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My first photo of Neptune!

5 Jan

On Monday night, I captured my first-ever photo of Neptune using my iPhone and 8″ telescope. This is a single, unedited 6 second exposure using the NightCap Pro app for iPhone.  It may not look like much, but Neptune was 4.5 BILLION kilometres away when I took this!

neptune

Now, the only planet I haven’t photographed is Uranus, so I’ll need to get on that and complete a full solar system collage in 2017.

Six Years of Saturn

8 Nov

Here’s a snapshot of how Saturn’s tilt has changed (from Earth’s perspective) through its long (29-year) orbit around the sun over the past few years as seen through my telescope.

saturncollage

Photo details: 
April 30, 2011: Single image, handheld digital camera through 5″ telescope.
June 23, 2012: Saturn, June 23, 2012. Stack of 70 frames in Registax from iPhone 4S video taken through NexStar 8SE telescope.
May 3, 2013: Stack of 10 frames from iPhone 4s video through NexStar 8SE telescope.
June 1, 2014: Stack of 200 frames from iPhone 4s video through NexStar 8SE telescope.
May 28, 2015: Stack of 300+ frames from iPhone 6 video through NexStar 8SE telescope.
June 6, 2016: Stack of ~1000 frames taken with iPhone 6 through Celestron NexStar 8SE telescope.

Jupiter & Moons with iPhone

2 May

Here is a GIF of two images (each a stack of 300+ frames) taken with my iPhone attached to a Celestron NexStar8SE telescope on the night of April 29, 2016.

JupiterGIFoutput_rlnTHt

These images were taken about 20 minutes apart and show the movement of Europa (left), Io’s shadow, and Io (right) along with the Great Red Spot.

For information on how I take these images with my iPhone, please see my post on Smartphone Astrophotography.

Astrophotography: Saturn Over Five Years

20 May

On May 22, Saturn will be at its biggest and brightest for 2015. I’ve been photographing the ringed planet through my telescope since 2011, and its appearance has changed substantially since then!

You can see that the quality of the images has improved over the years as my equipment and technique has evolved. You can also see how the rings are more “open” now than they were in 2011.

Saturn GIF

Animated GIF of my Saturn photos, each frame taken one year apart. Saturn with a handheld video camera (2011), a DSLR (2012), and an iPhone (2013, 2014, 2015) through a 5″ telescope (2011) and an 8″ telescope (2012-2015.)

The Tilt of Saturn

Like Earth, Saturn’s axis is tipped. This allows us to catch a different view of the planet’s ring system as Saturn moves around the Sun. In 2009, the rings appeared extremely thin (and seemed to disappear altogether in small telescopes) because we were looking at them “edge-on” from Earth. In 2017, the rings will be very “open” to us.

Saturn-Rings-Tilt-Opposition

Saturn’s axis is “tipped” 27 degrees relative to its orbit. This gives us ever-changing views of Saturn’s rings (from “edge-on” to “above” or “below”) as it moves around the Sun. Photo Credit: Tom Ruen

If you want to have a look at Saturn for yourself in May, it’s visible to the naked eye. Look for a moderately bright, non-twinkling star in the Southeast after sunset. You can also read an in-depth guide to Saturn’s 2015 appearance by David Dickinson over at Universe Today.

If you want to see more of my Saturn (and other astronomy) photos, please visit my Flickr page!

 

 

Saturn: Four Years of Photos

8 May

On May 10,  Saturn was biggest and brightest for 2014. I’ve been photographing the ringed planet through my telescope since 2011, and its appearance has changed substantially since then!

Saturn with a handheld video camera (2011), a DSLR (2012), and an iPhone (2013, 2014) through a 5" telescope (2011) and an 8" telescope (2012-2014.)

Saturn with a handheld video camera (2011), a DSLR (2012), and an iPhone (2013, 2014) through a 5″ telescope (2011) and an 8″ telescope (2012-2014.)

You can see that the quality of the images has improved over the years as my equipment and technique has evolved. You can also see how the rings are more “open” now than they were in 2011.

Animated GIF of my Saturn photos, each frame taken one year apart.

Animated GIF of my Saturn photos, each frame taken one year apart.

The Tilt of Saturn

Like Earth, Saturn’s axis is tipped. This allows us to catch a different view of the planet’s ring system as Saturn moves around the Sun. In 2009, the rings appeared extremely thin (and seemed to disappear altogether in small telescopes) because we were looking at them “edge-on” from Earth. In 2017, the rings will be very “open” to us.

Saturn-Rings-Tilt-Opposition

Saturn’s axis is “tipped” 27 degrees relative to its orbit. This gives us ever-changing views of Saturn’s rings (from “edge-on” to “above” or “below”) as it moves around the Sun. Photo Credit: Tom Ruen

If you want to have a look at Saturn for yourself in May, it’s visible to the naked eye. Look for a moderately bright, non-twinkling star in the Southeast after sunset. You can also read an in-depth guide to Saturn’s 2014 appearance by David Dickinson over at Universe Today.

Photo Credit: Roen Kelly, Astronomy Magazine.

Photo Credit: Roen Kelly, Astronomy Magazine.

If you want to see more of my Saturn (and other astronomy) photos, please visit my Flickr page!

 

 

Asteroids Ceres and Vesta over Ottawa (GIF)

25 Apr

Asteroids Ceres & Vesta (GIF) over Ottawa

Taken with a Nikon D7000 camera mounted on a tripod over two consecutive nights, this GIF shows the movement of the asteroid Vesta (525 km across) and dwarf planet Ceres (950 km across) over a 24 hour period.

Cosmic Perspective: Ganymede is HUGE & Enceladus is TINY

17 Mar

I’ve been looking at photos of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede and Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus for years. Still, this collage posted by Emily Lakdawalla shocked me (click to enlarge.)

Ganymede and Enceladus

Montage by Emily Lakdawalla. Data from NASA / JPL and SSI, processed by Gordan Ugarkovic, Ted Stryk, Bjorn Jonsson, and Emily Lakdawalla.

Look at the size of Ganymede (top row, second from left) compared to Mars (top row, first at left)! Maybe it’s because I’m used to seeing Ganymede as a tiny dot through my telescope beside Jupiter, but I’d never truly grasped the moon’s size until I saw it “beside” Mars.

This image also reminds us that both Ganymede and Titan (which appears larger than Ganymede due to its atmosphere) are bigger than the planet Mercury!

Tiny Enceladus

Once I’d wrapped my head around Ganymede’s girth, I was shocked again when I spotted TINY Enceladus in the bottom row, fourth from right.  Enceladus has been in the news since the Cassini space probe detected jets of water ice erupting from its south pole in 2005.

Without seeing the moon beside its kin, I’d always pictured Enceladus as being similar in size to Europa. It’s not even close! At just 500 kms across, its diameter is less than the width of Lake Superior!

Lake Superior Enceladus

At just 500 km across, Enceladus would fit “inside” this green circle.

The small size of Enceladus makes it hard to believe that it was discovered so long ago — in 1789 by William Herschel, to be exact. How could such a small moon have been noticed when Saturn is always more than a billion kilometers away? 

Enceladus Geysers

30-frame sequence of the icy plumes of Enceladus taken August 13th, 2010. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

The answer is that the surface of Enceladus is *extremely* reflective. It bounces back almost all of the sunlight that hits it, making it visible in moderate-sized telescopes when Saturn’s rings are edge-on as seen from Earth.

The Problem with Nomenclature  

In addition to showing the relative sizes of our solar system’s moons, the collage reinforces the idea that moons are “worlds”, too. In her fantastic blog post “2015 will be the Year of the Dwarf Planet, and you need to tell people about it!“, Lakdawalla points out that everyone has heard of Mercury, but few people would recognize the names Ganymede or Enceladus.

Lakdawalla writes: “Europa, Ganymede, Titan, Enceladus, and Triton: how important can they be, if they’re not on that list of eight planets? You want how much money? To fly a spacecraft to where, exactly? Enchiladas?”

The solar system is an amazing place, and it’s home to more than just planets. Let’s make sure that our arguments about what is a planet — and what isn’t — don’t cause us to overlook some of the lesser-known, but no less spectacular, planet-like places in our neighbourhood.