Supernova SN 2014J in Ursa Minor

On 22 January 2014, S. J. Fossey discovered a supernova, designated SN 2014J, in the Cigar Galaxy, Messier 82. It’s turned out to be the brightest of its type visible in the Northern Hemisphere in living memory. M82 is in Ursa Major, nice and high in the night sky for those of is in the Great White North! It is not visible to the unaided eye, clocking in at about Magnitude 11.5, but that’s well within the capability of a home telescope on a dark night to spot, and especially with a short exposure with a digital camera on a 4″ or 5″ telescope.

I wanted to see if I could take an image of the supernova from my livingroom couch, and so used a simple web form to request an image be taken by the MicroObservatory Network in Arizona. Anyone can use this free educational system, using the on-line forms at:

The simple icon-driven menu asks for subject, field of view, and exposure time. All the rest is automated. I sent the request in on 25 January, and on the afternoon of the 26th I received an email message from the system indicating that an image was ready. Here’s the result. The supernova is the bright star to the right of centre of the irregular galaxy.

SN2014J in M82 20140126

Supernova SN 2014J is visible between the hair lines along the right side of this image. The cloudy mass is the Cigar Galaxy, Messire 82, in Ursa Major. This is an uncropped image as provided by the MicroObservatory Network. See the text for description. Click on the image to see it scales a little better.

The fact that the galaxy is so far over to the right side of the frame is the result of errors in the on-line system. It amounts to perhaps a 10th of a degree or less, but that’s enough to put things way off of centre. Given that this is a free, public-access system, you can’t complain too much! I wish I had had access to a system like this as a child – this and other robotic telescope systems now available to the public would make for amazing science fair projects! I have an article in a forthcoming issue of the Hamilton Amateur Astronomer’s newsletter The Event Horizon on robotic observatories, which I find a very nice way of avoiding the cold outside conditions of astronomy in Canada in the winter. Yes, I’m a wimp, but I’m a warm wimp.

Copyright © 2014 David Allan Galbraith

Happy Perihelion for 2014!

While we make a big deal of the two annual equinox and solstice events, most people don’t realize that there’s a point when the earth is closer to the sun than at any other time during the year (perihelion) or as far away as we can get from our local star (aphelion, pronounced “ap-helion,” not “afeelion”). Perihelion is always in the first few days of January in our current epoch; aphelion comes in early July.

The earth’s orbit is an ellipse, with the sun sitting on one of the two foci of that ellipse. Because it’s not exactly a circle, there are times during the year when the earth is a little closer or a little further away from the sun than average – about 3% closer. According to the web site In The Sky ( the earth was at perihelion at 06:59 EST, Saturday 4 January 2014. This was just before sunrise this morning (which took place at 7:52 AM EST here in Hamilton).

I went out to take a photo of the sun on the morning of perihelion 2014. I hadn’t been following the news, and so was pleasantly surprised to spot the big sunspot on the visible disk (AR 1944) in the camera view-finder.


The sun, photographed 4 January 2014. See below for details.

The photo of the sun above was taken from the LaSalle Marina in Burlington, Ontario at 10 AM EST, 4 January 2014, three hours after perihelion. The large sunspot in the lower left has been designated AR 1944 and is one of the largest this cycle. Taken with a 150-500 mm Sigma telephoto zoom lens and 1.4x teleconverter on a Nikon D7000 body; solar filter was an Orion mylar filter for white light. Conditions were not ideal – a great deal of wind, quite cold, and high, diffuse clouds.

Copyright © 2014 David Allan Galbraith

A Newsletter Article on the Sierra Stars Observatory Network

Included in the January 2014 issue of Event Horizon, the newsletter of the Hamilton Amateur Astronomers, is a short article I wrote on my experiences in 2013 with the Sierra Stars Observatory Network (

You can download the PDF newsletter here:

Back issues of Event Horizon are available here:

I was very happy with the article, and that the editor chose to use one of my photos (of Comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS)) as the masthead for the issue.


Comet C/2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) imaged with the Sierra Stars Observatory Network. The image is described below.

The above image of Comet C2011 L4 (PANSTARRS) was taken with the Schulman 0.81 m Mt. Lemmon SkyCentre telescope in southern Arizona early on the morning of 19 June 2013, on-line with the Sierra Stars Observatory Network. This was a simple stack of four images (one each, L, R, G, B) of 90 seconds each. The default setting for the camera is a 2×2 binning.

The Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter 0.81 meter is an f/7 Ritchey–Chrétien equipped with an SBIG STX KAF-16803 camera. The image covers 22.5 x 22.5 arc minutes: a bit more than a third of a degree across the sky (for comparison, the disk of the full moon covers about a half a degree, or around 30 arc minutes).

Copyright © 2014 David Allan Galbraith

Thanks for a Great First Blogging Year!

A year ago I launched the “Pine River Observatory” blog as an outlet for my interests in astronomy and photography of the night sky. Inspired by summer nights with lovely dark skies along the shores of Lake Huron, I named the virtual observatory after the Pine River, a small river south of the town of Kincardine.

I’ve been very excited with the response to the blog so far. As of today (1 January 2013) my pages have had a total of 8,528 views from readers in 101 countries! Thank you so much for your interest and support! I’m looking forward to making more blog entries in 2014!


Distribution of viewers of this blog in the first year, a screen capture from the stats page provided by WordPress, on 1 January 2014. Users have looked at the blog from a total of 101 countries; only the top 21 or so are listed by country.

Copyright © 2014 David Allan Galbraith

Public Access Astronomy: the MicroObservatory Robotic Telescope Network

The MicroObservatory Robotic Telescope Network, operated by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics OWN “Observing With NASA” program allows free, public access use of 6″ reflecting telescopes located at the Whipple Observatory in Amado, Arizona. If you are a teacher interested in introducing astronomy in a hands-on way, a parent wanting to show kids that they can also take astrophotos, or just interested in experiencing with Internet-based remote observatories, making use of this free system is well worth a try. This system has been in use for over a decade and is a lot of fun.

The network can be reached at:

Guest users can select from a pre-set menu of target objects. In December 2013 I tried shooting images of several deep space targets over successive nights. The 6″ reflectors (identified as Ed, Ben and Cecilia, Donald) are programmed with a simple web form. Once images are captured, users are sent an email message with instructions on how to retrieve the files. The files are all returned as 650 x 500 FITS files. The network also supplies MicroObservatoryImage, a free program based on Java that processes FITS files, including stacking RGB images, optimised for the small images the system produces.

The web site is well worth exploring, as there are several resources there of interest to teachers, especially.

Here are three images I captured with this system in December 2013. The images I was able to capture did suffer from several artifacts, including diffraction spikes, and “blooms” produced by very bright stars.

The Cab Nebula (Messier 1) imaged with one of the educational telescopes of the  MicroObservatory Robotic Telescope Network.

The Cab Nebula (Messier 1) imaged with one of the educational telescopes of the
MicroObservatory Robotic Telescope Network. Three images were taken, one each through a red, green, and blue filter, and then they were combined with the MicroObseervatoryImage software supplied by the network.

NGC5457, Messier 101, imaged with the MicroObservatory Robotic Telescope Network.

NGC5457, Messier 101, imaged with the MicroObservatory Robotic Telescope Network. This was taken as a single 60 second exposure, taken at 5:37 AM local time on 31 December 2013. The area imaged is approximately one degree of arc across.

orion1 retouched1

The Great Nebula in Orion (M42) imaged in three colours using the MicroObservatory system. The colour image was assembled as described above for the image of the Crab Nebula. This image is slightly retouched to reduce artefacts created by both diffraction effects (spikes) and also “blooms” or smears produced by very bright stars.

Copyright © 2014 David Allan Galbraith