Saturday, June 25, 2016

#47 - Saturday, June 25, 2016

I started out with my C8 at the parking lot for that weekend’s Camper Stargaze, and I mostly had it on Mars and Saturn.  I got to show them to a lot of kids, which was awesome.  I figured out that the easiest way to get them to the eyepiece is to simply rotate the star diagonal downward, since I don’t have a step stool yet.  This seemed to work well, besides the shortest of kids.  It was decently dark that night; in fact, it eventually got dark enough that I could finally make out the Milky Way, first time this summer.  I also discovered that 1-star alignment on the NexStar mount really isn’t bad – it got me within a degree or two of the object I had it slew to.  Pretty impressive.  I did the one-star alignment because earlier in the evening, Jupiter was bright enough to see in twilight, but I wanted the telescope to track with it so I wouldn’t have to keep adjusting it, and luckily Arcturus is also very bright and was visible not long after Jupiter was.  And even with just the one-star alignment, tracking was quite good – a given planet stayed in the eyepiece for longer than at least 20 minutes, even at medium power.
At around 11 PM, I packed up the C8 and moved over the observatory, where I already had the C11 set up but not aligned.  So I got it aligned, but then it was just slightly too far off from north for me to polar align it.  So I nudged the tripod a bit – I was adjusting the mount anyway, right? – and the rest of the alignment procedure still went pretty smoothly.  So I finally started imaging the Trifid Nebula, which I’ve been dying to image!  However, it was coming out much dimmer than it had from the single shot I took on my C8 on Friday night.  I should have known – dew built up severely on the corrector plate while I was aligning. But I didn’t check until after I’d already gotten a bunch of images on the Trifid, and some on the Lagoon Nebula.  I cranked up the temperature on the dew heater, and one of the club members who was hanging out went inside and got a blow dryer, which cleared it up fast.  But it wasn’t long before it came back – my dew heater just couldn’t keep up.  I need to figure out how to get the dew shield to attach more tightly.  But I got a decent set on the Lagoon Nebula, and then also grabbed about 45 on M13 as a consolation prize.  Trifid will just have to wait until this weekend…
M8 Lagoon Nebula, Nikon D3100 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer
47x30s, ISO-3200
M13 globular cluster, Nikon D3100 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer
28x30s, ISO-3200

Also, my friend Anton bought me a year subscription to Photoshop and Lightroom.  So I’m learning how to use Photoshop at the moment.  I turned up the red on this Lagoon Nebula image, since my camera has an IR filter which blocks some of the red.

The oddly-shaped stars are mainly due to the dew, but also a bit due to not-perfect collimation.  This weekend, since I’ll stay set up and aligned the whole time, I’ll take my time collimating at twilight so I can have good collimation when it gets dark.

Speaking of this weekend, I have some new toys to try out!  So fellow club member Will is letting me try out his Orion ST-80 as a guide scope, which has a 400mm focal length.  He’s also letting me try his Meade DSI IIc as a guide CCD.  I’ve been scrambling the past week to get all the parts I need to attach it to my telescope, but the final things are arriving tomorrow and Thursday – the dovetail clamps I got on ADM only came in a set of one, so I ordered a second one, and one of the rings Will gave me is cross-threaded in the hole where it attaches to the clamp, so I ordered another set on Amazon for only $20 (they have nylon screws – later, I can get a set of replacement metal ones with rubber tips for only $30 on ADM if I’m having trouble with flexure).  I got the dovetail bar attached to my telescope tube, so that’s all done at least.  I’m hoping either I have enough room left on the counterweight bar to balance it, or that the club will have a spare counterweight I can borrow until Uncle Chris finds his second counterweight and sends it to me.  This set up provides a number of interesting possibilities to experiment with over this long 4th of July weekend.  First of all, of course, guiding – probably due to light pollution I’ll be limited to less than 5 minutes, but that’s still better than 30s and will allow me to get finer details.  (I also bought an intervalometer for my DSLR, since Nikon hasn’t released the SDK for the D3xxx series so no one can write software to control Live View or bulb mode).  I can also attach my DSLR to the ST-80 and do wide-field imaging on that.  I can also take off the guide scope and use one of the clamps as a piggyback attachment for my DSLR for super-wide-field tracked imaging, since it uses the same standard 1/4-20 connection.  Also, Miqaela is bringing her Borg apochromatic refractor from Randy, so I can attach that using the rings for the ST-80 and we can image on that, since that won’t have the chromatic aberration that the Orion will.  So, lots of stuff to do this weekend!  The weather is looking hit-and-miss, but not terrible, at least – partly cloudy and mostly clear nights all four nights, and little chance of rain the whole weekend.  I did also buy a thermal and waterproof cover on Amazon for the telescope, and I hope it fits.  At the worst, I can take off the counterweight and it’ll fit.

Friday, June 24, 2016

#46 - Friday, June 24, 2016 - Outreach + Imaging

I brought my C8 along to another outreach event at a county park, since it’s much easier to set up and better for planets.  The moon didn’t come up above the trees until after midnight, so we had some dark-enough skies to look at not only Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter, but also M51, M13, M82, and a few other things.  I taught the visitors about averted vision, which really is like twice as bright as looking at the object directly, it’s crazy.  The seeing was so-so; I mostly used the 13mm eyepiece, although I did throw the 8mm on there a few times.  I had a really good time showing people all of these things and giving some interesting information on what they were.  At the end of the night, I took some video of Mars, Saturn, and the Moon.  I did the moon imaging with the neutral density filter on the eyepiece, since the brighter part of the moon often gets washed out in my images.  It was still getting washed out; I should think about getting a lower-transmission filter sometime in the future.  I left it on for Mars too, since with the 25mm eyepiece even it’s so bright that I can’t see any details in the camera.  For Saturn, it’s too dim for eyepiece projection, even with the 25mm, so I used the Barlow instead, and it came out super fantastically awesome!
Saturn, cropped & blown up, Nikon D3100 on my C8, 2x Barlow
3,420 frames stacked, unknown ISO or shutter speed

You can see multiple cloud belts, the back of the rings, and the Cassini division!  Simply incredible.  It’s from a 5:48 video, and I accepted 3,420 frames.  Super awesome.  Mars came out so-so, and there was too much convection current in the atmosphere for the moon images to come out well, especially under high power.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

#45 - Sunday, June 19, 2016 - Galactic Cookies

I knew I shouldn’t have stayed up another night, but I just couldn’t resist.  The sky was clear, and I wanted to make up for Saturday night.  So I set up the C8 to see if the seeing was any good – it was!  I could resolve the bands of Jupiter with a 6mm eyepiece, which I dub to be “good seeing” around here.  Maybe someday, my standard will change, when I don’t live in Ohio anymore, but for now, that’s the standard.  So I set up the camera and was about to start shooting when my downstairs neighbor’s grandkids came out for a peak.  I showed them the trio – Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn.  They all looked fantastic.  They made me cookies – a Saturn and a galaxy.  It was awesome. 

I took some videos of the three under a few different eyepieces in the eyepiece projector tube – it’s the only way to do it without being able to change the ISO on my videos.  They’re too bright with just a Barlow.  The vibration is crazy at that magnification, so I took like 10-minute videos so that I could have enough still frames to stack.  I got a great one of Mars, and a reasonable one of Jupiter, but once again, Saturn is too dim for imaging with an eyepiece.  I’ll need to use the Barlow next time for that.  
Mars, Nikon D3100 on my C8, eyepiece projection through a 17mm eyepiece
Probably 2,000-3,000 frames from a 4m video
Jupiter, Nikon D3100 on my C8, eyepiece projection through a 13mm eyepiece
2,144 frames from a 5m23s video
[Note: You generally don't want to do videos this long of Jupiter, since it does spin rather fast.]

Jupiter is a tough one to edit the wavelets for in RegiStax.  Turn up the first slider (or really any of them) enough to get some detail, and you get this white ring around it.
Using a 17mm eyepiece.

It’s worse with less magnification, for some reason.  I asked our local professional John about it, and I think he said it can be fixed in Photoshop.  Hmm.  Maybe it won’t happen with a CCD.  And, unfortunately, the 13mm eyepiece makes the video dim enough that color information is lost, as can be easily seen above.  But wow, what a wondrous thing video stacking is.  Here is part of a single frame from the video that made the 13mm Jupiter image.

Crazy, right??  Like where does the detail even come from??  Optics is still magic to me.  So are computers.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

#44 - Saturday, June 18, 2016

I brought out my C8 to the state park for a stargaze that the astronomy club hosts for campers, since it’s perfect for looking at planets and is easy to set up.  However, the moon was high and bright, and there were some high clouds, so it didn’t get dark enough to see any stars until after 10 PM, and I still had to use Jupiter as one of the alignment “stars.”  However, despite this, seeing was decent (when the clouds weren’t over) and there were a lot of really happy campers (literally).  There were quite a few club members there, like 20.  It was really fun.  Our local astrophotography professional was there, whom I finally got to meet!  The clouds got worse, so we ended up closing up shop at about 11 or so.  The Clear Dark Sky forecast had predicted excellent weather that night, as had the other weather services, so it was too bad.  However, he invited me over to observatory afterwards to go over how he uses RegiStax for planets.  We were going to take data on my rig for it, but given the cloud situation, we used data he’d collected previously.  He showed me some settings that I hadn’t seen before and wouldn’t have been able to figure out, and I went back and re-stacked some of my videos on Monday with these changes and they did come out better.  He also recommended the QHY5L-II CCD as both a planetary imager and a guide scope.  He didn’t think an 80mm refractor was going to work as a guide scope for me, but we’ll see – club member Will is going to let me borrow his, and see if it works before I buy it from him.  The QHY5 is only $250.  With that, and on his C8 (and with some serious post-processing in Photoshop that I have not yet gotten very much into), he has produced some awesome planetary images!  

So the night ended up being a bust for getting any imaging done, but it was joyful to view the planets and share them with other people.  I also got lots of advice from various club members about what equipment to get next.

Friday, June 17, 2016

#43 - Friday, June 17, 2016

I should have known better than to go out when the moon was up and bright.  But alas, I went out anyway.  I had the bug.  I tried a few objects, but all were too dim to see behind the bright white light of the moon.  I imaged M101, but it came out rather dim and the background light was terrible.  I also imaged M81, but those came out terrible too.  I tried for a few others, but couldn’t really find them.  I also tried for the Blinking Planetary Nebula, which was quite bright, but too bright, actually, to see any of its detail.
Blinking Planetary Nebula, Nikon D3100 on my C11 without the focal reducer
14x30s, ISO-3200, no flat

It was so bright, in fact, that the image above was exactly how it came out of DSS – usually, those are too dark to see the actual object (that’s why the background is so dark).  I didn’t look at this one visually – I should have.  Next time.

I also tried to image some planets as a consolation prize (I was able to stay out late because it was a Friday night, and I stayed out till like 2 AM), but the C11 is terrible at planets, its aperture is too big.  Maybe I should get like an off-axis small aperture for it to decrease the amount of area for badly-bent light rays to enter, to put it in layman’s terms.  I couldn’t even really get them to focus in the eyepiece (the seeing was also probably bad).

Sunday, June 12, 2016

#42 - Sunday, June 12, 2016 - My New Minion

This is the first time I just left my telescope up for the next night, and it was awesome!  I waited till it got darkish, then turned it on, and it was already all aligned and ready to go.  I started imaging at 10:30, once it was dark enough.  It was fantastic.

I have a minion now – Miqaela hung out with me at our club's annual symposium and came to the star party that night, since her parents weren’t able to drive her out there.  She’s really interested in learning how to do astrophotography.  Club member Randy gave her a small Borg apochromatic refractor that he says is good for photography (once we figure out how to attach a camera to it and she gets it attached to her NexStar 130 SLT computerized mount), so we put that on her binocular tripod and looked at the moon so she could figure out how to focus it.  She brought a neighbor’s quasi-DSLR, a Canon hybrid that has manual mode but not a removable lens.  I told her the removable lens was key so that she could plug it into her telescope.  She doesn’t want to spend more than like $150 on one, so I’m going to have to convince her that that’s not going to work.  Once the sun was down and it was dark, I had her slew my telescope to Jupiter after showing her how to plug it in, and she took some single frames of Jupiter.  It was too bright for just the Barlow, so I had her take some wide field shots instead, and then I put on the eyepiece projector.  She took single shots of Jupiter and Mars.  I took a Saturn video with the 25mm eyepiece in the projection tube, which turned out decently well for the 11-inch, which I always have trouble focusing on planets.
Saturn, Nikon D3100 on my C11
Eyepiece projection with a 25 mm eyepiece
Unknown number of frames from a 4m13s video

After the planets, I had her slew to the Ring Nebula, and we did 20x30s images on that, and I showed her how to focus the telescope on a nearby star.  It’s her favorite nebula, and it looks especially bright in the camera.  Even the subs are perfectly good images on their own.  I just did that one recently, so I didn’t stack it again today, but she’s coming over for dinner tonight (Monday) so I can show her how to stack.  I’ll teach her DSS first, and then how to stack video frames later, since the software takes slightly more setup (a special h.264 codec is needed in addition to RegiStax, and I have to find the tutorial for how to do that again). 
After Miqaela left at around 11:15, I slewed to M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy, to image.  While the sky was quite clear, there was a lot of skyglow, and the moon was pretty bright, so I needed a bright object.  I got about 20 images in, and then Bob said he got his new guide scope working with a borrowed guiding CCD.  I asked if I could try a long-exposure image on it, and he said sure.  He currently had M92 in the view, a globular cluster, so I decided just to do that.  I ran into a few problems – first, I had to focus my camera, and Vega turned out to be too bright to focus on in his huge 14-inch SCT and was blooming, so my first 2-minute image was out of focus.  So we tried again using the Bahtinov mask, and I still wasn’t quite there, but close.  Then we also had trouble getting it into the small view of my camera’s viewfinder.  It took a while to track down, but we got it.  I also did a 5-minute image, but my camera mysteriously closed and re-opened the shutter and random intervals throughout, so I only got a 120-second image as the longest.  I’m not sure what was up with that.
M92 globular cluster, Nikon D3100 on a borrowed 14-inch SCT, Edge HD
Single frame, 120s, ISO-1600
He showed me how the guiding works and how easy it is to set up – using a program called PHD (Push Here, Dummy) – and told me about how you either do PEC (periodic error correction, maps the imperfections in the gears and counteracts them) or guiding but not both, and other stuff.  I think I’m ready to buy one!  Can’t wait!  I also got a suggestion as to why my stars might be perpetually skewed even though collimation is good – flex in the camera attachment to the telescope.  Bob said I should look into a threaded adapter that attaches the t-ring on my camera directly to the telescope, rather than through an eyepiece barrel like the t-adapter I currently have, that’s held on my friction screws.  So lots of things to try out.
After testing guiding on Bob’s telescope, I plugged the camera back into my scope, and took another thirty images of M51 before deciding I really ought to pack up and go home.  Which was unfortunate, since the sky was very clear, and would get nice and dark once the moon set at 2 AM.  But alas, duty calls.  So while Bob and the other person camped out, I went home.  I processed Saturn and M51 this morning.  M51 turned out great, and it’s even better than that first awesome one I got!  Having better flats helps.
M51 Whirlpool Galaxy, Nikon D3100 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer
39x30s, ISO-3200
Colors came out great, and the flats were almost even (the still-wrong corrections are more apparent in less-well-edited images).  Stars were rather point-like, drift was minimal.  Fun times!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

#41 - Saturday, June 11, 2016

Earlier in the week, the forecast was promising severe thunderstorms on Saturday.  Then, on Friday morning, the forecast changed – the storms would be on Friday, and clear weather on Saturday!  ClearDarkSky showed a fantastic forecast.  There were a lot of people out at the observatory, and several telescopes and binoculars set up.  However, the skies remained covered with high clouds in patches, and then eventually a thick blanket of clouds toward 1 AM.  So the night ended up being a bust.  I took a few images of M51, but it quickly became covered in clouds.  I was going to camp out in my tent and image all night, but around 1:30 AM I decided to call it and went home to sleep, since no imaging was going to be happening at night.  Since two other club members were going to camp the whole weekend, I left my telescope up and put it in Hibernate mode and covered it with a thermal blanket from Bob, and even left my tent up, and went home.  The weather was looking hopeful for Sunday night.  I did also put the Oberwerk binoculars I won recently at an astronomy event onto club member & friend Miqaela's tripod, which wasn’t quite beefy enough to hold them up, but I was able to look at the moon for a bit. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

#40 - Wednesday, June 8, 2016

I was going out to the observatory already to help cut the grass,, so I decided to bring the telescope out with me since the weather was looking promising.  I decided to image a part of Markarian’s Chain, a string of galaxies in the Virgo Cluster (how have I not come across this before??) and a planetary nebula known as the Owl Nebula (M97).  The telescope was on point with goto and tracking; both were working fantastically well.  
Markarian's Chain, Nikon D3100 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer.
42x30s, ISO-3200

The Owl Nebula turned out a little grainy; I think it’s one of those ones that is brighter visually than in the camera.  Many things are the other way around.
M97 Owl Nebula, Nikon D3100 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer
37x30s, ISO-3200

Since we were done with the maintenance before sundown, I went ahead and got set up in the dirt parking lot outside the gate and took another set of flats using the sky.  These seem to be working much better.  I also grabbed some single shots of the moon before it set, including while it was still daylight, because I wanted to see how that would look.  It was a crescent moon, so once it got a bit darker, I snagged a picture of the earthshine just before it slipped too far behind the trees.  There are some tree branches in the shot, but it’s really neat!

Moon, Nikon D3100 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer
Single frame, 1s, ISO-800

I’ve always wanted to capture this shot.  If only it wasn’t behind the trees.  So cool!
After it got dark, almost as beautiful as the field of stars was the symphony of fireflies.  There were a ton of them in the trees that rim the field next to the parking lot.  I tried to take a few long-exposure pictures to capture them, but it just didn’t do it justice.
Fireflies at the state park.
Nikon D3100, 18mm @ f/3.5, 30s, ISO-1600

I did get some decent Milky Way pictures, although it’s still low in the sky and rather dim.
Milky Way and possibly a meteor at the state park
Nikon D3100, 18mm @ f/3.5, 30s, ISO-1600

All in all, a good night!