News | Images | First Impressions

News– Well it has been awhile since I have written anything so thought I would share with you what I have been up to this winter here at Windy Hills Observatory. The weather this year was an improvement over last years cloudy winter weather so I have been able to image several targets, the Horsehead Nebula, M33 and M1. I just completed processing them and will share the images later in this post. I am still fine tuning the remote operation of my dome/scope and have made progress. I added a Optec TCF-S focuser and a Pyxis 3-inch rotator. This allows me to rotate the camera to place a good guide star on the guider chip, the rotator is controlled by software and can be placed at any angle. The focuser is controlled by CCDsoft camera control software which allows for auto-focusing. The dome follows the scope by using Dome Works Dome TraK. I presently use TheSky, CCD AutoPilot 4 and CCDsoft with PinPoint to control the whole setup. My goal is to automate the data capture of targets and to be able to image several targets in one night with out being at the scope.

Images – Below are several new images that I have taken this winter.

The Horsehead Nebula in Orion.

LX200R 12? @f6.9 ST10ME LRGB L 5@660 1×1 R 5@420 2×2 G 5@540 2×2 B 5@660 2×2 | Capture CCDAP4, Processed DL MaxIm, CCDSharp, PS CS5 and LR3

M33 The Triangulum Galaxy

M33 The Triangulum Galaxy LX200R 12″ @f6.9 ST10ME LRGB L 5@660 1×1 R 5@420 2×2 G 5@540 2×2 B 5@660 2×2 | Capture CCDAP4, Processed DL MaxIm, CCDSharp, PS CS5 and LR3

First Impressions – I purchased TheSky X Professional as an upgrade to TheSky 6 late last fall but had not integrated it into my work-flow until last week. I also purchased the add-on camera module and Tpoint module. I thought I would share my first impressions of the software. TheSky X has all the features and functions of TheSky 6, some of the names have been changed and the icons relocated but basically the program functions are the same. I did play with the software a lot before I put it on line in the dome. The switch was painless, I set the COM Port, selected the telescope type from a pick list and established a link with the LX200R with no problems. The new real time graphics are GREAT! The tool bars and windows are customizable you can add and delete tools, buttons and windows to fit how you operate. The windows and tool bars can be moved about and placed where you want them. The camera add-on is basic at this time with few camera setting available. Software Bisque has stated that they intent to increase the camera functions later. I would imagine that since Software Bisque owns CCDsoft many of CCDsofts functions will be added to TheSky x. If this happens this will be nice since you will be able to image from one software package. One thing that was easier in X to me anyway was setting the slew limits for my set up. I now feel comfortable that my scope will not go pasted the limits with out me telling it to do so.  One of the reasons I upgraded was that I wanted to improve my telescope pointing. I looked into Tpoint. Tpoint is offered as a package that will work with TheSky 6 but with TheSky X it works in the program. If I purchased Tpoint for TheSky 6 I would have to purchase an upgrade for Tpoint TheSky X version later if I upgrade to X  so I decided that I would just start with the X version. This was not a mistake as I have improved the LX200R from a 150 arcsec error to 27 arcsec. This was done with Tpoint in less than 45 min. Tpoint and TheSky X took 50 images and plate solved them, I then pushed the Super Model Button and was done. Before Tpoint I would slew to my target center a star and sync on the star. CCD AutoPilot would then use Pinpoint to try to center the target usually with in 50 arcsec. The best I would get was about 20 arcsec. I can now slew to any part of the sky and be with in 27 arcsec of the target center, CCDAP4  with PinPoint then corrects and moves the scope to with in 5 arcsec. The upgrade was worth it to me as the improved pointing of my Meade LX200R production mount has made my goal of automation easier. Clear skies and keep the scope pointed up.

Seaman HS Physics visits Farpoint

Last night, NEKAAL member Gary Hug hosted a dozen Physics students from Seaman High School, presenting the 27-inch Tombaugh telescope and what it can do on a clear, moonless night.

The Tombaugh telescope emerges from its lair

The roof rolled off, telescope fired up, camera cooled, and sky darkened, it was time for Gary to start with some simpler images, including a very short exposure of the Orion Nebula. (The control room is under dim red lights.)

Gary motioning to a new exposure of Orion Nebula

Member Eric Dose took some of the students outside to show the suburban students what a really dark night looks like. Zodiacal light rose from Jupiter on the west horizon up through the Pleiades to directly overhead. In fact, the zodiacal light (light from the below-horizon sun reflected by dust in the solar-system plane) rose to meet the Milky Way, which gave an excellent chance to describe the difference between the earth’s equator, the galactic equator and the ecliptic, which is essentially the solar-system’s equator.

Back inside, Gary and the students hunted extremely faint Near Earth Objects and captured two!–SEB912A (= 2000 EB14), also the NEO K11D09T which was discovered only 8 days ago. Along the way, Gary demonstrated the process of blinking, which is the rapid comparison of two images to discover what’s different between them. In sky exposures taken a few minutes apart, anything moving against a background of motionless stars is very likely to be an asteroid or some other solar-system object. Blinking is done with computer monitors rather than photographic plates and mirrors. But it still involves squinting and  staring…and the occasional startling discovery.

Blinking images of NEOs

A great combination of dark skies and bright students–NEKAAL Education and Outreach exists to get these together.

Asteroid occultation in area, Feb 28-March 1

An asteroid occultation is coming, about midnight local time the evening of Feb. 28. South Topeka and Farpoint Observatory are in the shadow path…

At 12:38 am, early March 1, faint asteroid 7217 Dacke (mag 17) will pass in front of relatively bright star TYC 0827-00565-1 (also known as GSC 827:565; mag 10.3). The blanking out of this star will last only about 2 seconds, but it’s bright enough that you’ll be able to see it and the occultation with large binoculars in darker skies, or a small telescope in almost any skies. Please see this site for detailed info including locator sky maps.

19th-Magnitude Comet

Wanna see a really, really faint object? Check out the tadpole shape, tail extending up and to the right. You’ll need to look at the very center in this image, taken with the 27-inch telescope at NEKAAL’s Farpoint Observatory.

Comet 203P

That’s comet 203P (Korlevich). Now, the “203” means it’s the 203rd comet of its type discovered. The “P” means it’s a periodic comet and will come around again, unless it runs into something, breaks up, etc. And “Korlevich” is the name of the discoverer, or the name of the astronomer who “recovered” it (determined that it is the same as a comet we’d seen before). This comet was discovered in 1999. That’s not very long ago–if you had seen taken this picture 13 years ago and reported that little smudge to the Minor Planet Center, your own name would be forever listed next to “Comet 203: Discoverer”!

Note that this is a negative picture. Which does not mean it goes around complaining. It means that we’ve made the stars look black on a white background, rather than the way it really looks in the sky. Astronomers do this because it’s easier to see things on grainy pictures that way–especially if you’re in the observatory, at 3 in the morning, squinting at this image you just took.

Comet 203P was 350 million miles away when this image was taken, so it’s really faint–in fact on that night it would have to have been about one million times brighter to see it naked-eye. But hey, compared to your eyes, the telescope and camera have four totally unfair advantages:

  1. The telescope and camera collected light over a width of 27 inches–the pupil of your eye is about 0.2 inches. Sounds like a 135-fold advantage, but wait!–it’s a squared relation, making it a 18,000-fold advantage. Unfair.
  2. They stared at the comet for 15 minutes and without forgetting a single photon. Your eye’s persistence of vision is normally a fraction of a second.
  3. The whole picture is only about 1/5 of a degree on each edge. That’s about the same as the length of a grain of rice held at arm’s length. Even the very brightest stars in this picture (the biggest black spots) are much fainter than you could see with just your eyes.
  4. The camera operated at -50°C so that it didn’t get distracted by random infrared light. A neat trick, but we at NEKAAL just do not recommend you try this with your eyes!

Sandlot Observatory update

NEKAAL Member Gary Hug sends this from his Sandlot Observatory:

I recently turned in my 3,000th NEO observation to the MPC. This puts Sandlot Observatory less than 1800 observations behind Farpoint’s total. I hope to surpass Farpoint’s total within the next couple of years..

Every January the Minor Planet Center starts designating the current year’s asteroid discoveries. In the past there has been a very non-official but fun competition to see who gets the year’s very 1st asteroid designation (this year it would be 2011 AA or K11A00A).

Well this year is no different as I missed the first slot, but it was close as I received a designation for the 2nd and 3rd asteroids of the year 2011 AB and 2011 AC.

Maybe next year…