All posts filed under: Astronomy

Milky Way and Zodiacal Light

The band of the Milky Way stretches nicely across this pre-dawn fisheye view. The noticeable round dot in the Milky Way is the bright planet Jupiter. The light pillar extending from the horizon toward the Milky Way is the zodiacal light. And what appears to be a smudge on the bottom right hand of the image, is in fact the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), an irregular dwarf galaxy that can be seen with the naked eye under dark skies in the Southern Hemisphere.

Morning Planets

Another morning meant another opportunity to catch the lovely show of the planets. As the moon was quite literally out of the picture, the rather faint glow of the zodiacal light was visible. The zodiacal light is a pillar of light that is visible in the east just before sunrise during fall in the Southern Hemisphere. A few minutes later dawn set in, and Mercury became visible above the mountains.

Planet Show

These days the early bird not only catches the worm, but a lovely show of the planets, as they parade along the ecliptic (the apparent path that the sun, moon and planets follow in the Earth’s sky). The next two days the waning crescent moon will cuddle up with Venus and Mercury respectively before doing its disappearing act on new moon. Please be aware that this image was taken in the Southern Hemisphere, where the ecliptic is much steeper at this time of year, which means that the planets Venus and Mercury are higher in the sky and can therefore be more easily spotted.

Jewels of the Southern Sky

This beautiful nightscape above the derelict church of Serón features many of the well-known objects of the southern sky:  the bright stars Alpha and Beta Centauri, the Southern Cross, the Coalsack Nebula, the Magellanic Clouds as well as the globular clusters Omega Centauri and 47 TUC.

Mars and friends

Currently Mars is shining brightly in one of the most intriguing parts of the Milky Way. The picture shows Mars (the orange dot in the left hand corner) along with the Lagoon Nebula ( red cloud below Mars), the Trifid Nebula (small red-blue dot to the right of the Lagoon Nebula), the Omega Nebula (red dot to the far right) and the Eagle Nebula (in the lower right corner).  Also visible are a number of star clusters, the most prominent of which is the globular cluster M22 (the bright white dot at the upper edge of the image).

Scorpius and the planets

Scorpius and the planets Mars (brightest dot in the upper left hand corner) and Saturn (bright white dot almost straight below Mars) one day after full moon. The image was taken with a special diffuser filter to highlight the colors of the stars and planets.

Wide-field view

Finally El Niño gave us a break and we had a spectacular clear night, which I used for some wide-field images of the Milky Way. The bright red dot above the Milky Way is the planet Mars, the fainter red dot below it is Antares (the main star of the constellation Scorpius), and the brighter dot to the left of Antares is the planet Saturn. The images were taken with my camera sitting “piggyback” on a  telescope with motorized tracking.

Transit of Mercury

On May 9, 2016, the planet Mercury passed directly in front of the sun (visible as a small black dot on the sun’s face). The whole event lasted seven and a half hours. However, in this part of Chile the initial stages (first and second contact) took place shortly before sunrise, and were therefore not visible. We had quite some clouds on that day, but I was lucky and could watch and photograph most of the transit. Transit in progress; Mercury and sunspots. Mercury is leaving the sun’s disk (third contact). A 100 % crop of the above picture. Sun halo during the transit. My setup for the transit (8″ TEC APO, 1600mm, f 8, Baader AstroSolar Safety Film).

Polloquere hot springs

The Polloquere hot springs are located at 4318 meters in the Salar de Surire in northern Chile (Parinacota region). This is a very remote area that can only be reached by offroad vehicles on rather precarious roads (don’t forget to bring extra gas and lots of water). The thermal water is moderately to very hot, and thus perfect to warm up in cold temperatures. During our stay at the hot springs we had a full moon. Although this is not ideal for astro photography, it nevertheless illuminated the landscape nicely and gave the sky an appealing blue tint. Rise of the full moon.   The two brightest stars of the nightsky, Sirius (right) and Canopus (left) are setting.   The Big Dipper, but on its head.   Great campsite with lots of parking available.   Frozen windows in the morning.   Moon setting.   Sun rising.   The moon is setting behing the ridge on the right, while the first rays of the sun illuminate the mountain on the left.   Lovely morning scenery.

ALMA

I was very lucky and could to join a daytime visit to the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). ALMA is located at 5000 meters altitude on the Chajnantor plateau in the Atacama desert. It consists of 66 high-precision radio telescopes, that have a diameter of 12 and 7 meters, and that can be spread over distances of up to 16 kilometers. ALMA is used to study light from some of the coldest objects in the universe, thus providing insights into our cosmic origins. In order to reach the ALMA high site you have to undergo some rigorous medical checks at the OSF (Operations Support Facility) located at 2900 meters and endure a bus ride, which completes the ascend to 5000 meters in 45 minutes.