Constellations VI: Pegasus, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, and the Quest for the Andromeda Galaxy

Click to see the full-sized image.

I was motivated this weekend to try to find the asteroid 3200 Phaethon.  But after reviewing its location, I realized it would be tough to see from my vantage point.  Saturday night brought in a clear sky with calm weather, so I decided on another venture – more wide-field astrophotography!

My primary target was Pegasus, but I knew I could also capture nearby Andromeda as well as Cassiopeia.  I took about 40 15-second exposures with my digital camera, followed by the customary 15-ish dark and bias frames, put them all into DeepSkyStacker, post-processed them in PaintShopPro, and the above image is the result.

There are a lot of starts in this picture, taken by pointing my tripoded camera above and a bit to the West around 8:15pm local time.  In case you cannot see the constellations, here is the same image with the major shapes traced:

Click to see the full-sized image.

Also highlighted is the area of the Andromeda Galaxy.  In my very light-polluted neighborhood, none of the galaxy is visible unaided, but I can see its center with my binoculars and telescope.  In this picture, the center is visible as a very small spec.  Keep in mind this picture was taken with my widest-possible lens setup, so details would be scarce regardless.

In Andromeda, the main guide star is Mirach.  In my above images, I don’t have this star labeled, but it is the closest star that is part of the orange connection lines to the final “a” in the word Andromeda.  Stellarium shows Mirach in relation to galaxy M31 as:

Mirach in relation to the Andromeda Galaxy.

For comparison to my actual results, here is that section of my image zoomed in.  You can see Mirach, the Andromeda Galaxy, and all the main surrounding stars as they match up to Stellarium’s database:

Click to see the full-sized image.

Next, I would like to try the same long-exposure exercise through my telescope, pointed at the Andromeda Galaxy, to determine if I can capture any detail beyond the galaxy’s center!

Since I started taking wide-field views of the sky, I put my tally of snagged constellations at 24:

  • Ursa Minor
  • Draco
  • Leo the Lion
  • Aquila
  • Sagitta
  • Delphinus
  • Velpecula
  • Lyra
  • Cygnus
  • Taurus
  • Perseus
  • Camelopardalis
  • Auriga
  • Cassiopeia
  • Cepheus
  • Scorpius
  • Ophiuchus
  • Virgo
  • Cancer
  • Leo Minor
  • Lynx
  • Ursa Major
  • Pegasus
  • Andromeda

References:

Four Nights, One Lamp, Four Phases

Click for larger image.

November 28th, 2017, 6:00 p.m. local time
November 29th, 2017, 6:00 p.m. local time
November 30th, 2017, 6:00 p.m. local time
December 1st, 2017, 6:00 p.m. local time

On Tuesday, November 28th, I disembarked from my normal train home from work.  It was a clear night with the Moon high above.  I decided to take a picture with the only camera I had available, which of course was my smartphone.

On Wednesday, November 28th, I disembarked from my normal train home from work.  It was a clear night with the Moon high above.  Standing in the same spot as the night prior and at roughly the same time, I look a picture of the Moon again.

On Thursday, November 29th, I disembarked from my normal train home from work.  It was a clear night with the Moon above.  Standing in the same spot that I did on the prior two nights, I look a picture of the Moon again.

On Friday, December 1st, I disembarked from my normal train home from work.  It was a clear night with the Moon towards the East.  Standing in the same spot that I did on the prior three nights, I look a picture of the Moon again.

This format was unintentional at the start, but by Thursday I decided to trek along with the experiment for as long as the clouds would stay away.  In the end, I had four image sets, each 24 hours apart, pointed in the same direction.

The walkway light proved an excellent anchor to align the images day by day.  Obviously, they are not 100% exact.  I tried to stand in the same spot each night, but as this wasn’t a controlled environment exercise, the Moon’s path and location is ever so slightly off, but hardly noticeable.

Keep in mind that the Moon moves backward every day from its position the prior day.  This was demonstrated quit visibly in August as the Moon past over the Sun from right to left.

Here is the same image with each day’s date tagged to its Moon phase:

Morning Moon and Jupiter

Click for the full-sized image.

December 14th, 2017, 5:05 a.m. local time

In a partial attempt to stargaze earlier than Jim R for one morning, I caught a great view of a very Waning Moon rising in the East, with a bonus of Jupiter following along.  You can see Jupiter a bit to the lower right of the Moon as it peeks just above a tree branch.

Frequent readers of this blog know that I mention my view of the East being blocked by trees.  Here you get scope of that blockage, which of course alleviates some in the Winter months.  I enjoy watching Orion and later Sirius ascend through this netted mosaic on clear December evenings.

Morning Moon Before the Front

Click for the full-sized image.

December 8th, 2017, 9:50 a.m. local time

My location was quite different from where I photographed the Moon last night.  The venue changed from the evening darkness of my yard to the bright, expansive view from my place of work.  In nearly twelve hours, the Moon traveled across sky via its elliptic, and was now settling into the West.  All this time, the Moon gradually crept closer East towards the Sun, even though the general movement direction is East-to-West.

Notice the Moon high in the middle, with the approaching clouds from the Northwest.

This picture was taken with my smartphone and edited for some minor post-processing.

Night Owl Moon

December 7th, 2017, 10:10 p.m. local time

On this very cold but very clear night, the aging Waning Moon shown brightly from the East.  I could see it easily despite my trees.  All their leaves are gone, opening up views to me normally blocked during the warmer times of the year.

This is what I would call a rare-angle Moon, as it catches the light of a Sun still over eight hours away from reaching the horizon.  Clouds and snow return tomorrow, but if the view is still open by morning, I will try to take another picture.  I’m guessing the Moon at this point in time tonight was no more than 30 degrees off the horizon.

Oh, and I almost forgot…this was taken with my DSLR camera only, using the long lens for higher magnification.

Jupiter is back! For me, at least…

Position of Jupiter and its moons on December 5th, 2017 06:25 CT.

December 5th, 2017, 06:25 a.m. local time

Tuesday brought in a very clear morning sky.  For the past several weeks, as I’ve let my dog out in the mornings, I have been scanning the East dawn sky for Jupiter.  I finally found it, sticking out high above my largest tree.  Welcome back, old friend.

If you observe Jupiter and stars for any amount of time, you learn that Jupiter is “big” compared to any star.  This is not a trick of its brightness.  As seen from Earth, Jupiter has an angular diameter roughly between 29″ and 51″.  For comparison, Betelgeuse in Orion has a angular diameter never above 0.060″.  So at Jupiter’s smallest, you would still have line up over 483 Betelgeuses to reach the diameter of Jupiter (as seen from Earth)!

I thought I saw a cluster of light immediately to the right of Jupiter.  Could that have been a moon?  Later, I looked up the Jovian moon positions for this exact time, and I found it interesting that Io, Europa, and Callisto were all clumped together on Jupiter’s right, at that moment.  I am not entirely sure if I really saw the combined light of three moons, but it is pretty cool to think that I may have.

Constellations V: Leo the Lion (Remastered)

Click to see the full-sized image.

Ever since I developed a new technique to accentuate stars in pictures, I have wanted to go back to my original wide-field views and…refresh them with this process.  Today I bring you an updated Leo the Lion.

Whereas my original Leo cropped just the constellation itself, here we have the full, original post-processed image.  In this picture, taken when Leo was “falling” into the West about an hour after Sunset, the brightest star Regulus is in the center middle.  This should provide you with the necessary guide hint to see and trace all of Leo.

Also in this wider image are other constellations or parts of them:

  • The head of Virgo begins to appear on the left.
  • Several stars of Cancer are near the lower-right corner.
  • All of Leo Minor is present at the top.
  • Part of Lynx is clearly visible in the upper right.
  • You can see the paws of Ursa Major making their cameo near the top.

Since I started taking wide-field views of the sky, I put my tally of snagged constellations at 22:

  • Ursa Minor
  • Draco
  • Leo the Lion
  • Aquila
  • Sagitta
  • Delphinus
  • Velpecula
  • Lyra
  • Cygnus
  • Taurus
  • Perseus
  • Camelopardalis
  • Auriga
  • Cassiopeia
  • Cepheus
  • Scorpius
  • Ophiuchus
  • Virgo
  • Cancer
  • Leo Minor
  • Lynx
  • Ursa Major

References:

Dreaming of Another World

When I was in high school, the foreign language teachers would say that dreaming in a language other than your native one was the sign you had grasped it.

What can be said about dreaming of life in another star system?

Last night I had a very vivid dream about traveling to and then starting to live on a planet outside of our Solar System.  I usually don’t ponder such things, but as it is still very fresh in my memory and the topic so relevant to this blog, it seems as good of a dream sequence as any to document.

This was the type of dream from which you leave and feel it as your reality, if only for a moment.  As I awakened in the pre-dawn hour to the sounds of high winds beckoning in an arctic blast, I believed for an instant of my life that I was still on a planet in the Alpha Centauri system.

What caused this type of dream, and why now?  I have not done a lot of stargazing recently.  I did have my homemade Dobsonian out on Friday evening to look at the Moon.  And I had been taking quick pictures of the Moon throughout the week, but none of these activities are what I would consider in-depth astronomy.

It began with my landing on the planet.  I noted to myself the journey from Earth and the ship taken.  The journey was long, but not years long, so the means of travel was by some advanced, as-yet undiscovered technology.  Only a handful of people were fellow passengers.  Everyone had a very tight and cramped seat for the initial liftoff, but then we had the liberty of modest quarters for the duration of the voyage in deep space.

I was not there permanently, but was visiting the planet, like on a very extended vacation.  I remember thinking how amazing it was to be on another planet, in a different star system, even though I was clearly not the first to be here.  We had landed and departed the spaceship and were now in a hanger.

I really wanted to go outside and look up at the sky, to see the galaxy from this different vantage point.  I was hoping I could see some familiar star patterns, thinking that I should be able to recognize familiar constellations if I gazed in the direction towards home, towards Earth.  This is because I would be seeing Earth’s angle to the galaxy from that side, just a few light years farther away.

Getting outside was difficult, for a reason I cannot explain.  It was dusk.  When I finally got outside and into an open clearing, I observed animals I had never seen before along with horses native to Earth.  Looking into the distance, I saw a mountain range bathed in a golden light, a reflection of this planet’s star as it was setting below its horizon.  Heavy purple clouds hung shallow over the mountains’ peaks.

There were clouds throughout the sky and still too early to see stars.  I looked in another direction and saw the markings of a budding civilization.  There was a town, along with a developed highway, and the clear signs of a manufacturing industry already present.  My last thoughts were focused on how that very alien sky would soon be tainted by the tragedy of the forthcoming light pollution onto this colony of Earth.