Such a clear night tonight, and it was the first day of classes for the spring term. The Observational Astronomy (Astro-3) class came out to peruse the various telescope types, look at the insides of a Schmidt-Cassegrain catadioptric, and then check out a bright comet through the scopes. Visually, Comet Garradd was not all that striking, appearing as one of the ubiquitous fuzz-balls that we all know and love in eyepiece astronomy. We got the robotic dome going, and that makes a big difference. Here is a one minute integration through a V filter of the comet using the robotic telescope.
If you come to this site routinely, you might have seen the new menu option at the top of the page, a link to the All Sky Camera. This past week, I have spent a number of hours out at the robotic dome working to install drivers and fix odd electrical shorts in order to bring this imager to life. Here it is! The PEA All Sky Camera is a reality and is available online now. The unit is an interesting and compact design. Inside an acrylic-domed metal housing is a video camera that is permanently mounted to a wide field lens. The lens has two controls: focus and focal length (zoom). There are three other goodies also mounted inside the dome: a small fan, a resistive heater unit, and a PC board to which those prior items are connected, presumably a thermostat controller or something similar. Below is an image taken on March 9th. You can see Orion to the left (South). North is to the right, west to the bottom, and east is at the top of the frame).
The camera’s software also has the ability to take the snapshots and string them together to form a video, saving a new time lapse video at the end of each day (Universal Time day for this imager). Below is the first video taken while the camera was being installed, focused and mounted outside under the sky.
Those of us living at high or mid level latitudes might be interested in seeing the aurora. With the sun entering into another of its 11-year-high cycles, there has been a lot of activity, and even some press about things such as geomagnetic storms and coronal mass ejections. If you are interested in more, these links will help you monitor what we call “space weather” and allow you to catch an aurora in action!
Spaceweather.com: The main site for all news about space weather. Check here for daily, and sometimes hourly postings about conditions.
3-Day Estimated Planetary K Index: The K Index is a good indicator of the size of auroral ovals here on earth. In New Hampshire, we have to reach a 6 or 7 before we see aurora. Larger values allow people further south to see them.
Interplanetary Magnetic Field Plots: Wondering how the magnetic fields are changing out in space?
OVATION Aurora: A new in-development tool for auroral visibility prediction.
Good luck with your quest! Bring a warm coat and a digital camera. If you see any aurora, send in pics!