Wednesday, 25 July 2012

A new surge of astronomical activity across the UK

What with the consistent beautiful clear weather we've had following months of persitent rain and cloud, the guaranteed clear skies have brought everyone out to look at the stars. I've spent many a moment staring up at the Milky Way on recent nights. You can follow it from Sagittarius and the Scutum cloud in the South, to the fork at Aquila the eagle, up through the Cygnus rift, where the swan flies along it from right to left, and across the gap to Cassiopeia, the 'W' in the North East. The double cluster is visible in the space between Cassiopeia and Perseus, who is climbing up from the North East horizon. Below Cassiopeia, the Andromeda galaxy is now visible again. When I look at this galaxy, I try to imagine it far beyond as well as below our Milky Way Galaxy above it. Of course, the true scale is unimaginable. This photo is of a fairly large patch of sky in Cepheus (the King), situated just above the Milky Way inbetween Cassiopeia and Cygnus. I centred on the nebulosity illuminated by the red star mu Cephei, called the 'Garnet Star'. Delta Cephei, the archetype Cepheid variable is visible to the lower left, also with what looks like some nebulosity near it. Some call it the Elephant Trunk nebula, but I guess I'd have to get a little more zoomed in. It's a stunning wide field with dark dust lanes strung out in front of the background stars in the next outer spiral arm of our Galaxy. Picture comprises of 9 x 1 minute exposures through a 135mm lens stopped to f/4, tracked on an EQ5 mount, and many flats and darks were taken to calibrate the picture.

Monday, 23 July 2012

At last... a clear night!

I had to take the opportunity of a clear night to get a picture of this lovely object with my little 8" Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope. The Society's 20" newtonian is undergoing a hardware upgrade at the moment, and besides this huge nebula won't fit into it's field of view. I went back to doing what I used to do, find a dark field, as far from light pollution as I could. My telescope's (Meade LX10) Right Ascension motor was tracking well now due to a replacement Tantalum bead capacitor on the PCB and I had previously calibrated it to sidereal tracking rate by following a star and adjusting a replacement potentiometer. I went near Seething, an old hamlet and airfield near where Norwich Astronomical Society's observatory is based. I was (and still am) horrified by the brightness of a glaring blue white light in the middle of the rural darkness. The people who install these lights must have no awareness. Anyway, I carefully aligned my tripod, which gave me good tracking for 30 seconds, despite the gentle breeze. Focused on Antares, and got a few test shots while darkness was falling. I captured 50 or so frames of this obejct, the Lagoon nebula, M8 on my modified Canon EOS 1000D, attached to the 8" SCT via an f/6.3 focal reducer. I also got all the calibration frames, Flat-field frames were obtained rather crudely in the field, using a mobile phone to illuminate an A3 sheet of paper held in front of the scope. It's probably best to use twilight next time as they weren't brilliant, but did the job. So here you go, my first picture for a long while on my good old 8" SCT.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Grazing occultation of Jupiter

We were due, at shortly after 3 am Sunday July 15 for the moon to pass over half of the planet Jupiter. This view was only visible in a short band across the UK, with our observatory smack bang in the centre. I stuck it out at the observatory. It had clouded over yet again. I was watching the satellite picture. Andy came over, not wanting to miss anything, but it started to rain, on and off. The situation didn't look good. After Andy's departure and a further hour, the clouds started to part in the West and in a bright sky I found stars to focus the scope on. I attached the Canon and eventually the tiny break passed over the moon, and I focused. A slightly bigger break revealed bright Jupiter, just off the moon. So I missed it, but saw a beautiful conjunction in the morning sky. I got two shots to make this mosaic. It's amazing how fast the moon moves. Brilliant Venus poked out shortly thereafter, and I watched them all the way home, rising into the ever brightening dawn twilight.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Wolf 359

I was recently reminded of the song Far Out by Blur in which the star Wolf 359 is mentioned. I remembered that I had located it and taken a shot recently on a solo astrophotography trip to the observatory. It is about 13th magnitude and can be found in the South of Leo. The star itself is a red dwarf, a little bigger than Jupiter, you can see the deep orangey red colour to it in this photo. But more significantly, it is one of the closest stars to our Sun at 7.8 light years away and so its motion causes it to drift across the sky from year to year (~5"). Here, it is moving from top to bottom and slightly to the right, so it will pass close to the star beneath it in the coming few months. A background galaxy (14.5m) can be seen to the lower left, and an even fainter one (17m) above the arrow (Magnitudes found using Aladin).