After a week of cycling, I am back again at the Mercator telescope, supervising a group of Belgian and Dutch master students while they are working on their observational projects. This is our second night, and we already saw a quite rare celestial conjunction. The picture above was taken with a FUJIFILM X100S camera set at f/2.8, at ISO 400, using an exposure time of 30 seconds. It shows the Moon and Venus towards the top left, the track of the International Space Station in the centre, and slightly hidden among the hundreds of stars, also Saturn and Mercury towards the lower right, just above the horizon. Use the finder chart here to identify them!
While two weeks ago I was waiting for the comments from my co-authors before I resubmitted my second paper, I finally got enough motivation to finish my 3D model of the Mercator Telescope, which I started 1.5 years ago… I did it using Goole SketchUp, which is a very easy to learn and use, but still powerful modelling tool. When I abandoned the model back in 2010, I was a bit stuck with the texturing of the dome, and I basically lost interest, as most of the work was already done, and I did not feel challenged enough anymore to keep doing it. I had drawn the model based on the original blueprints of the observatory, I had taken all the high-resolution pictures on site which I needed for the texturing, but then there were still lots of time-consuming details left, which is – I can easily admit it – a bit of boring to do… But some of my colleagues started nagging me recently, so I thought, if I do not finish it now, I will never finish it. So then approximately another 30 work hours later (growing the sum to something around a 150 hours) the model was done :) I am having trouble uploading it to the servers of Google to make it available from within Google Earth itself, but until I succeed with that, you can download the model directly from here (and open it with your copy of Google Earth). I have also prepared a set of sample pictures, which can be found on Flickr. But here is a quick peek:
Yesterday was my first cloudy observing night this year (after 38 clear nights…), with massive amounts of high clouds over La Palma, so I decided to turn the telescope towards the only object which was still visible (except for the Moon): Jupiter. Luckily the seeing was quite good, so I managed to capture the largest planet of our Solar System in an unexpected detail, with several dark and bright atmospheric features visible besides the large dark bands. (Click on the images to see the original – larger – versions.) There is also an animated version here.
Last year in October I already took an outreach image with the Merope instrument in the morning twilight, but since then I gained much more experience with the processing of FITS images into pretty outreach photos (thanks to the new release and user manual of the FITS Liberator software, and some advanced Photoshop layering techniques), so I re-reduced those exposures of the Eskimo Nebula too, recovering much more detail from both the bright and the dark parts of this planetary nebula. Compare it with the old one!
Outreach is important, and we never take fancy images with Mercator. It would really take only maximum one hour per month to publish something nice a couple of times per year. And most of these images can be taken in twilight, when the science frames can not be taken anymore…