Astrophotography report 8/27/14

For this outing I went on the light pollution map and I scoped out a dark sky spot. A dirt road road about 50 minutes from my house. I had practice with my band and the sky was clear. I already packed my 8 inch dobsonian, camera and tripod. I punched in the lat long into google maps. I started the drive, I decided to route past my normal orange sky spot on the way to the green zone. I made a quick stop there and saw the clear sky. It was another 20 or so minutes to the darker spot, it was tempting to just set up here, but no, I must see the darker sky! So I drove and drove and drove and finally found the dirt road, with a closed gate. Well damn! There was enough “road” to pull my car off the main road. The Milky Way was easily visible to the naked eye. With that much visible, I couldn’t wait to see what a long exposure would show! It was so dark and clear I wanted to stay out there for hours. But it was deep in the sticks and there was a lot of wildlife in the area. Also, I was only a foot or two off the main road and there wasn’t a ton of traffic, but the headlights were a pain to block during the long exposures. I wanted to set up the dob, but it was getting a bit late, I had work in the morning, and I didn’t want to become a snack for any sharp toothed critters. I packed up and headed home, I was tempted to stop at the orange zone site. Again, it was getting late so I decided to continue on home. Only a couple of shots, but everything turned out pretty good. I ramped up the ISO and was pleased with the results. The noise wasn’t too much worse than the lower ISO. 


Observing 8/20/14

This is a bit late. 
I had gotten a brand new DSLR, T3i Canon to be exact. I brought it along with my nexstar 8 to the orange zone. I set up the telescope and tried to capture video of Saturn. There are some issues with 1:1 pixel ratio. I got the video, but it was at the wrong settings and was useless. I slewed around and looked at a few objects, I attempted to find M21 but couldn’t see the close by nebula. After a while of searching I heard some commotion by the boat ramp. A man his daughter and his son walked up and asked me what I was looking at. I talked to them for quite awhile. I showed them how I take pictures through the telescope, the parts of the telescope and how it works. I showed them a few star clusters and Saturn. This quickly turned into an outreach program. But it was fun and I got a couple of potential new members for our astronomy club.
I then took the telescope down and focused on capturing the Milky Way with my new DSLR. I had a blast! Below is one of the images from that first time with the DSLR.

Skywatch 8/15/14

The Back Bay Amerature Astronomer Group had it’s monthly Skywatch at a local park. It’s a yellow/orange zone and is a nice change from my red zone backyard. The first part of the day, it was clear and mostly sunny. As the day went on the clouds started coming in. As the afternoon turned into the evening the clouds seemed to be getting worse. My initial plan was to bring both of my telescopes. It seemed pointless to pack up even one with the amount of clouds in the sky. I have made the mistake before by not going out only to have the clouds clear right after sunset. I decided to chance it and bring both telescopes. Much to my surprise the clouds dispersed enough to get some decent views. First up, as always was Saturn. The seeing wasn’t nearly as good as the day before. I went from a 20mm to 6mm eyepiece. 6mm through my nexstar (337x magnification) was too blurry to be enjoyable. I backed down to a 9mm and found that to be acceptable. I left that going for anyone who wanted to walk up and take a peak. I moved my XT8 a few times, I planned to try and see the double cluster I saw the night before, but a tree was in my way and on top of that, clouds stayed in that part of the sky all night. 
I was treated to M21, with the M20 nebula in the FOV by one of the other members. I have never seen it and I am grateful she showed me this. I first saw it in her 10in Discovery dob. It was stunning! I ran over and punched it in to my Nexstar 8. My tracking and goto on this are pretty poor, but it got me close enough I was able to find it with minimal effort. I then went to the XT8 and found it manually. I did notice that the tracking on DSO with my nexstar work far better than planetary. Partly, I am sure because I am using 20-40mm eyepieces with DSOs vs 6-9mm for planetary. 
I spent quite a bit of time just enjoying looking at the stars, without the scopes. We had a handful of people come up and look through the scopes. I spent a bit less time observing than I planned, but had fun regardless. I really enjoyed M21! I can’t wait to sit down in a dark sky spot and look at it some more. 
The clouds started rolling back in around 10pm and by 1030 the sky was pretty well clouded over. So I packed up, as did everyone else and headed home. 
Also, I have a DSLR on the way so here is hoping I can start adding some more pictures. 
I find that I really prefer my XT8 to my Nexstar 8. Hunting is more fun than pushing a couple buttons. But it’s a necessary evil and needed for my astrophotography attempts. 
That’s about it. 

Observing report 8/14/14

Tonight I debated going to a dark sky spot, well darker than my red zone back yard. I knew humidity was going to be low, as it was all day, clear skies forecasted and I knew it would be a good night. I also thought about doing another meager attempt at AP to capture Saturn. Instead I decided to forgo the nexstar 8 and bring out the trusty XT8. I set up on the porch, grabbed a drum throne and pointed at Saturn. She was very pretty tonight, seeing wasn’t AS good as I expected. There was some turbulence but Cassini division was clearly visible with the 6mm. I could easily see 4 moons. I watched that for awhile, I went back between the 6mm and an Orion “expanse” 6mm with a larger FOV. I have found this series to be a little less sharp and more prone to unwanted light reflections that the other, which name I can’t recall at the moment. 

After a while looking at Saturn I decided to go DSO hunting. Nothing specific, tonight was just about enjoying the amazing weather and having fun. I don’t typically plan much anyways. I aimed towards Scorpius and Sagittarius. Several nights ago I was looking at Stellarium and noticed there was a lot in that general area. I had decided to just put on the 40mm eyepiece and scan around. I did that for a moment, I tried to find the table of Scorpius, but that was hiding behind the trees. I caught a quick glance at M4 and wandered away. 

Then, since my wife and I went to see Hercules the other night (only a so-so movie), I decided to visit my first DSO love, M13. I plan to write about that, along with another couple of my first outings, but I haven’t gotten to it, and I don’t want to forget about tonight as from this point on I hope to document my outings. Anyways, it was pretty much at zenith at this point, actually it was starting to fall to the east, I bent my neck to see it, then find the star I hop from, then try to rotate my body and the scope to line up with said star, it took a few tries but I finally got it. 
The first time I ever saw M13, my Dad and I went to a fairly dark spot about an hour from my house. M13 just struck me. It was just a ball of stars, it was so pretty and it just really grabbed my attention. Tonight, I couldn’t make out each one, but several were easily distinguishable. Tonight was the first time I was able to make out any individual stars from a red sky zone. The nice folks at Cloudy Nights and my local astronomy group were right. Practice and patience really pay off. I normally (from a red zone) just take a look, then move on, because at first glance, it’s just a smudge of faint light. Tonight I spent a lot of time really looking at the objects, and trying to make out details. I was pretty excited to see the detail I did from such a light polluted area. 

Using the app Sky Guide on my iPhone I browsed for things to look at. I am still learning what is out there and where it is. I think I looked for something for a moment, and gave up, I can’t even recall what it was. Then, I decided I wanted to try and see Andromeda. I looked it up and followed the arrow the app presented me. Ugh, it was right to the north east area, right over the white zone. It’s totally washed out in that direction. I could almost make out a star now and then. I noticed the double cluster was in the general area, but a little more to the north where it’s a little less washed out. I found Cassiopeia, the two lowest stars, about center, and straight down. I scanned as I went down but I wasn’t sure I was going to line up with the double cluster. So I re-centered and just with the red dot finder, slid down to where I guessed it would be. I peaked through the 40mm eyepiece and…. I’ll be damned! There it is! Beginners luck I suppose!  Even with the light pollution I can clearly make out the brigher stars, and a few tight clusters of dimmer ones. There are quite few colors in this. Tomorrow I plan on being with the Back Bay Astronomer group at a darker sight and really hope to take another look at this. Generally, because of the white out in NE sky, I stay E and SE sky. I was thrilled that I so easily found this and how fun it was to just look at. I tried my light pollution filter. It seems to work TOO well. Many of the dim clusters I was able to see without a filter were completly gone, even after a few minutes of looking. Sure, through the eyepiece the background was black like a dark sky spot, but most of the stars are no longer visible. Back in the case with ya! 

Now, I decided to see what else is in the area. I saw the dragonfly cluster on the Stellarium program. I found that with minimal effort as well. I scanned for a bit and saw two bright stars that caught my eye. these were the eyes of said Dragonfly cluster. Now, there are a lot of names for groups of stars, namely the constellations. A short few actually look like their namesake. Reminds me of the episode Bart discovers the comet just after he get’s a constellation lesson from Principal Skinner. 
The gag is the single star is called “The Chariot Race” Also the “Three Wise Men” are obviously the 3 stooges. 

But this cluster sure does look like a dragonfly! This might be a new favorite. I was able to see quite a few different color stars here too. 
I looked for a few other things close by, I can’t even recall what. But I didn’t have much luck. 

Again I tried to find Andromeda. No such luck. I think a large part of the problem is my scope is too big! I don’t have a large enough FOV for such a giant object. I am 95% sure I found M32 however. I scanned around for M110 but couldn’t find it. I found a small smudge that I have learned usually represents a galaxy. WIth Stellarium I compared the simulated view of M32 vs M110 and I am pretty sure M32 is what I found based on surrounding stars. I scanned for M110 based on the assumption I was at M32 and vis versa and was unable to find anything else. Again, this area is heavily washed out so the fact I found anything was good enough for me. 

I decided it was getting late, and I would scan around back where I started. I stumbled on to a cluster. I had no idea what it was. This isn’t the first time for this. I went to the iPhone and couldn’t find anything there. Weird I thought. I see it in the eyepiece, I look at the red dot and then I looked at the apps to find out what should be there. Nothing is showing up. I thought, “Did I just discover something?!” I knew that was very unlikely. But what was this cluster? I didn’t see anything there on Stellarium. I kept finding other clusters close by on the programs, but not where the red dot was pointing. I kept rechecking the eyepiece. “Did I bump the finder?” I checked it with a close by star and everything lined up. I zoomed way in on the Stellarium and finally found it! M28! I compared the nearby stars and we have a match. I was relieved I was able to figure it out, but man, how cool would it have been to discover a star cluster?! 
While I was trying to figure out what it was that I was looking at, I noticed M22 was close by. So I jumped over and looked at that for a few. It was getting late but I was impressed with how much detail I was able to get out of it even with just a few minutes. With both of these I went from 40mm, to 20, to 15mm. M28 was pretty faint and there wasn’t a lot of detail, but M22, even at 15mm had some nice clear distinct stars. 

I decided my back was stiff enough and I packed up and went inside. 
All in all a fun night, especially for just being in the backyard. It’s nice to know I don’t have to drive an hour away to enjoy my self. 
Thanks for reading, keep looking up! 

My star-t. See what I did there?

I have always had an interest in science and astronomy. When I was very young we lived in Hawaii. I remember my Dad taking us to a “mountain,” might have been a hill, to look at the stars. I remember he had a large refractor on an GEM mount. It was big, and looked expensive and important. I recall trying to look through the eyepiece. With the little knowledge I have now, I understand with his eyeglasses, he had eyepieces with long eye relief and my pressing my eye to the lense was preventing me from seeing anything. But all the pretty stars I could see with my own eyes are still with me.

Through my life I always liked science, I always thought space, and astronomy was cool. The pictures from the Hubble scope have always been backgrounds on my computers and phones. I always felt in awe of the beauty.

The last couple of years, I have thought a lot about buying a telescope. For me, even a couple of hundred dollars is a lot and takes a lot of effort to put aside. To that end, I never went out and got a telescope. Also, unless you are lucky, there are very few stores you can go buy a decent telescope at, and even if you are able to find a decent one at say a Best Buy or the like, the staff probably know next to nothing about them. I had done a fair amount of research and I was fairly sure I wanted a reflector. The most aperture for the least amount of money.

Cut to early April of this year. I stopped by my parents house to celebrate my 31st, and my brothers 29th birthdays. My Dad came down the hallway carrying a fairly large box wrapped in wrapping paper. I opened the box and it said Orion. My jaw began to drop. I knew I just been gifted a telescope, I didn’t know what kind, but my research was enough that I knew Orion was a major telescope manufacture. Then my Dad came walking from the hallway with a MUCH larger box.
I felt a moment of fear thinking, how big is this thing, and will I ever even be able to use such a monster. After the wrapping paper settled I discovered I was the proud new owner of an Orion XT8 dobsonian telescope. I was thrilled. My Dad and I began setting it up and I looked on with great disappointment as the forecast on my weather app showed rain and clouds for the next week! I still couldn’t wait to use it, so we took it out front and I pointed it at the chimney of the house at the end of the street. I could clearly see the grill on the top of the chimney. Wow… pretty cool. In my research I knew I wanted to dabble in astrophotography, I, at the time, didn’t know that AP was practically impossible with this. I took my iPhone 5 and put it up to the eyepiece and snapped a shot of the chimney. It worked! This might not be so impossible after all!

I loaded my new toy in to my car and headed home with my wife and an anticipation difficult to describe. A few nights later, an unexpected break in the weather allowed me to set up my new telescope. At first I went on the front porch. The moon was out before the sun was down, and I pointed the giant cannon to the moon and looked through the eyepiece. WOW! Look at all the craters! It was like a practical joke. Like someone had taken NASA photos and glued them to my eyepiece. I think I might have had a toy telescope like that as a kid actually. I stared at the moon for a few moments looking in awe and realizing how I now had access to the universe in a way I never had before. Now, could I capture it? SUCCESS! I snapped a way a few pictures, I even shot a video clip for stacking later.

I spent a while on the moon and as the sun went down I aimed for Jupiter. “I was fairly sure that bring thing over there is Jupiter!” I thought to myself. I pointed my red dot finder, lined it up and looked through the eyepiece. It was kind of round and blobby. I turned the focus knob all the way and it just got bigger, it looked like I was just looking at the primary mirror. What the hell?! What is wrong with this thing?! I focused it the other way, all the way. Same thing. At best I got a little dot, at worst I got what looked like was a view of the primary mirror. My heart broke. I guess this is as good as it gets. If I want a huge planet in my eyepiece I need a bigger scope. I thought “How damn big does this thing need to be for me to see anything?!” “This can’t be right, I must be doing something wrong.” I called my Dad, who clearly knew more than I did about this. I told him my dilemma and he talked me through some things, but I was still having a hard time getting anything but the moon to come into focus. Finally, after pointing around at other bright points in the sky and looking at the moon again I returned to see Jupiter. “Hey! I think I see something. Oh man, that’s Jupiter! There are the moons! I FOUND IT!” It was only a 20mm eyepiece but I could clearly see two or three thick cloud bands and 4 clear as day moons. I stood up and thought about the implications for a moment, I had just had photons that came from Jupiter, through the atmosphere and were snatched by my telescope, and bounced in to my eyes. I giggled to myself and sighed in relief. The scope worked, I figured it out and I saw my favorite planet. Yeah, Saturn is cool with it’s rings, but this thing is BIG and bad, and it grabs a lot of the would be Earth killer rocks and how cool is that GIANT storm?! The more I learn about Saturn the more I like it, but at the time, Jupiter was far and away the favorite. Could I? Could it be possible? Is it even feasible, to capture these photons with my phone? To have a picture of Jupiter of my very own to show my friends? Turns out, yeah! A BRIGHT globe and 4 dots! Hey man! That’s Jupiter. How about that? It was no Hubble image, but not bad for the first night with this beast.

Cut to the next night my Dad came over to show me a few things. We looked at the moon, Jupiter and he showed me M42. The Orion nebula. He didn’t just point the scope to it. He taught me how to find it. Wow… I could actually make out some color on it! It was so pretty. I learned a hard lesson about deep space objects. More magnification isn’t always better. This is of course true of planets as well, but especially true of deep space objects. We looked for a few other objects, but with a bright moon and a red zone light pollution backyard, it was too hard to find the needed stars to hop to the objects desired. I was content. I couldn’t stop looking at Jupiter. I had read before that you could capture video of these planets, and then stack the images. So I began attempting to hold my camera phone very still and capturing video to stack later.

In just a couple of nights I went from a 30 something with an interest in astronomy, to an amerature astronomer, and very amerature astrophotographer. I went from admiring the great astrophotographers from sources like the Hubble Space Telescope to looking at these very objects I have admired with my own eyes and attempting to take my very own images. They of course were not, and are not even close to the aforementioned images, but I was having fun, and my friends on facebook were excited and intrigued.