Saturday, November 28, 2009

Cosmic Spherules

It's been a decent meteor season this year. The Persieds were actually pretty good on the night of the 12th rather than the 11th. The Leonids were disappointing after all the predictions of a minor storm. I even set up a radio observing post to record radio 'pings' from nearby meteors for the Leonids but recorded none. The next shower is the Geminids in mid December. I'll be setting up the radio again, but this time with a more sensitive receiver.
Meanwhile, I heard that you can collect micrometeorites from your roof. Just put some strong magnets in your rain gutter and after a good rain, clean the magnets and look at the dust under a microscope. Well it hadn't rained all summer and there was a good rain forecast, so I put some small neodymium magnets in the rain gutter. The next morning, I pulled them off the roof and dried them in a dish on a hot plate. I had bought a usb microscope at a yard sale a couple years ago that works quite well. I spread the dust from the magnets on a slide and placed it under the microscope and there they were! Micrometeorites or, as scientists call them, "Cosmic Spherules".

The picture above is from that dust that was washed off my roof magnified 200x. Click on it to make it bigger.

Monday, October 19, 2009

New Observatory Code!

I'm still at war with the mice/rats and I doubt I will ever have complete control. But thus is life on planet Earth.
But the good news is.......I got my observatory code from the Minor Planet Center!! I'm now G55. But it wasn't as easy as I'd thought it would be. They have very strict rules about formatting observation reports, but it was the actual astrometry that was the most difficult. I'm still trying to sort out why some of my measurememnts are still off. But this is exactly why I so love astronomy; there is always something to learn; a challenge to conquer. And I did.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

New Observing Season Begins...

Well, it's been a long hot summer. In these parts, it's in the hundreds most days and stays light (and hot) until after 9pm, and I have to be at work early, so their is very litte astronomy for me. The obervatory is mostly closed for the summer.

With the cooler weather and longer nights, it was time to open up and dust off the equipment. Much to my dismay, I find just about every level surface in the observatory liberally sprinkled with mouse droppings. I keep no food in there and there doesn't seem like much for them to get into, but it somehow became thier playground. I had seen mice running along my backyard fences and even along the roof rails of my observatory, but I had no idea they were having parties every night.

I had a few mouse traps left from when I rid my pantry of mice. It worked well in just a few days. I took the traps and put peanut butter on them, as I did with the mice in the pantry, and put them around my observatory. The next day I would find the ones I'd set on the roof rails sprung and laying on the ground with the peanut butter cleaned off, but the ones I set inside my observatory were untouched. There were however more droppings.

So last night, I set all the traps on the roof rails and waited about 50 feet away in a lawn chair for twilight. Sure enough, just as it started getting dark, here comes a rather large mouse along one roof rail. He sniffed the trap a few times and then as I watched he sprung the trap, which flung him head over tail through the air at least 8 feet. This was no ordinary mouse. This was a rat. I reset the trap and with minutes another one was there. Again it sprung the trap and got away. I did this a few more times as it got darker. Then, to my amazement I saw one running upsidedown under a roof rail to avoid the traps! What is this, Mouse Hunt?

The war has begun and I will win.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Jupiter at Opposition

A friend of mine was having problems with his new telescope. It's a 70mmm Meade refractor on an alt az mount. He said that he couldn't get anything in focus. Well, as it turned out he was right. If you placed the eyepiece in the scope without a diagonal, and seated it completely, you couldn't focus back far enough. The answer was to pull the eyepiece back about 1/2 way then tighten the screws. The picture above was taken through the 70mm using a web cam. As you can see it works just fine.

And since Jupiter is at opposition, I thought I'd hook the camera to my 8" Celestar. I'd never tried imaging Jupiter with this telescope. I was a bit shocked at the result.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Comet C/2006 W3 (Christensen)

This comet was discovered over 2 years ago on 2006 November 18 by Eric Christensen of the Catalina Sky Survey north of Tucson. At the time the comet was located at 8.7 AU from the Sun which is nearly the distance of Saturn. The comet will reach perihelion at a still rather distant 3.12 AU from the Sun on 2009 July 6. At that time, the comet will be 8th magnitude and visible in many smaller backyard telescopes and even binoculars from dark sites. Christensen should remain bright enough to see in modest sized backyard telescopes for all of 2009.

This image was taken the night of June 26th at around midnight. A finder chart through July 1st can be found here.

Thanks to the great website, Transient Sky, for the majority of this information.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Space Station From My Back Yard

One of the many great things about amateur astronomy is the countless number of things one can do. From simply lying on your back and gazing at the stars to measuring the flux from a cataclysmic variable star. My main interest is comets (for now), but I will often do something completely different. Especially after several nights of frustration in other projects.

I recently got the bug to try and photograph the International Space Station with my modest equipment. (After several nights of frustration in another project!!! :/)

The image above is the result after only my 3rd attempt. The first try gave me nothing but streaks of light across a few frames. The 2nd was better with a lot of frames showing something very over-exposed. This attempt was, to me, a complete success!

This may, and often does, seem like nothing at all to many people. You can't really see much detail. Some say, "Why is it so blurry?" Sure, it's no Astronomy Picture Of the Day, and it may not impress a single soul. But the satisfaction that this gives me is indescribable. Even a blurry, faint, unimpressive picture like this took more planning, study and patience than most people would ever believe. And seeing these images come up on my screen, knowing that these were taken FROM MY BACK YARD, is just so incredible. Now I can go back to my previous project, confident in my eventual success.

- How I did it -

Contrary to what I wrote above, this was fairly easy. The space station is now very bright and easy to find if you know where to look. The camera was a simple web cam, but with an adapter to mate it to the eyepiece holder of my telescope. Those can even be made easily with an old film canister. Probably the hardest part, aside from setting the camera's controls correctly, was following the space station as it passed over. I just looked through the finder scope and tried my best to keep it centered on the cross hairs. Of over 1600 frames, only 58 had the ISS in it! But that was enough to process with Registax to create the final image.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Daytime Astronomy

Great trick: find where an iridium flare will be, make sure you are outside with your partner or friend at the right moment, and 'make it appear'. Say 'watch this', point and listen to the gasp. I did this once. Fun.

Ok, that wasn't during the day. But I suppose it could be done. How do I know?

Back in my earlier days of astronomy, obsessed as I was, I would show my friends things that they didn't expect. Venus is easily spotted when it's at a large elongation (far from the sun as seen from Earth) during the day. Most people just won't believe what they are seeing. Yes, a planet in broad daylight.

But wait, there's more. Sirius. I often find it before sunset to start aligning my telescope. You can find Sirius during the day too. I've even seen Betelgeuse before sunset. You'll need at least setting circles to do this though.

You can, though, see Jupiter during the day fairly easily. But just like Venus and Sirius, you have to know exactly where to look. The first time I saw Jupiter in broad daylight it looked like a balloon. As it probably will today when YOU look at it! I'm making this easy. Ok, I'm not, the alignment is.

Go outside with a pair of binoculars. Find the moon and scan just one degree down or south. That's not a balloon, it's Jupiter.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Comet 6P/d'Arrest

This periodic comet was discovered in Pisces by Heinrich Ludwig d'Arrest (Leipzig, Germany) on 1851 June 28. It has an orbital period of 6.51 years, and is in the Jupiter family of comets.

It had been one of the targets of the CONTOUR spacecraft, which NASA lost contact with after a the firing of it's solid rocket engine.

Comet 144P/Kushida

Here is another reprocessed image. Imaging details are on the image. You can always click it to make it bigger.

Yoshio Kushida discovered this comet on January 8, 1994. He used Technical Pan 6415 patrol film shot with a 0.10-m (4 inch) f/4.0 telescope. A 4 inch telescope!

It has an orbital period of 7.366 years. The closest it ever gets to the sun is about half way between the Earth and Mars. It's furthest point is a bit beyond Jupiter. It reached Perihelion (closest to the Sun) in late January.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Comet C/2006 W3 (Christensen)

I had this image up on my other site and have since reprocessed it. Much better.

This comet was discovered on November 18, 2006 by E. J. Christensen with the Catalina Sky Survey. At the time of this image, it was about 3.7 AU from the sun; beyond the orbit of Mars. It will be closest to the sun, at perihelion, in summer 2009, when it will be about 3.3 AU from the Sun. Not much closer.

After that it will head south and out of the solar system, never to return.
I'll surely be taking more images it it approaches perihelion.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Off Topic: Phishing

Not everyone is aware of this, but they should be.

We all get 'phishing' emails on a regular basis. At least I do; they're easy to spot. Often it will be from "paypal" or "XYZ Bank" or whoever, asking for you to 'click here to verify...", etc.
From now on, when you get one of those, forward it to the company being phished for. For example: If it's a Paypal scam, forward the entire email to Same goes with banks, etc. They appreciate it and every email helps.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


The learning curve can be very steep sometimes in astronomy, no matter what your age or experience. I 'cleared a level', so to speak, last night (after weeks of study). Then slept very well. |)
To come to truly understand a concept, especially a complex one, is enormously satisfying.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Comet Lulin on Jan 30, 2009

I had to get up at 3:30 am to make a delivery to Hollywood, so was out in time to catch a glimpse of Comet C/2007 N3 (Lulin) in 10x50 Binoculars. It was fairly easy to find, but featureless compared to the recent images I've seen. I expect to have a recently ordered adapter arrive soon so I can get my own images. (The Mogg adapter will marry my Atik IC16 camera to some old Pentax lenses I have that have been sitting in a case since the 80's. The same ones I used to capture images of Halley's Comet on 35mm film.)