Astro-Photography Contest/How They Make a Hubble Image look pretty/Sketching Site of the Week

I am sure hoping that next week as we get to new moon that the weather here clears up. We had one really nice night but the moon was a waning gibbous at about 90% of full. I didn't go out but almost did. Besides the weather I have really suffered from some health issues of late and that has been finally starting to clear (?) up, I hope. We had a new recreation center open so I have started to lap swim again and it feels so good to get in 45 minutes of a constant exercise. Though boring to some I guess, I just love being in the water and do different strokes. Its the one exercise I can do that doesn't bother my bad low back or my bad left knee. It truly sucks getting middle age, especially when I view myself still as being around 35.

I have three items to post about tonight. The first two come from the Bad Astronomy Blog at Discovery. There Phil Plait shares a video from YouTube (embedded, which I cannot due here) on how NASA takes a Hubble Image and makes it into a beautiful picture. You can find over at YouTube and you can find the link here. I really recommend you go and check that out! For research they study and refine the image in much more detail. Check out Bad Astronomy for more info on that part of the process.

The next thing is for astro-photographers. The Greenwich Observatory is having a contest to award the Astro-Photographer of the Year. This link provides you with information and a link to photos that have been submitted and that are the favorites right now. This link will tell you the areas that you can submit for and the prizes (awarded in British pounds) for each category. There is also a grand overall winner. Though not an imagining currently, I still enjoy seeing their work. If your into that, give it a go!

Two items to finish up this post. First is I am working on a couple of other sketches and will post them up when I am done with them (time, end of a term and I've been entering grades etc this week).

Next, is something I want to do. I want to highlight another site on astronomical sketching here so others can find more info. Today's site is Rony's Astronomy Site. Rony is based in Belgium and is a fantastic sketcher! His site and program on his site is designed for small telescopes and gives a view of his sketch and of the object in a very organized and orderly way. I encourage you to head over there and take a look, and explore Rony's first class work.

Rony's binocular section provides a wonderful treat to those using binoculars (and you may see the inspiration for my own digital sketches) and what certain objects look like not only through binoculars, but through some telescopes as well.

His Mars 2005 Opposition sketches are marvelous and I encourage you to take a look in that section also to see what this neighboring planet looked like in 2005. I could continue but I highly recommend Rony's site and think you should spend some time there looking over things.

So, lets hope this weather pattern in the western U.S. breaks next week and I can get out three times next week! I need that to happen so bad. Rony also has a site at this location which is more current. It is in Dutch so if you use Google Chrome you can translate it.


Sketch of Messier 51 The WhirlPool Galaxy

Here is a sketch of Messier 51, the WhirlPool Galaxy. Not thrilled with it but I haven't sketched much lately so here is this one. It is based on some observations through my 20' and some images taken in astro-photography using a video cam. I didn't have much time to work the sketch, about 3o minutes and with the detail that was evident, I should have really taken my time, done this in quadrants but I was just to excited.


XX14i Azimuth and Altitude Movement

This is a movie of my daughter moving the XX14i around just after it was assembled last summer. I don't think I posted this yet, but if I have I apologize. My daughter has also used the 20 inch Obsession at our family cabin/observatory. I need to re-interview her as she is pretty honest that the motion is better than the XT8 and XT10 that I had owned before I did some modifications, and not as smooth as the Obsession, but that it works well. Again, these are not the motions of a premium dob, but with some Sailkote the azimuth motion is really nice (this movie was taken before I applied the Sailkote to the azimuth). My daughter is about 5" 2' and all of about 115lbs. So you can determine for yourself how the motions are, probably best to try one out if you can if your investigating it.


Astronomical Sketching Videos on YouTube

Well, I'm bored. I just spent a couple hours reading and grading papers, and though for many of you this may sound weird, I actually enjoy doing. But it does wear on me mentally, so I decided to go out to YouTube and see what I could find on Astronomical Sketching.

The first one comes from SkySketcher1 and can be found at this link. The video is a walk through by her at the International Sketching Exhibition of some of the best astronomical sketching done in the twentieth and so far into the twenty first century (I am assuming). You'll recognized some of the sketchers who have their worked portrayed, and you may just find yourself pausing the video to take a closer look at some of the works. Truly amazing.

This next video by OrionTelescopes is for beginners or those who are just starting out at the eyepiece with sketching. The narrator makes a point that sketching increases the amount of detail you see in the object. With this I totally agree. It makes me slow down and observe details. What is fun, is when your sketching an object and suddenly the seeing just pops out and you details that weren't there suddenly appear for a moment and then disappear. I know I try to capture those details but can't rush it, and often then wait for the seeing to clear again before adding more detail. My only criticism of this video is the narrator is sketching M42, The Orion Nebula and I would have not had him sketching that object, as it is rather large and complex and even semi-experience sketchers can find that a challenge to conquer. Then again, I've seen some wonderful M42 sketches by newbies.

Lets see I found this new and interesting. It is a 3D sketch by Fred Burgeot of Jupiter. Head over and take a look and please read his comments. I really enjoyed viewing this. The detail is stunning, and I would love to know how many sketches it took to put that together. Fred also did one with his friend Pascal Chauvet of Mars. Again, both are just stunning.

Now these next couple of videos are not sketches, but video taken of craters on the moon and they have given me an idea that I want to try out. Since my weather truly sucks right now, I am going to use these to practice my lunar sketching. They have the distortions that occur while observing the moon, and the object moves out of the field of view so it will allow me to practice sketching, and then bumping back my telescope so to speak (rewinding it). So if that sounds like something you want to try, you may want to give it a go. Crater Clavius through a Meade 16' LB.
Copernicus Crater. On this one try going to 0:55 on the loop and freezing it or to another spot and freezing it and then practice sketching it. Both links of music so if you dislike the music, turn it off. I would assume one could sketch the planets using way also for practice.

Well, I didn't find much for the other planets. Plenty of images of Saturn, even the NASA recording of the sounds sent out by Saturn (link is to NASA website and info on it is found in this link).

That was about all I have found. I guess no one has wanted to create a video of sketching (it is hard in the dark) and put it on YouTube or somewhere else so others can learn from it. Sounds like an opportunity for someone with perhaps better skies than me this winter and more time.

I did find the Astrosketchers Group at the RASC site located here. It has some wonderful links and great advice. Another one to visit and book mark. Anyway, rather interesting in the lack of sketching videos as I said earlier. Then again, I could just be tired and brain dead and not searching correctly or as well as I can.

Saturn Flyby as seen from Cassini

If you didn't see the Astronomy Picture of the Day (it's a video of the day) then there is the link, and I highly recommend it. Sorry, not much going on right now with the waxing gibbous moon out.

Another wonderful 4:40 minutes of time spent is this video on YouTube on The Amazing Hubble. It contains wonderful images from the Hubble Space Telescope of great images from PN to galaxies and galaxy clusters, to Shoemaker Levy 9 . . . just so much. Head over on the link and check it out if it is cloudy where you are. Man, I really am missing sketching.


Sites to Help in Observing the Virgo Cluster; Observing the Jet in M 87

The Jet from the Black Hole in Messier 87 in the Virgo Cluster.

Hubble Space Telescope view of the Jet in Messier 87 (NASA Image).

One of the things on blogging when I am not reporting my own observations, is trying to come up with material that I think is interesting. Some is, some isn't. However, with Daylight Savings Time coming up on Sunday (YUCK, BOO, etc.) here in the U.S. (wish they would leave it alone or put it back to the first of April and October when the clocks change at minimum) and spring coming on or around the 21st of March, the thoughts of many lads and lasses aren't turning towards each other, but upward to the Virgo Cluster of galaxies. Yes, spring is galaxy time as Virgo, Ursa Major and many other wonderful constellations that contain great galaxies to view also (actually, I've found fall to be pretty enjoyable also).

So this post will focus on the Virgo Cluster of galaxies while later posts near full moon will focus on other constellations. My goal here is not to reinvent the wheel here, as there are some wonderful observers who are far more skilled than I who have shared their thoughts. So I will be presenting links to their websites with a summary of their web page.

The first link comes from SEDS and has some terrific links built into it. It has been five years (2006) since the information has been updated, but it is still quite useful for the visual amateur. There is a nice map that Charles Messier put together as seen here:

The site briefly discusses Messier's and Messier's peer ,Pierre Méchain who said he had seen more nebulae than Messier had in a 1783 letter, though what Pierre Méchain saw has been lost to history, at least for now.

The site has an image of the galaxies around M87 which is large and bright in the center, and then a list of top links that you can use and investigate if your wanting to get into this area or look at fainter objects.

If your new or find this area confusing, then SEDS site Observing the Virgo Cluster is a welcome site. The offer four different routes to exploring this region as offered by four authors, each who has their own unique way of navigating, which is true of each of us for the most part.

In this link you will see Scott Davis' sketch of the galaxies in the region and labeled (at the bottom, the top image is inverted).

Focus on Downtown Virgo is a great site for a this area also. It has an image again with the galaxies labeled. It begins with all the Messier galaxies, and then has a map for galaxies brighter than the 12th magnitude for larger scopes. It finally describes how to see the jet in M87 and states that a 10 inch with great seeing, quoting Jay Reynolds Freeman on this. I feel that my 14 inch can give it a good go and I know in the right conditions my 20 inch will show me the jet.

The Virgo Mainline by Steve Gottlieb (one of the great visual observers of our day in my opinion) offers a written description of navigating this area. Steve's observations are used in the NGC/IC Project, a site I highly recommend you use if your not.

This map by Jan Wisniewski gives an excellent overview of galaxies in the Virgo cluster. I must point out that Jan recommends using this map to identify individual galaxies. The easiest way, click on the galaxy and it will take you to a new page with a finder chart that is zoomed in more. This is just such a fantastic link and I highly recommend you use it.

Now for observing the jet in M 87. Steve Gottlieb and his friends have a site called Adventures in Deep Space, a site that should be your top site or in your top 3 for observing. In the site is a wonderful description of what it takes to see the jet in M 87 (this is the galactic material being spewed out by the enormous Black Hole at the center of M 87; see Astrobites as they have some interesting reviews of papers on these jets in large galaxies). Dave Healy saw it with a 16 inch Meade visually, and states "If I could see the jet in a 16-inch, it probably won't require someone with Steve O'Meara's eyesight to see it in a 14-inch or even a 12-inch, given a dark site."

Also at the link at the bottom, Roger Clark states at the link what it took for him to see the jet:

"12.5 inch f/6.1 Dob from the Colorado Rockies (about 9000 feet), very dark site.
Magnifications: 70, 98, 158, 280, 408x
Faintest star (in NGC7031): 16.3 > 50% time at 280x.

I did not know the direction of the jet (I did this on purpose so I would not have any bias).

The jet was visible at 280x 20% of the time. At 408x, it was visible 50% of the time. I made a drawing and later checked it against photos and the orientation was right on. The length observed was about 0.5 arc-minute long and only a few arc-seconds wide."

This web site by Reiner Vogel (it is in German, so use Google Translator; I do read French and some German so I follow some blogs on astronomy from Europe and then I test if my translation and thinking in that language are up to speed. So if it is in another language you may need to use Google Translator or another translation program to read it). Anyway Mr. Vogel reports this about seeing the jet using his 22 inch dob:

"After upping the magnification to 400x, the jet could be discerned with surprising ease as a small appendix to the nucleus of the galaxy. Its length was about 20 arc seconds, in agreement with the references in the literature. I had tried to get a feeling for the size of 20 arc seconds by observing Saturn ahead of M87. For comparison, the length of the jet in the image to the left corresponds approximately to the line width of the lettering of M87. As expected, I could not discern structures, such as the knots shown above, in the jet. Using the small galaxies in M87's immediate vicinity, the observed position of the jet was found to be in agreement with the photographs. These small galaxies might be helpful to direct your way to the jet under less optimal conditions where the observation is borderline.

I guess that good seeing is the most important condition for a successful observation of the jet, as the structure is very small and of low contrast, such that it blends into the background of M87's central part under suboptimal seeing. On the other hand, you will not need exceptionally dark sky, precisely because of the bright background of M87. This was confirmed in later observations under less than optimal seeing, which were not successful. In summary, an observation of the jet is really exciting, that's astrophysics at its best, live at the eyepiece!"

So, I do think with the right conditions based on these men's experience, and if the observer is an experience observer and has a dob or SCT say of 12.5 inches or better (the bigger increases the chance of seeing it) can see the jet in M 87. It takes good to very good skies, a dark site, an high magnification to get a glimpse. I am excited to try this in both my 14 inch and in my 20 inch this spring. Nice challenge for an evening. So if you have seen this wonderful object (the jet) in your scope leave a comment and let us all know the instrument, magnification and any tips you may have.

Where will the Space Shuttles End Up?

Space Shuttle Display at the Kennedy Space Center (IF they are awarded one of the three orbiters). It would show how the Shuttle was used and display it as working with the Earth and SS and the Hubble Space Telescope in the bay. I admit my bias to this one. It was my visit to the Kennedy Space Center with my kids that reignited an interest in science and space. For my son who is 17 in less than a month, it awakened a desire to do something in the sciences. I truly hope this location is awarded one, and I hope a site out west gets one since many in the west won't ever get to Florida.

Still cloudy and wet but I am hoping to get out Friday night!!!! So far the weather and conditions are looking good for that evening.

Congrats to the shuttle Discovery that completed its 39th mission and 145 million miles in space and had a successful landing. One question I've seen is what is to happen to the space shuttles after they are done? Gleaned from this article and several others here is the answer. First off, we won't know for sure until April 12th, the date that NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden will announce where the 3 orbiters Discovery, Endeavor and Atlantis are to be displayed and where Enterprise will be moving to. Discovery it seems and it looks to be pretty sure will be moving to the Smithsonian to take the place of the test shuttle Enterprise. That means Enterprise, Endeavor and Atlantis will be given to other museums to be displayed. Reading the linked article above both explains the process that it will take to prep the shuttles for their final flight, yes, they aren't done but their last flight is on the back of a 747 to their new homes.

What might these homes look like? This site shows what various museums will do in terms of displaying a shuttle. I like the Kennedy Space Center's display the best and it is displayed up at the top.


Illuminated Magnifying Glass

Okay. I have to apologize for all these posts that have nothing to do with observing. I know now that last Saturday I missed a wonderful opportunity to go out to Great Basin National Park where Ranger Kelly Carroll and his fellow rangers does an OUTSTANDING job of hosting those who want to observe (if you go there, call him ahead of time and he'll set you up, and probably observe with you; email me if you can't find his info and I'll share it with you). So this is the situation tonight with a thin crescent in the sky (behind the clouds and no, that is not ash from the Machine Gun Fire in Herriman, its snow): Snow falling (that is my front yard and why when I observe at home now I don't go to the front; back is much better if a LP zone can be better).

Just a little more than an inch. Weather is suppose to be great Thursday so I am intending of getting out Thursday night at a local dark spot.

Now another confession. I got new glasses just over a year ago and man, I hate getting older. Just seems more and more on the body starts getting ticked off at me. Guess its the hard years I've put on it. Anyway, just over a year ago I got new glasses and didn't need the bifocals on them quite yet. When I observe I sometimes wear my glasses (more and more) and sometimes I let them fall to my chest since I use a neck strap cord lanyard like this one. Works great but if I leave the glasses on and I go to look at a star map I find I am having trouble seeing my star chart. You may say go get bifocals. Nope, I'm too cheap. Next year when I get new glasses again I will. Until then I have a new toy I found for under $8.00 that will work! It is an illuminated magnifying glass. Here are the images. Note, the light is still too bright for me and I'll work it down until it works for a dark site. I promise, as soon as I can observe I will and I will report it, even it is double or lunar observing.

There it is. The light is a very bright white light that has to be dimmed down. Good old red fingernail polish for me to do this. If you do this, keep some with you in the field so if the paint chips off, you can do a quick fix.

This is the back of the unit with the switch that pushes up to turn it on. So I can use it without the light.

Here it is with the light on. Yes it is bright as I mentioned above. I will deaden it some more with more red finger nail polish up and perhaps some extra rubylith.

I next went into a very dark bedroom with no other lights, turned the flash off on the camera and used this light on the Orion Belt page of the Sky Pocket Atlas. You can see that the magnification here really helps as does the light. I will be wearing an eye patch on my left eye (my observing eye because my left is dominant) so I don't lose too much dark adaptation. The next image blurred a little but it is of Ursa Major from the Sky Pocket Atlas so you can see the light and magnification. I can't wait to take it into the field and use it! Hope this mod helps someone else like me.


Intelliscope Display and the Cold Winter Freeze Up

Are you the owner of an Orion Intelliscope? Have you tried using it under 30 degrees and had the display freeze up so you can't use it? Want a cheap fix for that? Well here is one that I've been using and it seems to work quite well. The only thing is my Velcro. I need to get the larger and longer piece to match the Velcro I have the base which will hold this up even nicer (done, see the edit below!). I haven't purchased the Holster yet but this concept should still work even with that, you just have to try putting an over mit over the holster.

So here are the items I used.

One, I took an old oven mit glove out of the kitchen and gave it a new home, in my equipment bag. You can also see the intelliscope and the Velcro circles I used. Again, a strip will work better on this.

Next, simply attach the Velcro so that it matches up to the Velcro on the base that usually holds the Intelliscope on there (I never bought the holder for the Intelliscope, other priorities for me). Next, put the intelliscope into the glove and then attach it to your base.

Here are the circles attached. You can see why a strip will be better, but these have worked now for about a month.

Here it is on the base, ready to keep the Intelliscope warm and snug on a long winter's observing night. There is enough space in the oven mit that you can keep a hand warmer packet in there once it is warm and that adds additional warmth to it, but I haven't found it necessary and I've used this down to about 15-20 degrees F at night.

There you have it. It allows the Intelliscope display to be used until it starts to freeze up when you have it outside its warm blanket for too long. Then put it back inside and its nice and warm. I may get out tonight where I am at but weather is again heading in. What a waste of a beautiful winter sky this year and it is beginning to look like the Pineapple Express (that stream of moisture coming in from the Hawaii area) is starting to come into the spring which means a very wet pattern for the Western United States. That means more clouds. Anyway, if you want to try out that oven mit idea go ahead and see how it works for you. I'd like to hear how it does!

Edit: Well I didn't get out last night. There was a sucker hole from about 9:00p.m. until 10:45p.m. last night and then the clouds came right back in. Today it is cloudy over northern Utah and Great Basin Natl Park so I won't be getting out this new moon. This is getting frustrating.

I bought a new oven mit today and Velcro that is in strips. The Velcro in strips works much better. Here are some images:

The Velcro in strips.

The new oven mit. Yep, it's black as I could have chosen between this and a hot pink one. The black will work just fine as the interior is white.

Here it is attached and ready to go. I'll take an image with the intelliscope pad in there but it will work better than the old red holiday one. I have to admit, I like the white poka dots. That and the whitish/cream interior should help one to see this pretty rapidly. One last thought I had was to attach a small strip of Velcro over the top of the mit so it can Velcro shut as a further way to keep the pad warmer than the outside air.