Meteor showers occur when the Earth’s orbit intersects with a trail of debris, usually left behind from a comet. They are named after the constellation that this debris appears to originate from. This origin point is called the “radiant”. The material becomes shock heated upon entering the Earth’s atmosphere at incredibly high speeds, burning away its layers as the surrounding gas becomes ionized, leaving behind beautiful streaks of light in the night sky. The color of this light is influenced by the chemical composition of the meteor and the composition of the gas in the atmosphere where the ionization is taking place.
The Perseids meteor shower is a result of the debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle, and has its radiant in the Perseus constellation. These meteors tend to be brilliant green in color, with the larger ones fading to a peach color while still streaming across the sky.
I set out to image the Perseids this year, letting my camera run for hours taking over one thousand 10 second exposures. I sorted out my favorite meteor images and stacked them together to show the radiant of the Perseids. I also added a satellite that I captured along with a couple of non-Perseid meteors, because I thought it made the image look more interesting. Can you tell which ones “don’t belong”?
I spent the night at the Columbus Astronomical Society’s observing site. I left my camera pointed at the Milky Way while I experimented with different settings on my imaging telescope. I brought home a lot of data, which I will probably be learning how to process over the next couple weeks.
These are my first attempts at capturing the Milky Way:
On the way back from the site, I saw the most beautiful sunrise.
Last night I went to the Columbus Astronomical Society’s observing site, Grieser field. This was my first time visiting the site and my first time using my first ever astrophotography telescope. (Thank you Joe for lending me the 8” edge for so long!)
I had low expectations because astrophotography is difficult, especially when working with unfamiliar equipment.
Surprisingly, I was able to get all of my equipment set up and working together, and even managed to image a deep sky object!
M27 is a planetary nebula located over 1200 light years from earth. M27 was the first planetary nebula ever discovered. It was found in 1764 by Charles Messier, a comet hunter from France who kept a catalog of objects that were not comets and therefore were of no interest to his search. This later became known as the Messier catalog and hosts some of the most interesting objects to view in the night sky.
Friday was a great evening to observe the comet. The skies were clear and people were excited about going out. A few people from the Columbus Astronomical Society (CAS) and OSU Astronomy came out to Delaware Dam and set up physically distant, individual telescopes and tripods. The event also drew out the public, with many different groups of people there to see NEOWISE with their own naked eyes. A chorus of voices, involved in their own distinct conversations, was amplified and guided by the curvature of the earthen portion of the dam and into the field. I never imagined how much I would miss that sound.
I wanted to take a longer exposure image that showed the comet’s two tails.
Comets are big, dirty, ice balls. As the comet approaches the Sun, the Sun’s heat warms the comet, vaporizing some of it’s material and releasing dust particles that were frozen inside.
The more visible tail is caused by the solar wind pushing dust away from the comet. This tail is similar in color to the comet itself and curves along the comet’s orbit.
The ion tail is caused by solar radiation ionizing particles around the comet. These charged particles are then carried along the surrounding magnetic field, directed along a straight path outward from the sun. The ion tail typically glows with a bluish hue.
My exposure time was not long enough to capture the rich, bluish color of the ion tail but the tail itself is clearly visible.
I also decided to try my hand at combining the breathtaking comet with the mesmerizing firefly show. This was the result.
The presence of a naked eye comet makes observing irresistible, even if one was just out imaging for several nights before. I returned to Delaware Dam and reshot both the comet and the firefly show, with the intent of improving on some of the techniques I used the previous night.
My friend, Mark, took me to a site with a clear northwestern horizon to hunt for Comet NEOWISE this evening. We stood beneath the eerie green glow of a Subway sign as we waited patiently for NEOWISE to appear in a small opening in the clouds.
When I was young my parents took me to Yellowstone. My most vivid memory of that trip was seeing the Morning Glory Pool. I had never seen water that color before, fiery orange on the outer rim changing to yellow then green and finally to a vibrant teal. and as I stepped closer I was able to see down further into the center, the teal becoming bluer and richer until I got close enough to lean against the safety fence, and saw it…a bright green Mountain Dew can some terrible person tossed into such a wonderful feature of nature.
This is my image of the Ring Nebula (M57). It reminds me of the Morning Glory Pool, but instead of having a Mountain Dew can in the center, it has a white dwarf.
A white dwarf is a planet-sized stellar remnant. Very massive stars explode (and some even implode!) when they run out of fuel but lower mass stars (like our sun) lose their outer layers while the core remains behind cooling very slowly over time. This photo tells that story. You can see the white dwarf in the center and the stellar material that diffused away as the star began to run out of fuel. The colors themselves reveal the chemical composition of the gas. The blue in the center is caused by helium, the greenish-blue inner ring is caused by hydrogen and oxygen and the reddish outer ring is caused by nitrogen and sulfur.