Last night I went to my local astronomy club meeting and came home with something I’ve been meaning to get since I was about 5 years old. Behold, my own personal time machine:
My amateur astronomer friends will recognize this as a classic – a Celestron 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. I’m told it’s a 1990’s model and it will need some TLC to be sure, but I’ve already had a look at the Moon, Jupiter, the Orion Nebula, and Venus without any major problems.
I came to owning this completely by accident. When I arrived at the meeting, there were several small telescopes and tripods set up. It turns out that a friend of one of our club members is an antique collector and happened to have some telescopes in his rather large collection of…stuff. He told our club that he’d be happy with whatever he could get and wasn’t interested in selling it online. And so, with the recommendation of my fellow club members who know a lot more about amateur telescopes than I ever will, I snagged this for a hundred bucks.
I’ll post some more pics and tell a little bit more about my progress with the telescope in future posts. I’m sure I’ll be learning a lot as I wade through the money pit that is amateur astronomy, but for now I’m pretty happy to finally come through for 5-year old me.
I love looking up at the night sky. Whenever I’m outside at night, the first thing I do is look up. How can I not? But there’s always something marring my view – light pollution, clouds, the moon, treetops, and, oh yeah, the Earth itself! I’ve often thought how great it would be if the Earth, Moon, and Sun were to vanish and to be able to see the entire night sky at the same time*. How cool would that be? This cool:
That’s the whole night sky. The entire. Night. Sky! This work of awesome comes to us courtesy of astrophotographer Nick Risinger’s Photomic Sky Survey. And wow, what a sky it is!
The first thing that jumps out is the Milky Way. Here, we see it just as it really is – a great spiral galaxy seen edge-on, or in this case, within the disk of the galaxy itself. In fact, it’s really no different than other spiral galaxies seen edge-on as well. At center is a well-defined bulge partially obstructed by dust silhouetted by the bright stars beyond. Toward the edges are the telltale populations of younger stars. In other words, your typical spiral galaxy!
To the lower right are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds – two irregular-shaped satellite galaxies that orbit the Milky Way.
And there is so much more detail in this image. To experience it, you really want to check out the zoomable version. Seriously, click the link. Click it now!
If that wasn’t cool enough, check out the 360-degree version; you’ll feel like you’re floating in space! Make sure you are in full-screen mode. And maybe dim the lights – it’s that awesome.
How he do that?
To pull this off, Nick travelled more than 60,000 miles around the globe for the better part of a year taking no less than 37,440 exposures of the sky at night. But it wasn’t just a matter of simply picking a destination, going there and wait for the Sun to go down and shoot. Nick had to plan his destinations well in advance to find clear, dark skies and to be there when there during New Moon.
After a year, Nick then worked to stich together all 37.440 exposures to make this beautiful all-sky masterpiece. Nick has a really cool writeup of the project. His story is as fascinating as the image itself.
M51, aka the Whirlpool Galaxy, is a favorite target for professional and amateur astronomers alike. It’s a relatively nearby pair of galaxies that are interacting with one another. M51 is the large spiral, seen nearly face-on to us, and its arms are bursting with new star formation. This of course is due to the tidal interaction with its companion NGC 5195, which is a dwarf galaxy passing “underneath” one of the Whirlpool’s spiral arms.
What amazes me about Martin’s image is the combination of subtle details and wide range of features. The wisps of scattered gas and dust from the smaller companion are rarely imaged, and yet there they are in the same image as the fine, tightly wound spiral arms near the nucleus of the Whirlpool itself. Then there are of course the fine dust lanes etched into the spiral arms, dotted with the sapphire blue that is the telltale sign of hot new stars recently born in the arms. The colors, the hues, the saturation, and the balance of capturing all of that stunning detail make this one of the best images of the Whirlpool I’ve ever seen – and yes, I’m willing to rank it up there with Hubble’s image.
Not bad at all for a guy with a 17-inch telescope! I can’t imagine the hard work, patience, and skill it must have taken to produce this image. Fortunately, Martin has a few more knockouts on his Flickr stream for our viewing and mind-blowing pleasure. Take some time to check them out, as well as browse through the contest’s photo pool which is chock-a-block of amazing astro-image awesomeness!