Thursday, 30th Oct 2014

Oct 15 2014

Gems of Cassiopeia

NGC 654 close-upAs everybody knows, the fall Milky Way offers several among the most beautiful objects in the northern hemisphere sky. Most often, the attention will focus mainly on the most prominent objects, such as the Double Cluster in Perseus, the Heart Nebula, the California Nebula, etc. However, there are a host of less famous objects (open clusters, nebulae, etc.) which are real gems. The constellation of Cassiopea, despite its small size, is replete with such gems. These objects, if taken individually, are generally suitable for relatively long focal lengths, but they can also make very nice targets for medium-field astrophotography.

In my opinion, one such gem is NGC 654, an open cluster located at about 2 degrees NE of delta Cassiopeiae. This open cluster, which shines at magnitude 6.5 and has an apparent diameter of about 5’, can boast a really nice treat: a very elusive reflection nebula, Vdb 6, snaking along its southwestern border.

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Sep 15 2014

The 2014 Opposition of Mars

MarsMosaic

The 2014 opposition of Mars was due to take place in mid-April, with the planet in the constellation Virgo at a declination of about -5 degrees. Mars was expected to peak at -1.5 magnitudes with a maximum diameter of 15.1 arcseconds. For Northern Italian mid latitudes (~ 45 degrees N), this yields a maximum height of 40 degrees at the local meridian. Considering the average seeing conditions in the area, the geometric circumstances were not super-favorable, but nevertheless fair enough be worth a try. After all, the next Mars opposition with good observing conditions for the northern temperate latitudes will only take place in 2020.

Therefore, I grabbed my good ol’ C11, a couple of high-quality planetary cameras, and I kept patiently waiting for the right moment to image the planet. Let’s see how it worked out!

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Apr 20 2014

Hunt for Northern Lights: Norway 2014

Hunt for Northern Lights mosaic

Hunt for Northern Lights mosaic

Shooting auroras was one of the (few :mrgreen: ) things still missing from my hardcore amateur astronomer checklist. Back in 2012 and 2013 some friends of mine, among whom Lorenzo Comolli, had gone on aurora-chasing trips with very encouraging results. The auroral activity is not always present, or, better, it is rather frequent but highly unpredictable, with a higher probability of events in the years around solar activity maximum and in the months around the equinoxes (February, March, September and October). It was something I’d been thinking about for a long time, but I’d never managed to find a good opportunity and the right people with whom to share this experience. Moreover, the solar activity was slowly fading and for this reason I had to hurry up.

In late 2013, I finally got around to organizing an “expedition” with some good friends of mine (Paola Battaglia, Filippo Riccio e Stefano Magni of the “Circolo Astrofili di Milano”) from Saturday, January 25, 2014 till Saturday, February 1st, 2014.

Our choice got almost immediately in favor of Tromso, in Northern Norway, for some very good reasons. It is a rather big, modern and organized city lying at the right latitude (around 70° N) on the shores of the Northern Atlantic Ocean, with a climate largely mitigated by the Gulf Stream. The downside to this is that the whole area is exposed to cloud fronts and low pressure areas coming from the Atlantic: hence the high cloud cover figures typical of this area. My proposal to go to Lapland got turned down right away, because in exchange for unquestionably clearer skies, it has a much harsher climate (average temperatures from -20 to -15 °C vs. -6 °C of the Tromso area).

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Mar 14 2014

Supernova in M82 (SN2014J)

M82 - Supernova SN2014J

On January 21st, 2014, reports began circulating that a new supernova had just been discovered in M82 the “Cigar Galaxy”, close companion to the more famous “Bode Galaxy”, aka M81. Unfortunately my aurora-chasing trip to Norway from January 25th to February 1st (of which a detailed report will soon be published on my website) prevented me from spending any time on the observation of this interesting event. After all, this supernova blew up in a relatively nearby galaxy!

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Jan 19 2014

The Comet Lovejoy Saga

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During the last bit of 2013, comet ISON was not the only comet visible… Thank God, I’d say, because ISON turned out to be a real dud. Around late November there were four comets visible in the sky at the same time, the brightest of the pack being Comet C/2013 R1 Lovejoy, that went on to put on a really good show.

Discovered on September 7 by the Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy, this comet kept very well visible during the second half of the night, first zipping through the winter constellations of Monoceros and Cancer between October and November, then moving into Canes Venatici and Bootes between late November and early December, and finally ending up into Hercules during the second half of December.

The peak brightness was reached between late November and early December, when the comet passed closest to Earth at about 0.4 AU and reached at least magnitude 5. Perihelion took place on December 25th, but by then the distance to Earth had increased to 0.8 AU. At the time of writing this (mid-January 2014), the comet is still visible in Ophiucus but has since grown fainter at mag. 7.

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Jan 01 2014

Looking back at comet ISON

ISON-crop

Discovered in September 2012 by two Russian Astronomers (Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok) with the 40-cm reflector of the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON) at the Observatory of Kislovodsk (Russia), this comet soon catches the attention of the scientific community, because its perihelion is expected very close to the scorching solar surface at 0.012 AU, i.e. less than 2 million km.

From the comet’s path and brightness curve in the months following its discovery, some people suggest that it might get very bright around perihelion (mag. -6 to -10), thus becoming visible even in daylight.

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Dec 04 2013

An “off-season” Lagoon Nebula

M8 Lagoon Nebula

Ok, I made it! Here you go… this is my first real update to my website. It’s kind of an “off-season” picture, as the target – M8, aka the Lagoon Nebula – is a typical summer object. To me it’s very important, not only because it’s my first real update, but because it is my attempt at improving my image processing skills, after attending an image processing course held by my good friend Lorenzo Comolli.

The picture shown here has been processed from raw frames taken in July 2011 from Colle del Nivolet (Italian Alps) with my ol’ good Skywatcher ED80 refractor (with reducer/corrector), my Baader-modified canon 350D camera. The image was calibrated with darks, flats and flat darks and processed with Maxim DL, PixInsight and Adobe Photoshop CS5. Enjoy!

(Click on the above image for a much larger version!)

Nov 14 2013

New version of my website and other things

Ok, finally here I am, back again. The last update to my website dates back to July 2011, i.e. more than two years ago. I know it’s a shame, but there are several good reasons for that. Namely, my personal engagements have kept me very busy: plus, my old website was a real pain to maintain. Anyway my passion for astronomy is still alive and well: I’ve been to Namibia, I’ve kept on going out to dark sites to observe and dabbling in DIY projects, and I’ve even been able to make an old dream of mine come true by building a small observatory.

My old website was a crappy application written in Java by (clumsily) putting together a “homebrew” web application and a blog tool called Pebble. It was a barely acceptable solution a few years ago, but by now it had become absolutely unsuitable for today’s rapidly evolving digital world. So I had long been planning to update it, but I was put off by laziness and by the unavailability of a Java open source product that would enable me to set up a decent website with a reasonable effort. The situation changed radically when during a coffee break chat a colleague of mine pointed me to WordPress. At first I was very skeptical, as I knew absolutely nothing about PHP. But then curiosity prevailed, and I thought I’d give it a go… After a few months, I think I quite got the hang of it, and here I am with a brand new version of my website, which I developed entirely on my own without any particular PHP knowledge. All this was made possible by WordPress, its ease of use and the wonderful community that supports it. Indeed, too bad there’s no Java equivalent of WordPress.

‘Nuff said: let’s get to the nitty-gritty now. My website is available in English and Italian, with English as the main language; a selector located at the top of the page can be used to switch between the two languages. I strive to have the content available in both languages, and if the version for one language is missing, the system is smart enough to show the version in the second language.

The homepage is laid out as a blog, that I use both for quick updates and more detailed articles. Furthermore, there are a number of permanent pages for presenting the contents in a more organic way: the astrophoto gallery (with the individual galleries that can be directly reached via the dedicated drop-down menu), the articles, reviews and reports page, the link page, the contact page, and the about page which will tell you something more about myself.

I’m fully aware that the level of my pictures is generally quite low, and nowhere near that of many other websites around the Internet. It’s a long-standing problem of mine which is partly due to laziness and partly to the lack of free time. I don’t know if and when I’ll be able to fill in this gap, but anyway I’ll do my best to make the result of my effort available on this website sooner or later (well, er… most likely later than sooner :mrgreen: ).

I hope you’ll enjoy visiting my site. And if you wish, I’m always open to questions, comments, suggestions and constructive criticism. Thank you in advance for your attention!

Jul 13 2011

Summer sky from the Alps

Here’s one of my first attemps at assembling time-lapse movies of the night sky. Though there’s still much room for improvement, I think the overall result is pleasing. Use of full-screen mode is highly recommended!

Jun 29 2011

The Total Lunar Eclipse of June 15, 2011

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On June 15th, 2011, our Solar System’s giant “clockwork” treated us once again with a very beautiful event: a total lunar eclipse. It had been three years since one such eclipse was visible in Northern Italy back in February 2008. In this case, the local circumstances would favor Central Asia and Eastern Europe, while the situation would be worse for Northwestern regions. In particular, over Northern Italy totality would start just a few minutes after moonrise, and anyway the entire phenomenon would take place with the Moon very low above the southeastern horizon (less than 15°) and amid the bright summer twilight. However, this eclipse was very interesting for several good reasons…

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