OWN the Sky!

Centaurus A

Centaurus A

   With the OWN web site you will be able to request images from an automated-telescope located at the Whipple Observatory in Amado Arizona. The telescope that will be used is part of a network of 6-inch reflector telescopes equipped with a CCD camera that are accessible via the web site. The web site, OWN, Observing With NASA, is maintained through a joint venture between NASA and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Whirlpool Galaxy

Whirlpool Galaxy

   From the OWN web site you will be able to request images of a variety of objects including the Sun, our Moon, planets, galaxies, nebula, and even asteroids. Allowing a couple of days for your image(s) to be taken you will then receive an e-mail notification that your images are ready for download. Once downloaded the images, in the FITS image format, are then loaded into the MicroObservatory Image Processing software and processed. The FITS, Flexible Image Transport System, is not the typical GIF or JPEG type of image file as the FITS image contains all of the data collected by the CCD. By having all data within the file allows it to be processed more so than how a graphic editing program would.

    There is no fee for using the OWN system, and the MicroObservatory software is free and is available in PC, Mac, and Linux versions. On a PC the software is extracted from the downloaded file into a folder. Since the software is not actually installed on the computer that means it can run from a Flash Drive or from a CD – which usually makes the IT folks happy!

    If you are close by and would like a workshop for teachers or for a classroom get in touch and we will work out the particulars. No charge but I may ask for lunch!

    Click here to go to the OWN web site.

      Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

100 K Worth of Stars

100,000 Stars

   Folks at Google have just released an interesting display for the Chrome web browser that shows 100,000 stars in the area around our part of the Milky Way Galaxy. The display includes background music and is capable of allowing one to zoom in and out, roll the display in different directions, and select the display to show the spectral index and star colors. Clicking on individually labeled stars zooms into a closer view of the star (artwork), and some text describing some of the features/properties of that star. There is also a tour option that starts close to the Sun and then slowly zooms out with pauses at selected distances to briefly explain that particular point in space.
   Coming across this web site is rather timely as my classes are just now starting their unit on stars, with this week about spectra. Two other similar web sites they will be examining are NASA’s Mission Science web site, and the Chromoscope web site.
   While the 100,000 Stars display is interesting and fun to play around with there are other web-based tools for visualizing our space. There is the World Wide Telescope that does similar things as well as much much more. On a more local perspective there is the Solar System Scope web site, and NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System.


Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Feed Me!

Devouring a Planet

   “Fried Planets” is the title for a recent News Release from NASA describing observations and data collected from a star in the constellation of Perseus the Hero. Using a 9.2 m telescope at the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains of West Texas the star, BD+48 740 – a red giant star, has apparently destroyed, “devoured” one of its planets. This conclusion was reached after spectroscopic studies of the star revealed an abundance of the element Lithium in the red giant star. Lithium is typically destroyed during nuclear reactions in a star, so finding it in the amounts they detected suggests that this extra Lithium came from a planet or planets orbiting the red giant star. These planet or planets were close enough to the star to be engulfed and destroyed by the star as it expanded into a red giant star.
   Additionally the one planet still in orbit around BD+48 740 has an orbit that is the most elliptically shaped orbit for any planet observed so far – in our solar system or any of the exo-solar systems. The planet, roughly 1-2 times the mass of Jupiter, may have moved into this elliptical orbit during the time the planet or planets providing the Lithium were being destroyed by the red giant star.

Watch a ScienceCast video from NASA about this star and its activities.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.

Oh – Orion

The starry skies around Orion

   The Orinids Meteor shower, at least for me, is now history. The sky was very clear however with the ambient light from Kansas City to the south and west the skies had a limiting magnitude of around 2 to 4 depending on which direction I faced. I saw 7 meteors during a 2-hour time span between 3:30 and 5:30 this morning. All were at least 1st magnitude, and none were captured on film despite running the video for nearly the entire time.

Jupiter, the Hyades, and Pleiades

   However I did manage to capture the area around Orion from Taurus over to the Gemini Twins. In the picture above, Orion’s right knee, the star Saiph, is seen between the leaves and branches of a tree. Near the top of the picture is bright Jupiter and the two open star clusters, the Hyades and the Pleiades. This picture is a closeup of Jupiter and the two star clusters.

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information.