A Darker View

NASA/JPL press release

Sometimes it takes a village to find new and unusual objects in space. Volunteers scanning tens of thousands of starry images from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, using the Web-based Milky Way Project, recently stumbled upon a new class of curiosities that had gone largely unrecognized before: yellow balls. The rounded features are not actually yellow — they just appear that way in the infrared, color-assigned Spitzer images.

The center of our Milky Way Galaxy taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.   Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The center of our Milky Way Galaxy taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“The volunteers started chatting about the yellow balls they kept seeing in the images of our galaxy, and this brought the features to our attention,” said Grace Wolf-Chase of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. A colorful, 122-foot (37-meter) Spitzer mosaic of the Milky Way hangs at the planetarium, showcasing our galaxy’s bubbling brew of stars. The yellow balls in this mosaic appear small but are actually several hundred to thousands of times the size of our solar system.

“With prompting by the volunteers, we analyzed the yellow balls and figured out that they are a new way to detect the early stages of massive star formation,” said Charles Kerton of Iowa State University, Ames. “The simple question of ‘Hmm, what’s that?’ led us to this discovery.” Kerton is lead author, and Wolf-Chase a co-author, of a new study on the findings in the Astrophysical Journal.

The Milky Way Project is one of many so-called citizen scientist projects making up the Zooniverse website, which relies on crowdsourcing to help process scientific data. So far, more than 70 scientific papers have resulted from volunteers using Zooniverse, four of which are tied to the Milky Way Project. In 2009, volunteers using a Zooniverse project called Galaxy Zoo began chatting about unusual objects they dubbed “green peas.” Their efforts led to the discovery of a class of compact galaxies that churned out extreme numbers of stars.

Continue reading Citizen Scientists Lead Astronomers to Mystery Objects in Space…

Today the planet Mercury passes through inferior conjunction, passing between the Sun and the Earth. In a week or so the planet will again be visible in the dawn sky, climbing higher each day. Maximum elongation will occur February 24th.

Continue reading Mercury at Inferior Conjunction…

Trumpetfish are stealthy hunters, using their oddly shaped body to strike unsuspecting prey. They are also known to follow large creatures on the reef, turtles or groupers, to take advantage of prey flushed out in their passage. This trumpetfish was using me for the same purpose, hoping to strike whatever the big, noisy diver scared up. The fish hovered quite close to me, not even moving away despite several bright flashes from the strobe. The cave is a very popular dive site, this fish may have learned to use divers to find an easy meal.

Eye of the Trumpet

A trumpetfish (Aulostomus chinensis) considers the camera

Laser Bench

The bright sodium AO laser illuminates optics in the Keck 1 launch telescope optical bench.

Asteroid 2004 BL86 is not small, it is large enough for astronomers to take notice as it passed near the earth yesterday at a close, but safe distance of 745,000 miles. Numerous telescopes were trained on this object as it passed by, including a deep space radar at Goldstone that confirmed that the asteroid is about 1,100 feet in diameter. They did get a surprise as well, 2004 BL86 has a small moon.

Close approach was earlier in the day, thus it was some hours after that I was able to photograph the asteroid from Hawaii. The most difficult part in taking the photo is locating the object. An asteroid this close by will move across the sky very quickly. To locate the asteroid I used a high precision ephemeris generated by the JPL Horizons Database with time intervals of every half hour. This was necessary as the asteroid was moving several degrees each hour. If I used coordinates even an hour off it would have been out of the frame. It took half an hour of hunting, comparing frames taken a couple minutes apart.

Below is the streak created as the asteroid moves over the course of an eight minute exposure…

2004 BL86

Asteroid 2004 BL86 just after close approach on January 26, 2015

The annual 100 best places to eat in the US list for 2015 was published by Yelp this week. A number of Hawaiʻi restaurants make the list, but only one on the Big Island. You will find Da Poke Shack in spot 51, holder of last year’s top spot on the list. Not being a raw fish fan and not getting into Kona very often I can not offer an opinion on that selection. I did wonder what restaurants are best rated for Waimea. Is the list very good?

Hawaiian Style Cafe

The remains of the meal litters a table at Hawaiian Style Cafe.

Yelp’s reviews are reader generated, and as such are subject to a great deal of personal bias. But with a lot of reviews from a large reader base you would hope that the result averages out to something reasonably accurate. Thus I did a quick search on Kamuela, as Waimea is known to the post office to avoid confusion with the other towns of the same name elsewhere in the state.

The top ten does not look that bad…

  1. Hawaiian Style Cafe
  2. Merriman’s
  3. Village Burger
  4. Red Water Cafe
  5. The Fish and the Hog Market Cafe
  6. Big Island Brewhaus
  7. Yong’s Kalbi
  8. Pau
  9. James Angelo’s Underground Pizza
  10. Aka Sushi Bar

The restaurants any local resident would expect to see are there. I would quibble with the placement of some of these establishments on the list, but there are no surprises here. If you really want to read further I will add my own opinions and comments in the remainder of this post…

Continue reading Best Restaurants in Waimea?…

C14 Sunset

A telescope set up on the grounds of the Mauna Kea resort awaiting dark skies

Sunday night I shot a wide-field image of the comet as it passed near the Pleiades star cluster. I am somewhat disappointed by the image. The skies over Waikoloa are just not conducive to wide-field imaging. And with a couple scheduled mountain days I did not have the option to take the gear up to where conditions are better. Not and get any sleep. Still, it is not a total disaster…

C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy  & M45

Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy passing by the Pleiades star cluster

The first good night for comet imaging since the moonlight has departed the evening sky. If is wasn’t clouds it was heavy haze and vog. With a good Saturday night I set up the ‘scope in the driveway and shot for a couple hours on comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy.

This is not a properly processed shot, rather just a quick stack of the longer exposures. The real image will be a few days before I can get about to processing it. Still, a lot of interesting detail in the tail…

C2/014 Q2 Lovejoy

Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy, a rough processing job on 30 x 4min exposures taken with a Canon 6D and a TV-76mm ‘scope

Mauna Kea Resort Sunset

Sunset as seen from the grounds at the Mauna Kea Resort