Northern Skies Observatory

We had a wonderfully successful star party on Friday, October 7, in conjunction with "International Observe the Moon Night." Because of weather, the event was held on Friday instead of the official Saturday. About 30 people came to join us to observe the waxing moon and to look at some of the deep sky objects that the moon didn't wash out. A beautifully clear evening allowed us to expose some young 'uns to the joys of astronomy, and some older folks joined in, as well! 

Many thanks to the Peacham Library for providing handouts and some refreshments (phases-of-the-moon Oreos, anyone?). 

This may be our final star party of the year, but we'll see what the weather looks like in November and keep you posted (it was pretty brutal last year!). Clear skies!

Also go to www.skymaps.com and download their September and October sky maps! Each includes information on interesting objects to observe - well worth the effort for your own observing!

Check these pages around the first week of November to see if we will have a star party then. 

We had an incredibly successful week with 25 wonderful high school students during our first Governor's Institute of Vermont Astronomy week-long workshop, held during the week of July 24 - 30. Images taken with NSO were combined with astrophotography, photometry, and spectroscopy tools to map asteroid light curves, look at supernovae spectra, analyze the spectra of Wolf-Rayet stars, and develop the light curves for RR Lyrae-type variable stars. A longer report will be coming soon! Check out our Facebook page for more information!

We had great clear skies on Friday, June 10 and ended up with a small, but enthusiastic collection of astronomers looking at the Moon, Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, M13 and a variety of other deep sky objects!
43 galaxies in a single frame imaged by Derek Li of the White Mountain School at NSO on 4/5/16.


Here is a photo of the Blood Moon Super Eclipse on September 27, 2015 taken with NSO by NKAF educator Brad Vietje. As he remarks - "Pretty tough target for a 17" telescope! The partial phases would be better with a DSLR and a 600mm telephoto -- just too bright for the telescope ..."


Check out this time lapse video of the eclipse made by NKAF docent Bill Vinton:

Lunar Eclipse 2015-09-27

"This video was created by taking a series of 53 stills at about 5 minute intervals through an Olympus E510 DSLR at the prime focus of my 120 mm f/5 refractor in Waterford, VT. Exposures ranged from about 1/2000 sec for the brightest full moon to 2 sec for totality. The images were aligned and rotated, and adjusted for brightness and contrast. 

The telescope mount lost its calibration near the middle of totality, and I didn't dare take the time to re-calibrate; thus some of the long-exposure images ended up a bit blurry.

Notice that the angles of the shadow at the start of the eclipse and at the end of the eclipse differ. Most of the motion is due to the moon moving through the shadow of the earth, and the diameter of the earth's shadow is about 4 times larger than the moon. The moon did not pass through the middle of the shadow - if you think of the shadow as a clock face, then the moon entered the shadow at about "2:30" on the face (edge of shadow almost vertical) and left the shadow at about "7:00" on the face (edge of shadow almost horizontal). This off-center trajectory also led to the bright glow around the lower edge of the moon during totality."

Email observers@nkaf.org to get put on the astronomy club mailing list for info about monthly meetings.

NKAF docent and Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium educator Bobby Farlice-Rubio visited WCAX's Star Struck talking about the year in space mission and the effects of living in the space station on our astronauts:



We were honored during the summer of 2014 to host young science minds from across VT at our Space Camp in Peacham. Director Brad Vietje and camp Chef/Mom Linda Ide did an amazing job keeping everyone's minds and stomachs filled. Field trips this year included the Fairbanks Museum's planetarium, Dartmouth College's Dept of Physics and Astronomy and Shattuck Observatory, and for the first time we traveled to the AMC Highland Center to work with Carthage College professor Doug Arion.

Special thank you to our awesome campers, their families, our field trip hosts and the Green Mountain Retreat Center.

Additional gratitude is due to our financial aid sponsors - the St. Johnsbury Rotary, Chroma Technology, and our generous local donors. We are committed to making opportunities possible despite financial challenges, and your support makes that possible. Thank you.

Brandon Gamble is seen here calibrating a spectrum taken with our Planewave telescope and a Star Analyzer-200 diffraction grating using RSpec software in the NSO control room under red lights late at night during the 2014 Space Camp.


Our newest blog post on the National Geographic website highlights our work hosting family friendly astronomy events at NEK libraries sponsored by the Vermont Community Foundation


Check out the new blog post on the National Geographic website highlighting our Space Camp:


Our second blog post is up on the Nat Geo website highlighting our work with the Governor's Institutes.

Click this image of the Horsehead Nebula imaged and processed by Madeline McIntire 
to see our second blog post.  Check back for more updates from Peacham in the future.

We are honored to have our work featured in a new blog on the National Geographic website.



Supernova 2014J in M82 

Imaged at NSO by 
NKAF President Bill Vinton and Educator/Board member Brad Vietje on 1/23/14

Astronomers around the world were excited to see the eruption of a Type Ia Supernova in the (relatively) nearby galaxy M82 (11.5 million light years distant), known familiarly as the "Cigar" galaxy because of its unusual appearance. First observed on January 21 by Dr. Steven J. Fossey at the University of London Observatory, the supernova was subsequently found to be evident in previous observations of M82 taken as early as January 15 . On January 23, when the photograph was taken, the supernova had brightened to magnitude 11, rivaling the brightness of the entire galaxy. It is likely that the supernova will continue to brighten over the next few weeks, perhaps to magnitude 8.5, easily visible with binoculars.

A Type Ia supernova occurs when a white dwarf in a binary star system steals enough mass from the companion star to initiate a sudden, massive runaway fusion reaction in its core that disrupts the entire white dwarf. By contrast, a nova explosion, such as the one that happened this summer in the constellation Delphinus, represents a similar, but much less energetic process, because the rate at which the white dwarf accretes mass from its larger companion is smaller, causing only a relatively gradual surface fusion explosion that does not disrupt the entire star. Another type of supernova, termed Type II, occurs when a heavy star at the end of its life undergoes a sudden catastrophic collapse and explosion.

The luminosities of Type Ia supernovae are quite uniform because of the similarity of the white dwarf progenitors that explode. Thus, they serve as reliable "standard candles" that allow accurate determination of distances to far away galaxies. Observations of Type Ia supernovae in distant galaxies led Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Reiss to conclude in 1998 that the expansion rate of the universe is actually increasing. This momentous discovery led to them being awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics.


The Moon

Imaged at NSO by 
the White Mountain School 
astronomy class on 1/9/14


Check out the latest episode of


'What's UP!?' with Mazie O'Connor! 


Spectral Observations of 
Nova Delphini 2013

Over the past two years, docents and students have developed a sophisticated ability to take attractive photographs of astronomic objects using our wonderful telescope. Now, our initial spectroscopic images represent a new phase in the evolution of our ability demonstrating the potential of Northern Skies Observatory for involving students in authentic scientific research. We have much to learn about the techniques for taking, processing and analyzing such images. 

Click the link below to see NKAF President Bill Vinton's work using NSO's new spectroscopic filter to image the Nova Delphini 2013.



NKAF Docent Bobby Farlice-Rubio continues to educate VT on "The :30" on WCAX, and recently he mentioned his ongoing work at NSO imaging comet ISON.  

Click his photo below for the video.


Northern Skies Observatory
9/19/13 article from
The Caledonian Record


     Gallery Photos

    The White Mountain School Astrophotography

    In May 2012 six students from The White Mountain School visited NSO.  Here are the results of their work.  Click the slide show above to see larger version.

     NSO in the News

      Events - click each event for more details


    All Sky Cam on our Weather Page   See what is going on right now in the sky above the observatory.

    NSO Sky Camera

     Connect with NKAF

    Site Meter

    Visit our weather page for a full featured view of what is going on in our neck of the woods. 

    Include gadget (iframe)

    Venus Transits the Sun - VIDEO   If you have not seen this, look at it.  It's fun.  Click for the time-compressed video.

    Venus Transit June 5, 2012

    Check out WCAX's Star Struck with NKAF docent Bobby Farlice-Rubio from the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium in St. Johnsbury discussing NASA's Mercury Messenger probe that crashed recently after a highly successful 10 year mission.


    Our newest National Geographic blog post highlights the amazing time we had this summer with students from across Vermont.



    This image of M16 "the Eagle Nebula" was taken by Caitlin Vollman during her first ever experience with digital imaging and processing at NSO Space Camp. The same object is imaged below but using alternate post-processing by assigning the RGB channels to different filters.

    Photo details: CDK-17 telescope with Apogee Alta UM16 camera, single 240 sec exposure through each filter. Processed with ImageJ. Hubble pallet above (Ha=Red, SII = green, OIII = Blue), and Ha & OIII switched below.


    This still image of the Sun was created by Brandon Gamble by stacking 50 individual frames from a 60-second video for greater detail and contrast using NSO's Lunt 80 mm H-alpha Solar Telescope with a loaned DMK-21 video camera. That one little sunspot is about the size of the Earth!



    NGC2244 in the Rosette Nebula 

    Imaged and processed by Chrystal Zajchowski at NSO on 2/22/14 with the Governor's Institutes of VT
    Winter Weekend

    The Governor’s Institutes of Vermont (http://www.giv.org/) creates prestigious, fun, accelerated learning residencies on college campuses for highly-motivated Vermont teenagers. Any Vermont student can ask his/her school guidance counselor for referral to a Governor’s Institute for an unforgettable experience of extreme learning and extreme fun. NKAF offered the first-ever Governor’s Institute Winter Weekend class on astrophotography from 2/21-2/23 at Goddard College which included a Star Party at NSO.


    Using the  Star Analyser 100 spectroscopic filter on the PlaneWave 17" CDK at the Northern Skies Observatory, images were  taken on January 23, 2014 in order to explore the spectrum of Supernova SN2014J. We are still in the process of developing our understanding of what these images show, as well as our technique with calibrating, taking and interpreting these images, but there are some obvious features to point out.

    First, the large dip in the spectrum at 607.1 nm is due to silicon II absorption, and is a marker that this is a Type Ia supernova. Here's why:

    The white dwarf star that exploded was primarily composed of oxygen and carbon - the end-products of the hydrogen and helium fusion processes that fueled the star for most of its active life. The original star is not massive enough to create sufficient heat and pressure in its core to enable further fusion, so the internal "fusion-furnace" in the core of the star shuts down and the star shrinks to make a very dense white dwarf (typically the mass of the sun in a volume about the size of the earth, a density of 1 ton per cubic cm), and it slowly cools down over billions of years as it radiates away its energy. 

    However, if the white dwarf is part of a binary system, and it steals mass from its companion star rapidly enough, the mass of the white dwarf increases to the point that the temperatures and pressures in the core become large enough to fuse the carbon and oxygen, creating a catastrophic explosion that disrupts the entire star. In this supernova process, large amounts of silicon are produced; we see the signature of the silicon in the spectrum.

    But wait - there's more! The wavelength of the silicon II line when measured in a laboratory is 635.5 nm. The spectrum shown gives a value of 607 nm. The shift to a lower wavelength is caused by the explosion debris traveling toward us at high velocities - a blue-shift. The speed of the debris is found by finding the fractional decrease in the wavelength - in this case, the measured wavelength is 4.6% less than the laboratory wavelength. This means that the speed being observed is 4.6% of the speed of light. Therefore, the ejecta are traveling toward us at a speed of 14,000 km/sec! Measurements taken by other observers soon after the supernova was discovered found speeds as high as 20,000 km/sec, fast enough to cross the entire US from New York to Los Angeles in 1/4 sec!


    M42 - The Orion Nebula 

    Imaged at NSO by 
    the White Mountain School 
    astronomy class on 1/9/14


    This amazing mosaic of NGC7000, the North America Nebula, was imaged and processed by NKAF President Bill Vinton.

    The North American Nebula (NGC7000) is a very large (roughly 2 degrees - about 4 times the size of  the full moon), diffuse, emission nebula that is located in the constellation Cygnus, The Swan. This nebula is found near Deneb, the tail of the Swan, the brightest star in Cygnus, and one of the "Summer Triangle" of stars which also includes Vega and Altair. The red glow of the nebula is the result of a nearby star (perhaps Deneb) that energizes the hydrogen gas, resulting in the reemission much of the adsorbed energy at the hydrogen alpha wavelength. 

    This photomosaic consists of nine images of NGC7000 taken on August 18, 2013 with the Northern Skies Observatory 17" PlaneWave CDK reflector using its Apogee Alta U16M CCD camera. Each image is the result of three separate 300 second exposures, one each through Hydrogen Alpha, Oxygen III and Green filters. Each image was processed with ImageJ, with the final mosaic stitched together using the MosaicJ plug-in.

    One challenge in processing this mosaic was to adjust the brightness, contrast and color mix of each of the nine images so that they closely matched. For this first attempt, I elected to emphasize the Hydrogen alpha channel, which brings out the red nebulosity seen in the image. A Google Images search illustrates a wide variety of other filter and processing possibilities. In this case, my choices somewhat obscure the "North America" shape, but the "Gulf of Mexico," with the "Yucatan Peninsula" sticking up into it, is located just to the left of center. The intriguing features seen to left of the "Gulf" are known as "Cygnus's Wall" and is the most active region of new star formation in the nebula.

    NKAF is thrilled to be featured on 
    "The :30" on WCAX.  

    Thank you to anchor Kristin Carlson for her excellent interview.  Contact us if you would like a similar tour of NSO.

    Click the link below to watch the video. 


    Did you hear about NKAF on Vermont Public Radio (VPR) recently?

    Charlotte Albright visited the Observatory and reported on how we're helping students improve their STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills.

    Click the VPR link below to read/listen to the story.

    Take the tour of Northern Skies Observatory like Charlotte did at one of our Star Parties or Open House/Sun Parties. Dates are listed below in our Events section.