Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Supernova 2014J in M82 - Super Stuff!

Well its Supernova Week! There's science going off everwhere! Why watch endless hours of Sci-fi when you can watch stars blowing up live!

After last week's excitement of a nice Type IIn supernova in NGC 3448, there is breaking news tonight with a bright Supernova going off in M82.

Image Credit: P.Lake H06 0.5m f/4.5 Planewave +CCD

UPDATE 3: Clint Whittaker iTelescope member photographed SN 2014J on the 15th of Jan at 16:40 UT.

Image Credit: C. Whittaker

UPDATE 2: A careful review of some of the's member images of M82 show the brightening commenced sometime between 13th and 15th of January. The earliest image of this event now stands at 2014 01 15.571 by K Itagaki from an earlier survey. I have added a link to the discovery circumstances (below) - What a story that is, they'll be dining out on that for years.

UPDATE 1: It looks like Fraser Cain's Virtual Star Party photographed the SuperNova back on Sunday night US time, not realising it at the time. Tom Nathe broadcast a live photo of M82 into the Virtual Star Party with the Supernova clearly in view, but operating under the pressure of a live broadcast, didn't realise it at the time.

As usual the community has been involved in prompt follow up action with the on-demand telescopes swinging into action.

So what's going on, how does all this happen, what are the reporting processes involved and how do Amateur Astronomer's make a contribution. All good questions!

Stars blowing up are more common that you think. Whilst the mainstream media usually only pick up on a couple of Supernovae per year (usually the bright ones in well known galaxies), astronomers detect over 400 novae each year, which is more than one per day. Amateur astronomers make a significant number of these discoveries, and several teams have developed advanced techniques, processes and teamwork to systematiclly go after these interesting events.

One great leader in this area of the amateur community is the BOSS team (Backyard Observatory Supernova Search) who have discovered 83 supernovae, one of which has rocked the astronomy community and resulted in the Hubble Space Telescope being swung into action for follow up measurements. Other regulars are a dedicated group of Japanese astronomers who hardly miss a trick: Koichi Itagaki, Meineko Sakura, Seiichiro Kiota (and their teams - appologies for not mentioning everyone), do great work. On the 14th January Mr Itagaki discovered a Supernova in NGC 3448. Well known amateur astronomer Patrick Wiggins also photographed it independently, quite by chance, without a targeted search. I assisted Patrick with his follow-up images, and Patrick later found Mr Itagaki was awarded the discovery as he had an earlier image from the night before.

Image Credit: P.Lake H06 0.5m f/4.5 Planewave +CCD

Many of these dedicated teams have advanced scripting techniques with systematic searches that can cover up to 200 galaxies per night. The 6 members of the BOSS team also leverage the time zones from New Zealand, to the east coast of Australia, and across to the west coast of Australia. Each part of the team performs different steps, photographing, processing, researching, following up and reporting. They have built strong partnerships with professional observatories who provide the spectral analysis, to quickly identify the supernova type. The BOSS team pride themselves on having never having submitted a false-positive report.

Using a sophisticated DSLR camera on a tripod and subtracting images from night to night, comparing the differences, is another method used by amateur astronomers. This is surprisingly effective method for transient nova in the southern hemisphere.

Tonight's discovery of the supernova in M82 was reported to the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams [CBAT] by S.J Fossey and his class of students it was confirmed by Seiichiro Kiota and followed up by the MASTER Team in Russia, and Leonid Elenin from the ISON Team. The MASTER team are also great leaders and made 210 transient (includes supernova, nova) discoveries in 2013.

So if I am photographing a galaxy and think I can see something different, what should I do, how do I check, who do I tell, if I think I might have found a Supernova/Nova event?

Step 1 - Re-photograph the area and check for asteroids and or artifacts in your image

Step 2 - Check a previous known image of the same area and compare to make sure nothing was there previously. You need to be careful doing this as other images may have a different orientation to your's depending on the Position Angle of the camera they were taken with. It may be flipped horizonally and vertically to your image. One such site where you can get easy access historical images is the CDS (Centre de Données astronomiques de Strasbourg) Portal which has a searchable web interface for various star Catalogs (just enter the exact RA and Dec).

Step 3 - Once you believe you have something - alert some of your collegues and get them to obtain some confirmation images.

Step 4 - Report to CBAT with the exact postion to the nearest arc-second with an estimate of the magnitude and your location, telescope details, and discovery circumstances (eg PSN J09554214+6940260 where "Possible Super Nova" is RA is 09 55 42.14 and Dec +69 40 26.0).

Step 5 - Wait and hope you are the first in - but you'll have to be quick ;-) Its always a great idea to get someone to check your work so you avoid embarrassing mistakes.

Step 6 - Then sit back and wait for other astronomers with spectroscopic capabilities to confirm the Supernova type by assessing which Balmer Lines are present in the spectrum.

Even though you might not hear about every supernova, this is a vibrant area of constant research that creates great excitment through the thrill of the chase for amateur astronomers and professionals around the world.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Black Eye in the Sky!

Today's image in my Southern Summer/ Northern Winter image series highlighting some of the seasonal delights for astronomers is M64, commonly known as the "Black Eye" Galaxy.

Its a deep sky object, as its quite small in size but quite bright none the less. The so called "Black Eye" is caused by thick dust lanes of the spiral galaxy blocking some of the central star light. The darker thick dust lanes being on the closer side from our perspective.

It often reminds me of looking over a thick eye-wall of a hurricane.

The M64 is its number in the Messier Catalogue, a list of "fuzzy objects" compiled by Charles Messier in the 1700's that were known to be not comets.

So over the course of January, I'll be posting daily images some of these highlights of the night sky. Today's image was taken last night from New Mexico H06 on 0.5m Planewave, a 300 sec exposure with the Luminance filter.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Rosette Rising

I promised myself I would try and produce a little more content this year. It was a long time between posts towards the back end of 2013 as I was very busy. So I thought I might run a little short series of some of the Northern Winter/Southern Summer highlights.

The Rosette Nebula otherwise known as NGC 2244 is "in season" again. A nice little low res jpg preview file. I really must get around to running an image series on it. Its quite spectacular with the open cluster and only about 1/4 of the Nebula actually fits in the field of view at this focal length. So it would be a great one for me to finally learn how to do a mosaic compilation.

Taken from T11 at this is the one-shot jpg that new members can access from their free getting started trial account.

T11 has a focal length of 2280 mm and a deep sky field of view 36x54 arc mins, with the 0.66 focal reducer it produces f/4.5.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Comet Siding Spring C/2013 A1 Update

Image Credit: P.Lake Q62 T31 0.5m Planewave + CCD F/4.4 120 Secs Luminance 6th Jan 2014

Happy New Year - to all the readers of the AARTScope Blog!

Lets hope its going to be a great new year. Its all ready off to a great start astronomicly speaking, with a small 1-3 meter asteroid that obtained the very first preliminary designation of 2014 AA breaking up in the atmosphere before Astronomers had even finalised the calculation that it was going to hit us. Fortunately on this occasion it was a very small size causing a bright fireball just off the coast of West Africa which, so far, no-one has reported seeing. It was however picked up on some of the powerful infrasound detectors used to watch out for Nuclear Test Ban Treaty violations.

Given the very small size of this asteroid, something that small hits us every 1-6 months, so its not an unusual event, but very unusual to photograph an inbound bolide like that before it hits. 2008 TC3 was the only other asteroid to be photographed before it hit the earth, in October 2008.

Given its designation of 2014 AA, I thought I check up on that other "A Grade" designation for C/2013 A1 Siding Spring, which was the first comet discovered in 2013. It is being watched carefully due to its close approach to Mars in October 2014. My previous effort back in Nov 2013 is here.

Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) is now sporting a nice 105 arcsec tail with hints of a nice jet developing, it is currently around Mag 14-15.

Image Credit: P.Lake Q62 T31 0.5m Planewave + CCD F/4.4 120 Secs Luminance 6th Jan 2014

The passage of Comet Siding Spring will be watched with great interest and will undoubtably be one of the highlights of 2014 as it passes close to Mars just after the arrival of the NASA's MAVEN Probe, and of course India's first orbital mission MOM will be close by as well.

Clear skies & and happy new year once again!


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