Blink Comparison

The traditional way of checking for new astronomical objects is by blink comparison. This goes back right to the days of checking glass plates (e.g., as in Clyde Tombaugh's famous hunt for Pluto). The human eye and brain is exceptionally good at spotting rapid change something new blinking on and off. Presumably this skill has developed over countless millions of years as the trick for avoiding predators creeping up on you (or spotting a meal coming your way ). The detection of a sudden...

Berto Monard 46 Discoveries and Counting

First discovery 2001el in NGC 1448 Number of discoveries 46 all working alone Location 40 km East of Pretoria, South Africa Equipment 30 cm SCT In terms of sheer numbers of supernova discoveries, the South African amateur Berto Monard comes fifth equal, after Tim Puckett, Michael Schwartz, Tom Boles, Mark Armstrong, and currently tying with the legendary visual discoverer, Bob Evans. He had made 46 discoveries of 14th to 18th magnitude supernovae up to September 2006. However, unlike the other...

The Brightest of

In the past 120 years, only 13 extragalactic supernova discoveries of magnitude 11.5 and brighter were made, and many more must have been missed in the early years of that period. As soon as we include supernovae fainter than magnitude 12.0, the number of discoveries soars. In Table 4.1, after the 13 brightest supernovae, there are 30 more between magnitude 12.0 and 12.9 Also, especially in the early days, magnitude estimates where not photometrically precise, and the quoted peak magnitude and...

The Jellyfish Nebula

Compared with the Crab Nebula, IC 443 in Gemini is an extremely difficult object to track down. Like the Veil and the Crab, it is located in a very obvious location because it is between two naked-eye stars, namely mag 2.9Mu Geminorum (also called Tejat Posterior) and mag 3.3 Eta Geminorum (also called Praepes). Yet again, these stars can be helpful and a dazzling hindrance, too, especially in wide-field instruments. Nebulosity exists all the way between these two stars on photographs but the...

The Crab Nebula

Without doubt, the most famous supernova remnant in the sky is that of the Crab Nebula, also known as M 1, NGC 1952, or 3C 144 (see Figure 13.1). The M designation is, of course, Charles Messier's famous 18th century catalogue NGC stands for the New General Catalogue of Clusters and Nebulae (new in 1888 ) 3C is the designation for the third Cambridge catalogue of astronomical radio sources. M 1 is the remnant of the aforementioned supernova of ad 1054 that erupted near zeta Tauri on the eastern...

Visual Magnitude Estimation

Many readers of this book may never have attempted a variable star magnitude estimate, so a complete grounding in the subject is worthwhile at this stage. To estimate the brightness of any variable star, whether a naked-eye, binocular, or telescopic object, it is necessary to compare it with other nearby stars of a known magnitude. Obviously, the comparison stars themselves must not vary in brightness, or all hope for a useful measurement is lost. Fortunately, for established variable stars, a...

How a Spectrograph Works

First, let us get some basic definitions, often encountered in spectroscopy, out of the way. A spectrograph is a device that can produce a graph of the intensity of light as a function of color or wavelength (i.e., a spectroscope that produces a graph). A spectrometer is a device that measures only one selectable color, whereas a monochromator is a device that transmits only one color. The basic components of a single prism spectrograph are shown in Figure 8.3. Essentially, the aim is to gather...

The Rev Robert Evans Doing It Visually

First discovery 1981A in NGC 1532 Number of discoveries 46 Location New South Wales, Australia Equipment 25,30, and 40 cm Newtonians Although Bob Evans, shown in Figure 10.1, was not the first amateur to discover a supernova (he was the fourth) and although there are now four amateur astronomers who have discovered more, namely Armstrong, Boles, Puckett, and Schwartz, Bob Evans is still the only truly legendary figure in supernova discovery. To discover supernovae visually, simply relying on...

The Veil Nebula

A much larger deep sky SNR target, visible to both the visual binocular and visual telescopic observer, is the Veil (sometimes called Bridal Veil) Nebula in Cygnus. If you go back prior to the 1970s, objects as ghostly as the Veil were almost considered impossible targets for the visual observer. The low surface brightness certainly makes it a challenging object, but the availability of high-contrast and emission line nebula filters largely pioneered by companies like Lumicon have helped pull...

Science from the Brightest Supernovae

We have already seen that supernova 1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud provided mountains of scientific data for professional astronomers, not least from the detected neutrinos. It was exceptionally fortunate that such a nearby supernova should detonate just as an array of high-technology equipment was in place to analyze such an event. But SN 1987A was not the only bright supernova to provide masses of scientific data. Six years later, on Sunday, March 28, 1993, Spanish amateur astronomer...

Searching the Caldwell Galaxies

Not everyone likes the term Caldwell catalogue. It was a catalogue devised in 1995 by the British amateur astronomer, prolific author, and TV personality Sir Patrick Moore in an attempt to list all of the easy deep sky objects not catalogued by Charles Messier in his 18th century catalogue. Although the Messier catalogue objects are some of the easiest for Northern Hemisphere astronomers to hunt down, the catalogue is not exhaustive and there are quite a few objects that Messier appears to have...

Software for the Task

So, you have a computerized GO TO mounting and a CCD camera and want to discover supernovae. What software is available to help you to control the telescope and to check the images The most popular telescope control solution is that provided by Software Bisque the same team developed the Paramount mountings to do full justice to their astronomy software. They offer what is arguably the best planetarium package for the serious amateur astronomer, namely, The Sky. The Sky has always been the...

SBIGs SGS Self Guiding Spectrograph

Without a doubt, the most exciting instrument in this field is the one I have already referred to, namely Santa Barbara Instruments Group's (SBIG) 5,000 SGS. SBIG now makes a less expensive instrument, too, described in detail below. SBIG's spectrograph is designed exclusively for use with their auto-guiding ST7 and ST8 CCD cameras, and with modern CCDs being three magnitudes more sensitive than the best spectroscopic photographic film, it can be seen that a modern 30-cm Schmidt-Cassegrain plus...

SBIGs Deep Space Spectrograph DSS7

At 30 of the cost of SBIG's SGS, the DSS-7 will be a much more attractive proposition to many budding amateur spectroscopists. However, as with anything that is a cheaper version of the same product, some capability is lost. First, there is no provision for auto-guiding. The length of exposure will be limited by your telescope's tracking accuracy unless you have another CCD camera set up to work as an auto-guider or unless you guide visually with a piggyback telescope off-axis guider. For...