Make Mine a Triple

A computer simulation of the appearance of Jupiter at 6:30 am GMT on 24th January 2015l. Image credit: Ade Ashford/Sky Safari Pro.

We are so clouded out here in Wisconsin that it’s not even funny. And then, to crush any hope that we have of watching the Jupiter triple tonight, it starts to snow. One look at the satellite map on Weather Underground sealed the deal. No observing of the triple for Amy and me tonight.

However, we’ll be glued to the Griffith Observatory feed with all the rest of the clouded out saps in the country. Show starts at 8:30 p.m. PST. Be there or be square!

If you are one of the lucky ones to watch the transit tonight, or just want to share your thoughts about the live feed, share them with us!


During our last weekly meeting, it became apparent that Amy and I are getting excited about the upcoming triple transit of Jupiter this Friday, January 23rd. The transit:

  • is going to be at a reasonable hour that will not require an alarm clock
  • temperature promises to be above zero (probably into the double digits at transit time)
  • will happen on a Friday night so there’s no worry about getting up for work the next day
  • event has the word “rare” in it

All this scenario needs is a clear, dark sky and we’ll be happy.

Amy and I have witnessed the transit of Venus, and I think we may have seen a double transit at some time because they are pretty common.

But a triple, with the shadows of Callisto, Io and Europa visible on the surface of Jupiter at the same time, well, that doesn’t happen very often. In fact, it averages out to just once or twice a decade. Jupiter’s equator and the orbits of these three big moons will be almost edge-on to our line of sight, which only happens twice in Jupiter’s 11.9-year orbit of the Sun.

We’ll be doing some planning during the next few days, calling Tony and the other big club telescope guns to see if anyone will have something impressive pointing towards Jupiter that night. For this event, the bigger the better holds true. It will be a great opportunity to take some pictures and see something that most people never witness. Find a club or a big scope and get out there! As I said, all this scenario needs is a clear, dark, sky and we’ll be happy. Extremely happy.

– Lynn

Lunar Eclipse

This past Wednesday morning we were treated to a total lunar eclipse. The fact that the earth’s shadow even exists usually escapes us. On most nights the moon seems to glide across the night sky uninterrupted. Every so often, the moon passes through the earth’s shadow, giving us a spectacular show.

This one was to be quite early, so the decision to crawl out of bed at 4am was a tough one for me.  Should I make the trek out to our observing site or pull the covers up and snuggle in for another couple of hours? The trees on my street were in full strut with their red-orange leaves making it impossible for me to watch this one through the mini-blinds in my living room.

I rolled out of bed, threw some clothes on over my P.J.’s, grabbed my binoculars and off I went. A beautiful clear sky rewarded me when I arrived. A dozen hearty souls were already there with telescopes and binoculars already watching the eclipse.

First order of business – coffee and Twizzlers – both are observing staples with our club.

After Goldilocks-ing it down the row of binoculars and telescopes I thought I’d try some projection astro-photography. In other words, hold your smart phone camera up to the eyepiece and try to capture a photograph. It’s not as easy as it sounds! So here’s my only picture of the eclipse.

Lunar Eclipse

Too bad the clouds rolled in and spoiled the view. The invention of a cloud filter would be greatly appreciated!

Back at home I crawled back into bed hoping for about 90 minutes of zzzzzz’s. If only I hadn’t had that coffee………

Here’s hoping for a better report of the up coming partial solar eclipse on October 23rd!


Amazing Sun Photo

Isn’t this picture of the Sun amazing? It was taken by Tony Kroes, a fellow club member that Amy and I have raved about in the past. He’s a very talented astronomer who lives West of Green Bay, and a resource in the area that we really appreciate.

20140907 Solar Filament Loop
Image condensed into one frame using Registax software to combine and stack the best 30 frames of a 300 frame video of the sun. Video captured on 9/7/2014 with a Celestron Skyris 274M CCD video camera and x2.8 Barlow at 1/30th sec per frame through a 60mm Coronado SolarMax II hydrogen-alpha solar telescope.

Tony took this picture this past weekend on 9/7, a beautiful Wisconsin Sunday. Make sure you read Tony’s details below. Thanks for sharing Tony!!!

Image condensed into one frame using Registax software to combine and stack the best 30 frames of a 300 frame video of the sun. Video captured  on 9/7/2014 with a Celestron Skyris 274M CCD video camera and x2.8 Barlow at 1/30th sec per frame through a 60mm Coronado SolarMax II hydrogen-alpha solar telescope. 

I placed the blue dot on the image to show the relative size of Earth (110 times smaller than the sun in diameter.) So the looping prominence on the right side of the image would have gone completely over the Earth, although I sure wouldn’t have wanted to be there at the time!

On the upper left side you can see a ‘hedge-row’ of smaller prominences. All along the distance between the loop and the hedgerow you can see numerous tiny spikes called ‘spicules’. These are small (relatively speaking) jets of material that spurt upward, lasting only a few minutes before being replaced with new ones in a cycle of constant activity. They typically extend 3,000-10,000 Km above the surface (the earth is 12,000 Km diameter.)

Some good details are also seen on the surface of the sun in this image. There is an extremely bright ‘active region’, which is an area of extreme magnetic activity, just to the upper left of center. These areas often occur around sunspots, and can be hotbeds of solar flare activity. Further onto the disk of the sun you can see two smoky grey worm-like structures. These are prominences just like the looping one seen on the edge of the disk, but because they are seen against the surface background instead of the black of space, it is difficult to tell that they are really huge 3D jets of material spewing out into space and then falling back onto the surface.

Also of note is the surface itself.  You can see the orange-peel ‘granulation’ and many tiny fibrous patches across this area. This is the surface of the Chromosphere, which is only visible in a narrow band of wavelengths, specifically that of singly-ionized hydrogen known as hydrogen-alpha or H-a for short. This wavelength is narrow, and is usually masked completely by all the other wavelengths put out by the sun, but the special filter in my telescope blocks all the rest, allowing us to see the delicate detail hidden in this one small part of the solar spectrum.

Tony Kroes

Quantum Skies Observatory

Armchair Eclipse Watching

Looks like Tony’s done it again! His video of last month’s lunar eclipse was being passed around on a cell phone at the last astronomy club meeting, so I wrote to Tony and ask him if he’d share it with you, too.

Tony said the video shows the moon going from totality to uneclipsed, and displays 2-1/2 hours in 10 seconds. The movie is made up of 270 individual frames – each shot with his Canon T1i DSLR mounted piggyback on his telescope, while it was tracking at the Quantum Skies Observatory in Pulaski.

Exposures at the beginning of the set are ¼ sec at ISO 1600, and those at the end are 1/4000 sec at ISO 800 (factor of 2000x brighter/dimmer!)  The frames were taken about 30 seconds apart, so while the video comprises 2-1/2 hours of real-time, when run back at 30 frames per second it only lasts ten seconds.

There won’t be any more lunar eclipses visible around Wisconsin in 2014, but next year on September 28th we’ll have another total lunar eclipse visible from all of the continental U.S. We’ll get to see a partial solar eclipse this year on October 23rd, too, although we’re itching to see the total solar eclipse that will fall just 500 miles south of here in 2017. Road Trip!

Thanks again for sharing, Tony!

Lynn & Amy


Photographing Cool, Distant Planets Now Possible

Back in 1985, I lived in Arizona and attended Arizona State University. My favorite

Image taken by the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) shows a planet orbiting the star Beta Pictoris.

classes were (of course) a mid-level class in astronomy and in physics.

Many evenings after dinner, my friend, Hol, and I would float around in the pool and discuss all sorts of heady topics, such as surface tension, pulsars, light spectra, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Hol helped me take the leap into converting science into mathematics.

On one of those nights 29 years ago, in one of those heady discussions, the topic was astrophotography. In the retelling of something that I had learned in class that day, I misspoke and said that we were close to actually photographing planets outside of our solar system in visible light. Time has erased what I actually meant to say, but my friend got a good chuckle out of that.

“How absurd is THAT,” he blurted (or something quite similar to that). I, of course, immediately got defensive and said, “What? Well I didn’t mean to say that we could photograph planets today, but I’m sure we will someday.”

“HA! That’ll NEVER happen!” he insisted, and he was not one to say the word ‘never’. “They’re too far away and too small and too buried in the visible light of their sun. What a ridiculous idea.”

When he put it that way, it did sound rather implausible, but I dug in my heels and announced that yes, I believed it WAS possible and that it would happen in my lifetime. In my memory, he sneered at me for weeks after that, but he probably just snorted and said that I was totally wrong. A $10 bet ensued.

So here we are, nearly 30 years later, and it’s finally happened using a charged couple device (CCD). The new technology is called Magellan Adaptive Optics (MagAO). The first planet recently captured was Beta Pictoris b in the constellation Pictor, which has a mass 12 times that of Jupiter and orbits its sun at nine A.U. (equivalent to the distance from here to Saturn).

The exciting thing about this advancement is that unlike infrared, which only picks up “hot” planets today, we can use CCD to detect planets that have cooled. Cooled planets have a much greater likely to be habitable.

So ha HA Mr. Hol. Looks like I get the last laugh after all. I’ll be watching for that ten-spot in the mail.


Hand of God – Another Amazing Photo!


This is why I love astronomy! We can look into the far reaches of the galaxy and beyond. One of the first times I looked through the 30 inch telescope at the observatory I gasped at the beauty of the star cluster in the eyepiece. Then when I found out how far away that star cluster was, well I was stunned.

At the top of the observation tower at the state park, I can see for miles. But through the telescope I can see for light years, and that’s just with a backyard telescope!  Now add the power of something like the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and, well see for yourself.

This photo has been making quite a stir on the internet. I hate to admit this, but I wasn’t aware of it until a co-worker of mine brought it to my attention. They’re calling this the Hand of God. It’s both beautiful and a bit haunting. It reminds me that we’re really quite small in this universe we live in.

This pulsar wind nebula had previously been detected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory in lower-energy X-ray light, which is the green and red. Recently NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array or NuSTAR imaged the object in high-energy x-rays for the first time. The results of that are shown in blue. The bright white spot in the center is a pulsar that’s spinning at a phenomenal rate of 7 times per second!

Seeing images like this keeps me looking up. It makes those late nights searching for an elusive fuzz ball worthwhile. For more amazing pictures that will both inspire and amaze you, you might want to check out the Hubble Site, or the Astronomy Picture of the Day.

If you have a favorite astronomy picture we’d love to see it! Let us know why it inspires you!




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