Archive for the ‘Space Exploration’ Category

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Product: SkyFi Wifi to Serial Adapter
Vendor: Southern Stars (http://www.southernstars.com/index.html)
Price: $149.95

Introduction

SkyFi is another fine product from Southern Stars, who sell SkySafari software for mobile devices and Mac computers, as well as other telescope-related hardware products. SkyFi uses WiFi to connect the RS232 control data flow from a telescope controller to an device (iPod/Phone/Pad apps as well as computer applications).

Setup

Figure 1 - SkyFi

Connecting the SkyFi to your telescope controller isn’t difficult. The package includes a couple of adaptors which will work with the mosre common telescope setups. The connection on the SkyFi itself is an RJ11 telephone jack. You can make a cable that connects the SkyFi directly to your telescope controller, use the included adaptors, or purchase a cable specifically for your computer from Southern Stars. Once connected to the telescope controller, you turn it on and it creates a wireless network.Your remote device needs to be connected to this network and also needs to be running software that can send and receive telescope control and data using the TCP IP. The connection scheme is the same as the one in the previous article. The Southern Stars web site has a nice explanation and pin out of the cables you need, in case you want to make one.

The SkyFi device itself is a bit larger then a cell phone. It is powered by 4 double-A batteries and can accept a power brick as well (6 to 12 VDC). There is no on/off switch, but there is a switch that selects either external or internal voltage source. Switching to external voltage source disconnects the internal batteries. (Which acts like a switch). A piece of velcro can be used to attach the SkyFi to the telescope mount, out of the way of motion. It is very light and once running, you won’t need to adjust it at all.

Once on, the SkyFi makes a wifi hotspot available. Firmware on the device controls the IP address and security. There is a standard IP address which is printed on the SkyFi, but you can change this and security settings if needed. I didn’t bother changing the default settings, as they worked well. I could find no fault with the defaults!

Using the Product

Before you begin using the SkyFi, you need to be sure that the telescope control software you use can communicate to the telescope using TCP IP. I Didn’t know some programs do not support TCP IP. On my MacBook, I have Voyager 4.5 and a copy of Sky Safari Beta that will work. The Starry Night Pro Plus that I like using doesn’t do TCP connections to telescopes. The people at Starry Night were unaware of a solution that would work on the Macintosh. For Windows users there are a couple of shareware applications that create a virtual com port that can be tied to the TCP connection, so I imagine this would work with a Window based machine and Starry Night or any other non-TCP controller application.

Figure 2 - SkyFi with a Telescope

If you are controlling with your i-device, you will need the Southern Stars Sky Safari package. (I am unaware of any other astronomy app that controls a telescope). We looked at these Apps a bit in the last article. In the App’s settings, you choose to use TCP IP to connect to the telescope controller. The default address is the same as the default on the SkyFi. (No surprise there!) Select to control the telescope and you are in control using your iPod/iPad/iPhone.

Working with the Voyager software, I had no issues controlling my telescope computer at all. Commands were instant as was feed back. The only issue I had was with me forgetting to choose the SkiFi network rather then my own home wireless network. You also need to make sure the controller software has the same TCP address that the SkyFi has. In Voyager 4.5, there is a box to enter this address. The default address is printed on the SkyFi device, which is another good reason for keeping to the defaults. However, if you need to change it, you can always re-label the back of the unit.

When I first read about the SkyFi, I thought that it was a wireless device and that it would log onto the local wireless network and make the telescope available on that network. It doesn’t do that. Rather then logging onto an existing network, it creates one of it’s own. So I couldn’t use this device to control my telescope with my desktop computer, since it doesn’t have a WiFi card. Nor would one be able to use it to allow access to the telescope from a remote site. You need to be in range of the SkyFi’s wireless netwrok to connect.

Figure 3 - VSP3 Screen

Since the computer you are controlling the telescope with is connected to the SkyFi network, it won’t be connected to your regular one. While observing I usually listen to Internet radio and I will often pop onto some internet site to inspect images and information about the object I am seeking. So I don’t get to listen to the Internet Radio, but I can still do my research by logging back onto my home network, do the research, then re-connect to the SkyFi. Luckily, this isn’t a big issue. Once the telescope is aimed at an object, the onboard controller takes care of compensating for the movement of the earth. Once connected back to the SkyFi, the data stream identifies the slightly changed location and all is well. It is just an added step in the process.

Conclusion

The biggest issue I had with the SkyFi is that it doesn’t come as a package. You buy the SkyFi and then need to find some compatible software. If the software you already purchased isn’t compatible, then you need to consider this as part of the purchase cost. It would be a whole lot nicer if the SkyFi came packaged with either SkySafari or Voyager. However, if you are into astronomy, you probably already have some package that will work with the SkyFi.

Much to my chagrin, I had expected that using the SkyFi would remedy the tangle of cables that I “need” to deal with when observing. However, I found that I still need to bring an extension cord to power the AutoStar (or use the battery adaptor). Since I had the power cord there, I went ahead and plugged in my MacBook Pro, so I still had the extension cord cable and the power supply cord to the MacBook. Thus, the tripping issue wasn’t really resolved. I suppose I could run the Scope on battery and bring the extension cable to the MacBook Pro, but that would cost me a lot in the battery budget.

As far as distance, the SkyFi does pretty well. I walked around the yard with my MacBook and had to get pretty far away to loose the connection. I think I was able to move slightly father then the expected 100 feet from the device. I was also able to put the MacBook on my dining room table and still control the telescope in the yard. I can see this as a real advantage in the winter as it would give me a chance to warm up between observations.

SkyFi is available through the Southern Star’s web site as well as many other astronomy stores. Southern Star also sells Sky Safari for MacOS X in three flavors, the Plus and Pro versions includes telescope controls ($20 and $50 respectively). The version for the iPod/Phone/Pad can be purchased through iTunes store again, you will need either the Plus or Pro version to control the telescope. In the next installment of this series, I will look specifically at the Sky Safari applications for the Macintosh.

Recommendation

Overall, the SkyFi works very well. If you are looking for a wireless connection to your telescope, this is the device you want. I don’t think there are many other options. I had no issues controlling my telescope using the device. If you have an iDevice and want to control your telescope, this is again a terrific solution.

By Tobias Lindemann, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Introduction

I was not happy when Atlantis lifted off last Friday, because I thought we would not have a chance to see it here in Europe. I was relieved when a friend told me that there would be a Solar-Transit of the ISS (International Space Station) near our home in Munich, Germany. The day after the launch, I read that the Shuttle Atlantis docked with the ISS, so I knew I had a chance to get the ISS and Shuttle together in a picture.

To verify the possibility, I went to www.calsky.com which is a nice site where you can calculate where the ISS will pass, as well as moon and solar transits for your location. Even if there is a flyby that is close to the sun, this site tells you where to go to see a perfect crossing. I was happy to learn that I could go to a place that is only a stone’s throw from my house.

I don’t own a mobile telescope, so I took my 300mm telephoto lens, a solar filter I built years ago for a solar-eclipse, and my EOS to the observation site. But before I left I had to synchronize the clock of my camera to match an exact radio clock.  Calsky had calculated the exact time for the crossing at 14h 56min 18.2sec UTC, and the whole transit duration was only 0.89 seconds which is fast.  I arrived at the observation location at 14:40 UTC, so I had enough time to find the sun, focus the lens and set the correct exposure time (I felt the best exposure time was 1/6000 at ISO 100 and f/9 with my filter).

IMPORTANT! Regarding the correct filter, it is extremely important that you do not look at the sun even though a small photo lens without a filter. Direct sunlight can seriously damage your eyes!!!

I choose JPEG as the image format because I can take many more photos in this format in burst-mode than taking raw format images.

A few minutes later, the key moment approached and I started the photo shot. I didn’t look at the sun through the finder, but after one minute of exposing the image I decided that the crossing must be over and released the trigger. I went home and transferred the photos to my computer and was very exited to see there were pictures of the sun, with something in front of it. I had about 800 photos to look at, but I realized that I had adjusted the time of my camera with a radio clock, so every photo has a very exact time stamp. It was unbelievable, but there were some pictures with the ISS in front of the sun at the exact time of 14:56:18. Thank you calsky.com; that is what I call that accurate.

The only tasks I had left was to stack the images with Fitswork using the “minimum function”, so that the dark ISS looks better plus reduce the intensity of the sun in the consolidated photo. Here is my photo from that event:

Even when a telephoto lens lacks high magnification, you can see the modules and solar panels of the ISS. Normal ISS passes occur in the evenings and mornings, and I do photograph very often at either time, but this was the first time I took some photos of the ISS in front of the sun, which was very exciting.

– Tobias <TobiasLindemann@iss-tracking.de>

Editor’s Comment

Tobias does astro-photography and shares his photos with fellow astronomy enthusiasts. He recently took a beautiful image of the ISS transitioning across the sun and I saw it when he shared it with members of the ISS Tracking Yahoo User Group. I was impressed enough to ask Tobias to write a short article about it for the readers of this site and he was happy to comply. Thank you for sharing, Tobias.

– Mike

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Product: SkyWire Serial Accessory
Vendor: Southern Stars (http://www.southernstars.com)
Price: $79.95 USD
Shipping: varies according to destination

SkyWire Serial Accessory is a simple cable that makes it a breeze to connect your iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone to your computerized telescope and control it with an app called SkySafari. Set up and use is really easy, although you need to use Southern Stars SkySafari version 2.1 app (or later) to take advantage of this cable.

Years ago I purchased a computerized telescope mount (and telescope), and found it was a serious step up for the rank amateur sky observer. Nowadays, rather then dealing with the frustration of using guiding stars to target in on a celestial object, I can now let a computer do all the work. Although the process isn’t perfect, it was an improvement over the tasks I needed to follow to get setup in the past. The Meade Autostar computer controller on my mount has a funky red LED display, which has issues like being completely un-readable when temperatures are in the lower 30 degree F. While it does know the position of a fair number of objects, it is also a bit of a process to select one. Not to mention that, before you begin to search, there is no indication  that an object is currently in the sky until after you select it. It didn’t take me long to look for a more intuitive interface.

From my previous articles here on our Space page, you see that I use my MacBook Pro along with different Astronomy software to make the process even easier. But what if you are starting out like most people today, you may already have one of Apple’s i-devices. SkyWire used with the SkySafari software makes it easy to step a telescope up. Additionally, most of these devices make use of the compass and GPS features, so you can use them to assist with locating the general area of the sky your object of choice might reside.

SkyWire is a cable that transfers the serial data (RS232) signal from the telescope controller to the i-device you are using. The SkyWire cable ends in a DB9 connector. If your telescope controller doesn’t use this connector, you will need a cable to convert the DB9 connector to whatever your ‘Scope” uses. In my case, the Meade LXD75 uses a standard telephone connector (RJ11). It came with a cable that has the RJ11 on one side and a  DB9 on the other, so all I had to do was plug the SkyWire DB9 into the telescope’s DB9 connector and plug the RJ11 end into the AutoStar. Note that I mention all this cable detail because it is specific to my set up. Hopefully there is enough detail so that someone with a different set up will understand what to do.

The current version of SkySafari is version 3, and you need version 3 plus to gain the telescope control features. I was pretty impressed with SkySafari. It is a very comprehensive piece of astronomy software with lots of features. It is a great standalone product and worth considering even if you don’t have an interest in the SkyWire feature.

With SkySafari 3 Plus running on my iPod Touch, I plugged in the standard i-device connector into it and an alert box in the software told me I am connected to the SkyWire. By default SkySafari 3 Plus has the telescope control set to “demo mode”.  You need to go into the settings and select your telescope controller and mount type. This system will work with a wide variety of telescope controllers (those that use the RS232 interface), but some do not. Check the products web site to see if your controller is included.

Once you have selected the telescope controller, bring up the telescope control and select connect. If your controller is on and ready to go it should immediately connect. Now all the power of SkySafari 3 Plus is available to control your telescope. And there is a lot of power in this program!

I have both an iPod Touch and and iPad, so I used both to control the telescope. The iPod Touch is a bit smaller then my Meade Autostar controller but it is infinitely easier to find objects in my sky and slew the telescope to them with this setup. The display is huge compared to the Autostar’s display. Secondly, I am looking at an image that represents what the sky looks like where I am currently located, so by looking at the display I know if the object is above or below the horizon. Using the iPod’s compass feature, I can actually locate the part of the sky tof he object I am interested in viewing, and it is easy to see if there are obstructions that would prevent viewing. SkySafari 3 Plus provides information about the object as well as an image, so I have an idea of magnitude and have data I can read about the object, and can even see what it would look like using a larger telescope. It would be truly cool is there was an easy way to mount and align the iPod on the telescope, so that it could be set to show what was in that part of the sky the telescope is currently pointed toward!

A benefit of any piece of software to aid in observing the sky is its ability to help find objects of interest. Like most astronomy packages, SkySafari show solar system objects, many stars, and puts symbols on the screen where deep space objects are located. It also has two features that point out interesting objects in the current sky. First of all under the search menu there is a “Tonight’s Best” selection, which lists a number of items that should be viewable in your local night sky. You can go through the list and create an observing list of objects you would like to view, or just select one and go to it. The observing list(s) in SkySafari are accessed using the search menu.

The other feature requires an internet connection, it is Sky & Telescope’s SkyWeek feature. This weekly list provides a sky observing task or suggestion for each night of the week. Scroll through the weeks list, choose the correct day and you can read their suggestion. There is also a “View” button that when clicked, centers the object in SkySafari, so you can see where it is.

Using the iPod is nice, but the screen is small. The iPad has a larger screen, and I find this more effective when displaying the night sky. However, it is a bit more awkward to hold up to the sky, (but just only a bit more difficult). One issue I have had with connecting my MacBook Pro to the Autostar is tripping over the cable. The cables I have aren’t long enough to easily string around to protect from an accidental pull and unplug. One advantage of the iPod is that it is small enough to just hang on the telescope mount, so the cable stays out of the way, just as the Autostar cable does.

The SkyWire coupled with SkySafari and your i-device is a cool way to control your telescope’s computer. It is easy to set up and simple to use. I am certain any user will discover that using the data, display, and easy interface of an i-device will be far superior to what came with the telescope. If you have a telescope, and i-device, and want to make the connection, this is definitely the way to go.

Author’s note: In the next review, I discuss Southern Star’s SkyFi, a device that lets you wirelessly connect your telescope computer to your WiFi enabled computer.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Image courtesy of NASA

This morning NASA used a Delta II rocket to successfully launch the Aquarius/SAC-D mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This new satellite will help scientists measure the amount of Sea Surface Salinity, which is important for global climate studies. The mission was accomplished with cooperation between NASA and Argentina’s CONAE Space Agency.

What impressed me this morning was the method I used to follow the launch: watching streaming video on my iPod touch. When the first space missions were launched, people saw the poor quality video on black and white televisions, many with tiny (compared to those available today) screens. This morning the video of the launch on my Touch was in color and in very good detail. I watched the final 15 minute countdown (which took longer than 15 minutes due to a built0in pause to make important system checks prior to launch), and it was great.

To read more about this launch, check out NASA’s website.

Two must-have iPhone apps are the NASA app and the NASA TV app. Being able to look up mission information or watch missions on NASA TV is fantastic for space enthusiasts (count me as part of that group). While I don’t have an iPad, I will add both of NASA’s apps when I do purchase one in the future. I imagine the materials will be better when viewed on larger screens. Anyone with an iPad that wants to share their experience with these apps is most welcome to post a comment.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

The US space program had good news today (February 24, 2011). NASA successfully launched Discovery for its final flight (STS-133), which is a trip to the International Space Station (ISS). A great video of the launch from NASA can be seen here, which shows the take and the separation of the solid fuel boosters when the shuttle is 29 miles from NASA at a height of 24 miles. Wow! I wish that our Piper Arrow had that kind of acceleration and ceiling…

Image credit: NASA TV

 

Photo credit: NASA

The crew of Discovery is shown to the right, with NASA astronauts Steve Lindsey (center right) and Eric Boe (center left), commander and pilot, respectively; along with astronauts (from the left) Alvin Drew, Nicole Stott, Michael Barratt and Steve Bowen, all mission specialists.names listed below (thank you for the picture, NASA).

A successful launch is always good news, but this is a bitter sweet moment for fans of the space program. The Space Shuttle era is coming to a close in 2011. After today, depending on funding from Congress, there will only be one or two more Shuttle flights this year, then the US Shuttle fleet will be retired.

For a real treat, watch this video.

The Hubble Space Telescope

I’ve followed nearly every launch since STS-1, and my favorites involve the Hubble Space Telescope. The initial plans called for launching the Hubble in 1986, however the destruction of the Challenger delayed the launch until 1990, when Shuttle Discovery carried and launched it on mission STS-31.

There were problems with the Hubble mirror, so another visit was necessary to effect repairs. Space Shuttle Endeavour’s STS- 61 mission was to repair the Hubble, and it was a huge success. The astronauts successfully retrieved, repaired, and redeployed the Hubble, and the before and after images from the Hubble are remarkable. Since the repair, the Hubble has contributed a great deal to new images of the planets and stars in the sky.

There have been four other missions to repair or upgrade the Hubble to prolong it’s effective use exploring the wonders of the universe. The other Hubble shuttle missions were:

  • Shuttle Discovery – STS-82 in Feb, 1997
  • Shuttle Discovery – STS-103 in Dec, 1999
  • Shuttle Columbia – STS-109 in March, 2002
  • Shuttle Atlantis – STS-125 in May, 2009

The Hubble will continue to provide valuable images of the skies for years to come, however it too will be replaced by the James Webb Space Telescope, expected to be launched in 2014.

This is not the end of US flight, as there are private firms like Space X and Virgin Galactic that are working on vehicles capable of delivering people and supplies to the ISS in low earth orbit. There are other space agencies like the the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) that have sent missions to the ISS. The Russian agency will be the primary agency providing Soyez capsules to deliver and retrieve people in the near future.

It will be awhile before the next generation of US space crafts are ready, so it will be a time to watch the efforts of others – in the private sector as well as other nations. Hopefully we will live to see missions to establish bases on our moon and on Mars, which will be as awesome as our first missions to the moon in the 1960s and 70s.

UPDATE (Monday, 3/7/2011)

Shuttle Discovery decoupled from the ISS this morning at 6AM CST and is headed back to earth. The Shuttle will orbit earth in the vicinity of the ISS for the next 2 days, then re-enter the atmosphere and land on Wednesday. This marks the last time Discovery will visit the ISS.

UPDATE (Wednesday, 3/9/2011)

Shuttle Discovery begins mission orbit number 202, which is her final earth orbit, at 9:01AM CST. The 2 minute de-orbit burn began while the Discovery was over India, traveling at Mach 25. The landing was at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at 10:57AM CST today, which was the last of the 39 missions flown in this Shuttle. It is great this Shuttle did so well so many times, yet this was the last time that ship will fly and that is sad indeed.

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Introduction

As you have probably gathered, I really enjoy astronomy. I like looking at objects in deep space, gazing at the moon and the planets of our solar system, and sometimes even enjoying a glimpse of a comet. I enjoy using my telescope but often, at my home in New England, the skies are overcast, or the weather is rotten. (Especially this current winter with record amounts of snow fall.) So what does one do to enjoy a little astronomy when the sky doesn’t cooperate? Find an alternative, I say. This is easy for Starry Night users, who can look at the LiveSky menu and select ‘Online Telescope Imaging…’  which opens a browser window to access a site called SLOOH.

SLOOH the Site

Several years ago, I learned about www.slooh.com. The name SLOOH is a play on the word slew, which in Astronomy circles to slew a telescope is to move it’s position. What slooh.com offers is access to large 20” telescopes, via the Internet. The telescope is controlled remotely and moved through a series of targets as the night moves on. The scope stays with each object for a period of time, giving the camera time to collect and even color the light, producing beautiful images.

SLOOH the Software

The SLOOH interface is the user’s window to what the telescope sees. You can watch as the image develops on your screen. Starting with a monochrome, then watch the colors revealed as various filters are applied. You can capture up to three images any time during the exposure, you select when. One of my favorite tricks is to make an image before the colors start, and one just before the end of the exposure. This gives a great comparison of  naked eye viewing versus a time exposure.

Granted, you are not specifically in control of where the telescope points, or how long the exposures are, but a great many of the objects available to see based on the time of year  are on the list. Also, don’t forget, two very important aspects of this telescope: It is large (20” reflector) and the position of the telescope.

When SLOOH started, there was one telescope on a mountain in the Canary Islands, which is close to the equator. This means that it can “see” most of the sky, north and south. Within the past year, SLOOH has added two more telescopes, one in the mountains of Chili and one in Australia. (They recently shutdown the Australia site because the weather conditions there we rarely good and they weren’t getting much use of the telescope.) With telescopes in these various locations, a member has the potential of being able to see any part of the sky.

After you log into your SLOOH account, you are then taken to the “Launch Pad” which gives you access to various features of the site. In addition to the three telescopes, there is a link to the images you have downloaded, banners telling you of “radio shows” the site provides, access to reservation of time slots, as well as a brief list of what is currently being looked at as well as what the next few targets are.

From the launch pad, you can choose which telescope you would like to see, providing that telescope if currently on line. Once you choose a telescope, a new window opens which is your window to accessing the telescope view and information about what is on the screen. This window provides your view of what the telescope is seeing as well as a lot of other information. Take a look at my screen shot.

First of all there is a big circular area which displays what the telescope camera is seeing. As the exposure continues, you watch see it change in this window. A button near the bottom of this circular area shifts the camera view into full screen. To the right of the circular view area there are three buttons that control the view you see. There are three possibilities, High Mag, which gives a view using the maximum magnification, Wide field shows the image in a wider field and with less magnification. (Note that some objects do not use the high magnification, because it wouldn’t make any sense. Looking at a small corner of a large object wouldn’t be of much use). The last view is “all sky”, which is essentially what you would see if you just looked out of the telescopes dome.

The left hand side of the window is the information area. There are several choices of information and settings to choose from. The default is “Mission data”, which offers information about the object currently being viewed. The other tabs provide other features, for instance, you can tune the program to your system and display, check the weather conditions at the dome, or get some help. When there is a radio event on there is usually a chat channel open for members to ask questions/make comments during the show. You can digitally enlarge an image, see how long the current exposure is and how much time is remaining, and more.

SLOOH has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and interacts with Google Earth. There is also a forum to participate in if you like that. With Google earth, you can share your images of the universe with the Google earth (universe view) site. It’s a cool way to share your work!

One feature, I haven’t tried personally, is the ability to schedule a time slot to view coordinates that you are interested in. There are three options for selecting a target, choose from a list of objects, choose by using a catalog number, or enter the coordinates of an object or area of space you are interested in. The schedule window shows slots for the current week. So to schedule the telescope you choose an object and an available time slot. Just be sure that you will be able to view the scope when your time arrives! Otherwise, you will miss the view.

While looking at a live computer image of what the telescope can see isn’t as exciting as looking through one’s own telescope in the backyard, it is very nice. The images that you capture are tagged and dated, then stored for your later perusal or downloading.

The SLOOH site organizes the images you have captured for easy retrieval. The images are organized by category such as Solar System, Globular Clusters, various types of galaxies, and more. When you select a type, you are presented with a list of objects of that type, each object in the list also indicates how many images of that object you have collected. It also tells you the time and date of the most recent image. If you click on a specific object, you are shown a list of your images. Here you can enjoy looking at your images or download them for better processing. As with any astrophotography image, a little digital darkroom works can go a long way! You can also delete images you don’t like.

Besides downloading the image, you can share the image with your friends. SLOOH provides easy links to many different social networking sites.  Images have a SLOOH logo on them, so they get credit for the image, but they are your images to work with. Being a Mac guy, I collect and process my favorite images and have made a photo slide show of them. Mostly I use my favorites for backgrounds on my desktop and as a screen saver.

There are two basic plans for buying into SLOOH. First there is the “Commander Membership”. With this membership you pay an annual fee and can log in and view any of the scopes any time they are up and running. You also have a fair amount of personal scheduling time (When I started years ago the membership included so many minutes of scheduling time, currently it appears that, as long as things aren’t busy, you can use more time. The Commander fee is $50 a year, but I noticed that Amazon.com sells it for a discount.

The other method is called a Credit Membership. In this plan you buy an amount of credits which can be used anytime you log in. When you use them up, you can buy more credits. You can buy credits along with activity books and other things from various retailers. SLOOH links directly to Amazon.com as their retailer, but I have seen the packages at other locations.

I have been a member of SLOOH for several years. My activity varies, but when I have a bit of free time I like to log in and see what’s on the display. As with any telescope, weather conditions can be an issue. Cloudy skies, a full moon, and other factors can make the telescope unavailable. Sometimes the images are spectacular and at other times they are terrible. But this is typical for astrophotography. The radio shows have come and gone over the years I have been a member. It’s great listening to an astronomer (amateur or professional), as they share their insights and thoughts about astronomy.

I truly enjoy this site and the services they provide. I intend to remain a member as long as I am able. I really enjoy this site and have a great time watching the sky through their telescopes. If you want my advice, I’d encourage you to visit SLOOH’s site and see what they have to offer.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Dwarf Body Facts:

  • Number of Dwarf Planets: 5
    • Ceres
    • Eris
    • Haumea
    • Makemake
    • Pluto
  • Sizes: smallest is Ceres and the largest is Eris (maybe…)
  • Orbits: Ceres is in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and the others are out around Pluto’s orbit (29-49 AUs)
  • Diameters: from 950 km to 2800 km
  • Total Number Moons for all dwarf planets: 7
    • Pluto’s Moons: Charon, Hydra, Nix, and P4
    • Eris’s moon: Dysnomia
    • Haumea’s moons: Hi’aka and Namaka
  • Interesting facts: Pluto will be visited by New Horizons in 2015, which will go on to explore the Kuiper Belt until 2022.
  • Click here for Wolfram|Alpha data on all Dwarf Planets

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1 Ceres (orbital period 4.6 yrs)

Ceres is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and it was classified as an asteroid until 2006, when it was reclassified as a dwarf planet. Ceres is the smallest of the five dwarf planets and is located between Mars and Jupiter, making it a good candidate for a future mission if the data retrieved by the New Horizon mission is impressive. All we have to do is wait until 2015, when New Horizons should be within 186 miles of the surface of Pluto – we should get some impressive pictures at that time.

Click here for the Wolfram|Alpha information on Ceres

===========================

136199 Eris  (orbital period 557.4 yrs)

Eris was discovered out past Pluto, and, due to it being slightly larger than Pluto, caused the discussions that eventually produced the new class of planetary bodies called Dwarf Planets. While I wish they added a 10th planet instead of cutting us down to 8, I understand that there may be a push to reconsider the decision to downgrade Pluto, since more recent measurements indicate Eris may be slightly smaller than Pluto. The atmosphere of Eris is currently frozen, so it is quite bright and there are photos from the Keck Observatory as well as from the Hubble that show Eris and its moon.

Click here for the Wolfram|Alpha information on Eris

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Dysnomia

Dysnomia is the only moon of Eris. Not a lot of data on it, except from JPL. Scientists used Dysnomia to measure the size of Eris, and Dysnomia makes a circular orbit around Eris once every 16 days.

Click here for the Wolfram|Alpha information on Dysnomia

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136108 Haumea (orbital period 284.8 yrs)

Haumea was discovered in 2003, and its orbit ranges between 35 and 50 AUs, so it sometimes is closer to the sun than Pluto. It has a fast planetary rotation rate and its diameter averages 1400 km. It too has moons: Hi’aka and Namaka (not much data on either moon) in Starry Night or from JPL.

Click here for the Wolfram|Alpha information on Haumea

This image (Courtesy JPL/NASA) is an artist’s conception of Haumea and its two moons.

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

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136472 Makemake (orbital period 308 yrs)

Makemake (pronounced mah-kee-mah-kee) is larger than Haumea (average diameter of 1500 km) and the average distance from the sun is 46 AUs.

Click here for the Wolfram|Alpha information on Makemake
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Pluto (orbital period 247.9 yrs)

Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. I already wrote a short article about Pluto – click here to view it.

Click here for the Wolfram|Alpha information on Pluto

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Charon

Charon is the largest of Pluto’s 3 moons, but it was not discovered until 1978. Click here to see my earlier article on Pluto which has additional information on Charon.

Click here for the Wolfram|Alpha information on Charon

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Hydra

Charon is nearly as large as Pluto, but in 2005 it was learned that Pluto also has two tiny moons: Hydra and Nix. This is a screen shot of Hydra from Starry Night. Hydra has an estimated diameter of 20 – 70 miles.

Click here for the Wolfram|Alpha information on Hydra

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Nix

Nix is the other small moon of Pluto, and this is the Starry Night screen shot I found for Nix. Nix has an estimated diameter of 20 – 70 miles.

Click here for the Wolfram|Alpha information on Nix

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P4

P4 is the newest and smallest moon orbiting Pluto, with an estimated diameter of 8 – 21 miles.

Information Sources

NSAS’s website, NASA/JPL-Caltech’s website, Starry Night Pro Plus information, IAU Minor Planet Center.