Tuesday, December 20, 2016

#73 - Tuesday, December 20, 2016 - When In Doubt, Borrow Someone Else's Scope #2

Since my CGE mount is down for the count, I decided to go learn how to use the memorial scope, a permanently-mounted pier inside of a personal dome that was purchased by the club from a club member using a memorial donation upon the passing of another club member, which is a Vixen 5-inch refractor on a Losmandy Gemini mount, with a Celestron guide scope.  
I started entering stars, but it seemed to be slewing all over the place and having really bad guesses.  I figured out later that I wasn’t quite doing it correctly, but then the clouds started rolling in, and it was getting cold.  I also tried focusing my QHY5 on the guide scope, without success.  I might try with FireCapture rather than PHD though, since PHD has longer refresh times and stretches the histogram like crazy, so it’s hard to tell when you’re close.  I did get my DSLR attached to it though with the M48 adapter I bought for it, which is good.  I was worried it wouldn’t be the right size.  And I got it focused, no problem.  It was nearly already there, as a matter of fact.
It was a short night, but I’ll try again once it clears up around here and is not extremely cold when it is clear.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

#72 - Sunday, November 6, 2016 - The Mount Issues are Mounting

Another gorgeous night!  It was a little warmer, although I was still fighting dew, just not as much.  Because of the end of Daylight Savings, I got to get started at 6 instead of 7, which was awesome.  Also, Orion comes up an hour earlier now.  Since the first quarter moon was so high, I decided to grab a video on that before I got started, and I also grabbed a video of it on the guide scope with the QHY5, but it didn’t have good enough contrast to get a nice shot, even after messing with the gain, exposure, and gamma as much as I could.  I guess I could’ve thrown my neutral density filter on, and it wouldn’t have changed the focus because it screws onto the end of the extension tube, which just slides inside the guidescope, but oh well. 
Daylight Savings Time seemed to be causing issues with the telescope as well; it wasn’t quite getting on stars quite right.  So I replaced the alignment stars and calibration stars, and that seemed to work, so I started imaging Stephan’s Quintet.  I got two images in when I needed to do a meridian flip, so I did that, but then PHD started having fits.  During calibration, it was giving me non-orthogonality errors, so I ran the guiding assistant to see if it would help.  It didn’t, and the manual said it might be due to bad polar alignment.  RA was the main problem.  I figured maybe the time change would affect the polar alignment somehow, so I started re-doing the polar alignment, but then I accidentally touched the RA cable, which caused it to jump when it shorted.  So then I had to re-align completely.  I left the camera attached so that I could do fine alignment using BackyardNikon’s Frame & Focus feature, which uses live view.  At ISO-3200, I can see not only the stars I usually use for alignment, but even the precise goto stars show up no problem, since the D5300 will adjust the shutter speed & ISO to see something.  But its guesses as to where Vega and Altair were terrible; I actually had to go get the Telrad since it was not even close.  When this happens, it’ll usually correct itself out as I add stars, but it was consistently guessing terribly, which it shouldn’t have been because I was polar-aligned still from the previous nights.  So then I shut it down and restarted completely, and it was getting even worse, not even making it close to Vega.  I even tried putting it an hour ahead and back in Daylight time, but the result was the same.  Basically, it looked like RA wasn’t going far enough; dec was pretty close.  It was either stopping too soon, or not spinning the gears as fast as it thought it was.  It might have been my imagination, but sounded less aggressive than usual when it was moving.  After trying various things, power cycling, unplugging and replugging, changing the time, etc, it was still not working.  So I went inside to warm up and have some dinner (I brought leftovers, but Bob cooked some brats that he shared), and then I packed it up and left by 11:30.  It’s weird that it worked in the first part of the evening; it went to the moon from the home position, all the way in the south, with no issues, and also went to Stephan’s Quintet on the east side of the meridian with no issues.  It even went over to Fomalhaut, the polar alignment star I’m using, just fine.  It wasn’t until I hit the cable and made it jump.  The cable also got hit a few more times as I was re-situating it.  Oh, also, it seemed to take longer than normal to find the switch position in RA.  Bob suggested that maybe it’s time to send it out to get hypertuned, and maybe they can do the Bennett mod while they’re at it.  He said he knows someone who had their Celestron mount tuned with a guy named Dr. Clay.  It’ll cost some money, but will be cheaper than getting a new mount – the CGE mount’s original price is $3,000.  A quick look online shows a site called Deep Space Products that does it, including the Bennett mod (although you have to supply the kit), for $505 (so $855 total with the Bennett mod kit).  That sounds pretty good to me if it’ll save me the headache of the cabling issue and these other issues I’ve been having.  I can also get a dual Losmandy-Vixen ADM dovetail attachment put on there for another $110, which I was talking to Bob about last night – he thinks I should get a refractor sooner rather than later, like before I get a deep sky camera.  Seeing the results from just my guidescope, I’m inclined to agree.  There are a lot of issues shooting with the SCT, and another one is possibly cropping up – mirror shift.  It’s not a big deal to re-focus for each new target and after a meridian flip – it only takes a minute, especially now with BackyardNikon – but it might be the cause of the drift I still see.  Even with guiding, the image slowly moves across the frame, and that movement shows up in pretty much every other frame.  My RMS error isn’t too bad in PHD (about 2 arcsecs), although sometimes when I’m moving the scope at slow speed, it is a little sticky in dec, I think.  (Although, it’s my RA error that is the larger of the two – I do have some backlash).  I haven’t done the mental geometry, but it seems to be moving in the same direction each time – not the same camera direction, but the same sky direction.  This might indicate the mirror shifting as it tracks across the sky in RA.  There are two fixes I could do: use off-axis guiding (in which case, I’ll probably need to get a more sensitive CCD, but I might not, I’ll have to test), or send the scope off too for a hypertune (I could get a spring put behind the primary to keep it from shifting, since I can’t lock the mirror on this C11). 

So, a disappointing end to an otherwise spectacular weekend.  But it was a great weekend!  And I got some sleep last night.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

#71 - Saturday, November 5, 2016 - Andromeda mosaic attempt

Another fantastic night of imaging!  When I first got out there at 7, there were some thin, high clouds, so I got everything put back together and then waited till they cleared out.  I discovered that Photoshop has a mosaicking tool called Photomerge in the Automate menu, and I saw some evidence online that it will do oddly-oriented and oddly-paneled astroimages, so I decided to try a 6-panel mosaic on M31!  Since I still wanted to image nebulae in the Orion complex too when it came up, and because of the late start, I decided just to do 10x3 minute images for each panel, for a total of three hours.  I wound up having to do a meridian flip halfway through, but thankfully it happened to be just as I finished the top half of the image, so I didn’t have to think too hard to get it lined back up again on the other side.  Also, I’m glad it’s so bright – my test images to align it the way I wanted were only 15s long, just enough to see the core.  
Well, it almost worked...I seem to have a missing panel...
After that was done, I took a stack of 10x5 minute images on the Flame Nebula, up right next to the Horsehead Nebula, which is right next to the easternmost star of Orion’s Belt, Altinak.  I put the nebula up near the top of the frame so that Altinak wouldn’t just totally bloom and cause reflections and lens flare and stuff, so I just cropped out the emptiness as the bottom.  It came out pretty well, if still noisy.
           NGC 2024 Flame Nebula, Nikon D5300 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer, Orion Skyglow filter
Guiding: QHY5 on Orion ST-80
8x300s, ISO-3200

I left about 2:30 AM so that I wouldn’t have two completely sleep-deprived nights in a row!  Also it was cold.  Also club member Will and I were the only ones left, and Will had to leave at 2.  He collected RGB data for his awesome monochrome Andromeda image.

Daylight Savings Time ended that night, and I was worried that stuff might break, but the only thing that semi-broke was BackyardNikon; it was partway into a 300s exposure at 2 AM, and then it jumped back to -3600 seconds and was counting up from there instead.  So I just aborted it and re-started.  I’ll submit a bug report sometime this week.

Friday, November 4, 2016

#70 - Friday, November 4, 2016 - Allllllll the images

It was chilly, but boy was it a good night!  Completely clear, excellent seeing, stable atmosphere, no wind, and to top it all off, the telescope behaved very well.  My guided images are still drifting – I need to figure out why – but my stars are only a little bit smeared, so it’s livable.  I finally bought a USB thermometer so that I can record the temperature as I take my images and match lights to darks with more accuracy.  Alignment went super smoothly – its initial guesses for stars were very good, and even polar alignment was close.  I’ve been using Fomalhaut now that Altair is too high and Antares has set, or is at least behind the trees or something.  It’s just above the trees, but the C11 can see through trees pretty well.  Alignment took only 20 minutes; I arrived at 7 PM, and was imaging by 8:30.  It was awesome! 

I started with the Fireworks Galaxy, which was high in the north, but I lost a little less than half my exposures to dew.  I had to really crank up the dew heater, since we nearly hit the dew point.  I had to use the blow dryer three times as well.  Even the guide scope dewed up, so I had to crank up that dew heater as well.  I couldn’t see it with a 60s exposure, but I could make it out with 5m, so we’ll see how it comes out in stacking.

NGC 4946 Fireworks Galaxy, Nikon D5300 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer, Orion Skyglow filter
Guiding: QHY5 on my Orion ST-80
16x300s, ISO-3200
Well, you can see it, which is cool…the background came out pretty noisy, though.
Next, I did the Crab Nebula, since I think the last time I did it I only did 3m exposures because of light pollution.  It was high in the east.  The eastern sky at the observatory is the best, especially around 3 AM, when it is quite dark.
M1 Crab Nebula, Nikon D5300 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer, Orion Skyglow filter
Guiding; QHY5 on my Orion ST-80
19x300s, ISO-3200
It came out more or less like the first one – next, I’ll have to try not using the focal reducer so I can get more resolution on it.
Next, I finally did the Horsehead Nebula!  I could just make out its shape and some of the red color at 5m.  Hopefully it comes out well in stacking.  I lost a few of those to dew as well.
Horsehead Nebula, Nikon D5300 on my C11, f/6.3 focal reducer, Orion Skyglow filter
Guiding: QHY5 on my Orion ST-80
17x300s, ISO-3200

It came out a little noisy, and apparently Alnitak (easternmost star in Orion’s Belt) is a really bright star – you can see the reflections from it being just off the frame on the left.
Finally, I switched the camera over to the guidescope, and tried to fit the Flame, Horesehead, and Orion Nebulae into a single frame.  It was not to be.  I think I can get it if the Flame is at the very top of the frame and Orion is at the very bottom, but they might be cut off a bit, and I try not to have stuff too close to the edges because of coma and vignetting.  I think I’ll try a four-panel mosaic here instead.  So instead of doing the trio, I just did a wide field on Orion, which looks fantastic.  I did 1m exposures, about the limit of the guide scope unguided.  
M42 Great Nebula of Orion, Nikon D5300 on my Orion ST-80, unguided
12x60s, ISO-1600

Holy sweet goodness that came out awesome!!
I am curious to try guiding the guidescope using the main telescope…I can get like sub-pixel accuracy because the focal length of the C11 is soooo much longer than the guidescope, so little tiny movements in the guidescope will appear large and easily correctable in the C11.  I didn’t try it last night because it was already nearly 3 AM.  Perhaps later in the winter when it’s up earlier in the evening.  Right now, Orion’s not really up until about 12:30 AM.
Overall, a fantastic night!  It felt pretty cold due to the high humidity, but it was windless, which made a huge difference.  It was in the upper 30s.  Frost formed on top of my camera bag and other accessories.  It’s going to be clear Saturday night too, so I left the equipment set up.  The transparency is supposed to be not quite as good, but it looks like it’ll be another windless evening, and lower humidity, since the temperatures should be in the lower 40s instead.

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!

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…