Sunday, January 19, 2020

Winter Hexagon overhead (Bradford)

Stepped off the bus and immediately Sirius caught my left eye. Fairly elevated, not too much scintillating.

As I cut through a dark parking lot, the southern sky opened up. Orion, high up, Auriga higher still. I had to crane for the Pleiades. Took in the whole hexagon. Fantastic, majestic, huge. Lovely with no Moon.

The stars to the west seemed dim. Was there high cloud? Not enough stars to pick out constellations.

Betelgeuse looked very close to Bellatrix in terms of brightness. At one point, I thought brighter. Most of the time it seemed the same. Definitely better than Saiph. Definitely better than Mintaka. But then I thought the same magnitude as Alnitak and Alnilam. They are both 1.7.

Flip dark winter chill.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

gauged Betelgeuse

Eyeballed Betelgeuse, alpha Orionis, again. Again I thought it to be the same magnitude as Bellatrix. So around mag 1.6.

received 6th graders (Richmond Hill)

We received a school group to the David Dunlap Observatory. I headed to the site early to check on things and attempt repairs of two of our loaner telescopes. Paul arrived on time so we headed to the dome to prep. Ian W and Nancy arrived some time later. Amazingly the skies cleared so I put the 74 on Uranus and radioed Ian that we were ready. Despite the cold temperatures, the grade 6 kids were enthusiastic with good questions. Sounded like they enjoyed their visit. Tres bien.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

processed RY Mon in colour

Processed Caldwell 54 aka NGC 2506 in colour. This is the image data captured on 9 Jan '20.

red star RY Mon in colour

Used the processing features from BGO.
  • split (the special combined exposures)
  • for each, cropped (95, 95), rotated (180), removed gradient 
  • made a colour image (registered and combined)
Yep, very red.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

processed Caldwell 54 in colour

Processed Caldwell 54 aka NGC 2506 in colour. This is the image data captured on 9 Jan '20.

open cluster Caldwell 54 in colour

Used the processing features from BGO.
  1. split (the special combined exposures)
  2. for each, cropped (95, 95), rotated (180), removed gradient 
  3. made a colour image (registered and combined)
  4. adjusted colour balance (120,100,80)
  5. saturated (200)
  6. cropped again (95, 95)
It's a colourful cluster.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

imaged Caldwell 54 for fun (Halifax)

The Burke-Gaffney Observatory captured photons from Caldwell 54. An open cluster in the constellation Monoceros. Looks to have many colourful stars within.

open cluster Caldwell 54 in luminance

Green filter only, 60 seconds subexposures, 10 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

Big! Many fine members. Seems almost like there are two channels moving up and north.

I also collected red and blue data with the same parameters.

This is also known as NGC 2506 and OCL 593 and Melotte 80. Collinder 170 and Raab 67. It's also on the Herschel 400 list.


Assembled in colour on 11 Jan '20.


Wikipedia link: NGC 2506.

imaged red star RY Mon (Halifax)

Sent the BGO robotic telescope to the red star RY Mon after examining the RASC Calgary list.

red star RY Mon in luminance

Luminance only, 2 seconds subexposures, 12 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

Look at that little gaggle of stars!

Also gathered RGB data, 6 seconds each, 12 frames each.

Aka HIP 34326 and TYC 05381-0403 1.

The B-V is 4.0 and the V magnitude 8. I look forward to processing this in colour...


Assembled in colour on 12 Jan '20.

imaged fast moving LDS 873 (Halifax)

Ordered BGO to image LDS 873. This is a faint but fast binary star in Pisces. 70 year period. I hoped the magnitude 11.4 and 12.9 stars would both be visible...

binary LDS 873 in luminance

Luminance only, 2 seconds subexposures, 12 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

Also gathered RGB data, 6 seconds each, 12 frames each.

Also known as HIP 4927. SkyTools says the primary star is TYC 01195-0960 1 but I had to use 1195009602 with the 'bot.

This is a tight pair. SkyTools says 3.23". That's close to the limit for this system. The software shows the B star to the west, nearly due west. I can't see anything... Did a deep give into all the channels.

Is the seeing a factor? The CSC predicted the seeing at 1/5 or bad. Or am I working below the limits of the rig?

visited NGC 7814 for fun (Halifax)

The Burke-Gaffney Observatory robot imaged NGC 7814. An edge-on galaxy in Pegasus. First viewed this target on the evening of 8 Oct '16 from the backyard. Wanted to get a better look.

galaxy NGC 7814 in luminance

Luminance only, 60 seconds subexposures, 10 stacked shots. FITS Liberator, GIMP. North is up; east is left.

Not a great image with that nasty gradient. But you can still see that thin black line, that lumpy dust lane cutting through the middle of the galaxy. Interesting.

This galaxy is also known as UGC 8 and Caldwell 43. It's also on the Herschel 400 list.

It is near Algenib. Not that bright star at the top-right; that's HD 225001.


Spotted faint LEDA 1504510 to the north, just above star Tycho 1178-0738-1. Tiny round little fuzzy.

To the east (left) there is the obvious oval, somewhat bright, of galaxy PGC 259.

LEDA 1500064 is to the south-west, near the bright stars SAO 91677 and 91676.


Wikipedia link: NGC 7814.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

checked brightness of Betelgeuse

Pulled up the brightness chart or light curve for Betelgeuse. I inverted it with GIMP.

light curve for alpha Orionis

My quick visual Mark I eyeball assessment was not too far off.

The dynamic up-to-date graph is available at the AAVSO. Check it for the latest observations and measures.

followed Sirius (Bradford)

It was partly cloud. From the bus stop to home, I followed bright Sirius. The nearly full Moon was headed toward Orion, up and left of an orange star (Aldebaran). In fact, the Moon had taken up one of the corners of the Winter Hexagon. Couldn't see the Pleaides in the bright and wispy sky.

Betelgeuse looked the same brightness as Bellatrix. [ed: Which is mag 1.6 according to Stellarium.]

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

attended CAO meeting

Attended the meeting for the Carr Astronomical Observatory organising team. First face-to-face committee meeting in a while. We plowed through a lot of stuff in 2 hours!

fixed the projector

Headed to the DDO earlier. Good thing I wasn't on the clock as the buses were all messed up. Tidied up the RASC office some more. Tested the wifi bridge. My notes were good but the service is spotty. Found the projector lamp assembly that Chris had located. Looked brand new to me so I installed it in the east projector in the dome and fired it up. Back in business! Was ready to have a go at the big Dob but then people started arriving.

plotted moon elongations

woo hoo! At first I didn't think there was a tool specifically for Mars. But a bit of creative searching, and I found it! Like what I've done with the outer gas giants, I used the Tracker Tool, version 2.6, PDS Ring-Moon Systems Node (tool link) from SETI. (It is not listed in the web interface menu...)

plot of Martian moons for 4 weeks

Wow. They are zippy! Deimos appears to be just over 1 day. Phobos looks to be 2 or 3 times a day!

Slowed it down a bit...

plot of Martian moons for 2 days

There. That'll be handy for a given evening...

Oh boy. Phobos is gonna be tough, never more than 1 planet diameter away!

Monday, January 06, 2020

considered Mars 2020 show

Got to thinking about the conversation with Rhonda. Did a big of digging into the next apparition of Mars.

A few quick key facts. Opposition will occur on or around 13 October. It will cross the meridian (or over the south cardinal point) at midnight on that date. Approximately, it will rise at 5:50 PM and set at 6:35 AM. Visible all night long. The red planet will be bright at magnitude -2.6. It will be 0.4 astronomical units (AU) away i.e. 60 000 000 kilometres. Or to put it another way, less than half the Earth-Sun distance. While still below the ecliptic (the path of the planets and the Sun) line, it will be pretty high in the sky. At midnight it will be above 51 degrees in altitude or elevation. That's very good news. In the summer of 2018 it was only about 20° up.

That's all data I culled from using Stellarium on the web (link).

(Actually, this whole time is gonna be awesome for planet viewing as Jupiter and Saturn will be putting on an incredible show as well.)

I also visited the ALPO site for information. In fact, I had a look at the heliocentric chart for Earth and Mars. This was the main discussion point. I was trying to explain to rho that Earth drew close to Mars about every 2 years but there was a longer cycle of interest where, due to Mars unique orbit, that there were periods where it was better for us. I couldn't remember that period but I thought it something like 20 years. ALPO says it's 15.8 years.

From Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers web site, I took in the Mars page. It had been updated by Jeffrey Beish in March 2016. I noted Figure 2-3, the chart showing the maximum apparent diameter of Mars. Yep, peaking in the fall of 2020. Not quite as high at 2003 but still pretty good! Between 23 and 25 seconds-of-arc.

Examined table 2-3 listing future apparitions of Mars. Found the 2020 data:
  • opposition date: 13 October
  • diameter in arc-seconds: 22.3
  • closest approach: 6 October
  • diameter in ": 22.6
  • distance in AU: 0.41
A general search thanks to Google helped me find a heliocentric chart with annotations for 2020. I was surprised that the one on the ALPO site wasn't marked. That said, the chart shows Ls, is the planetocentric longitude of the Sun along the ecliptic of Mars's sky. And the various tables refer to Ls. 

Oh. Hold the phone. I found a different page, one specifically for the 2020-2021 apparition of Mars. And it has an updated and annotated chart (see Figure 2). Noted the radial line marking 2020, from Earth's October orbit through Mars's January season.

Still, while I'm happy to find the updated chart, I thought I'd make my own, a bit cleaner, and astronomer-friendly...

chart of Mars and Earth orbits

This is a top-down view of the inner solar system. The planets orbit counter-clockwise.

The inner blue ring shows Earth's orbit, nearly circular, and nearly perfectly centred on the Sun. Earth's months are inscribed. The outer orange ring shows Mars's orbit. The Martian seasons, in the northern hemisphere, are noted. You'll note the orbit is elliptical so at times Mars can be half the distance from Earth. The Line of Apsides shows the points of closest approach (250°) or when Mars would be distal (70°).

Opposition times are marked with the red radial lines. The past 2018 event is noted—you can see it occurred in July, where the ecliptic is low for those in the northern hemisphere. Also noted is the "great" 2003 opposition where the event occurred right on the proximal Line of Apsides! Mars was 0.37 AU or 55.8 million klicks away and rose over 25" in size. That's why it was such a big deal.

Ah. That crazy night at York University...

Found the old 2003 perihelic apparition of Mars page on SEDS.

In all this searching, I also found the Opposition Cycle of Mars article. It talks about even longer cycles still as to how close/large Mars can be. 2003 was a really big deal.

The sad bit of news is that we're heading into the long 15-16 year cycle where Mars is moving away. Well, to be fair, for half that time. So that puts some emphasis on this year's apparition of Mars. Don't miss it. If you skip it, 2022 will be problematic: Mars will be further from Earth; and it will be December on our home world. And that will like scupper things for us in the northern hemisphere... So, again, view Mars this year!

Before I forget, planetary oppositions are not one-night-only events. So start enjoying the fourth planet in the summer, any clear nights you can. Go on high-alert in October. That will be the best time for visual observing and astrophotography. And if it's cloudy for much of October, it will still be OK to view and image in November.

I tried, without success, in 2018 to get the moons of Mars.

Stellarium says the tiny moons will be in the magnitude 10 and 11 range...

I'm pumped to tag Phobos and Deimos this year!

Sunday, January 05, 2020

received proof

Oh. Received my February JRASC column for proofing.

Friday, January 03, 2020

responded to BDT comment

Received another comment on my barn door tracker YouTube video. NightWaves gave some suggestions about leveling the base, bubble levels, tapping to get to polar alignment, etc. I noted that I do not worry about leveling the alt-az base precisely and I don't have bubble levels.