Monday, February 29, 2016

#25 - Monday, February 29, 2016 - All alone at the observatory

No one was at the observatory (it was a weekday night), so we set up in the grass again. [One must be a member of the club for six months before you can get a key, so I continued to set up in a grassy spot not far from the gate for the next six months when no keyholders were present.]

The night was ultimately unsuccessful. First, we had great difficulty balancing the tripod on the damp ground, since it would shift as we added equipment to the tripod. Through much frustrating effort, we finally got it to stay level. Second, the polar alignment procedure that the manual describes, the procedure that the hand controller walks you through, and the procedure that makes logical sense are all different from each other. I finally called Uncle Chris, who recommended I have it go to the home position, then use the allen wrenches to align Polaris in the eyepiece, and then do a two-star alignment, then the hand controller’s polar align, and then another two-star alignment with calibration stars. However, I didn’t get that far – I got Polaris perfect in the eyepiece, but when the telescope slewed to any star I gave it as the first alignment star – Sirius, Rigel, Capella, Procyon, Pollux – it was waaaay off in declination. Like, 20-30 degrees. I tried multiple times, with different stars, power cycling in between – no good. I finally gave up after nearly three hours. I’ll upgrade the firmware before my next trip out. The next trip will likely be solo, however, so that will present some new challenges as well.

Also, I purchased a Bahtinov mask so I can focus the camera more accurately and more easily, as well as a longer heater strip, since the one Anton got me for the 8-inch is too short.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

#24 - Saturday, February 27, 2016 - Meeting other star-nerds

I figured since it was clear and it was a Saturday night that there would be club members at the observatory, and I was right! They stayed till 11, and helped me out a bit. I had some considerable trouble this evening. The finderscope was out of alignment after trying to align it after not having it installed on the scope quite all the way, and it was hard to get it on a star during alignment so that I could align the finderscope! But we eventually did get it figured out. Also, I finally figured out where the azimuth screw is (after asking for help) so I can do polar alignment the right way this time. Well, I still messed it up – it slewed to Polaris all right after a two-star alignment, but it wasn’t in the “home” position, so the rest of my alignments after that were terrible. It was off by several degrees. I also couldn’t quite get the tripod level. I did, however, buy a new tripod leg bolt (since the handle on one of them was broken, requiring a vise grip to turn). I’m slowly getting this figured out. Anyway, the alignment was so bad that I couldn’t even take a 5-second photo without drift. But by that point, we’d already been messing with it for two hours, so I gave up and just took some pictures of the Orion Nebula anyway. I stacked them (had to use super-pixel mode to get DSS to recognize those line-ish points as stars, and 2x drizzle to counteract the image-shrinking that happens from super pixel), and it turned out rather terrible (I also didn’t have Anton stand far enough away with the light source while taking the flats, so the flats turned out terrible). I’m still hoping to catch Andromeda before it starts setting too early. Unfortunately, Daylight Saving Time is coming up soon, which will give me even less time, since it will be getting dark at a later hour.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

#23 - Saturday, February 13, 2016 - First light on the new telescope

So I got the telescope from my Uncle Chris, and practiced setting it up in the living room on Thursday night.  Uncle Chris also sent a bunch of accessories I don’t need to buy now – a skyglow filter, a tele-extender for eyepiece projection into my camera, and most importantly, a f/6.3 focal reducer!  The effect of the focal reducer is twofold: it reduces the effective f/ratio of the telescope, which will allow me to take shorter exposures and get the same amount of light as longer ones (on top of the higher light-gathering power that an additional 3 inches of aperture gets me now), and will also increase the field of view, which will be especially great for the Moon, the Orion Nebula, and other large objects. 

So my friend Jared and I took it out to the state park, I figured out how to align and polar align it, and then I aimed it at the Orion Nebula.  With just a single 5-second image, I got a decent amount of light!  But the stars were kind of oddly shaped, so I tried collimating it.  I couldn't quite figure out how to do it, so I didn’t get any more images that night.  Also, the moon was almost full, and high in the sky.  But look at that FOV!

First light on my new 11-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain!
M42 Orion Nebula, 5s, ISO-3200

Let’s hope another clear night comes soon now!

[Okay I know this is really underwhelming...keep reading!]

Saturday, February 6, 2016

#22 - Saturday, February 6, 2016 - I Have the Best Uncle Ever

[Well, at long last, I finally joined the local astronomy club!]
I went to a potluck at this observatory that's hidden back in the trees at the state park, my first event with local astronomy club, which I’ve recently joined.  What a great group of people!  The yard out front of the observatory is surrounded by trees, but they’re not *too* high.  The main advantage is being able to hang out in the “warm room” and eat snacks and talk to people while imaging is going.  I just went out every 20 minutes to check on the drift and adjust accordingly.  I had a blast.  I decided to go for Andromeda again.   It still didn’t turn out very well.  I got 91 good frames for a total of 30m (I let DSS choose the best 90%), but only at ISO-3200 (should have done 6400). [Note: Don't do ISO-6400, it adds too much noise!]  Andromeda #6:

M31 Andromeda Galaxy, Nikon D3100 on my C8.
91x20s, ISO-3200

While there, I got a Facebook message from my Uncle Chris.  [I'll spare you] the full details and ecstatic emotion, but basically he said he was going to give me his current telescope, which replacing with the $10,000 Meade LX850!  It’s the Celestron CGE1100, which is a computerized German equatorial mount (CGEM) and 11” Schmidt-Cassegrain f/10 telescope!  I smile a lot, but haven’t smiled quite that big in a while.  Anyways, my astrophotos are about to step into the big leagues!  Get ready, world!  

Monday, February 1, 2016

#21 - Monday, February 1, 2016

Jupiter is finally up early enough in the evening to check out!  Wow, what a neat sight!  I couldn’t get a good shot of both Jupiter and its moons, since Jupiter is so bright, so I combined two images (very roughly) at different shutter speeds and meters so you could see both at the same time.
Jupiter and its four Galilean moons; two single images combined.
Nikon D3100 on my C8
Jupiter: 1/25s, ISO-400
Moons: 1/13s, ISO-3200

At some point, I’ll have to get some kind of barrel extender so I can connect my camera on top of my eyepieces so that I can get larger magnification on planets.  But yeah, there it is!
I decided to take another whack at Andromeda (attempt #5).  I got about 50 good frames, 20” long at ISO-6400, but again, I think I just need a lot more data, or something.  You can see some of the dust lanes, but it’s still not great.

M31 Andromeda Galaxy, Nikon D3100 on C8
50x20s, ISO-6400

Especially at ISO-6400, it’s grainy as heck.
Also, of course, more Orion.  Got about 50 frames there too, at 20” apiece and ISO-6400.  The high ISO made the final quite grainy, however.
M42 Orion Nebula, Nikon D3100 on C8.
51x50s, ISO-6400