New Solar System Mnemonic Needed Soon

According to Bad Astronomy (source of the image below), the International Astronomical Union is expected to announce this week that Pluto is still a planet, along with Charon, Ceres and 2003 UB313 (sometimes called “Xena”).

Here’s my suggestion:

Many Vegans Eat Mainly Corn, Just Sitting UnderNeath Pinetrees Calling “UB313!”

OK, I took some compound-word related liberties there, but it works. See? Simple! Schoolchildren of the future, I accept your thanks.

Our New Solar System?

August 17, 2006 | Posted in: Astronomy | Comments Closed


JupiterLast night Jack came by for some astronomy. I was hoping to get a good picture of Jupiter since it won’t be visible for too much longer this year. The trees in my neighbor’s yards give me a pretty small window of opportunity but I managed to get something. Unfortunately I’m still a novice with the NexImage and the capturing software so I wasn’t able to get the moons into the image. When I turned the brightness down enough that Jupiter was not just a blazing white disk, the moons dropped out of the picture. Oh well. In any case, the image to the left is what I got after running the image through Registax. Not too bad.

After that we decided to try to hunt down M5 since it is in the same area. It took quite a bit of jumping back and forth between Starry Night, the telescope, and a pair of binoculars but we finally found it. It was kind of disappointing because of all the light pollution, but we did see it so I get to cross it off the list. 105 Messier Objects to go!

I definitely need to look into getting a light-pollution filter.

Satellite Sighting

Saturday night Srini and I were checking out Mars and Saturn. They were very close in the sky – but unfortunately not close enough to take a picture (the NexImage field of view is quite small, about the same as a 5mm eyepiece).

I decided to sketch what I saw instead, and look up the moon positions and star names later. I looked back and forth between my sketch and the eyepiece several times and suddenly saw something whiz by Saturn. I turned to my laptop, which was running Starry Night at the time, and wound it back to confirm what I thought – yep, it was a satellite.

If I’m reading the Heavens Above database correctly, it is the rocket body of Cosmos 1484, a Soviet satellite used for “Gathering regular information on the natural resources of the earth for use in various branches of the Soviet economy, and conducting further tests on new types of measuring apparatus and methods of remote sensing of the earth’s surface and atmosphere”.

It didn’t really look like anything since it went by so fast, but it is pretty damn cool that I was looking through the eyepiece right at the split-second it passed by (especially since I wasn’t expecting it).

If you have Starry Night, you can download this file to see what I saw. If you’re into astronomy and don’t have Starry Night, get it!

Just Call Me Hubble

Bigger SaturnHere’s my latest try at Saturn. The moon and Saturn were close in the sky last night (but alas, not close enough to get a picture of them together). I was trying out my new barlow lens, and as you can see is compatible with my scope. Whew.

I also tried for a picture of the entire moon but I’m having some trouble with the image reducer and / or it doesn’t work the way I think it does. Ah what would astronomy be without gear problems?

Speaking of astronomy, allow me to be the first to congratulate it on being promoted from a subcategory of Tech and a Burning Interest to a full-on category here at Planet of the Geeks. Good job, Astronomy, we knew you could do it!

Better Astronomy

Teeny SaturnLast night I tried to resolve some of the problems I had on Saturday night. The first task was to recollimate the scope and make sure everything was OK in that department. Kathy helped me out, turning the screws while I watched through the collimation eyepiece. It turns out that everything was lined up so I can scratch that off the list of potential problems. I also spent a few minutes getting my finderscope aligned more accurately so when I switched eyepieces or inserted the camera I would be able to reacquire quickly. This was a really important step and definitely paid off.

I had turned to a couple Yahoo Groups I belong to for answers and got some good advice. As far as the barlow lens goes, it turns out that the Celestron “shorty” barlow is not compatible with my scope. Doh. I had researched that before but either I misunderstood what I read or the info was faulty. In any case, I need a full-size barlow to work with this scope.

In the NexImage group, someone gave me some hints about settings to use to get something more than a white blob. The results (the teeny Saturn you see here) were better, but not great. The camera image is still quite washed out, while with my eye I could see the Cassini division in the rings.

The problem with doing astrophotography with a dob (which everyone told me all along) is that without a tracking mount, it’s tougher to keep the object in view while you’re doing it. I just didn’t realize how fast the objects would move! I’d say it’s approximately 7-10 seconds from entering the frame to exiting it. Combine that with some trial-and-error on the capture settings and here’s how I ended up last night: working the mouse with my right hand, reaching across myself with my left to the tiller of the scope, trying to keep Saturn in view while adjusting the gain and saturation controls. The image will improve once I get a barlow that I can use with this scope – but then the planets will be moving twice as fast in the viewfinder!

Once I finished my photography attempt I took a look at Mars. It was sort of disappointing, looking pretty much like a star. With the 9mm eyepiece it was juuuust starting to resolve into a disk. Again, once I have a working barlow this will change.

Before I put the scope away I just sort of wandered around the sky. Near Saturn I saw M44, the Beehive Cluster (so I can cross another Messier object off the list). Right at the end of the night I got a nice surprise. I split my first double star: Regulus in Leo, which I didn’t even know was a double!

Poor Astronomy

(Since Bad Astronomy is already taken.) The clouds lifted for the first time in 2 weeks in NJ, so Srini came over last night for some stargazing. We saw some good stuff but it was also frustrating. We saw Jupiter and Saturn but Mars was already too low down for us to catch. I had several problems with my gear:

  • I had decided earlier in the week to get over my fear of collimation and just do it. I think I ended up worse off than when I started. Especially with the high-powered eyepieces I couldn’t really get stuff in focus. This may have been due to the weather. I’ll have to try again with the collimation.
  • I couldn’t get my new Barlow lens to work at all – I ended up with an image that couldn’t be focused. Again, not sure if this is due to the collimation issue above or not.
  • We managed to get Jupiter into the viewfinder of the NexImage camera for a brief moment but a) it was moving too fast to keep in frame and b) it was just a blazing white dot.

Looks like I need to go back to the manuals for all these things and see where I went wrong. Still, it was fun to see what we could, and the view through Srini’s ETX-90 was very nice too.

Hail to (Jupiter) the King (of Planets)

Last night Jupiter was at opposition, so it was looking the best it would all year. For a while the weather was looking hopeless, but late in the day the clouds all disappeared so Kathy, Jack and I got ready.

I hauled the telescope out to the backyard but was sad to see that my nighbor’s trees were blocking the southeast view I would need. I found that my scope would juuuust fit into my back seat and was ready to lug it to the park 2 miles away when Jack pointed out that from the driveway we could see Jupiter just fine.

So, we set up at the end of the driveway instead. Even though we were directly across the street from a streetlight we were able to see a lot. We could make out several bands on Jupiter and 4 moons.

From there we moved on to Saturn, in the West below the moon, and then to the first-quarter moon itself. We spent a while checking out the moon with my higher-power (9mm) eyepiece, then back to Saturn, then back to Jupiter again.

It was a great night of viewing, and I’m glad everything came together.

Take a Picture of the Moon

The MoonI took this image last night using the Celestron NexImage, a cheap CCD camera that I hooked up to my tablet PC. The image is tilted about 15 degrees counter-clockwise because I didn’t line up the camera when I inserted it. Live and learn.

My handy Virtual Moon Atlas identifies the large C-shaped area as Sinus Iridum. The dark area on the left is not the “edge” of the moon, but the terminator.

The NexImage was very easy to use. It sits where the eyepiece goes and captures AVI files. I then used RegiStax, a really nice image-processing program, to comb theough the frames, average and align them to create this image. The interface is a bit kooky but there are lots of tutorials out there to get you going.

I’m looking forward to doing more of this. I may invest in a field reducer so I can fit more of the moon in a shot. Hopefully next time I will get an image of Saturn. The NexImage is only good for lunar and planetary imaging, but with a dobsonian mount that’s all I’d be able to do anyhow.