Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ultimate groundbased map of Mercury created - by painting!

Even when it is as well placed in the sky as now, the planet Mercury is a very tough object for telescopes, and detail is hard to discern from noise. Image processing often needs to be extreme, everyone - professionals and amateurs alike - uses a different approach, and the usual computer-based methods for generating total maps don't work too well. Germany's most daring amateur astronomer has now tried a very different way of merging Mercury pictures: by re-painting them and adding the drawings! The result is a unique total map (shown above based on images by four amateurs and below with images from professionals added) - with MESSENGER soon completing the map of Mercury at high resolution, this will be the last ever such effort. But one that really works, as the new images coming from the current evening apparition do fit in. This was but one exciting result presented at the 27th Planeten- und Kometentagung in Violau, Germany, last weekend - here are some more:
  • There is now a Venus Ground-Based image Active Archive where observers (mainly advanced amateurs; few pros contribute) can upload scientifically useful Venus images - which scientists from the Venus Express mission are eager to use in order to see the global context of their data.

  • Amateur astronomers are using ever more exotic wavelengths to bring out unknown detail in planets with thick atmospheres - e.g. the methane band around 890 nm on Saturn and Jupiter or 1 µm on Venus where one can actually see the surface.

  • The best mutual event of Uranus' moons during the 2007/8 equatorial plane crossing has been observed with a mobile observatory in Italy.

  • Numerous images of Holmes were shown, in various stages of processing to bring out strange structure in the dust coma - what's going on physically here is less clear, though.(And the conference organizers, including this blogger, couldn't find one professional German astronomer willing to speculate on the comet's outburst in public ...)

  • A Small Budget Sky Survey has been launched to coordinate small search programs for all kinds of celestial objects.

  • A small minor planet occulted a bright star recently, and although only one observer was lucky to catch a (2 second!) drop-out, the high S/N of the data allowed for a lot of analysis.

  • A professor for movie and TV sciences managed to image the phase of Venus without any refraction or reflection: He used a Fresnel zone plate telescope, 4 meters long, which he actually carried into the lecture hall.
In other news the daytime occultation of Mars by the Moon could be observed well during the planetary conference discussed above and in many other places - using polarizing, red and other filters helped a lot to bring the sky brightness down. • There are now naked-eye observations of comet Boattini which is being described as easy from the S hemisphere, with a rising light curve. • The true orbit of comet Beshore turns out to be very different and keeping it much fainter. • Another comet McNaught seems to be of similarly modest interest. • There are also a New Mexican fireball video, • a full report on the lunar crescent record sighting at 5 minutes from new, regardless of definitions, and • still fragments of USA 193 in orbit, despite the claim that they would all come down swiftly. • And finally Microsoft has released an early version of its World Wide Telescope which is causing lots of commentary, such as here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and ...

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