Saturday, September 24, 2016

#61 - Saturday, September 24, 2016 - The Camera Sees What the Eye Cannot

Alignment went smoothly, after I re-attached the cable holders that got pushed off of the Styrofoam in the box that hold the Ethernet cables from the electronics pier to the mount – it was having some difficulty finding the switch position due to bad connections.  (RA wasn’t moving, and then RA was over-driving).  However, PHD would not talk to ASCOM, so it wouldn’t talk to my mount nor my QHY5.  I had a sneaking suspicion that this was caused by a recent Windows update, so I rolled back the update, and sure enough, PHD worked again.  (For the record, FireCapture worked just fine the whole time).  So I guess I won’t be updating my tablet for a while…So that lost me some time.   I finally started imaging around 10:30 PM.  I’d already gotten out there a half hour later than I wanted to, so I was rushing to get started.  The first object I did was the Helix Nebula – one that has long eluded me.  I’ve never seen even a hint of it at 30s or visually.  But a 5-minute exposure finally revealed it.  I took 15 of them, got 12 usable ones, and the stack came out great!  I also used the SkyGlow filter again.

Helix Nebula, Nikon D5300 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer, Orion Skyglow filter
Guiding: QHY5 on my Orion ST-80
12x300s, ISO-3200

After Helix, I moved up to the Crescent Nebula, and after losing a few frames because I forgot to turn guiding back on after I did Precise GoTo, I took another 15 images on the Crescent Nebula.  I still wasn’t able to get any of the detail on the interior part, but you can see the bottom of the arc better with 5-minute subs.  I got 7 usable ones; guiding got unstable as time went on.  This was also taken with the SkyGlow filter.  It was pretty high altitude, which may have been why guiding was a little iffy.

Crescent Nebula, Nikon D5300 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer, Orion Skyglow filter
Guiding: QHY5 on my Orion ST-80
7x300s, ISO-3200

Overall, things went well.  I left at 2 AM because I had church to get to on Sunday morning, but I left it set up to return on Sunday night.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

#60 - Tuesday, September 20, 2016 - March of the Planets

Saturn is slowly descending into the west, and I’m still trying to capture it.  Since the sun is setting a little earlier these days (~7:40 PM), I decided to put the C8 in the car and drive the short distance to a spot I’ve had my eye on for a while – a little empty cul-de-sac just up the road.  It’s got a fantastic view of the western horizon, and the other directions are pretty good too.  It’s only useful for planets, though – there is too much light pollution around here, unless I shoot in narrowband or something.  I used my DSLR first, since it’s easier to set up.  The seeing was supposed to be 4/5, and it was, for like the first 45 minutes or so until Saturn started into get into the mushy part of the atmosphere.  I remembered after the first video that I can change my settings now – shutter speed and ISO – so I upped the ISO for the subsequent videos, but it was already getting pretty mushy.  Mars was higher, and it’s currently in the retrograde part of its motion, but it’s only 86% illuminated and it’s gotten pretty far away from us, so there wasn’t much to see there either, even with eyepiece projection.  Now that I can bump up the ISO though on my DSLR, I was able to image Saturn using eyepiece projection for the first time.  It didn’t come out that great, but it’s a proof-of-concept.  I also imaged Uranus and Neptune for the first time, stacking a couple 15s frames.  I looked at Uranus visually, and sure enough, there it was!  So cool to see.  It does indeed have a bluish tinge, and it’s bigger than a star.  I didn’t look at Neptune visually though, since I already had my camera set up on it for Uranus.

I also hooked up the QHY5, but by that point Saturn was all mushy, so the RGB videos didn’t come out that well. I’ll try stacking them when I feel like it.
Saturn, Nikon D5300 on my C8, no focal reducer, no filters, 2x Barlow
10,607 frames, ISO-3200? 1/60s frames

[The Mars image turned out rather terribly. I mean, it's not even worth posting to show how bad it is.]

Uranus, Nikon D5300 on my C8, I think without the Barlow
7x20s, ISO-6400, no darks, biases, flats

Neptune, Nikon D5300 on my C8, I think without the Barlow
4x20s, ISO-6400

Sunday, September 4, 2016

#59 - Sunday, September 4, 2016 - A Most Excellent Long Weekend

Thanks to the Labor Day weekend, I had Monday off as well as Friday, so this was my fourth night in a row of astronomy.  The weather was insanely good – absolutely clear skies the entire weekend, not a cloud in sight.  The seeing was great on Friday and Saturday nights, and not too shabby the other nights.  It wasn’t quite as muggy as normal.  It was in the 60s at night, and 80s during the day.  We really couldn’t have asked for a better possible Labor Day weekend.  The sky owes it to me for a terrible rest of the summer!  I’ve barely been out at all!

Before I left to go take care of my friend's cat and to process my pictures, someone pulled out the club’s solar scope (I didn’t know we had one!) and got it set up.  I tried to attach my DSLR to it, but it’s a little 80mm Lunt, and it didn’t have enough in-travel to focus.  So instead, I grabbed my smartphone adapter, and spent several minutes messing around with it until I finally got it in view and in focus.  I took several videos, as well as some still frames.  Unfortunately, all you can make out is some of the larger prominences, and none of the surface detail, to include the sun spots.  I’m told that the club has some DMK cameras I can borrow that are perfect for the sun, so I’ll have to try that next time I’m out there during the day.

The sun in H-alpha, Samsung Galaxy S7, on my club's Lunt 80mm solar telescope
f/1.7, 1,1000s, ISO-80
I tried again in the evening, but just as I got my cell phone set up, the sun dipped behind the tallest tree branches.  But I saw an opportunity, and took it…
The sun in H-alpha, Samsung Galaxy S7, on my club's Lunt 80mm solar telescope
f/1.7, 1/500s, ISO-320
Now I have the most rad Halloween desktop ever!
As the sun was sinking, another interesting phenomenon happened – a very long sky-shadow cast by the sun!

I’m not even sure what to Google to figure this one out…

Also, the crescent moon was up, so I took some DSLR video.  Surprise surprise, I can actually set manual video settings now, like shutter speed and ISO!  This is going to be a huge help with planetary.  Maybe now I can get something useful of Mars, or Saturn through an eyepiece with a higher ISO.
Moon, Nikon D5300 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer
10,274 frames stacked
Unknown ISO & shutter speed [I didn't realize at the time that that information is not in the metadata for video files.]
My first target of the night was the Dumbbell Nebula, since Miqaela was imaging it too on her finally-assembled astrophotography rig!  She wasn’t having much luck with her DSLR though, so she decided to try out the ZWO guide camera that John Chumack gave her.  I took some 5-minute subs on my rig, and HOLY COW did they turn out great!  In fact, they were so good, the stack turned out bad – it was over-exposed, something I did not know was even possible in astrophotography!  So I ‘stacked’ a single frame in DSS so I could do dark, bias, and flat processing.  Here are the two compared:
M27 Dumbbell Nebula, Nikon D5300 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer, Orion Skyglow filter
Guiding: QHY5 on my Orion ST-80
1x300s, ISO-3200

8x300s, ISO-3200

The colors got weird, and you can’t see the red X hardly at all, nor the dumbbell part.  The single frame is much better.  This one is definitely the winner of the weekend!
I was going to try imaging the Dumbbell with my QHY5 and filters to see how it’d do on a DSO, but FireCapture decided to stop talking to it (after it finally started working for Miqaela, of course, even though it had just been working on mine the previous night), so I put the DSLR back on and went to the Bubble and got more images.  I did only 5-minute subs instead of 10.  However, guiding wasn’t spectacular, so DSS will still only stack two, which turns out pretty noisy.
I set up SGP (Sequence Generator Pro) again, and figured out how to make it take raws, yay!  I put the ISO-3200, 300s darks first, since most of my images were at those settings.  I’ll have to get the rest, though, the next time it’s 65 degrees out, because the battery died again partway through.
Overall, it was truly a spectacular weekend.  I got guiding working, which was a huge win, and the weather couldn’t have been better (unless if it were dry, of course.  That would’ve been truly the best.  Thank goodness for dew heaters!)  I got a TON of images, and I’ve still got some processing yet to do.  Once I do a few more trips with this configuration, I’ll be ready to try something new – Phil Winchell has offered to let me use his SBIG ST-8300 anytime I wish, which is a really nice CCD camera.  I can’t wait!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

#58 - Saturday, September 3, 2016

It was Members Night, and there were tons of people there!  Including some potential new members.  Lots of yummy food (picnic theme).  Lots of scopes set up.   In the morning, club member Jim set up his refractor with a Mylar solar filter and a H-alpha filter, and I got my first look at the sun!  It was amazing.  I could see the prominences, a few sun spots, even the granularity!  It was awesome.  There was one time in third grade, at my second Girl Scout Day Camp in 2000 when the theme was space, that someone had a solar scope out at the camp.  I was at the back of the line, though, and I didn’t get to look through it.  Well, sixteen years later, I finally got my chance!  I need to image it at some point.

My first target of the evening was the Trifid Nebula, M20 – I want to get those summertime Milky Way nebulae before they start setting too early.  I was able to do 3-minute long images on it, so awesome! 
M20 Trifid Nebula, Nikon D5300 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer, Orion Skyglow filter
Guiding: QHY5 on my Orion ST-80
8x180s, ISO-1600, no dark (forgot)
[As you can see, I wasn't very good for correcting out the blue tinge from the light pollution filter yet.]

Next, I did the Eagle Nebula again, and did 5-minute images.  It looked awesome!  
 M16 Eagle Nebula, Nikon D5300 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer, Orion Skyglow filter
Guiding: QHY5 on my Orion ST-80
8x300s, ISO-3200

Next, I went back to the Bubble Nebula.  The minimum time I need to even see it a little bit is like a minute or two.  I did 10-minute exposures!  However, I guess my guiding rig isn’t quite optimized yet – most of my 10-minute exposures had drift.  Here’s a single frame though:
Bubble Nebula, Nikon D5300 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer, Orion Skyglow filter
Guiding: QHY5 on my Orion ST-80
Single frame, unprocessed; 600s, ISO-1600

From there, I decided I needed to get some galaxy photos – I haven’t done one in a while.  I had the Deer Lick Group on my list, centered on NGC 7331, so that was my next stop.  It’s a cool-looking galaxy, and I can just see five other galaxies in the frame.  There is a trio of larger (smaller than 7331 but larger than the other five), more interesting galaxies down and to the right of where I had my frame centered, so I’ll try for those next time.
Deer Lick Cluster (centered on NGC 7331), Nikon D5300 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer, Orion Skyglow filter
Guiding: QHY5 on my Orion ST-80
8x300s, ISO-3200

While my Deer Lick ones were going, one of the club members had his large Dobsonian telescope set up, and he was checking out different targets in the eastern sky.  By about 3:45 AM, the eastern sky had gotten quite dark – there were a lot of stars, and it was beautiful.  Unfortunately, we were battling dew pretty hard by that point in the night, so we weren’t able to see much.  It was still fun to look through, though.

The long-exposure stuff is awesome, but it takes soooo much longer to capture.  I can take 50x30s exposures in a half hour, whereas it takes nearly an hour to get 10x300s exposures.  And then comes the issue of darks – I usually take those at the end of a session, but with all of the different exposure times and ISOs I did, it was going to take three hours to take all the darks!  And I need to find a way to sequence them!  BackyardNikon worked for a while, but then when I closed and re-opened it, it wanted the internet to verify my trial status, and it said it had been deactivated.  Rawr.   I used the trial originally when I had the D3100, only to find out it didn’t talk to it at all.  I’ll send them an email to see if they’ll let me have a second go.  I did have a Sequence Generator Pro trial too though, so I set up a sequence like at 4:30 AM when I was tired and grumpy.  When I checked on how it went the next morning, it had stopped partway through – camera battery had died.  It only lasts about 2.5 hours or so.  The sequence was going to take nearly four hours to get all the darks from last night and tonight.  It would have been too warm by the time it finished anyway.  So I couldn’t process all my images, only some.   On top of that, it took them in FITS format, and DSS threw a “fit” about them not matching with the light frames and wouldn’t stack.  So I need to figure out how to make it do raws.  There must be a way…

Friday, September 2, 2016

#57 - Friday, September 2, 2016 - At Last, Guiding (For Realsies This Time)

There were quite a few club members out tonight!  It’s Labor Day weekend, and lots of people brought out their RVs, campers, and tents for the weekend.  I re-aligned my telescope and re-did the polar alignment using Altair instead of Antares, and it definitely made a difference.  While Saturn was up, since the seeing was better Friday night (ClearSky even said conditions were “excellent,” which is super rare around here!), I imaged it again through the telescope with the QHY5.  I checked it with the eyepiece first – it definitely was better.  I showed some of the newer club members the view.  It was pretty good.

[I didn't quite have the planetary stacking in RegiStax with RGB data figured out yet, so I apparently never processed this data!]

I was finally able to focus the guide scope working – turns out PHD will stretch the image by like a ton (the histogram) if it doesn’t detect stars, so the noise goes away once you’re near focus.  It was just finding that point that was tough.  I made sure to mark it this time on the focuser tube.  It turned out that I was having problems focusing because I couldn’t reach the focal point with the QHY5 on the Orion ST-80.  Attached directly, it didn’t have enough out-travel (I could see the stars getting smaller, but still not near focus), and with the star diagonal, it didn’t have enough in-travel.  So I took the Barlow lens out of my Barlow and just used it as an extender tube, which put it just far enough back that I could focus without putting it too far back.  So now I just have to use that.  Rawr.  Anyway, I also made the telescope a little heavy toward the counterweight side, and once I did start guiding, it worked much better than before!  I shouted triumphantly, “At last, I’m guiding!!” 

My first target was M16, the Eagle Nebula, since longer exposure would surely get my more detail. I tried a one-minute exposure first, and my stars were still round.  Then two minutes…still steady…then 5 minutes…still circular!  However, the image was getting pretty washed out by light pollution at that point.  John Chumack recommended I use my Orion SkyGlow filter, which helped quite a bit, especially since all the interesting Milky Way stuff is in the direction of the city this time of year, the southwestish.  I still set the ISO at only 800. 
M16 Eagle Nebula, Nikon D5300 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer, Orion Skyglow filter
Guiding: QHY5 on my Orion ST-80
5x300s, ISO-800
[I forgot to write about this: I got a new camera, the Nikon D5300, which I used my intervalometer to control.]

Next, I tried for my first “challenge” object, the mag 11 Bubble Nebula, but it was very high altitude, and the pictures I was looking at on my tablet showed a lot of drift.  So I didn’t think my telescope could handle all the weight at that high of altitude.  It turned out that I was looking at the wrong frames – the folder I was in decided not to be date-arranged anymore.  So I went to the Helix Nebula instead, but I still couldn’t see it, even with a 1-2 minute exposure.  I’ve tried it a few times before. So I went back to the Bubble, but while trying to find it using Precise Goto, I discovered that my telescope was no longer in alignment.  It must have done the fast-slew thing from the shielded cable shorting during a slew, so I missed hearing the higher-pitched sound it makes when it does that.  So I re-aligned, and then went back to the Bubble.  I was letting PHD do its calibration run, but the star was just too far north to move much during calibration – or so I thought.  Turned out that was wrong too – PHD wasn’t talking to my mount anymore, even after re-connecting, because I couldn’t get it to calibrate for a star in the east that should have been easy.  Oh, well, tomorrow night.

It was getting late, so I decided to get some Crab Nebula images since it was rising to a reasonable altitude in the east.  I did some 3-minute exposures on it until about 4:30 AM.  By the time I hit the sack, Orion was rising and moving south, and I could see where the Orion Nebula was at.  It’s still too low to image well, so I’ll wait till October for that one, I think.  I can’t wait to do some long exposure on it!  I forgot to take darks before going to bed.  Crab Nebula turned out great though, with some darks I took the next night:
M1 Crab Nebula, Nikon D5300 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer, Orion Skyglow filter
Guiding: QHY5 on my Orion ST-80
10x180s, ISO-3200

Look at the filaments!!  LOOK AT THEM!!!  FILAMENTS!!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

#56 - Thursday, September 1, 2016

After helping mow the lawn and smooth out the parking lot, I got my telescope set up.  The guide camera was being super noisy, however.  Tons of noisy banding in PHD.  I tried focusing to see if it would go away, but I couldn’t get it focused, so I decided to just try and image Saturn using FireCapture (the noise wasn’t showing up there) with the new QHY5 and the filter wheel I got from club member Randy.  After that, I put the DSLR on the guide scope and imaged M81 and M82 together, and got a non-terrible result, but the FOV is so large isn’t not that interesting either.
M81 & M82, Nikon D3100 on my Orion ST-80 atop my C11
82x15s, ISO-1600, no flat

However, the telescope was tracking rather terribly, which is why I had to go the 15s exposures.  I didn’t even really try anything on the scope since tracking was so bad.  My image also turned out a little on the green side – and this is without flats (I’m wondering if my daylight flats have too much blue and if that impacts DSS or if DSS makes them grayscale first).

I only stayed out till about 1:30 AM, as was my plan – I didn’t have time to get my camping gear together that day, so I went home to sleep.