Friday, October 29, 2010

Great World-Wide Star Count is Underway!

The Great World-Wide Star Count is underway now through November 12th. It is an easy & fun way to participate in real science and help measure light pollution in the process. Follow the link to learn how to participate.

Astrophoto Friday - Witch's Broom Nebula

It is Astrophoto Friday again and almost Halloween, so today we give you the Witch's Broom Nebula.

The Witch's Broom Nebula (a part of the Veil Nebula supernova remnant) is about 1,400 light years distant in the direction of the constellation of Cygnus the Swan.

This image was produced from several photos taken with Palomar's 48-inch Samuel Ochin Telescope as a part of the Second Palomar Observatory Sky Survey. The image was processed by Davide De Martin. You can check out many more great images that he has produced at his SkyFactory website.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Palomar History Photo of the Week -

Back in early July I posted a modern photo of the support structure of the 200-inch telescope.

Here is what I had to say about it back then:
The support structure for the telescope was assembled out of steel in 1936. Dropping down 22-feet into the ground, it is anchored to Palomar Mountain itself. Its parts were both welded and riveted together. The structure is isolated from the foundation of the building to ensure that no vibrations would carry to the telescope itself.

It is essentially a structure that is independent of the building that contains it. Our history photo for this week helps to illustrate that point as it shows the structure as it looked before the building was added around it.

The photo was taken September 28, 1936.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

40 Years Ago Today

40 years ago today Palomar Observatory's 60-inch telescope was dedicated. The telescope is currently seeing heavy use as a part of the Palomar Transient Factory survey and next year it will be fitted with adaptive optics as a part of the Robo-AO project. But 40 years ago it was brand new. For your enjoyment below is a copy of the dedication program as the telescope was commissioned.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Astrophoto Friday - Uranus with Adaptive Optics

Once again it is Astrophoto Friday. Last week's choice was Neptune as seen by the Hale Telescope with adaptive optics. This week we move inward to bring you the planet Uranus.

This image of Uranus was taken on 11 August 2006 with the Palomar Observatory's 200-inch (5-meter) Hale Telescope and its Adaptive Optics system. The Adaptive Optics system removes the blurring effects of Earth's atmosphere to produce very high resolution images.

Don Banfield of Cornell University collected and processed the data to produce this false color image. The image was recorded in three near-infrared wavelengths: "J" centered at 1.250 microns, "H" at 1.635 microns, and "Ks" at 2.150. The images were combined as red, green, and blue to create this false-color image. Several cloud features can be seen at Uranus' atmosphere. The planet's rings (seen nearly edge-on) show up as the red area off of the planet's disk.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Looking Through the Telescope

This isn't exactly what people usually have in mind when talking about looking through the Hale Telescope.

Here is the last picture to post from the recent secondary mirror inspection. At the end of the work I had the opportunity to go up in the basket to see the mirror. Alas, there wasn't enough light for me to capture the secondary, but the view looking inside the tube of the Hale Telescope from just below prime focus was pretty good.

There is a lot in this photo. So I have prepared an annotated version that shows off some of the major parts:

Secondary Inspection Movie

Here is a short, time-lapse movie from last week's secondary mirror inspection (photos in the previous post) as captured by the Hale Telescope's webcam.

Here is direct link to the movie on YouTube.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Inspecting the Hale Telescope's Secondary

One day last week it was time for a routine inspection of one of the Hale Telescope's three secondary mirrors. The extreme pointing of the telescope to the east provided for easier access for the crew to get to the secondary mirror and it made for some nice photo opportunities.

Here is the view of the telescope from the inside catwalk. The photo was taken from the east side of the telescope.

The view from the north of the telescope's horseshoe reveals just how far to the east it was pointed. For those who are really curious, it was pointed 5 hours 41 minutes east of zenith.

Here is the view from on the observing floor on the north side of the telescope. The inspection crew is in the basket of the yellow lift.

From the catwalk, west of the telescope, the view showed off the bottom of the Cassegrain cage.

The view from south of the telescope reveals that it wasn't quite pointed to the horizontal -- but it was pretty close.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rain & Fog on Palomar

Anyone planning on traveling to Palomar Mountain today or in the next few days should pay close attention to the weather and road conditions.

Rain and fog are currently making for difficult driving conditions in the area. Additionally, rocks in the roads are likely during these times.

Be careful out there.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Palomar History Photo of the Week - Resistance is Futile

Looking at this 1938 photo from the Caltech optical shop you might think that this optician was the inspiration for the Borg of the Star Trek universe.

In actuality he was performing a Foucault knife-edge test to measure the shape of one of the secondary mirrors for the 200-inch telescope.

By showing the full photo you can get a better sense of the mechanism that was being used.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Astrophoto Friday - Neptune with Adaptive Optics

It is Astrophoto Friday! For your enjoyment this time is the planet Neptune.

This image of Neptune was taken on 11 August 2006 with the Palomar Observatory's 200-inch Hale Telescope and its adaptive optics system. The adaptive optics system removes the blurring effects of Earth's atmosphere to produce very high resolution images.

Don Banfield of Cornell University collected and processed the data to produce this false color image. The image was recorded in three near-infrared wavelengths: "J" centered at 1.250 microns, "H" at 1.635 microns, and "Ks" at 2.150. The images were combined as red, green, and blue to create this false-color image. A wide assortment of clouds can be seen at Neptune's atmosphere. The multi-colored object passing above Neptune is one of its moons which moved during the exposures.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lights Out this Election?

John Garrett runs a blog called Bright Stars Wildomar, which takes on light pollution in his area of Wildomar, CA (north of Palomar in Riverside County). In a recent post he has asked the candidates for Wildomar City Council to comment on light pollution. It is certainly worth reading for anyone in that immediate area, but it is also a task worthy of any voter in any area.

Naturally the issue of light pollution is one of great importance to Palomar. Hopefully it is also of importance to readers of this blog too. Anybody out there care to ask their candidates where they stand on the issue? If so, I would love to hear about it.

If you want to know where I stand on the issue (although I am not running for political office) you might want to attend my talk to the Riverside Astronomical Society on Saturday, October 23. It will be held at 7:30 p.m. in Cossentine Hall, La Sierra University, Riverside.

Also, a reminder, I am told that Dixieline still has a great deal on dark-sky light fixtures. Check out this post for the details.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

PALM-3000 Compoents Arrive

It is always nice when new things come to the observatory. Today the components for the new PALM-3000 upgrade to our adaptive optics system were delivered to the dome of the Hale Telescope.
The PALM-3000 team now has a good four months of work to complete on the system which is currently expected to see first light in February 2011.

For more information you can read an article here on the PALM-3000's new deformable mirror.

News & Discoveries from Palomar Transient Factory

The total number of supernovae discovered via the Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) survey has climbed to 800.

The heart of the survey is Palomar's 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope.

Be sure to check out the article from on PTF and astronomical data mining.

According to the article each night the 48-inch "telescope picks up 1.5 million candidate transients — fleeting astronomical phenomena — in the sky. Ten thousand or so of these are bona fide objects, and about 10 turn out to be new. Finding a few needles in a giant haystack night after night is a relatively new challenge for astronomers".

One of the more recent announcements out of the survey is that of the discovery of a possible "super-Chandrasekhar Type Ia Supernova". That would be the explosion of a white dwarf star that is more massive than is typically expected. They may possibly result from the merger and detonation of two white dwarf stars. For more on Type Ia supernovae, check out this fine summary from OPT telescopes.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Palomar History Photo of the Week - The Electro-Magentic Sweeper

The Perfect Machine by Ronald Florence is the authoritative history of the building of the 200-inch Hale Telescope. The book is a detailed and often moving account of what happened and why on the Palomar project.

Here is a short passage from the book describing some of the conditions in the Caltech optical shop as people were polishing the 200-inch mirror:

The obsession with cleanliness in the optical shop was more than many men could stand. The floors were swept and washed daily. A worker rolled a magnet over the floor daily, sometime several time a day, to pick up even tiny specks of metal. If a speck was found it was put into an envelope, and the search began for the culprit machine. Was it a chip off a gear? Abrasion of some metal part that no one heard because of the noise of the grinding machines? A foreign speck off the shoes or uniform of a careless worker? Whatever the cause, it had t be found. A speck of metal under a polishing tool on the surface of a disk could make a scratch that might destroy months of work.

The image that came to my mind of a worker rolling a magnet over the floor to pick up stray bits of metal didn't equal the reality of the device that they actually used. I present to you the Electro-Magnetic Sweeper:

An amazing looking device! Here it is in action next to the 200-inch Pyrex disc:

Even more amazing to me is the fact that both of the people in the photo above the glass are smoking pipes! Both photos are from December 1938.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

More Robo-AO Laser Pictures

As promised here are a couple of photos of the recent laser tests on the Palomar 60-inch telescope for the Robo-AO project.

The first picture show a close-up view that shows a portion of the 60-inch telescope at left and a view of the UV laser and its beam propagating upward.

The second shot, taken just outside the dome, shows the laser beam against the star field.

Finally, we have a wider view showing the laser beam propagating upward into a cloudy sky.

Thanks go out to Christoph Baranec and the Robo-AO team for letting me post these shots. For more on the project be sure to check out my previous post and the Robo-AO website.

LCROSS Impact Anniversary

Today marks the one year anniversary of the impact of the LCROSS spacecraft into the Moon.

Palomar Observatory observed the event with the 200-inch Hale Telescope's adaptive optics system. While the impact plume was not observed the research team that used the Hale returned some pretty impressive images. The images were the best from any telescope that observed the event. A short video was produced from the frames taken before and after the impact.

UK amateur astronomer Paul Coleman recently took the individual frames from the movie and combined them with the image processing program Registax. In the process Paul took a good image and made it even better.

The adaptive optics corrected image from the 200-inch is on the left and the result of combining many frames is on the right.

Thanks go out to Paul for doing this and allowing me to share it with everyone here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Palomar Owl

Last month, just before sunrise after the first successful laser test for the 60-inch telescope's Robo-AO system, Christoph Baranec (Robo-AO's P.I.) spied and photographed this owl:

We do not know if this is the same owl who had been perching on our all-sky camera, but we are checking into it. Alas, a technical issue has delayed out all-sky camera from going public just yet.

We will let you know as soon as the all-sky camera is up for public display. In the meantime, enjoy this full-resolution look at the owl.

By the way, Christoph also took some great shots of the Robo-AO laser in action. Look for those to be posted here soon.

Astrophoto Friday - the Blackeye Galaxy

This week's astrophoto is of the Blackeye Galaxy, also known as M64. M64 is spiral galaxy located about 19 million light years distant in the direction of the constellation of Coma Berenices.

The image was captured by the Palomar Transient Factory team using Palomar's 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Palomar History Photo of the Week: October 4, 2010

Sixty three years ago this week Caltech announced that the job of polishing the 200-inch mirror had been completed. The lead optician on the project was Marcus Brown. Brown celebrated the conclusion of his work be signing the glass:

Friday, October 1, 2010

Astrophoto Friday - the Milky Way & Light Pollution

You may recall that back in August I posted a photo of the Perseid Meteor Shower over Palomar's Hale Telescope taken by astronomer Iair Arcavi. You might also recall his Two Nights at the Palomar Observatory YouTube video.

Iair has processed of some the imagery he shot those two nights to produce this dramatic panorama of the Milky Way over the Hale Telescope.

His composite image is made from 14 separate exposures.

Compare it to the other panorama image of the Hale and the Milky Way - Wally Pacholka's Milky Way over Palomar you'll notice some dramatic differences.

Apart from the way the the two images were processed, the weather was very different on the two nights.

In the image taken by Wally there were a few clouds in the sky and a vast sea of them below Palomar Mountain. The low clouds are not visible in his image, but they effectively dimmed the city lights.

Iair's image there were no low clouds blocking the city lights making the ugly glow of light pollution easily visible. Notice how the light of the Milky Way galaxy is vanquished by the bright glow of the many lights in San Diego and Riverside Counties. There is even a smaller glow on the right produced by the lights of Palm Springs.

Because Nature does not always bring in the low clouds that protect Palomar Observatory's view of the universe, we ask all our neighbors to help do their part by making sure that nighttime lights are properly shielded and turned off when not absolutely needed.