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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

October 2016: a bright nova pops up in Sagittarius

It has been a long time since the last bright nova, but we finally got a good one, this time in the constellation of Sagittarius.

In the upper view, the Nova TCP J18102829-2729590 stands above center, appearing brighter than a star immediately at its right. The lower view is the same field, with the Nova marked by a large "X". South is up, field roughly centered on R.A. 18h11m30s ; Dec. -27°25'

The above pictures were taken at the observatory on the evening of October, 26th: at this time the magnitude of the Nova was estimated at 8.0, making it an easy target even in medium size binoculars.

Visually it might not be spectacular, but it comes impressive if you recall what's going on up there... a nova is an extinct star that comes to life again due to a heavy layer of hydrogen deposited on its surface, a material directly transferred from a too close companion star that is considerably growing in size: the gravity does the rest... Nothing unusual, as this is a normal stage in stellar evolution. While being accumulated on the tiny dead star, the hydrogen layer becomes hot and dense enough to initiate nuclear fusion and make it suddenly brighten. In the sky, it seems that a new star appeared ("nova stella"), although the phenomenon uses to last a few days only.

In the night sky, the Nova stands close to the galactic center, nestled in an extremely rich star field. Actually we had to obscure the picture in order to enhance the principal stars... The view below is one of the rough pictures, showing an impressive amount of stars: can you still locate the Nova?...

Photo: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - October 26th, 2016.
Camera: Canon EOS 60D at prime focus of Meade LX200 16" f/6.3 ; Total exposure : 10 sec.

First Light for the Planewave Telescope !

The new 50cm Planewave telescope (that we refer to as T500) is still not formally aligned, and still not even perfectly collimated, though we managed to take a first astro picture, namely on the Omega Centauri globular cluster.
The result is quite promising, so we just imagine the performance it could deliver when we'll get it perfectly tuned ...and that might be any soon!

Photo: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - March, 31st, 2016.
Camera Canon 60D at prime focus of Planewave 50cm f/6.8 - Exposure: 20 sec.

May the 9th, Transit of Mercury:
success again...

The previous Transit of Mercury happened on november 2006... Ten years after, we succeeded again to watch the current one, without even needing any travelling: this time it happened at home, in Vicuña, and so we observed it from the Great Solar Observatory of Chile (GOSCh).
While still in progress, we are publishing the first shots of the event...

On the rising Sun, can you glimpse the subtle dark spot of planet Mercury, on the lower left of the Sun disk ?

When higher in the sky, the tiny black dot of Mercury comes easier to see...

The following view is processed as to show some prominences that arise from the chromosphere (that thin red ring surrounding the Sun globe): two of them are visible to the lower left of the disk.
Meanwhile the dark, sharp tiny disk of Mercury keeps going on...

Photos: Cristian Valenzuela / GOSCh - telescope Lunt 230mm H-alpha
camera Canon 60D - exp: 1/4000 sec. ISO 100

Below is a much classical view of the Sun obtained through a white glass filter. The disk of Mercury approaches its exit (to the lower right) and still appears with a much higher contrast than the small group of sunspots visible above the center of the sun disk.

Photos: Cristian Valenzuela / GOSCh - telescope TecnoSky 80mm
camera Canon 60D - exp: 1 sec.

The main telescope, a Lunt Solar Systems 230mm H-alpha, resting after the near 7 hours long observing session...

Work in progress with the new telescopes for astrophotography...

After the rush of summertime at the observatory, we finally get closer to initiate the Astrophotography Programmes with the new large telescopes, namely a "Planewave" astrograph of 20 inches (50cm), and a "Reginato" newton scope of 28 inches (71cm), respectively labelled T500 and T700. Just keep attentive to further news soon!...

The T500 scope already installed, still in process of calibration...

Detail of the mount of the T500

The T700 scope also installed, also in process of calibration...

The T700 awaits in its brand new dome...

The T500 dome, just completed (february 2016)

Aerial view of both domes (T500 and T700) : note in the far the "tiny" domes of the S.O.A.R. and Gemini South observatories !

Photos: Observatorio del Pangue - 2016

Astrophotography at Pangue :
More from the Large Magellanic Cloud

Much less known than its prestigious neighbour the Tarantula, the complex of nebulosities around the Bean Nebula remains a stunning view through large telescopes. On the below picture the Bean itself (namely NGC1763) is the brightest patch in centre of field, but we can identify several more components such as NGC1769 (to the left), smaller and still very dense, and NGC1760 (bottom left of field), fainter and crescent shaped, all three nebulae surrounding the rich star cluster NGC1761. Topping the complex is NGC1773, a tiny round patch involving a few bright stars. All these structures are part of a large, extended nebular region, actually much greater than the Tarantula itself.

Photo: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - March, 10th, 2016.
Camera: Canon EOS 60D at prime focus of Meade LX200 16" f/6.3 ; Total exposure : 6 mn. Full resolution image available on demand.

A perfect alignement

It is a tradition by now, every year on the evening of February the 8th, we capture the sunset happening right behind the main dome of the Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory (CTIO), as viewed from our own telescope.
From year to year however there is a little shift due to the slight discrepancy between the civilian calendar of 365 days and the Sun cycle (roughly 365.25 days), something that we easily fix by adding 1 day every 4 years. This effect is appreciable if you compare the current picture with the ones taken at the same date and time on the past years (see our older posts...) showing the Sun disk a little bit more to the right (northward) of the dome.
Photo: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - February, 8th, 2016.
Camera: Canon EOS 60D at prime focus of TechnoSky 80mm f/4.1 refractor telescope;

This year we managed to take also a view on the day before (the 7th), when the Sun still sets behind the CTIO but southward, putting the border of the main dome on the right limb of the disk. Not a perfect alignment, but a nice vista anyway...
Photo: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - February, 7th, 2016.
Camera: Canon EOS 60D at prime focus of TechnoSky 80mm f/4.1 refractor telescope;
Full resolution images available on demand.

Astrophotography at Pangue :
Those magnificent nebulae...

It may be a classic but one never get used to either observe or take a decent picture of NGC3372, the outstanding emission nebula in the southern constellation Carina. It is also known as Eta Carinae Nebula, named after the massive star nestled in its heart, reputed to be a possible future supernova...

The view below was just a first try through a small refractor telescope from a visitor astronomer, and still it shows the extraordinary richness of the field. (North is up)

The second try with that same telescope was the nebulous regions around Alnitak, a bright star in the Orion constellation. On the view below we can identify the yellowish Flame Nebula (NGC2024), lower left to the bright star, and the tiny but much renowned Horse Head Nebula, that dark silhouette embedded in the reddish emission nebula IC434 (near centre frame).

Photos: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - January, 11th, 2016.
Camera: Canon EOS 60D at prime focus of TechnoSky 80mm f/4.1 refractor telescope;
Total exposures : Carina nebulae 6 mn., Orion nebulae 8mn.

Full resolution images available on demand.

One moment on the Moon

We do like challenging deep sky targets, such as subtle nebulae and extragalactic supernovae but, when observed in good conditions, the Moon as well is quite rewarding, offering a stunning variety of geological features. The picture presented below was taken with a simple smartphone, and it renders quite well the visual sensation at the eyepiece. On that night the terminator coincided with a rich network of rilles : the deep, irregular Hyginus rille stands left to centre, while the long Ariadaeus rille runs to the lower right. But the most prominent features would be the complex of subtle rilles covering a large area on the top of the frame, just right to the notable Triesnecker crater.
(North is up)

Below we select the Triesnecker area (ref frame) that we detail it in the following inset on which the 16 distinct identifyed sections are labelled.

Photo: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - January, 16th, 2016.

Astrophotography at Pangue :
the always magnificent Great Orion Nebula

January is a good time for this classical but always stunning emission nebula : from our location it stands quite high in the sky around midnight, hence taking full advantage of the optimal weather conditions. The central regions of the nebula have been overexposed on purpose, as to better render the complex and delicate structures of the extended, faint outer parts. The entire nebula as viewed in this picture spans for some 25 light-years!

We present it with an unusual tilt (North is to the right) that seems to better display its magnificent structure. After all, there is no privilegied orientation in outer space...

Photo: Cristian Valenzuela/Observatorio del Pangue - January, 11th, 2016.
Camera: Canon EOS 60D at prime focus of Meade LX200 16" f/6.3 ; Total exposure : 10 mn. Full resolution image available on demand.

Two more premium telescopes arrive at the observatory

We were frequently requested by amateur astronomers to offer telescopes specifically for astrophotography, of course to take advantage of the clear skies we use to have on site, but also because of our privilegied latitude (30° South), that makes the southern wonders appear at higher altitudes than in more northern areas in Chile.

So it's done now, with the set up of two large telescopes that will be ready for advanced astrophotography programmes. Check our menu for further details...

Below : Reginato 28" (71cm) newton telescope

Below : Planewave 20" (50cm) astrograph