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Lately, at the Observatorio del Pangue...

First, you arrive at Santiago de Chile...

...then you want to travel North and meet our clear skies !


Photos: (1)Eric Escalera (2)Jean Pichon / 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 place and the proposed programmes, you can visit our "facts" pages, listed at the top of the blog.

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


Total Eclipse of the Sun, July 2nd, 2019 : huge success for everyone !...

The weather was perfect, not a single cloud in the skies of the whole "Region de Coquimbo", not even in the coast, usually cloudy in winter. All the groups or eclipse chasers have been granted with a stunning spectacle, any location worked well, from the centre of Vicuña, to the summits of the nearby mountains. We at the Observatorio del Pangue were more concerned about attending our many guests than the weather itself, but we must admit that when the crucial moment arrives, everyone forgets all the rest... At the telescope, during the totality, the Sun limb displayed a wonderful series of large and complex proeminences (we counted 4 of them) plus a shorter series of smaller ones: that was almost unexpected in this time of minimal Sun activity (not a single sunspot visible...). And of course the Sun corona was there, always large, different, sophisticatedly structured. Without loosing too much visual observing time (the eternal dilemma...) Cristian even managed to take some quick shots of it (below): the polar lines are obvious, as well as the wide equatorial extensions.

See you next year then, still in Chile, for the December 14th, 2020, Total Eclipse of the Sun...

In preview for the eclipse: a rare planet occultation...

We are all waiting for the chance to witness the Total Eclipse of the Sun that will happen here in the afternoon of next July, 2nd. The Moon itself seems impatient, since in the evening of June, 18th, as an "avant-premiere" of the great event, it offered to us a wonderful and quite uncommon spectacle by occulting the planet Saturn.

Beside the nice and unusual sights, it is rather impressive to imagine the contrasts involved in such an encounter. In the view above, the tiny Moon shows huge compared to the diminute, still giant, planet (about 40 times larger), while the discrepancy in distances is even greater: the Moon was almost 400.000 km away from us, while Saturn stood at some 1.400.000.000 of km !...

Photos: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - June, 18th, 2019
Picture taken with smartphone...

Comet Wirtanen fulfills expectations

The comet 46P/ Wirtanen reached its perigee on December, 16th, approaching Earth at less than 12 million kilometers. Such a circumstance uses to be the best time to observe a comet but it wasn't in this case, due to the presence in the sky of a bright Moon... But the comet is getting as bright as sheduled, so the spectacle might go on for a few days after the moonlight nights, that will be in the last week of December.

Meanwhile we took a picture of the comet some days ago (before the coming of the Moon...) and still it displayed a round, bright, and particularely dense coma, which extended for over 40': yes, that's more than the apparent size of the Full Moon ! In the next days, its apparent size and brightness should make it an easy naked eye target: it will pass very close to the bright star Capella (Auriga) by December 24th, then heading to the Gemini constellation for most of January. Don't miss that opportunity to observe it, since spectacular comets tend to be scarce...

Below: comet Wirtanen on December, 10th.

Below: for comparison, comet Wirtanen on November, 9th., taken under the same circumstances...

Photos: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue
Camera: Canon EOS 60D, at prime focus of Meade 16" LX200 scope

December 2018: the return of the great comets ?...

It has been a long time since we observed spectacular comets in our skies, however a series of bright comets is announced to visit us, among which is 46P/ Wirtanen, expected to reach magnitude 3.0 by late December, that would make it easily visible to the naked eye !
As an "avant-premiere", we captured it when still faint but easy to find, quietly running across the Fornax constellation: on the below picture we can distinguish the prominent nucleus, together with a still reduced, but quite promising, dense coma.

Photos: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - November, 8th, 2018
Camera: Canon EOS 60D, exposure: 20 seconds

Earlier on that same night, the heavens displayed this peaceful view of the thin crescent Moon (illuminated disk 2% only) ready to set close to the Observatorio Tololo, silhouetted to the right, while the bright spot to the far left is ...planet Jupiter! Note also the full disk of the Moon, visible as a faint dark area completing the white crescent...

Photos: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - November, 8th, 2018

August, the lost month...

The Universe never takes a break, but astronomers do. So we were closed for the whole month of August: sorry for the many of you who requested booking on these past days... However we never completely remove astronomy from our schedules, as shown in the following pictures.

Thanks to astrophysicists Dominique Proust, who organized it, and Regis Courtin who performed it, we've been granted with a private visit at the Meudon Observatory, a great research institute for astrophysics located near Paris (France) that hosts (among many telescopes) a historical refractor, still one of the largest in the world...

Of course we then made the inevitable visit at the Eiffel Tower, but we adorned it with the rise of the full Moon: can you see the "tiny" round reddish spot close to the left feet of the tower? Such views demostrate, if necessary, that the "huge" apparent size of the rising Moon is a pure illusion...

In Prague (Czech Republic) we got plenty of stunning views of this outstanding city: on the night picture of King's Charles bridge, look for the bright dot shining alone in the sky: this is planet Mars, near opposition ! (Next is a day view, for better appreciating the city skyline)

There are countless wonders in Prague, but we even managed to find some other interesting spots, such as the living house of astronomer Johannes Kepler (below), and the one of physicist Christian Doppler (far below): yes, both of them made the largest part of their famous works in this town!...

At some point, Eric managed to spend some time in his ancestral land, in Asturias (Northern Spain): at a street corner of Gijón, he casually glimpsed the thin crescent Moon, resting for a few moments atop a local monument...

Cristian instead selected to visit Venice (Italy): no need of any astronomical views here, the city is fascinating enough by itself...

Back to Paris, the "tour" ended by a well deserved rest in a quite famous seat: the actual Iron Throne from the popular HBO series "Game of Thrones", exhibited there for a few days (Game of Thrones - The Touring Exhibition - Paris 2018)

...Cristian seems to feel more comfortable than the seven contenders...

Spying the neighbors

Yes, we do it sometimes ! Here are the views we got through our 25 inches telescope : actually nothing else than more observatories...
All of them are located at a mere 11km away from us, that explains the detailed pictures below, simply taken with a reflex Canon camera held at the eyepiece.

Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory (CTIO) :

Southern Observatory for Astrophysical Research (SOAR) :

and last but not least, the Gemini South Observatory :

...

Three Suns, One Year

Observing a Sun eclipse is quite a task, as it depends on a series of circumstances that one can´t hardly control... We the staff of Observatorio del Pangue, have been granted with the rare opportunity of watching three eclipses in less than a full year, actually of all the distinct existing types : annular, total and partial.

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Tha partial eclipse (pictured above) was quite "extreme", with only 3% of the Sun disk covered, but it helped to complete the series... Can you spot the tiny black border of the Moon at the upper left of the solar limb?

Now we just got to watch the next one, a Total Eclipse of the Sun, that will happen again right here at the observatory, on next July 2nd, 2019...

Top view:
Annular eclipse, observed from Coyhaique, chilean Patagonia, on February 26th, 2017
Middle view:
Total eclipse, observed from Boise, Idaho (USA), on August 21st, 2017
Bottom view:
Partial eclipse, observed from Observatorio del Pangue, Chile, on February 15th, 2018

Unidentifyed Flying Object in our sky ?...

On the evening of February 6th, a round-shaped, fast evolving cloud, suddenly appeared in the Eastern sky, and it lasted for almost 20 minutes before vanishing. Fair enough, we had witnessed many of those before: they happen to be launches of space rockets that loose part of their fuel, a unconvenient circumstance that can lead to the failure of the entire mission... This particular rocket was not registered in the public files, that make us suspect it was launched for some military purpose!...

The overexposed close view below clearly shows the trace of the object itself, right in the centre of the cloud: it appears as a short, elongated trail, since the path of the rocket was not parallel to the Earth rotation (click on it to enlarge)

Photos: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - February, 6th, 2018
Camera: Canon EOS 60D

The largest public telescope in the world is not at the Observatorio del Pangue,

not even in Chile : actually, this is the 100-inch Hooker Telescope of the Mount Wilson Observatory (MWO) in Los Angeles, California. So, while being around this summer, we hired it for a night observing session, just to see how it feels to use the telescope that allowed Edwin Hubble to confirm the expansion of the Universe...

And just as expected, the feelings were not only historical, but also purely astronomical. As an example, below is a quick snapshot, taken at the eyepiece of the telescope, of the planetary nebula Humason 1-2 (Cygnus), a curious compact stellar remnant that reveals its sophisticated morphology only through the largest telescopes...

The historical feelings were present anyway, since this object was discovered by Milton Humason from that same telescope !

Keeping on morphologies, the eyepiece was able to display also the fine structures of NGC6826, another planetary nebula in Cygnus: the view below clearly shows the complex inner ring, as well as the two denser opposite polar patches, easy things for a telescope of that aperture...

Photos: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - August 17th, 2017
Camera: Canon EOS 60D at prime focus of 100-inch Hooker Telescope (MWO)

However, it's impossible to be there and not be impressed by the place itself and all it's meaning for the astrophysics.

Above: inside the dome of the 100-inch telescope, preparing the night session...

Above: Cristian Valenzuela, Edwin Hubble (centre), and Eric Escalera

On the way back to Los Angeles: astronomers also can admire the wonders of the city lights...

The Great American Eclipse : we've been there !...

August 21st, 2017 : a total eclipse of the Sun crossed entirely the USA, from Pacific to Atlantic coasts, a rare circumstance that allowed it to be witnessed by hundreds of millions of people, making this the most widely watched eclipse in history.
And certainly, as that popular song says, we wanted to be in that number...

Next we'll post full details of our successful trip to Boise, Idaho (still processing thousands of pictures...) but below is a preview image of the moment of totality, where subtle details of the Sun corona can be discerned.

Photos: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - August 21st, 2017
Camera: Canon EOS 60D, at prime focus of Celestron Nexstar 6 SE

First shot for a first-class instrument

Now ready for use, the 50cm PlaneWave telescope recently installed at the observatory seems to be definitely promising : below we present the first picture taken with a Moravian Instruments CCD camera, displaying many subtle details despite that, at the time, the telescope wasn't even fully calibrated !...

This telescope and camera are now available for visitor astrophotographers : no doubt we'll soon give more news about this facility...

Most of you will certainly recognize the southern galaxy Centaurus A (or NGC5128), offering a stunning view of a galactic collision in progress : look in particular at both ends of the dark lane beyond the round bright glow, appearing much flared and diffuse to the upper left side, but quite short and compact to the bottom right...

February the 26th : a great Annular Eclipse of the Sun from Patagonia

The feelings of living a total eclipse of the Sun are undescriptible so we'll not describe the sensations we got when the Sun disappeared for a few seconds, in that remote land of Southern Chile. Instead we are sharing here the pictures taken in the very particular moment when the Moon almost covered the Sun disk. As you can see in the views below, it was an "extreme" annular eclipse, meaning that the "ring of Sun" left behind the Moon is particularely thin, and hence shortlived... To get these pictures, it was required to be located in a very precise place on Earth, quite aligned with the respectives centres of the Moon and the Sun: the calculations we made brought us to a spot located some 15km north to the city of Coyhaique, in the chilean Patagonia, at the coordinates of 71° 59' 46" West, and 45° 26' 20" South.

The sequence displayed below corresponds to the complete total phase, that is when the Moon disk fits entirely in front the Sun. The 3rd picture is the maximum instant of the eclipse, when the Sun, the Moon, and the observer are perfectly aligned. In the previous and later pictures, the ring comes disrupted by the peaks of the lunar mountains which protude from the limb...

The complete sequence displayed above lasted for some 38 seconds only, but it was definitely worth to be part of it !...

Lastly, we may not forget the partial phases, that never fail to provide a fascinating spectacle. From the many shots taken we selected two particular moments, when the Moon was close to the unique sunspot present that day: can you spot it near the lunar limb, when entering (top view) and when exiting (bottom view)?

Photos: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - February, 26th, 2017
Camera: Canon EOS 60D, at prime focus of Celestron 127 Maksutov telescope.

February the 3rd : a doublet of supernovae in a nicely shaped galaxy

A bright supernova in a distant galaxy is always quite a spectacle, but when the same galaxy produces a second bright supernova, indeed this is an event you don't want to miss.

Almost two years ago (April, 2015, see our older post), such a supernova appeared in the southern galaxy NGC2442, and now, on early February, 2017, another one of almost the same brightness shows up, although in an opposite side of the galactic disk, labelled as AT2016bju.

The view below shows the supernova, in the form of an obvious tiny spot to the right of the galactic centre, just inside one of the spiral arms.
(North is to the left).

The smaller view at left shows the supernova, lying just between the two vertical marks.
For the comparizon, we reproduce at right the picture taken in 2015, showing the previous supernova in the north (left) side of the galaxy: can you recognize the field?...

Photos: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - February, 3rd, 2017
Camera: Canon EOS 60D, total exposure: 10 minutes

Nota especial:
Carabineros de Chile: amigos o... enemigos?

Recientemente los Carabineros de Chile pusieron un parte a nuestro chofer por estar acomodando al grupo de turistas en el vehiculo, frente a la oficina del observatorio, una maniobra que habria de durar 2 minutos y medio en total. Una vez mas somos testigos de la actuación de ciertos oficiales quienes prefieren extorsionar a honrados ciudadanos en vez de perseguir a delincuentes o resolver casos de delincuencia o de desordenes a la paz civil, una actitud sin duda legal pero que para muchos es vista como cobarde y totalmente inutil para la sociedad... asi por ejemplo unos meses atras nos robaron la computadora de la oficina, y se sabe quienes fueron los dos autores, sin embargo no hemos recuperado nada aun... ¿En verdad les parece un abuso y un acto de cobardía el aprovecharse de su posición para extorsionar a gente honrada en vez de cumplir misiones de interes común?

Dejaremos que nuestros lectores hagan sus propias evaluaciones, sin embargo, y este es el objeto de esta nota, nos parece oportuno resaltar lo siguiente: la misma institución de Carabineros de Chile incluye en sus filas, y bajo el mismo uniforme, a otros oficiales quienes a diario arriesgan sus vidas, y lamentablemente hasta dan sus vidas, para combatir el crimen o para ayudar a civiles en circunstancias dramaticas: estos oficiales son autenticos heroes, actuando sin ningun afán de reconocimiento o de lucro, por lo tanto mereciéndose incondicionalmente la admiración de todos. Ciertamente es injusto ver que los anteriores, aquellos quienes se desenvuelven en misiones tan cobardes, están generando por parte de la ciudadanía un rechazo globalizado hacia una institución que incluye a personas de tan alto valor moral, personas que no dudan en arriesgarse por nosotros, y es triste constatar que, por culpa de unos pocos oficiales desconsiderados, estos heroes no se benefician del apoyo popular que tanto necesitarían...

December the 1st : witnessing an outstanding event in the remote Universe...

Quasars use to be out of reach of amateur telescopes, however in the last days something exceptional happened in the constellation of Pegasus.

Quasars are bright active galactic nuclei found in the youth of the Universe only, some kind of early stage in the life of galaxies, hence they are observable today as extremely remote objects. One of them, 4C 11.69 (also known as CTA 102), stands at some 8 billion light-years away (yes, 8,000 millions), being normally invisible except for the largest telescopes in the world. However, some days ago, it suddenly began to brighten until that night of December 1st, when it comes bright enough to be visible in medium size telescopes, or even in large binoculars ! Indeed, this is quite a special moment in the life of any astronomer, since CTA 102 became the brightest quasar ever recorded in history...

Of course at Pangue we didn't miss the opportunity to watch such a remote celestial object, whose light is coming from times well before the birth of the Solar System... And of course we even succeeded to capture the phenomenon...

The image below shows well what's happening. The quasar, located near the center of the field, is absolutely not a spectacular viewing: whithout the correct information you could easily miss it for a normal, anonymous faint star.
Still, this is the fascination: a quasar appearing just as a normal faint star !
The next image shows CTA 102, marked by the two white lines. Incidentally, note also the faint galaxy NGC7305, a small round smudge to its lower left.

Photo: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - December 1st, 2016.
Camera: Canon EOS 60D at prime focus of Meade LX200 16" f/6.3 ; Total exposure : 25 sec.

December the 1st : a distant supernova, as a bonus...

On the same night that we've been granted with the exceptional outburst of a quasar, an extragalactic supernova was also available in a well positioned galaxy, making two rare events visible at once !
And of course we also captured that one...

A supernova is the explosion of a high mass star : the process is so powerful that the dying star comes extremely bright for a few days, sometimes outshining the whole galaxy ! By late November, supernova SN2016iae shown up in NGC1532, a galaxy in Eridanus that produced several more supernovae in the past.

On the image below we can appreciate the tilted flat disk of the galaxy surrounding a bright nucleus : SN2016iae appears as a tiny star inmediately to its left (circled in the next image). Above the whole we can see also the small galaxy NGC1531. On that night the supernova was relatively faint (estimated magnitude 15.3), in principle requiring telescopes of 50cm in diameter, although the good local sky conditions allowed us to observe it effortless with a 40cm scope.

Incidentally, we can take advantage of such a "visit" to this pair of galaxies to appreciate some curious features, well shown in the close view below : NGC1532 (the main one) harbors two attached bright knots on the front edge of the disk (to the right side), while NGC1531 (the small one) actually appears to be made of two adjacent components...

Photo: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - December 1st, 2016.
Camera: Canon EOS 60D at prime focus of Meade LX200 16" f/6.3 ; Total exposure : 50 sec.

November the 2nd, once again...

It's a tradition now, we never miss to take a picture of the sunset right behind the dome of the Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory (CTIO), as watched from our own observing room. This "personal event" happens twice a year, on November, 2nd, and on February, 8th.

On this particular day the solar disk didn't show any sunspot, nevertheless the image by itself remains quite appealing...

Photo: Cristian Valenzuela (Observatorio del Pangue) - November, 2nd, 2016
Camera: Canon EOS 60D at prime focus of Orion 80mm refractor