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Bringing the Universe to Your Classroom!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Illuminating The Iris Nebula

Insight Observatory had the opportunity to be involved in another imaging collaborative. This time, a mosaic image of The Iris Nebula, also known as NGC 7023 and Caldwell 4. This deep-sky object is a bright reflection nebula in the constellation Cepheus. Paul Swift, a talented and well-known astrophotographer teamed up with another accomplished astrophotographer, Carmelo Falco, to produce this illuminating image of the Iris Nebula below.

Mosaic image of The Iris Nebula, also known as NGC 7023 processed by Paul Swift using data collected by Carmelo Falco, Insight Observatory and the majority of the data by Paul himself.
Mosaic image of The Iris Nebula, also known as NGC 7023 processed by Paul Swift using data collected by Carmelo Falco, Insight Observatory and the majority of the data by Paul himself.

This mosaic of the Iris Nebula is made up of data from different focal lengths. 380mm, 1330mm, 1525mm, and 3400mm. This image shows some magenta at the core in the form of reddish photoluminescence. The data collected by Paul Swift was from his back yard in Valencia, Spain. His setup consists of VSD Vixen 380mm and 14" Orion Optics AG 1330mm Newtonian astrograph on a Paramount MX mount, an SX-46 CCD camera with an SX Maxi wheel (with Luminance, Red, Green and Blue filters) from Starlight Xpress Ltd.

The central area image data of the nebula was collected by Carmelo using a 16" f/7.8 (customed 3400mm) Ritchey-Chretien telescope on an RM500 mount accompanied by an Apogee Asping GG16m CCD camera, Orion SteadyStar - Lodestar guiding system, and a Baader Luminance, Red, Green and Blue filter set.

The Three imaging systems used to collect data of NGC 7023, The Iris Nebula. Carmelo Falco's 16" f/7.8 Ritchey-Chretien (left), Paul Swift's 14" Orion Optics AG (above right) and Insight Observatory's 16" f/3.7 Dream astrograph reflector, ATEO-1, (lower right).
The Three imaging systems used to collect data of NGC 7023, The Iris Nebula. Carmelo Falco's 16" f/7.8 Ritchey-Chretien (left), Paul Swift's 14" Orion Optics AG (above right) and Insight Observatory's 16" f/3.7 Dream astrograph reflector, ATEO-1, (lower right).

Additional Luminance data for the outer areas of the nebula was collected by Insight Observatory's 16" f/3.7 astrograph reflector, ATEO-1. This image data was purchased by Mr Swift as part Insight's "Datasets on Demand" service where astrophotographers may request data to be acquired from ATEO-1 and ATEO-2A for the purpose of combining the image data with their own. After delivery of the requested image data, it is then added to the Starbase dataset library. Starbase is a deep-sky dataset subscription service that will be accessible via Insight Observatory's ATEO Portal this mid-summer.
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Sunday, June 23, 2019

Eagle Nebula Collaboration Project

Insight Observatory's remote telescope was recently involved in a deep-sky imaging collaboration between two experienced astrophotographers. Utkarsh Mishra and Zhuoqun Wu teamed up to combine and process datasets resulting in the image below of Messier 16, The Eagle Nebula. The Luminance, Red, Green and Blue data was acquired by Utkarsh with Insight Observatory's 16" astrograph reflector (ATEO-1hosted in Pie Town, New Mexico and the H-Alpha data was taken from Chilescope by Zhuoqun using a 20" ASA Newtonian astrograph. The data files were stacked using PixInsight and processed in Adobe Photoshop.

Insight Observatory has recently had an increase in deep-sky dataset subscribers that are involved in image collaborations with other astrophotographers using equipment at other locations around the world. Very exciting!

Messier 16, the Eagle Nebula imaged by Utkarsh Mishra and Zhuoqun Wu. 10 300-second Luminance, 14 300-second Red, 11 300-second Green and 10 300-second Blue frames taken from ATEO-1 along with 50-Minutes of H-Alpha data acquired from Chilescope.
Messier 16, the Eagle Nebula imaged by Utkarsh Mishra and Zhuoqun Wu. 10 300-second Luminance, 14 300-second Red, 11 300-second Green and 10 300-second Blue frames taken from ATEO-1 along with 50-Minutes of H-Alpha data acquired from Chilescope.

The Eagle Nebula (catalogued as Messier 16 or M16, and as NGC 6611, and also known as the Star Queen Nebula and The Spire) is a young open cluster of stars in the constellation Serpens, discovered by Jean-Philippe de Chéseaux in 1745–46. Both the "Eagle" and the "Star Queen" refer to visual impressions of the dark silhouette near the center of the nebula, an area made famous as the "Pillars of Creation" imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope. The nebula contains several active star-forming gas and dust regions, including the aforementioned Pillars of Creation.

The Eagle Nebula is part of a diffuse emission nebula, or H II region, which is catalogued as IC 4703. This region of active current star formation is about 7000 light-years distant. A spire of gas that can be seen coming off the nebula in the northeastern part is approximately 9.5 light-years or about 90 trillion kilometers long.

Source: Wikipedia
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Saturday, June 22, 2019

Euclid: Challenge the Machines

There is a new Astronomy project by Zooniverse available that anyone with an internet connection can get involved with...

Have you ever wondered what shape the Universe is? What about dark matter and dark energy? Would you like to know what they are and how they behave? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, then you aren’t alone. The quest to understand these mysterious and fundamental phenomena occupies many professional astronomers and cosmologists on a daily basis.

This artist's concept shows ESA's Euclid Space Telescope, to which NASA is contributing. Image credit: ESA/C. Carreau.
This artist's concept shows ESA's Euclid Space Telescope, to which NASA is contributing. Image credit: ESA/C. Carreau.

To gather the observational data that they need in order to test our theories, scientists and engineers from around the world designed the Euclid Space Telescope. Euclid will survey a huge area of the sky in unprecedented detail, providing exquisite images of millions of galaxies spanning the history of the Universe from just 4 billion years after the Big Bang, right up until the present day. For a tiny fraction of the galaxies that Euclid will observe, the light that they emit will be distorted by a phenomenon called "gravitational lensing". Gravitational lensing happens when the light from one distant galaxy passes close to another foreground galaxy on its journey to Earth. The gravity of the foreground galaxy bends the light around it, acting like a lens and distorting the distant galaxy’s image distinctive ways. If we can find enough gravitational lenses and study their properties, we’ll be many steps closer to understanding the most fundamental constituents and properties of our Universe.

Examples of lensed galaxies, blue arcs around a central object.
Examples of lensed galaxies, blue arcs around a central object.

To learn how to do this Zooniverse needs your help! They have millions of galaxies to search for gravitational lensing signatures and it turns out that doing this automatically is really difficult. Simple computer algorithms just aren’t up to the task and modern AI techniques need gigantic sets of pre-labelled training data to be effective. On the other hand, volunteers like you only need to see a few examples to become very adept lens spotters. Euclid: Challenge the Machines is a brand new Zooniverse project that asks you to identify simulated gravitational lenses that the automated searches might miss so that we can learn how to do better. They hope that your classifications can be used to teach the machines what to look for so that they can do the really heavy lifting and find every single lens that those millions of galaxy images contain.

Get involved at https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/hughdickinson/euclid-challenge-the-machines/classify

As well as the browser version of this project, this project is available to complete using the app version of Zooniverse. The app version allows you to swipe yes or swipe no for each image, speeding up classifying the galaxies (and it is more fun). The Zooniverse app is available for both Android and iOS and can be downloaded for free from the Google Play Store and the App store for Android and iOS respectively.
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Saturday, June 1, 2019

What's In The Sky - June 2019

Get ready for summer stargazing! With the weather warming up, June is a great time of year to enjoy relaxing evenings under starry skies with your telescope or astronomy binoculars. Here are a few of Orion Telescopes and Binoculars top picks for June 2019 stargazing:

Jupiter at Opposition

Jupiter shines brightly in the constellation Ophiuchus during June and will be at opposition to the Sun on June 10. Around the same time is also its closest approach to Earth, making it an ideal time for observation. Use a SkyQuest XT6 PLUS Dobsonian along with the 10mm Plossl eyepiece and Shorty 2x Barlow lens that come with it to get views of the largest planet in our solar system at 240x magnification! Or, pair it with the Orion StarShoot 1.3mp Solar System V Imaging Camera for an affordable planetary imaging system!

M13 - Great Globular Cluster in Hercules imaged on ATEO-1 by Insight Observatory.
M13 - Great Globular Cluster in Hercules imaged on ATEO-1 by Insight Observatory.

Summer is Globular Season!

Globular star clusters are densely packed balls of stars that are concentrated towards the center of the Milky Way. June skies offer some of the finest globular cluster viewing opportunities. While you can detect most globular clusters in 50mm or larger binoculars, a moderate to high-power eyepiece in a 6" or larger telescope offers the best chance to resolve individual stars. In the constellation Hercules, look for M92 and the “Great Cluster” M13. In Scorpius, look for M4 and M80. The constellation Ophiuchus is home to six globulars – M10, M12, M14, M107, M9, and M19. Can you spot them all?

The Virgo Cluster

A treasure trove of galaxies can be explored if you point your 6” or larger telescope toward the Virgo Galaxy Cluster. The Event Horizon radio telescope array released the first image of a black hole in April, of the supermassive black hole in M87. While the black hole might need an Earth-sized radio telescope array to resolve it, the galaxy itself can be viewed with more affordable equipment. Aim your telescope at M87 in the constellation Virgo and start scanning the surrounding night sky. How many galaxies can you see?

Summertime Star Party

Take advantage of the New Moon on June 3rd and the galaxies and globular clusters visible to put on a star party! Not only will the dark skies of the moonless night provide great opportunities to see fainter objects more clearly, but the warm June weather will make it easy to enjoy starry sights all night long with friends and family.

Swirling Spirals

Around 10pm in mid-June, two glorious, face-on spiral galaxies M51 and M101 will both be in a great position for viewing and imaging. Look for M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy, to the southwest of the star Alkaid at the end of the Big Dipper's "handle". Scan the sky to the northeast of Alkaid to find M101, the Pinwheel Galaxy. Under very dark skies, these distant galaxies can barely be detected in smaller telescopes, but a 10" or larger reflector will reveal much more impressive views. If you're viewing from an especially dark location, try to resolve the delicate spiral arms of M51 in a 10" or larger telescope.

M101, M27, and M51 imaged on ATEO-1 by Mr Daniels 8th-Grade Students from the Plymouth Community Intermediate School, Plymouth, MA.
M101, M27, and M51 imaged on ATEO-1 by Mr Daniels 8th-Grade Students from the Plymouth Community Intermediate School, Plymouth, MA.

Gems of the Summer Triangle By 10pm in mid-northern latitudes, the Summer Triangle, comprising beacon stars Vega (in Lyra), Deneb (in Cygnus), and Altair (in Aquila), will be fully visible above the horizon. Several celestial gems lie within its confines, including the Ring Nebula (M57), the Dumbbell Nebula (M27), open star cluster M29, and the visually challenging Crescent Nebula (NGC 6888). To catch a glimpse of the elusive Crescent, you'll almost certainly need an Orion Oxygen-III Filter in a larger telescope.

Summer Sky Challenge Discovered in 1825 by the German astronomer Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve, NGC 6572 is bright enough to be seen in a humble 60mm refractor telescope from a dark sky site; but it is very, very small! At only 8 arc-seconds in size, it takes a lot of magnification to distinguish this from a star. The easiest way to find it is to look in the target area for a green star. NGC 6572 is one of the most intensely colored objects in the night sky. Some say this is green, some say it is blue; what do you think?

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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