Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Biggest Worlds of the Kuiper Belt

As reported earlier the I.A.U has decided that Makemake is joining Eris and Pluto as Dwarf Planets of the Kuiper Belt. Here's a look at the biggest known objects of the Kuiper Belt. Eris, Makemake, 2003 EL61, Sedna, Orcus, and Quaoar were all discovered here at Palomar. Six out of eight isn't bad.

Julian Starfest

There's a new astronomical celebration coming to southern California the first weekend of August - Julian Starfest. There will be all kinds of great stuff to see & do there. Check out the website for more.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Congress and the International Year of Astronomy

It seems that even the U.S. House of Representatives has been talking about the International Year of Astronomy. You can watch a clip of them talking about it via C-SPAN. If the clip it doesn't begin to play click on the "Watch Flash Video" button on the right.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

HPWREN's Image of the Week

Some of my work, already seen here on this blog, was selected for the HPWREN Image of the Week. Scroll through the Image of the Week archives and you'll not only find other astronomy shots, but helicopters, fireworks, antenna arrays, wildfires and even pelicans. Cool stuff.

Shoemaker-Levy 9 Anniversary

Fourteen years ago today began perhaps the biggest week of astronomy ever as the fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 began to slam into Jupiter.

The comet was discovered at Palomar by Eugene M. Shoemaker, Carolyn S. Shoemaker and David H. Levy using the 18-inch Schmidt on March, 1993.

From July 16 - 22, 1994 the astronomical world was captivated as at least 21 fragments of the comet collided with Jupiter. This was the first time that anyone was able to witness the collision of an comet or asteroid with a planet. The results were spectacular as Earth-sized clouds were produced in Jupiter's atmosphere that could easily be seen in small, amateur-sized telescopes.

The 200-inch Hale at Palomar was one of the many telescopes observing the event.

Image caption:
An infrared image of Jupiter at a wavelength of 2.3 microns, constructed in a computer from 5 individual images taken from Palomar Mountain on July 23rd and 24th, 1994, showing the scars left by the multiple impacts of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. The picture shows the planet as it would appear to an observer located above 45 S, 60 W. The prominent impact sites E, H, Q, G, and L (from left to right) are visible at 44 S, surrounding the bright South Polar Hood. The smaller spot between the Q and G impact sites is due to the R impact, which was observed directly from Palomar. The Polar Hood and the impact sites both appear bright in this image because they are composed of particulate clouds that are high above an opaque layer of gaseous methane, which obscures the underlying cloud deck at this wavelength. The fainter feature at 20 S, near the western limb of the planet, is the famous Great Red Spot.
JPL has an amazing archive of images from the event captured by telescopes on Earth and in space. Be sure to check it out as a part of your SL9 celebration.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

And Then There Were Four

The Dwarf Planet roll call has risen from three to four. 2005FY9, discovered at Palomar Observatory on March 31, 2005, has now officially been named Makemake (MAH-kay MAH-kay). There is an excellent essay on its naming from Mike Brown, one of its discovers, over at his blog Mike Brown's Planets.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday's Odds & Ends

Here's a reminder that I'll be speaking at the Southern California Astronomy Exposition (SCAE) Seminar Symposium at 11:00 am on Saturday July 12 at Oceanside Photo & Telescope.

In other news, Caltech Today is reporting that Caltech Astronomer and former Palomar Observatory Director Richard Ellis has been invested as a Commander of the British Empire. Our congratulations go out to him.

Finally, here are two photos for your Friday.

I am calling this one Waiting for Darkness. The calibrations are done, but the Sun has not yet down. The Hale Telescope quietly waits for its nightly mission to begin again.

Sunset over the dome of the 24-inch telescope as seen from the Hale Telescope's catwalk.

Project 1640 Installation Movie

Here's a time-lapse movie of the installation of the Adaptive Optics instrument and then the Project 1640 instrument into the Hale Telescope's Cassegrain cage.

Despite having to dodge clouds on two of their three nights the observing team was very happy with the performance of their new instrument.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Palomar on TV

You can see Palomar Observatory & JPL's Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking program profiled tomorrow night on the History Channel's Modern Marvels show. It is scheduled to air Thursday, July 10 from 9:00 - 10:00 p.m., but check your local listings.

From the show's website:

Explore collisions that shake our world from the astronomic to the subatomic. Discover breakthroughs that could make the deadly sport of professional auto racing safer and visit a motorcycle crash test facility and examine two-wheeled accidents in detail. Meet a skydiver who survived a crash to earth from 11,000 feet. An asteroid crashing to earth could destroy our planet--watch as NASA's Near Earth Asteroid Tracking team hunt down dangerous asteroids. Finally learn about scientist's who are creating crashes with colliding subatomic particles in the world's largest machine. Will they unlock the secrets of the universe--or accidentally open a black hole?
Yikes! "An asteroid crashing to earth could destroy our planet" ?! Not really, folks. That's just hype to get (scare?) you to watch the show.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Project 1640: installed

You may remember my New Instrument. New Planets? post from late June. Well, the time has finally come for Project 1640 to get installed on the 200-inch Hale Telescope.

Below is a shot from earlier today as the new instrument was brought into the Hale's Cassegrain cage and attached to the adaptive optics unit.

All seemed to go well and the unit is safely in place.

With any luck in a day or two I'll have a time-lapse movie for everyone to view of the installation.

Tonight begins the first of three engineering nights - that's time to make sure the instrument works and to prepare for future science operations.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Be Our Guest

We finally put out a guest book at the observatory. In its first four days we had visitors sign in from nine different U.S. states and eight foreign countries. Included in the mix were Norway, Russia and Taiwan. If you get the chance to give us a visit, be sure to sign in.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Celestial Fireworks

Perhaps the biggest 4th of July fireworks display ever was that of the supernova explosion which created the Crab Nebula. The "guest star" was first observed by Chinese astronomers on July 4, 1054 and was bright enough to be seen in the daytime sky for 23 days!

The nebula created by the event was made the first object in the famous Messier Catalog in 1758. The near-infrared image above was taken with the Hale Telescope. Compare it with an older, visible light image of the Crab also taken with the Hale.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Stars in the sky go round and round. . . .

Here's a photo from last night looking back at the Hale Telescope as it was looking at the Swan Nebula (M17) in Sagittarius. The stars of the Big Dipper are descending behind the dome while Polaris, the North Star, is nearly at the center of the star trails on the right. The glow you see behind the dome is sky glow (aka light pollution) produced by the many lights of Riverside County.

The image was assembled from 25 30-second exposures. Earth's rotation over the time span produces the trailed out images of stars. A nice effect.

Here is another star-trail photo taken on a different (and moonlit) night looking in almost the opposite direction.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Southern California Astronomy Exposition

You are invited to join me when I'll be speaking at the Southern California Astronomy Exposition (SCAE) Seminar Symposium at 11:00 am on Saturday July 12 at Oceanside Photo & Telescope.

My talk will be on the history of the building of the 200-inch Hale Telescope. Those that attend will get to see some amazing historic images that have largely hidden away for 60 years or more. I will even explain what the heck was going on in this photo:
Yes, that is a truck hanging from the crane inside the dome of the 200-inch Telescope.

Also speaking that day will be Caltech's Nick Law on Lucky Imaging, Gary Palmer will speak on solar imaging and Marc Rayman will describe the Dawn Mission to the asteroid belt. Last, but certainly not least, will be Arlene Martel.

She was T'Pring from Star Trek. If that's not enough to get you to attend there is more. Seth Shostak from the SETI Institute will speak that evening at Palomar College just before a star party there caps the day.

SCAE continues the following Saturday with an amazing telescope & instrumentation faire and more prizes than you can possibly imagine. Really. Follow the link and you'll see what I mean.

The View from on High (Point)

Here's a view looking down at the observatory from High Point, the highest elevation on Palomar Mountain. Click on the image for a higher resolution view. From left to right is the Oscar Mayer Building which houses the 60-inch telescope; the dome for the 18-inch Schmidt 's dome (partially blocked by trees); the 48-inch Samuel Oschin Schmidt Telescope's dome; the 200-inch Hale Telescope's dome; Utility Hill with the gray "cow barn" (no cows, just storage), 1,000,000-gallon water tank, and water tower; behind and just left of the water tower is the dome for the 24-inch telescope; on the right is the observatory's visitor center. The Palomar Testbed Interferometer is completely hidden by the large grove of trees in front of the Hale Telescope dome.

Please note that the 6,142 foot peak of High Point is not accessible from the observatory.