2012 Venus transit from Smithville Texas

I hope you got to see the 2012 Venus transit because most likely no one you know will still be alive when the next one happens. My wife and I went over to just outside Smithville with a couple other members of the Huntsville Amateur Astronomy Society and set up to image the event.

Setup for 2012 Venus transit I set up my main scope, a camera with a 300mm lens and of course a pair of binoculars to watch with. It started out pretty cloudy and never really improved, we did however get lucky enough to have many breaks in the cloud cover to get some awesome views.

Plane crosses sun during 2012 Venus transit The above is a composite of many images to show the movement of Venus across the surface of the sun, and yes, there is an airplane there as well! After some serious research, and a lot of help from Steven at Austin-Bergstrom airport, I am fairly confident we have identified the aircraft in the photo. Keep in mind that this is not a definitive ID as we obviously can not see the tail number for a positive ID. Based off radar information from the airport there is a high probability this is Delta flight 1005, tail number N335NB. The plane is an Airbus A319 aircraft that was leaving Austin-Bergstrom airport at approximately 19:55 (7:55pm) CDT. At the time the image was taken the aircraft was climbing past 2000ft at just over 200kts just starting a turn to its right to head for its destination of Minneapolis. To make the image even more interesting, the airport was approximately 40 miles away (direct line, not road miles) at a heading of 287 degrees and the sun was just below 17 degrees above the horizon. Lastly, I mentioned that I also had a camera there which was using Baader solar film, here is an image from that setup:

2012 Venus transit with different camera The 2012 Venus transit was amazing. The weather forecast said I should not have been able to see it, much less image it. I have never been so happy the weather guy was wrong!

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Annular solar eclipse from Albuquerque, NM

My wife and I decided to travel to Albuquerque New Mexico for the annular solar eclipse on May 20th, 2012. An annular solar eclipse is where the moon comes directly between the sun and our little earth but isn’t close enough to the Earth to completely block out the sun. We choose that Albuquerque because it was far enough west to see the complete annular part of the eclipse and was directly on the center line where the moon would be exactly in the center. Here are some compilations of the images I took while there:

poster created from images taken during the annular solar eclipse

Collage of images taken during the annular solar eclipseI had two cameras on my main telescope and mount. The first was a Nikon D7000 mounted via prime focus shooting through the telescope and a Thousand Oaks glass filter. The second camera was a Nikon D90 mounted on the side of the telescope shooting through a Nikon 70-300ED-IF lens covered with a homemade filter using Baader solar film.

We also observed the solar eclipse through solar film and protected binoculars.

While not my first experience viewing a solar eclipse, my last experience was probably almost forty years ago. Although I do remember the experience as a small child, this was much more rewarding. If you get the chance to experience a solar eclipse of any kind I urge you to take some time off and go enjoy it.

While in the area, no astronomy buff would dare leave before seeing the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, also know as the Very Large Array or VLA. This has been included in many movies such as Contact, Terminator Salvation and Interstellar and is an absolutely awesome place to visit.

closeup of the side of a radio telescope

The pictures do not really convey how amazing, or huge this place is. Each dish in the Very Large Array are twenty five meters across, or over eighty feet. That would be impressive alone however there are twenty seven of these dishes on rails similar to a railroad track. Each arm in the huge Y pattern of the tracks is approximately thirteen miles long. This distance between the telescopes is why it is called the Very Large Array.

An array of radio telescopesThey have a great visitor area and unbelievably allow you to roam around the area way more than I had expected. Tours are even given at certain times although there were none while we were there and since we were in transit when we stopped here we could not stay as long as I would have liked. If you get the chance, it is a fantastic place to visit.

More information on the Very Large Array can be found on their website.

I hope you enjoyed the images of the solar eclipse and very large array!  

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Dark nebula Clark 549, something different

Most of the astrophotography you see has a common theme, beautifully colored and highly detailed images of some nebula or galaxy somewhere, unlike Clark 549. People don’t shoot the stuff without tons of detail and/or colors. Shame really. Here is an image of a dark nebula, or a nebula that is dark (duh!). The only way you see it is because you can see where it blocks the stars behind it.

a dark nebula  

This example of dark nebula is Barnard 143, or Clark 549, or as I refer to it, the Lyre Nebula (I hope you can see why). I have shot this image before in October of last year but it really did not do it justice. I am not sure this image does either but it certainly conveys more of the feeling I wanted to with this target so here it is. Sometimes it isn’t what you see, but what you don’t see that is interesting.

I am sure this will continue to be a favorite target of mine as I try to get the dark dust lanes to stand out more. You can see some wonderful dust lanes in my images of the Orion Nebula for example. If I stretch the image far too much I can see the start of the dust lanes jumping out. Maybe when I get a CCD and get really good with it I can make this a priority target. I have a feeling that a mono CCD will really bring those details to life. Unfortunately the mono may increase detail, but it will lose those wonderful blue and yellow stars surrounding the dust lanes.

I plan on checking out many more of these nebulae in the future. Stay tuned to hopefully see many more images of these kinds of targets.

You can find out more about a dark nebula such as Clark 549 at Wikipedia.

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My first serious planet attempt, Saturn

Saturn is probably the single most imaged planet, besides Earth of course. The rings are just mesmerizing. Imaging planets is a lot different than my normal fare of DSOs, it uses a video camera instead of a normal DSLR/CCD. Because of the unsteady air and extreme magnification you have to take thousands of images and stack them keeping the best parts of each and discarding the rest. The result, can be very nice:


I bought an Orion Starshoot Solar System Imager IV for about $99 just for this and am using a Celestron CPC 1100 XLT 11 inch SCT at about 2800mm focal length with a 2x barlow. The magnification of this scope is nice but man, what a pain in the rear to use compared to my refractors!

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Supernova SN2012aw in M95 galaxy

Supernova SN2012aw was one of those times where you just get lucky. I was fortunate enough to image M95 on February 25th and just discovered there was a supernova in the very outer lanes of that galaxy so I imaged it again, the supernova is clearly visible. This was probably one of the closest supernova to Earth in the history of humans.

Supernova SN2012aw   Almost exactly a month apart and the difference is obvious. One interesting thing to put this into perspective is that this did not happen in March 2013, in fact, not in this year, not in this century, and indeed, it happened some 38 million years ago. The distance of M95 is approximately 38 million light years away. This means somewhere between the extinction of the dinosaurs and the evolution of the Homo species is when the event happened but the light from it is just now reaching the Earth. Really makes you think.

The other amazing thing to me is how obvious it really is. You hear about how bright and violent a supernova explosion is but it takes something like this to really show you. That little dot is not much larger than any of the other stars in the image, except the other stars are not in that galaxy. If you look close at the galaxy and see the hazy dust that forms it’s structure, that dust is millions of stars. One of those little particles of dust way out on the edge of the galaxy exploded with such force that it is as bright as the central core of the galaxy it is in. Wow.

The magnitude of this supernova was around 13 when this image was shot.

Hopefully there weren’t any life supporting planets anywhere in that area! There is a fantastic little article on this spectacular supernova in the M95 galaxy on National Geographic’s website.

I hope you enjoyed my image of SN2012aw!

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Comet Gerradd C/2009 P1, My first comet

Comet Gerradd was discovered by G. J. Gerradd on August 13, 2009 in Australia’s Siding Spring Observatory.You can find out more about C2009 p1‘s creator on Wikipedia.

Here you see the comet visually near the galaxy NGC 6015 (upper right corner) in the constellation of Draco. Notice that the comet sports two tails, this is because the gas that vaporizes off the comet due to the sun’s heating is being blown by the solar wind in one direction while the particles of debris and dust fall off in a different direction since they are not affected by the solar winds as much.

In the main image the comet is about as close to earth as it was going to get and is well inside the orbital distance of Jupiter, about half way between that distance and the orbit of Mars, sitting above the orbital plane of the planets. The smaller images show comet Gerradd moving across the frame in its travels across the sky.Image of Comet Gerradd  As you can tell I imaged comet Gerradd for over an hour. It was also a wonderful comet to view with binoculars. There were several of us out that night and I was certainly not the only one imaging the comet.

I hope you enjoyed Comet Gerradd!

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Ha with an unmodded DSLR, pushing the limits

Read online and you will hear how you can not shoot ha with a DSLR, specifically DSOs that contain Ha with an unmodded DSLR (one that has had it’s IR filter removed) because the current line of DSLRs are not sensitive to the Hydrogen Alpha part of the spectrum. Rubbish. Sure modded cameras are more sensitive, but that doesn’t mean you “can’t” shoot Ha with a DSLR that hasn’t been modded, you just have to use the “right” camera and be prepared for some really long exposures. Below is NGC1931 bottom center and IC417 in the upper left, the Spider and the Fly:

Spider and fly in Ha with an unmodded DSLR, hydrogen alpha with a DSLR

This is shot with my Nikon D7000 of course, using a Baader 2″ 7nm Hydrogen Alpha filter, 20 25minute ISO 1600 exposures. That’s right, 20 exposures of 25 minutes each. I think I threw out one, maybe two frames because something happened. This Sirius mount just rocks.

Can you shoot a “better” image with a modded or monochrome camera? Absolutely! But you certainly can shoot hydrogen alpha with a DSLR or even full narrowband with a DSLR that has not been modded. The filter that they talk about is on the front of the sensor in the camera and reduces light at the wavelength of hydrogen alpha by sixty to seventy five percent. While this certainly makes for long exposures and introduces a lot of chances for things to go wrong, it does not eliminate your ability to capture ha with a DSLR. In fact, virtually all red nebulous regions in astrophotography taken with a DSLR are hydrogen alpha areas that are showing up even without modding.

In addition the manufacturer of camera is really not an issue. This image was shot with a Nikon SLR digital camera, but you could just as easily have used a Sony digital SLR or Canon.

If you would like more information here is an excellent, albeit long article on shooting IR and hydrogen alpha with a DSLR including camera modification.

I hope you enjoy my Ha with an unmodded DSLR article and HA with a DSLR image!

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