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1/20/2010

Experience with Faulkes and Messier 1

On Friday, January 15th, 2010 I had the wonderful and delightful opportunity to meet with other members of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society in downtown Salt Lake as we met to use the Faulkes North Telescope. The Faulkes North Telescope is located at Haleakala HI, and is a 2m or 2 meter Reflector. Information on the Faulkes Telescope and program can be found here. Arriving there I joined other members of the society as we went through a list of possible targets. We were able to whittle the target base down to a couple objects thinking that less was more. Our first target, and the only target we focused on was Messier 1 (M1), the Crab Nebula. We ended up using our hour and half on the scope taking a variety of images that included a Hydrogen Beta, OIII, Hydrogen Alpha, RGB Composites and Air Exposures. Conditions were really good that night, with 6% humidity, clear skies and great seeing the resulting image is considered very stellar. Tyler Allred, an outstanding imager of astronomical objects (his website is here) complied the image. I'll load it below but you can see it at Tyler's website under under his latest images. Roger Fry, our club Vice-President and Chair of our Faulkes Committee arranged the details and we met at Bob Moore's office. Huge kudos to both Roger and Bob for arranging and hosting, and to Tyler for creating the image.

The Crab Nebula and the associating Pulsar that is the what is left of the giant star that exploded in 1054 and was first noted by Chinese Astronomers as a guest star in the night sky. it was visible in daylight for 23 days, and 653 days to the naked eye in the night sky. The supernova was visible during the daytime for 23 days and for at least 653 nights to the naked eye. The Anasazi probably recorded the star as found in modern day Arizona and New Mexico and in Chaco Canyon National Park (see this link for more information on the Anasazi drawings and this link). It also needs to say that this is only one view of what this image represents and it is questioned by some experts.

The estimated apparent magnitude was between -7 and -4.5, second only to the moon in brightness. It is estimated to by around 6300 ly away and is expanding at a rate 1500 km/s. The outward velocity of the nebula is increasing because of the pulsar which is feeding its energy into the magnetic field, expanding the nebula and forcing the filiments outward. The pulsar has the mass of the earth but is the size of New York!

At the center of the nebula are two faints stars (visible in the image) and the lower one is the pulsar that is the cause of this object. The pulsar is rotating at a speed of 30.2 revolutions per second (now that's fast!). The pulsar is sending out shock waves and they are visible in the image we captured, and also here, which is a study put together by Olivia Gomez, a student at St David's Catholic 6th Form College, Cardiff, who in the summer of 2007 worked on the Faulkes data to produce this image footage. Look for those shock waves in our image. Also, please note that the lower star (of the two next to each other) is the pulsar and you can see the shock waves coming out from there.

Finally, Dr. Faulkes (his trust site) has to be recognized for his donations and contributions to making this program available. I showed this to my students and I explained the process. They loved the image but what is more telling to me is I had students asking what pulsar is, what was a supernova, and why are they important. From that led to several inquiry engagements where students are now exploring to answer their own questions. Truly, as much fun as we had with this, the deeper impact to me is the inner questions that my students raised. I would hope that some of them will feel a desire to keep asking questions, to keep exploring and that they seek careers involved with science and math. I have to note that I mentioned to them on Tuesday what I had done and would go over it later this week. One of my more inquisitive students took the bull by the horns so to speak, and went home and she began to research. She knew what a pulsar was and that it emitted radiation and spun extremely fast. So those of us with more knowledge due to more experience may use these fine instruments, yet it is to the younger generation that I still look to in hope, that they will take tools like this, and make bold and new discoveries that help to define our knowledge of this universe and our place in it, while improving themselves in every way they can.

So without any further ado, here is the image.

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