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Keck Interferometer Team to Make Stars 'Disappear'

Astro Imaging
October 8, 2004 (PLANET QUEST) -- The technological magicians at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the W.M. Keck Observatory are a step closer to performing a vanishing act on a cosmic scale.

What's left when you remove a star?

This demo illustrates how the bright light of a star obscures the faint surrounding material. NOTICE To view this demo, go to: http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/ to the PlanetQuest page where this article originated. Once there, click on the art in the upper corner, then use the slider provided to "dim" the light and reveal a dust disk.

Interferometry: A new window on the Universe

With an instrument recently installed as part of the Keck Interferometer, they can make stars disappear almost completely from a telescope's view and reveal the close-in regions where planets may have formed. This fall, astronomers will continue integration and test of the instrument, called the "Nuller," which will contribute to NASA's search for planets around other stars.

"We have successfully combined infrared light from both 10-meter (33-foot) Keck telescopes using the new Nuller instrument," said Dr. Jim Fanson, Keck Interferometer project manager at JPL. "This permits a so-called 'visibility' measurement, where we can measure the size of objects with exquisite precision.

"Later this year, when we complete our functional tests of the Nuller, we'll be ready to attempt our first null measurement," Fanson said.

The Keck Interferometer is a NASA project that combines light from the world's largest optical telescopes to create a new type of telescope with unprecedented power. An interferometer is a device that gathers light waves from multiple telescopes, and then combines the waves in such a way that they interact, or "interfere" with each other. Depending on how the light waves are combined, they can combine constructively, creating higher intensity, or they can combine destructively, creating lower intensity The resulting light pattern, called an "interference fringe," can be decoded by astronomers to make high precision measurements, such as a star's diameter or the size of an accretion disk around a black hole.
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AOAS Will Buy Planetary and Deep Sky Imagers

Astro Imaging
The NEW Meade DeepSky Imager
We have long wanted to dabble in the new technology of CCD Imaging with our telescopes; we now have instructions to purchase imagers and equipment necessary to practice remote telescope control and astro-imaging!

At the October 15th meeting, the members in attendance saw us find the money and the will to go ahead with plans to buy a Meade Deep Sky Imager (retail $299.95 Meade Instruments) and a Celestron NexImage Solar System Imager (retail $149 now at $99 introductory price). How did we raise $540 for the project you ask? Dr. Chuck Larson once again stepped up to the plate for his latest "homerun" effort by presenting us with a check for $500!!!

We will order the imagers after a quick check of prices and availability. We will then turn our attention to finding a way to connect our CGE 1400 14" telescope that we've dubbed "CETUS" to the two computers inside the trailer. We had considered an RF Wireless Router to communicate between the computer inside and my old laptop attached to CETUS outside. However, we have now decided to run a cable to make a solid connection between the computers in the system. Webmaster Dave Grosvold has the hardware to do this and will donate everything along with his time to make this happen. Personally, I don't know where we'd be without Dave and Dr. Larson. We'd certainly be nowhere close to where we are now without their tireless and unselfish efforts.
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Comet C/2003 K4

Astro ImagingThis comet is placed in the western sky low just after dark. You can still see it for the next week or two before it dives behing the Sun to reappear for our frients in the southern half.


A new comet has been discovered which promices to be a 4th magnitude comet well placed for us in January passing over M45. C/2004 Q2 will give the ones that image a good target with lots of objects like M45 to help enhance your images. Thanks, Mike Holloway
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Astro ImagingAs you know this asteroid will make a 4-lunar distance pass on the 29(?) of Sept. I put together a small 2 frame animation of the asteroid taken from Van Buren the first week of Sept. The magnitude at that time was listed at about 12. Thanks, Mike Holloway

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Venus Transit Available from South Africa

Astro Imaging
Our friends from Bloemfontein Centre of the Astronomical Society of South Africa (ASSA), in cooperation with Boyden Observatory near Bloemfontein, Free State, South Africa, have offered us a web link to a sister club's site in Pretoria, SA as Venus passes in front of the Sun on June 8.

My correspondence with the ASSA member Gerrit Penning continues with our discussion on what their club and other organizations in SA might be doing for the transit. Gerrit sent us the following link so that anyone who's interested might be able to check on the progress of Venus as it crosses the Sun's disk the evening of June 7th and 8th.

The link address is: http://www.etacarina.co.za/astrocam.htm.

This link is provided by Mauritz Geyser of the Solar Section of ASSA Pretoria Centre, in Pretoria, South Africa. This transit will take about 6.2 hours to happen with the end of it coming at around 6am local CDT. That would place the beginning of the transit starting at just before midnight CDT on the evening of Monday, June 7th.

UPDATE: 10:20 PM...
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Comets, Jupiter, M13, The Big Dipper, and Astrophotography for Dummies

Rolled out the telescope last night for some comet observing. I found Neat relatively quick with the binoculars but it took me some time to find it with the scope. It was descent but I guess it is fading pretty fast. Looked at Saturn and it is still one of the prime objects in the sky right now. Swung over to Jupiter and was so impressed with the view there that I decided to break out the camera again and make another vain attempt at photographing the sky. Experimented with some zoom and exposure settings and occasionaly battled with the autofocus on the camera but finally acquired some reasonable pictures of the giant planet. Also took some wide field views to get the moons as well.

By then I thought I would kick back and just take in the night sky when I noticed the constellation Hercules approaching the center point of the sky above. Decided to try to make another attempt to photograph M13. Easily found it in the scope, focused and then attached my camera. Set exposure time to 15 seconds(The max on my Canon G3) and fired away. To my suprise the preview actually showed an image. Once again I took several pictures experimenting with various settings on the camera. Most of the time I was able to obtain a preview image. Decided to try something more challenging so I brought up the ring nebula(M57). Nothing noticeable on the preview with any of the various zooms or exposure times. By now it was around 2:30am and I thought I would try for a picture of the Big Dipper. Not much showing on the preview so was not sure what I would get when I downloaded. Really makes you appreciate what Mike has to go through while he is photographing comets that he can't even see.
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Hubble Digs Deeply, Toward Big Bang

Astro Imaging
Called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, the view represents the deepest portrait of the visible universe ever achieved by humankind. The snapshot reveals the first galaxies to emerge from the so-called "dark ages," the time shortly after the big bang when the first stars reheated the cold, dark universe. The new image should offer new insights into what types of objects reheated the universe long ago.

This historic new view is actually two separate images taken by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-object Spectrometer (NICMOS). Both images reveal galaxies that until now were too faint to be seen by ground-based telescopes, o reven in Hubble's previous faraway looks, called the Hubble Deep Fields, taken in 1995 and 1998.

"Hubble takes us to within a stone's throw of the big bang itself,"says Massimo Stiavelli of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., and the Hubble Ultra Deep Field project lead. The combination of ACS and NICMOS images will be used to search for galaxies that existed between 400 and 800 million years (ranging from redshift 7 to 12) after the big bang. A key question for astronomers is whether the universe appears to be the same at this very early time as it did when the cosmos was between 1 and 2 billion years old.
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Mike Holloway - Astrophotographer

Astro Imaging
Mike Holloway is an amateur astronomer and an avid astrophotographer who is especially interested in imaging comets. Mike loves comets. But by his own admission, he's not sure why that is. "There's just something about comets that I love to photograph," says Mike, "but I'm really not sure why. I'm just driven to do it."

Mike takes his comet photography VERY seriously. From his home and private observatory about 12 miles north of Van Buren, Arkansas, Mike spends his clear evenings at his computer monitor acquiring his images with a 4" Takahashi refractor telescope, which is piggy-back mounted on a Meade 10" f/6.3 SCT on a fork mount. He uses an SBIG cooled CCD camera to gather the light for an image and then downloads the image to his computer where he manipulates the image with Photoshop 7 to bring out fine detail in whatever comet or deep-sky object happens to hold his interest. His images in our members astrophotos section testify to his desire for perfection in his work.
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World's Largest Digital Camera

Astro ImagingCondensed from Popular Mechanics, Nov. 2003, pp.34,37. by Paul Eisenstein

QUEST, a new installation at the Palomar Observatory's Oschin Telescope near San Diego, is the world's largest astronomical digital camera, designed and built by astrophysicists from Yale and Indiana Universities. It uses an array of 112 CCDs, able to deliver data immediately, allowing researchers around the world to share QUEST's vision in real time. Unitl now, the largest astronomical camera had only 30 CCDs.

Designed for wide-field viewing, QUEST's massive CCD display will permit researchers to cover an unprecedented 500 square degrees a night. QUEST is expected to generate an unprecedented amount of astronomical data in digital form, more than 1 terabyte a month. A terabyte is 1 million megabytes of data.. That is equivalent of 2 million books, and by 2008 QUEST could generate more than twice as much information as is stored in the Library of Congress.

The data will be transmitted over a special 45-megabits-per-second HPWREN, to image-processing labs and university observation centers all over the country. Even amateur astronomers will be able to share in the digital action. Plans call for QUEST's data to be made available on the Internet through the National Virtual Observatory. Updates will be posted on various Web sites, including www.physics.yale.edu/quest/palomar.html
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Hubble Images Mars Near Closest Approach

Astro Imaging
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took this snapshot of Mars 11 hoursbefore the planet made its closest approach to Earth. The two planetsare 34,648,840 miles (55,760,220 km) apart. This image was made from aseries of exposures taken between 6:20 p.m. and 7:12 p.m. EDT Aug. 26with Hubble's Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2.

Check out the full size image in the Photo Gallery here.

Contributed originally by AOAS Member Dale Hall.

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