The year 2021, despite its many setbacks, was a good year for lunar eclipses -- we were treated to two here in the US! I was fortunate to be able to image both from my house.
Friday, November 19, 2021
Monday, October 11, 2021
After a two-year absence, it was very exciting to return to the Hidden Hollow Star Party! It's a small star party up at the Warren Rupp Observatory hosted by the Richland Astronomical Society, south of Mansfield, OH. The weather is usually less than ideal, but it's only a two-hour trip for me, and it's a fun group of people at a nice summer camp location in the woods. One of the awesome things about Hidden Hollow is their enormous 36-inch Newtonian telescope, "Big Blue." It's a treat to look through between the clouds!
I mounted it on my Celestron AVX. Eventually I'd like to get it running on my Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer, but for this trip I wanted slew control, target centering, two-axis guiding, etc.
What is all on this rig:
- Rokinon 135mm f/2 lens
- Red box: ZWO EAF electronic focuser. It's attached to a belt and notched circle that come with the kit to focus the camera lens. It works really well actually.
- On top: Orion 50mm guide scope + ZWO ASI120MM-S guide camera, as well as a red dot finder
- On the other side: ZWO ASIair Pro
- On the back: ZWO ASI294MC Pro camera + Starlight Xpress 5-position 2-inch filter wheel. Inside the filter wheel is an Astronomik L Type 2c luminance filter, Astronomik CLS-CCD light pollution filter, and Optolong L-eXtreme dual-narrowband filter.
Part of my goal for the weekend was to try using the ASIair to control the rig (except for the filter wheel, which is not ZWO and therefore can't be controlled by it). Unfortunately, while everything connected to the ASIair when I was at home, neither of the cameras wanted to talk to it once I got out to Hidden Hollow. I had brought along one of my capture laptops (a 2012 Lenovo running Windows 10) just in case, so I used that instead.
Here it is all set up at Hidden Hollow:
Yes it's a bit of a cable mess, but since this isn't (yet) one of my standard rigs, I don't have a cable harness made for it yet.
Looking through Big Blue
Death of the D3100
Sunday, April 18, 2021
On long-focal-length telescopes like Schmidt-Cassegrains (and especially Schmidt-Cassegrains, with their floppy mirrors), off-axis guiding can provide better guiding than a guide scope. I've been using an off-axis guider with my C8 since 2018, and despite some troubles, it has still largely been a better solution than when I was using a guide scope.
I initially paired it with my QHY5 (the original red puck), but found it to be not sensitive enough to pick up guide stars, even at f/6.3 (1280mm). I picked up the more-sensitive QHY5L-II CMOS guide camera not long after, which typically gets just barely enough signal-to-noise ratio to hold onto a guide star on my setup. Of course, it performs better under dark skies, but any drop in transparency, and I'm barely holding onto a star, especially in the spring when the density of stars around out-of-galactic-plane targets tends to be a lot lower.
Focusing the Guide Camera
The first night I tried it, Wednesday, didn't go well at all. There were low clouds running across the sky, and once I got a bright star in my main camera and started slewing around to see if it would show up as a big unfocused blob in the guide camera, a cloud would inevitably cover the star. I gave up that night and went to bed.
Saturday night was much better, and had better transparency. Bonus points, the waxing crescent Moon was high enough above my lemon tree to see with my C8. A super-bright object is a lot easier to land in the guide camera because you can see it coming from off the edge. I slewed the scope over to the Moon, centered and synced it in the main camera, and then slewed above and below the main camera image to see where it would show up in my guide camera. Pretty quickly I could start to see the guide camera image lighting up, so I adjusted the exposure time down for seeing the Moon's surface, and got the guide camera roughly focused. I also created a field-of-view indicator element in TheSkyX where the Moon was in my guide camera compared to the main camera so that I could more easily land a star inside of it.
The center rectangle is the main camera; the smaller one above is my old guide camera; the rectangles above and below are the E and W side of the pier positions of the guide camera, respectively.
Next, I slewed the main camera to Regulus and centered it, synced the mount to it (so that it would be in the correct position with respect to my camera FOVs on the map), and then slewed the mount so that Regulus would show up inside the guide camera box. And bang, there it was! Now time to critically-focus.
Now, I use two different brands of filters: Astronomik CLS-CCD & RGB, and Chroma narrowband filters. They have different thicknesses, and thus adjust the main camera's exact focus point a bit. ("A bit" on my PrimaLuce Esatto focuser is still like 20,000 steps). So to set the guide camera position so that it's mostly in focus for both focus points of the two sets of filters, I take the CLS-CCD filter's in-focus point and the H-alpha filter's focus point and split the difference. I set the focuser there in the middle of the two, and then moved the camera in and out until the star was as small as it would get. Now, since we're so far off-axis and this is a Schmidt-Cassegrain, the star shapes are pretttttyyyy yucky, so "in focus" is hard to determine. But I got it about as small as it would appear in the camera, and called it good.
Unfortunately, that focus point has the Lodestar just barely inside the tube! I put on a C-mount extension tube, but it has a lip on it that won't let me insert it far enough to get the camera in focus. So I need to hunt down an extension tube that doesn't have a lip. We'll see if I can find one.
Time to Test
Monday, March 8, 2021
Astrophotography generates a lot of data -- what is one to do? Between different cameras, telescopes, targets, months, how do you keep track? I've only been doing this hobby for 5-1/2 years, and I already have over 12 TB of data!
Everyone develops their own organization scheme, but I have one that I think is particularly excellent that I'd like to share. Maybe some parts of it will help you!
First and foremost -- keep a log book!
Image Organization: In the Morning
Image Organization: Each Dataset
File Naming Convention
- Different camera temperature
- Different gain/offset
- Different binning
- Different exposure time
- Different camera (even if it's the same model)
- Periodically, as the electronics and sensor characteristics can change over time (my darks from three years ago no longer match darks I've taken more recently, so I'm having to re-do them, on my ZWO ASI1600MM Pro)
- Different gain
- Different filter
- Different telescope, reducer, or other optic-train component (even non-optics components can change your flat -- like additional vignetting from a new filter wheel, adapter, or off-axis guider)
- Different camera (even if it's the same model)
- Every time you either rotate your camera or remove it from the telescope
Backups, Backups, Backups!!
Back it up!
Tuesday, December 22, 2020
It was one of the most-talked-about astronomical events of the year -- the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn! The two heavenly bodies appear close to each other from our perspective about every 20 years, but are not usually close enough to be a big deal. The last time, in May 2000, they were 68.9 acrmins apart, or a bit more than two full Moons side-by-side. This year, however, they would draw as near as 6 arcminutes apart -- nearly on top of each other. The last time they were this close was back in 1623, in the days of Galileo; however, the two planets were close to the Sun, so it is likely that nobody witnessed it. Before that, there was the Great Conjunction of 1226, in the time of Genghis Khan, which was visible at night. Luckily for us young folk, the next close pass of Jupiter and Saturn will occur in only 2080, which some of us may live to see. (For more info, see this article in Scientific American).
I had put the event on my calendar some time ago, probably back in 2019, and set reminders for myself so I could prep. Of course, with all the chatter on the Internet, how could I forget? I started working up a plan back in the fall, and in the days leading up to closest approach, I did some test runs.
About a week before the actual night of closest approach, I saw on SkySafari that the two planets were close enough to catch in my refractor, and since it's positioned in such a way that I could see the two shortly after sunset before they disappeared behind the tree, I nabbed a video on my one-shot color ZWO ASI294MC Pro camera and produced an image.
I couldn't get AutoStakkert to align the frames because of the two separated targets, so I just had PIPP (Planetary Image Pre-Processor) sort them by goodness and I pulled the best frame from each of the two videos (one for Jupiter and one for Saturn, because of the two different exposure times needed) and combined them in Photoshop. So it's a little blurry, but still cool to see them so close!