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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