New Mexico New Moon


New Mexico New Moon (April 30, 2014)

The thin waxing crescent Moon returned to the evening sky tonight, seen here in the deepening blue of a New Mexico evening.

I’m in Silver City, New Mexico (altitude 5900 feet) for a few days and nights, checking out places to spend next winter, under clearer and warmer skies than back home … and with rarely any snow to shovel.

This was the scene tonight, on the ranch road with one of the prime property choices – astronomers check real estate locations by day and night!

The crescent Moon is lit by Earthshine as it sits amid the deep blue twilight. The stars of Taurus show up flanking the Moon, with the Hyades at left and Pleiades at right.

This image is a high-dynamic range stack of 6 exposures from 2 to 20 seconds, to capture the ground detail without blowing out the Moon. Lights from an approaching pickup truck nicely lit the trees during the final longest exposure.

For the technically minded, I stacked the images using Photoshop CC HDR Pro, then “tone-mapped” them using Adobe Camera Raw in 32 bit mode.

Sunset from Silver City, New Mexico

The sky was hazy all day and evening, from wind-blown dust common to the area. Fierce southerly winds were whipping up dust all day, which hung in the sky all evening as well.

The sunset was a golden yellow from all the dust in the air. Once it got dark the sky lacked the ideal desert transparency, muting the zodiacal light I saw last night from the Chiricahuas.

Not every night is perfect in the high desert!

– Alan, April 30, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

Goodbye Winter Sky – 2014 Edition


Orion Setting & Zodiacal Light (24mm 6D)

After a brutal winter for most of us in the northern hemisphere, we’re glad to see the last of the winter sky.

This was the scene on Tuesday night, April 29 as the last of the winter sky descended into the evening twilight.

Here, Orion (left of centre) sets into the western sky, next to the gossamer glow of the zodiacal light (right of centre). The stars of Taurus sit amid the zodiacal light, with the Pleiades just about to set behind the ridge. Sirius, the sky’s brightest star, shines at far left.

The zodiacal light is the glow of sunlight reflecting off cometary dust particles in the inner solar system. It is a glow from interplanetary space, not from our atmosphere. Spring is the best time to see it in the evening sky, no matter your hemisphere. It also helps to be in the desert of the U.S. Southwest!

I took this parting shot of the winter sky from a favourite observing haunt from years’ past, Massai Point, at 6800 feet altitude in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona. The sky was perfectly clear and the night warm and windless. I’m back in Arizona and New Mexico for a few days, checking out accommodations for a long-term stay next winter, so I won’t have to endure the snow and cold that plagued us last winter. Good bye winter sky! Good bye winter!

– Alan, April 29, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

 

Splendid Southern Star Clusters


NGC 2477 and NGC 2451 in Puppis (77mm 5DII)

The southern Milky Way is populated by the sky’s best clusters of stars.

Here are three of the southern sky’s best star clusters, in portraits I took earlier this month from Australia.

At top, my main image takes in a great contrasting pair of star clusters. Both lie in the constellation of Puppis, once part of the ship Argo Navis.

At left is the stunningly rich NGC 2477, so packed with stars it almost ranks as a globular cluster, not one of the sparser open clusters. At least that’s the impression it gives in the eyepiece. But instead of containing hundreds of thousands of stars, as do globulars, NGC 2477 “only” has 300 stellar members. They are just very tightly packed in one of the richest open star clusters in the sky. If it had been farther north NGC 2477 would certainly rate as one of the top 100 sky sights, and carry some memorable name after a fanciful resemblance to who knows what! Instead, it carries but a catalog number.

Next to it, at right, is NGC 2451, more typical of open clusters. It has a central bright star, this one naked eye, surrounded by 40 or so lesser stars of contrasting colour and brightness. The two clusters make a great side-by-side comparison in any low-power telescope.

NGC 6067 in Norma Star Cloud (77mm 5DII)

Much farther along the southern Milky Way is this rich open cluster (above), NGC 6067, in Norma, itself embedded in one of the richest star clouds of the southern Milky Way, the Norma Star Cloud. Here you are gazing for 6800 light years toward the cluster which shines suspended against the background of the even more distant inner arms of our spiral galaxy.

So NGC 6067 looks a little like an island of blue stars amid the dust-reddened background of more distant stars in the Milky Way — an island in a sea of stars.

– Alan, April 29, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

The Night Sky’s Two Brightest Stars


Sirius, Canopus & Gum Nebula (35mm 5DII)

The two brightest stars in the night sky shine in the southern sky.

Here are Sirius (at right) and Canopus (at bottom left), the brightest and second brightest stars in the night sky, together near the southern Milky Way.

My image also captures the huge loops of the Gum Nebula, thought to be the remains of a supernova that blew up a million years ago. It’s utterly invisible to the naked eye, but Sirius and Canopus stand out as brilliant stars even from light polluted sites.

Sirius can be seen from northern latitudes but Canopus is below the horizon for any location north of 37° North or so. I shot this image from Australia where these stars pass overhead.

Sirius is a hot blue-white star 8.6 light years away. Canopus appears slightly dimmer but only because it lies much farther away, at some 310 light years. In reality it is a supergiant yellow-white star that shines with a luminosity 15,000 times that of our Sun.

Canopus to Carina with LMC (35mm 5DII)

This image takes in Canopus at bottom right, next to the Large Magellanic Cloud, and with the southern Milky Way sweeping across the top, with the Carina Nebula and its attendant star clusters at top left and parts of the Gum Nebula at right.

Here are a few cocktail party facts about Canopus:

• In 480,000 years its motion around the Galaxy will bring Canopus close enough to Earth that it will become the brightest star in our night sky, outranking Sirius.

• The origin of its name is a mystery. One idea is that the star is named for the pilot of the ship that took Menelaus to Troy on the quest to re-capture Helen.

• Canopus, the star, was used in ancient times as a key navigation star for those sailing to southern seas, as it would have risen above the southern horizon from latitudes below 35° North back around 2000 BCE.

• Today, Canopus is charted as the brightest star in the constellation of Carina the Keel, part of the ancient constellation of Argo Navis, named for the ship sailed by Jason and the Argonauts.

— Alan, April 27, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Stellar Graveyard in Vela


Vela Supernova Remnant (77mm 5DII)

This is what’s left of a star that exploded in ancient times.

This is the Vela Supernova Remnant, an object in the southern sky in the constellation of Vela the Sail. The wispy tendrils of magenta and cyan are all that’s left of the outer layers of giant star that exploded about 12,000 years ago.

Cluttering the field at left are amorphous patches of star-forming nebulosity that are part of the much larger Gum Nebula complex.

The supernova was only about 800 light years away so it would have been a brilliant sight in the sky to neolithic observers, far outshining any other stars. But no record exists of anyone seeing it.

The star didn’t destroy itself completely – its core collapsed to form a pulsar, an ultra-dense ball of neutrons, in this case spinning about 11 times a second. The pulsar is in this field but it’s much too faint to show up in visible light.

I shot this earlier this month from Australia where Vela sails directly overhead. The field is about 6° by 4°, the amount of sky framed by high power binoculars. The brighter parts of the Vela Remnant can be picked out in large amateur telescopes – I’ve seen bits of it in my 10-inch telescope – but this is certainly a challenging object to see, even with aided eyes.

— Alan, April 23, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

Star Scenes in Scorpius


Scorpius Overhead (50mm 5DII)

Scorpius, one of the most photogenic of constellations, contains a wealth of amazing sky sights.

My trip to the land down under is coming to an end but I’m still working through the dozens of deep-sky images I was able to take under the southern stars. The wide-field scene above takes in all of Scorpius, shot with the constellation sitting directly overhead in the pre-dawn hours of an austral autumn. You can trace the scorpion’s winding shape down from his head and claws at top, to his curving stinger tail at bottom.

M6 and M7 Star Clusters in Scorpius (77mm 5DII)

Off the stinger of the scorpion shine two naked-eye star clusters, Messier 6 and 7 (the close-up photo above). M6 is the Butterfly Cluster, seen here sitting in a dark region of the Milky Way at upper right. Its companion, M7, a.k.a. Ptolemy’s Cluster at left of the frame, is lost amid the bright star fields  that mark the direction of the galactic core.

NGC 6334 Cat's Paw Nebula (77mm 5DII)

In the curving tail of the scorpion lie two patches of nebulosity. At upper left is NGC 6357, but the triple-lobed NGC 6334 at bottom right is also known as the Cat’s Paw Nebula.

False Comet NGC 6231 Area (77mm 5DII)

Further up the tail of the scorpion sits this fabulous region of space that is a stunning sight in binoculars. NGC 6231 is the blue star cluster at bottom, which garnered the name The False Comet Cluster back in early 1986 when many people mistook its fuzzy naked eye glow for Comet Halley then passing through the area. The camera reveals the region filled with glowing hydrogen gas.

Antares & Rho Ophiuchi Area (77mm 5DII)

But the standout region of Scorpius lies at its heart. Here, the yellow-orange star Antares lights up a dusty nebula surrounding it, reflecting its yellow glow. At top, another dusty nebula surrounds the star Rho Ophiuchi, reflecting its blue light. Glowing hydrogen gas adds its characteristic magenta tints. This is one of the most colourful regions of the Milky Way.

I shot these images with 50mm normal and 300mm telephoto lenses two weeks ago during the OzSky Star Safari near Coonabarabran, NSW, Australia. For all I used a filter-modified (by Hutech) Canon 5D Mark II camera.

— Alan, April 17, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Lunar Eclipse from Oz


Total Lunar Eclipse (April 15, 2014) #1

The eclipsed red Moon rises over the waters of Lake Macquarie on the east coast of Australia.

I was still in Australia for this eclipse and managed to see and shoot it, but only just!

Total Lunar Eclipse (April 15, 2014) #2

I was on the Central Coast of New South Wales, where clouds and rain have been prevalent all week, in part caused by departing remnants of Cyclone Ita. The prospects for seeing this eclipse from the coast looked bleak indeed.

Total Lunar Eclipse (April 15, 2014) #3

From eastern Australia, the Moon rose at sunset in mid-eclipse on our evening of April 15. I was with family in Australia and so we made an evening picnic of the event, joining a few others in the lakeside park who were there to also see the eclipsed Moon over Lake Macquarie, Australia’s largest salt water lake. I wanted to catch this eclipse over water, to see the effect above — the “glitter path” from the Moon but one turned red by the eclipsed Moon.

Total Lunar Eclipse (April 15, 2014) #4

As we were about to give up, I caught sight of the Moon as it rose into breaks in the cloud, revealing the red Moon near Spica and Mars. We saw the last of totality and the early stages of the final partial eclipse. But later in the evening clouds rolled in again and the rain poured down. Indeed, I took my last images of the eclipse with light rain falling and the cameras getting wet. This isn’t the first eclipse I’ve watched in the rain!

I shot with fixed cameras with 50mm and 135mm lenses. The top image is a 135mm telephoto shot, the other three are with the 50mm lens.

— Alan, April 16, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer