Sunday, January 26, 2014

Supernova in Cigar Galaxy

With a clear night finally at hand, I took the opportunity to image the new Supernova, SN 2014J, in the galaxy M82 ... along with every other amateur astrophotographer!

This supernova was discovered a week ago during a practical class session on CCD camera usage by astronomy teacher Steve Fossey and his students at the University of London Observatory. After noticing an unexpected star in the images, they hurriedly took a series of images with different filters and an alternate telescope to double check the result before reporting their finding. Wow, in this era of automated surveys by robotic telescopes, it is very motivating to read about a supernova discovery made in this manner.

The supernova has been confirmed as a Type Ia based on spectroscopic analysis by Yi Cao at Caltech. This type of supernova results from material from a companion star accumulating on a white dwarf until the mass of the latter reaches a critical limit. Due to the consistency of this mechanism, such supernovae go off with a predictable absolute magnitude and can therefore be used as a so called "standard candle" used to estimate distances. In this case, the host galaxy, M82, is known to be about 11.4 million light years distant.

Since I had my narrowband filter-wheel loaded, I imaged in luminance and H-alpha (M82 has pretty dramatic structure in H-alpha light)  I composed a false color image using the H-alpha (4x20min) for the red channel and luminance (7x10min) for the blue-green channels. This gave some color contrast between the disk of the galaxy and the tendrils of excited gas glowing in H-alpha that are being blown out from the galactic core. A excellent image by Adam Block, was posted by Phil Plait on his Bad Astronomy blog and shows this emission in much greater detail along with the supernova.

Using the magnitude tool in MaxImDL, I estimate the supernova to be at about magnitude 10.5 in the image taken at 2014-01-27 05:30 UTC. It is predicted to increase in intensity over the next week ... unfortunately for me, so is the cloud cover!

M82/SN2014J - 2014-01-27 05:00 UTC - TMB130SS, QSI-540ws, 12nm HA (4x20min) and Lum (7x10min).

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Second View of the Llano Eagles

Another trip to Llano nest today. Saw both parents and both chicks.  The chicks have definitely grown. Their down is starting to fall out and feathers are coming in.  One seems a bit more active that the other and is starting to stand up and flap its wings.

Danielle got a very nice video of the larger chick preening itself.  At one point, the second chick also pops up for a second.

Osprey on Inks Lake

After checking up on the Llano Bald Eagle nest, Danielle and I stopped by Inks Lake State Park for a couple of hours of paddling. This was a test of kayaking without Vali.  Much more peaceful but felt bad leaving him at home.

We managed to get some shots of an Osprey before we drifted too close to its perch and it flew away.

In addition to the Osprey and countless vultures, we also saw several pairs of Mallard, a half-dozen Buffleheads, and yet another Kingfisher. A few months ago, I had not seen a Kingfisher in person. Now, I swear I am seeing one at every birding spot we go to!

We also were able to get close to this nice striped turtle.  We don't know what species it is though our current best guess is a Texas River Cooter or perhaps a Texas Map Turtle.  If anyone knows, please leave a comment.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Natural Palette North American Nebula

After the success over Christmas with applying a "natural" color palette suggested on cloudynights to the Pacman Nebula, I thought I would retry the same technique on my North American Nebula which I originally processed in a Hubble Palette. Here is the result with colorization hue values of Ha = 344, OIII = 180, and SII = 35.  This is not quite the same settings as I used for the previously and more tweaking was required on the curves for each of the filters. However, I am still impressed with this trick.

North American Nebula - TMB-130SS/QSI-540 - Narrowband with natural palette

For comparison, an image I took previously with a DSLR. Star colors show better saturation in the RGB image but the palette is pretty close, though the narrowband palette shows a bit too much orange in the bright H-alpha regions. It is close enough that real RGB data can be mixed in to enrichen the star saturation.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Llano Eagles 2014

This evening we went back to Llano to get a glimpse of the 2014 batch of eaglets at the nest east of town. We were expecting to only see the parents sitting on eggs so were surprised to see two eaglets peeking up. On-line feedback suggests that they are a couple of weeks old.

Here is one of the parents ... no, I can't tell the sexes apart on bald eagles. All shots taken with Canon SX-50 HS.

An after the changing of the guard, the eaglets pop up.  First one, then a second. I don't know why, but we both thought the second one look like sock puppets.

Eventually, the sun set and we were treated to a view of the gibbous Venus setting through the branches over the nest as one parent settles back down. Who says bird and astronomical photography can't be combined into one activity.