Starlit North Chagrin Nature Center

North Chagrin Nature Center, Willoughby, Ohio by Alan Studt
North Chagrin Nature Center, Willoughby, Ohio by Alan Studt. Click to enlarge!

The Cuyahoga Astronomical Association (CAA) has several skilled photographers amongst its membership. Taking advantage of a clear, starry night February 6, CAA member Alan Studt spent some time with his camera making this wonderful image. Creating an image as beautiful as this nighttime landscape isn’t as simple as simply pressing the shutter release, even on an advanced DSLR. Here are Alan’s notes concerning this photograph:

The image is a combination of a few shots to get the various dynamic ranges involved.

Camera – Nikon D600 with 14mm Rokinon lens, producing three shots processed in Adobe Lightroom CC, and layer blended in Adobe Photoshop CC:

  • Sky – ISO 1250, 15 seconds, f/2.8
  • Land/Lights – ISO 6400, 15 seconds, f/22
  • Lake/Boardwalk – ISO 1000, 15 seconds, f/2.8

Constellations and objects seen in this image include: Canis Major & Minor, Orion, Lepus, Taurus, The Pleiades, and the lower part of Gemini in the upper left corner.

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The Beautiful “Gulf of Mexico”

Photo: four panel mosaic of an area called the "Gulf of Mexico" which is part of a much larger area of nebulosity called The North American Nebula or NGC7000. Image by Joe Golias
“Gulf of Mexico” Region of NGC7000

CAA member and local astronomy business owner Joe Golias has shared a new image with us that, well, all we can say about it is that it’s astounding! Here’s Joe’s description of how he produced his photograph of a region of NGC7000…

This was by far the most challenging imaging project I have attempted to date. It represents a four-panel mosaic of an area called the “Gulf of Mexico” which is part of a much larger area of nebulosity called The North American Nebula or NGC7000. This object is located in the constellation of Cygnus. This four-panel mosaic was acquired over a period of three weeks. Total exposure time was 56 hours. We’ve had a long stretch of clear skies here in Ohio which made this image possible.

Object: Gulf of Mexico | Telescope: Takahashi TOA 150 refractor | Telescope Mount: Losmandy G-11 | Camera: SBIG STT8300 with self-guiding filter wheel | Exposure: 56 hours of combined narrowband HA, OIII & SII filters | Location: “Astrozap Ridge,” Medina, Ohio. | Image processing: MaxIm DL, Images Plus, PixInsight, Photoshop CS6

Now Showing: CAA’s 2015 astrophoto exhibit

by William Murmann, CAA President
Photo: Gallery wall at the Rocky River Nature Center. Photo by James Guilford.
CAA’s 2015 Astrophoto Show
CAA’s astrophoto display is now up and running on the Gallery Wall at the Rocky River Nature Center!  Come and see the excellent work done by our members! The display is from September through October 2015.

Thanks to Steve Gallant, Dave Watkins, Dave Nuti, James Guilford, Chris Christe, Steve Spears, Alan Studt , and Joe Golias for providing photos for the display. We had more photos than we could fit on the Gallery Wall, so we mounted some images on nearby walls in the gallery room.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of room not all the images could be displayed. I helped hang the photos, however, and made sure that everyone who submitted images was represented. Thanks again to everyone for participating!

Clear skies for July 25 public stargazing

CAA Observatory - Photo by Alan Studt
CAA Observatory – Photo by Alan Studt
by William Murmann, CAA President

We had another successful public star party last night (July 25) for the Medina County Park System. CAA members brought 12 personal telescopes to Letha House Park for the 9 PM event. Our observatory director, Jay Reynolds, manned our observatory so guests could also use the club’s large scopes.

Our park hosts, Ron and Mary Hank, estimated that we had at 50 or more guests attend the star party. This included a mixture of adults and children. We had clear skies until about 11:30 PM when things clouded over. Jay said the sudden appearance of clouds had something to do with the dew point.

So far our programs for the park district in May, June, and July have had clear skies and great turnouts from the public. Let’s hope this is a trend that continues through the summer.

Apologies if I miss anyone but thanks to: Bill & Carol Lee, Larry Smith, Carl Kudrna, Rich & Nancy Whisler, Tim Campbell, Bruce Lane, Jay Reynolds, Bob Wiersma, Dave Watson, Dave Nuti, Chris Christe, Susan Petsche, and Alan Studt who joined me for our program.

Pluto: First, best look at a mysterious world

Photo: Pluto as seen by NASA's New Horizons, July 13, 2015
New Horizons’ View of Pluto, July 13, 2015 – Credits: NASA/APL/SwRI

Pluto nearly fills the frame in this image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015 when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. This is the last and most detailed image sent to Earth before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto on July 14. The color image has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument that was acquired earlier on July 13. This view is dominated by the large, bright feature informally named the “heart,” which measures approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across. The heart borders darker equatorial terrains, and the mottled terrain to its east (right) are complex. However, even at this resolution, much of the heart’s interior appears remarkably featureless — possibly a sign of ongoing geologic processes.

After a decade-long journey through our solar system, New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto Tuesday, about 7,750 miles above the surface making it the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth. The three-billion-mile journey took about one minute less than predicted when the craft was launched in January 2006. The spacecraft threaded the needle through a 36-by-57 mile (60 by 90 kilometers) window in space — the equivalent of a commercial airliner arriving no more off target than the width of a tennis ball.

Photo: Clyde Tombaugh
Clyde Tombaugh

The Pluto story began only a generation ago when young Clyde Tombaugh was tasked to look for Planet X, theorized to exist beyond the orbit of Neptune. He discovered a faint point of light that we now see as a complex and fascinating world. As a tribute to Tombaugh, who died in 1997 at age 90, a tiny canister of his ashes was placed inside the New Horizons spacecraft.

“Pluto was discovered just 85 years ago by a farmer’s son from Kansas, inspired by a visionary from Boston, using a telescope in Flagstaff, Arizona,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Today, science takes a great leap observing the Pluto system up close and flying into a new frontier that will help us better understand the origins of the solar system.”

New Horizons’ flyby of the dwarf planet and its five known moons is providing an up-close introduction to the solar system’s Kuiper Belt, an outer region populated by icy objects ranging in size from boulders to dwarf planets. Kuiper Belt objects, such as Pluto, preserve evidence about the early formation of the solar system.

Exciting images of Pluto’s largest moon — or co-dwarf planet — Charon were also captured.

Photo: Pluto's largest moon, Charon. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI
Charon, Pluto’s Largest “Moon” – Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

Remarkable new details of Pluto’s largest moon Charon are revealed in this image from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), taken late on July 13, 2015 from a distance of 289,000 miles.

A swath of cliffs and troughs stretches about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from left to right, suggesting widespread fracturing of Charon’s crust, likely a result of internal processes. At upper right, along the moon’s curving edge, is a canyon estimated to be four to six miles (seven to nine kilometers) deep.

New Horizons traveled more than three billion miles over nine-and-a-half years to reach the Pluto system.

A most memorable vacation photo

Photo: The Milky Way by Alan Studt
Milky Way Rising – Photo by Alan Studt – Click to Enlarge

Cuyahoga Astronomical Association member Alan Studt captured this wonderful photo of our home galaxy, the Milky Way, under some fairly challenging circumstances the night of May 23. He and his wife, Gale, were on vacation in Massachusetts when a celestial photo op presented itself.

“That … night happened to be the only clear night in the forecast during our vacation so I had to check it out. We were staying about six miles east of Hyannis in West Dennis, just a five-minute drive from the south shoreline of Cape Cod.

“The beach parking lot gates get locked at midnight and the ‘Teapot’ in Sagittarius didn’t clear the horizon until 11:45, so I didn’t have a lot of time to shoot. I didn’t know where else to go to stay out later until the Milky Way was higher so I had to to accept what I could get.

“The weather conditions were not great. Temps in the mid-40s with at least a steady 25 MPH wind gusting to 35 MPH. Gale thinks it was faster since the car was shaking when she went back in to wait for me. My tripods blew over before I hung bags with bottles of water, extra lenses and shoes on them… the cameras were not attached at the time.”

So, even under pressure of time and weather, Studt came home with something truly out-of-this-world as a memorable vacation photo: a sea of stars!

Studt’s Photo Notes: Looking out over Nantucket Sound/Atlantic Ocean. Three horizontal shots layered together in Photoshop. 90-degree view – east to south. Taken at West Dennis Beach, Massachusetts on a very windy evening just before midnight. The lights in the distance on the right are from Nantucket Island, 30 miles south. On the left, down at the end of the beach is The Lighthouse Inn, an old lighthouse that is now a restaurant. There was a waxing First Quarter Moon about — maybe 30 degrees — above the horizon in the west. Nikon D600, 24mm, f3.5, ISO 6400, 20 seconds. Processed in Lightroom & Photoshop CC

Close encounter with Jupiter

Photo: Jupiter with moons, by David Watkins.
Near opposition: Jupiter along with Europa, Ganymede, and Io. On a frigid February night, CAA member David Watkins used his 5X Powermate on his 8-inch Celestron to view the Jupiter atmosphere as he had never seen it before! From Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

by Dr. Tony Phillips

February 6, 2015 — Every 13 months, Earth and Jupiter have a close encounter. Astronomers call it an “opposition” because Jupiter is opposite the Sun in the sky. Our solar system’s largest gas planet rises in the east at sunset, and soars overhead at midnight, shining brighter than any star in the night sky.

This year’s opposition of Jupiter occurs on Feb. 6. It isn’t an ordinary close encounter with Earth (approximately 640 million kilometers), but in Feb. 2015, Jupiter is edge on to the Sun.

Jupiter’s opposition on Feb. 6 coincides almost perfectly with its equinox on Feb. 5 when the Sun crosses Jupiter’s equatorial plane. It is an edge-on apparition of the giant planet that sets the stage for a remarkable series of events. For the next couple of months, backyard sky watchers can see the moons of Jupiter executing a complex series of mutual eclipses and transits.

The eclipses have already started. On Jan. 24, for example, three of Jupiter’s moon’s, Io, Europa, and Callisto, cast their inky-black shadows on Jupiter’s swirling cloudtops. The “triple shadow transit” happened while Jupiter was high in the sky over North America, and many backyard astronomers watched the event.

As Earth’s crosses the plane of Jupiter’s equator in the weeks and months ahead, there will be many mutual events. For instance, on Feb. 5, volcanic Io will cast its shadow on Mercury-sized Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon. On Feb. 7, icy Europa, home to what may be the solar system’s largest underground ocean, will cast its shadow on Io. Events like these will continue, off and on, until July 2015.

During the last edge-on apparition in 2009, some observers managed to obtain the first resolved time-lapse videos of mutual phenomena. Experienced amateur astronomers recorded satellites ducking in and out of one another’s shadows, moons in partial and total eclipse, and multiple shadows playing across the face of Jupiter. Backyard telescopes have come a long way in the past six years, so even better movies can be expected this time.

You don’t have to be an experienced astronomer to experience Jupiter’s opposition. Anyone can see the bright planet rising in the east at sunset. It outshines by far anything else in its patch of sky. Point a small telescope at the bright light and, voila!–there are Jupiter’s cloud belts and storms, and the pinprick lights of the Galilean satellites circling the gas giant below.

Try it; 640 million kilometers won’t seem so far away at all.

Credit: Science@NASA