Over the last few nights we’ve had some clear skies and good seeing conditions here in the southwest of the UK. On Monday night I spent 3 hours capturing a 50 pane mosaic of the whole of the visible portion of the Moon while last night I decided to focus on the wonderfully rugged region around the lunar Alps and the crater Plato.
Both images are shown below – do click on them to see the full size versions, especially the whole-phase mosaic. They were captured with a Meade 8-inch LX200R Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and an Imaging Source DMK21AU618.AS CCD camera; the Plato/lunar Alps image is a mosaic of 17 panes made using an additional 2x Barlow lens.
Here are a few pictures of the Moon and Jupiter that I captured on Friday night/Saturday morning under some great seeing conditions – in fact the best seeing conditions I’ve seen all year. All of the images were taken with an 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, an Imaging Source DMK21AU618.AS CCD camera and a 2x Barlow lens. To create the colour Jupiter image I also used a set of Astronomik RGB filters and a 3x Barlow lens (I used the 3x Barlow for the Atlas/Hercules shot too).
Jupiter and the Great Red Spot. Credit: Will Gater
The rille network within crater/walled plain Posidonius. Credit: Will Gater
The walled plain Janssen and the crater Fabricius (top). Credit: Will Gater
Long shadows on the floor of the walled plain Cleomedes. Credit: Will Gater
Crater Messier (left) and Dorsa Geikie (centre). Credit: Will Gater
Crater Gutenberg (upper left). Credit: Will Gater
Vallis Rheita and crater Rheita. Credit: Will Gater
Crater Copernicus lit from above. Credit: Will Gater
Craters Atlas (right) & Hercules (left). Credit: Will Gater
Sinus Concordiae & Rima Cauchy. Credit: Will Gater
Last night the atmosphere was particularly clear and steady here, so I took the opportunity to image some of my favourite lunar craters. All of the images below were captured using a Meade 203mm aperture Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and a Philips SPC900NC webcam. I also used a red (Wratten #23A) filter in front of the webcam to filter out some of the wavelengths of light that are more detrimentally affected by atmospheric undulations.
The images below are all mosaics. Each mosaic pane was made by taking a short video with the webcam and then sifting out the best 250 frames to be stacked and processed together into one more detailed image. Then each of the panes are arranged together to create the final mosaic image you see below. For example, the Clavius & Tycho image was made by stitching together 16 individual panes.
Capturing the night skies from the UK can often be a frustrating experience. You can spend ages setting up your scopes and cameras, carefully perfecting the mount’s tracking and getting everything in focus, but just as you’re ready to image the clouds have appeared.
Sometimes though it all comes together and you get a magical evening under the stars. For me, Friday night — on Dartmoor — was one of those precious nights.
I started taking images just before midnight. By the time I had finished, the sky towards the east was brightening and some very eager skylarks were beginning the dawn chorus. Below are a few shots I captured that night.
Seeing the Lagoon and Trifid Nebulae again reminded me that we have lots to look forward to over the coming summer months.
UPDATE 09.06.2011 — Here’s a short, admittedly poor quality, recording I made of the skylarks.
There was a certain level of bemusement in the Sky at Night Magazine office, a few weeks ago, when I brought in a bag of flour, part of a fridge and a torch for the filming of the latest vodcast.
All should be revealed now though, as the new episode went online today. The video covers some of the basics of lunar observing, with a bit of a practical twist; to explain a few of the concepts, I set up some simple demonstrations using everyday household items.
If you’ve ever wondered why the low Moon is orange sometimes, or what creates the dramatic bright streaks across the full Moon, this episode is one to watch. I’ve embedded it below and, as usual, for the best quality view click the 720p HD button.
Credit: Sky at Night Magazine
Last night there was a lovely moonrise (image above) over Bristol. The conditions were relatively good for viewing it too, as there was only a small amount of low-level haze and not too much cloud around.
It appears that wonderful orange/red colour because, when the Moon is low, it is shining through more of the Earth’s atmosphere. The gases in our atmosphere are particularly good at scattering blue light (which is why our sunny skies are blue). This means that, as the light from the Moon travels through a thick slice of the atmosphere, the bluer wavelengths of light are essentially ‘filtered’ out. The end result…predominantly redder light reaching us watching on the ground and so we see a gorgeous red/orange Moon.
You’ll also notice that the effect gradually wears off as the Moon rises, with the Moon becoming less and less red the higher in the sky it climbs. That’s simply because the amount of the atmosphere that the light is travelling through, with respect to us observing on the ground, gets smaller. So as the amount of atmosphere that the moonlight has to pass through to get to our eyes reduces, there’s less ‘filtering’ of the bluer wavelengths.
Often the most captivating space pictures come, not from looking out into the depths of the Universe, but back towards home and the Earth – our little round oasis in space. I say this particularly today in light of two images I chanced across whilst researching on the web. The first is from the brilliant Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) probe KAGUYA (also known as SELENE). It’s a picture of the full Earth rising over the lunar limb. It was taken a few weeks ago (September 30th) by the probe’s high definition video camera, as it passed over the Moon’s north pole, at a height of about 100km from the surface. JAXA released it today and well…see for yourself…wow!
The Full Earth rising over the Moon. Credit: JAXA/NHK
In the full sized image you can clearly see Australia against the blue of the oceans and beneath the swirls of the white clouds. What I wouldn’t give to see that view with my own eyes! If you look closely I think that’s the mountainous central peak, of a vast foreground crater, you can see towards the centre of the image. It certainly looks like the centre of the bowl of a crater in reflief running through there. The images from this mission are incredible and you can see many more, as well as some amazing videos, on the JAXA site here. But if you want to feel like you are really floating with the craft over the surface then the HD camera’s video of this ‘Earthrise’ is here (video link).
Lastly then is the second image that caught my eye today – it’s the image at the top of this page (big version here). That’s a picture from the EUMETSAT Meteosat-8 satellite. That orange/white pixelated blob below-centre in the image is, incredibly, the fireball that ensued when a 2-metre wide chunk of rock entered the Earth’s atmosphere and exploded in a searing flash of light. The rock designated 2008 TC3 was picked up by astronomers several hours before it was due to hit the Earth. There wasn’t really any risk to us and the rock most likely broke up in the atmosphere high over a sparsely populated region of Sudan. It would be interesting to know if any parts of the object reached the ground, as meteorites, as they will no doubt be important given that their meteoroid progenitor was relatively well observed prior to impact.
It’s all exciting stuff and reminds us that we should always remember how cool and interesting the Earth is, whilst we are appreciating other worlds and distant places in this incredible Universe we live in.
UPDATE (11.10.08): When I was writing this last night, I completely forgot about the other story which fits nicely into this ‘look back’ theme. It’s a story from ESA’s Venus Express about how astronomers are using the craft’s spectrometer to look at the fingerprints of key molecules in Earth’s atmosphere. The reason they’re doing this is to see if Earth is habitable! Odd, it might seem, but it’s a crucial thing to be able to do if astronomers are going to have any chance of success in determining if other exoplanets are habitable. That’s because from learning about what chemical signatures represent life on Earth, we can begin to formulate some ideas of what we should be looking for on other planets. You can read the full story here.