Totality is life-changing

10 frame composite of totality from Hopkinsville, KY

I stood there, in a cornfield in Hokinsville, KY.  I thought the day had been exciting, waiting for and then observing the steady march of the moon’s disc across the Sun.  One of the children there described it as the Sun being eaten. The light around us took on a rather eerie and disquieting “emptiness”…indeed, as though it were being eaten.

And then it happened.  Totality.  It struck me like a ton of bricks…the buildup had been nothing.  THIS was “the show”.

I must have started my camera sequence…it ran.  I quite literally don’t remember doing it.  It was 10 minutes later before I even remembered to wonder if I had.

I found myself lying on the ground, staring up at totality…I don’t remember laying down.

I knew, somehow, that my life had changed.  The very fabric of what it meant to me to be human had become, somehow, tangible and real.  It took me days to understand why.

Man’s distinctive characteristic is his type of consciousness—a consciousness able to abstract, to form concepts, to apprehend reality by a process of reason.  – Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology

Rand, as she so often had, provided the words I was unable to find on my own.

The birds went quiet, the dogs settled, the nocturnal bugs began their night-time calls and dances.  To the entire world, it was night.

Save for the Men.

As Man, we understood.  It was not night.  It was the chance alignment of orbiting bodies, behaving as they must in accordance with the laws of nature.  Laws we cannot directly observe with any of our senses, but which must, nevertheless, be.  Only our ability to “abstract, form concepts, and apprehend reality by a process of reason” allows us to know them, to understand their nature, and to know that this place, at this time, on this day, would allow us to observe their effects on the world around us.

Why was I there?  Simple.

I reject any philosophy, any spirituality, any code, or any mysticism that dare suggest to me that knowledge of the world around me is a sin.

The function of my rational mind is what makes me Man, and connects me with the universe in which I live, and allowed me to experience this moment.

I’ll allow nobody to take that away.

Posted in AstroImages, Random Sciency Stuffs, Solar System | Leave a comment

Eclipse stuff!

So yeah, unless you live under a rock, you know there’s a total solar eclipse coming in a couple weeks, and you probably know we’re in the path of totality.  You may even have done some googling or read a bit about “totality’, and what a “total solar eclipse” means.

(If not, this page has a pretty good explanation of the types of solar eclipses, and the differences between them.)

SO…this post won’t bore you with all that crap. 🙂

Instead, I want to tell you about a few “odd” things you may, if you’re lucky, get to experience during this total eclipse, before, during, and after totality.

If there’s some trees nearby, during the partial phases of the eclipse, go stand in their shade and look at the bits of light coming through the leaves.  At the right orientation, you may be able to see thousands of tiny “crescent suns” on the ground!  This is the result of the tree’s leaves…and more specifically the small gaps between them…acting as pinhole cameras!  In precisely the same way as we MAKE pinhole cameras for viewing the partial portions of an eclipse, nature has provided her own. 🙂

If you can find a wide open, flat area for viewing the eclipse, pay close attention to your surroundings in the few moments before and after totality…you may actually be able to watch the moon’s shadow rushing across the ground toward and away from you.

During totality, the sky will become dark enough to see several bright planets and even a few stars.  Especially look for two bright “stars” fairly near the sun…those are likely to be Venus (farther away, west of the sun, and the much rarer sight, Mercury (which should be quite close, slightly SSE of the sun).  You may also catch sight of the star Sirius.

Also during totality, take your eclipse glasses off (Yes, it’s COMPLETELY safe to do so during totality) and if we get REALLY lucky (not, I’m afraid, very likely as this eclipse is occurring during a solar minimum) not only will you be able to see the sun’s corona (the pale “glow” around the sun during this time…essentially the sun’s atmosphere) but you may be able to see bright red prominences at the edge…a sight normally reserved only for specialized solar telescopes and filters.

And finally, immediately (as in, within a minute or so) before and after totality, look on light colored surfaces (perhaps a bit of poster board facing the sun, the side of a house or car, etc) for “wavy shadows”.  As the moon is very near complete coverage of the sun’s disc, the turbulence of the atmosphere combined with gaps/holes/barriers created by the rough, mountainous edge of the moon’s disk will produce a very strange effect, and you’ll see shadow’s dancing and waving across lightly colored surfaces.

Ultimately, remember first and foremost to BE SAFE.  but don’t forget to experience all the fascinating and unique sights such a rare astronomical event has to offer.

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IC 1396 : The Elephant’s Trunk Nebula in Narrowband – Modified SHO Palette

Feel pretty good about this one.  Decided to go for a nice big bright object this time, for a little “relaxation”.

The Elephant’s Trunk is an area of active star formation in the constellation Cepheus, some 2,400 LY away.

The “trunk” itself is a large globule of dense dust, with a bright “surface” being ionized by the large star HD206267, the bright star “above” the trunk in this image.

The hole in the “top” of the trunk is the home of 2 young stars which have cleared out the dust and gas with their stellar winds.

* Acquired 2017-07-29 - 2017-07-31 
* 16 x 900" each Ha, OIII, SII : 12hr Total Integration
* Stellarvue SV80ST
* Astro-Physics Mach-1 GTO
* Atik 414EX
* Astrodon 1.25" 3nm Ha, OIII, SII filters
* QHY5-L II Guidecam
* Sequence Generator Pro
* PHD2


Posted in AstroImages, DSOs | Leave a comment

New PixInsight Tutorial : Creating Mosaics with a simple StarAlignment and GradientMergeMosaic workflow.

I’m generally not known for my image processing prowess. (Quite the opposite in fact…if I’m known at all, it is for my ability to murder perfectly innocent data in the prime of its life.)

Every so often, however, I manage to wrap my brain around a particular process or concept in PixInsight.  I seem to have a knack for making mosaic panels get along and play well with each other.

To this end, I offer a simple, repeatable, and relatively straightforward process for creating mosaics in PixInsight.


Posted in HowTo and Tutorials | Leave a comment

Sh2-91 Bi-color Mosaic

This one was a significant challenge.  Between imaging a faint narrowband target from what is now a white zone (thanks, Nashville!) and trying to cover it as a mosaic, looooooooooots of processing wharrgarbl.

I am, to be frank, not terribly happy with the outcome, though the opinion of other more talented individuals seems to be less harsh…not sure how I feel about that, frankly.

Sh2-91, often called “the other Veil” in Cygnus, is a ~ 30k yr old supernova remnant.  As the shockwave from the supernova hurtles through space at 30,000km/s, it excites Hydrogen and Oxygen (among others) molecules on its way by, kicking electrons to higher orbits than they’re especially comfortable with.

Once those little electrons gather their wits about them, and return to their lower, less stressful orbits, they emit a photon of light in celebration…red for Hydrogen (Hydrogen Alpha) or blue-green for Oxygen (Doubly ionized Oxygen, or OIII)

That light reveals the supernova’s shockwave to us in beautiful faint tendrils of light.

Sh2-91, Cygnus's "Other Veil", is a 30k yr old supernova remnant.  Expanding outward at ~ 30,000 km/s, the shockwave from a supernova excites Hydrogen and Oxygen molecules as it passes, causing them to release photons as they return to their unexcited state.

In this bi-color mosaic, Hydrogen Alpha light is seen in red, Doubly Ionized Oxygen light in blue-green.

* Acquired over 6 nights between 2017-06-27 and 2017-07-18

* Shot from TriStar Observatory TinyObs under what are now "officially" white conditions. (Yay Nashville growing by 100 people a day)

* 24 x 1200" Ha & 27 x 300" OIII Frame 1 (Right-hand frame), 22 x 1200s Ha & 28 x 1200s OIII Frame 2 (Left-hand frame) : 33h 40m of integration

* Stellarvue SV80ST on an Astro-Physics Mach-1 GTO
* Atik 414EX
* Astrodon 3nm Ha and OIII Filters
* QHY5-L II Guidecam
Posted in AstroImages, DSOs | Leave a comment

NGC4631 & NGC4656 – The Whale and the Hockey Stick

* Acquired 2016-12-02 - 2017-03-04 
* RGB acquired from TriStar Observatory TinyObs through 2017-02-04  Bortle class 6-7
* Lum acquired during the 2017 /r/Spaceonly Imaging Party in Marathon, TX, 2017-02-26 - 3017-03-04  Bortle class 2
* 40h 5m of integration
* Equipment
	* Stellarvue SV80ST
	* Astro-Physics Mach-1 GTO
	* Atik 414EX
	* Orion 1.25" LRGB Filters
	* QHY5-L II Guidecam
	* All processing in PixInsight

From Wikipedia

NGC 4631 (also known as the Whale Galaxy or Caldwell 32) is a barred spiral galaxy in the constellation Canes Venatici. This galaxy’s slightly distorted wedge shape gives it the appearance of a herring or a whale, hence its nickname. Because this nearby galaxy is seen edge-on from Earth, professional astronomers observe this galaxy to better understand the gas and stars located outside the plane of the galaxy.

NGC 4631 has a nearby companion dwarf elliptical galaxy, NGC 4627. NGC 4627 and NGC 4631 together were listed in the Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies as an example of a “double galaxy” or a galaxy pair.

NGC 4631 and NGC 4627 are part of the NGC 4631 Group, a group of galaxies that also includes the interacting galaxies NGC 4656 and NGC 4657. However, exact group identification is problematic because this galaxy and others lie in a part of the sky that is relatively crowded. Estimates of the number of galaxies in this group range from 5 to 27,and all studies identify very different member galaxies for this group.

My primary goal in selecting this target for the 2017 /r/SpaceOnly Imaging Party in Marathon was to
be able to go deep enough to capture the stellar stream eminating from NGC4631. I knew
there was no chance of capturing Lum frames long enough from home.

Unfortunately, Marathon’s weather wasn’t as cooperative as we’d hoped, and I just didn’t get enough data to push the stretch where I wanted. While I absolutely captured the stream :

the SNR just isn’t high enough for my mediocre processing skills to do it justice. It’s “there” in the final result, but only just barely.

Posted in AstroImages, DSOs | Leave a comment

Solar Viewing Live Stream scheduled for 1000 CDT/1500 UTC 2017-04-08

Be there or be square! 🙂

Posted in AstroImages, Solar System | Leave a comment

SCIENCE, bitches!

Always fun to learn something new, even if it doesn’t really relate to anything in particular.  The “light bulb moment” is still a joy.  Had such a moment this morning, thought I’d share. 🙂

In the /r/astronomy thread of my latest solar image, /u/J-bird7 mentioned that the magnetic field lines around the sunspot resembled cell mitosis.  “Huh…ya know, sure enough, they do.  For that matter, cell mitosis and magnetic field lines DO frequently tend to look alike.  Wonder why…”

A bit of googling led me to a fairly recent /r/AskScience thread about this very topic!  And sure enough, there’s a reason!

As pointed out there, we tend generally to think of dipoles in the electromagnetic spectrum…but ANY system where material/particles are pushed away from point A and attracted to point B is, in fact, a dipole….an mitosis fits this definition wonderfully!

The resulting physics of “stuff is actively repelled from one spot and attracted to another” result in…you guessed it…”dipole field lines”.

Bam…cell mitosis does indeed look like a magnetic field…for reasons!

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Some activity on the Sun after a quiet March

Sun has been surprisingly active the last couple of days, after nearly a month of what appeared to be copypasta of a ping pong ball.

The weekend afforded me a couple of hours of prime observation and and imaging.

For the curious (and incredibly bored) the full session was streamed and saved on YouTube.

Observed/photographed from TriStar Observatory TinyObs on April 2, 2017, ~ 11:00am CDT
Lunt LS50THa 50mm solar scope on board an AP Mach1 GTO 1
SharpCap capture software
Observed/photographed from TriStar Observatory TinyObs on April 2, 2017, ~ 11:00am CDT
Lunt LS50THa 50mm solar scope on board an AP Mach1 GTO 1
SharpCap capture software
2000 frames acquired each capture


Posted in AstroImages, Solar System | Leave a comment

Motorizing the dome

So several tests of the original plan of using a friction-wheel to spin the dome suggested that while it would “work”, it was neither reliable nor consistent.

Matthias Wandel to the rescue!

Using Matthias’s gear template generator I spec’d out a ring gear for the dome ring, and a 9-tooth spur gear to drive it.

I split the ring gear into 45° sections, and cut the “master” by hand with a jigsaw.  I then used the master to cut the rest on a router table with a flush trim bit.

Once all 8 sections were cut, they were glues and screwed in place on the dome ring.

The end result?


Posted in Astroimaging Gear, Dome Project | Leave a comment