Observing with Street Lights

Observing with Street Lights
Dark sky sites not always necessary to see the Milky Way (This image was taken ouside of a B&B in Julian, CA)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hooray, that darn blinking software shows asteroid Ceres moving; "Beautiful" sunset; Repiping the observatory and next week calendar showing Carnegie open house, AAS meeting and free Coursera course on emergence

Greetings from Palmia Observatory

I had every intention of getting some more observing in this week but couldn't fit it into the schedule because of events at the observatory.  First, as I looked outside to get a sense as to what the cloudy weather was like and found this "beautiful" sunset.  I say"beautiful" because one hand sunsets are beautiful and on the other hand,
the clouds or the trees usually hide the object I want to look at.

Beautiful sunset at Palmia Observatory gets in the way of DSO's
"Beautiful" sunset gets in the way of dark sky objects

The palm trees block our sky view to the west and we have even taller pine trees that block our view to the east, which means we have to stay up much latter in the evening to even begin to see many of our astronomical objects and targets.  Oh well that is the life of the astronomer, something seems to always be getting in the way, such as being scheduled to have all internal, nearly ready to start leaking, water pipes replaced with PEX piping.  Before getting into those gory details and some good news about getting that darn blinking software to work, we should check the calendar for next week.

For those of you in OC, this Friday is the general meeting of the OCA.  Guest speaker from NASA, Dr. Will Grundy will speak on "Surprises from the Pluto System: Better Geology though Chemistry".  Probably will see you there to hear and see what surprises have been discovered.  Check out the details at: https://www.ocastronomers.org/  The last several meetings have been standing room only, so get there early.

Next this Sunday is the free Carnegie Observatory open house at their Pasadena location.  If you are interested, check out the details at:  http://obs.carnegiescience.edu/content/14th-annual-open-house

After that the, not so free, American Astronomical Society Division of Planetary Science and collocated European Planetary Science Congress will be held in Pasadena Convention Center, October 16-21.  This will be a great opportunity to hear how science actually gets done.  As a raw amateur, I often get overwhelmed by the actual data being presented and I hope I have enough energy to keep paying attention and learning at least a little bi.

Ok, ok, if you don't want to go to Pasadena for the week, you can still sign up for the free Coursera course, "Emergent Phenomena in Science and Everyday Life" presented by UCI Professor Mike Dennin.  The outline, see photo below, explains what he will cover.  It should be pretty neat since the nature of emergence and if it represents a new phenomena or just an ordinary phenomena examined on different scales is an interesting topic.  Check out Sean Carroll's new book, "The Big Picture" for a discussion about interpretations of emergence and how it seems best to be described as just different language used to describe natural phenomena that we observe at different size scales.  The good part of the free lecture series is that we get to see some of the actual natural phenomena that folks talk about when they think about the concept of emergence.

Coursera course on emergent phenomena by UCI professor
Free Coursera course taught by UCI Professor Mike Dennin

Check it out at: https://www.coursera.org/learn/emergent-phenomena

Well, there finally has been some partial success with that darn blinking software, but first I should talk about the other thing, not the trees or clouds, that interferes with astronomers doing their thing, but the water repiping at the observatory.  Just imagine every place where fresh potable water shows up, either in the caf√©, the restrooms, laundry room, gardening, it is necessary to cut into the walls and replace the 20-25 year old copper pipe with new PEX polyethylene piping.  This repiping is being done throughout our whole complex as a preventive measure because there has been an increasing number of piping leaks that have caused much extensive damage to walls and floors and have caused much more pain when wood floors need to be taken out and replaced.  So, we all elected to going through a little pain now rather than more possible pain in the future.  We have had holes cut in all the walls and had to move everything out the way.  My office is filled with boxes of stuff moved out of closets and cabinets and paintings taken off the walls to allow cutting and sawing to get access to the pipes.  Resident Astronomer Peggy has the kitchen and art studio completely out of kilter and Astronomer Assistants Danny, Ruby and Willow are off visiting with House Full of Dogs, Bob, and We Board you Cat, Petsmart.  Not fun, but at least we will be worrying about the little leaks that can cause so much damage.

Holes cut in drywall to allow access to sink piping and is typical for all the other water access points
Finally, I can report on some success with that darn blinking software used to find faint and dim objects like comets and asteroids that slowly move across the background sky and stars.  Remember that the use of blinking is an old astronomical technique and consists of overlaying two images of the same patch of sky and seeing what if anything has moved against the stars in the background.  The screenshot below shows my first attempt at blinking, using a known target, in this case the asteroid, Ceres, which we know its location and can predict where it will be at all times.  This test case shows what you can typically see when searching for very dim objects that move with respect to the background stars.  The movement of asteroids can be seen for periods of just a day or two.

Palmia Observatory Astronmer uses blinking to find asteroid Ceres
First test image using blinking to identify movement of the asteroid Ceres

I should first say something about the two images and how they are overlaid on top of each other.  The image on the left was taken on October 6 and the image on the right was taken on September 30, 6 days earlier.  The blinking software requires that first of all the two images must be registered, which means two points, such as the very same stars, must be found in each image and then made to lie right on top of each other by a combination of rotation, translation and scaling of the two images.  Luckily the blinking software tool in AIP4WIN does all of these operations once the astronomer, me in this case, identifies two stars that are common between the two images.  Because the images were taken at different dates and the images will be slightly shifted, but the software takes all of this into account.

Now, I annotated the images with locations of 9 background stars and you can compare the two images and see that when they are blinked the background stars do not move, but that Ceres has indeed moved out of view.  Too bad I didn't have images that were taken a bit closer in time because that way the new position where Ceres would be would have shown up in the blinked image.  The image on the right does have Ceres in it, but it is further down on the right and out of view in this screenshot.

Anyway, I was quite happy and excited about getting all of this to work.  I would stare at the image and click the blink button and just watch the pattern of stars for any changes and yes, of course, Ceres would disappear and then reappear as the blinking between the two images went on.

With just my brief and first experience with blinking, I can well imagine the excitement that Clyde Tombaugh felt when he used a similar blinking technique to discover Pluto in 1930.  Wow, it is really neat to repeat this technique with modern tools now available for amateurs.  There are still a lot of lessons I need to learn such as getting the right and same exposure setting between the two observations and making sure that the sky darkness is about the same and that the moon is not impacting the background light, etc.

It turns out that even with these two images, I can see some mysterious blinking going on between these two images, especially right above star No. 3.  When I blink the images, I can see a pixel sized object move slightly first to the left just about star #3 and then to the right of star #3.  What is going on with that?  Is it another asteroid or what?  It could just be some camera artifact or some hot pixel or whatever, but whatever it is I'm going to dig a little deeper into the image see what is happening right there.  I'm not sure if you can see the slight dim change or not but I'm going to continue digging deeper into this set of images, at least as soon as the craziness of the repiping gets finalized.

Until next time,
Resident Astronomer George

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