31 December 2012

Sahara Sky Hotel Observatory, Sahara desert, Morocco

The Sahara Sky Hotel, Sahara desert, Morocco
Credit: Stefan Lamoureux / Astronomy club Toutatis
 December, Sahara desert, Morocco

For all of you who are serious stargazers, amateur astronomers or even professionals in the space domain, The Sahara Sky hotel is the place to be.

This fabulous Hotel situated in the middle of the desert with nothing around it except for a couple of local tent settlements and a big dune, is completely isolated from the world. This Moroccan style "fortress" called Kasbah is a very inviting building. The high sealings and the large rooms (dinner room, bar and study) are majestic and you feel in a royal palace type of rooms. On the second floor you find cozy rooms with terraces on a breath taking panorama view of the Sahara desert landscape.

We arrived at night and the night sky just blew out our minds. But the next morning when I opened the balcony doors, It stroke me silly the view out into nothing, only sand and table top mountains (highlands) and sand and more nothingness. I really had to look a couple of time outside to believe where i was. Just crazy!

This hotel in the middle of the desert is not only a hotel, it is also the first private observatory of North-Africa. On the hotel roof terrace, many high end telescopes are at the disposition of clients if they wish so. Great quality telescopes and fair accessories with GOTO technology to enhance the experience.

Fritz Gerd Köring
Sahara Sky hotel, Morocco
To top it all out, the owner and founder of the Sahara sky observatory and Sahara Sky hotel is a true astronomer and friendly man named Fritz Gerd Köring. You are curious about astronomy? You want a great mentor to teach and show you the ropes in a class 1 environment of night sky observations, he is your man!
This man is incredible, the knowledge he has on astronomy and the vibrant way he tell it is just contagious. He bursts with energy when he speaks about astronomy, you immediately feel it. His passion straight away robes on you.

Mr Köring as he mentioned is a nomad by nature. At a young age he started to travel and see the world. He worked all over the planet in the animal health industry . As his nomadic nature took over he moved on and travel the world to America to make his fortune. Like he says it is not the money that is important, it is what you want to do with it. He built his Observatory and that  is more than all the money he could have, says Mr. Köring.

Now retired Mr. Köring lives with his wife half of the year in Casablanca and the rest of the year in his fortress of solitude in the Sahara desert. He still has many projects he wants to work on, and by the looks of it, he will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. Thank you very much for your hospitality Fritz! Your place is simply magical. An amateur astronomer like me dream come true!

Please visit the Hotel website HERE.
Please visit Sahara Sky Observatory (first private Observatory in North-Africa) HERE
Continue reading post 6 of 7 on trip to Morocco HERE

28 December 2012

Morocco: Astronomy trip in photos

Impressive Startrail over cupola in the Sahara desert
Credit: Stefan Lamoureux / Astronomy club Toutatis
Click on picture to enlarge
December 2012, Sahara desert, Morocco

For the 2 year anniversary of our astronomy club Toutatis, we flew to Morocco to catch a glimpse of the Moroccan astronomy and the beautiful night sky of the Sahara desert.

Omega Centauri globular cluster or NGC 5139
Credit: Stefan lamoureux / Astronomy club Toutatis
Click on picture to enlarge
We traveled first to Marrakesh where we met with Ali from the 3AM astronomy club of Marrakesh and the fabulous Observatory and cultural center of Marrakesh (Read previous article on Marrakesh observatory). Next step, we crossed the mighty Atlas mountain range over to the Sahara desert. There we hang out at this awesome hotel in the middle of the desert to enjoy the Geminid meteor shower and other wonders of the night sky. we manage to shot many things during our trip and here are the pictures we captured.
Please have a look at our pictures on our astronomy club's Flickr gallery HERE
Representation of the Solar system with rocks
of the Sahara desert  Cerdit: Stefan Lamoureux
Click on picture to enlarge

Settlement in the Draa valley, Morocco
Credit: Stefan Lamoureux / Astronomy club Toutatis
Click on picture to enlarge

Small village in Atlas mountains
Credit: Stefan Lamoureux
Click on picture to enlarge
Please have a look @ our pictures of the trip HERE

Read post 5/7 on trip to Astronomy Morocco HERE 

27 December 2012


December 2012, Sahara desert, Morocco

Our Astronomy club Toutatis visited Morocco and the Sahara desert. We wanted to celebrate our 2 years anniversary of the club in a warm place, where we could have great skies.

As you may have noticed, our club is named after the Asteroid 4179 Toutatis      ( Read On the search for asteroid Toutatis and the origin of our astronomy club's name).
We wanted to catch the asteroid for ourselves and see first hand what kind of object the asteroid was. It was very exciting to search for 4179 Toutatis.
We had at our disposition a 400mm Meade telescope GOTO and the coordinates for the asteroid. But never the less, when we entered the coordinates and centered the asteroid in the eyepiece, we only saw light dots and it was very hard to tell what was a star and what was the asteroid (fast moving object). We then set the camera as the eyepiece and took short (30 sec. to 2 minutes) exposure to see if something would stick out as a longer "line". Believe me, at first there was nothing different on the camera screen. As we checked and rechecked the coordinates of the asteroid, we took an other series of short exposures to see if we got it this time. 

Asteroid 4179 Toutatis reveals itself
At our great surprise, we saw a line stand out on the camera screen and that is where I shouted: "We got it!!!" After 23 years of hearing about Asteroid 4179 Toutatis, i finally got to see it with my own eyes, well with the camera eyes. It was an exciting moment!  After many short exposures to set the focus right and to center the asteroid, I manage to take 60+ shots of it and make an animation of 4179 Toutatis as it hurdles through space.

You can see on the animation on the upper left, the asteroid is tumbling through space. We have in this animation 60 frames with an exposure of 30 seconds each for a total of 30 minutes of tumbling asteroid. If you look closely the "lines" should be of equal lengths, but you notice that they are not. This is due to the rotating asteroid in it's path. Very exciting!

Asteroid 4179 Toutatis is by far the most challenging and the most rewarding object that I found in the night sky. Even with the coordinates, a good telescope and support while looking for it, it was still very exciting to search for Asteroid 4179 Toutatis.
Thanks to every one present during the session, here we have it: Asteroid 4179 Toutatis ladies and gentelman! Wouhhouu! :D

Please visit wikipedia Asteroid 4179 Toutatis HERE
Please see article on close up gif animation of rotating asteroid 4179 Toutatis HERE
Please read article and see photos of asteroid Toutatis by Nancy Atkinson on Universe Today HERE 

Read 4/7 posts on club's astronomy trip to Morocco. HERE

26 December 2012

Morocco: Geminids revisited in the Sahara desert

Geminids meteor shower 2012
December 2012, The Sahara desert, Morocco

Our Astronomy club Toutatis visited Morocco for the Geminid meteor shower of 2012. Our trip continued through the Sahara desert in Morocco.
The Geminids in the Sahara desert where stunning. I counted as much as 2 meteors per seconds at the peak on December 13, 2012. This means the average peak would have been more then 7000 meteors a hour. It was incredible! After discussing the rate of meteors with my partner, we agreed that it was more 4 meteor per minute making the average peak to 240 a hour. There where big green "flash" meteors, rapid slime ones, slow long bright ones, short split second lines and explosive-core-breaking shooting stars all in one, a real light show.
The group of people watching the meteor shower with us where having a blast and where cheering every moment. Many times, the meteors where falling in our backs and the people in front of us where shouting "look behind you!" but it was too late.
The blackness of the Sahara desert night sky was the best place to enjoy the meteor shower.  Never seen as much meteors as in the Sahara desert.
I manage to catch one on the image on the left. I was surprise that i didn't catch more of them on camera, the camera was pointed to the north star (Polaris) for a circular startrail over the cupola of the hotel. I took over 400 pictures and only one meteor manage to be caught. An incredible experience at a mild temperature considering we come from Finland.

Read More on club's astronomy trip to Morocco HERE

25 December 2012

Morocco: Astronomy Club Toutatis visit Morocco

December 2012, Marrakesh, Morocco.

For the 2 years anniversary of the foundation of our astronomy club Toutatis we flew to Morocco. Our plans where to visit the Observatory and cultural center of Marrakesh and the only private observatory of north Africa, the Sahara sky hotel in the Sahara desert.

We flew into Marrakesh where we met Mr. Mohamed Ali Hafili. Ali as he called him self is a member of the Astronomy club 3AM of Marrakesh founded in 1999 by Mr. Zouhair Benkhaldoun, professor of astrophysics and director of the Observatory Universitaire Cady Ayyad "OUCA" of Oukaimeden. We where curious about the astronomy there and wanted to see what kind of events and observations the Marroqui astronomers where doing.

As Ali invited us to visit the Observatory and cultural center of Marrakesh, he explained us the concept behind this fabulous center of knowledge that it's owner Mr. Omar Hila should be very proud of. The Observatory and cultural center of Marrakesh, led by director Phillippe Baracco is a place to see art galleries, exhibitions on fossils and rocks found in Morocco (space rocks too) and astronomy observations and events. Also the center can be adapted to all kinds of events from music concerts to alternative art galleries and more. The conference room is a delight and the telescope found on the roof terrace is sublime.
The 600mm Richtey Chrétien telescope (the Valmeca T600) is fully remote controlled and is very user friendly. Attached to the telescope is a CCD camera where Ali can take pictures of the night sky and do some serious astronomy. But as Ali says, the hours he puts on organising events and observations in the astronomy club 3AM and the public showings at the cultural center shortens his time for astrophotography and science data gathering.
He almost admit that working a full time job in astronomy with the public is taking all his time and he finds it hard to dedicate his efforts on his passion of astronomy. Never the less, Ali had a way to explain to us the universe of astronomy in Morocco and inspire us with his contagious passion for space and astronomy.

Conference room @ Observatory and cultural center of Marrakesh
The Observatory and cultural center is open to the public on observation nights and offers great opportunities to see and try out the telescope says Ali Hafili. The main purpose of these observation nights is to give the public a taste of a large telescope and see wonderful things in the night sky. For the astronomy club 3AM, Ali is continuing on organising great events and observation nights with it's members. Thank you so much Ali for your hospitality and hope we can organise joint events with us here in Finland to you in Morocco.

Please visit 3AM astronomy club Marrakesh on their facebook page HERE
Please visit Observatory and cultural center of Marrakesh homepage HERE
Please see the specs of the Valmeca T600 HERE 
First picture caption: From left to right: Uolevi Leppäkoski, Mohamed Ali Hafili and Me with the T600 telescope @ the Observatory.

Continue to read on club's Moroccan astronomy trip HERE

21 December 2012

It's the end of the world as we know it!

Mayan Calendar ends on 21.12.2012
So here we are, this year the winter solstice brings us mayhem and discomfort. The end of the world is knocking at our door!
The Mayan calendar is coming to an end and the frenzy on the internet and in books are just overwhelming.

The winter solstice is some kind of "passage" to the other side as well. The winter solstice occurs on the shortest day and longest night of the year, when the sun's daily maximum elevation in the sky is the lowest. Since the winter solstice lasts only a moment in time, other terms are often used for the day on which it occurs, such as "midwinter", "the longest night", "the shortest day" or "the first day of winter". The seasonal significance of the winter solstice is in the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days.

Worldwide, interpretation of the event has varied from culture to culture, but most Northern Hemisphere cultures have held a recognition of rebirth, involving holidays, festivals, gatherings, rituals or other celebrations around that time.

Direct observation of the solstice by amateurs is difficult because the sun moves too slowly at either solstice to determine its specific day, let alone its instant. Knowledge of when the event occurs has only recently been facilitated to near its instant according to precise astronomical data tracking.
It is not possible to detect the actual instant of the solstice (by definition, one can not observe that an object has stopped moving until one makes a second observation in time showing that it has not moved further from the preceding spot, or that it has moved in the opposite direction). Further, to be precise to a single day one must be able to observe a change in azimuth or elevation less than or equal to about 1/60 of the angular diameter of the sun.
Observing that it occurred within a two day period is easier, requiring an observation precision of only about 1/16 of the angular diameter of the sun. Thus, many observations are of the day of the solstice rather than the instant. This is often done by watching the sunrise and sunset or vice versa or using an astronomically aligned instrument that allows a ray of light to cast on a certain point around that time.
Source: Wikipedia

10 December 2012

On the search for asteroid Toutatis and the origin of our astronomy club's name

Asteroid 1749 Toutaits AC
Credit: Goldstone radar image 1996
4179 Toutatis was first sighted on February 10, 1934, as object 1934 CT, and then promptly lost. It remained a lost asteroid for several decades until it was recovered on January 4, 1989, by Christian Pollas, and was named after the Celtic god Toutatis/Teutates.

The next close approach will be December 12, 2012, at a distance of 0.046 AU (6,900,000 km) and at magnitude 10.7. At magnitude 10.7, the asteroid will not be visible to the naked eye, but may be visible to experienced observers using high-end binoculars and telescope.

As you may have noticed by now (referring to our blog header) our Astronomy Club here in Finland is name after Asteroid 1749 Toutatis/1989AC. As a kid the news of a new found asteroid harbinger of death and destroyer of the world a.k.a Asteroid Toutatis was a kick start for me in Astronomy.

In 2010, we formed our astronomy club and had 2 names proposed for it . The first one was "Event horizon" which is in Finnish "Tapahtumahorisontti". It was a nice though but hard to pronounce. The second was Kustar for the location of the club in Kustavi, Finland, but as we slept on it for a couple of nights, one morning i woke up screaming "By Toutatis!" i got it!
All the memories of the old newspaper space-articles I collected on my wall (incluing the one with asteroid Toutatis) came back to me. I just knew it was right. Felt appropriate and it reflected well my relation with Astronomy. The vote passed in favor of my enthusiasm and the name stuck.
Now for the second anniversary of the club, we are travelling to Morocco to look for asteroid Toutatis in the Sahara desert. See you all when we come back!

08 December 2012

Closest approach of asteroid Toutatis on December 12. 2012
Animation of Asteroid 4179 Toutatis flying by the Earth
between 10:55 and 11:05 UT on September 28, 2004.
Animation courtesy of Scott Sinclair from Automated Patrol
Telescopes Australia. Images taken with a Meade LX200 10" at F/4.5
and consists of 50 x 8 second exposures (15 second separation).
Field of view is FOV 14 x 21 arc minutes.
Toutatis, a potato-shaped asteroid about 4.6 km in its longest extent, will pass within 7,000,000 km of the Earth's center on Wednesday, December 12, 2012. This is roughly 18 times the distance from the Earth to the moon. Toutatis will not pass this closely again for the next 500 years. Because of an extensive set of optical and radar observations, the orbit for Toutatis is one of the best determined of any asteroid and there is no chance that this object will collide with the Earth during this encounter - or any other encounter for at least 5 centuries.
With the help of Toutatis radar observations, a shape and rotation model for this object has been developed. Details on this work by Steve Ostro, R. Scott Hudson and colleagues can be found at:

This particular close approach by Toutatis is extra-special, because Chang'E 2 (China's erstwhile lunar orbiter) is on its way to a flyby, with a close approach on December 13. According to radio astronomer Michael Busch, Chang'E 2 will fly within a few hundred kilometers of Toutatis.
Chang'E 2 produced beautiful photos of the Moon, but it will be a major challenge for it to obtain photos of Toutatis. Chang'E 2's camera, like most mapping cameras on orbiting spacecraft, is a pushbroom-style imager that is designed to take advantage of the spacecraft's predictable, steady orbital speed to sweep an array of pixels along the ground, with the ground a fixed and predictable distance away from the spacecraft. This asteroid encounter bears no resemblance to an orbital mapping mission. Chang'E 2 will be passing Toutatis at a high relative velocity of 11 kilometers per second, which means that the distance to the target will be changing very rapidly. In order for Chang'E 2 to get a photo, it will have to very carefully aim its narrow-angle imager in the correct direction and slew the spacecraft in order to scan the linear camera detector across the asteroid and therefore acquire an image. It's a process that I described when I posted some Mars Express images of Phobos last year.
It helps that the orbit of Toutatis is extremely precisely known (thanks to all those previous radar observations), but still, it will not be easy for Chang'E 2 to succeed. If it does succeed, it will obtain at most two images, one on approach and one on departure, with resolutions of a few tens of meters. This isn't any better than the radar resolution, but images would identify albedo patterns and could help disambiguate radar-derived models of Toutatis' shape. This is an extremely challenging thing for China to attempt, especially given that this is their first deep-space encounter. They only recently brought online a radio telescope of the kind you need to perform the necessary deep-space communication and spacecraft tracking and navigation.

For you people having telescopes, this asteroid is a very challenging object to observe. You will find a good ephemeris chart to get the coordinates of the asteroid for many days HERE. For those who does not have the equipement necessary to observe this asteroid Paul Cox of will be broadcasting live images of Toutatis in a couple of free public shows on the night of the 11th/12th Dec.
Cox will be setting up three of the robotic telescopes to track the asteroid, including the Half Metre telescope. Details and timings of the shows are on the Slooh homepage.

The observatory is in the Canary Islands which is 4-7hrs ahead of USA time so the shows are at an ideal time for those who can't stay up late on a working day. We'll also broadcast a late show at the time of closest approach (2012-12-12T06:40UTC) with live images from Arizona, together with some popular objects using the Half Metre telescope at the Canary Islands Observatory.


Asteroid Meteor Shower, The Geminids hits again in December

Where to look for the Geminids NE
Look at the Geminids meteor shower peak between 12-15.12.2012
I read this great post of Andrew Cooper
at A Darker View blog about the Geminids.
Mr. Andrew Cooper is based in Hawai'i and for several years have lived and worked at the W. M. Keck Observatory. 

First observed over 150 years ago this is a interesting meteor shower. The parent body for the Geminids is not a comet as with most showers, but rather the asteroid 3200 Phaethon. It is somewhat of a mystery how this mostly rocky body gives rise to the debris stream needed to generate a meteor shower. The asteroid does orbit well inside the orbit of Mercury every four years, where intense solar heating may heat trapped ice and liberate loose material from the surface.

07 December 2012

Join the SPACE community on Google +

Space community on Google +
On Google + you can find a new way to be in touch with Space and Astronomy. Join communities of all kind on your favorite subjects as Space and Astronomy.

Join the Space community on Google + and view events all around the world, photos taken by Hubble space telescope and amateur astronomers alike, timelapses and videos on the facinating subject of Space.


01 December 2012

Send us a SPACE POSTCARD, we will send you one in return.

Space postcard #001
Have a Spacey holidays and a happy astronomical year to everyone!

For the month of December on blog LINKS THROUGH SPACE, send a SPACE-POSTCARD to Astronomy Club Toutatis in Finland. Send us your space-postcard from your part of the world, we will send you one back in return. A friendly gesture for the holidays and a fun way to greet fellow astronomers. You will find our address bellow.
Astronomy Club Toutatis 
23360, Kustavi, FINLAND

Send us a self made space postcard with your return address at the back and we will mail you back a Spacey Holidays and a happy astronomical year to everyone postcard from us.

Spacey holidays and a happy astronomical year for everyone! Waiting to hear from you!

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Our holiday wall of Space
Send in we will post it!