Sunday, April 6, 2014

Carnival of Space 348

Welcome to this week's Carnival of Space #348

Our intrepid astronomy bloggers bring us a round up of news, what is happening, key discoveries, thoughts and ideas for the future. There are some amazing events going on this month, from a total eclipse of the moon, Mars approaching opposition, the National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers (NACAA) and its Global Astronomy Month!

What's On!

If you are hesitant to try this observing feat on your own or would rather participate from the comfort of your home, Gianluca Masi from the Virtual Telescope Project has an event just for you: an online Messier Marathon.

The Spacewriter details many of April's skygazing sights.


Space Missions

The sudden and unexpected outage of a crucial tracking radar that is mandatory to insure public safety, has forced the scrub of a pair of launches planned for this week from Cape Canaveral, FL, that are vital to US National Security, United Launch Alliance, SpaceX and NASA.

Human hopes of reaching stars other than the Sun are currently limited by the maturity of advanced propulsion technologies. One of the few candidate propulsion systems for providing interstellar flight capabilities is nuclear fusion. In the past many fusion propulsion concepts have been proposed and some of them even explored in high detail (Project Daedalus), however, as scientific progress in this field has advanced, new fusion concepts have emerged that merit evaluation as potential drivers for interstellar missions. Plasma jet driven Magneto-Inertial Fusion (PJMIF) is one of those concepts. PJMIF involves a salvo of converging plasma jets that form a uniform liner, which compresses a magnetized target to fusion conditions. It is an Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF)-Magnetic Confinement Fusion (MCF) hybrid approach that has the potential for many benefits over both ICF and MCF, such as lower system mass and significantly lower cost.

Planning on colonizing a star system? According to Portland State University anthropologist Cameron Smith, any 2000 year long Worldship journey would have to carry a minimum of 10,000 people to secure the success of the endeavor. And a starting population of 40,000 would be even better, in case a large percentage of the population died during during the journey.

Next Big Future also reviews Adam Crowl's article detailing “Sail-Beam” or “Macron Beam” propulsion of humans in spaceships to about 4.5% of lightspeed. Other methods of propulsion: Quarter-wave sails made of Carbon Nano-Tubes (CNTs) can achieve high speeds by slingshotting near the sun and then pushed by the solar energy of the Sun. Dropping to 0.019 AU, the final velocity is 5.6% of light – dropping to 0.00465 AU (skimming the photosphere) would allow a speed of over 0.11c (11% of lightspeed), but the material might not be up to the beating. Crewed vehicles would not endure the extreme acceleration – 84,000 gee at peak – so the speeds that might be achieved by solar-sailing star-travelers would be limited to 1,000 year flights to Alpha Centauri, with just 17 gee peak acceleration.

My own blog AARTScope brings you a couple of interesting events from the OSIRIS-REx Target Asteroids Mission. There are a couple of really cool videos of asteroid appulse/occultations (passing in front of back ground stars). Watch as a 16th magintude star emerges from behind the bright Asteroid Polana.

Stars, nebulae, galaxies & solar system

Europa just became the third body in the Solar System that we've seen spraying geysers of water out of the ground, after Enceladus and Earth

The sea of Enceladus: Cassini confirms underground ocean on Saturn’s geyser moon


Learn about the gorgeous Butterfly Nebula and the story of how it came to be.

El Gordo is the most massive, the hottest, and gives off the most X-rays of any known cluster at its distance or beyond.

IMAGE CREDIT: NASA, ESA, J. Jee (Univ. of California, Davis), J. Hughes (Rutgers Univ.), F. Menanteau (Rutgers Univ. & Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), C. Sifon (Leiden Obs.), R. Mandelbum (Carnegie Mellon Univ.), L. Barrientos (Univ. Catolica de Chile), and K. Ng (Univ. of California, Davis)

A quick look at one of the newest members of the Kuiper belt, discovered a few days ago. That object would be 2012 VP113, a very cool place to be.

The new object was discovered through two years of research at the ESO's amazing La Silla observatory - our thoughts are with our Chilean friends after a challenging week with another large earthquake in the region.

IMAGE Credit: Diana Juncher/ESO

So that about wraps it up for this weeks Carnival of Space.

The Carnival of Space is a community of interest blog carnival bringing together the best and brightest Astronomy & Space Blogs at a single point in space and time (commonly referred to as a web address) each week. Previous episodes can be found here. If you run an astronomy or space science blog you can contact carnivalofspace @ to be added to the editorial circulation list.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Asteroid Polana appulses Mag 16 Star

IMAGE CREDIT: P.Lake H06 T11 - Asteroid Polana appulses 16th magnitude star

The Target Asteroids mission continues strongly, plotting the albedo vs phase function for asteroids that are analogs of Bennu or likely future sample-return mission targets.

It has produced some great science, leverged the skills of the amateur community, and resulted in a trip to the White House by one of the lead scientists.

Along the way it has produced some great little unexpected moments of interest. You will recall one of my previous videos where Asteroid 2010 AF30 disappeared in front of a Magnitude 12 star for near 12 minutes.


Chasing 2010 produced a new discovery as well. 2013 PJ40, now recovered in 4 previous oppositions by careful study of catalog images, the provisional designation has held up as it was only captured on one night by the survey observatories.


So the Target Asteroid Mission has bought great personal satisfaction as well as making a significant contribution to the scientific effort.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Chasing the Gaia Glint

IMAGE CREDIT: Dr Scott Ferguson Capture the Gaia tilt back (8th March) from T31 at Q62 Siding Spring, NSW, Australia.

UPDATE: 8th Mar: Gaia glints again. Today the Gaia mission controllers tilted the spacecraft again from 45 degrees to 42 degrees then 0 degrees and back again. It was tilted more slowly this time to allow astronomers to get a more detailed light curve of the tilt. Mission controllers are problem solving a stray light issue that was picked up during commissioning tests.

UPDATE:28th Feb: Patrick Wiggins animated gif of Gaia.

Image Credit: (C) Patrick Wiggins

UPDATE 27th Feb: I missed it on both 26th and 27th due to cloud. However Scott Ferguson captured one image of it on 27th before also losing out to cloud. Patrick Wiggins has captured it and had it verified by other notables on the Minor Planet List.

Image Credit: Dr Scott Ferguson 2014-Feb-27 08:52 09h 50m 24.95s, +17d 32' 30.5" 8:52 UT from Observatory H06. Note the above plot is for Modesto California so the position is a lttile off in the map. The JPL Ephemeris tool for the LAT/Long of H06 was for 2014-Feb-27 09:00 09 50 24.95 +17 32 21.8 which is just a couple of arcsecs off. Given he only had one image, Scott also verified the position with a previous Mt Palomar plate of the location.

Image Credit: ESA GBOT (ground based observation tools) FOV output for the 2nd tilt on 27th Feb developed by S. Bouquillon & T. Carlucci utilizing Stilts , Aladin , ESO online digitized Sky Survey , CDSclient.

Amateur astronomers tonight are chasing the Gaia Glint.

As the Gaia spacecraft rounds the L2 Lagrange Point tonight on its mission to create a 3d map of our solar system, around 10:45 Local time [11:45 UT] the solar panels will turn back around to "flash" earth for about 24 hours.

Sadly the weather is looking poor at two of's sites.

The ESA mission controllers have asked for a light curve of the turn. Easy peasy .... or so it seems.

The targeting is not the issue, the spacecraft will cruise in at Mag 20 to 20.5 and then over a period of 15-20 minutes will brighten to magnitude 15. Whilst magnitude 15 is within reach of most amateurs with sophisticated goto scopes, Mag 20.5 is a different prospect, requiring probably a few stacked images as it brightens. So its going to be hard to make it look any different to "off" & "on" and trap the subtelties of the rising magnitude.

Never one to shirk a challenge we'll give it a go. If not we can have another go tomorrow night as the spacecraft turns again and the reverse happens (fades from Mag 15 to 20).

I'm sure someone will catch it, there are a couple of others I know who are chasing it.

The spacecraft is going through some very detailed and precise commissioning tests as it orbits the L2 Lagrange point. When fully operational the spacecraft is required to maintain a constant spin rate of 0.016656 degrees per second, which is one rotation every 6 hours & 14.23 seconds. One of the comissioning tests was to put the spacecraft through a tilt from 0 to 45 degrees and back again, and like all good scientists they wanted an independent source of data to confirm the tilt process was completed properly and smoothly, and confirmed by their on board instruments as well as visually. Amateur astronomers are always up for a challenge and like to assist and be involved in the mission.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Supernova 2014J in M82 - Super Stuff!

Well its Supernova Week! There's science going off everwhere! Why watch endless hours of Sci-fi when you can watch stars blowing up live!

After last week's excitement of a nice Type IIn supernova in NGC 3448, there is breaking news tonight with a bright Supernova going off in M82.

Image Credit: P.Lake H06 0.5m f/4.5 Planewave +CCD

UPDATE 3: Clint Whittaker iTelescope member photographed SN 2014J on the 15th of Jan at 16:40 UT.

Image Credit: C. Whittaker

UPDATE 2: A careful review of some of the's member images of M82 show the brightening commenced sometime between 13th and 15th of January. The earliest image of this event now stands at 2014 01 15.571 by K Itagaki from an earlier survey. I have added a link to the discovery circumstances (below) - What a story that is, they'll be dining out on that for years.

UPDATE 1: It looks like Fraser Cain's Virtual Star Party photographed the SuperNova back on Sunday night US time, not realising it at the time. Tom Nathe broadcast a live photo of M82 into the Virtual Star Party with the Supernova clearly in view, but operating under the pressure of a live broadcast, didn't realise it at the time.

As usual the community has been involved in prompt follow up action with the on-demand telescopes swinging into action.

So what's going on, how does all this happen, what are the reporting processes involved and how do Amateur Astronomer's make a contribution. All good questions!

Stars blowing up are more common that you think. Whilst the mainstream media usually only pick up on a couple of Supernovae per year (usually the bright ones in well known galaxies), astronomers detect over 400 novae each year, which is more than one per day. Amateur astronomers make a significant number of these discoveries, and several teams have developed advanced techniques, processes and teamwork to systematiclly go after these interesting events.

One great leader in this area of the amateur community is the BOSS team (Backyard Observatory Supernova Search) who have discovered 83 supernovae, one of which has rocked the astronomy community and resulted in the Hubble Space Telescope being swung into action for follow up measurements. Other regulars are a dedicated group of Japanese astronomers who hardly miss a trick: Koichi Itagaki, Meineko Sakura, Seiichiro Kiota (and their teams - appologies for not mentioning everyone), do great work. On the 14th January Mr Itagaki discovered a Supernova in NGC 3448. Well known amateur astronomer Patrick Wiggins also photographed it independently, quite by chance, without a targeted search. I assisted Patrick with his follow-up images, and Patrick later found Mr Itagaki was awarded the discovery as he had an earlier image from the night before.

Image Credit: P.Lake H06 0.5m f/4.5 Planewave +CCD

Many of these dedicated teams have advanced scripting techniques with systematic searches that can cover up to 200 galaxies per night. The 6 members of the BOSS team also leverage the time zones from New Zealand, to the east coast of Australia, and across to the west coast of Australia. Each part of the team performs different steps, photographing, processing, researching, following up and reporting. They have built strong partnerships with professional observatories who provide the spectral analysis, to quickly identify the supernova type. The BOSS team pride themselves on having never having submitted a false-positive report.

Using a sophisticated DSLR camera on a tripod and subtracting images from night to night, comparing the differences, is another method used by amateur astronomers. This is surprisingly effective method for transient nova in the southern hemisphere.

Tonight's discovery of the supernova in M82 was reported to the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams [CBAT] by S.J Fossey and his class of students it was confirmed by Seiichiro Kiota and followed up by the MASTER Team in Russia, and Leonid Elenin from the ISON Team. The MASTER team are also great leaders and made 210 transient (includes supernova, nova) discoveries in 2013.

So if I am photographing a galaxy and think I can see something different, what should I do, how do I check, who do I tell, if I think I might have found a Supernova/Nova event?

Step 1 - Re-photograph the area and check for asteroids and or artifacts in your image

Step 2 - Check a previous known image of the same area and compare to make sure nothing was there previously. You need to be careful doing this as other images may have a different orientation to your's depending on the Position Angle of the camera they were taken with. It may be flipped horizonally and vertically to your image. One such site where you can get easy access historical images is the CDS (Centre de Données astronomiques de Strasbourg) Portal which has a searchable web interface for various star Catalogs (just enter the exact RA and Dec).

Step 3 - Once you believe you have something - alert some of your collegues and get them to obtain some confirmation images.

Step 4 - Report to CBAT with the exact postion to the nearest arc-second with an estimate of the magnitude and your location, telescope details, and discovery circumstances (eg PSN J09554214+6940260 where "Possible Super Nova" is RA is 09 55 42.14 and Dec +69 40 26.0).

Step 5 - Wait and hope you are the first in - but you'll have to be quick ;-) Its always a great idea to get someone to check your work so you avoid embarrassing mistakes.

Step 6 - Then sit back and wait for other astronomers with spectroscopic capabilities to confirm the Supernova type by assessing which Balmer Lines are present in the spectrum.

Even though you might not hear about every supernova, this is a vibrant area of constant research that creates great excitment through the thrill of the chase for amateur astronomers and professionals around the world.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Black Eye in the Sky!

Today's image in my Southern Summer/ Northern Winter image series highlighting some of the seasonal delights for astronomers is M64, commonly known as the "Black Eye" Galaxy.

Its a deep sky object, as its quite small in size but quite bright none the less. The so called "Black Eye" is caused by thick dust lanes of the spiral galaxy blocking some of the central star light. The darker thick dust lanes being on the closer side from our perspective.

It often reminds me of looking over a thick eye-wall of a hurricane.

The M64 is its number in the Messier Catalogue, a list of "fuzzy objects" compiled by Charles Messier in the 1700's that were known to be not comets.

So over the course of January, I'll be posting daily images some of these highlights of the night sky. Today's image was taken last night from New Mexico H06 on 0.5m Planewave, a 300 sec exposure with the Luminance filter.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Rosette Rising

I promised myself I would try and produce a little more content this year. It was a long time between posts towards the back end of 2013 as I was very busy. So I thought I might run a little short series of some of the Northern Winter/Southern Summer highlights.

The Rosette Nebula otherwise known as NGC 2244 is "in season" again. A nice little low res jpg preview file. I really must get around to running an image series on it. Its quite spectacular with the open cluster and only about 1/4 of the Nebula actually fits in the field of view at this focal length. So it would be a great one for me to finally learn how to do a mosaic compilation.

Taken from T11 at this is the one-shot jpg that new members can access from their free getting started trial account.

T11 has a focal length of 2280 mm and a deep sky field of view 36x54 arc mins, with the 0.66 focal reducer it produces f/4.5.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Comet Siding Spring C/2013 A1 Update

Image Credit: P.Lake Q62 T31 0.5m Planewave + CCD F/4.4 120 Secs Luminance 6th Jan 2014

Happy New Year - to all the readers of the AARTScope Blog!

Lets hope its going to be a great new year. Its all ready off to a great start astronomicly speaking, with a small 1-3 meter asteroid that obtained the very first preliminary designation of 2014 AA breaking up in the atmosphere before Astronomers had even finalised the calculation that it was going to hit us. Fortunately on this occasion it was a very small size causing a bright fireball just off the coast of West Africa which, so far, no-one has reported seeing. It was however picked up on some of the powerful infrasound detectors used to watch out for Nuclear Test Ban Treaty violations.

Given the very small size of this asteroid, something that small hits us every 1-6 months, so its not an unusual event, but very unusual to photograph an inbound bolide like that before it hits. 2008 TC3 was the only other asteroid to be photographed before it hit the earth, in October 2008.

Given its designation of 2014 AA, I thought I check up on that other "A Grade" designation for C/2013 A1 Siding Spring, which was the first comet discovered in 2013. It is being watched carefully due to its close approach to Mars in October 2014. My previous effort back in Nov 2013 is here.

Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) is now sporting a nice 105 arcsec tail with hints of a nice jet developing, it is currently around Mag 14-15.

Image Credit: P.Lake Q62 T31 0.5m Planewave + CCD F/4.4 120 Secs Luminance 6th Jan 2014

The passage of Comet Siding Spring will be watched with great interest and will undoubtably be one of the highlights of 2014 as it passes close to Mars just after the arrival of the NASA's MAVEN Probe, and of course India's first orbital mission MOM will be close by as well.

Clear skies & and happy new year once again!


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