Imaging Orion’s Nebula: Long Sault

March 16-19 was RASC’s Dark Sky Party window. On March 17, RASC called a NO GO for the party due to the heavy winds. It was clear, but the winds were HEAVY! I was hoping that March 18 would have a GO call, because my schedule was well placed, and I could go to that event.

 

March 18, 5 pm:

I got RASC’s call, and it was a GO. The Star Party will take place that night. When I got home, I packed my car with all my telescope equipment, and drove off to Long Sault Conservation park (Long Sault).

Driving to Long Sault or Glen Major forest feels like a road trip. One passes through many small hamlets on the road to your destination, and you see how people live beyond Toronto. Homes are more open, commercial services are scarcer, and speed limits are higher. To drive to Long Sault takes 45 minutes to 1 hour, and I arrive at Long Sault at 9 pm.

 

March 18, 9 pm:

When I get there, a lot of interested astronomers, guests, and astrophotographers were already there imaging and observing the night sky. Looking up, the sky is very different from home, and from Glen Major Forest. The sky is clearer, and constellations are more visible from here.

I meet some of the other guests and members there. Some were observing Jupiter, others were imaging various Deep Sky Objects (DSO’s), and some were observing other objects in the night sky. Soon after, I start to assemble my telescope, which didn’t take a lot of time.

I aligned my telescope to two stars. Usually, my selection of stars is limited at home due to location, and visibility of stars. Out in Long Sault, the limitations of my selection of stars are what’s in the telescope’s computer. After aligning my telescope to the stars, I pointed my telescope to Orion’s Nebula, and I set my telescope to image M42 for 75 frames. Some frames that I took looked like this:

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1 frame of M42; 14․7″ exposure, f/10, ISO-1600

 

While my telescope was doing its work. I was meeting other fellow amateur astronomers. I did meet a fellow amateur astrophotographer I was corresponding with on the Yahoo e-mail list. I saw his set-up, equipment, and images. They were spectacular.

Once the camera was finished imaging M42, I put the telescope cover on, and started taking dark frames, so I could subtract the noise from the image.

My feet beccame very cold, and I had to get into my car many times to warm up. I couldn’t turn on the car, because the exhaust would interfere with my telescope. At 11 pm, most of the astronomers packed up and have started their journey home. At that time, I also started packing up my equipment. I finished what I wanted to do, and I was ready to go home. It took me 10 minutes to pack and to make sure I didn’t forget anything. When I was ready, I started driving home.

I got home at 1:30 am, taking a break between my driving to rest and think about what I imaged that night. Unfortunately, I have not been able to process all the images yet, as I am having trouble with the Deep Sky Stacker, and Registax.

Thank You everyone for reading. Let me know if you have any questions or comments. Keep looking up, you never know what you will find up there.

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Attempts at Comet Lovejoy: The RASC Party

On January 19, 2015, RASC hosted a star party at Glen Major Forest, and since it would be my last chance at imaging the comet before starting my new job, I decided to take advantage of the party and go there.

My goal at that party would be to image the comet with its tail. When I arrived, there were many people already there. There were new members, and veteran members. More people would’ve come, but seeing as it was very cold, it was understandable.

After saying hi to everyone, and looking at the comet through a friend of mine’s binoculars, I quickly set up my telescope, and aligned it to Betelgeuse and Polaris, with the help of one of my friends.

After asking the host to show me where the comet is, I tried finding it with my telescope. After a lot of help from my friends, I eventually found it, and set my telescope to take multiple one minute exposures. The result were very shaky, but there were a few photos that turned out well.

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Comet Lovejoy 61.2″ exposure, f/10, ISO 1600

 

While the camera was capturing the photos, I went around and saw what everyone else was doing. They were all looking at very cool celestial objects. However, there were bright lights that came during the night from the North-East. It was troubling. My friends told us that it was from a nearby ski resort. Hopefully, the lights don’t ruin any future RASC events at Glen Major forest.

Soon enough, the clouds came in, and we all packed up. I was the second-last to leave, while the host left the last. It was a successful night. I was able to get a good image of the comet, but I didn’t get the tail like I wanted to. This would probably be my last chance at imaging the comet. The next day was predicted to be clear, but I have to get up early the day after for work. Thankfully, I do not let that day go to waste. See the next blog post.

Keep Looking Up. There is always something up there.

Dark Skies at Long Sault

On Thursday, September 25, 2014, RASC hosted its monthly dark sky party at Long Sault Conservation Park. After all my work was done for the day, I decided to take the 45 minute drive there.

I arrived at Long Sault Conservation Park at 11pm. Most of the observers have left, with only a few left. Looking up at the sky, I saw so many more stars than at home. I also saw the Milky Way. Unfortunately, the Galactic Center was not visible at that time. I met whoever were left, and I saw what they were seeing. They were doing amazing work.

One observer, who came from downtown Toronto, showed me his setup. When I met him, he was looking at the Andromeda Galaxy. He let me peek at Andromeda through his telescope, and I saw a dull, fuzzy, and dim dot. It was barely visible.

I stayed until 11:30 pm, looking up into the sky, staring in awe of the beautiful, Milky, stream of stars in the sky. After that, I left for the long drive back home.

While my trip was short, it was fruitful. I finally saw how beautiful Long Sault Conversation Park is, and I saw the Milky Way. I hope to one day come back with my telescope and take more photos of the night sky there.

 

Until then, Happpy Observing!

Star Party in the City

On Monday, June 9, 2014, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) hosted its monthly City Star Party. This star party took place at Bayview Village Park, where many RASC members came to view the Moon and the planets and any stars that were visible in the night sky.

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RASC Members setting up telescopes.

I arrived at Bayview Village Park at 9 pm. By then, many RASC members and visitors were setting up their telescopes. There were a few Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes, a couple of Newtonian telescopes, some Dobsonian telescopes, and a fair amount of refractor telescopes. One member brought a refractor telescope that he restored using 60 year old optics handmade from Japan. It was quite amazing to see such an optic being used again after all these years. It was very interesting.

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A RASC Member setting up his newly restored telescope. Used with permission.

When I was there, it was quite cloudy. So much so that it casted doubt as to whether the sky would clear. However, half-an-hour later, it cleared up very nicely. We were lucky that we were blessed with a clear night to view the planets.

Once I saw that the sky has cleared, I decided to set up my telescope. It took a few minutes, but I got it up and running. While I was operating it, a few people came to my telescope and looked through it. I was able to answer any questions they had about astronomy and imaging the night sky.

Doing that, I was also talking to a friend of mine, who also has an interest in Astronomy. I told her about the city star party. At the same time, the International Space Station (ISS) appeared streaking across the night sky. It was very beautiful but not as bright as when I was in Glen Major Park during the May 24th meteor shower. Since I had my telescope, I decided to slew and try to capture the ISS on my telescope. It took a while, but I was able to see the ISS on my telescope zipping by very quickly in the field of view of the scope. From what I saw, I felt like I would be able to make out the shape of the ISS from the telescope. Wouldn’t that be a sight!

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ISS flying through the sky.

After viewing the ISS, I went on to view the planets and the Moon. I first slewed to Mars. Like all the other times I viewed Mars, the surface features weren’t clear to me. I then slewed to Saturn, and saw its majestic rings. A few people came to my telescope and checked out Saturn. They were awestruck by its beauty.

I then returned to Mars, but I wanted to zoom closer to it. I borrowed a friend of mine’s 10 mm eyepiece, which will zoom in further towards the planet. However, I had a lot of trouble finding it. One issue I am experiencing is that my finderscope’s base is quite wobbly. It made it hard to find any celestial objects, because the finderscope wasn’t calibrated to my scope for long. I decided to slew back to the moon and calibrate my scope there. After doing that, I slewed back to Mars, and using my friend’s 10 mm eyepiece, I finally found Mars. It was slightly bigger, but no more detailed than before. I soon returned his eyepiece, and continued to observe the night sky.

I then slewed to the Moon for another visitor, and a visitor was amazed by the beauty of the Moon. For the night, I felt like there was a lag on my telescope. I now know that there is a 1 second-long lag on my telescope. I suspect it is because of the Azimuth gear broke down again. It was confirmed by another RASC member, with the same type of scope, who recently joined RASC. As a result, after looking around a bit more, I decided to pack up my scope for the night.

I brought all my equipment to the car, and made sure I didn’t leave anything behind. After I packed everything up, I came back to look at other people’s telescopes. I saw a variety of objects. I saw Jupiter through my friend’s restored refractor. It did a good job magnifying Jupiter. It was beautiful.

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RASC City Star Party underway.

I then went to someone who had a circular telescope. It looked like a beaker. The owner told me it was an Astroscan telescope. Another RASC member came up and talked to the owner of the telescope. It was interesting to hear that this telescope was built in the 1970’s. Looking through it, when it was slewed to the Moon, it magnified it, but compared to my scope, the image was very small, but the quality was really good. I was impressed.

I soon went to another RASC member’s Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope (SCT). He had attached a binocular adapter to his telescope. He let me look into it, and I saw Saturn, but with both my eyes. With most scopes, you need to close one eye to see through the telescope. However, with the binocular adapter, you can use both eyes to see the night sky. It was interesting to use both eyes to view an object. It might be something worth investing in the future.

I then went to another RASC member’s telescope, and I was introduced to the Double Double, also know as Epsilon Lyrae. It is a multiple star system located in the Lyra constellation. We saw two binary star pairs in orbit with each other. This image of HD 98800 is a good approximation of what it looks like from an up close vantage point:

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c7/HD_98800.jpg/750px-HD_98800.jpg

Artist depiction of HD 98800, a double star system.

When I saw that, I was intrigued by it. It is the first double star system I saw. Hopefully I will see more, and try to image them in the near future.

I then went to another telescope operated by another RASC member. He showed a group of listeners how you can visually tell the star’s temperature by slightly defocusing the image. It was quite interesting. Here is an image: (The blue star is hotter than the yellow star)

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Two stars that have been defocused. The lighter coloured star is cooler than the blue star.

It was very interesting to know that. This means I can look at the stars, and get a good idea of how hot a particular star is. Hopefully I can put it to good use.

I then went to another member’s refractor telescope that was pointed to the ring nebula. I was excited to see the ring nebula in its beauty. Earlier in my hobby, one RASC member told me that we shouldn’t expect much from Deep Sky Objects when observing them visually. I finally understand why. What I saw was the Ring Nebula, but it was barely visible. I was able to see a grey indentation of the ring nebula behind a black sky, but nothing more. I suspect light pollution played a big part in blocking a large portion of this Messier object. Hopefully I get a chance to look at the ring nebula in darker skies.

At that time, the ISS finished an orbit and came back up the night sky again, albeit at a lower elevation than before. It was really nice to see the ISS again. Unfortunately, I couldn’t image it again with my scope as it was packed away.

Near the end of the night, I saw a RASC member with a CGEM EdgeHD Celestron Telescope. It is the top of the line telescope, with excellent optics to view the night sky with. I was able to learn about polar alignment with their mount. There is a recticle there which shows a circle with a smaller circle at the edge of the bigger circle. You put Polaris inside the smaller circle and you get a good approximation of where the North Celestial Pole is. It was interesting to see how polar alignment works in the CGEM Mount. They then slewed to Mars. I hoped they would slew to Mars to test whether their scope has better detail of Mars than my own scope. Unfortunately, it didn’t look much different than my own scope. Maybe it is because of the seeing, or multiple frames need to be stacked before getting any detail. Whatever the reason, Mars is tricky to see and image properly. Before Mars goes behind the sun, I hope I can get a good image of it.

By midnight, many people left with only a few people still observing. I also decided to leave the party at that time, and head home. That Star Party had been a very interesting experience. I saw a lot of new and interesting celestial objects. I also learned a lot about telescopes, and how to use them better. I saw the ISS twice tonight, and I met a lot of new people. Hopefully, the sky for the Dark Sky Star Party is clear and the turnout is as much as the City Star party. Good night and happy observing!

 

WORKS CONSULTED

http://observing.skyhound.com/archives/jul/HR_7051.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epsilon_Lyrae

 

IMAGES USED

Family Night at the Observatory

On Saturday, May 31, 2014, the David Dunlap Observatory (DDO) hosted a family night where families could come and tour the DDO, learn about astronomy, and have a great time. As a member of RASC, I went to this event as a volunteer.

The DDO Big Dome

The event started at 9 pm. I was assigned to work at the DDO Big Dome with two other people. My assignment was to explain how the star finder worked, and what each image was on the wall. During the event, I was able to explain to visitors how the star finder worked, and talked to them about the exhibits that were on the observatory’s wall, and was able to answer any astronomy-related questions.

One of the most fulfilling moments during my time there was when I talked to a guest and the group of kids about what’s the best scope to use, and answered questions about the planets, movement of the stars, and other questions. It felt good to help them get interested in astronomy.

After the family night ended, the RASC members were invited to look at the planets with the big telescope. We saw Mars and Saturn using that scope. It was incredible to see planets on a telescope that has been used in a variety of research projects during its 79 year lifetime. Note that the images taken are not the same as when you actually look through it.

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Mars through the Big Scope

 

 

 

 

 

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Saturn through the Big Scope

 

After looking at the telescope, I decided to call it a night. Before I left, I looked at another RASC member’s telescope. It was a refactor with 330x zoom. Looking at Saturn, it was so close compared to my telescope. I was astounded by the zoom of his telescope.

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It was a great night, but it’s not going to be the only Family Night that RASC will host. RASC will host another one on June 14, 2014. Hopefully, you will all be there.

Sunspots and Solar Flares

On Tuesday, May 5, 2014, as part of astronomy week, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) hosted a solar observation event at the Ontario Science Centre. I was able to attend this event and observe the sun with a variety of telescopes. Most telescopes are using Baader film, which makes the sun look white, and hides the solar flare and prominences, but clearly shows the sunspots on the sun.

Another telescope called the Coronado PST uses a hydrogen-alpha filter. All the light, except the hydrogen-alpha light are filtered out and the sun glows red. The image projected shows the sun, but the sunspots are unclear. However, the solar flares and prominences are visible.

Looking at the sun using those telescopes was very intriguing. In my previous blog post, I talked about how the magnetic field of the sun works to form sunspots, prominences, and other solar activity. Going to RASC’s solar observing event gave me the opportunity to observe what I wrote about. I was able to see the sunspots. They were close enough to look like an arc was there. On the Coronado PST, there was a prominence or a flare visible from the top right of the image. It was an amazing feeling to see the sun so alive and so active.

The Sun through Hydrogen-alpha filter via Coronado PST.

I encourage anyone living in Toronto to come to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada`s events. You can go to their website at: rascto.ca

To learn about solar activity, go to: https://jolyastronomy.com/2014/05/05/magnetic-fields-from-the-sun/

 

 

The RASC Members event at the DDO

On Saturday, January 25, 2014, braving the bitter cold, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) hosted a members’ night for all the members at the David Dunlap Observatory (DDO). At these events, the members get together, socialize, listen to the planned lectures based on the theme of the event, and, if conditions permit, then observe the night sky. These events are hosted every month on Saturday evenings. This month’s theme was “Our Galactic Neighbours”.

I arrived at around 6:00 pm. Once I came in and found the gathering place, I met the members who were present. From the moment I arrived, until the time when the lecture started, I socialized with many of the members present. It was great to meet with a very diverse group of astronomers, teachers, academics, and other members.

At 7:30 pm, the lectures began in the presentation room. As per the theme of this member’s night, all the lectures were about galaxies.The first lecture that was presented to us gave a general overview of what a galaxy is, what we know about them in the past and now, their shape, and composition, satellite galaxies and other cosmological phenomena, such as black holes, dark matter, and dark energy. The second lecture given to us talked about distances with respect to galaxies. For example, We looked at the distances to our immediate neighbours. The Milky Way is 100,000 lightyears (lyrs) across, and M31 (Andromeda Galaxy) is 2.58 million lyrs away. Eventually, we start to expand our horizons and look further out seeing many galaxies clustered together, such as the Virgo supercluster, and when we expand our horizons further at a distance of 400 Mlyrs (Mega-lyrs) across, we see voids in the clusters 100 Mlyrs across. It was very intriguing.

Our final lecture talked about how we can observe deep sky objects ourselves. He gave us tip and tricks to help us identify what we see, how we can best see deep sky objects from Earth with proper positioning of our telescope and our eyes, and the obstacles we will face when observing deep sky objects.

After the lectures, the evening concluded. However, one of the members, who happened to be the chair of the DDO offered to give the members a tour of the main telescope used in most observations. Most members, including me, took advantage of that opportunity.

The telescope became operational on May 31, 1935, and was the second-largest telescope operating in the world at that time. This telescope was used by many renown astronomers throughout the years to study deep space objects. In 1971, most notably, the DDO was able to confirm that the Cygnus x-1 binary system has a black hole. In 2007, the University of Toronto intended to close the telescope down. However, in 2009, RASC put forward a proposal to run the telescope for educational purposes. As a result, in July 2009, it was reopened for public use by RASC and has since remained like that.

In the observatory, we saw the giant telescope that was used to observe the stars. It has a Schmidt-Cassegrain design, with a primary mirror concentrating the light to a secondary mirror and then reflecting it to the instrumentation.

Telescope used at DDO.

Telescope used at DDO.

Telescope used at David Dunlap Observatory

Secondary Mirror of Telescope.

Every time the telescope operators want to use the telescope they need to manually remove the covers of the mirrors.

The chair showed us how its mount works. It is an equatorial mount that follows the Celestial Equatorial Coordinate System, which slews the telescope based on Right Ascension (RA) and Declination (Dec) coordinates. (Think of it like Latitude and Longitude of the stars) Believe it or not, the mount is not computerized, and relies on a manual switch, and it also includes a hand crank for turning the telescope on its RA axis. It’s quite fascinating.

In addition, he showed us the spectrometer used in the telescope as well as the telescope very large 100 mm eyepiece. It gives the telescope 330x magnification, which is pretty good. It was quite a sight.

We then saw the electrical system of the telescope. It is quite old, since it still uses DC currents. One notable feature of the electrical system is a light bulb. It is notable because it is used to prevent the electrical system from freezing in these frigid Canadian temperatures. It is also worth nothing that the light bulb is still active after 60 years of use. It’s very intriguing. In addition, we learn that the dome rotation was powered not by gears but by a pulley system balanced with 10 stones (140 lbs) of weight. I say 10 stones because the weights were made in the UK.

In the other side, we saw the equipment used to recoat the primary mirror. Every two years, the aluminum coating on the mirror is recoated to maintain its reflective properties. The process they use is the same process used when it became operational. First, the operators use a manual elevator to bring the two ton mirror to the ground level. Before that, the bottom of the elevator needed an additional two tons attached to balanced the elevator. Once the mirror is at ground level, they use sodium hydroxide to clean the aluminum off, using diapers to wipe it down. It was quite astonishing.

Once the mirror is completely clean, they put the mirror in a vacuum chamber. Attached in the upper rim of the chamber are evenly-spaced diodes. Each diode requires three slivers of aluminum on it to coat the mirror. Once the aluminum is in, and the mirror is in place, they vacuum seal the chamber. In a specific sequence, they activate each diode which evaporates the aluminum and evenly applies the aluminum across the entire mirror. Once it has dried for a day, they take the mirror and place it back into the telescope. The secondary mirror goes through a similar process inside a smaller vacuum chamber.

Fun Fact: The primary mirror was so big that they had to bring it inside using an unfinished opening in the wall. It would not fit through the doors.

After that, our tour ended and we all went back home.

Overall, the event was a great success. I learned a lot of new interesting and informative facts about the universe around me. Closer to home, I learned the history of the DDO, how the DDO’s main telescope works, and what it takes to maintain it over the years.

If you like what was read here, please check out my facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/jolyastronomy

and spread the word.

WORKS CONSULTED

http://rascto.ca/content/members-nights-ddo

http://www.theddo.ca/History/tabid/58/Default.aspx

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cygnus_X-1#Discovery_and_observation

http://www.alcoat.net/al_2.htm