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Bringing the Universe to Your Classroom!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Featured Deep-Sky Objects - NGC 884 and NGC 869

The Double Cluster is the name for two open clusters, NGC 884 and NGC 869, and are located close together in Perseus constellation. Also known as h Persei and χ Persei (h and Chi Persei), the open clusters both lie at an estimated distance of 7,600 light years from Earth and are roughly 12.8 million years old. The Double Cluster is circumpolar (continuously above the horizon) from most northern latitudes. These deep-sky wonders are in proximity to the constellation Cassiopeia and are approximately the radiant of the Perseid meteor shower, which peaks annually around August 12 or 13.

The Double Cluster - NGC 884 (left) and NGC 869 (right) - Imaged by Michael Petrasko on Insight Observatory's Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO-1).
The Double Cluster - NGC 884 (left) and NGC 869 (right) - Imaged by Michael Petrasko on Insight Observatory's Astronomical Telescope for Educational Outreach (ATEO-1.

NGC 884 and NGC 869 covers an area of 60 arc minutes of the apparent sky, which is twice the size of a full Moon making it a suitable target for backyard telescopes and binoculars. Individually, the clusters have a mass of 3,700 solar masses (NGC 869) and 2,800 solar masses (NGC 884), but as each cluster is surrounded by an extended halo of stars, the total mass of the Double Cluster is at least 20,000 solar masses. The two clusters are separated by only hundreds of light years.

Each open cluster contains 300 to 400 stars and the brightest stars shine at 7th magnitude. NGC 869, appears slightly brighter, richer, and more compact than NGC 884.

Hipparchus, a Greek astronomer, catalogued the object as a "patch of light" in Perseus as early as 130 B.C. However, the true nature of the Double Cluster wasn’t discovered until the invention of the telescope many centuries later. In the early 19th century William Herschel was the first to recognize the object as two separate clusters. The Double Cluster is not included in Messier's catalogue but is included in the Caldwell catalogue of popular deep-sky objects, designated Caldwell 14.
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Monday, January 21, 2019

Total Lunar Eclipse Imaged From ATEO-1

Here is a project Insight Observatory hadn't planned on doing with the 16" f/3.7 Astrograph reflector telescope (ATEO-1). However, with interest from other Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO) users on how the January 20th - 21st total lunar eclipse of the moon would look through this telescope, what was there to lose by spending some time trying to capture the lunar eclipse during totality? Nothing gained if nothing ventured.

Total Lunar Eclipse imaged at Totality on 01/20/2019 at 22:19:41 MST - Exposures: 14 Seconds Lum - 20 Seconds RGB - Bin 1x1 - Image by Muir Evenden.
Total Lunar Eclipse imaged at Totality on 01/20/2019 at 22:19:41 MST - Exposures: 14 Seconds Lum - 20 Seconds RGB - Bin 1x1 - Image by Muir Evenden.

Now... If you recall... Insight Observatory's ATEO-1 imaging system is configured primarily as a deep-sky imaging platform, so we didn't know whether the moon would be too bright (even at totality) for its fast f-ratio and fastest CCD camera shutter speed. In addition, the Proline 16803 CCD camera is outfitted with a colour filter wheel on a monochrome camera, therefore we had to switch filters quickly between the short Luminance, Red, Green and Blue (LRGB) exposures.

Screen Shot of capturing Lunar Eclipse Images on ATEO-1 using TheSkyX in New Mexico remotely from Malbork, Poland.
Screen Shot of capturing Lunar Eclipse Images on ATEO-1 using TheSkyX in New Mexico remotely from Malbork, Poland.

Would all this come together? The short answer was a surprising yes! Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to optimize the focus before imaging, but I think our results are entirely satisfactory considering what we knew beforehand.
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Saturday, January 5, 2019

What's In the Sky - January 2019

January kicks off the New Year with wonderful sights for backyard astronomers to enjoy with friends and family. Don't forget to bundle up on clear, cold evenings as you explore the sparkling night sky. Here are a few of Orion Telescopes and Binoculars highlights for January 2019 stargazers...

Quadrantid Meteor Shower

The Quadrantid Meteor Shower will be the first substantial meteor shower of 2019. You'll want to be outside late in the night on January 3, before dawn on January 4. Those of you in the more northerly latitudes should get some great views, especially with the dark skies as we approach the New Moon on January 6.

New Moon

The nights around January 5 will be the best nights for observations due to the dark skies resulting from the New Moon. Bundle up, grab a telescope and your astrophotography gear and get out there to view and image those elusive fainter deep sky objects.

Total Lunar Eclipse

January 20 — 21 will be your opportunity to witness a Lunar Eclipse. Provided your skies are clear, observers in North and South America and western parts of Europe and Africa should have visibility of a Total Lunar Eclipse. While those of you in Central and eastern Africa, Europe, and Asia won't see a Total Eclipse, you will still see a Partial Eclipse of the Moon.

The conjunction of Venus and Jupiter

Get up early (before sunrise) on January 22 to catch the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. These 2 bright celestial bodies will appear within 2.5 degrees of each other so make sure you don't miss the view.

The Witch Head Nebula   Image Credit & Copyright: Digitized Sky Survey (POSS II); Processing: Utkarsh Mishra
The Witch Head Nebula 
Image Credit & Copyright: Digitized Sky Survey (POSS II); Processing: Utkarsh Mishra

January Challenge Object

Just west of Rigel, the bright blue/white star that marks the western "knee" of Orion, lies the Witch Head Nebula (IC 2118), in the neighbouring constellation Eridanus. The Witch Head is a reflection nebula that shines from reflected light off of Rigel, like the reflection nebula in the Pleiades, M45. You don't need a big telescope; a wide field of view, low power and a dark sky are needed to see this challenging nebula. (Hint: Don't use filters)

All objects described above can easily be seen with the suggested equipment from a dark sky site, a viewing location some distance away from city lights where light pollution and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars.
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