October 4, 2017

Sirius A and B (September 2017)



This famous double star is the brightest star in the sky.  It is only 8.6 light years away.  There is nothing particularly noteworthy about the brighter component.  It a fairly small, type-A star.  It appears bright only because it is close.

The companion, however, Sirius B, was one of the first white dwarf stars discovered.  Sirius B is nearing the end of its life cycle.  It used to be a large, blue star, but it burned up its nuclear fuel.  With fusion no longer radiating energy outward, gravity shrunk the star's core.  Sirius B retains as much mass as our Sun but is now roughly the size of Earth.  With no fusion taking place, it will gradually cool (over hundreds of millions of years).  What an amazing object!

Sirius A and B are difficult to see separately when they are closest together, but now they are quite far apart, over 10 arcseconds.  Even now, though, the brighter star might overwhelm the dimmer one when viewed through a telescope.  I caught them on a steady night and took 500 0.02-second frames, weeded out the blurriest 193 of these, then stacked the remaining 307.  The four diffraction spikes around the bright star are a result of light interacting with the pieces of metal holding up a mirror in the light path of my telescope.  Telescope: CFF 290 Classical Cassegrain (@ effectively f/8.1).  Camera: SXVF-H9.  Filter: Astronomik 6nm H-alpha.

October 3, 2017

NGC 7331 (September 2017)


NGC 7331, the big galaxy in this image, appears in our constellation Pegasus.  The galaxy is roughly 47,000,000 light years away.  We see its spiral shape at a dramatic angle.

Equally intriguing are the smaller background galaxies.  Across the upper part of the image, NGC 7337, NGC 7335, and NGC 7336 float over 7331 like seagulls about to dive.  NGC 7337 and 7335 lie far in the background, probably ~300,000,000 light years away from us, over 6x further than 7331.  NGC 7336 is another hundred million light years further still.

Besides these, the image shows numerous other bits of fluff—galaxies all, many of which may be even further away.  Including the large systems, I count at least fifteen galaxies in the image.  Some of these are far in the background.

In addition to the galaxies, the image shows many stars in our own galaxy.  Stars as dim as magnitude 20 appear in the frame.

This image was taken in four sessions in September 2017, and is 66x720" (13.2 hours) with the SXVF-H9 through the CFF 290 Classical Cassegrain at f/8.11, an effective focal length of 2353mm.  The frames were shot through an Astronomik CLS filter from a red zone.

September 2, 2017

Corona: Total Solar Eclipse, August 21, 2017, from Rexburg, Idaho







The total solar eclipse!  I drove from Houston, Texas, to Rexburg, Idaho, to see it.  I took my 9-year-old son.  Fortunately, we could visit family on the way and while there.  I filmed the event from my brother and sister-in-law's backyard.  We had something of a family gathering, and it was fun.

The sky was wonderfully clear and blue.  The eclipse had all the classic traits.  The moon slowly moved across the sun.  The air cooled substantially.  The sky darkened.  Venus, Mercury, and Mars came out.  Regulus appeared to the left of the sun and moon (as shown in the images above).  The sky at horizon all around turned red.  The corona appeared.  Prominences were seen (two of them!) at the moon's edge; these were visible without optical aid (but were over-exposed in the images I took).  The re-appearance of the sun made a diamond ring.  The moon slowly moved across the sun's face.  And then it was over.  My son was impressed: "Wasn't that a wonderful eclipse, Dad?"  I think he asked me this five times that afternoon.

The Corona! and Corona with Contrast! images are variations on a combination of 4 bracketed images.  Software used included Canon's Digital Photo Pro 4, Photoshop CS3, and Photomatix Pro 6.0.2.  The camera was a Canon T3i.  The telescope was a William Optics Zenithstar 61 with matching flattener.  The scope and camera were guided on a Takahashi NJP.


August 27, 2017

Eclipse Progression, the Partials, from Rexburg, Idaho, on August 21, 2017

Here is the progression from first snap (somewhat after first contact) to last contact, less totality.  (Totality is saved for another post.)  As the morning progressed (from 10 am to 1 pm), the sun rose higher in the sky and seeing improved, so the later images are clearer.  In fact, some are quite good for my little scope. 

If you are using a computer (don't think it works on a phone) and click on any of the pictures, the site takes you to a screen where you can flip through the images successively with arrow keys.  You can re-live the experience.