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Astrophotography at Pangue :
the magnificent Sculptor Galaxy

Formally known as NGC253, this galaxy is a treasure of the Southern Sky, standing in the Sculptor constellation, at a distance of some 12 millons light-years from us. Rendering the subtle details of its structures is never so easy, because it obviously requires fair equipments and truly good sky, but the most important factor indeed is lots of patience and practice, and amateur astronomers happen to have plenty of it...

Photo: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - December 14th, 2015
Camera: Canon EOS 60D at prime focus of Meade LX200 16" f/6.3 ; Total exposure : 8 mn.

Astrophotography at Pangue :
the magnificent Tarantula Nebula

There may be many good pictures on this stunning nebula, but it's always great to have an opportunity to take it ourselves. The Tarantula is an emission nebula that stands on the edge of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a naked-eye galaxy visible only from southern latitudes, at a distance of some 160,000 light-years.

The view below displays the sophisticated shape of this huge nebula, as well as some hints of colours : the main body is somehow reddish, corresponding to the H-alpha light emitted by the hydrogen atoms, while central regions glow with the characteristic yellowish hue emitted by excited hydrogen atoms, as the result of the powerful ultraviolet radiation emitted from the many young stars born right here. Incidentally the central cluster of young stars, known as R136, is clearly shown in this view (high resolution format available on demand).

Photos: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - November 12th, 2015
Camera: Canon EOS 60D at prime focus of Meade LX200 16" f/6.3 ;

Surprising Springer Snow...

It is not usual but yesterday (October, 14th) we got snow at the observatory, despite being in spring time. This weather event was powerful but short as it uses to be in this part of Chile : it lasted for less than 24 hours (in the Elqui Valley instead they just got some heavy rain).
Hence now the familiar blue sky is back, providing some nice vistas all around, and making us ready to observe tonight...

Above: the main entrance of the observatory - October 15th, 2015

Above: our surrounding landscape (due South) - October 15th, 2015

Above: main view of the Elqui Valley, taken from the road toward the observatory. The high limit for snow is clearly visible here - October 15th, 2015

September, 27th, a fine lunar eclipse

While in San Pedro de Atacama for delivering some astronomy classes to the guides of one of the many public observatories settled there, we had the chance to witness a nice total eclipse of the Moon. As a "bonus", this eclipse coincided with a close moon perigee, resulting in a significantly greater apparent size of the lunar disk. Not needed is to say that the sky conditions where perfect, as usual in Chile, providing a truly wonderful spectacle. The views below, taken at the Explora Observatory, display the dark red colour that adorned the lunar disk around the mid-eclipse phase.

On the closer view below we can also glimpse 3 stars near the moon disk (upper left corner), and even one more tiny star extremely close to the limb: indeed watching the Full Moon surrounded by stars is a rare opportunity that only happens during a total eclipse event...

Photos: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - September 27th, 2015
Camera: Canon EOS 60D at prime focus of Meade LX200 16" f/6.3

Astrophotography at Pangue :
a hole in the clouds

August is not the better time for stargazing in Chile as this is the heart of the local winter, however in one of the rare clear nights we managed to pick up this view of the Helix Nebula (NGC7293), a nice planetary nebula in Aquarius. Due to its large apparent size and its faint surface brighness, this target is a rather difficult task in any circumstances, but this is also part of the fun. Note the true colours, that always require premium equipment (and some skills too...) to be well rendered.

Photos: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - August 18th, 2015
Camera: Canon EOS 60D at prime focus of Meade LX200 16" f/6.3, total exposure: 9 minutes; Moon 16% disk illuminated.

A faint Supernova visible in the Southern Sky

On a clear, moonless night, we succeded to observe the supernova SN2015F recently discovered in NGC2442, a nice barred-spiral galaxy standing in the southern constellation of Volans, at a distance of some 60 millions light-years.
On the wide view below we can appreciate this large galaxy displaying its two well defined arms, and even the much fainter, tiny galaxy PGC21457 on the far East (left) of the field.

SN2015F appeared north to the galactic centre, as labelled by the two sticks in the closer view below. By late March the supernova peaked at a magnitude of 12.8 but, one month later, it still shines at a very accessible 14.5 magnitude.
On the same view we can appreciate also the details of this somewhat irregularly shaped galaxy, in particular the northern (top) arm, clearly divided by a dense, long curve of dark material.

Photos: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - April 21st, 2015
Camera: Canon EOS 60D, total exposure: 17 minutes

Craig Weatherwax, "the Boss" at OPT, visited us !

"Oceanside Photo & Telescope" (OPT) is a major retailer of astronomical equipment based in California. We at "Astronomica del Sur Ltda." have a long term business relationship with them, that made us purchase there all the large telescopes we installed in public facilities throurough Chile, such as the observatories of the Explora Hotel and the Alto Atacama Hotel in San Pedro de Atacama, the Ahlarkapin observatory, also in San Pedro, the Inca de Oro observatory in Diego de Almagro, the Valle del Sol observatory in Caren, not forgetting of course our own structures, the Pangue observatory and the newest Great Solar Observatory for Chile (GOSCh).

We chosen this partnership because of the high level of profesionalism and personal attention that the staff at OPT uses to deliver. Adding the telescopes they sold to some other customers, that makes OPT responsible for over two thirds of the chilean public astronomy !
Besides owning OPT, Craig Weatherwax is worldwide renowned for his constant support to public astronomy but in Chile indeed he is litterally a Very Important Person...

As part of a long trip accross South America, Craig and family bothered to come to Vicuña just to visit us, and we'll certainly remember this moment as one of the highlights of the observatory.

Craig Weatherwax posing at "his" 16 inches Meade LX200 scope
Observatorio del Pangue - March 18th, 2015

Craig Weatherwax posing at "his" 25 inches Obsession scope
Observatorio del Pangue - March 18th, 2015

Craig Weatherwax looking through "his" H-alpha 230mm Lunt Solar System scope
Gran Observatorio Solar de Chile - March 18th, 2015

February the 8th, one more year...

Every year at the same date the Sun sets exactly behind the domes of the Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory (CTIO) as seen from the Pangue Observatory, and just every year we try to take the shot of the event (check our previous posts...)

Indeed this is nice way -among many others -to visualize the high accuracy of the Newton's laws of gravitation!

Photo: Cristian Valenzuela (Observatorio del Pangue) - February, 8th, 2015
Camera: Canon EOS 60D at prime focus of Orion 80mm refractor

January 26th : a rare flyby witnessed

On that evening a mid-size asteroid labelled 2004 BL86 approached at some 1,200,000 km from Earth, that is roughly 3 times the distance to the Moon. Such events are (fortunately) extremely rare, and they use to provide a nice spectacle to advanced stargazers.
And indeed it was amazing : not only the asteroid was bright enough to be seen with medium to large telescopes (although a deeply detailed chart was necessary to correctly identify it...) but its motion throurough the stars can be appreciated in real time !

On the above picture, taken in Cancer (not far from the star cluster M44) we can see the short trail left by the object, corresponding to a displacement of over 3 arcmin. performed in 90 seconds only ! That corresponds to covering the apparent size of the Moon in less than 15 minutes...

Photo: Cristian Valenzuela (Observatorio del Pangue) - January, 26th, 2015
Camera: Canon EOS 60D, exp: 90 sec.

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