Fireballs in Jupiter’s Atmosphere

The first of these collisions was observed by A. Wesley from Australia and C. Go from Philippines on June, 3 2010. The second object was observed by three Japanese amateur observers (M. Tachikawa, K. Aoki and M. Ichimaru) on August, 20 that year and a third collision was observed by G. Hall from USA on September, 10 2012 after a report of a visual observation from D. Petersen from USA. Credit: Hueso/Wesley/Go/Tachikawa/Aoki/Ichimaru/Petersen

The first of these collisions was observed by A. Wesley from Australia and C. Go from Philippines on June, 3 2010. The second object was observed by three Japanese amateur observers (M. Tachikawa, K. Aoki and M. Ichimaru) on August, 20 that year and a third collision was observed by G. Hall from USA on September, 10 2012 after a report of a visual observation from D. Petersen from USA. Credit: Hueso/Wesley/Go/Tachikawa/Aoki/Ichimaru/Petersen

The solar system is crowded with small objects like asteroids and comets. Most have stable orbits which keep them out of harm’s way, but a small proportion of them are in orbits that risk them colliding with planets. Read More →

Observing Satellites from Home

While most stargazers typically observe various natural phenomena happening in space, some of you may be interested in watching manmade objects up there. Entire groups are dedicated towards the amateur observation of satellites. While this sort of behavior might be unlawful in some jurisdictions, there are plenty of people who look up every night and try to catch a glimpse of something put into orbit on purpose.

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Chances are that most people have seen satellites by accident and never even realized it. People sometimes look up at the evening sky and see what appear to be points of light moving through the darkness at a constant speed. These are actually artificial satellites. Countless satellites are visible to the naked idea, and there are even more that are visible to those with simple telescopes.

Space junk is particularly interesting. When the Centaur launch vehicle was still in service, some amateur astronomers were actually able to track spent rocket stages before they reentered the atmosphere. While litter might be a serious problem for space agencies to deal with, it makes for some interesting viewing nonetheless.

Tracking objects that move rapidly takes real skill, and some objects are extremely hard to get a fix on. Astronomers have said that Vanguard 1 presents a unique challenge. By most accounts, Vanguard 1 is the oldest artificial satellite still in orbit. Amateurs feel that trying to spot it can be just as hard as trying to spot a distant galaxy. For some people, this makes the challenge that much more alluring. Jaded stargazers might want to try their hand at spotting it. There are plenty of sites that can aid individuals in finding these objects.

Few individuals are lucky enough to have a background in orbital elements, but those that are can calculate positions for themselves. Others could have a look at tracking software that automates these calculations. In either case, anyone who tries his or her hand at the practice will surely learn a little about the exploration of space first-hand. Most stargazers just read what others have written about the topic. Anyone who wants the opportunity to visit a launch pad could be much closer than they ever imagined.

Image Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Additional Learning Resources:

Meade LX800 Platform [Review]

Serious astrophotography enthusiasts might want to try out the new LX800 series telescope assemblies from Meade. Trademarked StarLock technology seems to be the biggest selling point of the model. Each time the telescope is slewed to a target, the StarLock technology will lock on to the target and then provide guide corrections automatically. This is certainly an impressive feature by itself, and doesn’t even take that long to learn how to use. Read More →

Observational Astronomy Drawings

Illustration by Simon Atkinson. © Simon Atkinson Creative Arts.

Before everyone strapped a camera to their telescopes, a pencil and paper was the way to go. Sharpening a twig is an easy way to make a smudge stick and turn a small graphite blob into an amazing swirling arm of nebula gases. Many famous astronomers of the past went on to create equally famous notebook entries that featured their unique artistic styles. Observational drawing is both an art and a science.

Some amateur astronomers like to use ink for permanent stars, and pencil in the rest of the objects that they observe. They might wish to produce a composite drawing of each individual object they’ve observed on a previous night. However, patience is a virtue when trying to put otherworldly photons down on paper. Most astronomers are tempted to randomly pepper a scene with stars on more than one occasion during their amateur careers, and the discipline requires a great deal of restraint to avoid doing that.

Galileo’s Astronomical Images – Moon Drawings

Despite the rather low-tech images this effort creates, some people actually combine high technology with their astronomy art. While most mobile devices lack great drawing programs, some PDA units actually come with a high-resolution stylus that’s conducive to observational drawing as well. This practice became so popular that it has generated a little buzz on the Internet in the recent past.

I personally learn things better by writing/drawing things in many cases. If you are the same, drawing the objects you view during your stargazing may be a great way to reinforce your memory of the sights you observe.

Image Credits: Simon AtkinsonUniversity of Minnesota

Capturing the Stars [Product Review]

Fans of the Siebert Monocentric ID series of eyepieces certainly have a lot to fall in love with. Since they have a wider and flatter field of view, they tend to be much easier to look into. The manufacturer claims that they are color corrected at 100 percent across their field of view. While they might not be quite as perfect as the company claims, they really do turn those globular clusters into a thing of beauty.

Amateur astronomers with driven mounts will find the Siebert Monocentric ID design to be more attractive than those with traditional telescopes. Several off-axis aberrations in the eyepiece are caused by the fast focal ratio scopes. This means that individuals who stick to using regular systems won’t be able to keep objects on-axis very easily. Anyone with a motor should fawn over the Siebert optics, however.

While it might not be the best design for individuals who don’t care to put work into their viewing sessions, this Siebert model will produce impressive details for those who are ready to experiment. Siebert eyepieces have a homemade appearance that illustrates the fact that they’re made by a small company. One might say that astronomers make them for their fellow astronomers.

Join Your Local Astronomy Club

Astronomy was probably the first field of science ever created. Quite a few archaeologists seem to share that opinion. Classical civilizations had what might be called an obsession with the stars. This obsession sadly didn’t carry into the modern era. Many societies are only just now rediscovering the allure of the cosmos.

Observational astronomy can be extremely expensive. Smaller countries are often priced out of the science. Fortunately, amateurs with telescopes can do much similar work as that being carried out by large research organizations today. Independent clubs have helped small communities to make a difference in recent years as well. In fact, a few organized purists can do quite a bit of work on their own. Astronomical societies are needed to monitor eclipses, meteor storms and comet sightings. These are all necessary things that people can do in their own backyards. The fact that a society in southern Asia constructed their own celestial globe shows that these organizations aren’t helpless by any means.

People have access to an unprecedented amount of information now that Internet access has become widespread. Users could easily create independent forum resources to connect with like-minded individuals. No one is tied to his or her own geographical location when technology can shrink the Earth, and this is an important part of the democratization of information. Small local societies also help to fill a void. If you’re not already a member of your local astronomical society/club, I highly recommend that you get involved ASAP.

Here’s some of the larger organizations that typically have local/regional chapters and are very good sources of information as well:


Getting Started with Astrophotography

Capturing the beauty of the universe presents a serious challenge for even the most experienced photographer.  No matter how beautiful the finished photograph may be, it often pales in comparison to the real thing.  Taking high quality astronomical photographs requires not only excellent general photography skills, but a fine eye, attention to detail, and of course the right equipment. The good news: with a little practice and patience, anyone can learn how to capture celestial bodies in all their glory!

Astrophotography participants range from amateur astronomers taking photographs of the moon, planets, and stars to professional astronomers mapping and documenting the heavens.  Many amateur photographers strive to capture the beauty of the world they see around them. The surrounding sky certainly provides a wealth of photo opportunities. And thanks to technological advances, the cost of equipment have dropped significantly in recent years so this is a great hobby for even the tightest of budgets.

Stuff to Consider

One of the chief challenges of astrophotography is of course, the relative lack of light.  While some celestial objects such as the moon and stars are sufficiently visible to produce quality photographs using basic equipment, other heavenly bodies are simply too gar away to generate much light.  Therefore most astrophotography is dependent upon the use of time exposures to accumulate a sufficient amount of light required.  Those photographers who are unaccustomed to using long exposures will need to do some experimenting in order to find the perfect balance.

Other photographic techniques can also make astrophotography more rewarding.  For instance, most photographers will need to mount their camera to the focal point of their telescopes in order to get a clearer view of the heavens and an accurate representation of what they see when they peer through the glass.  Many quality telescopes come with a camera mount built in, and this is certainly a feature to look for when shopping for a new model.

Special film can also help to capture the stars, moon, etc.  Film photographers can use special emulsions designed for low light conditions, while digital photographers can look for special cameras designed to overcome the challenges of night photography.  When shopping for a new camera, astrophotography buffs should look for models capable of supporting very long exposure times and multiple exposures.  Successful astrophotography can require multiple exposures up to 20 or more, so this is a particularly important feature to look for.

Last but certainly not least, photographers with an eye to the heavens will want to look at the array of filters designed to make astrophotography more rewarding.  Filters designed to reduce fogging and other distortion can make a big difference in the look of the finished photograph.  There are many filters designed for use in astrophotography, and it is a good idea for photographers to test several models in order to find the most effective solution.

The challenges encountered when trying to capture the night sky can vary from place to place, and it is important to choose filters designed to address those issues.  Amateur astronomers in some parts of the country may be troubled by light pollution, while others may live in areas prone to haze, fog and other atmospheric conditions.  Finding a filter designed to address these common problems can make the night sky clearer, and photographing your part of the universe a great deal more enjoyable.

Are you a current astrophotography enthusiast? Feel free to share your tips and insights below!

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