Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cool November Nights

Even though October was a complete waste as far as the night sky went where I live, I was finally able to get out with my telescope tonight. Even though it's only 4.5" in diameter, I was able to see some things I never have before. It was quite exciting. And this was in-the-city viewing, with all of the light pollution we have too. So, I was able to see the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), the Orion Nebula (M42 and 43), Hyades (in Taurus) which was really awesome, the double cluster in Perseus consisting of NGC 869 and NGC 844 (which was awesome), and a few others. I did try to photograph them, but to no avail. So, now for some info on what I was able to see.

The Andromeda Galaxy
This particular galaxy is probably the most famous in the night sky. It is bright enough, at magnitude 4.4, to be seen with the naked eye. It is also known as M31 (or Messier 31) and NGC 224. This galaxy is like our own Milky Way in that it is a spiral galaxy believed to be similar in mass. It is located approximately 2,500,000 light years away and is found at Right ascension 00h 42m 44.3s, Declination +41° 16′ 9″[1].

Photo courtesy of NASA

The Orion Nebula
This nebula is also known as M42 or NGC 1976. It is referred to as a diffuse nebula (and contains mostly ionized hydrogen) and is located just below Orion's Belt at Right ascension 05h 35m 17.3s, Declination -05° 23′ 28″. At an apparent magnitude of +3.0, it is visible to the naked eye and is approximately 1,344 light years away. The Nebula is part of a much larger nebula known as the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex. This Complex extends throughout the constellation of Orion and includes Barnard's Loop, the Horsehead Nebula, M43, M78 and the Flame Nebula. Stars are forming throughout the Orion Nebula, and due to this heat-intensive process the region is particularly prominent in the infrared.

Photo courtesy of
The Hyades
I have never seen this before tonight. I thought it was really neat. I found it by accident. I had been looking for Orion and the Pleiades. Almost in between them, I could see a fuzzy patch, so I pointed my scope at it and saw this open cluster. It is classed as an open cluster because the stars are not as tightly bound by gravity as they are in a globular cluster. It consists of a roughly spherical group of 300 to 400 stars that share the same age, place of origin, chemical content, and motion through space. Hyades is approximately 151 light years away and can be found at Right ascension 04h 27m, Declination +15° 52′. The Hyades Cluster, at apparent magnitude 0.5, lies in the constellation Taurus, where its brightest stars form a rough "V" shape along with the still brighter red giant Aldebaran. Contrary to how it appears, Aldebaran is completely unrelated to the Hyades, as it is located much closer to Earth and merely happens to lie along the same line of sight.

Photo courtesy of SEDS
Perseus Double Cluster
These two open clusters are known as NGC 884 and NGC 869 (or more commonly known as the Double Cluster). They are visible to the naked eye and lie in the constellation Perseus, below Cassiopeia. NGC 884 is approximately 7600 light years away with NGC 869 being about 6800 light years away. They can be found at Right ascension 2h 20m, Declination 57° 08′. In the photo below, NGC 884 is the on the left and NGC 869 on the right. It is said they have blueshifted as well, which is a method of determining their distance using light wavelengths, etc. They are traveling toward Earth at approximately 22km/s.

Photo courtesy

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

October Night Sky Events

October is a good month for observing. The sky is darker earlier, it's still not terribly cold outside (we hope), and there are different objects to see. For example, the Orion constellation is up and with it, the Orionid meteor shower.

On Oct. 8 at about 6 a.m., Venus should be shining brightly near the eastern horizon. Below that, depending where you are, you might spot Mercury and Saturn. By Oct. 13, at about 6:30 a.m., Saturn will have moved to the upper left of Venus. On Oct. 16, in the eastern sky, just before dawn, there should be a conjunction with the crescent Moon and Venus and Saturn. Then on Oct. 26 or 27, the Moon and Jupiter should be in conjunction at just three degrees apart.

A major event this month is the lunar landing of the LCROSS lunar rover. I believe it should be visible if you have a 10" or larger telescope. There is a countdown clock on the right side of this page.

Another important event this month is the RASC Saskatoon Centre open house at the Sleaford dark site. It is located about 65 kms east of Saskatoon and offers great celestial viewing. This event will be held on Friday, Oct. 23 and Saturday, Oct. 24. There will be a convoy of cars leaving from the east end of the Saskatoon Field House parking lot at 7 p.m. on both nights. The Sleaford site is operated jointly by the RASC Saskatoon Centre and the U of S Department of Physics and Engineering Physics. RASC club members will set up their own telescopes, in addition to the U of S telescopes that are setup there. For more information call 966-6429. Make sure to take warm, weather appropriate clothing.

Additional viewing events for October:

Oct. 7 - Moon 0.1 deg N of Pleiades (M45)
Oct. 8 - Draconid meteors peak; Mercury 0.3 deg S of Saturn
Oct. 10 - Moon 1.2 deg N of M35 (open star cluster in Gemini)
Oct. 12 - Occultation of the Moon and Mars
Oct. 13 - Moon at perigee (369067 kms)
Oct. 15 - Zodiacal light visible in eastern sky before morning twilight for the next two weeks
Oct. 21 - Orionid meteors peak
Oct. 25 - Moon at apogee (404166 kms)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

And The Fight Is On...

Well, I've done it. I've bought a Canon camera. After much deliberating, I have taken the plunge back to Canon. I sold my Nikon D80 and bought a Canon 40D. I have kept my Nikon D90 however. I have an 18-55mm image stabilization lens for the D90 and I've ordered the same size lens for the 40D. Both will have batter grips, and remote shutter release cables.

I've heard nothing but great things about the 40D. My friend Bob, of Blackholes and Astrostuff has a 40D. I've always loved how his photos turn out so much more full of color than mine. The major difference is in the sensors on the camera. The Nikon is not an ideal camera for night photography, in my opinion. It introduces too much noise and red color into the photos. The Canons is rated far superior for night photography than the Nikons.

One thing I noticed at the Cypress Hills Star Party (SSSP 2009) in August, is that everyone had a Canon DSLR for night shooting. I had the chance to meet Alan Dyer while there and bought his book (that was co-written by Terrence Dickinson), The Backyard Astronomer's Guide. Even in that book they recommend strongly that Canon is the only way to go for night photography. So, how could I pass up the chance to improve my night shooting of the stars by not getting this camera? Truth is that I couldn't.

I haven't had a chance to use the 40D yet, due to the weather, but hopefully soon. I'll also be ordering the necessary adapters to attach the Canon to a telescope, similar to the set up for my Nikon. As soon as I have some results, I'll post them. For now, I have a picture of the Nikon D80, Canon 40D and Nikon D90, respectively, so you can see how they all look.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Daytime Crescent Moon

After seeing my friend Bob of Blackholes and Astrostuff post photos of a daytime crescent Moon, I got thinking, I don't think I've really photographed a daytime Moon through my telescope. So, I thought I'd give it a try. I've got to tell you, it's not as easy as it would seem. It is harder to find the Moon when it's not shining at 3 million candle power in a telescope eyepiece. Also, it's much harder to focus on the Moon during the day, especially when it's kind of faint. Below are my first photos taken through my Orion 4.5" telescope. They are all taken with a Nikon D90, some with a 2x barlow and the last two with 3x barlow.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Moon with Jupiter

I'm not sure if it was an official conjunction tonight, but in my world it was. The Moon and Jupiter were close enough to get in the same frame when taking pictures tonight. For some reason, my camera was not behaving, so I was only able to get a couple of decent shots.

These next two photos were taken by using the multiple exposure function on my Nikon D90. I took two exposures; one of the Moon, then adjusted the settings, and snapped Jupiter.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Aurora, Galaxies, and Jupiter, Oh My

I went out to the RASC Saskatoon Centre's dark site a few nights ago to capture some images. The sky was amazingly clear, until the dew started to fall. However, I still managed to snap some neat stuff that I've never photographed before. The night was full of wonderful sights, including Aurora, Jupiter, Milky Way, Andromeda Galaxy, Pleiades, meteors, and a jet airplane.

I tried to upload the images I shot and Blogger completely messed them up, so I've linked the photos below to my Flickr account, so if you click on a photo, it will go to my Flickr site.

Anyway, I managed to catch some good shots of the Milky Way, including some with meteors streaking through them. I also snapped Jupiter with the Milky Way; the Milky Way with Cassiopeia, the Andromeda Galaxy and a meteor streaking by; Jupiter and the Milky Way, Andromeda and the Pleiades; and the Pleiades with aurora. I also got a jet flying through a Milky Way picture. That was kind of neat.

I should also mention that all of these photos were taken using only a Nikon D90 with an 18-55mm lens on a tripod.

The photo below is of the Milky Way and a meteor streaking by just to the right of center.

Here is the same shot with a little different editing. It hopefully appears lighter.

Here is another attempt at the same photo to edit it so it's brighter.
DSC_0238c copy

This photo is photo of the Milky Way with a jet flying through the photo. I thought it was kind of neat.

This photo is of a brief appearance of the aurora.

This is more of a close-up of the Pleiades.

This is a wide angle shot with the Pleiades toward the bottom just to the right of center.

This photo has the Milky Way going down the middle of it, with Cassiopeia in the middle of the picture. The Andromeda Galaxy is to the right of center and about one third of the way from the right side of the photo. It looks like an orangey, fuzzy ball.

This photo has a meteor in it toward the bottom just right of center.

This photo has Cassiopeia in the middle toward the top, with Andromeda to the right of that and a meteor toward the lower left.

This is a wide angle shot with the Pleiades in the lower right.

This photo has Jupiter shining bright on the lower left and the Milky Way on the right side.

Here is the same photo with different editing.
DSC_0243b copy

This one has the Milky Way running down the middle with two meteors forming a V about one third from the right side, just above the middle.

This photo is of Jupiter and four of its moons.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cypress Hills Summer Star Party (SSSP 09)

This year's edition of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) Saskatchewan Summer Star Party (SSSP 2009). We left Saskatoon and it looked to be a promising weekend for star gazing. Apparently the weather had other ideas. We arrived on Thursday night in the rain. It rained and was foggy/hazy most of the day on Friday and that night. It was cold and windy on Saturday until it started raining just after lunch. It poured buckets the rest of the day and all night. It continued to rain all day Sunday until we arrived home. 300-400 people with telescopes and not one got used. It was the first time in 15 years that the entire weekend was rained out.

The picture below is a shot of the weather on Sunday just before we left.

And wouldn't you know it, back to work Monday, was clear, hot and sunny. Now tonight, it's cloudy and going to rain. We just can't win this summer. I don't know who is being punished, but man they must have done something bad to deserve this.

On the bright side, there were some great speakers, good food, fantastic door prizes and good times getting to know other astronomy enthusiasts. For example, Alan Dyer was there. He is a wonderful film maker, astronomer and photographer. I bought a copy of The Backyard Astronomer's Guide, co-written by Alan Dyer. He had a book signing, so I got mine by him. The other bonus was staying in a condo with my family. Always good times when you hang out with family. We played mini golf as well.

One cool thing I got to do was be involved with the door prizes. My Dad was able to get a huge amount of door prizes. I was able to donate two of them - a Galileoscope and one of the meteorites that I found from the Buzzard Coulee fall from November 20, 2008. Below is a picture similar to the one I donated.

The people were the highlight of the weekend. There were lots of great people who are very smart and fun to hang around and have a good time with. So, all in all, even though the skies didn't agree, the weekend turned out to be fun.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Waning Moon and Jupiter

Not much to say about this. It's pretty obvious what it is. Just happened to catch the Moon and Jupiter the other night before the clouds rolled in. I wanted to try out my new Celestron 2x barlow again and was extremely happy with the results.

These were taken with my 3x barlow.

These ones of Jupiter and three of it's moons were taken with the 3x barlow as well.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Almost Perfect Moon

Tonight the Moon was about 99% full. It was clear out, there was no wind and I was able to capture some great shots. They were all taken through my Orion 4.5" telescope using a Nikon D90.

This first shot was with just the camera and no barlow lens.

These next shots were taken using a Celestron Ultima 1.25" - 2x barlow (part # 93506). I was able to order it from our local store Neural Net Interactive. It was the first time I had used it, so I was anxious to try it. I think the results speak for themselves.

These next two shots were taken using a Antares 3x barlow that I bought from Khan Scope in Toronto, ON. I'm not terribly happy with the overall quality of this barlow. I think if I could, I would have gotten a Celestron one. Oh well, live and learn.