A Milky Way Photo Twelve Years In The Making

Starting projects is easy. It’s the finishing part that many of us have trouble with. We can hardly imagine completing a project after more than a decade, but seeing the breathtaking results of [J-P Metsavainio]’s gigapixel composite image of our galaxy might just make us reconsider. The photograph, which we highly suggest you go check out in its full glory, has been in progress since 2009, features 1250 total hours of exposure time, and spans across 125 degrees of sky. It is simply spectacular.

Of course, it wasn’t an absolutely continuous effort to make this one image over those twelve years. Part of the reason for the extended time span is many frames of the mosaic were shot, processed, and released as their own individual pieces; each of the many astronomical features impressive in its own right. But, over the years, he’s filled in the gaps between and has been able to release a more and more complete picture of our galactic home.

A project this long, somewhat predictably, eventually outlives the technology used to create it. Up until 2014, [Metsavainio]’s setup included a Meade 12-inch telescope and some modified Canon optics. Since then, he’s used a dedicated equatorial mount, astrocamera, and a Tokina lens (again, modified) with an 11-inch Celestron for longer focal lengths. He processes the frames in Photoshop, accounting for small exposure and color differences and aligning the images based on background stars. He’s had plenty of time to get his process down, though, so the necessary tweaking is relatively minor.

Amateur astronomy is an awesome hobby, and the barrier to entry is lower than it might seem. You can get started on a budget with the ubiquitous Raspberry Pi or with the slightly less practical Game Boy Camera. And if you’re just interested in viewing the cosmos, there are options for building your own telescope as well.

[via PetaPixel]

DIY Telescope Courtesy Of IKEA

Some of the most expensive hobbies have some of the more ingenious hacks on display, generally to lower the cost of entry to various parts the hobby itself. Amateur astronomy has expensive, necessary equipment such as telescopes and other optics, but also has a large group of people willing to build their own gear out of some surprising materials rather than buy pre-built equipment.

One of the latest telescopes from [The Amateur Engineer] uses several bowls from IKEA to build the mirror mount. It’s a variation of a Portaball telescope, which is similar to a Dobsonian telescope except that it is much easier to adjust and point in any direction. This “Portabowl” telescope uses two bowls epoxied together and weighted at the bottom as the core of the build. The mirror mounts inside the ball, and some supports are attached to it to hold the eyepiece and mount. With some paint and some minor adjustments it’s ready to go stargazing.

There are a few improvements to this build planned for the future, such as the creation of a larger ball that will make operating the scope easier. All in all, though, it’s an excellent example of amateur astronomy even without needing to go as far as grinding one’s own mirrors.

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Hackaday Links: February 21, 2021

Well, that was quite a show! The Perseverance rover arrived on Mars Thursday. Don’t tell the boss, but we spent the afternoon watching the coverage in the house on the big TV rather than slaving away in the office. It was worth it; for someone who grew up watching Jules Bergman and Frank Reynolds cover the Apollo program and the sometimes cheesy animations provided by NASA, the current coverage is pretty intense. A replay of the coverage is available – skip to about the 1:15:00 mark to avoid all the filler and fluff preceding the “Seven Minutes of Terror” main event. And not only did they safely deliver the package, but they absolutely nailed the landing. Perseverance is only about 2 km away from the ancient river delta it was sent to explore for signs of life. Nice shooting!

We’re also being treated to early images from Jezero crater. The first lowish-rez shots, from the fore and after hazard cameras, popped up just a few seconds after landing — the dust hadn’t even settled yet! Some wags complained about the image quality, apparently without thinking that the really good camera gear was stowed away and a couple of quick check images with engineering cameras would be a good idea while the rover still had contact with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Speaking of which, the HiRISE camera on the MRO managed to catch a stunning view of Perseverance’s descent under its parachute; the taking of that photo is an engineering feat all by itself. But all of this pales in comparison to a shot from one of the down-looking cameras in the descent stage, show Perseverance dangling from the skycrane just before touchdown. It was a really good day for engineering.

Would that our Earthly supply chains were as well-engineered as our Martian delivery systems. We’ve been hearing of issues all along the electronics supply chain, impacting a wide range of industries. Some of the problems are related to COVID-19, which has sickened workers staffing production and shipping lines. Some, though, like a fire at the AKM semiconductor plant in Japan, have introduced another pinch point in an already strained system. The fire was in October, but the impact on the manufacturer depending on the plant’s large-scale integration (LSI) and temperature-compensated crystal oscillators (TCXO) products is only just now being felt in the amateur radio market. The impact is likely not limited to that market, though — TCXOs pop up lots of gear, and the AKM plant made LSI chips for all kinds of applications.

What do you get when you combine a 3D-printer, a laser cutter, a CNC router, and a pick-and-place robot? Drones that fly right off the build plate, apparently. Aptly enough, it’s called LaserFactory, and it comes from MITs Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab. By making different “bolt-on” tools for a laser cutter, the CSAIL team has combined multiple next-generation manufacturing methods in one platform. The video below shows a drone frame being laser-cut from acrylic, to which conductive silver paste is added by an extruder. A pick-and-place head puts components on the silver goo, solders everything together with a laser, and away it goes. They also show off ways of building up 3D structures, both by stacking up flat pieces of acrylic and by cutting and bending acrylic in situ. It’s obviously still just a proof of concept, but we really like the ideas presented here.

And finally, as proof that astronomers can both admit when they’re wrong and have fun while doing so, the most remote object in the Solar System has finally received a name. The object, a 400-km diameter object in a highly elliptical orbit that takes it from inside the orbit of Neptune to as far as 175 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun, is officially known as 2018 AG37. Having whimsically dubbed the previous furthest-known object “Farout,” astronomers kept with the theme and named its wayward sister “Farfarout.” Given the rapid gains in technology, chances are good that Farfarout won’t stay the Sun’s remotest outpost for long, and we fear the (Far)nout trend will eventually collapse under its own weight. We therefore modestly propose a more sensible naming scheme, perhaps something along the lines of “Farthest McFaraway.” It may not scale well, but at least it’s stupid.

Adding Space Music To The Astronomy Toolbox

Astronomy fans were recently treated to the Great Conjunction, where Jupiter and Saturn appear close together from the perspective of our planet Earth. Astronomy has given us this and many other magnificent sights, but we can get other senses involved. Science News tells of explorations into adapting our sense of hearing into tools of astronomical data analysis.

Data visualization has long been a part of astronomy, but they’re not restricted to charts and graphs that require a trained background to interpret. Every “image” generated using data from radio telescopes (like the recently-lost Arecibo facility) are a visualization of data from outside the visible spectrum. Visualizations also include crowd pleasing false-color images such as The Pillars of Creation published by NASA where interstellar emissions captured by science instruments are remapped to colors in the visible spectrum. The results are equal parts art and science, and can be appreciated from either perspective.

Data sonification is a whole other toolset with different strengths. Our visual system evolved ability to pick out edges and patterns in spatial plots, which we exploit for data visualization. In contrast our aural system evolved ability to process data in the frequency domain, and the challenge is to figure out how to use those abilities to gain scientifically relevant data insight. For now this field of work is more art than science, but it does open another venue for the visually impaired. Some of whom are already active contributors in astronomy and interested in applying their well-developed sense of hearing to their work.

Of course there’s no reason this has to be restricted to astronomy. A few months ago we covered a project for sonification of DNA data. It doesn’t take much to get started, as shown in this student sonification project. We certainly have no shortage of projects that make interesting sounds on this site, perhaps one of them will be the key.

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin Saw Through The Stars

We as humans are limited in the ways we can look at things ourselves, and rely on on the different perspectives and insights of others to help make sense of things. All it takes is one person to look at a data set and find something completely different that changes our fundamental perception of the universe.

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin discovered that stars are primarily made of hydrogen and helium, at a time when astronomers thought that the Sun and the Earth had no significant elemental differences. She proposed that hydrogen wasn’t only more common, but that it was a million times more common.

This outlandish conclusion was roundly dismissed at the time, and she aquiesced to tone down some of the conclusions in her thesis, until her findings were widely confirmed a few years later. Truly groundbreaking, the discovery of the prevalence of hydrogen in stars paved the way for our current understanding of their role as the furnaces for the heavier elements that we know and love, and indeed are composed of.

Meteorites, Comets, and Bee Orchids

Cecilia Helena Payne was born May 10th, 1900 in Wendover, Buckinghamshire, England. She was one of three children born to Emma and Edward, a lawyer, historian, and musician. Her father died with she was four years old, leaving her mother to raise the family alone. Continue reading “Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin Saw Through The Stars”

Eulogy To Arecibo: With Demise Of A Unique Scientific Facility, Who Will Carry The Torch?

Few telescopes will get an emotional response from the general public when it is ultimately announced that they will be decommissioned. In the case of the Arecibo Observatory in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, the past months has seen not only astronomers but also countless people across the world wait with bated breath after initial reports of damage to the radio telescope’s gigantic dish.

When the National Science Foundation announced that they would be decommissioning the telescope, there was an understandable outpouring of grief and shock. Not only is Arecibo a landmark in Puerto Rico, it is the telescope from iconic movies such as GoldenEye (1995) and Contact (1997). Its data fed public programs such as the Seti@Home and Einstein@Home projects.

Was Arecibo’s demise truly unavoidable, and what does this mean for the scientific community?

Continue reading “Eulogy To Arecibo: With Demise Of A Unique Scientific Facility, Who Will Carry The Torch?”

Cheap All-Sky Camera Is Easy As Pi

Combining a Raspberry Pi HQ camera and a waterproof housing, [jippo12] made an all-sky, all-Pi meteorite tracking camera on the cheap, and it takes fantastic photos of the heavens. It’s even got its own YouTube channel. Inside there’s a Raspberry Pi 4 plus an HQ camera to take the pictures. But there’s also a system in place to keep everything warm and working properly. It uses a Raspberry Pi 3+, a temperature sensor, and a relay control HAT to pump pixies through a couple of 10 W resistors, making just enough heat to warm up the dome to keep it from fogging.

A few years ago, we reported that NASA was tracking meteorites (or fireballs, if you prefer) with a distributed network of all-sky cameras — cameras with 360° views of the night sky. Soon after, we found out that the French were doing something quite similar with their FRIPON network. We pondered how cool it would be to have a hacker network of these things, but zut alors! Have you seen the prices of these things?  Nice hack, [jippo12]!

Rather do things the old fashioned way? Dust off that DSLR, fire up that printer, and check out OpenAstroTracker.