Monthly Archives August 2012

Lost Under the Stars with the Whirpool Galaxy, Andromeda, and Vega

Last night, I was out in my backyard getting lost in the night.  It was a crystal clear night and the Moon was reflecting a lot of light since it was almost full.  Not a great night to shoot objects in the sky due to the Moon’s light pollution but that did not stop me.  Here are some of the pictures I took the night of August 28, 2012:

In hopes of catching the Whirlpool Galaxy before it set behind the trees in my backyard, I took this image and happened to capture the Galaxy between the trees.

The Andromeda Galaxy rises above the trees in my backyard from 10:15pm on through the night. I love capturing this Galaxy.

Vega is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra, the fifth brightest star in the night sky and the second brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, after Arcturus. It is a relatively close star at only 25 light-years from Earth, and, together with Arcturus and Sirius, one of the most luminous stars in the Sun’s neighborhood.

Read More >

The Art of Telescope Balancing, a Lesson in Physics, for the Celestron CG-5 GOTO Mount

Astrophotograpy is not a hobby you can jump right into!  Although eager to capture my first deep sky object, I jumped in head first.  When dealing with telescope mounts, telescopes, and autoguiding, I spent many a frustrating night over the past few weeks trying to figure out why my telescope was off in polar alignment when I was trying to take long exposure photos.

Celestron CG-5 Mount Unbalanced

The art of telescope balancing involves physics plain and simple.  The mount that I have can hold up to a 35lb payload sitting on top of it.  It only took me a couple months before I actually weighed all of the individual pieces I had siting atop the mount.  Turned out I have 21.5 lbs on my mount, which is no big deal right?  Wrong!

Given that the mount only came with an 11lb counterweight, my telescope was way out off balance, which caused problems with alignment and autoguiding (which I will describe in another post).  A telescope must be balanced in Right Ascension (RA) and Declination (DEC).  As you can see in the photo, the 11lb counterweight was NO match for the 21.5 lbs payload, consisting of two telescopes, dovetails, saddle plates, red dot finder, and a clamshell.  Who knew that all that stuff added up to so much weight?  So what is the solution?  Physics will tell you that you need to add more weight to the other side of the mount.  Luckily, they make extra counterweights...

Read More >

Andromeda, Our Closest Spiral Neighbor Galaxy

On August 15th and 16th, I went out to test out a guidescope and reshoot some of the objects I have photographed in the last few weeks. I was out for a couple hours and was about to pack up my telescope and bring it inside when something told me to slew to M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, to see if it was visible from my backyard. After dialing in the coordinates, I patiently waited for the gears on the mount to come to a grinding halt. After pressing my remote shutter release for a 4 minute exposure on my DSLR, Andromeda revealed itself!

Andromeda Galaxy: August 16, 2012; 90 sec exposure; Nikon D7000; Tak Sky 90II

Andromeda Galaxy: August 16, 2012; 90 sec exposure; Nikon D7000; Tak Sky 90II

At a mind boggling distance of 2.3 million light-years, the Andromeda galaxy (also called M31) is the closest and brightest spiral galaxy to our Milky Way, but not the closest galaxy! The Milky Way is also a spiral galaxy which, spiral being the operative word, makes Andromeda the closest mirror of ourselves. The Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy, which is about 42,000 light years from the galactic center of our Milky Way, and a mere 25,000 light years from us (read more here: Universe Today), takes the award for being the closet galaxy!

As I was looking through my photos, I noticed an long white streak running through one of my images.  Upon further investigation, this appears to be a Satellite that just happened to cross the field of the view of the telescope.

Andromeda Galaxy: August 16, 2012; 90 sec exposure; Nikon D7000; Tak Sky 90II

Andromeda Galaxy: August 16, 2012; 90 sec exposure; Nikon D7000; Tak Sky 90II

Read More >

Perseid Meteor Shower was a Dazzling Display

I saw my first meteor shower tonight from the comfort of my own backyard.  I was out tonight shooting the North Star (Polaris) with my telescope at 11pm when I noticed a bright flash of light streak through the night sky.  I quickly took my DSLR off my telescope and quickly mounted it to a tripod in hopes to capture one of these amazing bursts of light with my camera.  It is 1am now and I did not think I had captured any of the meteors I have seen tonight.  As I was pouring over the hundreds of photos I took tonight, a small white streak in the upper left of this photo caught my eye:

Perseid Meteor Shower

Perseid Meteor Shower

As you can see, there is a white streak of light to the left of the redwood tree and I am amazing that I actually caught one of these on film.  There were three memorable meteors that left a lasting impression on me as they burned a bright white and cut through the darkness, leaving a long trail behind them.

Between the hours 1am and 1:30am I had to recharge my battery for my camera, which gave me some time to write so here I am.  After coming back from shooting a second time, I caught two more meteors at 1:53am and 1:54am and thank goodness because I am tired!

Perseid Meteor Shower @ 1:53am

Perseid Meteor Shower @ 1:53am

Perseid Meteor Shower @1:54am

Perseid Meteor Shower @1:54am

I was truly captivated by the site of the meteors tonight as I have never seen anything like this before...

Read More >

Stellular Showdown: Comparing the Sun, Antares, and Arcturus

It is interesting to learn the sheer size and scale of objects in the sky.  It is hard for me to wrap my head around the mass of objects.  For example, the Sun weighs 2 billion billion billion tons, a mass so large that it is hard for me to relate to.  One of my favorite stars to look at in the sky is called Antares, which is classified as a red supergiant star.  It is referenced below in an image I took back in July 2012, which is only a 13 second exposure taken with my DSLR camera.

Antares (taken with my DSLR)

Antares (taken with my DSLR)

I always thought the Sun was huge, and it is when you compare it to the planets in our Solar System.  For example, you could fit 1 million Earths inside the Sun…now that is huge!  When compared to other Stars in our Solar System, the Sun is actually quite small.  Compared to Antares, the Sun becomes insignificant.  Antares is enormous!  In terms of weight, this star boasts 12.4 M (solar mass), which is the equivalent of 12.4 times the mass of our Sun.  If you take the time to calculate that out, you get a number with a lot zeros after it.  Arcturus is another one of my favorite stars to gaze at because of its orange yellow glow in the night sky.

Arcturus (Tak Sky 90II, 30 sec exposure)

Arcturus (Tak Sky 90II, 30 sec exposure)

Because mass is hard for me to relate to, sometimes a visual aid helps tell the story of how different objects compare to one another.  Here is a relative size comparison among the Antares, Arcturus, and the Sun (see below)...

Read More >

How the Moon was Formed

How The Moon Was Formed (Image Courtesy of NASA)

How The Moon Was Formed (Image Courtesy of NASA)

How was the Moon formed?  These are the questions that either keep me up at night or I think about during the day.  When gazing at the night sky, it is very easy to get lost in the beauty of the constellations, stars, and planets.  One of the most familiar objects in the sky, our Moon, has captivated people for centuries but it is hard to believe that Earth once existed without its little satellite.

There are several theories on how the Moon came to be.  The one that has caught my attention, as well as many astrophysicists, is the Giant Impact Theory, which purports that the Moon was formed from a Mars sized object (referred to as Theia) that collided with Earth approximately 4.5 billion years ago.  The debris from the collision coalesced into what we know today as our Moon.  I found it fascinating that this theory did not come to fruition until the year 1975 when by Drs. William K. Hartmann and Donald R. Davis proposed this new idea.  Analysis of the Moon’s surface and rocks supported this hypothesis as the Moon’s material is made of some of the same minerals found on Earth.  To  illustrate what scientists believed happened, I came across a video

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkt

I thought this was pretty cool so I dug up some fun facts about the Moon:

  • The Moon is moving away from Earth at a rate of 3.8 centimeters per year
  • When the Moon was formed, it was about 14,000 miles from Earth but is now on average ...
Read More >

Mars Curiosity Rover Lands Safely on the Red Planet

First Images from the Mars Curiosity Rover

First Images from the Mars Curiosity Rover

Tonight was the first time in my life where I have experience the thrill and exhilaration of watching a live broadcast of a craft touchdown on Mars over 350 million miles away.  I tuned in and watched the live streaming broadcast huddled in front of my laptop while on our yearly vacation to Lake Tahoe.  My son and wife watched along as I patiently waited for mission control to give the word that the Curiosity had made it safely to Mars.  As the rover entered Mars’ atmosphere, my excitement grew as I anxiously awaited the news!  With zero room for error, the computer controlled landing of the rover was executed flawlessly, just in time for the Odyssey satellite to relay back crucial data and images of the touchdown.  I felt a great sense of pride and emotion as I witnessed this historic event live!  Here are some images I captured from the control room as I was watching the live steaming feed.

Read More >