So, Josh Lake, who I met over on Reddit's Astronomy Sub-Reddit kindly offered to have a go at re-processing my M31 data from the 15th Jan using PixInsight. I have to say that I have been pretty blow away with the results.
The additional detail in the dust lanes, better colour and higher contrast just brings the image alive. I almost feel unworthy of posting this image as really Josh needs most of the credit.
Anyway, here it is...
PixInsight is certainly something that I am going to have a very good look at. The good news is that you can get a free 45 day trial period over on their website. I would love to hear from any other users.
Beautiful night, it was clear, still, cold and moonless. Somewhat typically however I struggled with alignment, so I only managed maximum 105 second exposures. Even then there was a little star trailing, so I definitely didn't make the most of the great conditions. Shame. Alignment really does seem to be the limiting factor at the moment - I need to find a setup routine that works for me. Still, given that I'm fairly happy with this result.
About 1hr 25mn of exposure data. Plus a limited amount of darks, flats and bias.
Through various means, astronomers have now confirmed over 700 exoplanets. In addition, there are nearly two and a half thousand more candidates awaiting observational confirmation - confirmation that will more than likely come for the overwhelming majority.
The Kepler mission is of course leading the way, with it's precise optics operating with the benefit of an unobstructed heliocentric orbit, and outside of our flickering atmosphere.
Kepler is now reporting tiny planets as well as the larger mulit-Jupiter mass planets. Just today the Kepler team has announced three planets all orbiting the same star with radii of just 60% to 80% that of the radius of Earth, making the smallest of them similar in size to Mars.
New Kepler planet relative sizes. Image: NASA/ Kelper
Meanwhile, as Kepler has been stealing headlines, a lesser known search for exoplanets has been in progress. A small international team has been using a technique called gravitational lensing to conduct a 6 year survey of millions of stars.
Tomorrow, in the journal Nature they will announce that their observations indicate that "planets are more common than stars". Microlensing requires a very rare chance alignment of a background and lensing star for an event to be detected. In addition, to spot a planet during the lensing event, an additional chance alignment of the planet's orbit is also needed, putting the planet between the two stars and in alignment with the earth bound observer. These unlikely requirements mean that any such detections can only be put down to one of two things; either sheer blinding good luck, or (more likely of course) a statistical likelihood from the fact that there are an awful lot of planets.
Daniel Kubas, co-lead author of the paper explains: "We used to think that the Earth might be unique in our galaxy. But now it seems that there are literally billions of planets with masses similar to Earth orbiting stars in the Milky Way"
Of course, if we consider that there are perhaps somewhere in the region 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe - as of today, and this announcement - it looks more likely than ever that there are (will be, and have been) thousands of trillions of planets. And perhaps billions of Earths!
Some of the sunsets and some of the sunrises must be spectacular! Such an amazing wonder to live in a time when these discoveries are being made - our understanding of the Universe is truly growing daily. And yet, such a shame to live in a time when these types of view live only in the imagination...
You can just make out the Gibbous phase (~75% illuminated) lit from the bottom right in these images. They are both from AVI files, the smaller one at 900mm (f7.5), and the larger using a x2 barlow making an effective 1800mm (f15). I really need to try again during a crescent phase so that it looks less like a blob of pixels...
I thought I'd see how close I could get to Tycho Crater, and here it is. Quite blurry, and over processed in an attempt to bring out some detail, but none the less, fun to try...
86.21Km in diameter and up to 4.8Km deep. You can clearly make out the main central peak which rises 1.6 kilometers above the crater floor. Best guesses are that Tycho is about 108 million years old.
I love to imagine one day a geologist and explorer climbing this peak, what an achievement that would be. The first man to climb the central peak of Tycho crater on Earth's Moon. That person's name will surely be learnt in the schools of the future...
My image is about 570 meters per pixel.
Below is a stunning NASA image of the central peak taken by their Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft from just 50km above the surface (so a lot closer than my ~380,000km!).
It's difficult to pull nebulosity out of the Pleiades, it needs a lot of exposure time. This image is about an hours worth but unfortunately the moon was bright so it's made of fairly short (60 second) exposures, really it needs longer exposures to achieve greater detail.