Gear Galaxy Science & Astronomy Blog – A Place for Space
Welcome to Gear Galaxy – a blog where we discuss the latest events in the science and astronomy world (i.e. the universe). Stop by for science news, telescope and optical equipment reviews, and other interesting jabberwocky. Gear Galaxy is brought to you by OpticsPlanet – the best source for sport optics, cool gadgets, telescopes and astronomy equipment on this planet or any other that we know of so far.
Even if only you have the most basic understanding of astronomy you’ve probably heard of a black hole. They form in the wake of a huge supernova, which is when a star explodes. After the explosion these stars collapse in on themselves and create a massive gravitational pull that nothing can escape from, including light.
Our galaxy, the Milky Way, has a black hole toward the center of it called Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A*. This black hole is apparently hungry, as it is going to consume a ton of gas in the next couple years.
Using the VLT (Very Large Telescope) in the European Southern Observatory, astronomers can see a cloud of gas that is roughly three times the size of Earth accelerating toward the black hole. This means the gravitational pull of the black hole has latched onto the cloud and has begun drawing it, process that will get faster and faster the closer the gas gets to the black hole.
The collision of these two massive celestial bodies will be very interesting to witness, as scientists don’t know what exactly will happen. The immense gravitational pull from the black hole will heat the gas in the cloud by several million degrees, at which point it will begin to emit X-Rays. After that, it may be ripped in two, with one part of the cloud launched out into space while another part settles around the black hole, but no one is sure yet if this is going to be the case.
You won’t be able to view this on a regular telescope, as it’s far too distant, but you can see similar objects with a small refractor or reflector telescope. The rings of Saturn were viewed hundreds of years ago by Galileo, who thought there were ears on the planet, so you shouldn’t struggle to see them with the advanced astronomy optics we have available to us today.
The gas that settles around the black hole may form an accretion disk, which is very similar to Saturn’s rings. Accretion discs are usually around stars, but they also form around black holes. As planets revolve around stars and moons revolve around planets, an accretion disk is a huge bulk of mass that has not formed into a solid chunk that floats around a star or black hole. This mass swirls around the black hole, which many artists represent similar to water going down a drain.
Get a look at Saturn’s Rings by taking out your refractor telescope, setting it up on your tripod and enjoying a bit of Astronomy. There’s so much to see, and the smartest guys on the planet spend a lot of time guessing wrong about what’s going to happen in the myriad of events taking place all the time in the Universe! You may not be watching black holes consume gas, but the laws of physics cause these types of events to happen in a number of different ways, so you can still learn a lot.
With the billions and billions of stars, planets, galaxies and more that make up the universe, there is almost always a new star or planet being born, going supernova, or evolving into a different celestial body. Though these events take place all the time, it is extremely rare for them to happen close enough for astronomical telescopes to get a good look.
One such occurrence has just taken place. An object that astronomers are calling LkCa 15 b has just been photographed for the first time, and it appears to be a “protoplanet” which is a newly forming planet that is still extremely hot and has massive amounts of gas and dust floating around it in a wide ring. The gas and dust is still being pulled into the planet, which will cool over time as more mass is added.
LkCa 15 b is the youngest planet ever found, and by a pretty wide margin, as it is roughly 5 times younger than the previous record holder. The planet is forming into a gas giant similar to Jupiter, and because of its age astronomers are able to use telescopes to measure both the inner core of the planet and the surrounding gas in a way that has never been possible in the past.
Astronomers Adam Kraus and Michael Ireland discovered the planet using Hawaii’s Keck telescope array. These 10-meter telescopes have incredible power, but it was actually optical sleight of hand that allowed the scientists to get a quality image of the protoplanet. The Keck telescopes have a deformable mirror that allows for rapid corrections in the event of atmospheric distortions. The telescopic sleight of hand used is called aperture mask interferometry, which involves placing a mask with holes in the path of the collected light in order to manipulate light waves.
As I’m sure you’ve all read our Telescopes FAQ, you’ll know that the aperture is one of the most important parts of a telescope. It is the size of the main optical lens, and it is primarily this size that determines the amount of light gathered, which in turn determines how bright and clear the image is. By manipulating the light through the Keck telescopes, Kraus and Ireland were able to remove light sources that would distort the image of LkCa 15 b to get a clear image of the planet during its formation.
Though interferometry has been around since the 1800s, it has only been able to view nearby stars for about the last 7 years, and by using the technique with the biggest telescopes on the planet far greater detail has been possible, leading to numerous discoveries, including this young planet.
Similar techniques to interferometry are used by amateur astronomers all the time. Some telescope accessories, such as the Celestron Telescope Moon Filter, alter certain light frequencies to allow for a better view. The Moon Filter dims the bright light from the moon to provide greater contrast, giving astronomers greater detail.
Research into this new planet may lead to greater understanding of how planets come into being. While it is too early to tell, the area around LkCa 15 b may turn into a new solar system, with multiple planets forming from the massive amount of gas and dust in the area. It appears at present to all be pulling toward the same spot for a single gas giant, but if enough dust collects far enough away from LkCa 15 b a second planet or even third planet may form. It’s also possible at present that other celestial bodies may become moons for LkCa 15 b. More study is planned over the coming years to train massive telescopes around the world on the new planet to see what happens in this baby solar system.
Telescopes are usually trained directly upon a celestial object in order to get the best possible view. But some objects, such as neutron stars, are so complex that a regular image doesn’t provide enough information. Stars have so much energy that is invisible to the naked eye that it can be very difficult to determine the amount of energy, the direction it’s moving in, and the speed of the mass contained in these objects.
Neutron stars are interesting but especially difficult to properly view. They are formed after a supernova of stars of a certain size. These exploding stars are larger than the sun, but not so big as to form a black hole. The massive amount of energy dispelled by a supernova blasts an unbelievable amount of mass around the galaxy, which is called a nebula. Gravity causes this energy to slowly reform into a neutron star. The all the gas of the nebula, which is certainly beautiful, conceals most of the neutron star, which is why a conventional telescope has difficulty seeing many of the finer details.
Neutron stars and nebulas start out spinning extremely rapidly, generates a massive magnetic field in a wide arc. The magnetic field accelerates charged particles, which then emit light in pulses. These light pulses are in multiple parts of the light spectrum, from visible light through gamma radiation, and it’s these gamma radiated particles that astronomers are looking at to better understand neutron stars and supernovas.
Have I lost anyone yet? It’s complex stuff, but essentially a star explodes, and all the energy causes radiation to spin around the cosmos, some of which hits earth’s atmosphere and can be seen using specialized telescopes.
The Crab Nebula is the focus of this new study. About 1000 years ago a star went supernova, leaving behind the Crab Nebula. Energized particles from the nebula hit earth’s atmosphere moving faster than the speed of light. Upon their collision with earth these particles rapidly slow down, giving off a form of light called Cherenkov radiation.
To look at this radiation a telescope called VERITAS, which consists of four 12m telescopes, is focused on earth’s atmosphere, and is able to measure the amount of light from these tiny radiated particles to provide information about their direction and amount of energy, which can be reconstructed to show their origin.
But why does all this matter? Well, the preliminary findings show that some of our previous observations and conclusions about neutron stars may be incorrect. One of these possibly incorrect conclusions is about the exponential decay in pulse energy. The energy from the Crab Nebula is not decaying as quickly as it should, based on prior findings. It also starts out more powerful than previously thought possible. This information gives us new clues as to how stars, galaxies, solar systems and planets are formed, so we may have a better understanding of how our own planet came to be. Using these new findings astronomers may start looking at higher energy wavelengths when viewing nebulas to get a better idea of how they form.
There is a possibility that the Crab Nebula is an anomaly, so doing similar tests on other nebulas is necessary before any of this evidence can be considered conclusive. This might prove difficult, as the Crab Nebula is one of the closest and youngest nebulas in the universe, and the readings from other nebulas may be less reliable.
It’s amazing to see how much work goes into determining the speed of celestial objects. All this astrophysics really shows how much we can learn by using a telescope to look parts of the earth to see the smallest parts of some of the biggest objects in the universe. It’s a bit over my head, but then I tend to think radar guns use some level of wizardry to find how fast a baseball moves.
If you want to take a look at nearby nebulae, I’d suggest investing in a dobsonian telescope with a large aperture. The large aperture will collect enough light to allow you to see detail, and even color of some of the gorgeous nebula in our part of the universe. The Orion Nebula is one of the easiest to see for newer astronomers. The Meade 115mm ED TRIPLET APO f/7 Refractor Telescope is brand new to OpticsPlanet and features a 4.5” aperture, fully multi-coated lenses (for greater light transmission), and an 8X50 viewfinder for an excellent image when checking out a wide variety of celestial bodies, including nebulas. Meade has decades of experience making top quality optics for amateur astronomers. The high value of telescopes by Meade has made them particularly popular, but Meade Binoculars are also very successfully used by nighttime sky watchers throughout the world.
There are plenty of tools and gadgets that every astronomer will need, beyond a telescope and eyepieces. One small item is a must – a red lens flashlight to preserve night vision when working around the telescope or reading star maps. A good choice, here, is the Celestron Night Vision Flashlight 93588. Another must is a basic star map/atlas, such as the Celestron Sky Maps – 93722. Telescope lenses, mirrors and eyepieces do get wet from dew and also dusty, from time to time. For cleaning eyepieces, I like a mini-lenspen, such as the Carson LP50. For larger objective lenses, I find a lens cloth, such as the Carson Stuff-It, to be perfect and, like any lens cloth, it can also be washed when it gets a little soiled. I always carry one in my purse for cleaning my glasses.
Meade has a new series of beginner telescopes in the Meade A-Series Entry Level Telescopes. These include small, but moon-worthy telescopes like the Meade 50AZ-P, the Meade NG60-SM and the Meade NG70-SM. I started out with such a telescope, but, as always, a parent or grandparent, when buying a telescope as a gift for a youngster, should try to match the telescope to the interest level. Small telescopes, such as these Meade A-Series Entry Level Telescopes, are fine for testing the water to see if there is a sustainable interest in a child, but any beginner that stays with astronomy will soon outgrow one of these small telescopes. When in doubt, always better to opt for a larger telescope, even if it costs a bit more, such as the Celestron 80 EQ OP or, even better, an even larger reflector, like the Celestron Powerseeker 127 or Meade 114EQ Going larger on a telescope allows you to see more objects and more detail objects and, most importantly, gives a beginner a telescope that can get him/her past that first look at the nightsky.
It’s a good thing that even compact binoculars come in different sizes. As the owner of four high grade premium compact binoculars – a Leica Ultravid BL 10×25, a Nikon Premier LX 10×25, a Swarovski Pocket 8×20 Nabucco and a Zeiss Victory 8×20 – I can tell you that there are differences, even when comparing the two 10x25s or the 8x20s. I normally prefer the more petite 8×20 compacts for my hands, but that Leica Ultravid BL 10×25 is so sleek, that it fits my hands, perfectly. On the other hand, Bill, my fiancé, prefers the larger outline of the Nikon Premier LX 10×25. The little Swarovski Nabucco positively gets lost in his bear paw hands. In the field, the Zeiss Victory 8×20 is perfect for me, especially with gloves, but, at the opera, I wouldn’t be caught dead without my Swarovski. Anything else would seem almost crude.
Getting a great new deal every single week from OpticsPlanet sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well that is what we indeed offer on our Deals of the Week page. There you can find great prices on many binoculars, spotting scopes, flashlights, and more. The low prices won’t last, so hurry and see what is right for you. This week Vixen Optics is presenting a telescope setup that is perfect for beginning astronomy, and is probably right up your alley.
A Vixen telescope is a symbol of happiness to the user, granting superb visions of planets, stars, and nebulas to astronomers young and old for the past 60 years. The Vixen R130SF is 130mm of jaw-dropping excitement. With immediate comfort right out of the box, you will be experiencing the night sky to its fullest. Vixen telescopes feature light gathering capabilities that are out of this world. You can finally light up popular deep sky objects without having to drag around a 12 inch telescope.
Vixen has created numerous high quality optics and was the first to introduce a Go-To mount for astronomical telescopes. Pioneering Vixen optical units are available from OpticsPlanet at a price that you have to see to believe. To see more telescopes as well as other sport optics at special prices, check back often to our Deals of the Week, Clearance, and Closeouts pages. Also, receive OpticsPlanet coupons directly to your inbox by signing up for our newsletter. Find more and more ways to save at OpticsPlanet.com.
Astronomy, when looked at as a whole, is a tough subject to master all at once. There are thousands and thousands of different aspects to learn about when looking through telescopes and star maps, only the most experienced will fully experience quality star gazing. OpticsPlanet, your optics information resource, has a few tips for the beginning telescope user to have the most fun possible in the night sky.
When setting up your space telescope, stay away from buildings, pavement or large objects that absorb heat by day and release it at night. Upon releasing heat, these objects create air currents (heat mirages) which ruin image quality in your telescope. This is why observing from a terrace or top of a building is not a good idea. Grassy, open meadows or clearings are the best for star navigation.
Parallel to above, observing from a porch is also a bad idea. Not only are you stationed near a building, the ground will constantly be in motion from gatherers circling around. Even at low magnifications, the slight vibrations around you will make noticeable distortion of your picture. Telescopes work best on the solid ground.
Speaking of magnification, too much of it is, perhaps, the single biggest beginner mistake with a telescope. Too much magnification yields an unclear and unstable image. When clarity becomes an issue, use less magnification.
This is just a tiny fraction of the tips and tricks you can find in our How To Articles. For more telescope tips, check out our Dozen Observing Tips. For telescopes, spotting scopes, or binoculars, you know that you can find it at OpticsPlanet.
Telescopes are great learning tools to help raise interest in astronomy and the stars amongst viewers young and old. A telescope is not only a great visual aid; it also looks really neat in a den or study. Regardless of the application or decoration, choosing an astronomical telescope can be difficult. Not to worry! OpticsPlanet is here to guide your through those introductory questions that every aspiring astronomer dares to ask.
The first question to ask is whether you would like a computerized telescope or one without a computer. The telescope mount can come with a built in computer that can locate celestial objects for you. Computerized telescopes are recommended if you are a beginner, and if you live in a polluted city with a cloudy sky. There are plenty of star maps available to help guide you across the night sky, but with out seeing the stars themselves it is a bit hard to navigate. Celestron telescopes or Meade telescopes with a computer will cost more than their non-computer counterparts, meaning that a bigger telescope without a computer will cost similar to a smaller version with it. Computers also come with the same headaches that your personal computer can give you. Software, compatibility, and crashes are all risks you must take when dealing with a computerized telescope.
Should you get a big reflecting telescope or a refractor telescope? Telescope size is the way that performance is measured. Large-objective Meade telescopes won’t necessarily outperform smaller Celestron telescopes. Remember that the best telescope is the one that you will use the most, and a clear night sky will allow for the telescope optics to be exemplified. OpticsPlanet has hundreds of telescopes available so that you can find the right one for you.
There is an assortment of tripods available on the market ranging from low budget to high end. Bogen tripods, Gitzo tripods, and other brands are fighting for your business and support, but what makes a good tripod? Is a camera tripod or a mini tripod your best bet? Should you worry about getting a lightweight tripod or focus on the tripod head? OpticsPlanet has all of these answers, plus the tripods from all of the name brands that you trust.
The type of tripod that you select is directly related to the safety of the optical equipment that you are mounting. There are two basic parts of a tripod: the tripod head and the tripod leg set. On cheaper models of tripods, both of these components come together, so there is no need to buy them separately. When ordering a Bogen Tripod, for instance, you only get a leg set if you order a model labeled as a “tripod“. If you want both a leg set and a head, you must order a tripod by Bogen labeled as a “kit”.
The most important fact that you should consider when buying a tripod is the material. As tripods get more expensive, the quality of materials goes up as well. A plastic tripod will not be able to hold a heavy spotting scope or telescope. Also, the wind is a huge factor when looking through a binocular with high magnification. A lightweight tripod will not hold steady even with slight gusts. Gitzo tripods are known worldwide for their reliability and stability.
There are many things to take into consideration when buying a tripod. For more information, read the in-depth tripod guide, or our other how-to articles. Make sure that you tune in to OpticsPlanet to learn more and save.