Saturday, December 29, 2007

Best Sights in Astronomy in 2007

What do you think were some of the best sights in astronomy in 2007?

Share your thoughts by posting a comment!

Happy New Year!

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Comet Holmes

The most bizarre astronomical sight of 2007 was definitely Comet Holmes. I heard about its outburst on October 25th, which surprised many astronomers. Before that the comet was merely a 16-magnitude spec, dimmer than Pluto, and was dimming every day. It could be seen only through powerful telescopes. Then something unexpected happened. On October 24th, it began to explode into view brightening by 60%(!) every hour!

Having to wait for clear skies, I finally observed in on October 29th. It took me literally a couple of seconds to spot the comet in the constellation of Perseus with my naked eyes! You could tell right away you were not looking at a star - it looked like nothing I've seen before! This is what I saw:

My 8-inch reflector telescope revealed more detail. Fuzzy yellowish coma surrounding the nucleus looked like something out of this world (literally!). It first looked more like a sphere (because of our perspective on the comet's position) so I played with the contrast on the following picture to make out the tail of the comet. You can actually tell the direction of the comet:

At more magnification I saw the comet's inner comma surrounding the nucleus. This my best shot of this incredible spectacle.

Why did such the outburst took place? We may never find out. As we know, comets are icy rocks that are heated by the Sun releasing gases trapped in the ice. The prevailing theory about Comet Holmes' outburst is that the varying warming by the Sun caused a "crust" to form effectively trapping heated gases under that crust. Once the pressure inside grew, the crust broke releasing all this gas at once.

Will we see comet Holmes again? With it's orbital period of less than 7 years it is our neighborhood's frequent guest. However, we are more likely to see it again as a tiny pinpoint. Last time Comet Holmes put up a show like this, it was 115 years ago when it was first discovered by the English astronomer Edwin Holmes. Don't you fell lucky?
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Thursday, December 27, 2007

UN declares 2009 the Year of Astronomy

In the statement issued by International Astronomical Union (IAU): "The United Nations (UN) General Assembly proclaimed 2009 the International Year of Astronomy. The Resolution was submitted by Italy, Galileo Galilei's home country. The International Year of Astronomy 2009 is an initiative of the International Astronomical Union and UNESCO..."

Full statement by International Astronomical Union (IAU)

The International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009) website

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Astronomy Pictures of the Year for 2007

Twelve of the more memorable images posted to Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) in 2007

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Arecibo Observatory - End

At the end of the day, I could not resist but give a little "astronomy" speech to the renowned scientists at Arecibo Observatory. I think they enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the visit. :) Overall, it was worth the 1.5 hour trip from San Juan (Puerto Rico's capital)! I would definitely come back again!
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More pictures from Arecibo Observatory

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Arecibo Observatory - 3

When built in 1963, the telescope was (and still is) an engineering marvel, contributing to and propelling advances in electrical and mechanical engineering, antenna design, signal processing, and electronic instruments. Its operation lead to many discoveries in radioastronomy, planetary and atmospheric studies.

With the help of the Arecibo telescope scientists have made many important discoveries. On 7 April 1964, Gordon H. Pettengill's team determined that the rotation rate of Mercury is only 59 days (as opposed to the previously thought 88 days). In 1968, the radiotelescope provided the first solid evidence of neutron stars. Finally, in 1974 Hulse and Taylor discovered the first binary pulsar (PSR B1913+16), for which they were later awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, which is permanently on display in the Observatory's museum.

The radiotelescope is also collecting observational data for the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project. SETI is a distributed computing project using Internet-connected computers, searching for possible evidence of radio transmissions from extraterrestrial intelligence. Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can join this project (

Arecibo Telescope has been used in the filming of two popular movies: as the villain's antenna in the James Bond movie GoldenEye and as itself in the film Contact. As a huge fan of James Bond , you can see that I had a dual interest in visiting this place. :)

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More on Arecibo Observatory

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Arecibo Observatory - 2

The 38,778 perforated aluminum panels (below) that make up the dish are individually adjusted to produce a curvature with a with a 2mm precision.

Special kind of shoes (below) must be worn by all personnel walking inside the dish. These shoes protect the panels by evenly distributing person's weight.
39 cables support the 1,000 ton platform with the receiver suspended in the air. Each cable weighs 10 tons and the total length of all cables is over 4 miles (6.7 km). The small cable sample below weighs 66 pounds (30 kg).

The towers are 110 m (365 ft) high. Special concrete blocks at the foundation of each tower (below) are used to tighten the cables.

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Arecibo Observatory

During our visit to Puerto Rico, we went to Arecibo Observatory - the world's largest radiotelescope. It is located in a middle of a rainforest approximately 9 miles (14 km) south of the town of Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

The dish is the largest curved focusing dish on Earth (305m or 1000ft in diameter). The dish was constructed in the 1960s inside of the natural depression left by a sinkhole. The size of the structure is just mind-boggling.

This type of a dish is called a spherical reflector. Since the telescope's dish is fixed in place, the receiver has to be repositioned at its focal point in order to receive signals reflected from different directions. The 1,000-ton receiver (above) is suspended 150 m (450 ft) in the air above the dish by 18 cables running from three gigantic concrete towers.

The main dish is made of 38,778 perforated aluminum panels. It's overall collecting area is about 73 000 m² (790 000 ft² or ~18 acres). The telescope's focal length is 132.5 m (434.7ft).

The platform housing the receiver (and other equipment) can be accessed by a long suspended walkway or by a lift. We saw several technicians servicing the receiver. They must be enjoying a beautiful scenery from up there!

More on Arecibo Observatory

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Monday, December 24, 2007

How big is the Universe?

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Welcome to this blog!

Hello and welcome to my Amateur Astronomy blog! I have been interested in astronomy and space exploration for most of my life but never had any practical experience. I recently decided that the time has come to pursue this hobby more seriously. I got myself a telescope, a camera, and joined a local astronomy club. At the same time I started this blog to document my learning experience and share it with other amateur astronomers around the world.

I have been a lucky telescope owner for about six months now. Also, I have recently gotten interested in astrophotography. As part of my learning experience I have done a lot of research about the sky and astronomy in general, equipment, astrophotography, various processes, etc. During this time I found that the exiting part of becoming an amateur astronomer is sharing your findings with others, getting help and tips from more mature and experienced astronomers, and helping other beginners who may be struggling with similar issues and questions that I had to go through.

I will start by documenting and publishing my previous experience for the past six months. I hope that other amateur astronomers who are sharing same interests will find my observations and results interesting as well as useful. I will try to outline many issues and questions that I have been facing along with the solutions that I found. I hope that you enjoy this blog and I am looking forward to your feedback!

My equipment:
- Celestron NexStar 8SE (8" SCT)
- Canon EOS 400D (Digital Rebel XTi)
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