2009 Archives

NGC 6946

1 September 2009

NGC 6946

The galaxies of Autumn are starting to appear.

The Astrotourist: NGC 6946


30 June 2009

M16You probably have not heard of the Eagle Nebula (or M16, as it is also known) but you've probably seen the famous Hubble photo of its massive towers of dust and gas: the Pillars of Creation.

I don't remember where I first saw that image, but I remember thinking how beautiful and amazing it looked. For the first time I could imagine this distant nebula as a real place.

Now I've finally captured that nebula with my own modest equipment. While it does not compare to Hubble's iconic image, it does connect me, in some small way, to that magnificent object.

The Astrotourist: M16

Clear Skies Are not Steady Skies

20 June 2009

Effect of seeing on astrophotography

Just because the skies are clear doesn't mean that it will be a good night for astrophotography. Sometimes the skies are turbulent because of winds or temperature changes. On those nights the stars will twinkle ferociously and looking at the sky through a telescope will be like looking at the bottom of a clear lake on a windy day.

Astronomers call that "bad seeing" and it causes the light from distant stars to flicker and jump. Needless to say this distorts astronomical images, leaving them blurry and wavy.

The image on the left is a shot of the galaxy M101 under good seeing conditions. The one on the right shows the same galaxy, taken with the same equipment, on a night of poor seeing.

Astrophotography Targets for April

8 April 2009

M65sgLeo 11H 18.9m +13°5'9.38' × 1.5'Beginner
M66sgLeo 11H 20.2m +12°59'8.98' × 2.5'Beginner
M95sgLeo 10H 44m +11°42'9.74.4' × 3.3'Intermediate
M96sgLeo 10H 46.8m +11°49'9.26' × 4'Intermediate
M97 Owl NebulapnUMa 11H 14.8m +55°1'9.93.4' × 3.3'Intermediate
M108sgUMa 11H 11.5m +55°40'108' × 1'Intermediate
M109sgUMa 11H 57.6m +53°23'9.87' × 4'Intermediate
NGC 3115 The SpindlelgSex 10H 5.2m -7°43'8.96.9' × 3.4'Intermediate
NGC 3242 Ghost of JupiterpnHya 10H 24.77m -18°38.55'7.345" × 36"Intermediate
NGC 3344sgLMi 10H 43.5m +24°55'9.36.7' × 6.3'Intermediate
NGC 3521sgLeo 11H 5.8m -0°2'9.111.7' × 6.5'Intermediate
NGC 3628sgLeo 11H 20.3m +13°35'9.514.8' × 3.3'Intermediate
NGC 3184sgUMa 10H 18.3m +41°25.4'9.87.4' × 6.9'Advanced
NGC 3338sgLeo 10H 42.1m +13°45'10.85.5'Advanced
NGC 3718sgUMa 11H 32.6m +53°4'10.58.7'Advanced
NGC 3938sgUMa 11H 52.8m +44°7'10.45.4'Advanced
NGC 3953sgUMa 11H 53.8m +52°20'10.16.6'Advanced

The most popular target in April is the Leo triplet, a grouping of three beautiful spirals: M65, M66, and NGC 3628, but there are other, less famous, galaxies this month that are well worth capturing.



30 March 2009


Unravelling the nature of M82 took almost two centuries and required dozens of independent insights from many astronomers. But Johann Bode, the one who first spotted those two faint patches of light and wrote them down in his journal, is the only name commonly associated with M81 and M82. Those other astronomers? I confess I don't even know their names.

The Astrotourist: M82

Comm Check

13 March 2009

Michael Cabbage and William Harwood. Comm Check: The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia.

February 1, 2003. It’s a little before 9 AM and in 20 minutes the Space Shuttle Columbia is scheduled to land in Florida. In Mission Control, mechanical systems officer Jeff Kling notices two sensors on Columbia’s left wing have cut out. A few moments later, two more cut out. He discusses it with flight director LeRoy Cain, but neither can explain the event. How could four independent sensors just suddenly stop working?

But then Cain remembers back to Columbia’s launch and the large chunk of foam that hit the shuttle as it was rocketing up at supersonic speeds. The debris had hit Columbia’s left wing. Could the loss of the sensors be related? It couldn’t be, thinks Cain. It has to be a coincidence.


Astrophotography Targets for March

4 March 2009

March is the beginning of galaxy season!  In its trek around the sun the Earth's nightside sometimes faces the disk of our galaxy. When that happens we see the band of the Milky Way high above us. But as the Milky Way dips towards the horizon, we see what lies beyond our little metropolis of stars—and that means galaxies of all kinds.

M81 Bode's GalaxysgUMa 9H 55.6m +69°04'6.921' × 10'Beginner
M82sgUMa 9H 55.8m +69°41'8.49' × 4'Beginner
NGC 2683sgLyn 8H 52.7m +33°25'10.69.3' × 2.2'Intermediate
NGC 2841sgUMa 9H 22.0m +50°58'9.38.1'Intermediate
NGC 2903sgLeo 9H 32.2m +21°30'8.912.6' × 6.6'Intermediate
Arp 245sgHya 9H 45.7m -14°20'11.94.1'Advanced
NGC 2613sgPyx 8H 33.4m -22°58'10.47.2'Advanced
NGC 2654sgUMa 8H 49.2m +60°13'11.84.3'Advanced
NGC 2775sgCnc 9H 10.3m +7°02'10.34.5'Advanced


Infinite Lives: Experience Transcendence

3 March 2009

Darren Zenko's article about TranscendenceDarren Zenko writes about Transcendence in Edmonton's Vue Weekly. I love this quote:

"The best part is when you play for long enough, get into the hypno-zone that lets you X-ray-view straight through the sci-fi surface and down into pure, universal mechanics: when you look at a “stargate” and see a “dungeon stairway,” a “ROM upgrade” and see a “magic scroll,” a “barrel labelled NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION” and see a “potion,” you’re seeing through the illusion, not “suspending disbelief” but building up disbelief to such a degree that you’re not just playing a game, you’re playing all games"

Read the full article.

The Eskimo Nebula

8 February 2009

NGC 2392In November 1999 the Hubble Space Telescope suddenly stopped working. Another gyroscope had failed, leaving the telescope with only two working ones—without at least three working gyroscopes, the telescope lost its bearings, unable to tell which way it was pointing.

Fortunately, only a few weeks later, a Space Shuttle orbiter rendezvoused with Hubble and four astronauts repaired the multi-billion dollar telescope in a series of spacewalks. To test out the newly repaired observatory, scientists on Earth commanded it to point to a target and take some pictures. The result was magnificent—the telescope had been fully repaired. And the target that Hubble captured, a bright planetary nebula known as the Eskimo Nebula, was revealed in all its glory.

My shot of the Eskimo Nebula (or NGC 2392) is of course far inferior to Hubble's. Nevertheless, there is something very satisfying in capturing the same object. You don't need a ten billion dollar space program to enjoy the night sky. All you need is some modest equipment, a little luck, and a lot of patience.

The Astrotourist: NGC 2392

Astrophotography Targets for February

1 February 2009

Astronomers love catalogs the way physicists love graph paper and biologists love gooey biological stuff. When I bought my first CCD camera, I didn't need a catalog: My target choices were either the Orion Nebula or the Whirlpool Galaxy. Everything else looked like a brownish blob of varying texture and fuzziness.

Now that cameras (and my skills) have improved, I have more choices. Every month I pore through my catalogs in search of interesting objects that might make good pictures. Last month I wrote down my favorite objects for January. This month I list my favorite objects between 6 and 8 hours of Right Ascension, that is, those objects that happen to be pretty high in the sky at night in February:

NGC 2264 Christmas Tree ClusterdnMon 6H 41.0m +9°54'4.440' × 40'Beginner
NGC 2174 Monkey Head NebuladnOri 6H 9.7m +20°30'-40' × 40'Intermediate
NGC 2244 Rosette NebuladnMon 6H 34.4m +4°52'4.880' × 60'Intermediate
NGC 2261 Hubble's Variable NebuladnMon 6H 39.2m +8°44'~102' × 2'Intermediate
NGC 2359 Thor's HelmetdnCMa 7H 18.6m -13°12'-10' × 10'Intermediate
NGC 2392 Eskimo NebulapnGem 7H 29.2m +20°55'1047" × 43"Intermediate
NGC 2403sgCam 7H 36.9m +65°36'8.429' × 13'Intermediate
NGC 2467 (Sharpless 2-331)dnPup 7H 52.6m -26°23'716' × 16'Intermediate
IC 2177 Seagull NebuladnMon 7H 5.1m -10°42'-~2° × 2°Advanced
NGC 2346pnMon 7H 9.4m -0°48'-54" × 54"Advanced
NGC 2371 & NGC 2372pnGem 7H 25.6m +29°29'1350" × 90"Advanced
NGC 2440pnPup 7H 41.9m -18°13'1130" × 30"Advanced



23 January 2009


M78 was harder to capture than I expected. The faint nebulae and dark clouds required a lot of exposure time and some aggressive processing.

The Astrotourist: M78

Big Download Reviews Transcendence

11 January 2009

Review of Transcendence at Big Download

James Murff who writes the Freeware Friday column at Big Download just posted a review of Transcendence. I like this quote:

"Imagine if Nethack and Star Control 2 got together and had a top-down illegitimate child that went on to bigger and better things. That's Transcendence in a nutshell."

One correction: Transcendence now runs on Linux after much hard work by Benn Bollay (GambitDash).

Live Mesh Wins 2008 Crunchie

10 January 2009

Live Mesh wins Best Technology Innovation or Achievement
Photo of Ray Ozzie and David Treadwell by magerleagues. Some rights reserved.

Winning isn't everything, but it's nice when it happens. Live Mesh won the 2008 Crunchie award for Best Technological Innovation or Achievement. We were up against Google Chrome (which I thought was going to win) and Facebook Connect (which got second place).

The list of companies and products that were nominated for Crunchie awards reads like a who's who of trendy, cool start ups and products. It's a world that Microsoft doesn't often appear in (our business enterprise competitors, IBM and Oracle, for example are nowhere near it).


9 January 2009


M77 has been badly neglected photographically, at least compared to more popular galaxies like M51 and NGC 891. The Hubble Space Telescope hasn't imaged the whole thing yet, though both Robert Gendler and Russell Croman have (which is almost as good).

One reason for skipping M77 is that it is very difficult to capture. The long exposures required to bring out its faint outer arms often leave its bright central core overexposed. Nevertheless, the results are worth it. I love its tightly wound disk and the contrast with its faint outer arms. It looks a lot like M94, which is another favorite of mine.

The Astrotourist: M77

Astrophotography Targets for January

1 January 2009

With the beginning of the New Year we say goodbye to the galaxies of Andromeda and say hello to the nebulae of Orion. January is the best month to capture the Orion Nebula, the most famous nebula in the sky and probably the easiest deep space object to photograph. But there are many other nebulous objects to capture this month.

These are some of my favorites:

M1 Crab NebulasnTau 5H 34.5m +22°01'8.46' × 4'Beginner
M42 Orion NebuladnOri 5H 35.3m -5°23'3.790' × 60'Beginner
NGC 1977 Running MandnOri 5H 35.5m -4°52'6.320' × 10'Beginner
Horsehead NebuladnOri 5H 41.0m -2°27'-6' × 4'Intermediate
IC 405 Flaming Star NebuladnAur 5H 16.2m +34°16'9.230' × 20'Intermediate
M78dnOri 5H 46.7m +0°03'8.08' × 6'Intermediate
NGC 1499 California NebuladnPer 4H 03.3m +36°25'6.0~3° × 1°Intermediate
NGC 1999dnOri 5H 36.5m -6°42'9.52' × 2'Intermediate
NGC 2024 Flame NebuladnOri 5H 41.9m -1°51'7.230' × 30'Intermediate
IC 418pnLep 5H 27.5m -12°42'9.114" × 11"Advanced
IC 2118 Witch Head NebuladnOri 5H 02.0m -7°54'-~3° × 1°Advanced
NGC 1501pnCam 4H 07.0m +60°55'10.656" × 48"Advanced
NGC 1535pnEri 4H 14.3m -12°44'9.148" × 42"Advanced
Simeis 147snTau 5H 39.1m +28°00'-~3° × 3°Advanced