February 22, 2009
It's has been a loooong time since I've updated this site. Hellish weather through 2008 left me a bit demotivated. Compounding the problem were numerous gremlins in the observatory. On many occassions I'd attempt to use the observatory only to encounter mysterious anomalies such as faulty cables, power supplies and computer chips. What little motivation I had was quickly extinguished by these events. At long last the weather has improved and the observatory equipment issues have been resolved so I'm back at it again.
First a little catch up. On the evening of January 2, 2008 I hunted down Comet 8P/Tuttle (Comets) in the western sky. My efforts we're cut short by the sudden appearance of clouds rapidly moving in from the northwest. To salvage something from the night, I swung my camera to the east for a quick 4 minute exposure of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). This 4 minute single exposure was taken with my Canon 350D with a 300mm telephoto lens piggy backed on my larger scope.
I processed the image with an inexpensive Photoshop add-in called Astronomy Tools by Noel Carboni. I think the results are pretty spectacular. [Side note: I have noticed a bit of a problem when viewing these images on my iMac. I typically work with PhotoShop on Windows. The images look very nice on Windows displays but often appear "overexposed" and washed out on my iMac. I'll need to explore this problem more. If you are using a Mac and thing my images are bright and poorly processed...sorry!]
Roll forward one year: The week of February 11, 2009 was unseasonably warm and I found myself in the observatory several nights. There was a relatively bright supernova in the constellation of Eridanus that interested me. I attempted to image it on February 2 and found my skills were a bit rusty. On the 11th I was more successful. I'm reading up on how to estimate magnitudes of supernova using CCD images such as the one here. Eventually I'd like to contribute valuable observations to Rochester Astronomy. The idea behind the process is given one or more stars of known magnitude somewhere in the image the magnitude of the supernova can be determined. There's a lot more to it such as compensating for sky brightness and using filters of standard passbands (e.g., UBV). I have more reading and experimenting to do. In the interim, David Bishop who stewards Rochester Astronomy, gladly accepts image contributions without magnitude estimates.
Last year I purchased an AstroTech AT66ED refractor. It is a compact little scope about 18" long. I purchased mounting rings that attach to the tube assembly of my LX200. This allows me to piggy back AT66ED on the LX200 and benefit from the permanent setup. A special camera adapter allows me to use the refractor as a telephoto lens. The result is a big telephoto lens capable of "closer" views of large nebulae complexes. It has also proven to be a very nice setup for comet images. To better understand the why I use various setups for astrophotography, take a look at my original image of the Horse Head Nebula taken at prime focus of my 10" telescope using a ST-7XE CCD camera. Compare that view with this recent image of the same field using the AT66ED (hover your mouse over the photos looking for "Horsehead and Flame Nebulae"). Note the Horsehead Nebula at the center of the image. I think this is a pretty cool way to explore these objects.
To wrap up this segment, images taken with the AT66ED include the Orion Nebula (12 minutes), Rosette Nebula (26 minutes), Horsehead and Flame Nebula (40 minutes), and Comet Lulin (4 minutes). Other photos include the December 1, 2008 conjunction of planets Venus and Jupiter with the crescent Moon. I noticed a bright reflection of the event shining from my observatory dome and thought it made an interesting scene. This conjunction is jokingly referred to as the Frown Face Conjunction. Tip your head to the right and imagine that Jupiter (left) and Venus (right) as the eyes and the Moon as the frowning mouth.
Last but not least is a somewhat rare alignment of four solar system objects (upper left to lower right) Venus, crescent Moon, Jupiter and Mercury. Mercury may be tough to spot. Look directly below Jupiter about halfway to the tree line. This is a cool photo!
September 2-14, 2007
In the summer of 2006, I took a short exposure image of the planetary nebula in Aquila known as NGC 6781. Planetary nebulae come in many shapes and sizes. These nebulae form when
an ageing star blows off its outer atmosphere exposing the extremely hot core of the star. Radiation from the star heats and illuminates the
expanding shell of dust and gas. With time the material will dissipate into space. My image from last year revealed a nearly circular nebula very
similar to the more commonly known Ring Nebula in Lyra. Catching a color image of NGC 6781 has been on my to do list ever since.
In early September of 2007 I managed to gather 120 minutes of exposure. The results were well worth the effort!
Another overdue effort involved the Pinwheel Galaxy (Messier 33) in the constellation of Triangulum. In 2005 I took a short exposure of 20 minutes at low resolution. At the time
I was very pleased with the image but there were tantalizing details in the galaxy's spiral arms that kept calling me back for another
In mid-September 2007 I gathered 2 hours of exposure of M33 at high resolution. The results speak for themselves but I'll comment a bit anyway.
Note the reddish hued patches. These are HII star forming regions (in another galaxy!) similar to the Great Orion Nebula. Other blue hued regions
trace out the Pinwheel's spiral arms. These are star forming regions rich in luminous O type stars. Also apparent are intervening dust clouds.
See my Widefield Astrophotography page for a look at similar dust lanes within our Milky Way Galaxy.
On September 8th I aimed deep for a recent supernova event in the remote galaxy NGC 1058. I took a low resolution image short exposure to see what I might find.
I was puzzled by the distorted shape of the supernova (see upper left of galaxy) but the seeing conditioning did not allow a higher resolution attempt.
On September 13th I returned to SN2007gr and was able to take high resolution images. The first image was processed to show that the distortion was due to a foreground
star -- likely close by in the Milky Way. The second brighter star is the supernova SN2007gr.
I submitted this image to a supernovae tracking website Rochester Astronomy and to much to my surprise
it was posted under the site's observations of SN2007gr!
The last stop in September was the Outer Limits Galaxy NGC 891. This galaxy is also known as Caldwell 23. It is located in the constellation of Andromeda and
estimated to be 31 million light years distant. It is an edge-on spiral known for it thick dust lane which blocks light from the galaxy's bright core.
May 17-June 9, 2007
In mid-May I aimed my telescope towards an deceptively dull looking region of the night sky bordered in the north by the constellations
Ursa Major (Big Dipper), the southwest by Leo, and the east by Bootes (click on Canes Venatici thumbnail for star chart). Within this region are the
dim constellations of Canes Venatici and Coma Berenices. You'll note on the chart at bottom center there's a cluster of Messier objects. This is the
northern region of the gigantic Virgo Galaxy cluster. Back in April I took a widefield photograph of the Virgo region which reveals dozens of distant galaxies.
Just north of this cluster is Coma Berenices and the remarkable Black Eye Galaxy (Messier 64). The galaxy gets it name from a thick light obscuring
region of dust which appears to wrap around the bright galaxy core. This photo will very likely remind my family of a large shiner I received during a
failed attempt to catch a "pop-fly" in farm league baseball. I'll have to find that photo and post it for comparison. The galaxy is 13.5 million light
years distant. The "pop-fly" shiner was a mere 40 years distant.
Continuing to the northeast into the constellation of Canes Venatici you'll find a beautiful spiral known as the Sunflower Galaxy (Messier 63).
In his book, The Messier Objects, Stephen James O'Meara explains "M63 is nicknamed the Sunflower Galaxy because of its resemblance
to that towering plant whose dense, seedy head is ringed by an abundance of bright, overlapping petals." The Sunflower Galaxy is 23.5 million light
years distant. Compare the Sunflower Galaxy's appearance to the Black Eye Galaxy. Both images have the same scale yet, at 10 million light years more distant, the
Sunflower Galaxy appears much larger than the Black Eye Galaxy. M63 is estimated to be 86,000 light years in diameter. M64 is estimated to have a diameter of 40,000 light years. Our parent Milky Way Galaxy has a diameter of
100,000 light years!
My last stop in May was a quick image of the barred spiral galaxy Messier 109. It is very close to the bright star Pheca (64 Gamma Ursae Majoris)
in the Big Dipper. Recent large scale surveys using the Spitzer Space Telescope produced convincing evidence that the Milky Way Galaxy may
itself be a barred spiral. I'll return to M109 in the future for a longer look.
December 9, 2006
The Crab Nebula (Messier 1) is the remnant of the supernova of 1054. The January 2007 issue of Astronomy Magazine has a feature article on the Crab Nebula
by Raymond Shubinski the director of the Science Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Noting that I just finished preparing the auroras
photos under the Solar System page, I'll post my image here and refer you to Astronomy Magazine until I can add more details about the image.
November 8, 2006
You may recall that last June I photographed the planet Mercury above the western horizon just after sundown. This day, planet Mercury treated viewers
to a rare astronomical event: At approximately 1:12 CST the planet would begin crossing the Sun's disk. The weather was cooperating - mostly. The morning
brought crisp blue skies but by noon time the wind had risen to a steady 10-15mph with gusts to 25mph. The wind was blowing from the southeast.
This made pointing an open observatory dome in that direction a risky proposition. I waited until 12:00pm CST to try angling the dome west
of due south allowing the telescope just enough of a view to begin planning my imaging approach. I first tried my webcam but, for a number of
reasons I won't mention here, decided it would not be my best option. It was now 12:20pm. I had less than an hour to try my second approach.
I replaced the webcam with my Canon 350D joined to the telescope via a ScopeTronix DSLR MaxView adapter. The MaxView allows me to attach the Canon 350D
digital camera to the telescope at prime focus. The MaxView also allows inserting an eyepiece for image projection onto the camera's CCD chip. Once attached the
challenge is focusing. By itself, the Canon's factory focusing screen does not work well for celestial objects. For one the focus screen is not appropriate
to non-terrestrial targets and two the position of the view finder was such that I'd have to twist my neck and back into abusive angles. Typically
one wants to be as relaxed as possible when focusing. So I added another gizmo to the camera called an Angle Finder C. The Angle Finder C attaches
to the Canon camera's eye-cup adapter and projects the camera's field of view at a right angle to the focusing plane. This presents a much more comfortable
position to achieve focus in a hurry. A quick glance at my watch showed 12:45pm. Time was running out!
Next I wondered where on the Sun's periphery Mercury would begin to transit? The entire disk of the Sun did not fit in the camera's field of view.
I used the telescope mount hand controller to pan around the Sun while observing through the view finder. I noticed a huge sunspot complex that
I could use as a marker.
All I needed to do was match the sunspot to a current picture on www.spaceweather.com and I'd know the orientation of the field of view. Then I realized
I realized I could synchronize my mount on the Sun's position and then instruct the GOTO to point at Mercury (duh!). It's cheating a bit but I was
short on time. GOTO pointing was my best hope of being ready for first contact. It was 1:03pm and now I just had to wait a few minutes for the big event to begin.
While watching the Sun intently there was there was loud boom! over my head and the dome shook. The wind had lifted the dome cover up and dropped it back
down. The 6' Home Dome has safety guy wires to prevent the lid from flying off. It is rated for 30-35mph winds when open. It's not smart to have
the dome open when the wind is blowing hard enough to lift the lid. But man, this was a big event. So I rotated the dome opening more to the west
partially obscuring the telescope's view. I noticed the camera's field of view was a bit darker but I could still take images. For the time-being the
wind eased up. It was now 1:11pm. Any second the disk of Mercury would start nibbling at the disk of the Sun. At 1:13pm there was no sign of it. Depending
on my location within the time zone the transit start time would be a bit off from the 1:12pm estimate. At 1:14pm, panic set in.
Grabbing the hand controller I slewed the telescope north then south to view the Sun's western limb. Bingo! Darn it. I was pointing too far north.
Mercury's disk was nearly half way through ingress. Although I had missed first contact I could recover the second half. I immediately began snapping still shots every
few seconds. This continued until Mercury was in full view against the Sun's disk.
After ingress completed I realized that Mercury's path was very close to the large sunspot complex. I re-oriented the field of view and was
stunned but what I observed. Seeing a solar system planet dwarfed by the disk of the Sun was a thrill. With a solar system planet hovering near by
we can see just how enormous sunspots features are.
We regularly see images of sunspots. We rarely are afforded an opportunity to imagine how vast they truly are. This is an image that I will
not soon forget.
If you have a high speed Internet connection you can view an animation of the ingress that I've assembled from many photos taken during the
beginning of the event. The file download is 1.1MB. Dialup connections will have to wait several minutes before the animation begins. Each frame
will display for 2 seconds. The animation will loop back to the beginning and repeat. Click here to begin download: Mercury Transit Ingress Enjoy!
October 29, 2006
This evening my Comet SWAN imaging was cut short by a weather system approaching from the northwest. With only a few minutes of clear skies
to the east so I slewed the telescope to try a widefield image of the Andromeda Galaxy. The galaxy is so expansive that it will not fit in the field
of my telescope and CCD camera. By using the Canon 350D with a telephoto lens piggy-backed on the LX200, I am able to image much wider fields of
view. After a couple test images, to orient the field of view, I was ready for a long exposure. I set the camera's speed to ISO-800 and planned
to expose the frame for 4 minutes. After 30 seconds I noticed the interior of the observatory was noticeably brightening. I looked up at the
the clouds, now illuminated by moonlight, and realized I was probably done for the night. Watching the leading edge of the clouds, I allowed
the exposure to continue for another 90 seconds and stopped it at a 2 minute exposure. The seeing (or focus) is affecting the resolution but
there is amazing detail. The Andromeda Galaxy takes center stage. Dark arcing dust lanes are apparent in its spiral arms. At upper left is an
elliptical galaxy, Messier 110 and a third object Messier 32 to the right of Andromeda's galactic core. Stay tuned for follow-up images of this
grouping of galaxies.
Supernova 2006ej was reported on August 24th. This image was taken September 1. The event occurred in a pair of
interacting galaxies known as NGC 191. The left component A, is an edge on spiral galaxy. The right
component B, is a face-on spiral galaxy. SN2006ej appears in the upper left of the A component
(see inset). The distance to NGC191 is not listed. SN2006ej was determined to be of Type Ia meaning it may have
occurred in the host galaxy’s halo as opposed to Type Ib which occur in active star forming regions of the
galaxy’s spiral arms. Type Ia's are also believed to be binary star systems containing a white dwarf and a red giant star.
The two stars are close enough that the white dwarf's gravity draws matter from the red giant star. The white dwarf's mass
eventually reaches a critical limit and explodes in a supernova.
Don't be fooled by the bright star-like object centered below each component. The supernova is in the left component known as NGC191A just
above and to the left of the galactic core.
July 22-28, 2006
In late July I returned to a the constellation of Cygnus to image parts of a vast complex of filamentary nebula leftover from a
supernova. This 1 hour and 45 minute exposure of Cirrus Nebula in Cygnus was taken under tough seeing conditions.
Although the sky was clear a humid haze persisted through the night. The bright glow in the
upper left is
from the star 52 Cygni (magnitude 4.2) just outside the field of view. The combination of the star glow and the filamentary
nebula give the illusion that 52 Cygni is smoking! The Bridal Veil is also known by the designations NGC 6960 and Caldwell 34.
The second image is another portion of the supernova remnant referred to as the Network Nebula. This is clearly a brighter component
having a comparable exposure to the Bridal Veil image.
This image of Chi Cygni was taken on July 27th. I decided to over-expose Chi Cygni's brightness saturated the area surrounding star.
over-exposed and allow the recording of dimmer background stars. To my surprise the resulting image appears to have 3 dimensional depth.
This is an image of the popular variable star, Chi Cygni (pronounced Ki-Sig-knee) taken during its recent
maximum brightness. Stars that change brightness over time are referred to as "variable". Some variables
are irregular and others regular. Irregular variables have unpredictable changes in brightness. Regular (or
periodic) variables demonstrate
brightness changes on predictable schedules. Chi Cygni is known as a “Mira” variable as its variability
resembles that of the well-known variable star Mira, in the constellation of Cetus. According to James
Kaler, in his book "Extreme Stars", Chi Cygni is a red giant star in it's final stages of stellar evolution.
Although Chi Cygni is a giant star it is among the coolest stars at less than half the Sun’s 6000 degrees
Kelvin. It is 350 light years distant and has a variable brightness period of 407 days. During July 2006,
Chi Cygni reached it latest peak brightness near magnitude 3 from its minimum of 14. Kaler explains many
interesting traits of Mira-type giants. For example, Chi Cygni is believed to pulsate by expanding and
contracting in size. During the expansion phase, internal processes generate extremely fast moving outward
flowing matter from the star’s core. This matter encounters more stationary matter generating pressure
shock waves similar to sonic booms. The shock waves heat matter while pushing it out into space in a
process similar to evaporation. In mid-July we witnessed Chi Cygni at the climatic brightness peak of its
latest pulsation. Over the coming months Chi Cygni will once again contract and grow dimmer. Eventually
the process will begin again and some 300 days hence we will undoubtedly be awed by this amazing red giant
Albireo (Beta Cygni) - The red giant meets the white dwarf. See James Kaler’s description of this binary at :
June 23, 2006
The evening of June 23 I received an e-mail inquiry from a gentleman interested in webcam imaging. He asked how things were progressing with
my webcam attempts. I had to admit, it had been awhile since I last had the ToUCam out of the house. In fact, due to the weather and my spring
schedule I hadn't been doing much imaging at all! As luck would have it, June 23rd was one of
the most best quality viewing evenings I'd experienced in quite some time. I fired up the telescope, slewed the telescope to Jupiter which was
shining brightly due south just past the meridian. Using a reticle eyepiece I centered Jupiter in the field of view, and swapped in the ToUCam.
As Jupiter materialized on the webcam preview video, I knew right away this would be worth the effort. Jupiter's cloud bands quickly resolved.
The air was reasonably steady though not as good as I'd hoped. Four of Jupiter's moons were spread almost equidistant from each other in a
straight line either side of the planet's disk. My first task was focusing. I guided Jupiter out of the field of view along the line of the moons
stopping when a bright moon appeared centered on the webcam view. I then raised the webcam's gain and brightness settings while lowering the frame rate
to 5 per second. The goal was to focus on the pin-point light source of the moon. Once focused I slewed back to Jupiter and wow! Not perfect but very,
very nice. Next I captured 250 frames and saved them to an AVI file. I started the Registax software and did a quick processing run on the AVI file
to determine how well I had focused. The results lead me to adjust the focus a bit and repeat the Registax check. The second, third and fourth attempts
left me wondering why I altered the focus after the first set? Starting over, I slewed back to one of the moons, refocused and settled on the results. The next
challenge I noticed were dust moats appearing on the disk of Jupiter. Any specks or reflections in the telescope's optical tube assembly are
amplified by the brightness of Jupiter. Using the telescope's hand controller I moved Jupiter around a bit in the field of view. I finally found a
relatively clean area where I could image free of severe dust moats. There is a imaging technique known as flat field frames which is used to remove dust moats
and other optical artifacts during processing. Regrettably I did not take the time to record the flat field images this evening.
Another reason I was motivated to image Jupiter was to determine if the newly developed storm system "Red Jr." could be imaged with my
10" LX200 f/6.3 telescope using a 3x Barlow. Admittedly the image here isn't final proof but I think with good atmospheric conditions and
focus it's very doable. Then again, I've been looking for an excuse to add a 5" APO refractor to my toolbox!
April 23, 2006
Messier 104, also known as the Sombrero Galaxy, is located some 65 million light years distant in the Virgo cluster. It is a stunning object
both visually and in CCD images. This image is a composite of 30 2 minute exposures. This spiral galaxy is seen "edge-on" from our vantage
point in the Milkway. The extremely dark dust lane is dense material blocking the light from the galaxy's core.
March 21-26, 2006
Located in Ursa Major, Messier 81 is a beautiful spiral galaxy. This 60 minuute luminance image is a
composite of 12 five minute exposures. Within the spiral arms you'll note clumps of star formation known
as Hydrogen II (HII) regions. Dark dust lanes appear wrapping around the galaxy's core. At a relatively
close distant of 4.5 million light years, M81 is an easy telescopic target and under dark skies readily
visible to binocular observers.
RS Ophiuci Recurring Nova
February 19, 2006
On the morning of February 19th, I crawled out of bed at 4:30am to image the recurring nova RS Ophiuci (pronouced O-fee-U-Ki). The image is not very
interesting unless you are aware of the theory behind RS Ophiuci (RS Oph). I found an interesting explanation of RS Oph in James Kaler's
book Extreme Stars which I'll try to summarize here and perhaps interest you enough to take a closer look for yourself.
According to theory, RS Oph is actually a close binary star system. One star is a mature white dwarf and the other a low-mass main sequence
star. If the stars are close enough gravitational tidal friction results in the white dwarf siphoning off matter from the companion.
Eventually a swirling disk of hydrogen matter, known as an accretion disk, forms around the dwarf and begins "falling" onto its surface.
When conditions are met, a hydrogen blast erupts from the white dwarf blowing the accretion disk matter out into space at high velocity.
This tremendous release of energy causes the combined luminosity of the pair to surge. We see it as a nova. After many weeks the pair's
brightness settles down and the process begins all over again. For RS Oph this process repeats over the course of decades. Now consider
this image once again. I think it made for an interesting trip to the observatory.
Read more: Extreme Stars by James Kaler Cambridge University Press 2001.
Friday, 28 May 2005
I received my first telescope on Christmas day in 1969 during the height of the Apollo program. My parents presented me with a 60
millimeter refractor I'd spotted in a Sears catalog. When it finally arrived on that Christmas day I couldn't
believe my eyes. Little did I know how much of a life altering Christmas gift it would be. That evening, under a
bright porch light, I braved the cold and setup the telescope in my driveway. Looking up I spied the
brightest star in the sky and aimed the telescope in its direction. After some sweeping back and forth a bright
flash appeared in the eyepiece. As I focused the object I could not believe my eyes. Each turn of the focuser
brought the rings of Saturn clearly into view! I was hooked on astronomy...
I pursued amateur astronomy through the years eventually obtaining a Bachelors Degree in Astronomy in 1984.
I took a long pause from it from the late 1980's through the late 1990's. I purchased a new telescope in 1999 and
gradually built up my momentum again. I have to say that I'm back at again and having a lot of fun. I have
a few stories to tell about my experiences through the years. Not surprising to those who've endeavored,
astronomy isn't always the easiest hobby to have. It can be frustrating. Accidents happen and some can yield
interesting surprises. For example, the image in this introduction was an attempt to photograph the moon using
eyepiece projection and a handheld Olympus Camedia digital camera. I forgot to deactivate the flash! Blinded for several minutes (cursing
my stupidity) I eventually realized the resulting photograph wasn't a wasted shot. It captured a scene I observe
every time I step up to an eyepiece. Imagine your eye changing focus from the near to very far away.
Other photographs such as the one captured by my wife while I wrapped up a successful Home Dome installation tell the
story without any help from me.
The site will have some organization but nothing too strict. The focus on my attention shifts from time to time. I enjoy stellar evolution,
cosmology and stories about other amateur astronomers. My current interest is Charge Coupled Device (CCD) imaging which has dominated my time
for the past couple years. During my college days I dreamed of having a chance to work with, at that time, observatory-class imaging equipment. Today
I am living that dream from my backyard observatory. I've learned that CCD imaging is quite challenging and should be approached with a long term
commitment to learn and continually challenge yourself.
I began this site in late May 2005. As time goes on I will add new and old stories of my on-going adventures
purusing the cosmos from Prairiehill Farm. If you find a link that isn't active, I am working on it.
Thanks for visiting and please stop by from time to time.
If you'd like to contact us we can be e-mailed at gdclinch AT wildblue DOT net.