Friday, 2 December 2011

To the Moon and beyond

Last night it was another clear one, without any cloud, after many similar ones in a row. Quite unusual being late this Fall, typically a rainy season here in Italy.

Before leaving the office, I decided to "remotely" open my observatory to have a quick look at the sky. "Remotely", I said. It may sounds quite strange to people, but my observatory is about 100km away from the Planetarium of Rome, where I work. So, I use to access it via the Internet: I can open the roof of the observatory (of course, once I've looked that the sky is clear!), then I start all the instruments. In few minutes, I can start surfing the skies.

While there were some haze and humidity, I decided to start both the robotic telescopes available there: one for imaging the Moon and one for picking up a galaxy a few tens of millions of light years away, NGC 891.

The Moon was wonderful, as the atmosphere was really steady: plenty of fine details were visibile, with some amazing craters, including Teophilus, Catharina and Cyrillus. You can enjoy a postcard from the Moon here, captured with the 14" telescope hosted as part of the Virtual Telescope:

Full res image available here

I wanted to do a full disk mosaic, covering the whole surface of the satellite, but while I was arranging this the seeing started getting worse. But I'm still happy with this single shot. Hope you liked to have a look, too!

While the Moon was moving west, the distant galaxy I selected for the night, NGC 891, was still rising in the eastern sky, though already high above the horizon. As you can easily imagine, event a little Moon, with its light, can be an "enemy" against those really faint and distant objects. Add that there was some haze around and you understand I had to wait for the Moon to almost set. Then I started a sequence on NGC 891, which is a wonderful edge-on spiral galaxy, located at about 30 millions of light years from your chair. For this images, I used the 17" unit part of my equipment

The galaxy showed very well and after 18 different long exposures (300 seconds each) I decided to merge those data with a previous set of images I had from a previous session for the same galaxy. A total exposure time of 3 hours made possible to get this final shot:

Full res image and more details available here

I was very happy with this final image and was completely lost counting the many subtle, small galaxies scattered around the "big one". Please, check the full res image available here also to see the many details across the dust band which makes this galaxy a brilliant example of edge-on spiral galaxy.

During the session, I managed to share the raw images in real-time thanks to the Virtual Telescope's web tv and many friends from all around the globe could have a look with me.

Now it is cloudy here in Italy, I will take some good sleep, but I've already planned the next step... so stay tuned!

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