A Surprising Pan

You’d think I would have learned my lesson by now.  Every time I think I’ve seen it all, that I’ve seen every strange phenomenon in space, every unique planet, moon, star, galaxy, every variation, I’m proven wrong.  I expect that the order has been established and everything newly discovered will fall into a category with no more unique variation. But here we are again.  The close up view of Pan. Pan was photographed only a few days ago by the Cassini spacecraft as it carries out the final months of it’s mission to Saturn.  It was revealed to be a...

Astrophotography: Sagittarius and the Galaxy

The challenge of learning astrophotography, and photography in general, is two-fold.  There’s the work you do at the eyepiece, requiring you to choose the right settings for the right shot.  Then there’s the work you do at the computer screen, the post-processing and adjustments.  Ultimately the more important one is the camera work.  If you take a bad photograph, no amount of post-processing will help you, even if you are an expert at it.  It’s like the image is the cake, and the processing is the icing.  No matter how much icing you cover it with, a bad cake is...

Astrophotography: First go at Luna

The Spring has been a bit slower than I would have liked in terms of astrophotography.  I have seen a lot of fantastically clear evenings, but have been plagued by a lack of time and a few technical issues that have kept me from getting the many hours of practice needed to become competent.  I did manage to purchase an inexpensive adapter to use my camera with my telescope, giving me a ton of new options for photography, as well as a ton of new challenges. The two main problems I had, and need to address in the future, are...

Twilight Rocket Trail

Have you seen a gorgeous red sky in the evening, just after sunset? If it’s cloudy, the effect becomes even more spectacular.  The Sunlight reflects off the clouds and back down to the ground, creating the calm of twilight.  Clouds only go so high, so as the Earth continues to turn and we go deeper into nighttime, the glow disappears.  But sometimes it sticks around a bit longer. During a rocket launch at dusk, the exhaust trail from the rocket climbs into the upper atmosphere, far above cloud layers.  It can reflect sunlight, with the shape of the particles refracting...

Falcon Flight to the Galaxy

In the APOD photo from May 14th, it is easy to imagine the rocket launching far away into the galactic disk.  Sadly the rocket can’t traverse the thousands of light years to reach the distant stars, and is restricted to orbiting the Earth. Another beautiful part of this image is the technique involved in producing it.  It required combining two exposures. The first, with low sensitivity to capture the orange rocket trail of the Falcon 9.  The second with high sensitivity and a longer exposure time to capture the faint light of the Milky Way galaxy beyond.  The result is...

Mercury Transit Now!

The Transit of Mercury is happening right now here on May 9th, 2016.  If you want to watch live, check out the NASA feeds from the Solar Dynamics Observatory. For the small size of Mercury, it makes a pretty stark contrast against the bright Sun, and is easy to see, even in a small telescope.  Of course, you need a solar filter.  Don’t look directly at the Sun without proper eye protection, you won’t see Mercury and you’ll damage your vision. I managed to snag a photo on my phone through a small telescope.  Please excuse the lack of quality...

Don’t Blink or You’ll Miss it

Have you ever seen a picture of a comet or asteroid in the sky against a background of stars? Here let me show you. Can you spot the asteroid? Okay I confess there is no asteroid in the image above, but if there was you’d believe me because an asteroid in this image would be indistinguishable from the stars.  They are all points of light, so how can you tell them apart? There’s something that separates asteroids, comets, planets, and all other solar system objects from background stars in an image. When you’re driving in a car and you look to the...

Stellar Snowball

The closest star to the Earth, aside from the Sun, is Proxima Centauri, a small red dwarf star that is part of the Alpha Centauri system, roughly 4 light years away.  If you don’t know light years, the distance is a staggering 37,800,000,000,000 Km.  Beyond that our stellar neighbourhood fills in as you move 20 light years in any direction, and by 100 light years, there are dozens of stars around us.  This gives a stellar density of about 0.14 stars per cubic parsec (a parsec is about 3.26 light years), pretty normal in terms of the number of stars in a given...

Hubble Bubble

Not to be confused with Canadian Gum Hubba-Bubba, Hubble has released a great birthday image for it’s 26th birthday.  I’m a few days late to celebrate, but it’s still a beautiful image. Known as NGC 7653, the Bubble nebula is 8,000 light years distant in the constellation of Cassiopeia.  The reason for this natural bubble shape is that the star just left of center in the image is ionizing a surrounding cloud of Hydrogen with it’s powerful stellar wind.  As electrons and protons recombine at the edges of the bubble, they release an infrared photon that can be clearly seen...

Very Long Exposure Photography

Since diving into astrophotography last year, I’ve discovered that I love the concept of time-lapse, and not just with respect to astronomy.  It’s amazing to see the changes that can occur over long periods of time, and time-lapse photography is a way to record the changes and see how they unfold.  In astronomy the best time-lapses give you a sense of the Earth’s motion through space, show satellites zipping overhead, and show aurora dance along with weather patterns. Large amounts of time with slow incremental changes produce incredible results when it comes to time lapses. Science communication is about how to...