Sunday, August 5, 2012

Curiosity Lands on Mars - The JPL Good Luck Peanuts Worked

First photo from Curiosity form Mars, just after landing.

Mission control cheers.
After a tense 7 minutes going through the Martian atmosphere on August 5, 2012 (I watched it on NASA TV in my location on August 6, with the landing taking place just before 2pm), the Curiosity Mars Rover has touched down safely on the surface of Mars inside Gale Crater, a geological feature that may hold clues to possible ancient life on the red planet. Through the orbiting Opportunity satellite, Curiosity sent back to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), several pictures, with the first one taken just shortly after it touched down (top) with the dust still flying around it. The second picture also shows one of it's wheels. The third one of of the rover's shadow. (below).

JPL good luck peanuts.
Curiosity will now start it's two-year mission studying the exposed layers of Martian soil in the crater. It's powered by nuclear decay and is expected to outlast its warranty for as long as it does not encounter any unexpected accident. It may well reach the top of the peak in the middle of the crater and then explore the nearby areas. The traditional good luck peanuts of JPL (left) had done its job well.

Curiosity takes a photo of its shadow.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Venus and Jupiter Together in Taurus on the Morning of July 5, 2012 - Philippines

Venus and Jupiter on the morning of July 5, 2012.

Venus and Jupiter magnified.
It's Independence Week in the US and there's been much talk about the co-called Thunder Moon (because of frequency of thunderstorms) on the 4th of July. Well, I didn't get to see that because of bad weather, but this morning, I looked out to the East and there was Venus and Jupiter together with Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus. Frankly, I've known these two planets have been there for a while, but it's only now I got the chance to take a look at the, soak them in and even take a few pictures with my iPad. Sure, the camera of the iPad 2 is wanting, but it can still take some good pictures of the sky, I must say. If you have a Retina iPad, then you can use that for better results. Anyway, enjoy these photos of Jupiter (the fainter object) and Venus (the brighter object).

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Venus Transit of June 6, 2012: Eyepiece Projection Images

Venus Transit 2012 in post ingress. The Sun appears like an orange.

Venus in ingress.
Here are a few images of the transit of Venus (June 6, 2012). They are simple eyepiece projection images using a 3-inch classic Edmund Scientific reflector and a piece of cardboard. Times for ingress and egress were referenced from the Eclipses app for the iPhone/iPad. These images were taken using an iPad 2 from a Southern Tagalog city in the Philippines. Initial images during ingress were captured with foreground foliage partially blocking the sun, creating shadows. The inset shows Venus in visual ingress contact which occurred less than a minute after 6:30 am.

Note that these images are not representative of the actual appearance of the Sun's surface. The position of Venus of the Sun's disk is relative to the position of the camera. Most of the markings, apart from Venus and a few sunspots, are from shadows and the texture of the cardboard, which gives the Sun an artistic mottled appearance. The lines in the lower right corner of the following image are from the folds of the handheld cardboard onto where the images were projected. It's a simple set-up, but it does the job.

Venus Transit 2012. Projection on cardboard with shadows of foliage.
The transit of Venus of June 6, 2012 is the last one in the 21st century, with the previous transit occurring on June 8, 2004. The next transit of Venus will not happen until December, 2117 and the same month in 2125. So those who took the time to view this year's transit were lucky to have participated in an event that may occur only once in a lifetime.

Venus towards mid transit.
Attempts to use the Venus Transit app for the iPhone/iPad did not materialize due to the timer's failure to be available at the time of ingress. A message kept appearing that the counter will only be available during the actual transit (which was already happening). Mid transit was scheduled to occur at an altitude of 55 degrees and calculated by the Eclipses app to occur at 9:31:24 am in my current location.

Venus nears its exit.
Egress began some time before 1 pm. At this time, there were some discernible sunspots. As Venus continued its exit from the Sun's limb, it appeared as if a part of the Sun had been bitten off. At about the same time, NASA sent a tweet of an image of Venus exiting the Sun's face showing detailed features.

I didn't get the chance to take pictures of the final contact in egress since the iPad's battery ran out. But I had enough images of the event to use in this blog post, which was really my intention from the beginning. If you want to view or take images of the Sun using a similar method, just make sure you don't accidentally peer into the eyepiece. This method doesn't use any filter and the focused light of the Sun can burn your eye. You can also use some other paper. Try experimenting with white paper, even translucent paper. See what effects you can get.

Venus starts to exit the Sun in egress.

Venus exits the face of the Sun, which now looks bitten out of.

Venus bids farewell.

How the images of the Venus Transit 2012 were captured.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Eclipses iPhone/iPad App Lets You Find Solar and Lunar Eclipses

Ever heard of the expression, "There's an app for that"? Talking about eclipses, you'd ask if there's an app that will tell you about eclipses in the past, present and future. Well, there is such an app made by Olav Andrade. For those who are curious if there's an eclipse coming near you, you can download this app and see for yourself.

As of this posting, a partial lunar eclipse is scheduled to take place on June 4, and then there's the Venus Transit of 2012. Just by consulting the app, you'll be able to see if it is visible in your local area and what time it will start and end. You'll no longer need to wonder about the time of maximum eclipse. The app is fairly simple, but it does the job and will keep you informed about solar and lunar eclipses decades into the future. If you're into astronomy, or you have a kid interested in the science, the Eclipses app is a good one to get you up to speed on eclipses. The Eclipses app is available for free here.

NOTE: As of this writing, an error which pushes the current event to the next one prematurely exists in the app. Hopefully, it's already been updated to address the problem.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Download the Venus Transit iPhone/iPad App for June 6, 2012

The transit of Venus across the face of the Sun (begins at 06-06-06:12am-2012-varies with location) is the last for this century, which makes it a prominent event. I thought it may just be prominent enough to warrant an app for the iPhone (or iPad), so I did a search and there it was, an app especially made for the June 6, Venus transit!

The Venus Transit app of 2012 boasts of Timer, Simulation, Visibility, and Info tabs. If you click on Simulation,  you will be given Ingress and Egress to choose from. The labels are self-explanatory and tapping on one of them calls up a realistic animation of a magnified Venus either ingressing or egressing with the limb of Sun in the backgound. A timer keeps count and you are given instructions to hit the screen to log the time of contact. But that's only the simulation. The actual logging of contact times is not available until the transit itself, according to the app. Through the app, you can contribute to an experiment where amateur astronomer participants can send in their contact times of the transit.

If you tap the Visibility tab, you will get a map of your location, which also shows the dates and times for the ingress and egress (interior and exterior) of Venus in your area as well as the time for sunrise and sunset. The Info tab gives details of the developers, led by Astronomy Without Borders, with credit to Rikkert Koppes of DDQ Scientific & Educational Apps.

The Venus Transit iPhone App is available for free in the Apple App Store.

UPDATE: During the Venus Transit 2012, an error (possibly due to Internet connectivity or a glitch in the app itself) in the display of the counter prevented the app from being used in the experiment.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The MicroObservatory Robotic Telescope Network: Shooting Andromeda

The Andromeda Galaxy taken remotely; processed using color filters.

I recently tried out the MicroObservatory Robotic Telescope Network through the Observing With NASA (OWN) program. The system is a partnership between  Harvard, NASA, and the Smithsonian. For those who are not familiar with OWN, it's actually an astronomy education system wherein students, or practically anyone who can access the web and has an email address, can remotely use a telescope to take pictures of planets, asteroids, and deep sky objects and then use their free software to enhance the digital images to produce stunning visible light and full-color RGB stacked images.

I tried the system, and chose the Andromeda galaxy. The website will show you if an object is visible or not  where the robot telescopes are situated. Strangely, it also shows the Sun as available for observation even when deep sky objects were among the choices. I used multiple filters for me to be able to produce a color image of the galaxy. After you input your email and other details, you just go on to the Submit page and you're done! You will get your pictures through the email address you provided. Consequently, they will also be available in the site's archive for viewing and downloading by other users of the site.

I downloaded the program's special image processing software called MicroObservatory Image (ver. 2.2 at that time). It ran on a DOS prompt, but was decent and worked pretty well. I did encounter a problem with alignment of the red, green, and blue filtered images. It seems that if you align three color "plates" using the big stars to guide you, the smaller stars with one pixel per point will be noticeably misaligned, and vice versa. However, the misalignment of the bigger stars were not so obvious if I used the little stars to align with, which I did. The result is the image of the Andromeda galaxy, above. It's not perfect, but it's good enough to be proud of.

I took another available light image of the same galaxy the next day and here's the result:

The Andromeda Galaxy taken with OWN without using RGB color filters.
Access to the robotic telescopes are easy, although at one point, the Continue button apparently disappeared, preventing me from proceeding to the Submit page. I wasn't sure if it's just the computer I'm using or it's the site itself. But for astronomy students and enthusiasts who want to check out OWN, it's well worth the visit even if for just browsing the site. It has a couple of upcoming features which will allow students to search for new worlds beyond the solar system and much more. Now that's cool.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Partial Solar Eclipse over the Philippines - May 21, 2012 - FIRST LOOK

Projection of partial solar eclipse-  May 21, 2012; Manila.

Partial solar eclipse of May 21, 2012.
Here's a first look at the partial solar eclipse over the hills of Antipolo, the Philippines (morning of May 21, 2012). Further up in the northern latitudes, it's actually the much touted "annular solar eclipse of the year." But since the country is beyond the annular path, I had to settle with a partial with only around 40% (my estimate) of the sun obscured by the moon. But even so, it's still a fantastic sight to behold. It's not a common event and it's something that kids will appreciate and look back to as grown ups.

Baby appreciates eclipse.
I only had a cell phone camera and an iPad 2 with me and didn't have a filter to reduce the sun's glare, but fortunately, I found a way to photograph the eclipse. Two holes in the galvanized sheet iron section of the wash area of the house provided two excellent projection images of the solar eclipse. I had fun taking pictures, which I must say is even more exciting than taking them directly using a filter or a telescope. These photographs were taken at around 6:13 with an iPad 2. Enjoy these "first look" images of the partial solar eclipse of 2012 (annular up north in Japan and parts of the Asian mainland)!

Double images of the partial solar eclipse - May 21, 2012
Source of one of the wall-projected images of the solar eclipse.
Partial solar eclipse (May 21, 2012) - iPad 2; no a filter.

All photos by alvinwriter.

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