Impressive early efforts of a beginning telescope user

M42 - The Orion Nebula - by John Burkett

M42 – The Orion Nebula: Two exposures, “…a minute at 400 ISO and a minute at 100 ISO. One each. I just erased the center from the ISO 400 on top of the ISO 100 layer.” – John Burkett

CAA member John Burkett writes about how he, a person who says he has used a telescope only six times in his life, created images that would be the envy of many a veteran amateur astronomer.

Wanting to do astrophotography for many years, I could never justify the expense if I rationally totaled the equipment costs; clearly, the only solution was to be irrational.  Feeling time-pressured in July ’17 to acquire a longer DSLR camera lens for the {total solar} eclipse, I bought a used Stellarvue 130 instead. 

The first time I used the goto mount, I didn’t know if it was polar-aligned or not, and gave up at 3 AM.

The second time, I had acquired a magical device called PoleMaster.  It says “click on Polaris”, but how do I know if I’m clicking on Polaris or not? 

The third weekend, I was more confident of the polar alignment but only then realized the need to know names of stars to align the mount. After an hour or so with an app, I found Altair and confidently  pressed “enter” on the hand controller. Wow, this was exciting, the mount started moving, the scope is spinning around and when it stopped, the telescope  was pointing below the horizon. I spent an hour or two, staring at the equipment wondering if I put something together backwards or selected the wrong hemisphere, or broke it. I released the clutch and pointed it at the moon so I could say I captured something.

The 4th time I set up the CGEM, I went through the motions of a three-star alignment, repeatedly. This took all night, since I didn’t know any star by name yet.

Photo: Horsehead Nebula (Barnard 33) in Orion. Photo by John Burkett

The Horsehead Nebula (Barnard 33) in the upper-right, is located just to the south of the star Alnitak in Orion’s Belt, and part of the much larger Orion Molecular Cloud Complex. The large glowing cloud to left of center is NGC 2024 – the Flame Nebula. Photo by John Burkett.

Finally, on the 5th CGEM weekend, being frustratingly entertained, I was able to align everything. I selected the Dumbbell, took a shot and captured it. I continued to do the tour of random DSOs (deep-sky objects). I noted the same length of trails in a six-minute exposure as in a two-minute exposure.  The camera body to mount had uncorrectable play, so I determined its natural sitting and wrapped the intervalometer cable around the camera so that it would dangle in the desired direction, using its weight to avoid the unintended motion of the less than ideal mounting.

Just in time for some use-it-or-lose-it vacation, I wanted to spend a week at this. To be honest, I’ve been a self-described night sky [amateur] photographer for many years, so once I had the mount figured out, exposing and {image editing} was second nature.  As in DSLR camera photography, I shot both over and under exposures, choose the best two and just erased the over-exposed center of one layered image, on top of the other image in Photoshop. And that is my beginner M42 with a DSLR on a goto telescope adventure. I think I’m going to enjoy contributing and learning astrophotography.

Burkett notes that his digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR) is a Nikon D810 not modified for astrophotography. He shot the images from Kissimmee, Florida in February 2018. And yes, we are among those awestruck at his first efforts. — ed

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Member’s handiwork helped Hawking view the universe

Photo: Stephen Hawking post from his Facebook

Stephen Hawking and his Specially-Equipped Telescope. – Stephen Hawking post from his Facebook


The recent death of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking brought back a happy memory for CAA member Joe Golias. Among the accounts of the famous scientist’s life, a photograph and story resurfaced showing Hawking next to a specially-equipped telescope; a system Hawking could operate himself, to view and image celestial objects. The local tie-in? Golias owns and operates Astrozap, a respected manufacturer of telescope accessories, dew shields particularly.

Golias writes, “I was told by the Celestron folks that the Hawking team purchased a special system to enable Mr. Hawking to do Astrophotography from his home. While the Celestron folks do carry their own line of dew shields, they wanted Mr. Hawking to have the best on the market. Celestron purchased the Astrozap dew shield and Astrozap dew controller during a UK imaging conference.” Shields and heaters (controllers) help prevent formation of fog and dew on telescope lenses.

There, in a photo posted to Hawking’s Facebook, is the Celestron telescope wearing its handsome dew shield emblazoned with the Astrozap name! What a wonderful milestone and memory for our own Joe Golias! {Here’s the Full-Size Image}

Here is a link to a detailed story of the telescope as told by the good folks at Celestron: Building a Telescope for Stephen Hawking


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March 12: Monthly Membership Meeting

Photo: The Milky Way by Alan Studt

Milky Way Rising – Photo by Alan Studt

The monthly meeting of the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association will take place Monday, March 12, beginning at 7:30 PM. The evening’s program, “Astrophotography and other Cool Pictures,” will be presented by club members Alan and Gale Studt. The couple will present photos featuring starry night landscapes, panoramas, and star trails blended with earthly landscapes! For the technically-curious, Alan will go over his gear and basic procedures. Plus music and more!

Following the presentation and a brief social break, the club will conduct its membership business meeting.

Our monthly meetings are held on the second Monday of every month (except December) at 7:30 PM at the Rocky River Nature Center; 24000 Valley Parkway; North Olmsted, Ohio, in the Cleveland Metroparks.

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Want to see Wednesday’s total lunar eclipse? TV or online are best bet!

Photo: Umbral Shadow Crossing Moon by James Guilford

Umbral Shadow Crossing Moon by James Guilford

A total lunar eclipse will take place in the pre-dawn hours of January 31 but interested viewers in Northeastern Ohio are not well-favored! Weather conditions predicted for Wednesday morning are poor (mostly cloudy, at best) and the timing of the eclipse event itself works against us; at best we would see only a portion of the partial phase before our Moon sets!

Our best bet for watching this total lunar eclipse will be to view it on television or via streaming video. NASA Television and the agency’s website will provide live coverage of the celestial spectacle beginning at 5:30 a.m. EST. Weather permitting, the broadcast will feature views from the varying vantage points of telescopes at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California; Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles; and the University of Arizona’s Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter Observatory. You can access the live NASA broadcast via some cable television services, or online through NASA’s Moon webpages.

If skies do clear enough to see the Moon from our area, here’s a timetable for significant points in the upcoming eclipse as viewed from the city of Oberlin — the timing would be off only by a few seconds viewed from other areas of Northeastern Ohio.

Timetable of January 31, 2018 Total Lunar Eclipse. Credit:

Timetable of January 31, 2018 Total Lunar Eclipse. Credit:

This eclipse event is getting special attention because it offers the rare coincidence of three lunar events: A “supermoon,” a “blue moon” and a total lunar eclipse at the same time. A “supermoon” occurs when the Moon is closest to Earth in its orbit (at or near perigee) and appears about 14 percent brighter than usual. As the second Full Moon of the month, this Moon is also commonly called a Blue Moon, though it will not be blue in appearance. The “Super Blue Moon” will pass through Earth’s shadow and take on a reddish copper to deep-red tint. The eerie colors of totality seen during lunar eclipses frightened the ancients but delight us!

The last total lunar eclipse occurred Sept. 27-28, 2015. The next total lunar eclipse visible across North America will occur January 21, 2019.

The January 31 eclipse is the third in a series of supermoons in December 2017 and January 2018. Watch the Supermoon Trilogy video.

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Extrasolar star’s turbulent surface imaged

Image: Star π1 Gruis Credit: ESO

Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope have directly observed granulation patterns on the surface of a star outside the Solar System — the ageing red giant π1 Gruis. This remarkable new image from the PIONIER instrument reveals the convective cells that make up the surface of this huge star. Each cell covers more than a quarter of the star’s diameter and measures about 120 million kilometers across. Image Credit: ESO

Astronomers using ESO’s Very Large Telescope have for the first time directly observed granulation patterns on the surface of a star outside the Solar System — the ageing red giant π1 Gruis. This remarkable new image from the PIONIER instrument reveals the convective cells that make up the surface of this huge star, which has 700 times the diameter of the Sun. Each cell covers more than a quarter of the star’s diameter and measures about 120 million kilometers across. These new results are being published this week in the journal Nature.

Located 530 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Grus (The Crane), π1 Gruis is a cool red giant. It has about the same mass as our Sun, but is 700 times larger and several thousand times as bright. Our Sun will swell to become a similar red giant star in about five billion years.

An international team of astronomers led by Claudia Paladini (ESO) used the PIONIER instrument on European Southern Observatory’s (ESO’s) Very Large Telescope to observe π1 Gruis in greater detail than ever before. They found that the surface of this red giant has just a few convective cells, or granules, that are each about 120 million kilometers across — about a quarter of the star’s diameter. Just one of these granules would extend from the Sun to beyond Venus. The surfaces — known as photospheres — of many giant stars are obscured by dust, which hinders observations. However, in the case of π1 Gruis, although dust is present far from the star, it does not have a significant effect on the new infrared observations.

When π1 Gruis ran out of hydrogen to burn long ago, this ancient star ceased the first stage of its nuclear fusion program. It shrank as it ran out of energy, causing it to heat up to over 100 million degrees. These extreme temperatures fueled the star’s next phase as it began to fuse helium into heavier atoms such as carbon and oxygen. This intensely hot core then expelled the star’s outer layers, causing it to balloon to hundreds of times larger than its original size. The star we see today is a variable red giant. Until now, the surface of one of these stars has never before been imaged in detail.

By comparison, the Sun’s photosphere contains about two million convective cells, with typical diameters of just 1,500 kilometers. The vast size differences in the convective cells of these two stars can be explained in part by their varying surface gravities. π1 Gruis is just 1.5 times the mass of our Sun but much larger, resulting in a much lower surface gravity and just a few, extremely large, granules.

While stars more massive than eight solar masses end their lives in dramatic supernovae explosions, less massive stars like this one gradually expel their outer layers, resulting in beautiful planetary nebulae. Previous studies of π1 Gruis found a shell of material 0.9 light-years away from the central star, thought to have been ejected around 20,000 years ago. This relatively short period in a star’s life lasts just a few tens of thousands of years – compared to the overall lifetime of several billion – and these observations reveal a new method for probing this fleeting red giant phase.

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Upcoming programs….

The Cuyahoga Astronomical Association (CAA) does not hold a General Meeting in December but that doesn’t mean nothing is happening over the winter months! Here are descriptions of programs planned for the CAA’s upcoming meetings:

January 8, 2018
“Journey to Another Solar System!”
Research astronomer and host of WKYC’s “In The Sky” Jay Reynolds will discuss how scientists are working now on a project to send high-speed probes to our nearest star (beyond our own Sun), with data results in less than 40 years of launch!

February 12, 2018
“Parallax: How we measure the distance from us to the stars!”
Club member and self-professed astronomy nerd Tim Campbell will follow Jay Reynolds’s January presentation by showing how through history, humans used cleverness, a basic principle of vision, and a succession of instruments to go from calculating the throwing distance to food to calculating just how far away those little dots in the nighttime sky really are!

March 12, 2018
“Astrophotography and other Cool Pictures”
Club members Alan and Gale Studt will present photos featuring starry night landscapes, panoramas, and star trails blended with earthly landscapes! For the technically curious, Alan will go over his gear and basic procedures. Plus music and more!

May 14, 2018
“The Inflationary Hot Big Bang Theory”
The universe is 13.7 billion years old and our best current understanding of the its origin is called the Big Bang Theory. Gary Kader, Director of the Burrell Memorial Observatory at Baldwin Wallace University, will present a lecture on the science and history of the Big Bang Theory, taking us back to within a trillionth of a second after that beginning.

June 11, 2018
“Telescope Show and Tell”
Tonight various club members will display their favorite telescopes and explain why, how, and “how much!”

CAA’s monthly meetings are held on the second Monday of every month (except December) at 7:30 PM at the Rocky River Nature Center; 24000 Valley Parkway; North Olmsted, Ohio, in the Cleveland Metroparks.

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Discovered: An Earth-sized temperate planet only 11 light-years away

Image: Planet Ross 128 b

This artist’s impression shows the temperate planet Ross 128 b, with its red dwarf parent star in the background. Image Credit: European Southern Observatory

A team working with ESO’s High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) at the La Silla Observatory in Chile has found that the red dwarf star Ross 128 is orbited by a low-mass exoplanet every 9.9 days. This Earth-sized world is expected to be temperate, with a surface temperature that may also be close to that of the Earth. Ross 128 is the “quietest” nearby star to host such a temperate exoplanet.

“This discovery is based on more than a decade of HARPS intensive monitoring together with state-of-the-art data reduction and analysis techniques. Only HARPS has demonstrated such a precision and it remains the best planet hunter of its kind, 15 years after it began operations,” explains Nicola Astudillo-Defru (Geneva Observatory – University of Geneva, Switzerland), who co-authored the discovery paper.

Red dwarfs are some of the coolest, faintest — and most common — stars in the Universe. This makes them very good targets in the search for exoplanets and so they are increasingly being studied. In fact, lead author Xavier Bonfils (Institut de Planétologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble – Université Grenoble-Alpes/CNRS, Grenoble, France), named their HARPS program The shortcut to happiness, as it is easier to detect small cool siblings of Earth around these stars, than around stars more similar to the Sun.

Many red dwarf stars, including Proxima Centauri, are subject to flares that occasionally bathe their orbiting planets in deadly ultraviolet and X-ray radiation. However, it seems that Ross 128 is a much quieter star, and so its planets may be the closest known comfortable abode for possible life.

Although it is currently 11 light-years from Earth, Ross 128 is moving towards us and is expected to become our nearest stellar neighbor in just 79,000 years — a blink of the eye in cosmic terms. Ross 128 b will by then take the crown from Proxima b and become the closest exoplanet to Earth!

With the data from HARPS, the team found that Ross 128 b orbits 20 times closer than the Earth orbits the Sun. Despite this proximity, Ross 128 b receives only 1.38 times more irradiation than the Earth. As a result, Ross 128 b’s equilibrium temperature is estimated to lie between -60°C and 20°C, thanks to the cool and faint nature of its small red dwarf host star, which has just over half the surface temperature of the Sun. While the scientists involved in this discovery consider Ross 128b to be a temperate planet, uncertainty remains as to whether the planet lies inside, outside, or on the cusp of the habitable zone, where liquid water may exist on a planet’s surface.

Astronomers are now detecting more and more temperate exoplanets, and the next stage will be to study their atmospheres, composition and chemistry in more detail. Vitally, the detection of biomarkers such as oxygen in the very closest exoplanet atmospheres will be a huge next step, which ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) is in prime position to take.

“New facilities at ESO will first play a critical role in building the census of Earth-mass planets amenable to characterization. In particular, NIRPS, the infrared arm of HARPS, will boost our efficiency in observing red dwarfs, which emit most of their radiation in the infrared. And then, the ELT will provide the opportunity to observe and characterize a large fraction of these planets,” concludes Xavier Bonfils.

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