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Bring the Universe to Your Classroom!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Observing the Great Barred Spiral Galaxy

As I may have mentioned in my previous posts, I have always enjoyed deep-sky observing with my telescopes. My favorite type of deep-sky objects to observe is galaxies. I especially enjoy barred spiral galaxies due to their unique characteristics. Many of the observable galaxies with backyard telescopes are designated as "Faint Fuzzies" due to their low magnitudes and lack of characteristics through smaller telescopes. However, there are many galaxies that are observable with smaller backyard telescopes that have many distinct characteristics an observer is able to enjoy. For example... M51, "The Whirlpool Galaxy" in Canes Venatici, M31 - "The Andromeda Galaxy" in Andromeda and M104 - "The Sombrero Galaxy" located in Virgo is to name a few that are visible in the northern hemisphere with smaller backyard telescopes.

NGC 1365 - The "Great Barred Spiral Galaxy" Imaged by Insight Observatory
NGC 1365 - The "Great Barred Spiral Galaxy" Imaged by Insight Observatory.

When I started flipping through the pages of the January 2016 issue of "Sky and Telescope" magazine, I almost immediately opened the publication to the article "The Definitive Barred Spiral - NGC 1365" in the "Observing: Going Deep" section by Howard Banich. Banich's article is well written and describes several of his observations of this island universe in great detail with quotes from his observing log as well as detailed sketches of NGC 1365 he recorded using different sized telescopes and magnifications. Banich observed the galaxy utilizing telescope with mirror sizes from 8" up to a 28" over the span of a few years. The drawings and photograph of the barred spiral in the article gave me the inspiration to observe the galaxy myself. One problem... The galaxy can only be seen in the southern hemisphere.

NGC 1365, also known as the "Great Barred Spiral Galaxy", is located in the constellation Fornax. After reading Banich's article, I logged onto the remote robotic telescope network we use here at Insight Observatory and was able to acquire a 10-minute exposure of the galaxy using a one-shot color CCD camera (inserted in this article). I guess the point of this blog entry is to continue stressing the value of having accessibility to remote robotic telescopes around the globe. I may not be able to visually observe this interesting deep-sky object due to my physical location here in the northeastern area of the United States, however, I was able to capture an image immediately from my desktop computer that I could process and study the fine characteristics this object has to offer.

Some Interesting Facts About NGC 1365:

NGC 1365, also known as the Great Barred Spiral Galaxy, is a barred spiral galaxy about 56 million light-years away in the constellation Fornax.

A very bright supernova was discovered by Alain Klotz with the TAROT telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile on October 27, 2012, in NGC 136. The supernova was designated 2012fr.

NGC1365 is a giant Seyfert type galaxy with a diameter of 200,000 light years. It is arguably the most prominent barred spiral in the sky.

The bar rotates clockwise with velocities in the nucleus of 2000 km/sec resulting in one rotation in 350 million years.
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Monday, January 18, 2016

Image Processing with Instagram

After recently installing the Instagram app on my iPhone, I found it has a well designed and intuitive image processing tool built into it. The staff at Insight Observatory recently decided to add Instagram to its list of Social Networks as a platform to publish Astro-images that they or their clients have acquired using remote robotic telescopes for educational or personal purposes. Back on December 16, 2015, I personally imaged M42, the "Great Orion Nebula" remotely from Siding Spring, Australia. The exposure time was 5 minutes captured with a One-Shot Color CCD camera. After downloading the raw image file from my DropBox account onto my smartphone, I thought to myself "Why not make this image the first one to post on the new Insight Observatory Instagram account?"

M42 Processed with the Instagram Editing Tool
M42 Processed with the Instagram Editing Tool.

As I proceeded to post the image of M42, I discovered the image editing tool in the app. I started experimenting with the app's tool and I saw that the editing tool extracted much more information from the image than could be seen on the original raw image file. This gave me the idea of integrating the Instagram app with lessons that Insight Observatory has developed for secondary schools that include imaging with the remote robotic telescopes. The students could incorporate the image processing with the Instagram app. It is already very popular and well known with many students of this age group. Most students are familiar with how to use the app as they most likely use it for personal social media purposes already. The Instagram app will also allow students to easily share the Astro-images they acquire and process with their friends and family on social media.
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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Observing Comet Catalina

The cold and clear mornings we have had recently provided a few opportunities to get some good observations of Comet Catalina C/2013 US10. After reading about the many comets that were visible through small telescopes and binoculars, on the morning of January 5, 2016, at 5:15 am, I thought I would take a shot at locating Comet Catalina with my 9x63 binoculars. 

Using the comet finder chart provided online by Sky and Telescope magazine, the comet was shown to be located a few degrees north of Arcturus, the brightest star in the constellation of Boötes (Herdsman or Plowman). As I made my first attempt to locate the "dirty snowball" through my binoculars, I almost immediately spotted a condensed "fuzzy" object very close to the area the comet should be. I wasn't convinced this was the comet as it resembled a globular cluster. From my experiences of deep-sky observing, I was convinced it was M3, a bright globular cluster located in the constellation of Canes Venatici, the hunting dogs of Boötes the Herdsman, very close to the border of Boötes. I then slewed my binoculars a few degrees to the southeast and there it was! The comet appeared a much fainter patch of condensed light. As twilight matured, the sky became brighter and the comet became harder to see. I leaned back against my SUV in the driveway and took in the amazing view of the planets lined up throughout the Zodiac. There was Jupiter to the west, Mars to the east, Venus, the waning crescent Moon, and last being Saturn in the glow of the sunlight.

Comet Catalina - Imaged by Insight Observatory
Comet Catalina - Imaged by Insight Observatory.

After spotting Comet Catalina on that frigid morning, I was inspired to get a closer look at it with a 10" Dobsonian reflector telescope. However, the weather didn't cooperate the next day, so I waited one more day. Fortunately, the weather did provide another opportunity to observe the comet on the morning of January 7, 2016. The comet moved throughout the constellation within the few days since the first time I spotted it. The object was pretty much the same magnitude (brightness) as was the previous time I viewed it. However, this time, I could resolve the nucleus enveloped in a diffused nebulous "cloud" due to the higher magnification of the telescope.

After studying the comet with the telescope that morning, the weather on the Cape was non-cooperative for close to a week afterward. However, surprisingly this past Friday, morning, January 15, 2016, around 5:30 am, the sky was perfectly clear. I went out on the front porch with my binoculars to see if I could locate it without any finder charts. I knew it was supposed to be near the handle of the Big Dipper from seeing images taken by others the previous days. I started scanning the area of the handle and spotted the comet again immediately. It seemed to have brightened a bit from that last time I saw it. The comet was very close to the last star in the handle of the Big Dipper named Alkaid. The bright star and Catalina were in the same field of view through my binoculars. It was quite a sight!

Comet Catalina - Imaged by Raffaelle Esposito
Comet Catalina - Imaged by Raffaelle Esposito.

Inspired by this view of the comet, I then went to my computer and logged into the iTelescope remote robotic telescope network (utilized by Insight Observatory) and connected to their telescope with a one-shot color CCD camera connected to it. The telescopes were very busy that morning, however, T3 became available and I jumped on and imaged the comet for 5 minutes as pictured in this post. Later during the day on Friday, I came across a great image of the comet captured by Raffaele Esposito on January 14, 2016 (pictured left) with the bright star Alkaid and the spiral galaxy NGC 5448 behind the comet's tail.

Some Interesting Facts About Comet Catalina C/2013 US10:

C/2013 US10 is an Oort cloud comet discovered on 31 October 2013 by the Catalina Sky Survey at an apparent magnitude of 19 using a 0.68-meter Schmidt–Cassegrain telescope. As of September 2015, the comet became apparent magnitude 6.

The comet reached its perihelion (its closest point to the sun) at a distance of 76 million miles (122 million kilometers) on November 15 and as it slingshotted past the sun, Catalina reached a velocity of 103,000 miles per hour (166,000 kilometers per hour), which is almost three times the speed of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. The velocity means that the comet is on an escape trajectory from the solar system and will never return.

The comet passes closest to Earth at 0.72 a.u. on January 12th, then buzzes Mizar in the Big Dipper's handle on January 14–15, hurrying along at the rate of 2° per day or 5′ an hour — fast enough to easily detect motion in 30 minutes or less. After mid-month, it's expected to fade quickly.
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