Robotic Observatory Operational at TDS

We have been working hard to bring a robotic telescope to fully operational status for the last 5 months. This project originally started as a collaboration with at NASA Ames which we started 9 years ago, but 4 years ago a lighting strike took out the equipment.

Pat and Grady Boyce (both SDAA members) leased the pad last year, refurbished the dome, and I have been working on the equipment setup and testing which is now complete. We are live. We will be starting out with studies of binary stars with the intention of publishing papers (astrometry) of measurements we take with the system.

I will also be leading a Special Interest Group in Asteroid detection, tracking, and MPC submission.

Last night we remotely ran a full set of test images, each running 5 minutes, targeting a dark area of the sky just to see how faint an object we could detect.

The attached photo is labeled with the star and galaxy id’s and the detected magnitudes of some of the fainter objects. I am quite excited by the quality of the faint objects. Now that the system is live our next step will be to run a study of a few dozen binary stars and some of the asteroids that regularly visit our neighborhood.

A hardy congratulations to the Roboscope Team at Boyce Astro for the funding and assistance in bringing this project to operational status. If any of you are interested in learning more about the system or want to get involved with the program please do contact me.  To learn more about the Boyce Astro Robotic projects please visit
Ad Astra!

First Light Photo from the Roboscope
Roboscope Team

Rare Triple Lunar Event

On Sunday September 27th West Coast lunar observers will be treated to a rare event. Starting at 6:45pm the Moon will rise already eclipsed by Earth’s shadow. The moon is also at its closest approach to the Earth in its orbit as well (known as a Super Moon by the public) and it is the first full moon after the Autumnal Equinox making it a Harvest Moon.

2007 Moon Eclipse
2007 Moon Eclipse

For best viewing it is recommended that you find a location high enough to allow an unobstructed view of the horizon. The moon will rise already in eclipse and as the sky fades from twilight to full darkness viewers will be able to observe a condition known as a “blood moon”. This is caused by the sun’s light being refracted by the upper atmosphere and directed to the moons surface.

The atmosphere filters out all color but red giving the moon a red shade. The intensity and brightness of the color is affected by upper air particulates and can be much more dramatic in effect when recent volcanic or fire soot is circulating in the atmosphere.

Each of the lunar events described occur regularly. The Harvest moon happens each year after the Autumnal Equinox, the moon reaches close approach every 27.3 days in its orbit, and there are two lunar eclipses each year. What makes this event rare is that all three happen at the same time Sunday night. The next event does not take place until 2033, so if you have a chance to get out there and look up!

Andromeda Galaxy – Julian Starfest

I present a stack of 10 – 2 minute photos, processed with DeepSkyStacker, and my own personal blend of Photoshop Filter steps. Andromeda is by far and away my favorite Galaxy to shoot near the end of summer. It it rises from the east as the Summer Triangle wends its way west. In a dark sky location the asterism can be seen with the naked eye as a faint cloudy band. Hope you like this shot. I love it so much its my new favorite desktop background!

M31 – The Andromeda Galaxy




The Andromeda Galaxy is a spiral galaxy approximately 780 kiloparsecs (2.5 million light-years; 2.4×1019 km) from Earth. Also known as Messier 31, M31, orNGC 224, it is often referred to as the Great Andromeda Nebula in older texts. The Andromeda Galaxy is the nearest major galaxy to the Milky Way. It gets its name from the area of the sky in which it appears, the constellation of Andromeda, which was named after the mythological princess Andromeda. The Andromeda Galaxy is the largest galaxy of theLocal Group, which also contains the Milky Way, the Triangulum Galaxy, and about 44 other smaller galaxies.

The Andromeda Galaxy is the most massive galaxy in the Local Group as well.

Courtesy of Wikipedia


JSF Photo – The Trifid

The summer sky never disappoints us, especially the jeweled region of the southern Milky Way. Rising up out of steam from the pot of Sagittarius we find one sparkly pretty after another. Here I present to you a nebula known as The Trifid.

I shot this using a 8″ f/4 TPO Newtonian with a Canon 5d. This is a combination of 3 –  2 minute images, combined, processed to bring out the color range. Click on it to see full scale.

The Trifid Nebula (catalogued as Messier 20 or M20 and as NGC 6514) is an H II region located in Sagittarius. It was discovered by Charles Messier on June 5, 1764.[3] Its name means ‘divided into three lobes’. The object is an unusual combination of an open cluster of stars; an emission nebula (the lower, red portion), a reflection nebula (the upper, blue portion) and a dark nebula (the apparent ‘gaps’ within the emission nebula that cause the trifurcated appearance; these are also designated Barnard 85). Viewed through a small telescope, the Trifid Nebula is a bright and peculiar object, and is thus a perennial favorite of amateur astronomers.

Courtesy of WikiPedia

Julian Star Fest August 15th

It’s that time of year again when the San Diego Astronomy Association host its biggest star party event, Julian Star Fest. This year the event runs from August 13th-16th and with the great weather being projected for the week ahead, is sure to be a wonderful time for all!

Julian Star Fest
Fantastic Campsite!

There will be a full slate of speakers on Friday and Saturday and of course the famous Public Star Party on Saturday night!

Free Public Star Party Saturday Night, August 15, 2015!

At the corral
At the corral on Saturday night!

Anyone can enjoy the Julian StarFest by participating in the free public star party on Saturday, August 15, 2015.  Arrive in Julian between 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. and you can enter the StarFest grounds (1150 Julian Orchards Ln, Julian, CA 92036) for free.

Take a star tour of the heavens using the many telescopes set up in the viewing area.  Experts will be on hand to answer questions about what your looking at and about the telescopes.  Parking is available nearby and we suggest you bring a red light flashlight to guide yourself to the observing area.

If you don’t have a red light flashlight, red film will be provided to cover a white light flashlight.  Please, no white lights in the observing area.

Guest Speakers

We are planning another year of outstanding speakers!

FRIDAY 8/14:

John Garrett

Topic: “Life in the Zone” – a look at the search for habitable planets

Bio: John Garrett is a member of the Temecula Valley Astronomers, a contributor to the website Skeptical Science, and employed as an illustrator for Opto 22 in Temecula. His illustrations have appeared in science and trade journals, in a University of Queensland online course, and in film documentaries by National Geographic and movie director James Cameron.  John will present illustrations and animations about exoplanets, the Kepler mission, and the search for life in our region of the solar system. This presentation builds off of a previous presentation on exoplanets shared at Julian Starfest in 2010. This earlier presentation preceded the Kepler mission, and a lot has changed in exoplanet science since then.  John has presented at Starfest for the last 5 years, and previous presentations appear at hiswebsite.     Also, John has been involved in the protection of the night sky. See his TEDx talk.

Kin Searcy

Topic: Palomar Observatory



Jerry Hilburn – New Horizons Mission to Pluto Update

Bio: Jerry Hilburn is an active member in the San Diego Astronomy Association. His interests include tracking asteroids, exoplanet photometry, and teaching practical astronomy techniques to budding amateur scientists. Jerry feels that the most important message we can send to children is that there is great opportunity in the future of space exploration and that they must prepare now for that future by learning, questioning, and exploring the space sciences. In addition to his public speaking role with NASA/JPL he also works to provide free star party events for non profit organizations and schools in Southern California.

Tim Thompson

Topic: A Universe of Stars. A review of the observational properties and physics of stars.

Bio:Tim Thompson received his degrees in physics from California State University at Los Angeles; B.S. in 1978 and M.S. in 1987. He joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory technical staff in January 1981, and retired from JPL in November 2008. He earned two NASA Group Achievement Awards for his participation in the NASA Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project, and his work as a science team member for the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) project, and a NASA Center Award for his role in supporting the Center for Long Wavelength Astrophysics at JPL. He has broad research experience in radio and infrared astronomy and infrared geological remote sensing. Tim is also an amateur astronomer. A long time member and former President of the Los Angeles Astronomical Society, he received the society’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004, and is the recipient of the 2015 G. Bruce Blair Medal from the Western Amateur Astronomers. Tim has been a docent & tour guide at Mt. Wilson Observatory since 1982, has been a regular tournament chess player since 1968, and collects way too many books.

Roger Quimbly

Topic: Unusually Bright Supernovae

Bio: Robert Quimby is the Director of the Mount Laguna Observatory and an Associate Professor of Astronomy at San Diego State University. He earned his bachelors degree in Astrophysics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1998 and then worked as a research assistant for the Supernova Cosmology Project before entering graduate school. Robert earned his masters and PhD in Astronomy from the University of Texas, Austin in 2004 and 2006, respectively. He went on to work as a postdoctoral scholar first at Caltech and then at the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe in Japan before joining the faculty at San Diego State University. Robert’s research interests include thermonuclear supernovae, core-collapse supernovae, the use of supernovae as cosmological probes, detection of supernovae in the early universe, gamma-ray bursts, and other rare transient phenomena. He has helped to discover a new class of high luminosity supernovae and is currently working to uncover their physical nature and determine their suitability as probes of the high-redshift universe. For his research contributions, Robert has received the Trumpler Award (Astronomical Society of the Pacific), the Hyer Award (American Physical Society), and, most recently, a share of the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.


Pluto in Living Color

This shot was released this morning July 14th 2015 and shows Pluto in full color. I have processed the shot a bit to enhance the contrast and improve saturation for purposes of making the detail stand out. I have to say that the reddish hue of Pluto is entirely unexpected, and the detail level has finally reached a point of quality that is simply amazing.

3.6 Billion with a big B miles away and we are able to finally see what this planet is all about. My congratulations go out to Dr. Stern and the entire team at NASA who have done a hell of a job of getting that spacecraft out to Pluto to take this shot.

Now we all hold our breath for the next 11 hours until the craft signals the completion of the flyby!

Pluto July 14th Download - Shot taken at 4pm July 13th
Pluto July 14th Download – Shot taken at 4pm July 13th

Hints of a Rugged Surface on Pluto Emerge

The latest photo from New Horizons are hinting at potentially rugged surface features and mysterious dark plains . This first photo is from the July 10th image release where surface features are beginning to come into view as the space craft draws closer to the Planet. In the second image I applied several Photoshop processing steps to emphasize the light and dark areas with the hope that more of the surface variations would contrast more deeply.

Nasa Pluto Image from July 10th
Nasa Pluto Image from July 10th
Over Processed Pluto Image
Photoshop processing to enhance contrast surface features

As you can see in the second shot the surface features take on a more dramatic separation between the light and dark areas of the original photo. The important aspect of this processing to keep in mind is that we started with a blurred shot, and with the added processing we likely enhance features that do not exist.

It is a lot of fun to take these images and run them through the filters just to see what might be coming in the days ahead.

New Horizons – Latest Photo of Pluto

7-8-15_pluto_color_new_nasa-jhuapl-swriThis image of Pluto from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was received on July 8, and has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument.

After last weekends heart stopping moment when the space craft shut down and went into standby mode, the quick return to science operations provided this amazing image of Pluto this morning. The craft suffered a shutdown on Saturday due to an overly intense computation process related to command and control request.

This operation forced a shutdown that was quickly assessed and corrected by the mission team. Return to full science operations was resumed on Monday and over the next several days the team will be receiving and hopefully publishing more amazing results.

On Saturday the following .gif movie of images taken from the craft between June 29th and July 1st hints at what is sure to be a fascinating flyby of the planet. The movie takes a few minutes to download, but is well worth the wait!

pluto movie

New Horizons Pluto Images Improve

Pluto is shown in the latest series of LORRI photos, taken May 8-12, 2015, compared to LORRI images taken one month earlier. In the month between these image sets, New Horizons’ distance to Pluto decreased from 68 million miles to 47 million miles.nh-apr12-may8-2015Between April and May, Pluto appears to get larger as the spacecraft gets closer, with Pluto’s apparent size increasing by approximately 50 percent. Pluto rotates around its axis every 6.4 Earth days, and these images show the variations in Pluto’s surface features during its rotation.

nh-apr15-may10-2015A technique called image deconvolution sharpens the raw, unprocessed pictures beamed back to Earth. In the April images, New Horizons scientists determined that Pluto has broad surface markings – some bright, some dark – including a bright area at one pole that may be a polar cap. The newer imagery released here shows finer details.

“As New Horizons closes in on Pluto, it’s transforming from a point of light to a planetary object of intense interest,” said NASA’s Director of Planetary Science Jim Green. “We’re in for an exciting ride for the next seven weeks.”

“These new images show us that Pluto’s differing faces are each distinct; likely hinting at what may be very complex surface geology or variations in surface composition from place to place,” added New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “These images also continue to support the hypothesis that Pluto has a polar cap whose extent varies with longitude; we’ll be able to make a definitive determination of the polar bright region’s iciness when we get compositional spectroscopy of that region in July.”

The images New Horizons returns will dramatically improve in coming weeks as the spacecraft speeds closer to its July 14 encounter with the Pluto system, covering about 750,000 miles per day.

“By late June the image resolution will be four times better than the images made May 8-12, and by the time of closest approach, we expect to obtain images with more than 5,000 times the current resolution,” said Hal Weaver, the mission’s project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

Following a January 2006 launch, New Horizons is currently about 2.95 billion miles from home; the spacecraft is healthy and all systems are operating normally.

More info at:

New Horizons Less Than 100 Days from Pluto

NASA-MeatballSpeeding toward a historic flyby on July 14 – just over 98 days from now – NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has moved into the second phase of its approach to Pluto and its moons, beginning a series of observations and activities that will bring these distant, icy worlds into sharper focus than humankind has ever seen.

New Horizons began its long-distance encounter phase with Pluto in January, taking dozens of images used primarily to navigate the spacecraft toward Pluto and using its plasma and energetic-particle sensors and dust detector to sample the environment and learn more about the Sun’s influence – or space weather – near where Pluto orbits 3 billion miles from the Sun. During this first approach phase New Horizons also made an important course-correction homing maneuver on March 10.

In the more intensive Approach Phase 2, which started April 5 and lasts through mid-June, the mission adds numerous new and significant observations of the Pluto system, including the first color and spectral observations of Pluto and its moons, and series of long-exposure images that will help the team spot additional moons or rings in the Pluto system. The spacecraft will also make its first ultraviolet observation to study the surface and atmosphere of Pluto and the surface of Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, and the spacecraft will conduct a major joint test of flyby radio science observations in conjunction with NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN). These various activities are critical to developing a fuller picture of that system, and in assessing any hazards New Horizons could face as the spacecraft passes between Pluto and Charon.

Read Complete Article at: New Horizons Mission to Pluto

First Ever: AP Euro Stargazing Event

By:  Taylor Menconi, Copy Editor

The sky is no longer the limit for Mr. Prodan’s AP European History classes.

On Monday, Feb. 9, the AP Euro students and their families visited Charter after school hours from 7 to 8:30 p.m. to star-gaze with NASA Ambassador Jerry Hilburn, who was invited by Mr. Prodan.

“Since we’ve been studying Galileo and the Scientific Revolution, I thought it’d be cool if students were able to see what Galileo saw and experienced,” AP Euro teacher Mr. Prodan said.

The beginning of the night was mainly led by Hilburn, who works for the San Diego Astronomy Association (SDAA) Outreach program. Students looked at the stars and planets in the Milky Way, and even at another galaxy, he said.

As he pointed out and described each section of the sky, Hilburn shared his knowledge of astronomy by giving a short lecture about the various stars, planets and galaxies.

“Students have a neat opportunity to listen to an astronomer explain the basics of astronomy and show the students the planets that we don’t normally see,” ECHS Director Mr. Roner said, who was present at the event.

Mr. Roner also stated how excited he was to look through the telescopes Hilburn had set up. One of the two was pointed at Jupiter for most of the night, and people were able to see the moons orbiting it.

Students were able to take a view from the lens of an 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain Celestron with a 80-mm refractor on top, and a 20-inch Starmaster Dobsonian.

The first-ever AP Euro stargazing event was a low-key night filled with learning and discussion, as well as a potluck of desserts, coffee, hot chocolate, and apple cider that was served in the lobby of the American Spirit Theater.

“Coming at night was really cool because we were able to see the stars and have apple cider and hot chocolate and all this other stuff,” Sophomore Jaylene Ramli said. “It was just a really relaxing environment.”

The hope for the night was that it would potentially spark an interest and expose students to a different kind of science, according to Mr. Prodan.
“Obviously there are other subjects beside history that are important, and I know a lot of kids enjoy science. Hopefully they were able to learn a lot more about astronomy and have a great time,” Mr. Prodan said.

Full article at: