Find us on Google+ Astronomy Box: 2011

13 December 2011

Citizen Science - Moon Zoo

Is there such thing as an educational adiction? There is now!

I've just opened my account on the magnificent citizen science project, Zooniverse. I've never felt so good about procrastination before. I've started with the Moon Zoo project which consists of two main classification and identification activities. The first and most extensive one is the Crater Survey which is the screenshot below.

Apart from skimming through the less featured images, there are some incredibly detailed ones and it's just so interesting and addictive to classify the various craters, features and abnormalities. What really adds to the compulsion to pour through hundreds of Lunar surface images is the possibility of finding abandoned spacecraft hardware.

The second activity you can partake in is called Boulder Wars, in which you are given a choice of two Lunar surface images and indicate which one has the most boulders. Pretty simple, but fun! You can also tag something interesting or unusual in either image which you will do at some point. I did. Here is a screenshot of Boulder Wars in action.

There are a number of projects live on Zooniverse but I'll cover them when I get sucked into them.

Lunar 3 - Image Stacking

I must say the Moon really is becoming one of my favorite objects to photograph and I think this is my best one yet!

OTA: 120mm Achromatic Refractor
Camera: Nikon D3100 14.2mp
Mount: CG-4 mount
Exposures: 12
Exposure: 1/100sec
ISO: 100

This one however is different from my previous efforts because it's actually twelve separate images stacked together.

This magical process can be done in a delightful freeware image processing program called Registax. "Oh, that sounds interesting" you might say, but no. This is the single most frustrating program I've used since Adobe Illustrator! I'll spare the rant but you do need a liberal amount of patients to learn how to get good results from this program. However, like Illustrator, with countless hours and the help from online tutorials I finally managed to render out this image of our beautiful and full moon.

It just so happened that there was a Lunar eclipse that day, which I unfortunately missed due to weather. I was all ready to make an animation of the event and everything.

And now for something completely different

Being in a creative field of work myself, I get excited when I see an artist tackling the theme of astronomy. During a recent visit to France, we decided to go and visit a local museum. It was that of the French artist Robert Tatin, and I use the term, museum, very loosely. It's more like a park which he dedicated to his work and used to be his home. The museum and grounds are now open to the public and the website can be seen here.

The reason I'm blogging about Robert Tatin is because he had a very big interest in astronomy and incorporated it into his work frequently. Almost as much as the female form!

Here are some examples which I was allowed to photograph:

There were many other examples of his work, depicting astronomical objects. He seemed particularly fond of constellations, most of which seemed to be ones of his own design. Sadly, I forgot to write down any of the names of his paintings so you'll just have to visit the museum yourself.

They even had his refracting telescope on display accompanied with two eyepieces:

The below plaque, according to Google translate, reads; The telescope of Robert Tatin. Day viewing, Night viewing. Which to me means he used the telescope to view the sun as well as for night time viewing.

Now, the reason many people may not know about Robert Tatin is because a large portion of his work was in the form of sculpture and permanently placed on the grounds. One of these "sculptures" is what I can only describe as a full scale Inca or Mayan temple.

Finally, I'll end up with what I think is Robert Tatins most impressive and imposing piece of work. This enormous sculpture which is quite spooky. Just to give you a sense of scale, a grown man could crawl into the mouth, but for some reason there was a statue of the virgin Mary inside it. I do remember watching a film or reading something stating that Tatin was highly skeptical about religion.

It was a great experience and although I may have taken away some of the surprise which I felt when I went to visit, I hope it's at least sparked somebodies interest in going to see Robert Tatins museum.

As a plus, there were some amazingly clear and unpolluted skies in that are of France so it would make a great astro-holiday.

27 November 2011

Wide Field 1

We got a nice break in the clouds in West Cork over the weekend and I took this photograph:

Camera: Nikon D3100
Lens: 20mm F2.8
ISO: 1600
Exposure: 15sec
Mount: Manfrotto

The milky way is just visible on the right and the line at the top of the image is most likely a satellite, specifically one called Cosmos 1812 or Cosmos 1500 according to Stellarium

24 November 2011

My Wikipedia story

Wikipedia is amazing.

I've used it since it was created ten years ago. However I think it has become something which people take for granted. We should feel lucky and privileged that there are exceptional projects like Wikipedia being run to further humanity and our understanding of our universe and existence.

Not to mention doing it for free.

If I need to know something, Wikipedia always includes itself in my thought process. It feels as natural as when I was a child and asked my parents to explain something I didn't understand. It is a strange and exciting period in humanity's time on earth. There are huge advancements in science and technology despite global financial problems and an ever growing population. However knowledge isn't something that should have to depend on money, because it is priceless and a fundamental part of who we are as a species.

So I would encourage every person to donate and support Wikipedia as much as they can. Instead of saying every euro or dollar counts, I'd prefer to phrase it this way; every person counts, because without people, knowledge would not exist. Thank you Wikipedia.

Click on my 'Thanks, Wikipedia' button if you'd like to make your own contribution.

Lunar 2 - The Moon, again

After finally getting my hands on my new DLSR, a Nikon D3100, I was excited to see the difference between the photo I had taken through the eye piece of my telescope with my phone, and one taken with my new camera through prime focus photography. This means attaching the camera directly to the telescope using an adapter.

Here is the result:

OTA: 120mm Achromatic Refractor
Camera: Nikon D3100 14.2mp
Mount: CG-4 mount
Exposure: 1/2sec approx
ISO: 800

It's easy to see that the result is much better. I took this photo while the moon was waxing, which gives much more detail in the craters.

I met a NASA Astronaut

It just so happened that my visit to the Crawford Observatory coincided with a visit from NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough which was very exciting. He gave a talk to the physics students of UCC, and me hiding in the back, and answered many questions about his experiences as an astronaut which was incredible to hear from someone who's actually been "up there".

After a short interview, as time was short, we were able to grab him for another great photo opportunity for my blog. The fact that I'm wearing a blue t-shirt matching the blue of the ISS suit is entirely coincidental.

Left-Right:Prof. Paul Callanan, Lt. Col. Shane Kimbrough, Me.

Here is the interview which can also be viewed on the UCC youtube channel:

How far we've come

These days it's common place for any amateur astronomer to go out with their telescope and CCD camera or DSLR and image planets and other astronomical objects. Back in the eighteenth century however it wasn't as easy.

I spotted this silver emulsion photographic plate image of the moon taken through the giant refractor in the last post. What would Howard Grubb have said if he saw us looking at a photo of the moon in a DSLR screen and deleting it because the exposure was a little too short or something. 

It's really amazing how easy it is for us now, to do meaningful astronomy and astrophotography.

UCC Crawford Observatory

I had the pleasure of visiting the UCC Crawford Observatory in Cork city, Ireland recently. As my dad was filming there on the day I took the chance to visit and view some of the most amazing antique telescopes I've ever seen, dating back to the late eighteen hundreds. Among them was a gigantic equatorial refracting telescope and a spectroscope, all hand made by Irishman Howard Grubb, who was well known for his work with various optical systems.

As it was during the day we weren't able to use any of the telescopes and I'm not even sure if they are still functional but I took advantage of the photo opportunity.

8 November 2011

Lunar 1 - First Light

Due to the weather, the first and only objects I was able to view in any great detail were the moon and Jupiter again. However I wasn't disappointed at all! My new telescope outshone my neighbours one spectacularly, showing amazing detail and clarity.

I took a quick snap through the eyepiece with my phone, which became my first astro-photograph.

OTA: 120mm Achromatic Refractor
Camera: HTC Sensation 8mp
Mount: CG-4 mount
Exposure: Unknown
ISO: Auto

I was amazed at the detail and wondered how much better it would be using my DSLR attached to the prime focus. This image incidentally also became my phone wallpaper for a time.

Telescope Time

It arrived, and within just a couple of days of ordering it, the rather large and heavy Celestron labelled boxes were splayed out on my bed ready for unpacking.

I  don't think I've ever opened anything more carefully in my life, but there it was; my very first telescope.

I should explain, after a burst of inspiration I fashioned a handy phone cradle which I could piggy-back on the top of my telescope in order to make use of those ever so useful sky map apps.


Now I knew I wanted a telescope of my own, and it was time to do some research. Lot's of research! You know when you're about to make a big purchase and you spend every available second of computer time absent mindedly Googling the hell out of it? That was me.

After much Google time and posing annoying questions to some professional and amateur astronomers I had an idea of what I wanted out of my telescope.

I was recommended a GOTO system early on but I wanted to learn the sky and felt that I'd benefit much more from a manual set up.

I also had a great interest in astrophotography so I needed a telescope which would allow me to eventually attach my camera to it and so I could image celestial objects. This, to me, meant I would need a German Equatorial mount.

I'm not sure why, but my heart seemed to sway toward a refracting telescope. From what I read on the forums, refractors seemed to be the favourite of astrophotographers. I also like this optical system because it seemed like the most portable and low maintenance.

Following these three informed decisions, more Google time ensued. This time however I was working my way through various online astronomy stores, weighing up prices, and homing in on the telescope that I would finally buy.

It was at home in Ireland however, where I bought my telescope. Thanks to the great help and advice of the folks at Astronomy Ireland in Dublin, I made my final decision.

Drum role!

My telescope would be a Celestron Omni XLT 120mm reftracting telescope.

6 November 2011

Jupiter and the Moon

Finally! A night of clear skies came and I rushed outside with my neighbours telescope to see what I could see. I didn't know the sky, so in moth like fashion I went straight for the brightest objects.

I was able to make out the craters on the moon quite nicely through the 70mm refractor, then I turned to the next brightest object I could see; Jupiter. More than anything else, the view I had of the gas giant made me want to know and see everything I could of the cosmos.

People do say that when you see Jupiter, with it's reddish brown bands and it's moons, or Saturn and it's rings; you're hooked! That's exactly what happened to me.

Quite inspiring stuff! And I just had to show off my new soon-to-be-hobby with two consecutive home made wallpapers for my phone.

In the mean time

At this point I hadn't even looked at a telescope, it hadn't even occurred to me, and with the Irish summer we were having, who could blame me.

It just so happened that a neighbour of mine owned a telescope. It was a small Meade 70mm refractor on an altazimuth mount. This one in fact;

I had no idea at the time what any of this astronomy jargon meant but I had my hands on a telescope at last. Now all I needed was the right weather, which I waited for for at least a month, not kidding. 

I didn't stop. In the mean time I became a member at my local observatory, the BCO in Cork city, with it's wonderful tours, installations and stargazing evenings, it kept the spark alive. Coincidently I had also attended it's grand opening, so here are some photographs of that day.

5 November 2011

Where to begin?

So where does a beginner begin? At the start of course, and for me it starts with procrastination. That's right, I'll be the first to admit that I've strayed from my work to Google something to keep my brain stimulated. This lead me to TedTalks. There I found a seemingly endless supply of procrastination material. However it didn't feel like procrastinating and it didn't incite the same guilt. I felt like it was meaningful and I was onto something.

The talks which interested me the most were, understandably, those concerning astronomy, and physics. As I "worked" my way through these categories I was hungry for lunch, and then more astronomy and physics. 

I quickly realised that all the various telescopes around the world, and all the missions outside of this world had their own websites and media streams. The first I looked at and best, in my opinion, so far being that of the European Southern Observatory. What caught my attention straight away was the fabulous ESOcast series of videos on the site. These are presented by the very entertaining Dr. Joe Liske.

That was it. I had caught the bug and had begun reading and watching everything to do with astronomy. I was even able to dig around at  home and find some old astronomy magazines dating back to the Shoemaker-Levy collision with Jupiter.

The first post

To celebrate my nose dive into amateur astronomy I thought it might be nice to start a blog about it right from the get go. Why? Maybe as a helpful tool for other budding amateur astronomers, perhaps as a source of interesting news, information or media for the larger astronomical community, or for my own selfish means. Whatever the reason, I hope somebody enjoys this half as much as I will enjoy writing it.

So for now, "Be well".