Extreme Planet Hunters, Episode II: Uranus and Torcularis Septentrionalis

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Uranus is below Mars in this picture. Can you find it? Click to enlarge and zoom in!

Last weekend I went on an extreme hunt (from the safety of my driveway) to find the normally-shy seventh planet, Uranus.  Using a technique and image reference from Scott Levine at Scott’s Sky Watch, I apparently was able to capture Uranus with just my smartphone and a 10-second exposure.  Scott was then kind enough to do some additional digging to corroborate that what I identified was very likely Uranus.

As part of Scott’s investigation, he looked up the sky in Stellarium for the day and time I look my picture.  Here is the image he noted:

Scott highlighted with orange circles two stars I did not have in my original zoomed and cropped image, because I cut the image off after Mars.  First, that unnamed star is to the left and slightly higher than Uranus.  And the much brighter star to the left of Mars goes by the rad name Torcularis Septentrionalis.

Torcularis Septentrionalis.  When I was a kid, never in my most far-flung dreams did I imagine I would be blogging in 2017 about a star named Torcularis Septentrionalis.  Who knows about this star other than professional astronomers and die-hard stargazers?  A quick Internet search reveals little about it, other than a few basic facts such as its magnitude (+4.27) and that the name is Latin for, “The Northern Press,” though nobody knows why one of our ancestors named it such.  Perhaps, someday, I will write a novel about mankind’s first journey to the Torcularis Septentrionalis system, and all the incredible treasures and hidden mysteries waiting billions of years for us to find them.

But I digress.  Let’s get back to our solar system and the hunt for Uranus…

So I returned to my source image (very top above) to check if I captured these two stars.  Sure enough, it looks like I did.  Here is a left-wise re-crop where you can see the two noted stars:

Click to see the full-size image.

Again, all of these identified objects are very faint from my Samsung Galaxy S7’s meager 10-second exposure.  But I now do feel confident that I found Uranus thanks to the nearly half-dozen reference points.

This episode has stoked my interest for photographing the night sky sans telescope.  Maybe soon I will get myself a decent DSLR camera and start taking wide-field views of the great dome above.  Just think of all the other stars like Torcularis Septentrionalis out there waiting to be found!

Extreme Planet Hunters: Uranus Edition

Click for full size.

Click for full size.

My astronomy activity last night wasn’t intended to be about Aldebaran disappearing behind the Moon, as I flat out forgot about it.  Instead, earlier that evening I wanted to try out the technique written about at Scott’s Sky Watch to capture Uranus with a camera.  It was only after I was done searching for Uranus that I happened to notice the headline about Aldebaran on the side of my blog.

Scott took a remarkable picture, using Mars and Venus as a guide to find the obscure Uranus.  I wanted to try to duplicate what he did.  I don’t have a “real” camera though, only my smartphone, but the Samsung Galaxy S7’s is still pretty decent.  Following Scott’s explanation, I set my ISO to 400 and exposure to 10 seconds (the max the stock camera app will go).

The first image on this post is typical of the many I took about 45 minutes after sunset.  All of them seemed overly bright, but I could see “hidden” stars throughout.  Still, I feel the image qualities were sub-par.  One obvious explanation is the excessive light pollution in my front yard from every neighbor keeping their porch lights on.  Another may simply be the inferiority of my camera.  And in hindsight, I should have been storing the raw native images and not JPEGs.

(Trust me that in the top image, the “UFO” is nothing to worry about.  I live near a busy airport.  That bright dot was only in this one image out of the dozens I took, but it was the best image I have to show what I think I found.)

If you click the top image, you will get the full size image so you can scan and zoom in yourself.  Initially, I was very disappointed because I saw absolutely nothing where Uranus should have been.  Last night I chalked this up as a loss, and instead decided to blog about my cool success with Aldebaran.

But this Sunday afternoon I re-read Scott’s Uranus post, and in particular I studied his image.  Note that Scott’s image was taken a couple days prior to mine.  I hope he doesn’t mind, but I copied his Uranus discovery image to demonstrate what I noticed:


I added in the orange arrows.  I took notice of those three stars.  Now, here is a closeup of my image above:


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Wow, I thought, I have the same three stars!  Obviously, my image is much worse than Scott’s, but nonetheless the star pattern is definitely the same.  And by following that pattern towards Mars, I do believe that I captured an ever-so-small chuck of photons from our solar system’s seventh planet.

Here is the same image with the shadowing, contrast, and brightness altered to try to accentuate the three stars and Uranus:


Click for full size.

So do you think I caught Uranus, or am I just imagining it?