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Planets at Dusk

When arriving at the observatory our visitors are currently granted with a nice view of planets Venus and Mercury, shining together after sunset, unusually close each other.
The pìcture below captures this scene: Venus is the bright spot at upper left corner, with Mercury standing below, slightly fainter. Both planets are facing the dark silhouettes of the many domes of the Cerro Tololo International Observatory (lower right).

Photo: Cristian Valenzuela (Observatorio del Pangue) - January, 12th, 2015
Camera: Canon EOS 60D

2015 welcomes stargazers with a nice comet

We said it before and we say it again : bright, naked-eye comets are quite rare. That's why we particularely appreciate the visit of the comet Lovejoy (2014-Q2) and its long path throrough the southern skies.

On the picture below we can appreciate the extense, nearly spherical coma surrounding the brighter nucleus, and we can even notice the typical greenish hue that, as usual, reveals the presence of abundant diatomic carbon (C2).

On the December 21st evening, Lovejoy crossed very close to the distant galaxy NGC2188 (Columba). The following picture captures this encounter, with the elongated, irregularely shaped galaxy visible at far left, embedded in the end of the faint and extremely long straight tail of the comet.
Note that, because this is a long exposure shot, the comet compact nucleus forms a short trail, as it moved among the star field.

Lovejoy will offer an amazing view to stargazers from mid January, when the Moon leaves the scene and allows to enjoy dark starry skies. You may really try to see it then, as it is likely that you'll not witness its next pass, expected in some 8,000 years...

Photo: Cristian Valenzuela (Observatorio del Pangue) - December 2014
Camera: Canon EOS 60D at prime focus of Meade 16" Schmidt Cassegrain telescope

December 30th : Unidentifyed Flying Object witnessed from the observatory

...although it didn't remain unidentifyed for long...

On that evening our group enjoyed viewing this bright, strange artifact moving relatively fast across the western sky, and surrounded by fainter, symmetrical diffuse patches of light.

Because of its position, motion, and aspect through the telescope (well rendered in the image below) we soon suspected it might be some space launch from China, and that appeared to be correct : on that particular time of the night the chinese Long March 3A rocket successfully placed into a geostationary orbit a sophisticated meteorological satellite.

Definitely astronomers are not good UFOs viewers, maybe that's because they use to "identify" what they see...

Photo: Cristian Valenzuela (Observatorio del Pangue) - December 30th, 2014
Camera: Canon EOS 60D

Lately, at the Observatorio del Pangue...

In this column we display some of the most relevant news, pictures, or feelings happening around the observatory.

For a complete information on the observatory and the proposed programmes, you can visit our "facts" pages, as listed at the top of the blog.

...and, as to check if we are actually as famous as the following picture suggests, don't hesitate to visit us, we'd be glad indeed to receive you...

Monster Dark Spot Shows Up on the Sun Disc

October, 21st : as it already happened some months ago, a huge dark spot appeared on the surface of the Sun, although this time we better call it a "monster" dark spot : it comes some 40.000km across (over 3 times the size of Earth), while the entire group to which it belongs, labelled AR2192, spans for over 150.000km...

In the last days this sunspot group came greater than the largest one of the previous solar cycle (that was on Oct. 30th, 2003), hence becoming the largest of such features to show up on the Sun disc in several decades.

This time also the sunspot can be seen with naked eyes, of course using a proper filter or specialized eclipse glasses. The group will remain visible until Oct. 28th. only, then disappearing through the Sun border but, as it keeps growing, it might be visible again by mid november, after completing the rotation of the Sun !

Photo: Cristian Valenzuela / Observatorio del Pangue - October 21st, 2014
Camera: Xperia J phone at prime focus of Orion 80mm refractor with white light filter

Astro Vistas in Paris

Last season our french astronomer Eric was at home again, and despite the dreadful weather conditions that characterized the local summertime this year, he succeeded to witness the close conjunction between the Moon and Saturn on August 31st (2014): actually it was the first clear night in weeks !

On the above picture you can distinguish the tiny spot of Saturn topping the Moon border, and also planet Mars much farther at lower left, half way to the Eiffel Tower.

The large view above, taken some two hours later, still shows Saturn (click to enlarge) at upper right of the Moon. Many tourists were taking snapshots of the nice vista, but very few could guess that they got a planet as well...

Photo: Eric Escalera / Observatorio del Pangue

Un Día con Camille Flammarion

Une Journée avec Camille Flammarion

Foto superior: el Observatorio de Juvisy, visto desde su parque.
Ci-dessus : l'Observatoire de Juvisy, vu depuis le parc.

Tal como lo hiciera tres años atrás con Charles Messier, en su reciente gira por sus tierras nuestro director Eric Escalera tuvo la oportunidad de dedicarle una jornada a otro histórico astrónomo francés, tratándose esta vez de Camille Flammarion (1842-1925), autor (entre muchas otras obras!) del mundialmente difundido libro "Astronomía Popular". Así Eric estuvo en el Observatorio fundado por el mismo astrónomo en 1883, en la localidad de Juvisy, a unos 20km de Paris. La visita -privada- fue posible gracias a la agrupación "Los Amigos de Camille Flammarion", constituida por un conjunto de personas benevolas quienes gestionan el Observatorio y sus actividades con un entusiasmo, un profesionalismo, y una disponibilidad absolutamente notables.
Tout comme il l'avait déjà fait en 2011 avec Charles Messier, lors de son dernier séjour en France notre directeur Eric Escalera a eu l'opportunité de dédier toute une journée à un autre célebre astronome français, Camille Flammarion (1842-1925), auteur (entre autres ouvrages!) de l'"Astronomie Populaire", l'un des livres les plus diffusés dans le monde à l'époque. La visite (privée!) de l'Observatoire que fonda l'astronome en 1883, à Juvisy-sur-Orge près de Paris, fut possible grace à l'association "Les Amis de Camille Flammarion", organisme constitué d'un groupe de bénévoles qui gèrent l'Observatoire et les activités attenantes avec un enthousiasme, un professionalisme, et une disponibilité absolument remarquables.

Foto superior: el telescopio del Observatorio de Juvisy, un imponente instrumento de 240mm de diámetro. Anoten la original estructura de madera de la cúpula, diseñada por el mismo astrónomo.
Ci-dessus: la grande lunette de l'Observatoire de Juvisy, un imposant réfracteur de 240mm de diamètre, et son originale coupole de bois, dessinée par Camille Flammarion lui-même.

El Observatorio conserva el famoso telescopio con el cual Camille Flammarion y sus colegas realizaron tantas observaciones y fotografías determinantes. El instrumento y su montura fueron incluso renovados recientemente, gracias a un considerable esfuerzo financiero, habiendo entonces recuperado su flamante aspecto original.
L'Observatoire abrite toujours la fameuse grande lunette avec laquelle Camille Flammarion et ses astronomes invités réalisèrent toutes leurs observations et photographies. L'instrument et sa monture ont même été rénovés récemment, retrouvant ainsi leur aspect original.

"...Es realmente emocionante estar en este lugar y compartir algo de la vida de Camille Flammarion, pues él fue quien inspiró al público con la ciencia de la astronomía, siendo así un incentivo para todos los observatorios públicos modernos, incluido por supuesto el Observatorio del Pangue".
"...C'est impressionnant d'être ici et de pouvoir partager quelques aspects de la vie de Camille Flammarion, car c'est bien lui qui a inculqué au grand public l'intérêt pour les sciences de l'astronomie, et par là même inspiré les observatoires publics modernes, dont bien-sûr l'Observatorio del Pangue"

Foto superior: ahi vemos Eric, bien orgulloso de posar en la misma escalera que tantas veces usara el gran astrónomo (y que también diseñó...)
Ci-dessus: Eric n'était pas peu fier sur l'escalier de bois si souvent utilisé par le génial astronome (et également dessiné par lui...)

Foto superior: recordando su anterior nota sobre Charles Messier, Eric capturó esta vista de la escalera de caracol de la torre que Camille Flammarion mandó añadir al edificio, para así facilitarles a los astrónomos invitados un acceso mas directo a la cúpula de observaciones.
Ci-dessus: comme un clin d'oeuil au précédent article sur Charles Messier, Eric n'oublia pas de capturer cette vue de l'escalier en colimaçon de la tour que Camille Flammarion fit construire pour permettre aux astronomes invités un accès plus direct à la coupole d'observation.

Foto superior: Gérard Dufour, disfrutando su papel de anfitrión del "Observatoire de Juvisy".
Ci-dessus: Gerard Dufour, très à l'aise dans son rôle d'amphitrion de l'Observatoire de Juvisy.

La visita terminó por unos momentos frente a la tumba de Camille Flammarion, quien reposa bajo una estrella de flores, en el mismo parque del Observatorio... Solo nos queda entonces agradecer vigorosamente a Gérard Dufour, presidente de la agrupación "Los Amigos de Camille Flammarion", quien condujo la visita, y Laurent Weill, vice-presidente de la agrupación, por su gentileza y, porque no repetirlo, por el profesionalismo y el inmenso entusiasmo que demuestran. Al término de su visita, Eric nos confiaba que

"...al dejar Gerard Dufour, realmente tuve la sensación de haber pasado un día con Camille Flammarion !..."

La visite s'acheva par quelques moments passés devant la tombe de Camille Flammarion, lequel repose sous une étoile de fleurs, dans un recoin du parc de l'Observatoire... Nous tenons alors à remercier chaleureusement Gérard Dufour, président de l'association "les Amis de Camille Flammarion", qui conduit lui-même la visite, et Laurent Weill, vice-président de l'association, pour leur gentillesse et, pourquoi ne pas le répéter, le professionalisme et l'immense enthousiasme dont ils font état. A l'issue de sa visite Eric avouait:

"...en quittant Gérard Dufour, j'avais réellement la sensation d'avoir passé une journée avec Camille Flammarion !..."

Photos : Eric Escalera - 10 juillet 2014

Observaciones del Sol como nunca antes !!...

En este mes de Junio de 2014 se inició en Vicuña (Región de Coquimbo)
el Gran Observatorio Solar del Chile (GOSCH), una nueva oferta en astronomia pública, inedita en Chile pues consiste en un observatorio exclusivamente dedicado para la observacion del Sol y de su constante actividad, a través de un telescopio de alto nivel, del cual solo existen unas pocas unidades en el mundo.

Para mas detalles les invitamos a consultar aqui la pagina oficial del GOSCh.
Y, por supuesto, les esperamos en cualquier momento del dia y del año !...

Comet Jacques (C/2014_E2), brightest of the year (so far...)

Bright, spectacular comets are quite rare, while faint, little fuzzies are rather common. The current comet Jacques is just intermediate, barely visible to the naked eye, but offering a definitely nice view at the eyepiece. It was discovered by the brasilian astronomers Cristovao Jacques, E. Pimentel, y J. Barros from the Sonear observatory.

On the picture below we can distinguish the bright compact nucleus embedded in a dense coma that appears spherical, except for a subtle opening on the top, corresponding to the eastward very faint tail, almost reaching the upper edge of the field.
Note also the greenish colour that traces the presence of diatomic carbon (C2), an element commonly found in such comets.

Jacques is currently brightening, moving thorough Canis Major and heading to the Cone Nebula, that it will encounter on the evening of next May 29th...

Photo: Cristian Valenzuela / Observatorio del Pangue - May 18th, 2014
Camera Nikon D3100 at prime focus of Meade LX200 16 inches telescope, f/6.3, exp: 15 sec.

Furthermore, comet Jacques is expected to brighten considerably by July and August : it could then become a naked-eye object, well visible from the Northern hemisphere, so just keep watching!...

The 8th day, never disappointing...

We do not perform any Astro Tour on the "big Moon nights" but, on the last evening before closing, the Moon uses to offer stunning views through our large scopes.

We might even try to take a snapshot of the low-magnification entire Moon disc with your own camera, whatever it is, such as the one showed below, taken on the 8th day of the lunar cycle, with a simple cell phone!...

Photo: Cristian Valenzuela / Observatorio del Pangue - May 8th, 2014
Camera: Xperia J cell phone hold at eyepiece of Explore Scientific 152mm refractor

Two Alignements in a Row :
April 17th, the Moon occults Saturn.

Less than 48 hours after the total eclipse of the Moon, another nice event occured in our skies, an occultation of Saturn by the Moon. Such occultations are quite rare, although they use to come in series.

It also happened at a rather uncomfortable time (around 5H00) but we managed to watch it, again in perfect conditions. Below are some quick snapshots from before and after the event : sorry, we reserved the occultation itself (both immersion and emersion) for pure visual observing...

Just in case, the next occultation of Saturn from Chile will be on July, 8th...

Tiny planet Saturn approaching the bright limb of the giant Moon...

... same Saturn after emerging from the dark limb of the wanning Moon, not far from the craters of the terminator

Photo: Eric Escalera / Observatorio del Pangue - April 17th, 2014
Camera: Samsung ST77 at prime focus of 16" Meade LX200 scope

Two Alignements in a Row :
April 15th, a Total Eclipse of the Moon.

Last night, we could witness in perfect conditions a complete Total Eclipse of the Moon, from 03H00 to 05H00 (local time). This was a clear eclipse, as the Moon disc appeared slighty orange in the total phase, that is consistent with the clear and clean skies of Chile.

Maybe the most impressive was a naked eye view, showing an unusually small and colored Moon accompagnied by brillant blue-hued star Spica a few degrees at left, and extremely brillant orange Mars at the bottom, all those surrounded by the deep starry sky, the rich southern Milky Way, and the shiny galactic centre almost at the zenith !...

Photo: Cristian Valenzuela / Observatorio del Pangue - April 15th, 2014
Camera: Xperia J cell phone at prime focus of 8" Orion SkyQuest scope

Close encounter again...

Planet Saturn approached closely to the Moon, as seen from the observatory, on past March, 20th. Indeed it's always nice to view such different worlds in the same apparent field, with giant Saturn distant of almost one and half billon kilometers, and our tiny Moon less than 400,000km away...

However the spectacle might be even greater in the morning of next April, 17th, as the Moon will occult Saturn!... Despite the uncomfortable time (around 05H00 in the morning), we just wish that many people will witness this unusual event...

Photo: Cristian Valenzuela / Observatorio del Pangue - March 20th, 2014
Camera: just a cell phone...

February the 8th, it just can't fail...

Every year at the same date, the Sun sets right behind the domes of the Tololo Observatory, as seen from our own observing room. However from year to year we can notice a slight shift southward, due to the fact that one year is not exactly equal to 365 days : indeed this is a nice way to "visualize" this well known effect.
And we try every year to be there and take some snapshots, as this event never fails to provide nice views, even when using only basic cameras as we did this time...

Incidentally this year the picture is adorned by the large dark spot from the "AR1944 group" (see older post) visible on the top view, close to the eastern (left) border of the solar disc, just about to cross to the farside after surviving a full revolution of the Sun : will it still be there after completing one more half revolution, that is some 2 weeks from now ?...

Photos: Cristian Valenzuela / Observatorio del Pangue - February 8th, 2014
Camera: Samsung ST77 at prime focus of Orion 80mm refractor with white light filter

Huge Dark Spot Shows Up on the Sun Disc

The peak of the magnetic activity of the Sun has been reached a couple of years ago, so large sunspot were not expected to develop by now, however the ones that appeared on early January are really huge, actually the largest in years: the central group, labelled as AR1944, spans for over 200,000 km, while the main dark nucleus standing right in the centre of the sun disc is some 40,000 km accross, that is more than 3 times the size of Earth !...

With the proper filters or specialized eclipse glasses this particular dark spot was even easy to glimpse without any optical aid, making it the first naked eye feature visible on the surface of the Sun since the transit of Venus on June 2012...

Photos: Cristian Valenzuela / Observatorio del Pangue - January 7th, 2014
Camera: Nikon D3100 at prime focus of Orion 80mm refractor with white light filter

New Moon for a New Year

By a mere coincidence the New Moon occurred in the night from December 31st to January 1st, so the year and the Moon cycle began together. Of course this is of no relevance, except by providing nice views of the thin crescent phase in the first sunset of 2014.

As seen from our observing room, the Moon missed by very little the setting behind the domes of the Cerro Tololo Observatory located in front of us, but maybe that would have been too much asking...

Photos: Eric Escalera / Observatorio del Pangue - January 2nd, 2014


El 8 de septiembre de este año se producía una ocultación del planeta Venus por la Luna, un fenómeno muy poco común, visible desde Chile. Sin embargo en esa fecha nuestro astrónomo Eric Escalera se encontraba en Paris, desde donde tan solo pudo presenciar el simple acercamiento que allí realizaban los dos cuerpos planetarios.

En esta foto, tomada poco antes del momento de máximo acercamiento, Venus aparece arriba de la Luna, ligeramente a la izquierda.

Por si acaso, la próxima ocultación de un planeta por la Luna visible desde Chile será la de Saturno, el 17 de abril de 2014...

Foto: Eric Escalera / Observatorio del Pangue - 8 de septiembre 2013.

ALMA, from above...

Una de las ventajas de dar clases de astronomia a los guias de los observatorios publicos de San Pedro de Atacama, es que en sus momentos libres, nuestro personal puede realizar excursiones entorno a la ciudad.

En esta vista podemos apreciar a lo lejos la red de antenas astronómicas conocida como Proyecto A.L.M.A. (Atacama Large Millimeter Array), inusualmente observadas desde arriba a pesar de que esas instalaciones ya se encuentran a mas de 5000 metros de altura !

Foto tomada en abril de 2013 por nuestra acompañante canadiense Alison McAlpine, desde la cumbre del vecino cerro Toco, a 5616m de altura.

...and large observatories too!

En repetidas oportunidades, aunque en condiciones algo mas cómodas (desde la ventanilla de un avión...) tambien solemos ver desde arriba a los grandes observatorios astronomicos, tal como por ejemplo los 4 telescopios gigantes del Paranal Observatory (E.S.O.), ubicado unos 150km al sur de Antofagasta,

Foto: Cristian Valenzuela - agosto 2011.