Monday, May 30, 2016

#39 - Monday, May 30, 2016 - That One Time I Almost Discovered a Supernova

Two of the club members were camping out at the observatory, so I could stay as late as I wanted.  I’d’ve camped too, if I didn’t have to be at work the next day.  I stayed until about 12:30 AM, and didn’t get out of there until about 1 AM.  The sky didn’t look especially dark, but I could see quite a few stars.  There were some high clouds, but the humidity was low-ish.  I started imaging on M65 and 66, but high clouds soon obscured it.  One of the club memebrs, Bob, had his massive 14-inch set up, and he had it pointed at the Ring Nebula, a planetary nebula, at one point, and it was much larger than I thought!  So I aimed over there next, and took some images on that for a while.  Goto was excellent, but tracking not as good, this time around.  I had to toss a lot of the images, both from drift and high clouds passing through.  I also snagged a few images on the Dumbbell Nebula, which I hadn’t realized was up yet.  Both of the nebulae came out great; M65&66 are going to need a lot more data, and a better set of flats, however.
M65 & M66 (two of the Leo Triplet), Nikon D3100 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer
17x30s, ISO-3200
I also tried stacking these ones together with the set I took back in April, which resulted in a 33x30s image, but it wasn’t much better.  I’d like to do like 70+.  We shall see.
(Note from June 6, 2016): I learned later than M66 had a supernova that was first discovered on Friday the 27th, and I can see it when my image from April and the one from May are compared!
I have imaged a supernova! (End note)

The color came out great on the Ring Nebula; even the subs look great.  Stacked (and in some of the subs), you can clearly see the central star, which is apparently a magnitude +15.75.  You can also see the red shock front. 
M57 Ring Nebula, Nikon D3100, C11 with f/6.3 focal reducer
26x30s, ISO-3200

In all my images from this evening, the stars look slightly chevron-shaped; this looks like a collimation problem, but I had very nice symmetrical donuts.  Fellow club member Bob said that sometimes heat and cause this, or a slight cant in the camera.  So I’m not sure what’s up with that.

The Dumbbell Nebula one came out great too – you can see both the apple core shape and the orthogonal football shape, as well as the red shock front.  Also, what a star field as a setting!  More stars came out in post-processing in GIMP when I played with the light curves.  Check out this comparison between my first attempt last October and now.  I didn’t keep track of the DSS stacking stats back then, but I only gave it 9 raw images.  Pretty awesome difference.

Of course, I’m also better at the image processing bit now, especially with the light curves tool in GIMP.

Soon, I will need to get a guide scope.  But then, I’ll need even more time to set it up – so I’ll have to only use the whole setup on Friday and Saturday nights when I can stay out really late.  On the other hand, I’ll be able to get enough images for processing faster, since I’ll lose far fewer to drift.  And, I can start playing around with longer-exposure images.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

#38 - Tuesday, May 24, 2016

It was clear again on Tuesday night, so I set up the 8-inch in the front yard again.  The seeing wasn’t as good though, so my video stacks didn’t turn out quite as well. 

I also had video of Saturn, which is up but dim, but my camera memory card malfunctioned and I lost them.  I also lost about 15 M82 images.  But I got most of the other videos copied over beforehand, thank goodness.  This is also why I use my tablet and back up images as I take them, including darks and biases – this is the second time this card has done that.  It decides that it’s no longer formatted properly. 

All in all, great night, fantastic conditions!  Really truly amazing.  I showed some views of the planets to my downstairs neighbors. The husband had done some amateur astronomy with a smaller scope when he was younger, and knew a lot of stuff.  The view last night though, especially with my telescope, was better than he’d ever seen.  It was awesome to show Jupiter and Mars to them.  I didn’t realize Saturn was up until after they’d gone back inside, unfortunately.
Jupiter, Nikon D3100 on my C8 - no acquisition notes, unfortunately.

The Moon didn’t come up until after 11:30 PM, so I decided to try another DSO, the Sombrero Galaxy, with the sky glow filter.  It came out okay, but a lot of the natural yellow was also filtered out by the filter.
M104 Sombrero Galaxy from my front yard, Nikon D3100 on my C8 with the f/6.3 focal reducer
ISO-3200, 21x20s

Since it was in the northern sky, drift was even worse than normal, so of the 82 pictures I took, only 23 passed my standard, and DSS took 21 of those.  So not a lot of light on it.  But, it goes to show that I can kind of do stuff still with the 8-inch even from my front yard under the right conditions.  Plus, people sometimes stop by to see what I’m up to, which is fun.  Although, three nights in a row was killer.  I was in super sleep-debt by the end of the week.

Monday, May 23, 2016

#37 - Monday, May 23, 2016 - Have Excellent Seeing, Will Image Planets

HOLY SWEET GOODNESS last night was insanely clear!  One of the few times I’ve seen ClearDarkSky rate conditions as “excellent.”  I didn’t go out to the state park because I didn’t want to stay out late again, so I set up the 8-inch in the front yard to try and take some pictures of Jupiter and Mars.  They were so clear that for Jupiter, I put on my highest magnification eyepiece – 6mm – and could still resolve the image.  It was crazy!  So I put the 13mm eyepiece into the eyepiece projection tube and took images of Jupiter and Mars with it.  I was able to see some large surface detail on Mars, which was still relatively fuzzy, but Jupiter came out amazing.  Also, the Great Red Spot showed its face!  I don’t think I’ve actually seen it before.  
Jupiter and the Great Red Spot, Nikon D3100 on my C8, 13mm eyepiece projection.
3,747 frames, unsure of ISO and shutter speed, from 3m1s video
Sooooo much better!  It was truly mindblowing to see, and to watch my camera take the video.  I could hardly contain myself.  (I did jump up and down a little bit). 

And Mars:
Mars, Nikon D3100 on my C8, 13mm eyepiece projection.
From either a 2m or 3m video, unsure of ISO and shutter speed.

So awesome!  The high magnification of the eyepiece automatically darkens the image, so I didn’t have any ISO problems.  These came out spectacularly.  I’ll tell you what though, it was hard finding the planets with the eyepiece projector attached, since the FOV is so small.  I would put the star diagonal and 25mm eyepiece back on and center it as perfectly as I could, then put the 6mm eyepiece in and center it, and then attach the camera without the star diagonal and still have to hunt around a bit and take out the slack in the gear so it would stay in view.  It took some real effort. 
            Since the conditions were so good, and the moon didn’t come up till after 11:45, and I was still outside, I decided to try a DSO.  The moon was in the southeast, so I picked an object more northerly, and one not blocked by the apartments or the nearby tree, and one that was bright: M82, the Cigar Galaxy.  There’s a lot of background city light in it, but using the light curve editing in GIMP I was mostly able to eliminate it.  I should try the skyglow filter next time.
M82 Cigar Galaxy, Nikon D3100 on my C8, f/6.3 focal reducer from my light-polluted (red zone) front yard. 
44x20s, ISO-3200
[The darkness of the sky was from me cutting out all of the background light in GIMP - this also loses detail on the DSO.]

Really not bad for my front yard!  The focal reducer makes a big difference for reducing the appearance of drift and increasing the amount of light gathered.  I was able to keep some 85% of the subs, and there weren’t any egregiously terrible ones, despite the fact that goto was not amazing and I was fighting drift with the planets.  This opens up a whole new era.  And I can see a lot of the southern, eastern, and northern sky from my front yard.  

Sunday, May 22, 2016

#36 - Sunday, May 22, 2016

Finally made it out again, first time in almost exactly a month – the sky was clear, but the seeing was terrible, the moon was full, and goto wasn’t working very well.  Alignment seemed to go just fine, but goto wouldn’t even have the star or object in the view most of the time.  I was going to try and image some brighter DSO, but I couldn’t find any.  I took videos of Jupiter and Mars, but they turned out terrible.  I couldn’t get eyepiece projection to focus, even with just a 25mm eyepiece (I was going to try the 32, but it doesn’t fit in the tube).  So I put the camera on the 2x Barlow instead with no eyepiece, and it still couldn’t quite focus.  I’m still unable to set the ISO apparently for the video – I’ll have to do some further research.  Mars was definitely too bright, and they were both not quite in focus.  I did check collimation beforehand.  So the trip was kind of a bust.   Mars was at opposition, and I’m going to try again tonight with much better seeing conditions with the 8-inch in my front yard.

Friday, May 13, 2016

#35 - Friday, May 13, 2016 - Accidentally Awesome Lunar Images

I got back from a middle school musical I was volunteering in the orchestra pit for (playing cello) after 9 PM, and the cloud forecast was sketchy, so I decided not to go all the way out to the state park with the big scope.  I noticed though that Jupiter and the Moon were both nice and high, and the moon was at first quarter, so I decided to set up the 8-inch on the front sidewalk.  I decided to try out eyepiece projection as well.  I put the 25mm eyepiece into the tele-extender, and it got me a nice close-up view of the Moon.  However, the length of the extender makes the camera very unstable, so closing the shutter makes all of the images blurred, and I can’t figure out how to use mirror lock-up on my camera.  [Neither my D3100 nor my D5300 support mirror lock-up for anything other cleaning the sensor].  So I took a few videos instead of different parts of the moon and stacked them in RegiStax. They came out great!  It couldn’t make it stable across the whole image, but they still came out quite well.  One of the astronomy club members pointed out to me on Facebook that I had captured an image of the Lunar X, a feature I hadn’t heard of before – for a few hours during the first quarter, the shadows on some of the craters make an X.  There is also a V nearby, but I didn’t have my camera looking at the right spot for it in any of the four videos I took.
The "Lunar X" feature!  Taken with my Nikon D3100 on my C8, using eyepiece projection through a 25mm eyepiece.
2,936 frames from a 2m2s video, unsure of the ISO and shutter speed.
Another part of the moon. Nikon D3100 on my C8, eyepiece projection through a 25mm eyepiece.
3,344 frames from a 2m19s video, unsure of the ISO and shutter speed.

I had been wondering for a long time how some of the club members got such great close-ups of the moon because my attempts always turned out fuzzy, until I learned about RegiStax.  Even all of the individual frames on the videos look pretty bad.  
            I also tried some eyepiece projection for Jupiter, but just wasn’t getting much.  And I can’t control the amount of light that the video takes (the ISO) – or, at least, I don’t think I can.  I’ll have to play around with it.  You can’t see the moons because I took off the focal reducer so I could get a smaller FOV.  (In fact, in the image from trip 34, I actually combined the moons from a stack with increased brightness that made Jupiter too bright, but the moons visible, with one with decreased brightness where you could see Jupiter better).
Jupiter, Nikon D3100 on my C8, eyepiece projection through a 25mm eyepiece.
Unsure on the number of frames that were used, as well as ISO and shutter speed of the video.

While I was imaging, three people came by throughout the evening who were curious, so I disconnected the camera and plugged in an eyepiece and showed them Jupiter and the moon.  I love sharing these amazing things with other people.  It’s fantastic!

Friday, May 6, 2016

#34 - Friday, May 6, 2016 - Outreach!

[In addition to going out and taking images, I also do a lot of outreach.]

I brought the 8-inch out to the Girl Scout Camporee and set it up on Friday night, which was completely clear and the seeing was great.  It seems so small and simple now in comparison to the 11-inch!  I aimed it at Jupiter, and several groups of Brownies and Juniors came through to look.  It was really fun!  I think a lot of them had never looked through a telescope before.  After all of the younger girls went through, the girls from the 8th grade troop I was camping with and I looked at two other targets – M13, the Hercules Cluster, and M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy.  They were both pretty dim, but you could see the cluster of stars that is M13 as a dim bluish blob, and you could see the two yellowish blobs of M51 and some of the surrounding fuzz around each.  I had my tablet and showed the girls (and also many of the girls and parents who came through earlier) what it looked like when images were taken and stacked.  Before packing up, I attached my camera to show the girls how I do that, and I took a 5-minute video of Jupiter to try and stack using RegiStax.  After messing around with codecs and finally just converting the video into some 8,000 individual frame images, I did finally get it to stack, and the result wasn’t quite as good as I was hoping, but it was still pretty neat.  It did sharpen it up a bit.  But there is some color distortion on the edges that gets sharpened weirdly when I adjusted the wavelets.  Hopefully it won’t be as severe with the 11-inch without the star diagonal.  I’ll have to experiment.  I did also use the 2x Barlow – if I use eyepiece projection, it might make it better, since Plossl eyepieces are supposed to be nearly aberration-free.  It might not be for a while though – weather’s going to suck all week, and it might be clear Friday, but I have another commitment that night.
Jupiter, Nikon D3100 on my C8
Some 8,000 frames from a video, unknown ISO and shutter speed