Website Update

Well I finally got around to updating some of this site. I’ve changed the color scheme to black and white to hopefully modernize it and make it easier to read. I am not a web programmer by any means, so I crawl my way around WordPress to get things close to how I want them to look.

Besides the color scheme change, I’ve changed the content and menu structure of the homepage. The new header consists of 3 images over the old header of the constellation of Orion. On the left is the new logo I designed for Transit Dreams observatory. The interior of the T has a NYC “Transit” subway map, and the D has a “Dream” scape sky scene. In the center is a screen shot from the Astrometrica software I use to make the asteroid astrometry measurements. On the right is a view of the telescope, mount, and camera setup inside the observatory.

I’ve also started on the Observatory page, adding some of my thoughts as I was building the observatory and assembling the dome, as well as numerous photos of the construction. As I get caught up, I’ll add more on the process.

Galaxy NGC 891

NGC 891-Andromeda

NGC 891-Andromeda

NGC 891 is an edge-on spiral galaxy 30 million light years away in the constellation of Andromeda. You can see its faint dust lane along the plane of the galaxy because of  its orientation to our line of site. This dark lane is dust and is very difficult to see visually. I can only make out the darkest portion with my 15” Newtonian reflector. When you look up at our own Milky Way galaxy and see the dark areas winding through the myriad of stars, this is the same kind of dust only seen from inside the galaxy. If you look, closely you can see many galaxies in the background of this image. NGC 891 was discovered by William Herschel on October 6, 1784

Data:

Object: NGC 891
Constellation: Andromeda
Telescope: ES127mm F7.5 APO Refractor
Mount: Paramount MX+
Camera: ATIK One 6.0
Filters: Astronomik LRGB
Guide Scope: Orion 50mm
Guide Camera: SBIG STi
Total Integration: Luminance 122 minutes(1×1), Red 80 minutes(2×2), Green 60 minutes(2×2), Blue 75 minutes(2×2). Total 5hr.47 minutes
Image Capture: SkyX camera addon
Guiding: PHD2
Stacking/calibration: Maximdl
Post Processing:Photoshop CS5

Reprocessed November 2015

Comet 88P/Howell

88P/Howell

Comet 88P/Howell

I imaged Comet P88/Howell in September. It is located in the constellation of Aries. The comet was a bit fainter than the 11.2 magnitude estimated by my Skytools software. You can see the faint tail extending out past the edge of the field to the right of the coma toward the 4:00 position. The image above is 40 minutes total exposure with LRGB filters. The brighter galaxy at the upper right is IC267, a 13.9 magnitude barred spiral. You can just make out the extended arms in the image. To the right of the comet near the edge is 15.1 magnitude galaxy MCG 2-8-26 (PGC10917). You can also pick out almost a dozen fainter galaxies down to mag. 18 in the image. The faint galaxy in the tail of the comet is LEDA 1414124 at magnitude 17.8. The Skytools screen capture below shows the comet’s location with many of the galaxies in the field labeled. The number in parentheses in the galaxy magnitude with the decimal omitted.

88phowell-skytools

Data:

CON Dennis G. Wilde, TDO
OBS D. Wilde
MEA D. Wilde
TEL 127mm F7.5 APO Refractor + CCD
NET UCAC-4
0088P C2015 09 15.15028 02 54 58.48 +12 42 20.5 15.9 N XXX
0088P C2015 09 15.16174 02 54 58.21 +12 42 20.2 15.8 N XXX
0088P C2015 09 15.17433 02 54 57.91 +12 42 19.4 15.7 N XXX

Constellation: Aries
Telescope: ES127mm F7.5 APO Refractor
Mount: Paramount MX+
Camera: ATIK One 6.0
Filters: Astronomik LRGB
Guide Scope: None
Guide Camera: None
Total Integration: 40 minutes LRGB

dw

 

 

 

Asteroid (1284) Latvia

Asteroid (1284) Latvia is a main belt asteroid about 37 km in diameter with an orbit around the Sun of 1572 Earth days.  It was discovered by German astronomer Karl  Reinmuth in July 1933.  It was named after the Republic of Latvia.  Reinmuth discovered a total of 395 asteroids, between the years of 1914-1956, and 2 comets, 30P/Reinmuth and 44P/Reinmuth.  He named Asteroid (1111) Reinmuth for himself, a practice that is no longer permitted by the IAU.  The video below shows about 1 hour of asteroid motion among the stars of Pegasus.

This is the third and last asteroid I imaged to capture data for the MPC.  The purpose is to obtain an observatory code I can use when submitting astrometrical data for asteroids and comets to the Minor Planet Center.  This data can be used to refine the orbits of these asteroids so it can be determined they pose no risk to the Earth.  The primary interest is for data on the NEO’s (Near Earth Objects).  These objects sometimes pass much closer to the earth than our own Moon.  If one was to strike the Earth it would have devastating consequences for much of the Earth’s population.   Main belt asteroids, like the three I have imaged pose much less of a threat, but should still be periodically measured. Collisions with other asteroids and gravitational perturbations with large mass objects can alter their orbits and increase the threat level.  Studying asteroids long term can also provide data on their rotation period, albedo, mass and size.  This is critical data for objects that might pass close to earth.

The requirements for providing data to the MPC, in order to obtain an observatory code, are strict and demanding.  It is important for the data to be accurate, so it can be used reliably in scientific research. There are many requirements, or criteria to be met before a code is issued.  I’m only going to go over the basics here, but if you want the detailed information, you can find it at the Minor Planet Center website:  http://www.minorplanetcenter.net/iau/info/Astrometry.html

The basic process to obtain a code is to collect data for 3 asteroids over 2 different nights of measurements.  You must make 3 measurements for each asteroid on each date.  On each date the data should be collected with a separation of at least a half hour between measurements.  Some asteroids move slowly and you want to detect the motion across the sky between measurements. So for the 3 asteroids, that’s nine measurements on each date.  The positions of the asteroids must be calculated to an accuracy of 1 arc second.  That’s why main belt asteroids are mainly used to collect the initial data.  Their orbits a pretty well-known making it easier to check your reported positions against where the asteroid should be in its orbit.

For those not familiar with just how small 1 arc second error is, just think about the Earth as a whole.  Looking from one horizon to the opposite horizon, encompasses 180 degrees.  Each one of those degrees has 60 arc minutes.  Each one of those arc minutes has 60 arc seconds. That’s 64,800 arc seconds horizon to horizon.

The easiest way to collect the data and measure accurate positions is by imaging the object, doing an astrometrical plate solve which measures the exact position of reference stars in the image matched against star catalogs like the UCAC4, and then measure the position of the object your checking, using that plate solution.

I use a program called Astrometrica, which was designed for this exact use.  You load the images into the program after doing a calibration reduction on them (darks and Flats).  The program will do the astrometrical plate solve and blink the images so you can find the object as it jumps from frame to frame while the stars hold their position.  In theory this works beautifully.  I’m still having some issues with the setup and parameters of the program to get consistently automated plate solving. Many times I’ll have to do a manual plate solve which involves overlaying the catalog positions of the stars over the stars on the images to match them up.  This can be tedious.  Another advantage of the software is it will put the data into the format required by the MPC.  The data sets  are sent by email and are read by computer, so they must be formatted correctly to be accepted by the database.  I’ve already had to correct the formatting and resend the data.

Below is the data presented in the format required by the MPC.  This (correctly formatted) data has already been sent to the MPC, and I am awaiting acceptance and the issuing of my observatory code.  The issuance of the Observatory Code signifies my data has the required accuracy, and they can expect due diligence on my part, in regards to future data submitted.

OBS D.Wilde
MEA D.Wilde

TEL 127mm F7.5 APO Refractor + CCD
ACK MPCReport file updated 2015.09.16 14:04:22
AC2 dwilde.tdo@gmail.com
NET PPMXL
[object] [date and time UT]   [ R.A.]          [Dec.]      [Mag] [code]
00426 C2015 09 14.90177 23 14 51.95 +16 40 05.4 10.7 R  XXX
00426 C2015 09 14.92634 23 14 50.57 +16 40 04.1 11.0 R  XXX
00426 C2015 09 14.95090 23 14 49.13 +16 40 02.7 11.5 R  XXX
00426 C2015 09 15.89872 23 13 41.41 +16 39 59.8 12.5 R  XXX
00426 C2015 09 15.93424 23 13 39.43 +16 39 56.4 11.0 R  XXX
00426 C2015 09 15.95882 23 13 38.11 +16 39 53.7 11.0 R  XXX
01146 C2015 09 14.90890 23 33 46.81 +14 57 06.3 11.2 R  XXX
01146 C2015 09 14.93347 23 33 45.10 +14 57 10.2 11.3 R  XXX
01146 C2015 09 14.95802 23 33 44.34 +14 57 30.0 11.2 R  XXX
01146 C2015 09 15.91679 23 33 14.76 +14 57 43.5 12.4 R  XXX
01146 C2015 09 15.94138 23 33 13.71 +14 57 29.6 11.6 R  XXX
01146 C2015 09 15.96596 23 33 12.59 +14 57 15.3 11.7 R  XXX
01284 C2015 09 14.90420 00 10 20.60 +18 04 37.6   9.8 R  XXX
01284 C2015 09 14.92876 00 10 19.33 +18 04 31.2 10.0 R  XXX
01284 C2015 09 14.95333 00 10 18.02 +18 04 26.1 10.4 R  XXX
01284 C2015 09 15.90228 00 07 27.20 +18 18 02.3 13.1 R  XXX
01284 C2015 09 15.91324 00 07 26.62 +18 18 02.5 13.0 R  XXX
01284 C2015 09 15.93782 00 07 25.26 +18 18 02.9 13.1 R  XXX
—– end —–

The red headings were added to clarify each column. The xxx code is used until you are awarded your own three character observatory code.

dw

Asteroid (1146) Biarmia

Asteroid (1146) Biarmia is a main belt asteroid approximately 31 km diameter at its widest point.  It orbits the Sun every 5 years. This asteroid was discovered by Russian astronomer Grigory Neujmin in 1929.  It is currently passing through the constellation of Pegasus.

The 3 images used to create the video were 90 second captures during 70 minutes of the asteroids motion. The faintest stars visible were mag 18.2  This is the second asteroid in the set of three used to record astrometric data for submission to the Minor Planet Center in consideration for issuing a Minor Planet observatory code to the Transit Dreams Observatory.

SkyTools screenshot of 1146 Biarmia

SkyTools screenshot of 1146 Biarmia- Faintest stars mag 18.2

Asteroid (426) Hippo

The Asteroid (426) Hippo is a main belt asteroid approximately 127km in diameter at its widest point.  It is one of 99 asteroids discovered by French Auguste Honoré Charlois, from Nice, France.

"Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech."

“Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.”

 

 

This asteroid is one of three I’ve chosen to image and perform an astrometric solution on, in order to complete the requirements of the Minor Planet Center, in order to  be assigned an observatory code. When accepted by the MPC, this data will signify the accuracy and dependability of my measurements, making it usable to the professional scientific community.

The motion of the asteroid in the video took place over 86 minutes time.

426 Hippo chart

426 Hippo chart created in SkyTools 3

The SkyTools3 chart above shows its position in the constellation of Pegasus at the time of my imaging run.  The imaging took place over two days September 15th and 16th UT.  The chart and video shows its approximate position on the 16th at 2:26 UT.

 

The Cumulative Process

Learning to process Astro images, for me, is a cumulative process. When I learn a new technique, I’m anxious to test it out and practice it until I fell I’ve mastered it for my style of processing.  I offer 2 images here. The data for these images was captured about 2 years ago.  The first image shows my level of knowledge at the time in collecting data and creating an image.

Galaxy M31 in Andromeda

Galaxy M31 in Andromeda

The following image is using the same data, but applying additional skills of masking and filtering the data to draw out more detail and better contrast.  I do tend to over sharpen a bit, but that’s part of my style.

Galaxy M31

Galaxy M31

Now in looking at these images, it’s obvious to me that I need more data to clean up the noise and reveal the true beauty of this object.  In comparing these images of M31 with others, they’re obviously not going to be a “Picture of the Day” on anyone’s website but my own.

My message is to keep working with the data as you learn more to improve your skills.  It also helps you understand better, how much data you really need to create a top quality image.  I know personally the excitement of producing any image as the novice I consider myself to be, leads me to publish my work sooner than it should be.

dw

23″ Clark Refractor – A good club scope? Yes!

Would you consider a 23” refractor a good club scope? I would! One of my astronomy clubs, the Roper Mountain Astronomers, holds their monthly meetings at the Roper Mountain Science Center in Greenville, SC. We have a good relationship with the RMSC, supporting the Friday Starry Nights weekly at the Planetarium/observatory. This allows us regular access to the big 23” Clark refractor at the Charles Daniel Observatory. This telescope is the sister to the 24” At Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, and also has notoriety as the telescope mentioned at Princeton University, in the radio drama “War of the Worlds”.

23" Clark Refractor -image by Andrew Cooke

23″ Clark Refractor -image by Andrew Cooke

After our last club meeting, some of us took the opportunity to look through the big scope. Now, the unfortunate part of this story is that this beautiful instrument is not far from the center of the growing city of Greenville, with its accompanying light pollution. That said, we’ve had some wonderful views of the planets and brighter objects in the sky. Its native focal length, around 10,000mm, makes it tough for wide field objects, but compact objects like globular clusters fill the field nicely. On one occasion the telescope operator, club member and RMSC staff, Lee Ott, and I had the pleasure of catching a glimpse of Stephen’s Quintet galaxy cluster high overhead on a moonless night, from within the city.

Last Thursday evening, the highlight object was Saturn. Even with the moon at almost 1st quarter phase Saturn provided a pleasant view in the eyepiece. The five smaller moons that circle close to the planet popped out immediately. The Cassini division was crisp. I was even able to discern the shadow of the rings on the planet’s disk. Even the cloud bands on the disk of the planets showed themselves with the muted colors you see in some of the better planetary images found on the internet, or maybe captured with your own imaging equipment.

Of even greater significance than the views through this scope is the thought of the historical scientific work, and the great astronomers of the past who may have used this instrument to help shape the knowledge of the universe we share today.

If you find yourself in or around Greenville, SC on a Friday night, try to make plans to visit the RMSC. They have two planetarium shows and viewing through the big scope, as well as others on the lawn, provided in support by members of the Roper Mountain Astronomers. Even on cloudy nights Lee offers a tour of the observatory and provides some of the the history behind this great scope.

This beautiful image of the telescope was taken by club member Andrew Cooke.

dw

Paramount MX+ finally under the stars

My  Paramount MX+ mount was ordered specifically to be installed in the Transit Dreams Observatory, once I  complete it’s construction. Since I decided to wait for the summer heat to break before continuing on building the observatory, the mount has been sitting here on the floor in my house. I decided to set it up in my telescope room in the house to check out its operation and learn to use The SkyX.

It wouldn’t be safe to mount it on the steel pier I bought  without bolting the pier to the concrete floor.  But, that wouldn’t go over to well with the wife, so I designed an alternate means to check it out.

MX+ Adapter plate

MX+ Adapter plate

I have a Celestron CGE Pro tripod I picked up from my club in NY, and made an adapter to mount the MX+ on it.  I glued two pieces of ¾” plywood together, and mounted T-nuts to match the hole pattern of the MX+.  I then drilled and counter-bored a hole in the center of my adapter to bolt it to the tripod, while allowing the base plate of the mount to lie flat upon it.  I used 3/8”x24 cap screws with nylon washers so I could attach the mount to the plate without marring the finish.  I mounted the 5” refractor and balanced the mount with cameras, etc. attached. (see equipment)

I practiced homing the mount, slewing to objects, setting up my meridian delay position, and setting up the park position for the scope.  I also learned my way around The SkyX, setting up my menu bar buttons and learning how to create observing lists, and set up equipment configurations.  I also worked with the camera add-on, creating my dark library for photography, and checked out the manual operation of my Moonlight focuser.

This past week was the first time the weather allowed me an opportunity to get it out under the stars, check out its performance, and start the learning curve of making everything work together. I was hopeful of learning the process of aligning the mount, sorting out T-point, and working with the camera add-on.

My first order of business was aligning the mount to the pole.  Since I did not buy the $2000 tripod I did not have as much flexibility in aligning the azimuth of the mount. I did my usual routine of using a smart phone compass for initial set up.  I was close, but not close enough.  The MX+ has adjustability, but it’s limited. While doing the rough polar alignment routine, I found that the pole was just beyond the azimuth adjustment capability of the mount.  I ended up rotating the loaded tripod a few degrees to make it work.  Of course, I had to re-level the mount.  I expected the T-point routine to be more complicated, but after a couple of rounds, I got the hang of it,(thanks to Richard Wright and his YouTube videos). I had setup my camera equipment configurations ahead of time, so I was able to use the camera to solve the fields.  Some haze and passing clouds interfered with some of the model points, but I found by increasing the exposure length to 16 seconds, most of the plate solves were successful.

I ran a 12 point model, followed the recommended adjustments and then did a 25 star pointing model and adjusted again.  I’m not sure if I needed to do anything further after mechanically adjusting the mount, but I found my slews put the object in the field of view of the camera, and the closed loop slew feature solved the image, and moved the mount to put the object dead center in the field.

The camera add-on that came with The SkyX will take some getting used to.  In the past, the bulk of my Astro-imaging was done with a Canon DSLR and a software capture program known as BYEOS (Backyard EOS). It was relatively easy to use.  When I got my new ccd camera I started working with Maximdl.  It’s more complicated, but is full of useful features.  The SkyX  camera add-on is not a complex as maxim, but it doesn’t appear to share the same features either, especially with multiple images and filters.  Maybe it’s just the layout of the program I need to get used to.

My goal for the software end of this adventure is to be able to get what I need image wise, without the complexity of having 4-5 different software packages work together without hiccups.  If I can get that out of the camera add-on it would be great.

Another part of the learning curve is the motorized focuser and @Focus2 software within the SkyX.  I was going through the features trying to figure out the software when it took over and started taking pictures and adjusting focus.The end result looked pretty good, but I have no idea how it started (I must have clicked something somewhere).  This one will take more research.

M 39_600sec_uncalibrated

M 39_600sec_uncalibrated

I was able to capture basic images with the program without issue. I took some test shots of various objects, and some showed a small amount of trailing while others produced rounder stars. The image of M39 is an uncalibrated 10 minute sub frame with the luminance filter in place on the Atik One 6.0 camera.  The field is 45’ x 36’ in size @ .98 arc sec/pix.  This was the best unguided shot.

My one serious issue with the software was my inability to get it to guide.  Each attempt brought an error message and a failure to calibrate.  I have to do more investigating to resolve the issue.  It’s probably somewhere in the parameter setup.  I did skip the calibration and it did guide for a short while before the errors started building.  I retreated to my old method, using PHD2 and guiding on-camera instead of Direct Guide on the mount with the SkyX add-on.  I got it to calibrate and guide beautifully without issue.

I did manage to get some images of comet C/2015 F4 Jacques, and created a short video of its motion over the period of an hour.

It was a good first light for the equipment, and I’m sure I’ll get all of “my” issues straightened out. Many of my issues revolve around trying to tackle multiple learning curves at the same time.  New mount and software, my first ccd camera, image capture software, motorized focuser, etc.

dw

 

Perseid Meteor Shower 2015

Wednesday night August 12th was a great night for viewing Perseid meteors. The promise of a near new moon, and finally a clear night, had me eager with anticipation as I headed into the North Carolina Mounatins for the evening. The air above Grassland Mountain in Marshall, NC was chilly, but clear. The Grassland Observatory owned and operated by the Astronomy club of Asheville hosted the observing event for members and their guests. There were about 4 dozen of us in and around the big roll off roof observatory.  Early in the evening many of us gathered around the 16” SCT and viewed some familiar favorites like Saturn, M13 and M92, and later on the Double cluster (one at a time in the SCT), Uranus and some double stars.

Milky Way above Grassland Mountain-by Alan Davis

Milky Way above Grassland Mountain-by Alan Davis

After a while many of us found our way to blankets and lawn chairs to settle in for what turned out to be a spectacular night for observing meteors.  As the Milky arched above, nearly horizon to horizon, we watched dozens of meteors streak across the sky.  More than a dozen made long arcs over 25 degrees in length, and blazed brighter than Venus at its best. There were even a couple of fireballs which left twisted trains of smoke and broke apart as they disappeared. One interesting note is the sighting of several meteors that seemed to originate form a similar point in the south, perhaps from another minor meteor stream.  I know there are a couple of active ones at this time.  I should have been more focused to determine their origin.

A few of us had binoculars with so I gave a little impromptu guided tour of some of the Summer clusters across the sky.  We started at easy to find stars and then using the “clock” to move field by field to some Summer highlights. It had been a while since I’d done much visual observing with binoculars, so I stuck to the more familiar objects I could easily locate and direct people to. Some of the objects we viewed were M52, M34, M39, the Coathanger, Andromeda Galaxy, M33, the Double Cluster, The Perseus Stellar association by Mirfak, M22, M24 and one of my favorites NGC 7789.  This object was more of a challenge for some to see its soft glow among the stars of Cassiopeia.  We were even able to make out the North American Nebula and Gulf of Mexico.  Its neighbor the Pelican Nebula was faintly visible as well.

My intention that evening was to take some wide field images of constellations, hoping to capture a meteor or two, but technical difficulties got in the way.  I probably enjoyed the evening more, not having to tend to a camera all night.  One of my friends, Alan Davis, was also imaging and caught some nice Milky Way views, but no meteors. He took the image of the southern Milky Way, with the lodge at the top of the mountain in the background. There is sky glow at the horizon, but visually it wasn’t as obtrusive as the image might indicate.  In fact, it was one of the best views I’ve had of our galaxy stretching across the heavens.  Most of the time the star fields look like hazy cirrus clouds in the sky.  That night they looked like storm clouds.  The Cygnus arm was very well defined by the dust of the central bar.  It was the first time I could see mottled definition in the star fields and the complete outline of the Milky Way, like the way it’s depicted in the charts.

Among the meteor showers I’ve observed this one is second only to the meteor storm of the Leonids in November of 2000. It was definitely worth the nearly two hour trip into the mountains.

Thanks goes to Dominic Lesnar, our club President, for hosting this great night (and for the chocolate chip cookies)!

dw