Android Phone Astronomy

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Mobile Observatory
I’ve been using for quite some time a few apps that I would love to mention. This time I’m promoting something called Mobile Observatory; its current version is 2.6 and has been developed by Wolfgang Zigma. I’m very restrictive when it comes to IT- or other tech-suggestions before I’ve tried things out for quite a while, but this phone app is very neat! For 1½ years now it sends me regularly updates only when I’m entering the app.

Also, it doesn’t force you to update anything if you just want to go ahead and start using it, even though you really want to if you’d like to keep yourself with up to date astronomical events and data. So my suggestion is to go ahead and download all databases in advance before heading out to observe the night sky.

I must say that I really dislike uncalled updates on my phone specially when they are forced upon you by Play Store; but the creator of this app is restraining the uploads quite well! I think I’ve updated the app itself only twice during these two years of using it.

I am attaching two links on the bottom of my blog post so you can visit and read all the features in detail, but I’ll mention just a few nifty ones that I find very cool.

  • Events – Upcoming astronomical events
  • Sky View – Shows you the current view of the sky based on your location
  • Sky Overview – Shows you the entire sky chart
  • Live View – Point your phone somewhere in the sky and it’ll inform you what you’re looking at
  • Twilight – The dawn, dusk, blue and golden times at your location
  • Eclipses – All about eclipses!!!
  • Moons – Planet moons, their current and upcoming orbits

The app has of course many more features. You can search deep sky and planetary objects, the app will bring you all the information you need in regards to  your location, point out the visible objects for you and give you detailed information on what you’re looking at. You can add objects in your favorites list, you can also browse back and forth in time for an object and also get suggestions on what are the best visible objects for a particular date plus allows you to add calendar reminders when it comes to events.

No need to purchase astronomical calendars or booklets anymore, this app really has it all you need and more for an amateur astronomer. But wait.. Did I mention it also has a night mode view in red light. How cool isn’t that?!

Event Information
Event Information
Jupiter Moons
Jupiter Moons
Planet Orbits
Planet Orbits
Star Chart
Star Chart
Twilight Diagram
Twilight Diagram

Star Trail

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Ben Canales webpage

Astrophotography itself can be divided into subsessions and there fore astrophotographers invest both in time and money in different sets of cameras and other equipment. For example a deep-sky astrophotographer would prefer an IR modified DSLR camera or a CCD camera, while a planetary astrophotographer would prefer video cameras or high quality webcameras. But regardless type of equipment or the money you spend into that, an astrophotographer must have a sense of an artist’s eye, big luck and enormous amount of patience. Surely good and expensive equipment makes life easier, but you are not a true amateur astronomer if you dont love nature and got people around you that support your interest wholeheartedly.

I personally admire Ben Canales work in landscape astrophotography. Ben gave me inspiration through his photos in investing my thoughts into landscape astrophotography and this season I’m going to try out and see if I can find motives. For a couple of months ago, I passed by Lund’s cathedral and watched the moon raising between the two clock towers. It was so beautiful but unfortunately I didn’t carry around my camera at that point. However, I’m planning in doing so by timing it at a later point. Another try I did, was with the dome at the observatory of Jävan and the constellation of Cassiopeia in background, but I was never pleased with the end results.

Regardless, please visit Ben Canales webpage located at: http://www.thestartrail.com/

Observational site for astrophotography

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Astrophotography requires these days a remote location in order to avoid city lights and other sources of light polution originating from suburbs, traffic, illuminated roads, commersial signs, small villages and so on.

The best way to decide wether or not a location is spared from that, is by checking an overview map focusing on the light polution given by sattelite data. There are numerous of sattelites orbiting earth and one of the most popular websites giving you that opportunity to review your local areas situation is the “Night Sky In The World“.

From where I live, the best closest location spared by light polution are the shores of the lake “Krankesjön” 15-20 minutes from where I live by car. Fortunately the area is a nature reserve and some streets are off limits due to military excersises, limiting the traffic. Besides the closest civilization is made of very small villages at a distance of 10 to 20 km from the lake. Occasionally the military police makes a visit during the astrophotography sessions wondering what business we have in the area. Sometimes they’re interested knowing more about astrophotography but most of the times they check your ID number and move on.

Today I went out by car for the second time to investigate this location and find a better spot from where I could assemble my telescope. During my trip I came across a Danish group of bird viewers and exchanged a few words about their cameras and their telephotography techniques.

By night south part of Sweden is very light poluted due to the geography. Small villages and cities are growing by population every year and the situation gets worse as times passes. A map provided by my astronomy society Aquila (ASAK) shows the whole picture on what magnitude stars you can see by naked eye.

Light Polution of South Sweden

The map was created by Lars Lindh, amateur astronomer and astrophotographer and member of the Aquila astronomical society in Kristianstad. His webpage can be found here.

The link bellow shows the location of lake “Krankesjön”.

Visa större karta

Jävan Observatory – Sweden

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Jävan observatory
Jävan observatory

During 1930:ies there were countless of meetings at the university of Lund regarding the problems in lacking an observatory. The old observatory at the park of Lund was outdated, old and fell victim of the growing city and therefore light polution.

It stood clear that astronomers were in serious need of a new observatory to perform their observations and provide students with a better place. They started investigating local areas outside the suburbs of Lund during 1940 and finally found a hill located near the village of Genarp. The new place was decided to be hosting the new observatory and it was not that far away from the university (30 minutes by car), but far enough to avoid light polution at night time. It wasn’t until September 1965 the university received the telescope mirror and in October 1966 the observatory was finally operating for the first time.

During planing it was decided that the observatory would have two domes, one at west and one east, both having the ability to look south at meridian. The main instrument was a Nasmyth-Cassegrain telescope provided with a spectrograph table, cooling system. The entire system’s weight was estimated to be 3500 kilograms. The main mirror is parabolic and 61 cm in diameter and weights around 98 kilograms. The hyperbolic secondary mirror is 16 cm in diameter and was made of Duran glass with aluminmum surface.

The main goal of the observatory was to study the magnitude of thousents of stars on one single shot through photoelectric photometry. 1973 the telescope had a spectrographer to enable studies in spectrum for individual stars.

As the decades passed by, the cities around Genarp (including Genarp village itself) grew larger. A new era in astronomy started enabling astronomers to either travel out of country to remote locations, or connect to an observatory across the world through internet. Jävan observatory was hard to compete to the new technology and the evergrowing cities around light poluting the skies.

This observatory stopped beeing operable at the late 90:ties. Regardless, for an amateur astronomer the hill location is perfect still for observations. The forest around the hill has grown wild and large pinetrees are covering the low horizon and most of the light polution is hidden behind the forest trees.

A friend of mine and myself went there one night (8th of May 2011) and began observing the night sky together. It was a beautiful night sky full of stars. We tried taking a few pictures on globular clusters towards south, but that night was windy causing pollen to raise in the air and therefore it was far from ideal in regards to astrophotography.

Summer, vacations and observatories

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Niklas Henricson
Niklas Henricson

I thought I’d write something regarding my summer activities. Amateur astronomy is very quiet during the summer season due to the light skye for the most part, the quick changing weather circumstances from day to day, but also because for a common Swede the summer season is dedicated for the anual vacations from work and studies. My family and I decided to visit Scotland this year, which was very beautiful. We decided to visit the major cities such as Glasgow and Edinburg, but also the country side of Scotland, such as lakes (Loch Lomond, Loch Drunkie) and parts of the Scotish Highlands. Scotland got rich scientific and engineering history. One interesting story is that of Scotsman James Watt (known from the unit Watt written on every light bulb you buy at stores). Watt was a poor engineer fighting with his economy issues most part of his life. He owned a little store selling his navigational instruments in Glasgow, but barely made any money that suffice for his family living at the time. Years passed and James suceeded getting an employment at the university of Glasgow, enabling him to access the university workshop.

Just as other innovators, James did what most people did not. He had passion in details and improvement. He analyzed the classical steam engine and found some basic flaws and weaknesses in the current system. At the time steam engines were very small and used for the most part in the Scotish country side, helping miners to pump out water from the coil mines.

James found out that Newcomen’s model of steam engine had very low efficiency. After some long nights and big efforts James finally found a way to improve the steam engine and win a high degree of efficiency at low cost. To make a long story short, his solution revolutionized and changed the world. His ingenious methods and solution to the steam engine was a major turning point in history changing the way of living. It is what we call today as the industrial revolution.

His steam engine was used hence in the railways bringing people and wares closer to each other, as well as commersial and the military fleets across the world. Brittain was back then the biggest empire in the world. The sun was always up shinning somewhere in the Brittish empire on the earth.

James Watt statue, Glasgow
James Watt statue, Glasgow

Thanks to James Watt’s efforts, we use today a unit called “Watt” in the S.I. system to honor his name. The unit Watt tells us what amount of efficiency (work) we get during a certain amount of time. Before that, it was common to use horsepowers (hp) but horsepower was a smaller unit in order to express efficiency large machines.

1 W = 0,0013596216 hp or vice versa 1 hp = 735,49875 W. That is why car salemen are using still horsepowers to impress potential buyers, instead of using Watt… People are more impressed when they hear thousents of horsepowers efficiency on the engines, rather then a few tens.

Regardless in daily life we’re using Watt in light bulbs.

Now the question is what does Watt mean for astronomy?

Astronomers are using mostly Watt to express the electromagnetic radiation efficiency on certain amount of area. Watt/square meter (W/m²).

Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to visit the Royal Observatory of Edinburg, but I will try and write about the local observatories of Skåne were I live and see if I ever fufill my dream visiting other famous observatories across Europe.

On my next article I will write about the forgotten observatory of Jävan, located in Genarp, not very far away from where I live.

Square Kilometer Array (SKA)

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Square Kilometer Array

One of the most prestigious projects is about to take place in south Africa called the SKA (Square Kilometer Array). SKA is a group of smaller parabolic antennas which together combined will create a huge telescope array that is 3000 km in diameter and will occupy 12.5 million hectars.

The sensitivity of this array of telescopes will exceed 50-100 the sensitivity of current radio telescopes around the globe. The building project itself it about to cost 1.5 billion euros (1.5 followed by 9 zeros €)!

This is a major breakthrough for astronomy. Astronomers will have now a big advantage in order to uncover the secrets from the big bang aftermath shortly after it took place.

The SKA is about to be operable in year 2025. Let us cross our fingers and wish all involved project members congratulations for this opportunity and good luck during the assembling period.

Recommended reading:

Skywatcher’s Synguider

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Skywatcher Synguider
Skywatcher’s Synguider

Having limited time to spend while trying to set up all the equipment, level the mount parallel to the ground, adjust the balance of your mount with the telescopes attached on it, polar align your telescope, if you have a GOTO mount then you may need to star align, … The list can be made long and supposedly you do road astronomy then your time is consumed by many tasks this late evening planning on loading your car and transferring your equipment to a remote location free from light polution.

You’ve been waiting more likely for the perfect weather circumstances by now and have been thinking all the time about taking shots of your favorite object? Then welcome to the club. By the time you are ready to start your exposures a cloud is passing by, blocking the view. Other times a mist is joining the scene, or technical issues arise. Either way you’ve been wasting way too long time on things that could instead been made easier.

Skywatcher came up to a solution when it coms to guiding and created a gadget by considering that guiding is no easy business for anyone, considering your weight distribution while you’re tracking the heavens above having backlashes, attaching a camera adding by more weight to your equation, your power supply may not be even, or many other factors that may add to your guiding frustration.

With current solutions on autoguiding you need a special camera, software and a laptop. But why make things so complicated when there is the perfect solution for users with Skywatcher’s GOTO-mounts?

I strongly recomment this synguider, and I’ll start posting photos showing the difference between life before synguider and after 😉