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Astronomy – Space Weather | The Suck Zone

August 29th, 2008 MAS Messier Marathon @ LLCC

Posted on August 30th, 2008 by Chris White.
Categories: Astronomy - Space Weather.

MAS fall Messier Marathons were hosted at both the Cherry Grove Observatory and Long Lake Conservation Center.  I headed to the one at LLCC located near McGregor, MN some of the darkest sky’s short of the BWCA.

I don’t know what the final count was but, it was under 10 at LLCC, the one at Cherry Grove typically runs about 30.  I arrived late and setup a 10″ dob.  A nice collection of telescopes had already been setup including the MAS’s 30″ Obsession (they no longer make a 30″, we got one of the last ones ever produced) housed at the LLCC, amazing scope, impressive views of deep space objects.  It’s an f4.5 with a 30″ mirror (that’s almost a 1 meter telescope), it requires a fairly tall ladder to views objects in it.  The skys under LLCC were fantastic, the first thing I did was collimated my dob and noticed my laser collimator needs collumation as you twist it the laser moves, oh well, I could’nt do it in the dark in the field.  First object I looked at having adjusted my night vision was Saturn blowing my night vision low on the Southern Horizon, the proceeded on to check out a dozen or so Messier’s in Sagittarius, then went on from their, checking out a half dozen more easy to find M’s, and checking out the Obsession occasionally.  I then whipped out a small equitorial mount and shot some DSLR stills, I shot 30 or so frames with seperate dark frames for later processing.  The dew rolled in quick, I packed up, everything is almost dry as I type this, so I called it early before the rise of Orion grabbing a bunk and returning for the cities around 8am.  Here’s a couple un-processed raw frames from last evening.

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August 1-2, 2008 MAS Campout with the Stars

Posted on August 1st, 2008 by Chris White.
Categories: Astronomy - Space Weather.

The Minnesota Astronomical Society along with REI and Astronomy Magazine present ‘Campout with the Stars‘. Onan Observatory is located at Baylor Regional Park & Campground in Carver County, slightly light polluted about 45 miles from Minneapolis with a few light domes it’s a great place close to the metro for some decent astronomy without having to drive 5 hours for dark sky’s. Quite a few tents were setup on the soccer field below as well as some pop-up’s near the tennis courts (versus the actual campground which I did’nt actually visit). I signed up to volunteer at Onan but, brought a 10″ dobsonian telescope to help split the crowds. I arrived a little past 8pm having mentioned I would be late, quite a few MAS members had quite a selection of scopes setup, lot’s of dobs including Onan’s 20″ Obsession setup outside as well. Quite a crowd of people when I first arrived it took 20 minutes to setup, the telescope required collimation and I in preparation for mounting encoders I replaced the Teflon in the rocker box which made things a little too slippery (the scope needs a little bit of friction or it will not stay put when you point it at something). During twilight I had the scope pointed a Jupiter it was pretty crowded, lots of people including lots of kids. As the stars begun coming out many of the kids suddenly disappeared, many of the campers had gone to bed but, things remained pretty busy through 11pm, around 12pm pretty much all of the campers were sleeping, so I went to work checking out others setups, scopes, and views of different objects. I saw quite a few objects, 2 decent ISS passes, a few iridium flares, galaxies, nebulas, globulars, etc. Around 1am I grabbed the camera and started taking widefield’s, my fastest, widest angle lens was a 28mm f/2.8, I should have brought a film camera for it’s full frame but, I grabbed the Rebel Xt with it’s 1.7 crop factor. Sagittarius (central bulge, galactic center of our galaxy & home of one or more super-massive black hole’s) had a bit of a Jupiter problem it’s soo bright I was afraid it would be way too blown out so I went a little higher in the ‘Milky Way’ to Aquila the bright star is Altair.


Not bad, not soo good, a full frame exposure with the 28mm f2.8 (widest/fastest I have) would have yielded a much larger field with less visible trailing. I took a single exposure of Onan, I should have popped on a 17mm and taken a shot from much further away as well as action shots from earlier in the day, tonight won’t have as many telescopes setup due to the weather forecast.


Around 1:30 or so? the dew kicked and not having a dew controller (another case with battery) I packed up and left.

Edit: August 2nd, 2008

No widefields this evening no photos, saw many more meteors (very active), when I arrived it was pretty cloudy but, cleared slowly. We began observing thru hole’s in the sky, I did’nt have a computerized scope and without a fairly decent patch of sky it’s significantly more difficult to find different objects. Lot’s of kids up front looked at Jupiter between clouds during twilight. Eventually everything cleared and found a couple dozen globular’s, galaxies, nebula’s, and open clusters working Sagittarius for about half the objects and the rest of the sky for the other half. Seeing became pretty bad around midnight, left around 2am. Our guests had maybe 70 tent’s setup on the soccer field, we had a couple pop-up’s, and tents and a couple people slept in the observatory (4 bunks, heated).

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March 27th, 2008 Aurora’s

Posted on March 27th, 2008 by Chris White.
Categories: Astronomy - Space Weather.

I am currently in Lutsen, MN on the North Shore for the weekend, it’s the kids spring break, were up for a long weekend.  I drove a ways out of town this evening with my brother as we currently have some solar winds from a coronal hole.  The limiting magnitude was in the 6.8 range the sky’s were amazingly dark in the Superior National Forest.   The show was not outstanding but, certainly worth the one hour trip.   In addition to the spectacular non light polluted sky’s and Auroras we also watched a bright satellite pass, a satellite flare both un-identified (I will have to look them up might have been the ISS and an iridium) was also saw a nice slow moving meteor, a nice orange color.



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Febuary 20th, 2008 Total Lunar Eclipse

Posted on February 21st, 2008 by Chris White.
Categories: Astronomy - Space Weather.

eclipse0208.jpgMy brother and I drove to Onan Observatory to shoot the total lunar eclipse. It was really, really cold but, we had dozens of layers on. One of my tripod heads siezed up entirely and the quick release plates would not really release. Despite this after the eclipse we checked out Saturn and a couple other objects (but, it was full moon again so deep space objects were not that stunning), we left around 11:30?

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October 31th, 2007 Dual Iridium Flare

Posted on October 31st, 2007 by Chris White.
Categories: Astronomy - Space Weather.

10/31/2007 Dual Iridium Flare Minnesota River Valley Wildlife Preserve, Wilkie Unit, NFS

October 31th, 2007 19:43:23/19:43:45 CDT(UTC-5) Iridium 30/95

Daniel Crawford who does flare predictions up to a month ahead of time sent me an e-mail on 10/6 alerting me to another opportunity for dual flares on Halloween. I have always wanted to take a shot below a bridge of the flares between the bridge, plotting a centerline between the two flares I came up with a centerline along Hwy 169 thru the Metro Twin Cities. Selecting the Minnesota River Crossing on Hwy 169, plugging in the numbers I came up with the following use updated elements.

Flare Details

Iridium flares / Orbitron 3.71 / www.stoff.pl
Location : Minnesota River Valley National Wildlife Preserve(NFS) Hwy 169 Bridge(93.4035° W, 44.7921° N)
Time zone : UTC -5:00
Search period : 2007-10-31 19:43:00
2007-10-31 19:44:00
Conditions : Maximum sun elevation = -5 deg
Minimum sat elevation = 10 deg
Illumination required
Minimum magnitude = 3.0

Time Sat Azm Elv Range A D Mag S.Azm S.Elv
2007-10-31 19:43:23 30 22.1 43.7 1074 L A -6.2 267.7 -18.1
2007-10-31 19:43:45 95 ? 22.7 44.4 925 L A -6.1 267.8 -18.2

Astronomical Twilight begins at 19:42 – it will be dark
Moon Rise is at 11:02PM 58% illuminated.


As I have said I wanted to always capture a flare between the openings in a bridge, in this case the North and Southbound lanes of Hwy 169 over the Minnesota River Valley. Given the centerline this was a good choice about spot on the centerline.


I was familier with the site (Wilkie Valley Unit – Minnesota River Valley National Wildlife Preserve (NFS)) having been thier several times checking out the largest Blue Heron population in the State with over 600 nests. I calculated the centerline several times, eachtime it ran near Hwy 169 thru the Metro. I wanted to light the underside of the bridge with high intesity lighting (green, red, blue) but, alas I have no high powered strobes/lighting and colored filters. The side of the bridge is illuminated by the street lights. I checked earlier and the street lights are positioned on the outside of the Northbound and Southbound lanes of the highway which means I would take my shot between the North and Southbound lanes with the sides of the bridge lit by the street lights along with some decent light pollution overhead. I checked the rules, while most parks community/county/regional/federal, etc close at sunset, this particular area has a Minnesota River Boat Launch which is available 24×7 (just to 365 days a year). I took the shots from the boat landing gravel parking lot, otherwise the rest of the refuge is off-limits after dark.


The Search

I had previously had the location in mind once the centerline overlaid it. I reconed the area and spoke to the MN Vly NWR regarding availabillity of the boat launch area prior to the event.


The bridge on the South side is curved on the South Side it runs NW to SE rather than North to South. Given the fact that the flare would be 22 degrees North as well as 44 degrees above horizon this would create a challenge. I had vowed just two days prior that I would never do a wide angle Iridium Flare shot again. Due to the angle of the bridges I composed the shot with both the bridge in mind and the flare in mind. In hindsite I should not have shot so wide and just focused on one side of the bridge as a forground object. I was not concerned with any other objects, stars, constallations, comets, etc.


The flares were closer than predicted, at maximum brightness the flares did not have enough speration given the focal length (I used too wide of angle so it looks like one flare, if you look at the full size crop you can see both satellites).

The Photos

Click on photos to see large versions

Setting up the shot I had to get an image of the comet 17P/Holmes, the fuzzball in the upper left.

The composition was a portrait. It’s difficult to find targets tall enough, far away enough, to be in focus given the height of the flares when they occur and depth of field (focus). Due to the wide angle the flare is the white slant in the middle of the shot. (click on link for larger image)

Slightly Cropped

Crop of Flare

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