therefore, I wanted to pick a common bright galaxy that I have observed plenty of times before, both visual and imaged. I saw that M51 (The Whirlpool Galaxy) in Canes Venatici was near transit when looking at the "All-Sky Camera". I exposed 1 300 second exposure with the luminance filter only and processed the FITS file in the NASA/ESA FITS Liberator. The image to the left is the result. 

M51 - Taken with iTelescope's T-11
M51 - Taken with iTelescope's T-11

I am amazed at how much detail I was able to capture with a single 5-minute exposure. I have come to the conclusion that we should use telescope T-11 for examining the details of the galaxy that may be of interest that were originally taken with a wider field telescope such as telescope T-20. Telescope T-20 has a much wider field than T-11 and also has an SBIG ST-8300C One Shot Color CCD camera. After experimenting with the One Shot Color cameras, I am finding that imaging galaxies with them don't show as much detail as the sing images taken with the monochrome cameras. Below is the image was taken this morning with telescope T-20. 

The Whirlpool Galaxy (also known as Messier 51, M51, or NGC 5194) is an interacting grand-design spiral galaxy in the constellation Canes Venatici. Recently it was estimated to be 23.4 million light-years from the Milky Way Galaxy, but different methods yield distances between 15 and 35 million light years. Messier 51 is one of the best-known galaxies in the sky. The galaxy and its companion (NGC 5195) are easily observed by amateur astronomers, and the two galaxies may even be seen with binoculars. The Whirlpool Galaxy is also a popular target for professional astronomers, who study it to further understand galaxy structure (particularly structure associated with the spiral arms) and galaxy interactions. 

M51 - Taken with One Shot Color on iTelescope's T-20
M51 - Taken with One Shot Color on T-20

The Whirlpool Galaxy is the brightest galaxy in the M51 Group, a small group of galaxies that also includes M63 (the Sunflower Galaxy), NGC 5023, and NGC 5229. This small group may actually be a subclump at the southeast end of a large, elongated group that includes the M101 Group and the NGC 5866 Group, although most group identification methods and catalogs identify the three groups as separate entities.
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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 77.00


Centaurus A color image processing with Photoshop.
Centaurus A color image processing 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.

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 ME. The CCD camera used for imaging was an SBIG ST2000XMC One Shot Color CCD.
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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Galaxy Cluster in Leo

Here is an image taken from the remote robotic telescope specializing in astronomy education, T-14, the Takahashi FSQ Fluorite Petzval Apochromat Astrograph provided by iTelescope.net at their New Mexico Skies location in Mayhill, NM. The telescope has an aperture of 106mm (0.1 meters), a Focal Length of 530mm (.53 meter) and an F/Ratio of f5.0. The primary target object was M96, a spiral galaxy in the constellation of Leo. However, to our surprise (due to the telescopes wide-field), we were able to capture more than the one galaxy.

Galaxy Quad in Leo
Galaxy Quad in Leo

The image field also contained spiral galaxy, M95, almost a mirror image of M96. Accompanied by M95 and M96 are spiral galaxies M105 and NGC 3384. I was able to identify each one from matching the orientation of the image to the star chart in "Sky & Telescopes Pocket Sky Atlas" that I downloaded for my Kindle app on my iPad. By clicking on the image, you will also discover a few other galaxies that are not listed in the Sky Atlas. How many can you see?
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Saturday, March 2, 2013

M81 and M82 on a Moonlit Night

With my colleague Mike's current success at obtaining images from the remote robotic telescopes specializing in astronomy education,  iTelescope.net, I took a crack at capturing a few myself this weekend. Target? Old standby M81 and M82, a good choice for a first target since it is big and bright and has a number of surrounding galaxies that makes a wide-field shot interesting (and the moon was out as well so no "faint fuzzies" tonight). Here is the image, a 5-minute exposure. The beauty of this? I'm half a world away in Poland, Saturday morning, and yet I'm imaging from the dark skies in New Mexico...

M81 and M82 - Spiral Galaxies in Ursa Major
M81 and M82 - Spiral Galaxies in Ursa Major
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Friday, February 22, 2013

Creating Color Astronomical Images with Photoshop

While I was surfing the web, looking for some good research projects for students to participate in, I stumbled upon a website called LCO. Global. This is the official website of the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network of remote robotic telescopes. This telescope network gives opportunities for students to participate and contribute their research to professional astronomy. This particular organization also allows users to publish their raw data image files (taken with their network of telescopes) for others to download to process and analyze. 

Color Image of M66 created using Adobe Photoshop
Color Image of M66 created using Adobe Photoshop

There was a link I found interesting on their website called "How to make color astronomical images with Photoshop". The link leads me to an article that explained how to use Adobe Photoshop to make high-quality color images with your astronomical data.

My attention was completely consumed by this article and I had to immediately start experimenting with the instructions given in the article. I went to the "Observations" page on the website and downloaded raw image files of the spiral galaxy M66 in the constellation of Leo that was provided by a Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network user utilizing the Faulkes Telescope North and who designated themselves as "BBC". I acquired three images that were taken with Red, Green (Visual) and Blue filters. These three images were in FITS format, therefore, I needed to download a FITS Liberator from the NASA/ESA website for processing. The FITS Liberator allowed me to adjust the black and white levels as well as adjust stretching to display as much information of the galaxy and produce noise reduction of each image. Once I was satisfied with my FITS image processing results, I saved the three images as TIFF files and opened them in Adobe Photoshop. I followed the instructions to convert the images from grayscale to RGB,  proceeded with the article's instructions for changing the hue and saturation colors for each image, then combining them to create the color image of M66 above.

I believe that Insight Observatory, specializing in astronomy education, could benefit from partnering up with the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network. They offer many research collaborations and student activities as well as provide enough data where we could almost immediately start an activity such as this one written about in this post.
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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

NGC 2903 Imaged with Medium Deep Space Telescope

After experiencing a successful observing run the other night with iTelescope.net, I was looking forward trying out another one of their robotic telescopes (Takahashi Epsilon 250mm f/3.4 on a Paramount PME using an SBIG ST-10XME CCD camera) in Mayhill, New Mexico. Needing a good night of rest, I made my first attempt at automating a script using the "Plan Generator" available on the iTelescope.net website. I set a plan for imaging the spiral galaxy NGC 2903 in Leo, creating four images at 300 seconds per image with Red, Green, Blue and Clear filters. Unfortunately, there was a slight tracking error during the blue image exposure that made stacking the images for creating a color picture of the galaxy impossible.

NGC 2903 - Spiral Galaxy in Leo, 300 sec. w\ clear filter
NGC 2903 - Spiral Galaxy in Leo, 300 sec. w\ clear filter

I figured I would also experiment with different binning values. I found that the best value is "1", that I applied on the "Clear" exposure. There is much less noise on the exposure than using the value of "2, which I did on the RGB images. It is rewarding to create colorful astronomical images from the data acquired by these remote instruments, however, creating just one good clear grayscale image of a galaxy is more than enough to examine for Extragalactic Supernovae suspects like the image on this post that I acquired last night. I am now feeling more than comfortable utilizing the equipment that iTelescope.net has to offer for pursuing student research projects until our own 16" Dreamscope is online.
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Monday, February 18, 2013

First Test Images from New Mexico Skies

While the Insight Observatory that specializes in astronomy education staff remains hard at work developing a plan and raising funds for the implementation of the 16" Dream AstrographTelescope in New Mexico, we decided to move ahead with our primary goal of starting to seek out educational research projects for students to participate in before the location of the telescope is complete.  

Telescope.com's T-3 used to image Insight Observatory's first images
iTelescope.com's T-3 used to image Insight Observatory's first images

The first step was to find a temporary, however, sufficient Remote Robotic Telescope facility that currently offers access to imaging and the collecting of data. After many days of searching different programs available on the internet, Insight Observatory decided to create a "Starter-Trial" account with iTelescope.net.

After reviewing their excellent and intuitive tutorials on how to use their telescopes and software for collecting astronomical images remotely, the decision was not hard to make. The first night of gathering images was a complete success due to their clear and concise instructions on how to use the website. I set a reservation for 2:00 am MST (4:00 am EST) for use of their Takahashi TOA-150 using an  SBIG ST2000XMC One Shot Color CCD camera located in Mayhill, New Mexico (New Mexico Skies). My targets were three spiral galaxies and one elliptical galaxy for this test session. I successfully acquired images of M64 (Black Eye Galaxy), M104 (Sombrero Galaxy), M66 (Spiral Galaxy) in Leo, and M49 (Elliptical Galaxy) in Virgo. I have included these slightly processed images from this morning observing run below...

M64 - "Black Eye Galaxy" in Coma Berenices
M64 - "Black Eye Galaxy" in Coma Berenices

M49 - Elliptical Galaxy in Virgo
M49 - Elliptical Galaxy in Virgo

M66 - Spiral Galaxy in Leo
M66 - Spiral Galaxy in Leo

M104 - "Sombrero Galaxy" in Virgo
M104 - "Sombrero Galaxy" in Virgo

Tomorrow morning I have an automated script setup to run utilizing iTelescope.net's "Plan Generator". This means I will be acquiring this image while I am asleep! The target is NGC 2903, a Spiral Galaxy in Leo.
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