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

Transit Photometry for Planetary Discovery

Credit: ESA/University of Florida

Transit photometry is a technique astronomers use to detect extrasolar planets. Planetary orbits often force extrasolar bodies to pass between their suns and telescopes on Earth. This causes a drop in the amount of starlight detected by local astronomers. By measuring this drop in light, the relative location of planets can be charted.

Observing the transit pathways that extrasolar bodies take reveals several important pieces of information about them. Size is usually easy to determine from these sorts of studies. Considering that observations can’t be made in person, this might very well be the best way to discover their size.

Studies that take a look at transit photometry data are generally able to calculate the orbital periods of various extrasolar planets. Individuals with an interest in the search for intelligent life might also want to consider what size and orbital have to say about the theoretical habitable zone of another world. Life forms that resemble those found on Earth would most likely be found on planets with similar habitable areas.

Futuristic explorers will quite possibly use the information collected today when trying to select planets for terraforming. Since generational ship missions will need to be carefully planned, collecting accurate data today might save lives tomorrow.

Thirty Meter Telescope Overview

Astronomers are excited about the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) in Hawaii. Final architectural drawings have been released for the building consisting of the telescope and an attached support building. Read More →

Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) Overview

At its completion in 2016, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will provide the largest ever survey of the night sky. It will deliver 30 terabytes of data each night. LSST will consist of an 8.4 meter telescope and the 3.2 billion pixel camera. Astronomers hope the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will deliver 5.6 million 15 second images over its ten year lifetime. The images will then be cataloged and made available for viewing by both the public and researchers.  Astronomers hope these images will allow them to create a 3D map of the universe. In addition, they hope it will greatly increase their understanding of dark matter and dark energy.

The location was carefully chosen after much debate. The location has an altitude of 2,715 meters above sea level. The mountain is known to have some of the darkest skies in the world. The area has very little rainfall and one of the most stable environments on Earth. A stable atmosphere with a large number of clear nights will greatly assist astronomers in collecting data. The Cerro Pachon Mountain is currently home to the Gemini South Telescope and the Southern Astrophysical Research Telescope. The planned location is just northwest of the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory.

Be back tomorrow with a little information on another amazing endeavor – ESA’s Gaia project!


The New Sky | LSST. (n.d.). Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. Retrieved March 27, 2012, from http://www.lsst.org/lsst/

Claudius Ptolemy- Great Astronomer or Plagiarist?

Many amateur astronomers today may not even recognize the name of Claudius Ptolemy, but the field of astronomy owes this man’s work a huge thank you. That is… according to some scholars. Others, however, think he was nothing more than a common thief.

His work, Almagest, is the oldest surviving star chart. In his 13 volume work Ptolemy puts forward a mathematical model to fit his observational data that was much more sophisticated than any known at that time. Almagest still holds the record for the longest used scientific text ever. Almagest was considered so important that the text was translated into Arabic 500 years after it was written. The translated book was found in the great libraries of Cordova and Toledo, Spain. Many consider Claudius Ptolemy one of the greatest astronomers of history.Ptolemy’s theory saw the earth as the center of the universe. All of calculations of how the planets moved were based on this fact. Read More →