Mike's Astro Photos

Archive for 2011

Apr.19 2011

Solar System Scope

by , under Misc

Here’s an online planetarium program a friend sent me. Wow. This is really cool. Check it out:


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Apr.12 2011

First Man in Space

by , under Misc

Today is the 50th anniversary of the first man in space. Leave it to google to remind us with a wicked google doodle.

Click the image above for information and pictures about this remarkable day in space history.

Here’s a great video of the launch and celebration.

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Apr.04 2011

NASA – Front row seat

by , under Misc

My friend Cliff sent me this pretty cool NASA video. Go For Launch! Space Shuttle The Time-Lapse Movie

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Mar.30 2011

Retired Space Shuttle Fleet

by , under Misc

I had to renew my license so I was driving to the MVA this morning when I saw this:

Retired Space Shuttle - Joppa Road Parkville, MD

Now I know what NASA is doing with those retired space shuttles…

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Mar.20 2011

Sunflower Galaxy – Lightbuckets

by , under Galaxies

I’ve started looking into remote observatories recently. These are telescopes in far off dark places usually with optimal seeing conditions. The telescopes and cameras are all 100% computer automated and you can buy time on the scopes and do whatever you want. Here’s what I was able to do on my first run using LB0002 at Light Buckets Observatory.

Sunflower Galaxy - March 13, 2011

Here’s a close up of the galaxy at full resolution:

Sunflower Galaxy - March 13, 2011

Image Details
LB-0002 Rodeo, NM
8″ Newtonian Astrograph
30x30x30 RGB 40xL
Processed with CCDStack & Photoshop Elements

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Mar.05 2011

Waning Crescent Moon and Venus

by , under Lunar

This past Tuesday evening was a great night for astronomy work here in Northern Baltimore County Maryland. With the new moon phase only two days away most of evening was nice, dark and clear. I had a pretty good session, started a final photography job and then went inside and dosed off. I woke up Wednesday morning around 5:00 AM, went outside to close up shop and was happily greeted with a waning crescent moon hiding behind a thin veil of clouds just above the horizon in the east. A bright Venus was a little higher in the sky setting the stage for a spectacular dawn.  The morning was graced with a special moon phase as its the last visible moon of the last quarter. I was pretty tired and out of it, but felt compelled to capture the moment as this is a relatively difficult moon phase to shoot timing wise and you only have a max of 12 chances per year to get it and they are always at inconvenient times in the early morning and the window of opportunity is only about an hour or so each month.

So, I snapped two pics of the last Waning Crescent Moon…

Waning Crescent Moon - February 2nd, 2011

Waning Crescent Moon - February 2nd, 2011

one with clouds and one without.

Waning Crescent Moon - March 2nd, 2011

And a few pics of Venus too.

Venus - March 2nd, 2011

And then I went back to bed.

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Feb.24 2011

February 23rd, 2011 – Green Fireball

by , under Comets & Meteors

The north east was graced with yet another fireball early yesterday morning. Witnesses from Ontario, Michigan, Ohio, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland all reported seeing a bright green fireball in the sky at approximately 5:15 AM EST.

The AMS received over 40 witness reports. The initial run through my plotting software was a bit confusing. This is what all of the plotted witness reports look like: (red icon means movement left to right; green icon means movement right to left; green line is starting point, yellow line is ending point)

Green Fireball - February 23rd, 2011

Green Fireball - February 23rd, 2011

At first glance, this looks to be a tricky fireball. Usually the green and red icons will delineate the flight path pretty well, but in this instance, the green and red icons, don’t help make much sense of the flight path.

One of the biggest challenges with making sense of the witness reports is eliminating the noise (or bad reports). For big events (and small ones) there are always reports that conflict with each other, so its a bit of an art to determine which reports are good and which are bad. To help combat this, I recently added a field to the AMS fireball report form called observer experience. The purpose of the field is for the witness to rate his or her observing experience — 1 = no experience and 5 = very experienced.

I made some changes to the plotting software today so I could filter the witnesses by their level of experience. Here is what the witnesses with observing experience of 2 or higher looks like:

Green Fireball - February 23rd, 2011

Green Fireball - February 23rd, 2011

Things are starting to shape up a bit, but lets see what the plot looks like with only level 3 observers and higher:

February 23, 2011 - Green Fireball

Now it looks like we have a clear ending point. To determine this we try to find a common intersection among all of the yellow lines.

The flight path, is still a bit unclear to me, but there are two reports on the western side of the track that indicate “Up To Down” movement. This generally means the witnesses’ field of view is usually parallel to the meteors flight path and the meteor is moving away from the witness. For this reason they do not see side-to-side movement. Because of this, my initial estimate is West to East movement, starting in Michigan flying over Lake Ontario and ending on the Pennsylvania-New York border near Addison, Lawrenceville and Horseheads New York.

February 23rd, 2011 - Green Fireball - Possible Drop Zone

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Feb.14 2011

Daytime Fireball Makes Waves in Philly – 2011-02-14

by , under Comets & Meteors

A daytime fireball seen today from Philadelphia, New York City, New Jersey and other parts of the east coast turned heads and made waves. Over 20 AMS reports were filed within an hour of the fall and almost all of them put the space rock somewhere in the Atlantic.

The image below represents the plotting of the witness reports received by the AMS website in the first hour of this fall. 20+ reports in 1 hour for a daytime fireball, means this was a significant meteor event. The red person icon means the witness saw the meteor traveling left to right. The green icon means the person saw the meteor traveling right to left. The green line is the direction the witness first saw the fireball. The yellow line is where they last saw it. The red line is my ‘quick guess’ at the path of this fireball based on early reports.

Philly Fireball - Febuary 14, 2011 12:40 PM

Philly Fireball - Febuary 14, 2011 12:40 PM

If you witnessed this spectacular event, please leave a comment and tell us what you saw. Also please report the fireball to the AMS.

UPDATE 2/14/2011 – 8:23 PM –  Reports keep coming into the AMS. We have had over 50 already making this a heavily sighted event. I updated the above plot with the latest reports.

Marc Fries thinks he found the meteor on doppler radar. Here’s what he had to say:

I think I may have found it on radar.  The radar data is noisy on all the radars in range, but there is one feature that appears in the 1736 UTC data set of the KDIX radar outside Philly.  It features multiple altitude signals and a Doppler velocity pair (i.e. turbulence).  Location is 40.19498, -73.6645.  If it is a meteorite signature then it is roughly the size of the Grimsby fall.

Two words: Scuba gear.  Or two other words: Fishy Squisher.

The AMS Fireball logs for this event have been published.

Update 2/15/2011 – Radar Images

Marc Fries of Radar Meteorites sent me these 3D radar images of a possible hit of yesterday’s fireball.


KDIX 20110214 1736

KDIX 20110214 1736-SRV

KDIX 20110214 1736-SRV

This is what Marc had to say about the radar data:

This was the product of a quick 15-minute data exam before I had to take my son to his doctor’s appointment.  I’ve looked a bit more and there are a few interesting items in there that I would suggest as search targets if this were over land, but this is the only one that features both multi-sweep returns and observed turbulence.  The first image is a reflectivity image – note how freakin’ noisy the data is.  I don’t know why but all the radars in view are seeing this.  It might be multi-bounce returns from high waves, if there happens to be high winds running at the time.  The second image is the Doppler measurement.  Note the paired towards (green) and away from (red) the radar values.  This indicates that there was turbulence in that region. Both of these features show up in known meteorite falls, although there is currently nothing that is 100% accurate indicator of a meteorite fall.  Still, this feature is roughly in the time and space indicated by your data.

I went looking through the Nexrad files myself to poke around and found this bright return in one of the views. Its pretty close to the red arrow in the trajectory estimate based on witness reports. If this were the meteor (big if), then there would be a possibility of meteorites on Long Island, possibly between Levittown and East Massapequa.

Possible Meteor on Doppler Radar

Update 2/15/2011 – Over 230 observations of the NYC February 14th have been submitted to the AMS website making 2/14/11 NYC/Philly Meteor the 2nd most reported meteor of all time. Second only to The Wisconsin Meteor of 2010. There is still time to beat out WI, which holds the record at 323 witness reports. If you witnessed this meteor, please report it to the AMS.

Update 2/16/2011 – Bill Cooke from NASA’s meteoroid office sent me the results from his analysis of infrasound data which enables him to estimate the total energy and total mass of the meteor. This is what Bill had to say:

We did pick up this event at the Bermuda station, with the back azimuth consistent with the doppler radar as reported by Mark Fries. Energy estimate is ~10 tons TNT, which equates to ~0.9 m diameter rock, with a mass of about 850 kg. A bit lower than my initial guesstimate, but I did not have the infrasound available then.

Update 2/17/2011 00:23 – I received this interesting comment and image from Peter.

I looked at one of the 1736 images from the DIX radar…definately the meteoroid. Lots of echos, some indicating hard targets and also a trail of smoke returns. I have an image, but don’t know how to load it to this site. I would not rule out some iron landing on Long Island.

Possible Meteor Radar Signal Over Long Island

Possible Meteor Radar Signal Over Long Island

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Feb.07 2011

NGC 891

by , under Galaxies

Here’s my first attempt of photographing NGC 891, an edge-on spiral galaxy hidden about 30 million light years away in the constellation Andromeda.

I was surprised by how big the galaxy was especially since I was using a low powered telescope to view it. There are a couple of interesting things about this galaxy. 1) its edge-on which simply means what you think it means — we are looking directly at the edge or side of the galaxy. 2) Its an unbarred galaxy, which basically means there’s a big bulge in the middle of the galaxy. Since we are edge-on with the galaxy, we can see exactly how big that bulge is. These two factors working together along with the galaxy’s relative closeness and apparent size make NGC 891 a perfect astrophotography target.

During post processing, I had a few problems and some noise was introduced into the photo. I attribute this mostly to a bad set of flats. My flat field photo taking skills are one of the items on my short list for improvement. Problems aside, I’m still happy with the results and I will definitely be back to photograph this guy again.

NGC 891 - December 28th, 2010

NGC 891 - December 28th, 2010

Photo Details
William Optics FLT98 APO Refractor
Celestron CGEM Mount
Canon 20da DSLR Camera
1 hour exposure = 5 minute x 12 @ ISO 400

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Jan.29 2011

Snow Days

by , under Misc

We had a lot of snow here the past week. After things settled down and the roads were cleared, I took a ride around the hood and snapped some pics.

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Jan.20 2011

Possible Meteor Storm Associated with North Carolina Meteor Event

by , under Comets & Meteors

Bob Lunsford from the American Meteor Society sent out this email today to the meteor observing mailing list:

The American Meteor Society has received 39 reports of seven separate fireball events over North America on January 19th. Two of these were widely seen events. Both of these events occurred near 21:00 EST. The first occurred  over the northern Midwest and southern Canada. There is some wide scattered timing of this event and the possibility exists that this may be more than one fireball. The second occurred over the southeastern states and was seen from Florida north to North Carolina. There is good
agreement for the timing plus it seems to been a bit brighter with a majority of those reporting that the peak brightness exceeded that of the full moon.

For more details please visit the AMS website at:

Refer to reports 83 and 86.

Clear Skies!

Robert Lunsford
American Meteor Society

Dirk Ross from Toyko tipped me off to an increase in meteor activity on January 10th, 2011. Since that time there has been at least 7 significant fireball events in the US alone. If you pay attention to the reports, stories and witness accounts you will see that subsequent fireballs are being observed after the main event. This is a recurring theme with several of these events. There is not much support in the community for the NEO theory being the reason for the increase. There is also not a consensus that there even is an increase in activity to begin with. I believe the multiple events reported yesterday in conjunction with all of the recent big fireballs we have been having is potential evidence for a new meteor stream or some other phenomena.

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Jan.19 2011

North Carolina Meteor 1/19/2011

by , under Comets & Meteors

Reports are now coming in from North Carolina and Georgia about a large green meteor that just came down. The reported times are between 20:50 – 21:00 EST.

From Charlotte, NC

it was really cool ball of green glow. my husband thought it was a firework left over from new years but there was no sound but a big ball of green glowing something with a glowing trail

from Burlington, NC

I was driving in my truck talking with a friend. We had the windows rolled up and the heater fan on. I didn\’t hear anything from outside the vehicle.
General_Remarks = I was driving towrds work on Forestdale Dr between the Forestdale apartments and the K-Mart. Through the windsheild I saw a very bright fireball with a tail streaking across the sky. I lost sight very quickly when it went down behind trees/buildings.

Charlotte, NC

This happened on a very clear night, and it was an amazing sight. The best shooting star I have ever witnessed. It was so bright and large that I was waiting for an impact!

Could this be more evidence of a new meteor stream? Approaching asteroids? Solar grazing comets? Inquiring and paranoid minds want to know….

If you witnessed this event, please report it to the American Meteor Society and also leave a comment here or email me.

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Jan.19 2011

Meteor Updates

by , under Comets & Meteors

I’ve been wanting to post an update about each of the meteors that have fallen recently, but because there have been so many I don’t have time to give each the attention it deserves, so I’ve decided to do a multi-meteor-update. In this update I will include AMS meteor plots and any other publicly available information on the following falls: 12/28/10 – PA, 12/29/10 – PA, 1/08/11 – Mississippi and 1/12/11 – Minnesota.  I consider these falls to be significant because they were seen from multiple states and the number of ams reported witnesses is in the top percentile of reported falls.

Additionally each of these falls is curious from the stand point that the timing is so close to each other. Reason tells us that sporadic meteor falls are random unrelated events and there is nothing linking a fall today in Pennsylvania to a fall tomorrow in Mississippi, HOWEVER, the sheer random coincidence of time and space for all of these events is at the very least odd. Further more several of these falls were accompanied with reports of subsequent falls in the same locations shortly there after — meaning multiple meteors falls.  There is not enough data here to make any conclusions, but I’ve been keeping close tabs on the large meteor fall rates over the last 2 years and the last 2-3 weeks has been heavy in meteor falls IMO.

12/28/2010 – Pennsylvania

2010-12-28 PA Meteor

2010/12/28 - PA Fireball

AMS Event ID: 929
Time: 16:45
Videos: York Water Company Security Video
AMS Witness Reports: 155
Sonic Boom Reported: Yes
Additional Information: Second largest reported fall of 2010. Wisconsin was the first.
Estimated Fall Area: Lancaster, PA
Possibility For Meteorites on the Ground: 80%

12/29/2010 – Pennsylvania


2010-12-29 / PA Fireball

AMS Event ID: 935
Time: 18:30
Videos: None
AMS Witness Reports: 30
Sonic Boom Reported: No
Additional Information:
Estimated Fall Area: Unknown
Possibility For Meteorites on the Ground: 50%

1/11/11 – Mississippi

2010/01/11 - Mississippi

2010/01/11 - Mississippi Fireball

AMS Event ID: 52
Time: 21:45
Videos: Trailer Park Video
AMS Witness Reports: 61
Sonic Boom Reported: Yes
Additional Information:
Estimated Fall Area: Southern Mississippi
Possibility For Meteorites on the Ground: 90%

1/12/2011 – Minnesota

01/12/2010 - Minnesota Fireball

01/12/2011 - Minnesota Fireball

AMS Event ID: 53
Time: 18:30
Videos: None
AMS Witness Reports: 21
Sonic Boom Reported:
Additional Information:
Estimated Fall Area:
Possibility For Meteorites on the Ground: 50%

There was a good conversation on the meteor observing list today regarding the ‘perceived increase in fireball activity’. The conclusion from all participants was there was no link to the recent fireballs and the passing of near Earth asteroids. Most agreed there was also no reason to conclude we are even experiencing an increase in fireballs anyway.

Carl Hergenrother, a NEO researcher, explained there is no correlation to witnessed fireball activity on Earth and NEOs that are reported in close approach to Earth, because, these reported NEOs are only a small subset of the actual NEOs flying by everyday anyway.

My understanding of what Chris Peterson of Cloudbait Observatory said is — sometimes fireball rates are going to go up and sometimes they are going to go down and that is just the way it is. Rates will ebb and flow, and correlating a
perceived increase in fireball rates for a certain time with approaching NEOs in that same time frame is a fallacy. It would be like saying, fireball rates went up right after christmas, that must be why those dead birds are falling from the sky.

Bob Lunsford of the American Meteor Society pointed out that an increase in reported fireballs does not correlate to an increase in actual fireball rates. It just means more people are seeing them and reporting them. This is a trend he has seen with the AMS reports since they were started. Explanations for this can include: more people with computers and internet access, increased interest in meteors and fireballs, better news coverage and better promotion of the AMS reporting form.

As humans we have a need to find meaning and explanation for things that happen when often times there is none. Sometimes rocks just fall from the sky and it doesn’t mean anything at all.

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Jan.13 2011

Video of 1/11/11 Mississippi Fireball Surfaces

by , under Comets & Meteors

This appears to be the first video of the Mississippi 1/11/11 fireball.

From goldieblue2005

Here is a video of surveillance camera that shows a flash at 8:47 pm. In Louisiana. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWXpT0cQXKU

I don’t know the location where this video was shot, or the direction the camera is facing. I have been in touch with the author and hope to get more details soon. Goldie if you’re reading this please contact me :)

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Jan.13 2011

More fireballs! 1-3 fireballs reported in Minnesota on 1/12/11

by , under Comets & Meteors

More fireball reports keep coming in! This time from Minnesota and what makes this extra strange is — there are some reports of multiple fireballs. As few as 1 and as many as 3 fireballs have been reported from different parts of Minnesota. The primary event appears to have happened at approximately 6:30 PM CST.  This event was also seen from Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Here are a few of the reports:

From Watkins MN, Debi writes:

“What is going on?  I saw one last night and two this morning!  Previously I’ve only seen two in my whole life.  Last night I saw it in the WSW shortly after sunset, while it was still light out.  This morning I saw two within 10 minutes in the ESE, before sunrise but while it was already light.  This morning the sky was overcast.  Last night I think it was a mix of clear and cloudy skies.”

From Richard in St Paul:

“There were two big flashes in a row, one a little below the other.  It seems to have been seen by many people. I would really like to know what it was.”

And Pip from Madrid Iowa:

“It started out very bright and was about the size of a large marble, ending roughly the size of a pea. From my angle, it actually looked like it was headed towards Ames, Iowa, but I realize that my estimate there is probably way off. It definitely appeared to be headed in a downward trajectory. (Of course, I’m not an expert at these sorts of things. It was however one of the largest, brightest, and definitely most colorful fireballs I’ve ever seen. (Ok, I’ve seen two now. This wasn’t as big as the first, but was brighter and more colorful.

I will update again as more information becomes available.

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