Sunday, July 24, 2011

Garradd Lights Up!

Comet Garradd C/2009 P1 is making nice progress towards its perihelion (closest approach to the sun) on Dec 23rd. Its a lovely comet and should brighten further of the coming months and has the best chance of becoming our next "naked eye" comet. I hope to have some better images soon.

It had a nice little double tail going about a week ago, but that seems to have swung away from us a little. My attempt to get a nice full color version was foiled by cloud knocking out the blue channel on the 24th, so I added some shorter luminance into the Blue channel. [Below]

This image, is 600sec Red, 600 secs Green and 360 secs Lum ....with comets you kind of need to get it all in one night to match it up with the background stars. I am playing with a new technique to process the stars and the comet seperately in two different layers and this can be quite tricky....and when you are missing the blue channel - I'll reset and try again another night.

However for now the image is stacked for movement of the comet against the background stars, which appear in each color channel. Comet Garradd is currently around magnitude 8.5 (according to other observers, as I haven't done any photometery on it).

UPDATE:29th July.

I finally got back to try and grab the blue channel that I missed the other night.
You actually have to start again, as the stars of course, will be in a different place. The Weather foiled me again so I jumped on board our Scope in Nerpio Spain, G17, and grabbed another color run. Here I have 40 Mins of RGB stacked for movement of the comet. G17 also has a tighter FOV so the Coma is larger here.

Image: Comet Garradd from Nerpio, Spain. 29th July 2011. (c)P.Lake

Now, thats where the fun really starts. Once you have good color you have to then create a superb image by seperating out the background stars from the Comet itself. So you do two stacks 1) a color combine in Maxim DL stacked for the coma of the comet and 2) another color combine stack of the same frames but stacked to the stars (with the comet trailed.

Then you use Photoshop>Filter>Noise>Dust and scratches (increase the Pixels to suit) and remove the trailed stars from the Comet Stack, Then use Photoshop>Select>color range to pick out (only) the Stars (and the Comet Coma) and copy to another layer, erase the Coma then add the two separate layers back together. I put the Stars on top (as they are the only thing in that layer, the comet next in its starless sky and then add a solid black background underneath and back the the opacity of the comet layer off by about 5-8% just to soften it up a little, and assist the layers to blend.

If you have done well you should have a stunning comet, and individual star colors that give real depth to the photo.

Its an amazing result, you can then treat each layer with curves and levels to make sure you have it just right.


You can take your own photo here.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fiction comes to life, as Dawn approaches orbit around Vesta

Image Credit: Gregory J. Whiffen JPL

I'm not sure what is more impressive - the scientific feat, or the sense of humor with which it has been carried out.

This excellent (and funny) video outlines the development of the Dawn mission control center and the use of an Ion Drive in the mission, and where the Ion drives first ....ah... connects with our scientific cultural heritage. [Star Trek Movies]
The actual concept of ion propulsion was first put to paper in 1911 by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky with Harold Kaufman testing the first prototype drive in 1959 after decades of research. Ion Drives have been used in a number of recent missions including Deep Space 1 and Hayabusa.

Image Credit: NASA JPL Dawn Mission

Chief Engineer Marc Rayman like all good Trekkies keeps a "ship's log". On July 13th Dawn was about 23,000 kilometers (14,000 miles) from Vesta, and approaching it at 37 meters per second (83 mph). Dawn remains on course as it continues ion thrusting to reach its first science orbit this weekend.

The Dawn spacecraft, on its way to Vesta then Ceres, will be the first spacecraft to enter an orbit around a main belt asteroid, it carries a scientific payload, with four experiments.

- Framing camera for guidance
- Infrared and visual spectrometer
- Gamma ray and Neutron spectrometer
- Gravity science

Mission controllers are looking for return of the following data:

1) Images of Vesta and Ceres in three colors and black and white

2) Full surface with mapping spectrometer in three bands, 0.35 to 0.9 micron, 0.8 to 2.5 micron and 2.4 to 5.0 micron

3) Neutron and gamma ray spectra to produce maps of the surface elemental composition of each asteroid, including the abundance of major rock-forming elements (O, Mg, Al, Si, Ca, Ti, and Fe), trace elements (Gd and Sm), long-lived radioactive elements (K, Th, and U), and light elements such as H, C, and N, which are the major constituents of ices.

4) Radio tracking to determine mass, gravity field, principal axes, rotational axis and moments of inertia.

Scientists hope to learn about the makeup and composition of main belt asteroids, study their elements, identify any metals, trace elements and ice.

Recently main belt asteroid Scheila exhibited a brief cometary outburst (photos here) providing further possible evidence that some asteroids could carry significant amounts of ice.

The ten Kilogram GRaND - Gamma Ray and Neutron Spectrograph, perhaps the most complex of the instruments, will detect what radiates off the asteroid as it is hit by cosmic waves. The Mission "Splat Diagram" explains the different forms of radiation that are emitted and how this is captured by the instrument.

Based on the data the mission controllers hope to learn more about how the asteroids in the belt were formed.

Image: Data control interface for Ion Drive.

The data could also be also very useful, it we ever decide to paint an asteroid in an attempt to divert its path over a number of years. It would be good to know which color to use, and any additives. ;-)

Congratulations once again to the NASA JPL team.

UPDATE: July 16. Dawn has successfully entered orbit around Vesta.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Comet C/2009 P1 Garrad

Comet Garrad C/2009 P1 photographed today moving trough Pisces and Aquarius. It should be a real treat after the full moon passes.

This is a single 300 sec image I took with a Clear filter on GRAS' 17 Inch Planewave in Spain.

Garrad promises to be one of the best of the comets of the year, and already is brighter than Comet Elenin which is not currently visible to northern hemisphere viewers.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Blondes in Space!

Image: The APEX Telescope, Chajnantor, Chile. Credit: J. Vieira/APEX (MPIfR/ESO/OSO)

I am going to have so much fun with this, and as a blogger, my role is to make the science "fun and engaging" for a whole new generation of non-sciency people!

I could have gone with any of:-

Blondes in Space!
Hair Salon at the end of the universe!
So long and thanks for all the perms!
The hairdresser's guide to the galaxy!

Photo Credit:

Ah.....where do I start.

Reece Witherspoon in Legally Blonde, showed us how important it was, - you can win lawsuits with a good knowledge of haircare products.

Australian cricketers know they are about to loose the Ashes when the English cricketers start spending more money on hydrogen peroxide - yes those blonde tips. There is a mathematical relationship between confidence and expenditure on hydrogen peroxide.

However, life on this planet depends not just on a good stylist, hydrogen peroxide also plays a key role in the chemistry of water and ozone in our planet’s atmosphere. Ozone protects us from harmful radiation, but can fluctuate in our upper atmosphere and this chemistry is widely studied here on earth. So want about Space - is it out there?

Submillimetre astronomy is a relatively unexplored frontier in astronomy and reveals a Universe that cannot be seen in the more familiar visible or infrared light. It is ideal for studying the "cold Universe": light at these wavelengths shines from vast cold clouds in interstellar space, at temperatures only a few tens of degrees above absolute zero.

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) today announced
that astronomers had detected Hydrogen Peroxide - H2O2 in a gas cloud in our own galaxy, near the naked eye star, Rho Ophiuchi in Ophiuchus. This is a beautiful area of the night sky instantly recognizable by keen astro-photographers.

Image Credit: ESO/S. Guisard (

How did they do that - flux capacitor hooked up to a hair dryer?

An international team of astronomers made the discovery with the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment telescope (APEX), situated on the 5000-metre-high Chajnantor plateau in the Chilean Andes. They observed a region in our galaxy close to the star Rho Ophiuchi, about 400 light-years away. The region contains very cold (around -250 degrees Celsius), dense clouds of cosmic gas and dust, in which new stars are being born. The clouds are mostly made of hydrogen, but contain traces of other chemicals, and are prime targets for astronomers hunting for molecules in space. Telescopes such as APEX, which make observations of light at millimetre- and submillimetre-wavelengths, are ideal for detecting the signals from these molecules.

Image Credits: ESO, IAU and Sky & Telescope

Now that is one serious telescope, APEX is a collaboration between the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR), the Onsala Space Observatory (OSO) and operated by ESO.

We were really excited to discover the signatures of hydrogen peroxide with APEX. We knew from laboratory experiments which wavelengths to look for, but the amount of hydrogen peroxide in the cloud is just one molecule for every ten billion hydrogen molecules, so the detection required very careful observations,” says Per Bergman, astronomer at Onsala Space Observatory in Sweden. Bergman is lead author of the study, which is published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

ESO, the European Southern Observatory, is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive astronomical observatory. It is supported by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries.

Hydrogen peroxide is thought to form in space on the surfaces of cosmic dust grains — very fine particles similar to sand and soot — when hydrogen (H) is added to oxygen molecules (O2). A further reaction of the hydrogen peroxide with more hydrogen is one way to produce water (H2O). This new detection of hydrogen peroxide will therefore help astronomers better understand the formation of water in the Universe.

So why all the fuss you ask?

We don’t understand yet how some of the most important molecules here on Earth are made in space. But our discovery of hydrogen peroxide with APEX seems to be showing us that cosmic dust is the missing ingredient in the process,” says Bérengère Parise, head of the Emmy Noether research group on star formation and astrochemistry at the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany, and a co-author of the paper.

The new discovery of hydrogen peroxide may also help astronomers understand another interstellar mystery: why oxygen molecules are so hard to find in space. It was only in 2007 that oxygen molecules were first discovered in space, by the satellite Odin.

Congratulations to the international team on another great, exciting discovery, using the ESO/APEX telescope at Chajnantor.

So I'll sign off with - do Astronomer's really have more fun? Absolutely!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

KOI 256 Transit

Tonight's run on KOI 256b.

The target is well place for a good long run targeting the 73 minute transit and a good hour of data each side.

The observation plan from Penultimate on my iPad outlines the key ingress and egress points we are looking for. My friends up at Pulkovo are awaiting my next run with anticipation. I was hoping to get the transit on the 29th, but missed it as the Telescope was fully booked. I forgot to put in a reservation ;-).

So any way we are underway and some early clouds have flitted through but all is looking good now as we get into the business end.

Looks like we got to reduce the data and upload to TRESCA.


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Carnival of Space - Episode 204

Welcome to the Carnival of Space where we feature the very best of Space and Astronomy blogs each week. Also, I thought I'd share with you the latest fancy internet widget from Infomous [above]. Check it out, but make sure you come back and read our great line up today, with lots of great Solar System articles, and entries from a number of Continents. As it hosted from Australia this week - lets start in Sydney.

Astropixie this week covers the Astronomy conference in Sydney "Supernovae and their host galaxies". The event was sponsored by the AAO Australian Astronomical Observatory and the CSIRO. Amanda provides overviews of the conference presentations, top of mind was the very recent Supernova in M51 and the methods of observation required after such events.

At the Next Big Future, true to form, Brian covers all the stuff our grandchildren will take for granted. Keith Henson's studies of space-based solar power issues. Henson recently published a proposal to reduce the cost of getting payload to orbit by orders of magnitude . In an interview with Sander Olson, Henson describes using skylon rocket planes to release payloads at high altitudes. Are launch costs of $100 per Kilo possible - Henson thinks so!

NASA Engineer John Chapman has an aneutronic fusion reactor scheme, a commercially available benchtop laser starts the reaction. A beam with energy on the order of 2 x 10^18 watts per square centimeter, pulse frequencies up to 75 megahertz, and wavelengths between 1 and 10 micrometers is aimed at a two-layer, 20-centimeter-diameter target. Each pulse of the laser should generate roughly 100 000 particles. Read the article and find out just how you might generate 1 Megawatt per second.

Moon Express, Inc. (MoonEx) is targeting mining the moon. CTO Barney Pell gave a talk about the vision recently. Sounds like its only a matter of time before we have protesters throwing themselves in front of space tractors. ;-)

Speaking of Moons.....Jupiter is just showing off. The Urban Astronomer reports on the discovery of two more Jovian satellites taking the total to 65! That's enough for whole inter-lunar football league, with enough left over for an Ice Hockey league! I can see it now....the Europa Enforcers! Seriously though, the new moons are S/2010 J1 and S/2010 J2 and are unusual, so you have to visit the blog to find out why.

Still on Moons, Enceladus - now there is a place you could play some serious Icehockey! The Meridiani Journal looks into further evidence that salty oceans exist beneath the surface feeding its famous Geysers.

[Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute]

Onto Mars now, and Vintage Space reports on Robert Zubrin and the Mars Society suggesting that we are more ready to go to Mars now than we were to go to the moon in 1961. A closer look comparing lunar readiness then and Mars readiness now suggests that maybe we aren't.

Enter these co-ordinates into your Stargate: SAO + NASM = FETTSS @ SI, or you can just go to the Chandra Blog for a great report on the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and National Air and Space Museum's "From Earth to the Solar System" - a stunning photographic journey through the solar system. Ameé Salois even discusses iceskating on Europa (See... you thought I was being silly before!).

Photo Credit: Megan Watzke

The Panstarrs Blog covers some of their science strategies. Harvard postdoctoral researcher Darin Ragozzine describes the search for icy bodies in distant reaches of the solar system using Pan-STARRS1.

On a side note to this, the ubiquitous platform for Citizen Science - Zooniverse has added IceHunters to search for a suitable Kuiper Belt object for the New Horizions mission to go to after it passes Pluto. (So if you are bored with the ice at your local rink ..... alright enough on the Ice hockey analogies already!!)

The big news of the week, which made the mainstream media, was the close passage of tiny asteroid 2011 MD which passed at a very close distance of 1.8 earth Radii. Astroblogger provides commentary and discusses some of the images and techniques for capturing the near earth visitor.

Universe Today also covered Asteroid 2011 MD's approach. The article was linked by a number of main stream media houses. Senior Editor Nancy Atkinson also compiled a list of images here as well.

Ian O'Neil writing for the Discovery News asks the "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger question" protesting that he wished that 2011 MD had hit us, yes he's serious. He goes to great lengths to explain why - perhaps then there would be more serious funding from governments to address the problem.

Just in from our Spanish Desk: Vega 0.0 reports on the co-ordinates and skychart for observing Comet Elenin in October. Elenin is now a tough assignment as it is only about 30 degrees above the horizion at sunset.

Indian space entrepreneur, Susmita Mohanty gave a talk on the end of the Shuttle era at the American Center in Mumbai, India. Pradeep's Blog Pradx takes a look at the talk and the response from the Mumbai crowd. Thanks Pradeep, great to get some local news from Mumbai.

Weirdwarp poses the question, "What could an alien civilisation be able to do"? Well, as we have not found any alien civilisations then everything is guesswork based on the laws of physics and our experiences here on earth. This could be completely wrong or it could be completely right or it could be somewhere in between. Only Chris can stack rank an alien civilization!

Cheap Astronomy delivers a podcast, a highly summarized overview of astronomy at the various different wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum..

Finally I leave you with my own video of 2011 MD as we wrap up this Solar System oriented webisode of Carnival of Space - 204.

The Carnival of Space is a community of interest blog carnival bringing together the best and brightest Astronomy & Space Blogs at a single point in space and time (commonly referred to as a web address) each week. Previous episodes can be found here. If you run an astronomy or space science blog you can contact to be added to the editorial circulation list.


Custom Search