A rather different week.

This time last week I knew that the week ahead might look a bit different than I am used to, but I didn’t realise it would end up with me being interviewed in the Times and on Radio 4 and being broadcast on German radio too.

We published a scientific paper that’s been in the making for the last 5 years or so. It got rather a lot of attention, on social media, on the media proper and in real life. People wanted to know what was going on with 300 year old letters and how we had read them without opening them, and more importantly what did they say?

The general gist of the letter’s contents is that Jacques Sennacques wanted his cousin Pierre La Pers to provide a copy of the death certificate of Daniel Le Pers. Unfortunately, we don’t know who Daniel Le Pers was, but we do know that Jacques needed a copy of his death certificate for financial and legal reasons probably related to the changes in French inheritance laws that were coming into play.

Unfortunately for Jacques, the letter was never delivered. It most probably ended up in the Hague as misdirected post, and it sat unopened and unread in a small wooden chest until we came along and used x-ray techniques and software to virtually open it.

 

Bode’s Galaxy

Bode's Galaxy (Messier 81) - a fuzzy blob and some bright speks against a dark background
Bode’s Galaxy (Messier 81)

Another year has flown by with not as much time for astronomy and astrophotography as I’d like. Light pollution is terrible from my observing location in East London, so only the brightest deep sky objects are really suitable targets for me (at least until I get a decent filter, or go for narrowband imaging £££).

Earlier this year I tried to image M81, but managed to miss the part of the sky they were in. I ended up with two hours of imaging on a fairly blank area of sky. Yesterday I decided I’d try again. With the galaxy nicely placed in the sky and due to get higher and better for imaging as the night progressed, I set up and started collecting images. I ended up with 45 x 240s exposures, excluding those with satellite and aircraft trails, and star trails I used 39 exposures to make the imafe above.

It’s not perfect – the stars are slightly tear-drop shaped, suggesting there’s some misalignment  between the telescope and camera. This means the galaxy itself is also not as sharp as it should be.

I’m also still very much a novice when it comes to processing the image to bring out the best in them.

I’ll revisit this galaxy many more times over the years, but this is my starting point. Here’s hoping i can improve upon it.

Astrophotography – M31 – Andromeda

I’m getting back into astronomy after a very long hiatus. I really want to do some astrophotography, something I didn’t really achieve before.

My previous attempts at imaging the sky though a telescope were with a self-guided Az-El mount crap-scope and a self-made 110 film camera. The results were underwhelming to say the least.

I’ve now got a much nicer telescope – a Skywatcher 102 mm Acromat Refractor on a decent guiding mount – an EQ5 Pro. For a camera I’m using either a Nikon D50 with the IR and Beyer filters removed, or a Nikon D7000 unmodified.

I took a couple of evenings to familiarize myself with the telescope and mount and to get a feel for the night sky again. This Friday was a good clear night, so I thought I’d attach a camera, point the scope at Andromeda and see what happened.

I aimed to collect 150 x 30 sec exposures at ISO 1600. I was relying on the built-in intervalometer in the camera to control the capture, this was my first mistake. I’d not used this feature of the camera before, and I managed to set it up incorrectly. I only managed to collect half the number of images I thought. I also forgot to set the ISO correctly.

I’m also pretty sure the focus wasn’t spot on. It’s hard to see the camera live view when it’s upside down.

Andromeda M31 A pretty poor photo, but my first attempt
Andromeda M31
A pretty poor photo, but my first attempt

The resulting image isn’t great, but it does hint at there being some structure in the fuzzy glow. Ok, some of that is probably JPEG artifacts in the version I’ve embedded here, there’s probably also some banding from the processing.

Things to do for next time:

  • Check the camera settings
  • Check the camera settings
  • Learn to use the intervalometer
  • Focus the scope on a object I can see in the live view more easily.
  • (probably) Use a computer to control the camera so I can sit in the warm with a cup of Tea.

Poor Mickey

Sometimes when you’re looking around for something to scan in your new-ish CT scanner the answer just lands in your lap.

I’ve been doing #xraymyadvent again this year, but thought I’d test out the new scanner with an item more in keeping with the scanner’s intended use. Searching around the lab I found no obvious items. Until I looked down at the floor, this is what I found.

A poor dead mouse.
This is just 60 projections from the full CT scan – it looks like the scanner worked well.