Saturday, October 29, 2016

#69 - Saturday, October 29, 2016 - If All Else Fails, Timelapse

There was a decent turnout for Members Night, maybe 15 or so, and the weather was delightful, nice and warm!  However, the sky did not cooperate – there were high clouds all evening.  They did eventually clear out a bit, and even gave some hope for the eastern sky to clear up, but it wasn’t quite clear enough – PHD couldn’t hold onto a guide star, and I didn’t see any of M1 when I tried.  This wasn’t until after midnight, though.  I had the binoculars set up, but didn’t get to see much besides the Pleiades.  So instead, I had a very nice evening of conversation.

I did also do a timelapse series around the compound, so we’ll see how that turns out!

Friday, October 28, 2016

#68 - Friday, October 28, 2016 - More mount troubles

It was partly cloudy when I left the house, but since it was a Friday night and I was desperate to get out and image again, I decided to take my chances.  Club member Bob was there working on some maintenance, and I was chatting with him while I was getting set up, so it took a while.  Then, while I was trying to polar align, I accidentally touched the dec cable, and it started high-speed slewing due to shorting out the shielding, so I had to shut it down and restart.  Then I had to re-adjust the tripod because I wasn’t pointed north enough.  Then I was trying to find a good star to use; I wound up just using Fomalhaut, which is low but mostly south-southeast right now.  After finally getting it polar aligned and re-aligned, I attached the cameras, focused them, calibrated guiding, and at last started imaging NGC 7331 and the galaxies of the Deer Lick Cluster.  I thought I was going to be able to fit the little group down and to the left of 7331 in as well, but it was not to be.  The sky had partially cleared up; it looked pretty good up high and to the east, but crappy westward.  The north cleared up a bit by the end of the hour and a half of NGC 7331 imaging, so I moved to M81, but then clouds came over that.  Finally, after midnight, the Orion Nebula was high enough, so I figured I’d grab a few 5-minute exposures on it to see what it looked like, but then clouds rolled in, plus I tapped that cable again and it jumped.  Not far, but still it jumped.  It was getting cold, and I needed to get up at 8 AM on Saturday, so I covered it up and called it a night at around 1 AM, leaving it set up for Saturday night’s Member’s Night in case it happened to clear up.
The Deer Lick images ended up being slightly out of focus, had some high, thin clouds, and I forgot to take biases.  So I deleted them.

Also, the dec motor sounded kind of terrible – it usually has some ‘wee-ooo-wee-ooo’ sound, but it was much more severe this time, mainly as it flipped over, and then less so once it was closer to the horizon.  I understand that happening with an eyepiece attached – I balance it for having the camera attached – but even with the camera it sounded pretty bad.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

#67 - Saturday, October 22, 2016

The club did an outreach event at a local park, where they had other outdoor education-type stations, like learning about nocturnal animals.  We set up in this clearing where from any given spot, you could only get half the sky or less, but as you traversed around the circle, you could get the whole thing from different angles.  There were about ten of us set up, and I brought my C8 and my Oberwerk binoculars.  We had to haul our gear a little bit to get to our spots, but I had some help with mine.  Before it even got dark, we had tons of people coming by, so I turned both the binoculars and the telescope to Venus, about the only thing I could find.  Even though Venus isn’t much to look at – basically just a giant, bright star – people were still really interested to see it.  When it got darker, I turned the C8 to Saturn, which is currently small and low, in the mushy part of the atmosphere, but if you’ve never seen it before, it’s still a wonder.  A lot of people were amazed to see the rings.  It was pretty neat.   Later, once it calmed down a bit, I tried setting up my camera to image the Dumbbell Nebula using DeepSkyStacker Live, but DSS Live kept crashing or just not stacking things, and it doesn’t look like it has any of the image controls I need to actually make it look interesting.  So I’m going to look into other apps.  

Anyway, all told, the event organizers said about 300 people attended the event, and I think I had at least 70 or so look through my scope.  It was fun!

Monday, October 10, 2016

#66 - Monday, October 10, 2016 - Sun-oculars

I set up my binoculars on the back porch with the two Seymour Solar filters I also got at the star party, since the sun was finally out, and wow, what a view!  

They’re yellow-orange in color, and I could see sunspots!  I held my smartphone camera up and took some images.  
Sun through 45x70 Oberwerk binoculars with solar filters, taken on my Samsung Galaxy S7
f/1.7, 1/125s, ISO-50

I also showed my downstairs neighbors, as well as my friends Joe and Nick.  It was difficult to find the sun, believe it or not – you can’t line it up visually!  So I got within the vicinity, put in my lowest magnification eyepieces (23.9 mm), and hunted for about a minute or two until I finally found it.  

Friday, October 7, 2016

#65 - Friday, October 7, 2016 - Bubbles in Space

I invited my friend Emily out, since it was a weekend night, and she’d expressed interest in coming even just to enjoy the stars and take some long-exposure Milky Way images on her DSLR.  It was fun having her out there.  I already had my gear set up, so I just had to reconnect and rearrange everything from where I’d stored them underneath of covers.  I did also re-align though, because I suspected that I’d accidentally used the wrong star for polar alignment – and this did indeed turn out to be the case.  After that, guiding and tracking went smoothly.  I decided just to do one target, since I was going to do a half-night and leave around midnight: the Bubble Nebula again.  So I took 30x5-minute exposures.  They came out well, but the result was super noisy from me suppressing background and bringing out signal.  I might re-process it and see if I can do any better.
Bubble Nebula, Nikon D5300 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer, Orion Skyglow filter
Guiding: QHY5 on my Orion ST-80
22x300s, ISO-3200

Also, for the record, saturated stars look way cooler on Newtonians with the diffraction spikes than on SCTs with the weird glowy donut.
While the pictures were going, I set up my binoculars on a tripod I bought from a guy at the star party I went to recently, finally!  Man is the view fantastic through those.  I also set up my D3100 (which I think I’ve decided to keep for doing wide-field images while I do telescope imaging to keep me occupied) on a tripod with the 300mm lens in a super-short exposure experiment of the Plediades Cluster.  I went and adjusted it every few minutes, since it was just on the tripod, and I stacked like hundreds of them, but it came out terribly.  Oh well, it was a good experiment nonetheless.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

#64 - Thursday, October 6, 2016 - Andromeda Yet Evades Me

I apparently forgot to write this one up – I’m writing this entry a week and a half on, so I will likely miss some details.  I’ll make it short, then.

I aligned, polar aligned, and aligned again, and things seemed fine, but tracking was terrible.  Like, really awful.  Guiding refused to work too, giving me error messages about non-orthoganality and the like.  I finally gave up and just imaged Andromeda through the guide scope again.  I’m still having this weird issue with it where it’s a lot brighter on the right side (maybe my flats are still bad?), but I got this neat image of M31:
M31 Andromeda Galaxy, Nikon D5300 on my Orion ST-80
79x30s, ISO-3200, no flat
I think that’s about all I got though.  Oh well, consolation prize!  And I left it set up for Friday night.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

#63 - Wednesday, October 5, 2016 - Show-and-Tell

About five of us brought out our telescopes to this nighttime show-and-tell for a class of high school students.  It was clear to begin with with some clouds to the west, but the clouds worked their way across the entire sky, and didn’t clear up until after we’d all packed up, of course.  The crescent moon was beautiful – you could even see the earthshine naked-eye!  I snagged a five-minute video of it before switching back over to the eyepiece for the students.   I briefly showed them Saturn before it became covered in clouds, and then spent the rest of the evening hunting down something, anything to look at.  I showed one boy the Ring Nebula, and he expertly finagled his wheelchair between the tripod legs.  I showed a few other students globular cluster M15.  But that was about it; the southeastern sky was clear for a while, but there wasn’t anything there we could see.  So instead I did a little show-and-tell of my astrophotography.  Club member Phil tracked a few satellites and rocket bodies with his refractor as well.  There was an ISS pass, and an Iridium flare, but they were both behind the clouds.  A bit of a disappointing evening, but at least we managed to see a couple of things.  There were about 10 high schoolers in attendance, as well as their teacher.

Moon, Nikon D5300 (I think) on my C8, f/6.3 focal reducer
5m3 video, not sure how many frames were stacked, or what the ISO/shutter speed was

Sunday, October 2, 2016

#62 - Thursday, September 29 - Sunday, October 2, 2016 - First Star Party!

Normally I wouldn’t put multiple nights together in the same entry, but seeing as I didn’t get to pull out my telescope and it was cloudy every night except Saturday during this weekend star party I went to, it made sense this time.  The star party turned out to be more of a social gathering alone because of the lack of stars, but it was still a lot of fun.  I got to talk about astrophotography to a lot of people, and was even asked to step in and give a talk about it when one of the speakers was unable to attend due to a recent injury.  A lot of people were really excited about my astrophotography, and I was happy to share how I do it.  I was asked to speak at the star party again next year, and possibly at two others!
On Saturday night, it did clear up, at least in patches.  Not enough for me to set up for AP, though.  They did their giant 36" reflector up and running.  It was so long that they used a scissor lift to bring up three people at a time to look into the eyepiece.  Between the shifting clouds, I got to look at globular cluster M15, and WOW, what a sight!  With that kind of aperture, you could resolve so many stars!  Even through thin clouds, it was beautiful.  I was really glad I got to see at least something through the big telescope.  I also set up my camera for some long-exposure timelapse.
I also got to look through a solar scope that was set up on Saturday – there were no sunspots in view, but three gorgeous prominences were there. 

It was damp and chilly the whole weekend, but still a good time!