Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Visit to Lowell Observatory where Pluto was discovered

My wife, daughter and I stopped at Lowell Observatory on the way home from a trip to southern Arizona. The day was cold with threatening weather. We signed up for the tour around the observatory grounds. I especially wanted to visit the telescope through which Clyde Tombaugh discovered the dwarf planet, Pluto.

This is a statue to honor the discoverer of Pluto, Clyde Tombaugh. He was only a young man when he joined the Lowell observatory staff. He had the right stuff to be able to concentrate on the task of looking for Planet X. Over a extended period of time he took images through a fine quality 13 inch Astrograph telescope. He would take pictures of the sky near the ecliptic each clear night. Later he would take images of the same area  and then compare those images using a blinking compactor to see if anything had moved. Eventually he discovered a star that moved the correct amount to indicate it was a planet beyond the planet Neptune. This discovery was made on February 18, 1930

After leaving the main visitor center you walk toward the Saturn building (notice the rings around the base of the dome).

On the steps of the Saturn building you will see a sign that reads "PLUTO TOUR STARTS HERE". At the designated time a tour guide showed up took us inside of the Saturn building where displays show the history of Lowell Observatory
Here is the pathway that leads to the observatory where Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto. There are markers along the way that shows the comparative distance of each planet in the solar system.

Here is observatory at the end of walkway, which houses the observatory 13 inch Astrograph that was used to discover Pluto.

Here is the 13 inch Astrograph telescope used to discover Pluto. We were able to walk around it to look at it. The guide removed the back plate and allowed us to look through the tube where we could see the 13 inch lens at the top end of the telescope. He also allowed me to turn the scope a little on it's axis and look through the finder scope.

Here is the telescope from the other side, where you can see the sturdy mount that allowed the telescope to take beautiful long exposures of the sky.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Total eclipse of the moon, Serpens Cauda, and Ophiuchus

Special Note: There will be a total eclipse of the moon on Sunday evening September 27, 2015 beginning 7:09 pm and lasting until 9:23 pm mountain daylight time. It will be easily visible in the eastern sky. This is a colorful and beautiful phenomenon that you may enjoy observing. Here is a table  of when it will be visible from a newsletter of the Cache Valley Astronomical Association. If you attempt to image it, I would be glad to post it in a future post if you send me a copy.

September is often a great time to enjoy observing, and this September has been no exception. Here in northern Utah we have had an exceptional spell of clear warm nights, with no moon risings until very late in the night. This week I decided to image in the constellation Serpens Cauda (serpents tail) and bordering to the west of it Ophiuchus (a man holding a snake). Serpens Cauda has the Eagle Nebula (Messier 16) made famous by the Hubble Space Telescope. Ophiuchus is rich with Globular Clusters. Ophiuchus is now quite low in the west so some of the images are not as sharp as they would have been a few months ago. It is situated off the right side of the Milky way, in the lower area of the sky.

Messier 16 is referred to as the Eagle Nebula, a beautiful Emission nebula located in the Milky way in the constellation Serpen Cauda. This is the material that stars are made of.
Messier 9 is a distant globular cluster in the constellation of Ophiuchus
Messier 19 is a grand globular cluster in Ophiuchus.

NGC 6284 is another more distant globular in Ophiuchus
NGC 6287, another globular cluster
NGC 6304 another globular, probably not resolved here very well because it was quite low when I imaged it.
Messier 9, discovered by Chares Messier who compiled a list of objects he found when searching for comets.
NGC 6356, another globular in Ophiuchus.
NGC 6366, is a very loose globular cluster in Ophichus
NGC 6369 is a nice small Planetary nebula, with a barely visible white dwarf in the middle, the result of a giant star shedding it's outer layers in a spectacular explosion.
Messier 14, another spectacular globular cluster discovered by Charles Messier.
NGC 6401, another small globular in the constellation Ophiuchus.
Finally, NGC 6633, a large open star cluster with not to many members.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Sagittarius the Archer

Summer is passing quickly, so I thought I would take advantage of looking at the deep sky eye candy in the constellation Sagittarius before it disappears in the west this fall. This constellations has some of the most interesting objects to image. It is located low in the south as the sun sets and darkness deepens.

Messier 17, called the Omega Nebula or the swan nebula, is a large glowing cloud of gas, where new stars are built.
Messier 8 is an emission nebula, glowing from some of the stars embedded within the cloud of gas.

Messier 20, called the Trifid Nebula is striking because of the prominent dark lanes which are thick clouds in front of the red glowing gases.

Messier 22, is a large globular cluster of suns. There are many of these large congregations of stars orbiting our Milky Way galaxy. The largest appear so because they are generally closer to us. This cluster is estimated to be about 11,000 light years distant.

Messier 28 is another globular cluster, though it appears much smaller. This globular is about 18,000 light years from earth.

Messier 21 is a open star cluster, one of many in this part of our galaxy.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Auriga the Charioteer

The skies have been quite smokey during the past few weeks here in northern Utah, so I am showcasing some of the images I took in February of this year in the constellation Auriga. Auriga hangs high over head in the winter mounts, and contains some of the sky's best open clusters. There are a few emission nebula as well.

 Messier 37 one of the brighter and richest open clusters in Auriga.
 Messier 36, a open cluster with fewer members, but impressive in a telescope
 NGC 1931 emission-reflection nebula of glowing cloud of hydrogen gas with a small star cluster in the center
 NGC 2281 another open star cluster in Auriga
NGC 1778 Open cluster, with fewer members.
 NGc 1857 another open cluster with a bright star near the center
 NGC 1778 Open Cluster

 NGC 1907 an open cluster with a condensed center
NGC 2126 Open cluster with an impressive bright star.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Draco the Dragon

I chose the constellation of Draco to image in this week because it is high in the sky, but the smoke from forest fires has taken it's toll on my images this week. I was able to image some galaxies and planetary nebula. When smoke or haze is thick in the air the images are noticeably reddened  as you may notice below, but the images are interesting anyway. Several Perseid meteor's flashed through some of my images, but I didn't hit the save button quickly enough to record them.

 Messier 102 is a missing galaxy in the Messier Catalog. It is thought that it may have been referring to NGC 5866 shown here.
NGC 4965 is a nice edge on and was discovered in 1788 by William Herschel using a nearly 19 inch reflecting telescope.
 NGC 6503 is a spiral galaxy, about 17 million light years distant and 30,000 miles in diameter.
NGC 6543 is a Planetary Nebula, just barely visible in this image. In much longer exposures it forms a ring around the bright star near it. It was created when an old sun blew off it's outer layers.
NGC 6742, a small faint round bluish ring near the middle of this image is also a planetary nebula.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Swan, Whirlpool, Wild duck, Uranus, and a nice Edge on galaxy.

During the third week of July our family visited the Grand Teton National Park, to relax and enjoy the magnificent beauty of nature. In the past I have wandered down to Jackson lake near Colter Bay, to view the night sky, where as far as I can tell there is no light pollution in any direction. The view really takes your breath away. The sky is filled with the Milky way and so many stars that the constellations seem to dissolve among the myriads of distant suns that fill the sky overhead. It has to be experienced to be understood. No description can adequately describe the view.

I was able to image a few objects before our vacation. Several roadblocks prevented me imaging after our vacation. The moonlight began to interfere with the full blue moon making its appearance at the end of July. Also the software I am using on my video camera was updated and I am going through a learning curve getting it to work the way I want. Below is a few of the objects that I imaged earlier in the month of July

 This is Messier 17 the Omega Nebula, also called the Swan Nebula, in the constellation of Sagittarius. It is an emission cloud receiving its light from  an embedded star cluster. This type of  material is what stars are made from.
 This gorgeous Spiral Galaxy called the Whirlpool Galaxy  in the constellation Canes Venatici. It shows a long arm connecting it to a smaller galaxy nearby. The Spiral arms are are clearly visible in this image suggesting rotation of the Galaxy in space.
Messier 11, also called the Wild Duck Cluster, and is a loose star cluster in the constellation of Scutum.
 This Edge on Galaxy NGC 7814, is located in the constellation of Pegasus. You may notice the dark lane passing through the center of this galaxy. This is obscuring dust clouds hiding the stars in the central region of this galaxy.
This is the Planet Uranus, the seventh planet of our solar system. It is shown here with several of it's moons. The diameter of Uranus is about 16000 miles, nearly twice that of earth. It takes 84 of our years to circle the sun one time. It is composed mostly of Hydrogen and Helium. It was discovered by William Herschell on March 13, 1871. A few days later he observed it again and thought it was a comet because it had moved slightly against the background of the stars.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Pluto and Lyra, Cygnus, and Hercules deep sky images

This was a very unusual and exciting week. The space craft New Horizons finally sailed past Pluto and its five moons, Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra. Images taken by New Horizons showed massive mountains on Pluto that are over 10,000 feet high. Another surprise was the absence of craters on a large heart shaped area, Tombaugh Regio, named after the discoverer of Pluto, Clyde Tombaugh.

On the left is a beautiful image of Pluto taken a short time before the closest approach of New Horizon to Pluto. You may notice the whitish heart shaped area in the bottom central and right side.

Pictured to the left is Pluto's largest moon Charon. To me it looks similar to our moon without nearly as many craters. Note the large gashes in the left edge. It is estimated that this is a canyon 4 to 6 miles deep.

Here is a picture of the massive mountains discovered on Pluto. They are believed at this time to be made of water ice.

The above pictures and more may be found at

I was able to go outside on one outstanding evening this week, where the Milky way was clearly visible stretching across the sky overhead. Below are a few images taken on the evening of July 13 and the morning of the July 14, 2015.

This is the gorgeous Ring Nebula in the constellation Lyra, another planetary nebula, created by an exploding old star. You can see the remnant star in the middle of the ring. Through an eyepiece it has the appearance of a small smoke ring.

Here is the amazing Globular Cluster M13 in the constellation Hercules, one of the best globular's to view through an eyepiece on a dark night.

Not far from M13, is an often overlooked globular M92. Because it is not quite as bright as M13, it doesn't get observed as often at star parties, but is nearly as impressive to look at as M13. M92 resides in the constellation Hercules.

Here is an impressive open cluster named NGC 6819 located in Cygnus. There are many of these congregations of stars in the Milky Way. Many of them eventually drift apart.

This image shows the remnant of material blown off of an old star that blew up. It is called the Crescent Nebula and is located in Cygnus.

Finally this is a good example of a Spiral Galaxy.  NGC 6946 is in the constellation of Cygnus and is similar to our own Milky way. Our Milky Way would look similar to  this if it were viewed from a position far above it. This galaxy is estimated to be only about 1/3 the size of our Milky way.Note the spiral arms. It is about 40,000 light years across. That's how long it would take a beam of light to cross from one end to the other.