Find us on Google+ Astronomy Box: 2013

30 October 2013

Astronomy and Animation

I'm in the process of combining my two passions, animation and astronomy. One of these I chose as my career. Can you guess which one? Clue, it's not the one that's confined to hobby status.

Now, however, I'm trying to introduce astronomy into my animation work and one solution I've come up with is setting up an astronomy animation website dedicated to illustrative animation about astronomy. It will be freely available for anyone to use.

Below are some tested examples of the kind of thing I'm interested in doing.

P.s. I've also set up a film and animation studio with three friends after quitting my job at a stock media company which I had worked at for the last two and a half years. Check us out here!

P.p.s. We sent a jar of relish into the stratosphere!

10 October 2013

ISS Passing The Moon

Well, it's not much but here is my capture of the International Space Station passing close to the moon in the sky. It seems we might be a little too far south where we live to get a view of the ISS passing in front of the face of the moon. Shot these frames hand held, with my Nikon DSLR attached to my small Apochromatic refractor.

P.s. You might want to full screen it to see it properly.

10 September 2013

Telescope Mount Design

I'm having all kinds of fancy notions lately. The most recent of which is designing and building my own mount. Inspired by Astro Physics mounts/piers, Paramount ME, and Gemini MoFoD MkII.

This is my equatorial fork mount design. Mainly the idea is heavy duty observatory mount here. I give you the EQF

11 August 2013

My Remote Telescope Idea

Just a small post today, but an exciting one! I've got a cunning plan to allow me to sit in a nice comfy sofa while my telescope sits in the cold, acquiring images this winter. I'll save all the details for when I've got it all up and running, but below is a diagram with the gist of the idea.

8 August 2013

Top Ten Science Fiction Films: List B

1. Looper
Looper (2012, Endgame Entertainment, DMG Entertainment)
Looper is one of the best Scifis to come out in the last couple of years. It's set in the near future where the mob send targets back in time to appear before a hit man. While watching I had a similar feeling to when I saw District 9 for the first time. It was slick and original.

2. Minority Report
Minority Report (2002, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, DreamWorks SKG)
This film is great in it's own right. It has a great story and some fabulous production design. One of the reasons I love certain Scifi films is the way they depict the future in terms of design, and Minority Report is one of my favourites. The film follows a huge development in law enforcement, where murderers are apprehended and incarcerated before they actually commit their crimes.

3. Akira
Akira (1988, TMS Entertainment)
Akira, for me, represents the height of Japanese animated films. Ingrained with Japanese culture and history, Akira is set in a post war new Tokyo, where a military experiment grants a young gang member supernatural powers, endangering the city. It's a must see for Scifi and Anime fans alike. Although if you're in any way an Anime fan, you won't need me to tell you that.

4. Back to the Future
Back to the Future (1985, Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment)
A classic movie that shouldn't need any introduction. That goes for the two sequels as well. unforgettable characters, funny and great for anyone to watch, Back to the Future is one of those films that you remember from your childhood and has endless re-watchability.

5. Brazil
Brazil (1985, Embassy International Pictures)
Monty Pythons Terry Gilliam directs this weird and wonderful film. Set in a dystopian future, an administrative error causes a government desk worker to be quickly hunted by the state he worked for. Full of memorable characters and the quirkiness you can expect from a Python, this film is one of those ones that you might have missed, but should definitely watch.

6. Twelve Monkeys
Twelve Monkeys (1995, Universal Pictures, Atlas Entertainment)
In my opinion one of Bruce Willis and Brad Pitts best performances. Twelve Monkeys is yet another Scifi gem by director Terry Gilliam. Less satirical than Brazil, it follows a more serious plot where Bruce Willis' character is sent back in time to gather important information about a terrible disease which plagues the present day. 

7. Alien
Alien (1979, Brandywine Productions, Twentieth Century-Fox)

Prometheus (2012, Twentieth Century Fox, Dune Entertainment)

Alien will be right up there on any Scifi movie list. Ridley Scotts vision, paired with the creature design of H. R. Geiger made for a horrifying experience. I would class this film as more of a Scifi horror, and it is horror at it's finest. What still makes me afraid to watch this movie is that pace of it and the fact that you don't see the creature! One of the things that too many horror films get wrongs these days. You will be afraid for the characters all the way through the film which is what great horror should do. 

Since the original there have been several sequels set in the world of Alien, some of them great, and some of them not so great. That's why I want to acknowledge Alien as a series. Especially the newest sequel, Prometheus, which has gotten a lot of negative attention since it's release. I'm not going to into it, because I still want people to see it and make their own minds up. I will say this, it's called Science Fiction, FICTION! One of the main complaints was that a lot of the science was unrealistic in Prometheus, but name one Scifi where it is all realistic. There needs to be some willingness to suspend disbelief for you to enjoy any film, and although there are some logical plot holes in Prometheus, they didn't bother me. What I like the most about it is it's production design, creatures, horror element and the addition of lore to the Alien universe. I'm not sure whether it's peer pressure or what, but people seem to like movies less and less these days, and seem to be prone to fits of rage about them. Prometheus being a prime example. I for one, am looking forward to the next installment. 

8. The Thing
The Thing (1982, Universal Pictures
The Thing follows the crew of an Antarctic research outpost, who come across the remains of an alien spacecraft. The mood quickly changes to terror as an unknown alien life form hides among them in disguise. The film also takes creature design and special effects to the extreme in horror and gore terms. The best thing about it is that is all puppetry! I love puppets. They make it so much more real than CGI.

9. War Of the Worlds
War Of The Worlds (2005, Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks SKG)
War of the Worlds is a classic story and has been popular ever since the original 1898 release of H. G. Wells' Scifi novel. A story that has been rehashed in many different mediums, the 2005 film actually does a very good job. It follows a small family trying to survive the horrors of an alien invasion and features some very nice redesigns of the recognizable tripod war machines. A very good watch, and very good Scifi.

10. Solaris
Solaris (2002, Twentieth Century Fox)
Solaris (1972, Creative Unit of Writers & Cinema Workers)
To be perfectly honest, Solaris is one of those films that I had to give a second chance, having fallen asleep on the first watch. I've since warmed to the film, which is a really good psychological drama set in a Scifi universe. Clooney is as good as ever (Come on, it's George Clooney) as he plays a psychologist sent to a remote space station orbiting a very unusual planet. He is charged with analyzing the crew of that station, but quickly succumbs to whatever had befallen them. Definitely give this one a chance, and if you can, get a hold of the original which is almost better.

24 June 2013

My Favourite Science Fiction Films: List A

I've been thinking a lot about SciFi films recently. Mainly because of the sheer volume of them coming out in theatres nowadays, but also because of a personal project I'd begun working on earlier this year. It occurred to me to make a list of great SciFi films that I love, in order to introduce them to people who might not have seen them yet. Hopefully it will also encourage you guys to let me know of any that I've missed out on. The films will be divided into three separate lists; A, B, C, and D, but in no way are they in order of preference (Maybe just a little). I love them all. So here it goes, my favourite Science Fiction Films!

1. Contact
Contact (1997, Warner Bros.) 
Contact is one of my all time favourite Scifi movies, and books. It tackles one of the greatest 'what if' questions there is, and does so while adhering as much as possible to scientific accuracy and realism. Also, Jodie Foster is awesome!

2. October Sky
October Sky (1999, Universal Pictures)
Set in the Sputnik era, is another book adaptation in my list of favourites. Based on the novel Rocket Boys (October Sky being an anagram of the title) it follows a young mans passion for rocketry, and is one of the most charming and hopeful films I've seen. Not strictly Scifi, but enough science to make the cut.

3. Contagion
Contagion (2011, Warner Bros.)
Although not being the most successful film ever, Contagion falls into a certain hyper-realism in a similar spirit as Contact. The story follows various characters during the outbreak of a deadly virus. There is no mercy shown to some characters and as soon as we've been introduced to them, they fall ill and quickly perish. It's a very good incite into how our world reacts to a crisis. Warning: You will hate Jude Law after seeing this (but only for a while)

4. Sunshine
Sunshine (2007, DNA Films)
If this was a top 5 Scifi film run-down, this would be in it. Danny Boyles Sunshine is by far one of the best Scifi films ever made. In a race to replenish a cooling sun, Killian Murphy plays a physicist in a team of scientists charged with the task. It's oozing with beautiful visuals, a fabulous score, believable cast and a sense of the human spirit at it's best. For me, it somehow captures that inspirational feeling that drives us to space exploration in the first place.

5. 2001: A Space Odyssey
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, MGM)
An absolute classic, Stanley Kubriks 2001: A Space Odyssey is a must see. It chronicles the descent of man, from our humble beginnings to our space faring future. It's amazing. I won't give anything away because I'm still not all that sure that I understand it completely.

6. District 9
District 9 (2009, Tristar Pictures)
This film came out of nowhere. It's one of the most action pact Scifis out there. Set in Johannesburg, it follows the arrival of an alien ship and the resulting social issues which follow the integration of an alien species. This one's a must see.

7. Blade Runner
Blade Runner (1982, Warner Bros.)
Blade Runner is another classic, and should be part of anyones favourite Scifi movie list. It depicts a dystopian future (apparently six years from now) where human replicas and androids are among us. It is a great film which makes me think about the morality of creating artificial intelligence.

8. Apollo 13
Apollo 13 (1995, Universal Pictures)
Another great film, with a great cast. Apollo 13 follows Jim Lovell and his teams would-be expedition to the moon which went terribly wrong. Staying very true to the actual events, you might argue that this isn't Scifi but it's got a whole bunch of science. On a side note, this is a go-to film when playing the six degress of Kevin Bacon.

9. Moon
Moon (2009, Liberty Films UK)
From new coming director at the time, Duncan Jones, Moon is a about a lone astronaut stationed on the moon to extract important resources. This film quickly gets weird in a great way, and the production design is fantastic. You gotta see it!

10. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, Columbia Pictures Corporation)
Close Encounters is one of those films that just sticks in my memory from when I was boy. This classic has so many iconic scenes, many of which have been parodied by other productions, in TV and film. It also gives a great impression of the planets reaction to possible alien contact.

19 May 2013

A Week In Tenerife - The Mt Tiede Observatory Part 5

Finally, it's my great pleasure to show you all the fruits of our labor on the Tenerife trip. I hope this journey will help and inform anyone considering studying physics or astronomy, or a trip to Tenerife for that matter.


The team outside the telescope dome.  That's me on the left!

12 May 2013

A Week In Tenerife - The Mt Teide Observatory Part 4

Now that I've covered the astronomical aspects of the trip to Tenerife, I'd like to share some of the more touristy things I did on the island.

The one, unavoidable activity on Tenerife was site seeing. Even during filming it was impossible not to get distracted by the scenery. The same can be said about the sunshine, actually and I took advantage of that whenever I had a bit of down time during the day.

Typical example of down time
I put together a short video of some of the sites on Tenerife, which you can check out below. Now, I apologise for the repetitive camera moves, but it's a little hard to concentrate of filming when you're looking at some of these breathtaking views.

Yes, the second last shot is my hand in a vent of steam coming from the volcano.

Another fantastic way to enjoy the sites is to hike one of the many marked trails in Tenerifes National park, Parque Nacional del Teide. A lot of these trails begin near the base of the conical Mt. Teide.

Perhaps one of the best places in the world to put a hotel. The Parador Hotel is smack bang in the middle of the national park and also has telescopes available for rent! Best hotel ever!
The beginning of a hiking trail, sporting a fabulous weather warn rock formation.
Another rock formation. This one was giant, and splits the track.
The only thing missing from my holiday was my own telescope to use. It wasn't feasible to bring one along this time since most of our check in and carry on luggage was comprised of filming equipment. Next time however, I'm going to plan a full on amateur astronomers holiday to Tenerife, complete with telescope and equatorial mount. Not a tripod however, because get this; in the Mt. Teide Observatory they provide permanent telescope piers with power supplies for public use. All you need to do is pop the equatorial head on and away you go. See below.

Clothes took a back seat in terms of luggage space.
Two of the telescope piers available for use at the Mt. Teide Observatory.

30 April 2013

Patchwork moon with the RC8 & QHY5 cam

I have been dying to try out my new QHY5 guide camera with a bit of planetary and lunar image stacking. I've heard they give great results and I also wanted to put my 8" ritchey chretien to the test. Being a specialised scope for deep sky imaging I wasn't sure how well it would perform. I'm happy to report that it performs quite well. Below the result of two 2sec videos, stacked and stitched (stacked in registax, stitched in Photoshop)

As you can see, some dust on the telescope mirror did show up. Nothing a few flat frames won't fix, though. Next time I'm going for the whole moon!

OTA: 8" Ritchey Chrétien
Camera: QHY5
Mount: HEQ5
Exposures: 2x2sec .avi video

Processing: Registax
Post-processing: Photoshop

28 April 2013

Ring Nebula M57/NGC 6720

What I love the most about this image is that we know that the faint star in the middle of this planetary nebula is actually the white dwarf which remains after the red giant star expelled it's mass. 

Guiding: QHY5
Mount: HEQ5 Pro w/ EQMOD
Camera: Atik 16IC
Lights: 2x10min
Darks: N/A
Flats: N/A
Bias: N/A
Processing: Nebulosity
Post-processing: Photoshop

11 April 2013


I don't post other peoples work very much on Astronomy Box, but I cannot stop watching this short film commissioned by Trapcode to showcase their new After Effects plugin, Mir. Anyway I'm posting this and I dare you not to enjoy it.

And the plugin has a space station for a namesake. How cool is that? Answer: Very.

7 April 2013

A Week In Tenerife - The Mt Tiede Observatory Part 3

Although I was there to assist in the film making I also had the chance to do a bit of science of my own. There had been an announcement of a nova event, of which Armagh Observatory had requested some follow up observations by the Tenerife team. I got the fun job of finding and matching our observations to some archival images in order to determine the magnitude and time frame of the nova event.

These are the two images of the region of sky where the nova event took place. 
In the above photo, the observation made by the IAC80 is on the left, the archival image is on the right. Here's fun; see if you can spot the nova event for yourself. Below is the same image with the star on the which the nova event occurred circled in green.

The very bright star in the center of the IAC80 observation on the left shows how much energy is released in a nova event. Especially when compared to the normal brightness of the star circled on green.
Playing with the images was a treat but what I was looking forward to the most was doing some astrophotography of my own. On the flight over to Tenerife, our luggage pretty much consisted of only filming equipment, making it impossible for me to bring a small scope of my own. I did however have my digital camera and a pair of binoculars. The binoculars gave me some amazing views of every part of the sky on the top of Mt. Teide but my camera gave me some photographs which I've never been able to get before.

The Milky Way rising above the telescope dome of the IAC80
Below is a time lapse of the Milky Way which I have always wanted to do. As you can see the telescope was very busy all night long.

4 April 2013

NGC4762 & NGC4754

Now that spring is upon us, some fabulous galaxies are beginning to make their way into our skies at night. I've been really eager to use my newly bought Atik 16IC CCD camera and we haven't been having the best of weather lately. Last night though the sky was cloud free.

I setup my gear and opened Stellarium. As my site is restricted to pretty much the whole easterly sky I turned my attention to the bright star Arcturus, which has a lot of galaxies and globular clusters near it. Using the stars Arcturus and Muphrid as a guide I found my way slowly into the swarm of galaxies, where I immediately settled on NGC4762 & NGC4754. In fact, this is the fastest I've ever found an object I hadn't observed before, and that's without any GOTO.

OTA: WO 72mm Megrez w/ Moonlite Focuser & SkyWatcher FF & LPR Filter
Guiding: TS 9mm OAG w/ Orion starshoot
Mount: HEQ5 Pro w/ EQMOD
Camera: Atik 16IC Mono
Subs: 10x30s
Darks: N/A
Flats: N/A
Bias: N/A
Processing: Nebulosity
Post-processing: Photoshop

I realise now that I don't have near enough data so next time I'll be fetching more.

31 March 2013

A Week In Tenerife - The Mt Tiede Observatory Part 2

As I mentioned in part one, the trip to Tenerife was based around telescope time that was booked on the IAC80 and was mainly for the benefit of the physics students of University College Cork. They would gain fantastic experience making observations using a professional telescope. The main science target that the team would be focusing on was a black hole binary system called SWIFT J1910.2-0546. As well as making these scientific observations, the students were also allowed time to make some personal observations, in the aim to have some pretty picture to go home with.

Mark Kennedy, one of the students and a current UCC Physics Lab Demonstrator at the controls of the IAC80
Getting to know the controls and mechanics of using a large professional telescope was a big part of the trip. The above image shows the main control station where the dome can be opened and rotated, input of right ascension and declination coordinates can be made, among many other parameters. The third monitor from the left is actually actually dedicated to the auto guiding mechanism of the telescope, much like that of an amateur astrophotography setup.

The students are gathered around the monitor reserved for controlling the CCD and image manipulation as Dr. Paul Callanan demonstrates the capturing of flat frames before night fall.
The place where we spent most of our night time hours.
A diagram of the IAC80
On the whole, the science objectives were all accomplished. The team gathered multiple observations of the target object, the black hole binary system SWIFT J1910.2-0546. Now that we're back in Ireland, the data will be reduced and used in the 2013 final year projects by the Phd students among them. I will try and gather some information on the results if I can. Just to remind you, the mission was to map the periodicity of the black hole binary system.

Raw data of black hole binary system SWIFT J1910.2-0546
In part three I'll go through some fun astronomy that I was able to do while on Mt. Teide and while I wasn't helping out with the film making during the long evenings. Stay tuned.

15 February 2013

Meteor comes down over Russia

Some amazing footage of a meteor entering the atmosphere over Russia has been flying around the internet. As the Silver Surfer is the herald to Galactus, I can't help but feel like this relatively small meteor is the herald to the football field sized meteor 2012 DA14, which is projected to pass the Earth later today (Friday 15th). However, it seems to  be completely unrelated. Talk about a cosmic coincidence! Thank goodness for all the smartphones and surveillance cameras out there.

The friction of the atmosphere while the meteor passed through it caused a fire ball which lit up the streets and created shadows reminiscent of a sunny day.
After the spectacular show in the skies however, a large number of injuries have now been recorded due to the sound of the meteor shattering window glass for miles around as it tore through the atmosphere. As pretty as it is, it really brings home to us the fact that we're floating through space.

20 January 2013

DSO 7 - Atik 16IC First Light

I had some fun with my new (second hand) Atic 16IC mono CCD camera, attached to my 8" Ritchey Chretein.

The insert in the image below was taken with the above setup. The 16IC is still an incredibly sensitive camera, despite being a few years old now. I can't recall exactly but the image was taken with an exposure lower than sixty seconds, with one dark frame applied to counteract some hot pixels. 

It's so much fun imaging at this rate. I'm going to plan an imaging Moore Marathon some time.

14 January 2013

LSA - Lynx Space Academy

A special somebody sent me information about this competition and I signed up immediately. If anyone can take a moment to vote for me, I will love you forever!

I promise I'll write an article about it.

Silly me, I forgot to provide a link!
Click Here!

10 January 2013

BBC Stargazing Live - Series 3

So that's the end of another series of BBC Stargazing Live, and what a fantastic series it was! We even had some lovely clear skies to do a bit of inspired observing.

I just had to post this video. Eric Idle is a legend and I love the new scientifically correct version of the Galaxy Song from Monty Pythons The Meaning of Life. Doesn't it just put a smile on your face?

Also, i cannot wait to see Prof. Brian Cox new series, Wonders of Life. It looks absolutely amazing.