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I believe that recently Alan Turing has been pardoned.  Pardoned for what exactly?

Shouldn’t the Government of the day actually be asking for forgiveness of the Government of Turing’s day for the vicious chemical assault of Turing?

Let this be a warning to any scientist to NOT get involved in ANYTHING to do with the U.K. government whatever sexual preference you may have.

 

 

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Grabbed this one with this mini-WASP array last night :)

 

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Two very nice open clusters, quite low down in the sky for me, in the constellation Puppis.  These are M46 (on the left) and M47 (on the right).  There are also two other open clusters as well as two planetary nebulae in this image.  Between M46 & M47 towards the lower part of the frame is NGC 2425, and above M47 is NGC 2423.  A planetary nebula can be seen in M46, and there is a second planetary to be seen as well.  Move upwards from the planetary in M46 to the first brightish white star you can find.  Then move away from this star in the 11 O’clock direction – the fuzzy round red blob is not a Carbon star, it is another planetary nebula.  Plenty going on in this single frame image from the mini-WASP array, expertly processed by Noel Carboni.

 

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If you don’t know what the Fermi paradox is, then it’s pretty pointless reading any further.

For those that do know what the Fermi paradox is, then for what it’s worth, my belief up until 2 years ago was that the Universe is indeed teaming with life, including intelligent life, but that the distances separating intelligent life-forms is so great that the probability of them ever crossing paths is infinitely small.  This is perhaps a good thing.  When we started leaving our little islands and discovering other lands, our encounters with our new found friends on distant shores were pretty detrimental on the whole for the poor blighters we visited.  So IF there is intelligent life out there, and it is separated from us by uncrossable distances – maybe that’s a good thing anyway.  As I said – this is how my thinking went up until June 2011 when things got suddenly turned upside down.

June 2011 was the Starmus Festival in Tenerife and there were some really great speakers there on SETI, and also life on Earth.  I got an answer I really didn’t like from one guy trying to create artificial life.  By “I didn’t like” I mean that it was about to turn my belief of a Universe teeming with life on its head.  I basically asked if there was any active research going on to see if any of Earth’s life forms were based on things other than DNA.  The short answer was not really as nothing other than DNA-based life has ever been seen.  Now this is more than a bit worrying.  DNA as you know is a pretty complex molecule (that is putting it lightly).  Now if life as we know it requires a molecule of this complexity to be put together, in its entirety for it to do its replicating job, then what are the chances of this one-off highly improbable event occurring.  O.K. so yes, I’m well aware that it DID happen here, but was that a case of a pretty near zero probability in a pretty near infinite Universe?  We have evolved, over millions of years, we know all this from the fossil record.  So where are all the DNA pre-cursors that led to the present life-molecule?  Where are all the half starts and dead-ends you would expect with a “Blind Watchmaker” approach to making a DNA molecule?  There doesn’t seem to be any.  What happens when you look at the oldest existing life forms on the planet?  Is it still DNA with these guys?  Seems to be, seems to be DNA all the way down.

Now I have a problem.  There seem to be no pre-cursors, no dead ends no false-starts – just the finished machine.  What is the probability of a DNA molecule coming together, given that you have both the right environmental conditions and all the right elements to hand?  I would venture to say not big.  Richard Dawkins played with computer generated bimorphs, very simple code to produce bilaterally symmetric “insects”.  When he came to write his book he wanted to include pictures of the initial bimorphs he had created, but he couldn’t reproduce them.  Even though the code was very simple, extremely complex behaviour can result from just a few lines of very simple code (fractals, Stephen Wolfram).  But the DNA code is far from simple to begin with, so what are the chances of stumbling upon this magic molecule “Blind Watchmaker” style?  I would venture to say as near dammit to zero as you can possibly imagine.

My argument may appear at first sight to be rather like the fallacious argument as to the improbability of the evolution of the eye, but it is not.  At least in the case of the eye you had a fully functioning cell to work with in the first place.  The DNA problem is going right back to square one.  The creation of an incredibly complex molecule that is able to precisely replicate with error coding built in.  Sorry guys but this is not just the (relatively) simple evolution of an eye (or a Bombardier beetle) – this is a whole different ballpark.

So I am now in the very depressing state of believing that the answer to Fermi’s paradox is that there are no other intelligent life forms out there in the vast expanse of our Universe.

Sir Arthur C Clarke said that either answer (that there IS, or there IS NOT life “out there”) is equally disturbing.  I beg to differ with Sir Arthur.  If we are indeed the only intelligent life form in the Universe, and we go on as we are, then we are likely to also snuff out this unique oasis of life, in the cosmological blink of an eye.

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Fellow PAIG forumite Harry Page signs off the New Forest Observatory “Deep-Sky Image of the Week” series with this stunning presentation of M33.  You can see full image details on Harry’s web-site here.  Thank you for your support of the DSIW Harry and also to the other fine contributions made to this page by fellow amateur imagers.

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Another fine Horsehead image from another PAIG lady – this time it’s the return of Anna Morris (who shared her amazing NGC7000 region mega-mosaic with us a few weeks ago).  Very nicely processed image Anna – and what can I say to the PAIG guys other than – THE GIRLS ARE CREAMING YOU LADS :) :)

Anna provided the following details for her image:

Horsehead Nebula imaged 18 Dec 2011 into morning of 19 Dec 2011, scope: Orion EON80ED, camera: Atik 314L+

Ha: 4x1800s, 6x600s, SII, OIII: 3x1800s (bin1) each, SII, OIII: 6x600s (bin2) each, RGB: 4x600s (bin2) each.

Total: 500 min (8hrs, 20 min)

What can I say other than the image reflects the amount of data taken and confirms my own findings that for First Class images you need in excess of 8-hours total imaging time if at all possible.  There is no substitute for time spent on an object.

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Happy New Year!  And the first “Deep-Sky Image of the Week” for the New Year is another belter from Rogelio!!!!!  O.K. for your average Joe Public this may look pretty grey and unimpressive – where are all the pretty colours?  But for us astroimagers, we know what skill (and ultra dark skies) are necessary to create a panorama such as this.  In my opinion this is the most incredible amateur deep-sky image to have ever been produced – period.  Under U.K. skies we struggle to pull out a little of the IFN in the M81/M82 region (I even struggled with long exposure times using the Hyperstar!) – so what do you make of this enormous ultra widefield showing the full extent of the Integrated Flux nebula around the Pole?  Nothing short of outstanding.  I’ll now leave it to Rogelio to discuss his incredible image and the effort it took to acquire it.

“I’ve ended up calling this the 1,200 miles image, because that’s the total number of miles I ended up driving in order to capture the data for this image. By the way, that is a record for me! We do crazy things sometimes just to capture a bunch of photons!

 

The Object

The above wide field image features a large area of the IFN (integrated flux nebula) of the polar spur – probably the largest IFN image captured by an amateur so far. The field of view is approximately 15×9 degrees. The IFN is extremely faint, so much that almost every image taken of this area would either show no IFN at all of at most, a barely perceptible hint of it.

 

In simple terms, the IFN is dust clouds. However, unlike most known nebulae, they do not reflect, scatter or fluoresce due to the radiation of any individual star or cluster of stars, but do so from the integrated flux of all the stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. In other words, the IFN is illuminated by the glow of our own galaxy.

Steve Mandel once said that the IFN was like photographing something through a dirty window, the IFN being the dirt on that window, except that the “dirt” itself is beautiful to behold.

The Challenge

Because the IFN is so faint, capturing it is a challenge, as even under good skies it will sit barely above the noise. This means that once you’ve captured the data and try to bring the signal from the IFN, you will bring it along with the noise in the image, making it almost impossible to discern between noise and nebulae. This is the main reason most images won’t show any or almost any IFN – as astrophotographers deal with the noise – trying to make it dissapear – the IFN will dissapear with it.

For that reason it is important to image this area from as dark skies as you can get. Otherwise, the sky glow will completely bury the signal from the IFN.

How to understand this image

From a scientific point of view, the mind establishes an order regarding what’s being seen, because the IFN is the main structure and it appears well defined, but from other perspectives, the image may look simply weird.

Also, one may feel this image has a dirty look, perhaps even artificial, not only because of us looking at the sky through a “dirty window” but also because it would be impossible to preserve a “natural” balance when attempting to reveal the extremely faint IFN structures with so little data and without blowing up the brighter structures. The purpose of this image is to reveal those structures, not to create a natural and silk-smooth “pretty” composition. Beauty in this case is in the eye of the beholder.

Capturing the data

I captured this 2×5 mosaic (10 frames) first three days in a row, on Tuesday April 6th thru Thursday the 8th, and then during one more session on April 16th, 2010, taking advantage of an unusual break in the cloudy weather we’ve been having this year so far.

The first night I traveled to Dinosaur point to take the data for three frames but I wasn’t very happy (too much skyglow), so I decided that the next two days I would travel to Lake San Antonio (about 170 miles from home) which would give me better skies (6.5 ~ 6.6 NELM approx). After all that was done, I went back to Lake San Antonio one third night on April 16th to take the last two frames.

In the end,  I drove over 1120 miles during the four days to acquire the data. I  believe on Friday 9th I was near a coma after the effort (ok not exactly, just BRUTALLY tired). Picture yourself leaving Lake San Antonio on Friday morning at 4am after three restless nights and already 620 miles driven, for another 160 miles drive back home, and around 6:30am as you get near your home, you run into the morning rush hour traffic… We are… a very nut crowd!

Acquisition details

Each frame of the mosaic is only 90 minutes of luminance (6×15′) and 27 minutes of RGB color (3x3x3′). I had to limit the exposure to such short times because I knew I would only have just enough clear nights this time around and even with that, I knew I could barely make it. If one thing went wrong, I wouldn’t be able to finish it. This also meant that for the most part I would stay put checking the images during the capture at least every hour or so.

Every 2+ hours I’d shift to the next frame. Besides slewing to the next area, this involved  taking flat images, rotating the camera,and doing my “manual” plate solving (I don’t do plate solves, so the realigmnent – including camera rotation – is done manually, and taking test shots to make sure the camera is well positioned to cover the field for the next frame.

Processing

The small image in this page is downsampled so that it fits well in the page. The large image (the one you see when you click on the image) is downsampled from a larger version. Since the IFN is, as I mentioned earlier, just above the noise, I had to chose between leaving the image at its original size but with the obvious degradation in quality, or take advantage of the benefits of downsampling when “fighting the noise”. Even with that you can still see the image is noisy but at this point my goal wasn’t to produce a clean image as much as being able to capture all that is going on up there even if that meant producing a less than average quality image from an aesthetic point of view. As with most of my images however, the aesthetics still played a role, and that’s why care was put in preserving details, avoiding blown up stars and galaxies, etc.

A big challenge was to join the different frames of the mosaic, where none of them had similar background and signal values, each had its own gradient issues, and even at times the SNR wasn’t similar. This forced me to do some very careful but strong adjustments on each frame (using formulas suggested by PixInsight’s Juan Conejero), applying synthetic background models, etc.

How to bring out all this faint detail that sits just above the noise, without making the image look like, well, crap? While several conventional techniques were used at different stages, it was probably the multi-scale techniques the ones that helped me bringing out the fainter details while preserving the integrity of the already bright areas. No “selective stretching” was ever done in the image to bring out the significant IFN signal – that is, I did not manually select areas that I later stretched, nor created masks to increase brightness selectively. While lightness-based masks were used at different stages in the processing of the image, none was used to “push” the signal of the IFN over the background. The reason for this is actually quite simple: if I did a “selective stretching” I would be dictating where there is IFN and where there isn’t. By avoiding selective stretching, I let the data be the one defining where the IFN is and how much of it.

As for the color, obviously I didn’t have enough data to get an accurate rendition of the color in the IFN, and what I’ve got wasn’t deep at all. I knew beforehand I wouldn’t have enough time to get deep and detailed color data, so I compromised with at least getting enough color for the stars and the field, hoping that the IFN would at least inherit some color from the background signal, which is most definitely the case here, and that’s why the IFN has a brownish hue versus the more expected blueish cast – regardless, the IFN not only scatters blue light but is also fluorescing a broad red spectrum of light known as the Extended Red Emission (ERE), so the brownish hue acquired from my poor color data isn’t completely off track.”

Many, many thanks for sharing this magnificent image with us Rogelio – and for kicking off 2012 with one of the most astonishing (amateur OR professional!!) deep-sky images out there :)

Check out the high resolution version on Rogelio’s web site:  http://blog.deepskycolors.com/archive/2010/04/08/integrated-Flux-Nebula-Ifn-really-wide.html

 

 

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Fellow PAIG forumite Carole Pope provided our first “Deep-Sky Image of the Week” back on October 3rd 2011 – and she see’s out 2011 with another fine image taken from Bromley (which is no mean achivement in itself :)

Carole captured this fine image of the Horsehead nebula over two evenings starting on the 27th November 2011 with 29 subs captured in Canon utility with PHD guiding, followed by another outing on the 29th November 2011 capturing 20 subs using APT with PHD dithered guiding, giving a total of 49 x 5 minutes (just over 4 hours) from Bromley.  Thank  you for sharing this one with us Carole and a Happy New Year to all imagers Worldwide.

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The deep-sky image for this week is one of mine :)   It is perhaps not one of the best-looking images that I have taken, but it is one of my favourites due to the amount of time I spent in getting the data.  This is still the most time (and data) intensive image I have produced to date (but it will be surpassed once the mini-WASP is let loose to do its thing in earnest).  This image of course shows the famous Veil Nebula in Cygnus, a supernova remnant, and a most beautiful object.  All imaging was undertaken using the Sky 90/M26C one-shot colour CCD combination.  I started on this marathon imaging run by just taking the Northern section of the Veil in RGB.  I spent a LONG time in getting this data (around 8 hours or so) and to be frank, when I saw the results I was less than impressed.  The filaments were a bit fuzzy and not very well defined at all, and the image just “looked wrong” with the bottom half missing.  As I didn’t have an OIII filter at the time I ordered one up and in the meantime I imaged the lower half of the Veil nebula in RGB, around another 6 hours or so.  The OIII filter arrived and I imaged both halves of the veil in OIII and then I did the same again thing for H-alpha.  We’re now talking about 30-40 hours of data on this one object alone.  After Noel Carboni put in around the same amount of image processing time – we arrived at this result.  As I said – not one of the best – but certainly the hardest earned :)

I have a couple of large deep-sky objects planned for the mini-WASP array that will make the Veil imaging marathon pale into insignificance by comparison, keep visiting the New Forest Observatory to see developments.  And to remind yourself of the power of the mini-WASP array, it would have imaged the whole of the Veil nebula in one go with its two Sky 90s and two M26C one-shot colour cameras.  And as the mini-WASP array also has filter wheels for each camera with H-alpha, H-beta, OIII and SII filters loaded – you can imagine what “the beast” will be turning out in the coming years.

 

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This week’s object is not deep-sky, it’s our closest star – the Sun.  And look at the beauty of our nearest star as captured by Selsey astronomer Pete Lawrence.  What a truly remarkable image – I would have that blown up to A0 and it would be framed on the wall over the fireplace, I would never grow tired of looking at it.  Marvellous image Pete, and the details for capturing this superb image are provided by Pete below:

“This image of Sol was taken through a Solarscope SF70 double-stacked h-alpha filter set fitted to a Vixen FL-102S refractor. The camera used was a Lumenera SKYnyx 2-0M high frame-rate planetary camera. This is a 9-pane mosaic, each pane being distilled out of a collection of around 500 still images, processed in Registax. The 9 processed panes were then manually stitched together to produce as smooth a full disk image as possible and flattened. The main disk was selected and copied as a separate layer allowing me to process the surface and prominence regions separately. False colours were applied to the original monochrome captures using a levels adjustment. Then following a few contrast and levels tweaks, both layers were merged together to produce the end result.”

All that hard after-acquisition processing sure paid off with this one Pete – a truly lovely, and awe-inspiring image :)

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