Stephen Hawking’s ashes to be interred alongside Sir Isaac Newton. Newton was a colossus in science who may never be surpassed by another Englishman but Hawking comes very close and time may well prove him an equal, as much for his accessibility and ease of communicating extremely complicated subjects to the general public as his theoretical brilliance. Both will certainly live on in history as brilliant minds.
This morning’s stargazing session at the Parador with the large telescope was cold and windy but provided us with great views of some awesome objects.
Jupiter was in the constellation of Libra and close up views not only showed its moons clearly but also its two major cloud bands – the northern and southern equatorial belts.
Mars is growing brighter by the day and was a lovely sight. Although it was windy and the image in the eyepiece was a bit wobbly, dark surface markings could just be made out. It will continue to grow in brightness for a few months yet as it climbs higher in the night sky.
The Ring nebula in Lyra is always fun to spot and the Great Cluster in Hercules looked amazing close up, revealing countless stars. It is always a top target for stargazers to view in binoculars or a telescope but it was completely outdone when Omega Centauri rose over the Caldera. It is so large and so bright, we could make it out with the naked eye and didn’t need the full power of the zoom eyepiece for it to fill the field of view. A real stunner and not one you get to see often. As one of our guests remarked, it was like looking at the Sun through thick clouds.
However, even it was overshadowed by the real wow of the night – Saturn, which rose behind Mars and was a lovely lemon colour in contrast to the bright red/orange of its companion. Its rings were sharply defined in the eyepiece with the Cassini division apparent and Titan, its large moon shone brightly. As our two French guests both remarked when looking at it for the first time; “incroyable!” – unbelievable!
It was a lovely clear night last night and I spent a couple of hours with the binoculars hunting down some of the many globular clusters on show. Globular clusters are round balls of stars numbering in the hundreds of thousands to 10 millions and there are lots of them to see. In binoculars, they look like ghostly snow balls and it takes a telescope to resolve the detail and colours of the densely packed stars but in good binoculars they are impressive all the same. They are all different, some are brighter than others like The Great Cluster in Hercules (M13) or larger such as the spectacular Omega Centauri, the largest glob in the Milky Way which can’t be observed from the UK. Likewise down below it the bright star Gacrux, the head of the constellation the Southern Cross was just appearing over the southern horizon. Gacrux is the closest giant red star to us at around 88 light years. Two excellent observations. Mighty Jupiter was up and shining brightly, its four Galilean moons like a string of shining pearls. Everywhere I looked there was something interesting to study and the time flew by. Sometimes I am so busy working with my cameras and telescopes that I forget to just look up. Last night reminded me to do it more often.
So sad to learn of the death of Stephen Hawking. A true visionary and one of a small number of real geniuses. Coincidentally I just watched the film of his life last night, he wasn’t expected to live past 30 but made it to 76 and we are grateful for that. RIP.
Messier 64 otherwise known as the Black Eye galaxy (sometimes known as the Evil Eye galaxy) is high in our skies at the moment and a favourite target. It lies within the constellation Coma Berenices, some 24 million light years away. The black part of the galaxy is caused by thick lanes of dust partly obscuring the bright core. I grabbed this very quick image the other night at sea-level, it is less than 2 minutes’ worth of exposures showing just how bright a target this is from here.
Saw this small, planetary nebula last night from our balcony whilst tuning the 200p Newtonian so grabbed a quick image. It’s the first time I’ve actually seen this and I am impressed, the colour is very strong and unusually green/blue. I will have a proper go at this another time.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Designations: Ghost of Jupiter, Jupiter’s Ghost, Eye Nebula, Caldwell 59
NGC 3242, commonly known as the Ghost of Jupiter, is a planetary nebula located in the constellation Hydra.
William Herschel discovered the nebula on February 7, 1785, and cataloged it as H IV.27.
This planetary nebula is most frequently called the Ghost of Jupiter, or Jupiter’s Ghost due to its similar size to the planet, but it is also sometimes referred to as the Eye Nebula.The nebula measures around two light years long from end to end, and contains a central white dwarf with an apparent magnitude of eleven. The inner layers of the nebula were formed some 1,500 years ago. The two ends of the nebula are marked by FLIERs, lobes of fast moving gas often tinted red in false-color pictures. NGC 3242 can easily be observed with amateur telescopes, and appears bluish-green to most observers. Larger telescopes can distinguish the outer halo as well.
Today I did some work on our venerable but superb Skywatcher 200ps Newtonian telescope, adding a motorised focus control unit to make it easier to get a really good focus. I took the opportunity to attach the Canon 1100D DSLR to the focuser with a t2 spacer and tested it to make sure we had enough back focus for it. It’s all ready for imaging now. Happy stargazing!
So, we picked up the astro gear today from our lock up and powered up the HEQ5 Pro to see what it’s like since it had its Hypertune. It was very smooth and very quiet. Both axes are tight with no slop even when fully loaded and settling time is a few short seconds. Dark Frame Optics recommend these mounts are run at 13.8v for optimal performance so I made a voltage booster to be able to run it from a 12v source. It’s working nicely. I will get a first look at its tracking performance tonight but so far so very good!
I still can’t get used to how different the night sky looks from Tenerife. At 28 degreees north of the equator, everything in the southern sky is higher than it would be back in the UK. Conversely, everything in the northern sky is lower than I’m used to and particularly in the case of Polaris, this looks quite odd. Indeed, Polaris is so low that it is easily obscured if you’re not in the open, often making polar alignment a challenge. The southern sky is a huge bonus though with more objects visible at decent elevations than at home including the galactic core which rises high in the sky. My favourite object that I don’t get to see at home is the constellation Scorpius, with its curved tail and bright red star, Antares at the head. It’s very prominent here and one of the few constellations that to me at least, actually looks like its namesake.
Given the clarity of the air here and low (although inescapable) light pollution, objects are visible and steady down to the horizon. The famous sea of clouds helps here by trapping pollutants and thermals at lower altitudes and diminishing the effect of the bright coastal resort lights. The stars don’t dance anything like they do at home and it’s great to see the great star Sirius, still and steady.
The sheer number of stars that are visible overhead makes it difficult to recognise my usual landmarks in the sky for the first couple of nights. The bright stars of the major constellations are lost in the brightness of the myriad stars on show and I need to work hard to orientate myself. There are so many more constellations to see too and one or two southern hemisphere targets can be glimpsed such as the fabulous Omega Centauri globular cluster and the Southern Cross constellation.
Being further south, the ecliptic is higher in the sky and therefore so are the planetary bodies of our solar system. Jupiter, Saturn and especially Mars, which is especially close to Earth this year, will present well and I’m planning on doing a lot of planetary imaging throughout the year.
Weather permitting we’ll be heading to Tenerife tomorrow for the start of our Astro Season. First on the agenda is to collect our new 4×4 and equip it for luxury trips into the Teide National Park in time for our first guests of the season later this month. We’re so excited to be able to be able to get off the normal tourist roads to some new and exciting locations. This year promises some excellent stargazing nights; Jupiter, Saturn and Mars especially will put on a show and most of the major meteor showers are unaffected by the Moon and as always the majestic Milky Way will be high in the sky throughout. Happy stargazing and clear skies!
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