Monday, 31 March 2008

ISS and the ATV

It was clearish last night, the change in the clocks from GMT to BST threw things out somewhat, but I checked on Heavens Above for the pass of the ISS and the ATV and they were scheduled to be nice and high and only 2 minutes apart. Excellent thought I, and about 10 minutes before hand, wrapped up, set the camera on the tripod and grabbed my bins.

Whilst I was waiting I took a look around. Orion was still quite high in the sky, so I started with M42. Not a lot to see, a little disappointing. The sisters were nearby, so I swung around and had a look at them for a few minutes.

Then back to scanning for that fast moveing dot. Ah there she is, just coming up into the night sky. The camera was all lined up and ready to go, so I watched and waited, and hit the shutter button. I then watched the ISS in the bins. Hard to track, and hard to see clearly, but there's definite evidence of shape. I knocked on the window and my wife came and had a look. She was clearly unimpressed and was only interested in whether I could tell if it wasn't a plane. To avoid getting into a long discussion, I just said yes, I can tell. I continued to track with the bins, and was surprised when it passed in front of a patch of close and tight stars. I didn't stop to check, but kept on the ISS. After the ISS pass was over, I went back and the ISS had tried to stir up the bees in the hive, by dashing across M44. Excellent.

Then the ATV passed over, this was much dimmer, and I didn't bother with the bins, as I figured it was so much smaller. I caught this on camera too, but it's hard to see. Then I went indoors again. There were some clouds around interfering with the views and I had some things to do. Later I processed the images :



Then combined them in DSS to see if I could show the track of both and how close together they are. This worked well, but I couldn't reduce the noise any as it removed the track of the ATV as it's so dim.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Picture of the Beehive

Well I finally got around to processing the beehive pics taken with the camera piggy backed on the scope. I've done it several times as I'm not really keen on how it's come out. Too blobby. I've worked out why this happened, and I don't think there's anything I can do about it this time around. Because I used the 10x zoom on the camera, which increases the image size on the sensor, the stars are no longer dots. As has been suggested by Geppotto on Astrochat, next time, go for less zoom and crop, will have to see how that comes out. This is a stack of 40x30second frames, with 15 dark frames, stacked in DSS. The first image was played with in PS, the second image was played with in DSS then just a little NC tools in PS. I forgot to set the ISO setting on the camera, so it auto selected it for me, I have no idea what it picked for each image, and this probably didn't help any.

Stacked in DSS processed in PS:

Stacked and mainly processed in DSS with a little tweak in PS

Spotting Galaxies - Just About 27 March

The weather once again denied the accuracy of the forecasts and instead of being heavy cloud with a few gaps was clear with a few light clouds last night.. Hmm, maybe it's just the forecasts should be inverted, nah, it's raining heavily here now and that's spot on.

I stepped outside early on, to have a look around and see about the clouds. About 1915 I could see Sirius and Mars, some of the constellations were beginning to burn through the twilight sky, and I could make out the main shapes of Orion, a few stars in Gemini and a few others. Whilst I was watching the stars come out to play, I spotted a fast moving one. I hadn't checked on Heavens Above, as I hadn't expected a clear night. Anyway I watched it travel from the Northwest to the Southeast through Gemini. After it had gone, winging it's way around the Earth, I stepped back in and had a look, to discover this was Meteor 1-4. I had a good long look then at Heavens Above to see what could be seen. I only caught one more, and that was the ISS. It was low in the sky in the South, but I caught it coming up out of the murk, pass under Sirius and fade into shadow. Good to see this speeding chariot of the heavens again, just a shame I hadn't set up the camera, as the framing with Sirius would probably have been pretty good. Ah well.

I had some things still to do, so went back indoors for a little while. When I came back out, I had everything with me. I set up the scope, and this time was very picky over leveling. I took out a proper spirit level and using this on the accessory tray, leveled each leg, so a three way, rather than a two way. Powered up, and went through the Skyalign. I used the 5mm Ortho to centre each star, this was much easier as the FOV on the Ortho is so much less than the Hyperion. I used Polaris and Aldeberan as the two primary stars, and I don't know what the third reference point was, and whilst I was centering bumped one leg of the tripod. I put it back as closely as poss, using the RDF as a guide (I'd already got this lined up before I bumped it), I probably should have started the align again I guess, but I wanted to get going. So once the NexStar had worked out the sky, I changed ep to the 17mm Hyperiona and I slewed to Saturn to check on the goto. She appeared just below center in the FOV of the Hyperion, this is the best yet and I think it was down to the leveling at first. I didn't spend long, as this was just a quick check of the goto and slewed to M44 which was my intended target all along.

I had to make a minor adjustment on the mount to centre M44 in the Hyperion, but that was ok. I'd mounted the Z2 on the piggy back bracket ready to attempt some cluster imaging. So I took a couple of framing shots, and tweaked the aim slightly. Then I set about snapping away.

As I was snapping, I used the Bins to have a look around and a brief tour of some objects that are disappearing from the skies at the moment. First up, I had a look at M44. I wanted to get an idea of the sort of framing I was going to get on the image. Given that the magnification on both the camera at full zoom and the bins are about the same this gave a very good indication. From there, I had a look at M42. Looked very small and forlorn in the bins as it sank into the low level murk around the horizon. Then I found the sisters. They were hiding their glory in the tree at the end of the garden, but as it's not started to blossom yet, this wasn't a good hiding place really and I spent some time looking through the tree branches.

I then turned around and spotted the Kite asterism of Bootes. Had a quick look at Arcturus whilst I was there, before turning my attention to Coma Berenices and Melotte 111. It took a little while with the bins to hunt Mel111 down, but eventually I managed to locate it in the bins. A pretty V shape, but looking, I was pretty sure there were hints of more detail lurking just beyond the limits of the bins and my eyes. Meanwhile I'm still clicking away on the camera. From Mel111, I went to take a look at Saturn. I could just about make out the slight lumpiness that the bins showed of the rings around the middle. To be honest, that was more than I was expecting. Up from there to Algeiba to have a look at the double. I then turned around, still clicking away, and had a look through Auriga before this too disappeared behind the trees. Firstly I found the Leaping Minnow and nearby the Smiley Face. Using these as guide posts, I found M36, M37 and M38. I hopped into Gemini and found M35 and had a quick look at Mars. Through the bins, Mars looks like a red star. Clickety click goes the camera.

The middle of Orion's sword had now dropped below the line of the hedge so it was goodbye to M42. But I was still able to pick up Cr69 and Cr70 as they were still clear of the hedge, if only just. From here, I went back to Mel111 and had a further look. It was at this point that I noticed the images being displayed on the camera were all looking quite blobby. I took a couple more, still the same, and stopped. I then took a bunch of darks for DSS to process, and started using the scope for looking at things, rather than as a tracking mount for the camera.

I slewed to Saturn and now had a good long look. I left the 17mm Hyperion in and at 30x I could see the bulge of the rings, I believe some shadow between the planet and the rings and one moon, which I reckon was Titan. I then used the goto to try and find a few very dim fuzzies.

First up M81 and M82. I hit the buttons for M81 and off went the scope. Having spotted these two a couple of times, picking them up was easier, although the fact that there are now nearly overhead, rather then in the murk over Gatwick is probably a bigger factor. In the 17mm Hyperion, they both fit in the FOV. I used the scope jiggle to check that the grey patches were actually up there, not in my eye or marks on the lens. Then just to make doubly sure, I told the Goto to slew to M82, and sure enough, after a moment, the scope was now targeting the other grey fuzzy and M81 was still there. I thought I'd try got a few new ones, now I knew that all was working ok. First up I tried for M101. As the scope slewed around, I spotted a thin streamer of cloud wafting it's way across the sky. When the scope stopped, it was pointing at the cloud. That was a non starter. So onto M51. A much harder spot than M81 and M82, but after a few minutes staring into the ep, the mount motors quietly ticking away to themselves, I spotted a very dim grey patch using averted vision. Again I jiggled the scope slightly, and it stayed with the star field and was definitely there, but I couldn't believe how faint it was. I then tried for M63. There was something there, but even averted, it was at the edge of visible. I think this is pushing the limits of my gear here, but I think I'll add this to the list, as I'm pretty certain I saw something.

I then kicked a leg again. Damn. Set the mount back to Saturn, and whilst it ended up a little low in the FOV, the alignment was still reasonable, so I carried on. I should point out, that as I was getting cold, I must have left a gap somewhere in the outer layers and the cold air was seeping in, if the slew to Saturn had not been ok, I'd have given up. I then tried for M65, M66, M106 and M94. In all four cases, I followed the same processes. Once the scope had slewed to the correct location, I stared for a few minutes, then using the mount motors on really slow speed nudged the scope a little up and down and left and right. In each case, there was something very dim and slightly fuzzy, so I've chalked these all up. This adds 6 to my list of observed Messier objects.

I then slewed back to Saturn, changed ep, to the 5mm Hyperion and used the x2 barlow. Ah, much better to see her with, although somewhat dimmer. I then tried out a Baader Contrast Booster filter instead of my Fringe Killer (Hmm, note to self, next time I go looking for dim and fuzzies, remove the Fringe Killer why didn't I think of this last night, DOH!!!). The brightness of the view was noticeably lower, and I don't think the view was any better. I removed the filters altogether and had a look at Saturn, and apart from brightening, there wasn't a lot of difference, then put the Fringe Killer back in, and there was a slight dimming, only just noticeable, so maybe it hadn't made too much difference in the fuzzy hunt.

At this point the cold got the better of me, and I came inside to attempt to process the images of M44 and warm up. The image still needs work.

A successful evening, spotting a few early friends from a few months ago, when I started in this hobby, possibly for what could be the last time till next year. Confirmed that the mount works really well, but the setup is very important and must be done as accurately as possible, I think I'm going to have to invest in a small spirit level to keep in the case. And added 6 to my Messier list objects found, although I'll revisit whenever the next time the weather breaks for me without the filter to see how much difference it makes. I enjoyed and needed that.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

The best of the big cat

As it was raining again yesterday I spent a couple of hours working on my Leo image and reprocessing it. After some playing I'd done on some daytime images, I'd found an option to enhance contrast in PS levels. So I used this, then played around with NC tools, GradientXTerminator, and a few other filters and it's certainly pulled more detail out of the image.

I think I've got it about as far as it's going to go, although if it rains again tonight, which is the forecast, I'll probably have another play or three. On the subject of the weather, the day once again started clear and bright, with lovely blue skies. And in the past hour or two, the clouds have rolled in. I guess the April showers have arrived a week early.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008


Nothing to report today or yesterday, as the sky was covered in grey fluffy stuff.

Instead, I've decided to point out a blog that I've been reading by TJ that I found out about from SGL. He has a keen wit and a very amusing style of writing. I've linked to the blog in the sidebar, but here's the link.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Thin clouds

Thin cloud last night, so I didn't get out. However, I have made some improvements to the camera piggy back screw. I found that the screw itself had come loose. I tightened it up, I might have to get some form of washer to put in there to help hold it still. Then I turned over the platform nut (not sure what it's really called) as this provides more area for the camera to sit on, and to add that extra touch of fixedness, a rubber washer between this and the camera. Once the camera is attached, I can wrap the should strap around the extended portion of the dovetail bar and this will hold the camera up pretty well in case something slips. I need to work on the clickstop at some point now. I wonder if I can mark out the best settings in some way so that I can just unfold it, align the arms and attach, that would be good. I'll have to look into this.

One thing I did discover from the other night that I forgot to mention on my previous post, if leaving everything set up, put the eyepiece cap on the ep to protect the lens.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Planets, Constellations and the Moon - 22nd March

What! No! It can't be! A *gasp* clear night ? Surely not. So first off I attempted to setup my camera in piggy back mode on the scope. Hmm. something wrong here. I screwed it in place, tightened the locking nut, yet it still moves. This is ominous. Anyway, I went out, and set up the mount. Powered up and carried out a SkyAlign. I used Betelguese, Almach and, I'm not really sure, but it was in a suitable place and it worked.

So I tried to take a dark or two on my piggy backed camera. This wasn't good because as soon as I touched the camera it moved. Hmm, this is not going to work. So I removed the camera,

So First up, I slewed around to Saturn. And had a play with the Clickstop. I set the 17mm Hyperion in the scope, attached the clickstop with my wifes camera attached and had a try at some afocal Saturn shots. However, you obviously need to setup the clickstop during the day when you can see what it is you are doing. I fiddled and faffed and fiddled some more, but I just couldn't seem to get the lens alligned. I managed one shot and there's just a blob. I unmounted the camera and tried hand held, which was a lot better, although still not great. I'm not sure the clickstop is going to work for me. It needs more careful planning for the next go. Neither image is good, so I haven't posted them.

I then slewed around to M44 as I was going to try the piggy back, but as the camera wasn't fixing properly, just had a quick look, very nice as always, and went back to Saturn. I changed to the 5mm Hyperion and Barlow (160x). I spent quite some time, just looking. I could definitely see the gap between the rings and the planet on the edges and the shadow of the rings across the planet. I'm pretty sure I saw a faint darkening about halfway between the rings and the poles. My eyes also told me that I could see a gap in the rings, I laughed at them and told them to stop being so stupid, with my little scope, I'm not going to get to see the Cassini Division.

Anyway, after about 20 minutes on Saturn, I started the slew to Mars (for some reason, I'd decided to have a Solar System night, almost sounds like some form of party). And my mobile phone rang. Hmm, had to go indoors and sort a few things out. I left the scope running.

Time Passes.... (for anyone familiar with old text based adventures)

After about 40 minutes and having set my camera up on a tripod, I got back out and there was Mars still in the FOV, although it had slipped a little, but that was easily fixed, with a short press of a button or two, ah the joys of a driven mount. So, I spent about 30 minutes or so starring at Mars, trying really hard to see something, anything other than this tiny little ball. In the meantime, this was interspersed with taking a sequence of frames on Gemini in RAW mode. Needless to say, that this was actually worse than the one I'd tried before in jpg mode, but I thing that was down to the moon. Anyway Mars, I don't know if this is possible, but it looked to me like the edge was slightly less round. And one edge looked slightly brighter. Of course I may have just imagined all that.

I gave up then, and I decided to try and spot a few new constellations I hadn't identified before. Oddly this seemed much easier than when I was first trying to learn the sky, maybe because of more reference point. Anyway, I added to my list of identified constellations:

Leo Minor, Canes Venatici, Coma Berenices, Bootes, Draco, Lynx, Canis Mino, and Corona Borealis, bringing my total up to 25.

Meanwhile, the mount was still tracking away merrily to itself, and Mars was still in the FOV. Anyway, as I wanted to look at the moon, I set to Lunar tracking rate, and slewed to the moon herself. Of course, as she was still below the roof at this point, but there we go. I took a couple of photos by taking the camera further up the garden, and here's what came out.

The Midnight Sun. One 30 second exposure, a little arty

The moon herself, full zoom (14x as I was testing something), 1/125 @ISO100, tweaked in PS

At this point, I was cold, so came in to have a go at the images and left everything running. Apart from the odd small wisp of cloud, there hadn't been any. This is important for alter.

I processed those images and stacked Gemini and then threw it away again. After about 45 minutes I headed back out. By this time, I decided I couldn't be bothered waiting for the moon to climb over the house, and if she would'nt get a move on, then I would just have to move everything to her. I moved the seating and gear, the mount and power supply, and realligned the mount using the RDF. Then I checked the ep. What was going on here. Lots of bright specks in the FOV. Hmm. I set the tracking back up using the moon. Checked the Objective lens, that was clear, checked the barlow, that was clear. Turned on the Lantern, to check the eye lens. Hmm, what's this? Everything was covered in little white specks. Damn, where had that light hail come from...

I got the Baader Optical wonder fluid and cleaned the ep. This sorted it out, and got to work on the Lunar surface. First up, Aristarchus which I'd intended to use as a reference, but it didn't quite work out that way. Then Sinus Roris and found Plato. I hunted around for the other craters listed around this area in my Atlas for a while, but there was not enough contrast. I moved onto the limb. Firstly, I picked off Atlas and Hercules, nice and easy and side by side, and right next door Endymion. From there Proclus on the Mare Crisium, although this was after hunting for Cleomedes, Geminum and Messala, which I gave up on for now. Then Langrenus, and studying for a few minutes, as the seeing slipped in and out, there were the rays. Then in the Mare itself, two bright and distinct little crateres, Messiers. From there Apollonius fell, and I think I found Tarantius. Then I found Cleomedes Geminus and Messala.

I'm not certain, but I may have seen Smythii (I saw something that may have been this, so I'm not going to tick this on the 100 yet). Onto Petavius and moved on along the limb to Snellius, Stevinus, Funerius (although I think this was just the wall in the terminator). I then went looking for Jansen. Again the seeing was fighting me, but after some time, I picked out the craters across the floor. I think I spotted Valis Rheita although again only just. I then starred back at Jansen again. After about 10 minutes, a faint line trace curving in a delicate arc, blossomed into view, I guess the seeing settled a bit, and I think this was the Jansen rille. Finally onto Fabricus.

My toes were growing icicles inside my boots, as, did I now notice, were my books, scope, mount and eyepiece. I figured that enough was enough before everything froze.

A very enjoyable night and everything has nearly defrosted. I'm now at 65 of the Lunar 100 and 5 of the 88 Constellations so I reckon that's also a successful night.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

A Couple of Moonies

There was the odd short gap in the clouds last night, and I managed to snap a couple of pictures in RAW of the moon. It took me quite a while to work out why they all looked so washed out when opened in PS. It turns out that the RAW import plugin was automatically attempting to "improve" the image for me. Now I've found this and turned it off, the images are looking a lot better.

The first one is the full moon. 1 single ISO200 frame at 1/1000 second.

And as the clouds were coming in, I increased the exposure time to 1/13 second and caught this.

Both images are handheld.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Filtering Weather

The weather today has just been plain weird. It started out really nice first thing this morning, bright blue skies, not a cloud in sight. This of course didn't last, and within a short while, the sky had gone dark. Then the hail started. Hard. It didn't last long and was gone again shortly after. Then the clouds went and the sun came out. Dare I say it, almost warm. It stayed this way for a few hours with a little light rain shower in the middle. Then about 4 the winds kicked up, and the clouds came back. A little later, another bout of hail, and now it looks like it might be clearing. Maybe, it'll be clear for a look at the full Moon, maybe not. I just can't tell. The forecasts are not helpful and are covering themselves for most eventualities. There's even a weather warning in force for some parts near me for snow tomorrow. Ah well. Just have to see.

I've been looking into CA filter for the scope. The fringe killer works pretty well, but I'm not certain the yellow tint isn't affecting my ability to see contrasts well on the moon. I posted about various filters on AC and have been offered a loaner of the Baader Contrast Booster, and having accepted, I'm going to give this try to see whether the views are better.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Moon against a backdrop of stars

I forgot to post this the other day. It's a picture I took from the 16th Feb. A single 30 second frame @ISO200. It's only had Noiseware run on it.

Visiting Luna - 19th March

I was out early yesterday evening, and the sky was clear. What's this, no clouds. There was the Moon, nearly full, shining brightly in the tree tops. As the sky got darker, other pinpricks started to appear, Saturn, Mars and Sirius being the first to burn on through. The Moon was very close to Saturn and made quite a pretty sight all on there own. Of course this was all using the old Mk1 eyeball. A half hearted attempt was made to spot Lacrosse 3 skate across the sky near Luna and Saturn, but as I was under some trees at the time, there wasn't a lot of chance to see this minuscule dot. Then as tradition dictates, as I was getting ready to head home to where all my gear was, what should happen, but those grey monstrous objects should roll across and cover the sky in murk. Typical.

A few hours later, as I'm sitting at the PC trying to do some image editing of, well it looks like, Perseus and M45 widefield. I'm not sure where it came from, but I think I took it the same night as my Leo stack. It still needs a lot of work, there's no darks or anything else to stack with it. I was getting fed up with the lack of progress so I wandered over the to the window and took a look out. There were still some clouds up there, but there were gaps and the Moon was poking her nose out. So I figured why not (I wasn't sure what I was going to use for the SLT mount alignment) grabbed the gear and went outside.

Here I made my first mistake. Expecting to only get maybe 20 minutes in the gaps, I didn't wrap up as I normally would. I plonked down the mount, plugged in the power tank, dropped in the TAL x2 barlow and the 5mm Hyperion. Powered up, set the date and time, selected one star align, checked around, spotted Betelguese and went for that. After alignment, I slewed around to the Moon and set the tracking rate to Lunar. Grabbed a chair, hmm, third mistake. Sitting on the chair, I could look at the large expanse of metal that is the side of the eyepiece.

What happened to mistake number 2 I hear you cry. Ah well, I forget to level the mount. So, I powered it all down again, lowered the legs to about half height, leveled, powered back up, entered the time again!!, one star aligned on Betelguese, slewed to the moon, set the tracking rate to Lunar and we were off.

So running at 160x, I started off finding Aristarchus, nice and easy to find, it's so bright and out towards what's left of the terminator. Doesn't half move on quickly. I noticed something odd and it threw me for a while. The Field of View that I could see at 160x was so much bigger than what I'd been looking at before. My last viewing of the moon, I ended up using the 5mm Ortho and the barlow as the mount wouldn't take the weight of the Hyperion and Barlow combined and this showed a very restricted view by comparison. In one respect this made things much easier, the Hyperion, I find, is a much easier eyepiece to use, but having the wide FOV, finding craters became a little harder. Navigating was easier, but the landmarks appeared to be further apart.

Anyway, enough, on with the Moon. I spent some time looking through the mush at Aristarchus looking for the Schroter Valley. I don't think the seeing was very good. Still, after maybe 3 minutes studying that region, suddenly, as if a cloud had been parted, the inverted horseshoe shape leaped up out of the landscape. From here, I found Herodotus and Prinz. I looked for the Rilles as they are listed in the Lunar 100, but according to my Atlas I have as much chance as the proverbial snowball does as I need a much bigger scope to see them, so I gave up. Still I did spot the Montes Harbinger Range and I picked up Krieger too just nearby. Then as I started looking for Sinus Iridum and Sinus Roris, I noticed a funny looking lump nearby. This showed up from the way the light and shadow played on the surface. After a little careful checking I figured this for the Rumker hills, and it was much easier to see this time around, than last time. Maybe I'm just getting better at seeing Lunar features.

Anyway, after spotting Sinus Iridum and Roris, I went to look for Pythagoras. I managed to get all twisted up in the orientation, and started out looking in completely the wrong direction, but soon worked out I'd been daft and headed back and spotted it. Then I moved across (using the slew control on the handset but slowed down) to find Plato. From here I moved up a little way to find Archimedes. This area was hard to see things on, as there is just so little contrast at the moment, but concentrating and starring helped to reveal the craters. I then moved onto Mare Serenitatis to try and find Menelaus. I used the ray that shoes though the Mare as a guide, following it to the South I found Menelaus. I thought I'd then have a go at finding Proclus. I wasn't expecting to necessarily have an easy time of finding this one as it's in the washed out area with so little contrast, but I was astonished at how easy it really was. The crater walls almost glowed, like there were coated in phosphorescent moss. An astonishing sight.

After studying Proclus for a while I moved off to try and find some more craters. I started at Tycho and used this as a reference point. I started by following a double ray (I hope that's the correct term here) to the North East trying to spot Bullialdus, but after some time hunting, I wasn't sure I'd found it, so I gave up for now and moving a little way South, I went looking for Clavius. I'd spotted this easily before, but I starred and starred and yet couldn't make it out. Ths contract thing again. After a while though, I began to pick out the line of craters that arc through Clavius and knew I was looking in the right place, then after but a moment more, I picked out the walls and there we were. Schiller was an easy spot with it's distinctive elongated shape. Using Schiller and Clavius as guide point, I found Bettinus and I think I could just about make out the edge of Bailey right on the limb. From there around to Schikard, which I used as a pointer to pick up Vieta and Cavendish. Working my way along the surface, next up was Merseene and onto Gassendi.

I then went looking for Sirsalis and the so far elusive Sirsalis Rille. According to my Atlas, the rille should definitely be visible in my little scope. So I found Sirsalis, it's an odd crater, looks a bit like a giant camel has been for a wander, centered it in the eyepiece, and starred. Again it took a few moments, but as my eye got used to the surface, more detail slowly began to show, and then, as if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared. Sorry, I don't know where that came from, the Rille collapsed back below the surface and into view. I'm astonished at how often this happens but it's true, the longer you look the more you see. So anyway, another one ticked off the Lunar 100. The next three in the atlas I couldn't see as they were hiding in the Terminator (serves me right for using the maps from the wrong day, ho hum). So I went and had a look at Reiner and Reiner Gamma. This is an odd looking thing, the crater is just that, but Gamma is a peculiar swirl of lighter bits on the surface.

From Reiner then I went on to look at Marius, and inwards to Copernicus. This about completed my guided tour from the 13 day page of the atlas, so I turned to the 11 day page and went around that too. Using Copernicus as the referent point, I went and had a look at Sinus Medii and Sinus Asperitatis, not so easy to see, but distinct. I moved South, found Plato and used that to locate Fontenelle. Moving along East I came to Herschel, which I centred and from there found both Harpalus and Philolaus. I'm sure that these would have been easier to see a day or two earlier, but the clouds didn't want me to. Moving South from Harpalus, I found the Mons Gruithuisen I think, well some little bumps in about the right place. Using the location of the Mons and Aristarchus as reference I found Euler. I hunted around for Lambert, but couldn't quite work out where it was, so I moved onto Sinus Iridum and used that as a marker for finding Helicon. This combined with Euler let me find Lambert.

I moved back up to Aristarchus and Copernicus and using these, I found Kepler by forming a triangle with Kepler at the point. Using the same technique from Kepler and Copernicus I found Lansberg. Then spotted on the map, what look like a smaller Sinus, but I suspect it's a bit small, using Gassendi as a guide found Letronne. From Gassendi, across Mare Humorum I picked up Doppelmayer. Using Gassendi and Dopplemeyer as triangulation points, I finally found Bullialdus, right where I'd been looking earlier. Ah well, missed it on the first go, but I found it anyway. From here I found Ramsden and Hainzel.

I gave up at this point, after spending about an hour and a half studying the moon as the cold had seeped inside and my toes were beginning to feel like ice cubes. I probably should have stopped a little earlier, but I wanted to finish as much of the pointed objects as possible on the 13 day and 11 day old pages from the Atlas. This objective complete, I used the slew controls to put the scope back in it's normal rest position, powered down and gathered everything up to go indoors again. I was cold enough, that I didn't even take a quick look at Saturn before heading in.

Then I made my final mistake of the night, on the way to the back door, I stepped in a patch of mud on the decking and carried it into the house, oops. Gonna have to clear that up to day now it's dried.

So what lessons did I take away,

1) Never trust that the expected short gap will be a short gap and dress expecting it to be really cold for hours (which it was)
2) Always set the height and level the mount before powering up for the first time
3) Make sure my boots are clean before walking on the carpet, it hurts less later

A small discovery, the Hyperions are just about parfocal with the Tal x2 Barlow.

So I added one to the Lunar 100 (that's 61 now), got really cold, but was really glad I'd got out to spend some time under the stars, looking at the moon.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Where have all the stars gone ?

Another day passes. I'm sitting here listening to "Mr Blue Sky" on the telly and wondering the same thing as in the song. The day started out with only a couple of small puffs of cotton wall floating up high, brilliantly clear, the sun shining in the heavens. A far more pleasant start to the day than recently. Gradually, I've watched the grey mass float across and gobble up all the sky. Once again we're back to heavy cloud cover, and what's looking to be another night without being able to see the sky. It's been a week now and it's getting to be a tad irritating.

I've modded the new mount slightly, got everything rigged up so I can take fixed afocal images, the powertank is ready to go with all the cables needed. I want to go and use it again. The forecast is again, for the third time this week supposed to be clear by about 9pm. Ha, I'm not holding out any hope. Ah well.

Another day,
still no stars,
still no moon,
the scope hides in the dining room.

Forecast is clear,
I don't believe it,
I need my fix,
of the sky at night.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

A minor adjustment

It occurred to me, after banging my hand on the dovetail bar, after reaching for the right hand side focusing knob, that I could do something about it. So, I've flipped the dovetail around so the extended bit is at the front and now I can use both focus knobs. Much better. I had to remove both tube rings, swap the positions around before refitting so as to keep the piggyback camera point at the front and the locking nuts at the top, but that's an easy one.

I'm now trying to decide whether to get some machined aluminium focus knobs to replace the plastic ones I have now, or to buy a crayford focuser instead, or indeed whether to just leave it alone for now.

A few minor discoveries

After a mixed day all round, the clouds parted a little early on for a brief tantalising glimpse of the moon and within 2 minutes had swept back in again and that was that for the night. Despite the forecast showing that it ought to clear up later on, it never did. Oh well, another night passes and no celestial viewing.

I did make a couple of small discoveries yesterday though. Whilst I was putting away after taking the pics with the Baader Clickstop, I noticed that the tripod on the NexStar mount had a bit of wobble in it. Later on in the day, I got the time to take a proper look. I found that the wobble was much more pronounced on one leg than the other two. Odd thought I. Anyway, the legs are attached via 5mm Allen bolt and nut. After a three quarter turn on the Allen bolt, I was able to give the other two legs a quarter turn, virtually all the wobble is now gone from the legs. The mount just feels so much more stable. This is good.

I also had a quick look at the dovetail that's fitted to the Celestron 60mm scope that came with the mount. I was amazed to find that it's been pre drilled with not one but two, standard 1/4" Whitworth holes for a standard Camera tripod mount. This is excellent news. It means that if I should ever get friends round, I can leave the Konus setup on the SLT mount for high power views on the moon, and use the 60mm for other things. This might sound odd as the 60mm has a longer focal length, but even so, the Konus can use more magnification due to the larger aperture. It also means that if/when I have an afocal imaging session with the Konus, I will still have a scope to use, albeit on a clunky camera tripod.

This now gives me,
1) Konus Nexstar Vista 80sLT,
2) Celestron 60/700 Frac on a tripod,
3) Celestron Up Close 12x50 on a tripod and my
4) 7x35 WA handheld.
5) 5mm and 17mm Hyperions. 32mm, 25m, 20mm, 17mm, 2x10mm, 9mm and a 6.5mm Plossl, a 5mm Ortho, a Tal X2 Barlow and 3x90 degree and 1x45 degree prism diagonals.

Not bad for someone who only started 5 months ago with a pair of bins.

Monday, 17 March 2008

A play with the microstage

I borrowed my wife's camera and attached it to the clickstop. This works better than my Z2 as it's much lighter and the diagonal doesn't rotate in the extension tube (a bonus). Anyway, here's the camera in situ. I used the 17mm Hyperion as the exit pupil is bigger and this helped with the vignetting. The camera was zoomed to 3x (max optical) and is an Olympus FE5500. The 17mm Hyperion gives me about 30x and combined with the camera I think gives me about 90x. I folded the rubber cup down to make it easier to swing the camera into position.

Camera in position to take piccy

Camera in lowest position

Camera at half way point

Piccy of the fence at 90x (ish) using this setup.

This has some possibilities. I also bolted my Z2 onto the piggyback bolt on the tube rings, with it's 1.4x telephoto extended attached and took a photo on full auto (the camera focused on the fore ground stuff rather than the fence, but it gives some idea. I reckon this will work well on clusters at full zoom. The objective of the Telephoto is also 60mm instead of 35mm, so I ought to be able to gather more light and information in the images using it. I'm not sure my maths is correct here, but I make that something like about 65% more light grasp.

Of course, now all I need is the opportunity to use this stuff. When will the clouds go ?

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Oh no, not again

I hear cries of oh no, not again as I sit here reprocessing Leo once more. This time, I tried a couple of different stacks. Firstly using only half the frames, this was somewhat better. Then lastly I chose just those frames where DSS reported there being at least 20 stars. Oh boy is there more to see. I also tried to process the image far more gently than before using Levels, Curves and Noel's tools. This means that this is a stack of only 3 and a half minutes. Here's the picture.

I think it's a lot better. Although the not totally black background seems to have some odd blurring.

I was also in Millets today, and spotted one of these on the shelves. These had been suggested by BG on SGL as a superb red light head torch. When I asked how much, the person on the counter, checked it, then deducted 50% from the price. She asked where I'd gotten it from and I said the shelf and she confirmed the 50% price. I asked again to be sure and yes, she was only going to charge me half price. Who am I to say not to such a bargain, so I now have a superb head torch in the collection, and it all fits into a very neat and small pouch. Excellent.

No chance of any star gazing tonight. The clouds have now moved in with a vengeance and they are crying all over everything. So not is it only grey, it's also now wet and miserable. Shame. The forecast is indicating that my next clear night is likely to be Monday. Then I should be able to give the Goto on the NexStar a good workout and check the slews are good with the external power. Also I can check and verify that the tightening on the Alt bracket allows for proper usage of the 5mm Hyperion and Barlow and study the moon some more. I've got to also work out what to do about the camera situation with Vignetting... Hmm...

Friday, 14 March 2008

Reprocessing Leo

I've spent the evening reprocessing the Leo image I took the frames for the other night. After innumerable restacks, or at least it feels like it. I finally spotted something that was probably guaranteed to mess up the final image. I found I'd included in the stack a short exposure, out of focus framing shot I'd taken. Doh... How silly. Anyway, I removed it from the list of frames in DSS, set a border to cut out the house and restacked. This time, the image looked a lot better. I saved it off, and loaded it into Photoshop, where I played with Levels and Curves to bring out the detail, then used Noel's actions to remove the space noise, enhance the star colour and other things. I think this looks a lot better than my original, and it's not really that surprising I guess. Anyway, here's the result.

I've also been asked for pictures of my Baader Clickstop in action. Got to find me a second camera. Hmm, now where did my wife leave hers ? I also figured out why I had so much Vignetting on the test image. I was using the 5mm Hyperion which has an exit pupil of 1mm. The objective on my camera is about 35mm. That's a huge difference. I'm not certain I'll get much better out of the 17mm Hyperion. I may have to just piggyback my camera and try a few other things, like a full zoom powered motion shot of a cluster or three, and use my wifes camera on the Clickstop. Hmm, this is going to get interesting.

All powered up and nothing to see

My powertank cable has now arrived from Astronomiser and FLO. The mount now powers up nicely from the powertank. No more suffering with poor tired old AA's for me. Just need this weather to go away so I can test out the external power supply and newly tightened Alt bracket. I've checked the forecast and the next clear night is supposed to be Monday. Then I can also test out the x14 mod on the camera, go for some max zoom, piggybacked shots of clusters. Also I can test out the Baader Microstage II. It appears I can seriously overdo the magnification if I'm not careful, although the images suffer from some serious vignetting using my Z2. Of course, using the 17mm Hyperion, may well improve the vignetting. Might have to borrow the wifes camera though, cough cough.

Here's a test image I took of the usual fence. I used the 5mm Hyperion with the Z2 attached at full zoom and full auto. If I'm correct, and I might be way out, then this gives me something like 800x which is totally unusable. Hmm, of course my maths is probably way out.

It's worth pointing out, that I also got some Baader Optical Wonder fluid yesterday. After testing it on my work glasses, I've now also used it to clean up all the lenses and the Diagonal mirror, so it's all nice and shiny.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Collecting Craters

After a cloudy and really windy start to the day yesterday I wasn't expecting to be able to get out last night. I was really surprised to find that by about 7pm the moon was out and the sky was visible. After I'd got everything done at home, I got out into the garden at about 9pm. The Sky was a little hazy, but it didn't interfere, in fact it probably helped me somewhat.

I took all the gear outside and grabbed my Atlas of the moon. Leveled the mount as carefully as possible with the bubble level. I'd checked the bubble level against a normal spirit level with the mount off the tripod during the day and they seemed pretty close. I chose to do a one star align, to see how well it would hold the sky, chose Sirius and slewed the scope round to get setup. I started out with the 5mm Ortho, but just couldn't get close enough to get he star centered. I think I must have knocked my RDF at some point. I dropped in the 5mm Hyperion instead and that sorted me out. Once aligned, I set the tracking rate to Lunar and manually slewed back to the moon. Goto isn't really needed here, although it would have meant that I didn't have to hold down the button, oh the hardship.

I checked the alignment in the ep and dazzled myself a little, I forgot about this and the reason I'd bought the ND filter in the first place. So, whilst I was adding the 2x barlow to take the magnification up to 160x I added the ND filter to the hyperion. Dropped the stack of metal and glass in the diagonal and watched as my little scope automagically without any help from me or the slew controls pivoted skywards. Oh no thought I (well not really, there were a few choice words to be said, but I can't repeat them here). Suffice to say, damn and blast. Whilst I'd managed to balance the Hyperions on there own by using a long dovetail and shifting the scope forward a little, the combined weight was too much for the NexStar mount. So today I'll be tightening the bolt in the Altitude adjuster, a little tighter should hold it all nicely.

Luckily I caught it all before he diagonal smacked into the base of the mount. I swapped the Hyperion for the 5mm Ortho with the ND filter instead, and there was no weight issues at all. It turns out that 160x was just too much magnification for last night. I don't think the seeing was doing much, and after about 10 minutes of only really being able to make out the bigger craters and then only fuzzily, I took out the Ortho and barlow combination and went back to the Hyperion. Once focussed this was just so much better. When I went back to the Hyperion, I forgot to put the ND filter back in, but this wasn't so much of a problem now as there was a little high level mist and the moon was settling into the thin twigs of a tree which cut down the light quite nicely, but didn't seem to interfere with the view a great deal.

So at 80x I took a good look around. The first challenge was orientating the ep view to the Atlas. This wasn't so easy, as due to the rotation of the earth and the moon, the view was skewed a little. I got there in the end by using Catharina, Cyrillus and Theophilus as the reference point. Once I'd worked out the position, things became much easier. Firstly I had a look to see what could be added to my Lunar 100 list. I noted that there were two possibles, I hadn't already seen and went hunting for them.

First up, Petavius. Given the position of the Terminator, this was easier to see and I found it eventually. This then gave me two reference points and this made the plotting in the Atlas so much more easier. Then Fracastorius, nice and easy to see and Isidorus and Capella. All very close to the referent point. The FOV on the Hyperion, meant that I could see quite a chunk of the moon, without needing to move the scope. So I left it sat there, I could hear the clicking of the motors so I knew it was tracking away, quite a restful sound for a couple of reasons, one it's a nice slow and quiet rhythm, two it's reassuring that it's still going and the scope doesn't need fiddling with to put back to what you were looking at. Anyway, I studied this area of the moon at 80x for about 10 minutes, and not once did the tracking shift (that I could tell). It was quite astonishing how much more detail could be seen after staring at the same area for that length of time, compared to my previous attempts where I could get about 20 to 30 seconds at best.

I found Maskelyne next, then Vitruius, and looked at the bumpy around it, not sure what they are exactly, rilles or low mountins ?? but they looked quite impressive. I think I could just about make out the end of the Caucasus poking out of the terminator too. Then I found Atlas and Hercules. I was unable to see the Atlas craters referenced in the Lunar 100, although I tried hard. This would have been more likely at 160x, but due to the weight and seeing I couldn't do it. Maybe next time.

I then used the slew buttons, set on slow, to move along the lunar surface to the opposite end of the viewable area and had a hunt around there. First up the Rupes Altai. I've already ticked this off on the lunar 100. As it was very near, I picked up Piccolomini at the same time. moving on up (based on the book), I next bagged Hommel and Pitiscus. Then on the way back again, had a good look for and spotted Janssen.

The wind was beginning to get up a bit at this point, and I kept having to wait for lulls in the gusts for the view to settle, but preserving and swinging back past Catharina, Cyrillus and Theophilus again, I found and grabbed Endymion, Gartner and Arnold. These last three were much harder to spot, I think the view appeared further around than my atlas shows, so I guess this was an effect of libration. From there back for a few easy ones, Franklin and Grove. It took me fair few minutes, as I managed to lose myself finding Romer, but I got there in the end.

I wish in some ways I could describe the craters better. But I guess I wasn't using enough Magnification to really get a good look at them so I've just named them. I spent an hour looking at the moon during which time, apart from using the slow motion slew to move the view around to find the craters, I didn't have to adjust the scope at all and the NexStar mount maintained the Lunar tracking without issues.

The Big Dipper being overhead now, as opposed to being low down in the murk over Gatwick, I thought I'd have a go at using the Goto to see if I could find me a galaxy I've hunted for and failed to find previously. So, I adjusted the tracking rate from Lunar back to Sidereal, hit the M for Messier button on the handset and typed in 051. Away went the scope. After it had come to rest and the motors were just ticking away to them selves, I had a good look through the eyepiece. I really wanted to see something, and a couple of times thought I had, but couldn't be sure. I decided to go and have a look at M44 and Saturn before going in.

I hit the goto for M44 and whilst it was slewing watched a big patch of greyness sweep out of the west and blot out M44. Ah well, scrub that one. Go for Saturn. The mount slewed around, slowing during the approach, and wait, what's this. It's out again. Blast it. Then I realised. Not only was I using the old tired AA batteries, which were ok for maintaining the track of the moon, but I guess the frantic slewing through a total of 270 degrees must have worn them out, but also, the shift of the scope through the weight probably put out the alignment. Ah well, not a problem with Saturn, so I manually adjusted and had a good long look. I saw one moon, Rhea whilst looking. Then decided enough was enough as the clouds were really making there presence felt.

A great nights viewing with the NexStar mount really doing itself justice on tracking. I really enjoyed last night and look forward to getting the mount adjusted and properly powered so I can really use it properly. I also added one more to the Lunar 100.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

General Updates

Not a lot to report. The weather was it's normal self last night. There was the occasional short glimpse of sky through the clouds as they washed across. I had a look at the moon, Earthshine was still visible, but I suspect it won't be for much longer as the lit limb grows. For some odd reason, Orions belt seemed to hang in a gap in the clouds for several minutes last night. It was the only thing visible. I'm assuming it was Orions belt as it was in about the right area of the sky, and the three stars were lined up with the correct separations.

My powertank is all charged and ready to go. The cable hasn't arrived yet, but I don't expect it to take very long, the key is going to be getting a break in the weather. It doesn't look likely that will happen any time soon. The wind is blowing hard this morning.

The Baader Microstage II will allow me to attach the camera to a Hyperion and then swing it out of the way for visual use of the scope. When I want to start snapping, I just swing it back into place and the camera will be lined up and ready to go. There'll have to be a bit of alignment required in advance, but once that exercise is carried out and I'm out in the garden it should work really well. I'm going to try and get Saturn at 160x and tracked. We shall see how that comes out.

I'm reprocessing my Leo images again. I think that DSS is far more complicated that I had first thought, there's a lot of options, and it's going to take some playing to get them correct. This may well be the case for each image.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Taming the Lion

Well improving anyway. Thanks to a lot of help from those kind gents on Astro Chat, I've managed to make some headway in the Leo processing. It turns out that there's a little option in Deep Sky Stacker that I'd missed that automatically cleans up the hot pixels for me. I then found that the reason for the cloud effect was indeed clouds, but due to the stack being based on the stars they had smeared which created a weird swirliness (new word).

Anyway, after the umpteenth iteration of the stacking process, then playing in elements and using levels, curves, Noel's tools, and burn and probably a few other things I've forgotten I ended up with this

Much better than all my other attempts.

My powerpack has now arrived and is on charge. I do however, need the cable, which has been ordered from FLO along with the Baader Microstage II camera attachment. This should mean the mount will stay powered for a lot longer and I can actually attach the camera to the eyepiece properly for afocal imaging.

Playing with Big Cats

No sign of the sky through most of yesterday, apart from a really odd patch that appeared mid way through the storm. It was most odd. The contrast between the dark clouds in the foreground, the bright blue in the middle, and the top lit clouds in the background I thought spectacular, but I don't think the camera caught it to well.

This was taken in RAW mode, with the camera on full auto for 1/400 Second at ISO50. I used Noiseware to clean it up a little.

Given last night was cloudy, I spent the evening, mucking about in photoshop elements trying to improve on my Leo photo from the other night. Following the tutorials here, I've been able to stretch the histogram of the stacked image, and yes it brings out the stars, but there's a lot of noise and the clouds become painful. I have been trying to make a star layer, but even after spending hours tinkering and trying things in elements I have so far had a total and utter lack of success. It makes perfect sense to me to set up a star layer, allowing the removal of the noise and reducing the background cloudiness somewhat etc, without affecting the stars, but it just won't do it for me. I can't even manage to reproduce what I pulled out of the image the other night. I think it's safe to say, that I have no idea what I'm doing with image processing.

I know, I know, I should stick with it, it's a difficult skill to master with a steep learning curve. At the moment the learning curve is so steep, it's leaning back out over the top of me.

I know the RAW mode of the camera captures more information in the image, but the image is so much more noisy. I tried to restack the Leo images again last night, several times in fact, and I noticed that some of the images are more yellow, some are more red, and others are more like the sky. It's possible that what I thought are clouds aren't and are some artifact of the RAW mode mod. For normal exposures, the RAW mode works great. It's just for this longer and darker Astro images that this seems to happen.

The things I'm attempting to do with the camera to allow for piggy backed on the scope higher zoom also now look like it's not going to work as expected. May need to go back to the drawing board. However, all hope is not lost yet, as the adpater hasn't arrived.

Maplins have shipped my powertank. That should be here today hopefully, so I'll get that charged up. It looks like I'm going to need an additional cable, but that's an easy one to solve as Astronomiser make them and Steve at FLO sells them.

Something I found most peculiar last night as I was putting the bins out, I looked up and the sky was clear. I should point out that firstly this wasn't the peculiarity I meant, although given the day we'd had it was a little odd, and secondly, it didn't last as even whilst I was looking up, the clouds swept across and blotted out the stars. However, what threw me was looking up to find that the Big Dipper was now almost overhead. I'd got so used to seeing it fairly low down to the North. I think I was able to also see Gemini, Auriga and Mars, but again they were all in the wrong place. Now, I know about the effects of the Earths rotation, at least intellectually, but last night was the first time I've actually witnessed the effect in such a scale and within a well known frame of reference (i.e. my house and local skyline).

Monday, 10 March 2008

Testing out the Nexstar SLT

I looked out the window early in the evening, and saw the clouds had cleared, and there, low to the horizon was a spectacular very early moon, clearly showing the Earthshine. I grabbed the camera, went back upstairs and snapped a bunch of shots. This is the best pair of a bad set. Ah well, the moon had gone into hiding by the time I managed to download them to the computer. I only ran noiseware on them. This is the Z2 at full zoom, ISO400 propped on the window frame upstairs. I don't recall the exposure time, I took so many at different lengths.

Last night, after a cloudy and rainy day, suddenly cleared. Given the storm that's coming in from the west, this has got to be the calm before the storm. Anyway, I got outside for about 45 minutes with my new mount with the Konus already mounted and ready to go. As this was a test of the mount, more than anything else, I didn't turn all of the house lights off and didn't take my case of gear out with me, nor any of the books.

So I setup and powered up the mount. I've just realised I didn't even check to see if it was level, this might explain some of the peculiarities I saw, I'll come onto those in a mo. I'm to used to the plonk and go approach of the camera tripod. Ah well. First off, set the date and time. For some peculiar reason, the mount doesn't appear to have a functional clock, it's most odd. I checked the clock about thirty minutes in, by trying a one star align and it read the time I'd set previously. Anyway, I set the date and time, and used the SkyAlign function. This is so easy it's almost ridiculous. Following the instructions on the handset, you firstly align the RDF on a bright star, then using a low power eyepiece, centre it, then using a high power eyepiece centre again. I will confess I cheated. I only used the 5mm Hyperion and just centered it once and verified the second time. Then onto another bright star and repeat, and again with a third. Ideally these need to be as far apart as possible. I opted for one in the north (Almach), one from the west (Mirfak) and one in the South (Sirius). I did fluff the align of Sirius, I pressed the wrong button on the handset and hit Align instead of Enter, hey ho.

The handset sat there with the Celestron equivalent of the windows egg timer for a moment whilst it worked out the stars I'd selected, then said alignment successful. So onto the test. First up, Saturn. I selected Planet, then scrolled through the two options (the software only allowing me to select those above the horizon, I'd set it like that) and hit enter. Away went the mount. slew around and up. What I hadn't realised on that first goto was that the mount always takes a slow approach to an object. It slews quickly then slows and slows again, before entering tracking mode. Anyway, mr impatient that I am, helped it along a little with the manual slew controls. This may also have messed up the alignment a little. Anyway, I got Saturn centered at 80x. The usual spectacular views. I could hear the motors ticking away quietly in the background as they adjusted the scope for tracking. Whereas before looking at Saturn, she had swept majestically through the entire field of view in less than a minute, the mount kept her there in the FOV for well over a minute before she started to drift off towards the side. Bringing her back centrally again, only required a slight touch on the handset arrow keys. I watched her for about 5 minutes, only needing a little adjustment twice. Already this mount is making things so much easier.

I then selected M (Messier object) and went for M44, the Beehive. I deliberatly only went for objects I knew where to locate them so that I could verify the mount was slewing and aligning as expected. This time, I didn't interfere with the mount and let it finish the slew properly before looking in the eyepiece. M44 wasn't quite central, oddly the same amount that Saturn ended up out. Still, it got me there and kept the tracking with only a little drift. Then I went for another Planet, Mars, nice and high overhead. I'd changed the mount configuration to allow the mount to slew much higher without a warning, as my scope is much shorter than the refractor supplied. And there was no problems with the slew and no warning message on the handset. Again the goto was out by just that little bit.

I then decided I'd try out whether the old manual hunt was still afoot. I manually slewed the scope around to a known location, this time I chose Mirfak and had a look at the Alpha Persei association. Using the direction buttons I lined Mirfak up in the RDF and the motors were still ticking keeping the tracking going. The association was held in the FOV for some time, ok, I couldn't see it all, but it was there and tracking. I did note that the RDF that Celestron supplied with the 60mm appears to draw power from the mount and is not self powered. The RDF is turned off once the alignment process is compelte, at least that's what the handset is indicating. This would mean that using the supplied equipment instead of my Konus would make manual hunting for objects nigh on impossible without purchasing additional equipment. Looking at the attachment on the bottom of the RDF, the Sky Surfer III should fit however.

I then used the goto a couple more times to slew to M36 and M41. In both cases, the goto was a little high and I had to manually slew onto target. Then I went back to Saturn. It was during this last slew I realised that the AA batteries I had driving the mount were obviously beginning to fade, the motors were no longer sounding quite so even and when the mount slewed in both Alt and Az it was noticeable slower than in just one plane. I had a look at Saturn again for a few more minutes, the tracking was still fine. At this point, with the cold seeping in under the coat, feeling very hungry as I hadn't had dinner yet (the mount was the higher priority), and the batteries failing I packed up and went back inside.

In amongst all that testing, I spotted a couple of odd looking DSO's whose names intrigued me, I don't recall which, and figured I'd see where the mount took me. Hit enter, the mount slewed around to the easy and pointed first into the trees, no danger of seeing anything through there except the blackness of the trunk. Then the other one, again slewed around to the south this time and the scope got lower, and lower and lower until it was just below the top of the hedge. Not that you can see anything that low down to the south in the murk.

If only a short session, very enjoyable, and a very successful test. I must remember to ensure the mount is level and not fluff the alignment steps. I think it was these two that caused the mount to always be out the same amount in the same direction on every goto slew. I have now ordered the maplin power tank so won't have to rely on the AA batteries once this current storm is passed. I think it's safe to say that this mount and I are going to get along quite well.

It has just occurred to me, that with the Nexstar 60SLT, my Konus Vista 80s, the bins and tripod adapter and the two camera tripods I have, I could have a very small and quiet little star party in my back garden, now there's a thought, something for the future when my friends come around bringing beer and it's a bit warmer maybe.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

A little binocular viewing - in more ways than one

Well, last night was the first clear night since my new mount arrived, and as tradition would have it, I was involved in a scout evening which meant I didn't have my scope. I did however take my Bins and tripod. After briefly discussing my planisphere, we trotted off outside. The sky was very clear and bright, and a group of us ended up playing a game of constellation spotting. Starting with the one a surprising number new, Orion. After discussing Orion for a little while, we did a quick tour of the visible constellations, the field was surrounded by high trees.

I can't remember the exact order, I didn't have my notepad with me, but we saw:

Canis Major
and Cancer
I pointed out where Andromeda was, but the trees were in the way. Then I pointed out where both Mars and Saturn were. Of course the true wonder of Saturn wasn't viewable but they know where to look for it. I also pointed out the Pleiades and the Hyades, where they all spotted the double star (I think it's) Sigma Tauri (one down from Aldeberan in the lower section of the V). Most of them were able to make out the faint blob which is all we could see of the Beehive too, without optics.

A little while later, I setup the Bins and they took it in turns to look at M45 the Pleiades. All of them were surprised at how many more stars they could see using the Bins than with just their eyes. Then the adult helpers had a look. After looking at the Pleiades, I turned the bins up to the Perseus Double and then onto the Beehive and once they had both seen that and somewhat more dark adapted, onto Orion for M42. There were a fair few Wow!! comments and expressions of surprise how much more detail could be seen. This was great. Hopefully, whilst I didn't get to do a lot of viewing personally, a number of newcomers to this great hobby have been introduced and may now proceed further. Even if they don't a little exposure to Astronomy, won't do any harm and them just talking about it may, hopefully, encourage others. We shall see.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Image processing - or not

It was, of course, cloudy last night. No chance to try out the new mount properly. So we had a little play, and watched the scope follow the sky tour as it did a little jig backwards and forwards, actually more like forwards and forwards, for some reason the scope won't move in the other direction for the slew. Still, after another guess align it seemed to be mostly pointing in the right sort of places. It's a little irritating that whilst it will quite happily remember the location coordinates properly, it won't keep the date and time updated. It remembers what they were when the mount was powered off, so something is storing it, but the clock is stopped. Ah well, it's not too much of a pain to put them in each time, but it's something that could easily have been solved with a watch battery in the handset. I don't suppose I should complain considering how little I paid for it.

I spent several hours last night trying to re process the Leo image I took the other night.I ran through the Level and Curves, tweaked, retweaked, a little more a little less, up the blue and green, drop the red try and balance the colours. Oops, messed that one up, start again. This went on for a while. Then I tried working my way through the next steps in the SGL tutorial on image processing, which is to create a star layer.

Well, I started off fine, applied the dust and scratches tool, duplicated the layer, did the difference setting and pop, there was all the stars. Now to select them. I hunted high and low for the select by colour. Nowhere to be found. I started selecting each one by hand. After about 20 or so, Elements decided that as I was selecting so many, obviously I wanted to select the entire picture. No I don't think so. I tried all the different selection options. No go. I reverted and started again. This went on for quite some time.

In the end, none the wiser, unable to find any information in Elements help, on google or anywhere else about how to do this select, I succumbed to frustration. Closed Elements, not saving anything and shutdown the computer. Image processing was easier when I knew less about what I was doing and just applied some of the NC tools. This is tougher than finding dim and dark things in the night sky.

Typically, as I won't be able to get out with the new mount tonight, the clouds are beginning to clear. Still, I shall take the bins and a tripod on the off chance the opportunity may arise. If it does, I can share a few wonders with a group, which will be good, and demonstrate that there's a lot more up there than at first meets the eye.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Cloud Summoning

In truly time honoured fashion, as my new mount arrived, the weather started gathering. By mid afternoon the clear and shiny skies of the morning had turned into a grey mass of mush. Only to be expected of course, new astro gear summons clouds.

I attempted to improve my Leo picture last night with some playing in photoshop. I've been trying to be less heavy handed in my adjustments than I normally am. I'm not certain if I made it any better, but any processing experience can only be good. I played with a few of the other tools as well as curves and levels. I'll keep at it for a while yet. Maybe I'll get it better than the first one.

I did a quick test of the SLT mount last night. Set up in the dining room. Whilst this might make it hard to see the sky, last night, as I said above, this wasn't a problem. After a quick one star guesstimate align on Polaris, I know roughly where it should be, I told the mount to go find me Saturn. The scope ended up pointing in about the right direction, so it looks like I got it set up properly. Oddly, and this I'm not sure about, instead of slewing the shortest distance, about 90 degrees, it slewed the long way around, going nearly a full 270 degrees instead. I then told it to slew to Mars, M42 and Sirius, and each time it pointed in roughly the right direction and once aligned tracked. Given the lack of stars, I'd say it's working well. I just hope I can get to test it out properly soon. The forecast says that it should be clear on Friday, and I'm not going to get a chance to use it then, how typical is that ?

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Iridium 95

I only got out to check out the Iridium 95 Flare last night, and I nearly missed that. I spotted the moving dot and tracked it for a moment or two and it faded out. Now according to Heavens Above, Iridium 95 wasn't due to enter Earths shadow but rather to set. Therefore, I concluded that I can't actually see the Iridium satellites except during the flare. On this basis, when I thought I had missed the flare of Iridium 32 the other night, I hadn't. I'd seen the flare and assumed it was the actual satellite track instead. Silly Me... I guess that only seeing one firsthand at the right moment could show this. Ah well, now I know.

My Vista 80sLT is all now setup, the Dovetail has been drilled and the mountings attached. The Long and Lat have been entered along with the time and date, the date is in US format. Now gotta wait till dark to be able to test it properly. Of course, the skies are currently crystal clear to tease me, and will no doubt cloud over before darkness settles into place. I'm crossing my fingers however, and looking forward to being able to study the ringed wonder for more than 20 seconds at a time.

I've also emailed Steve at FLO about the Hyperion Photo attachment gadgets so that I can hook my camera up properly for afocal imaging.

The Rhyme of the Wicked Witch of the Mount-ing

The Wicked Witch of the Mount-ing
Her wicked spells cast
These past months
Hath caused confusion and indecision to reign

But the fog, once cut
A decision made
The deed designed
A mighty sniper was assigned

Kept watch upon her stronghold
Mighty Castle Fleabay

Watching and waiting, many a night
till the time was right
This said sniper, jbidwatcher by name
took aim, and fired

The wicked witch, now defeated
shot down in bargains glory

On fleet wings of rubber and steel
from the cast down fortress
the Mount-ing sped

and now my Knous Vista8os
rests serenely atop
a Celestron Nexstar SLT

The Vista hath been transformed
from lowly camera tripod
to full goto and track
and shall henceforth be known

as Konus nexStar Vista 80sLT
Though for brevity, Vista 80sLT

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Last Nights Observing

A pretty good clear night last night, just a few intermittent clouds to spoil the view.

I started out with a Satellite hunt with the youngest during the early evening. I'd checked on Heavens Above looking for Satellites brighter than Mag 3.5 I found a list of 8. I compiled the list together including name, direction, what constellations they would pass through and the timings for each pass and printed it out. First up the Cosmos 1154 Rocket but we were unable to view this due to clouds. About 25 minutes later, Cosmos 1939 Rocket was due through. We spotted this one and whilst it was passing, through Gemini, spotted another moving across it's track, both in Gemini. I think this is Cosmos 1356 Rocket (shown on HA at up to Mag 4). The pair looked like they were on diverging rails.

Then we found the Clapham Junction of the skies. Three came along all at once, through Auriga.

Cosmos 1697 Rocket
Genesis I
Cosmos 1005 Rocket.

This was quite astonishing to see and impossible to keep an eye on all of them as they were separating fast but it was quite a sight to see them all in close (ish) proximity to each other.

The next one Lacrosse 3 I couldn't get outside to see. The other 2, Cosmos 1980 Rocket and MetOp-A the cloud pixies conspired to ensure that I didn't see these. The clouds were thick around the track these satellites were due to take. Astonishingly with very little cloud elsewhere. Of the 8 on my original list we spotted 4 and one extra one that we hadn't even been looking for.

I had to go back indoors at this point, jobs to be done and all that. Some time later, about an hour and a half (new I'd forgotten something, I didn't note the time I got back outside, damn!). Anyway, I got back outside, and set up the camera. As Leo was climbing all over the top of the house, I figured he'd make a good target to test the RAW mode firmware hack for my Z2. Also, given that Saturn is still under the claws of the sickle asterism this made Leo an even better target.

I adjusted the camera to Econ+RAW, turned off the noise reduction, set to full manual control, set the focus point to infinity, the exposure time to T (or 30 seconds as it really is), and started snapping. Then I realised I'd left the lens cap on. Damn. Oh well thought I, I'll take some dark frames now instead. So took a couple more. Then I removed the lens cap, and got on with the job of snapping Leo. After the alignment shot, I snapped a further 30 frames at 30 seconds each ISO400. I took 6 flats. One thing I did find with the RAW mode and no noise reduction, the actual on camera shot time was significantly reduced. I'm still using the self timer mode, as I don't have a remote release cable yet so that adds 15 seconds, 10 seconds for the timer, and 5 seconds to set it on per shot. In all, I think each 30 second frame probably took 45 seconds to capture. This compares with nearly 90 seconds for my previous attempts. So much better.

Here is the result. I stacked in DSS, tweaked levels and curves in Photoshop Elements and used noiseware to remove the image noise. I think there's some clouds in some of the frames which show as the blobs.

jgs001 / Photos / Leo

Whilst I was snapping away, I set up the scope for a quick look around. I decided that as I was snapping Leo, I'd take a good look at Saturn. I grabbed the Barlow and 5mm Hyperion (giving me 160x) and there she was. Small, yet perfect. I could make out the gap between the rings and the planet, and I thought briefly, before I decided I must be suffering from wishful vision that I could make out a little banding on the surface. I think this might be too much to expect from my little scope, but it would be nice to thing that I might have done. At 160x in the Hyperion, I could make out 1 moon, which I think was Tethys. Then, thinking that there might be more moons to see I removed the barlow and used the 5mm Hyperion (80x), and yes, I picked up a second one which I think was Rhea.

Now, you have to bear in mind, that whilst I was doing this I kept popping back to the camera and setting up the next shot, so I wasn't doing my night vision any favours as the LCD on the camera is quite bright, but I had to keep looking at it to change the settings. This is making the remote release even more critical. Ah well.

Next I swung around to take a look at M42. This is the first time I've managed to use the 5mm Hyperion properly, previously I'd only managed a brief comparison test between the Hyperion and the Ortho. I had one of those wow moments, as using the 5mm Hyperion, the wings of M42 spread through the eyepiece, and I could see 4 stars at the core in the Trapesium. I was able to make out some milkiness of M43 at the same time.

I love these eyepieces.

Then I swung back around to look at M44 - The Beehive. I really like looking at this cluster and I was able to see the core of it clearly in the 5mm. This wasn't wide enough though, so I swapped to the 17mm and the view was much better. The view looked like a deep dark pool full of fireflies and I felt tempted to dive in, bit cold though last night, so I settled on just looking for some time.

I swung back again, just before The Sisters were about to go into hiding behind some trees and had a long look at them. The view is spectacular but the shape doesn't give that look of a pool. After spending some time looking at M45, I swung the scope around to the stellar disco ball. Took a long look at Sirius with it's dazzling light display, just need to find the right beat to go with the changing colours. I then moved on down to look at the small and delicate M41. This looked really nice in the 17mm Hyperion. I decided a little experiment was in order and grabbed the 5mm Hyperion. The extra magnification bought M41 to the fore, the Hyperion FOV meant that M41 filled the view but I wasn't in too close so could still see the edges, and oh what an impressive view that was. Again, I love these eyepieces. A number of tiny delicate points clustered together almost like a shoal of fish...

And then, just as I was fully appreciating M41 up close and personal, my view was washed with a bucket of cold hard light from the kitchen. That really spoiled things. Anyway by this time, I'd been outside for quite some time and as I'd been using the camera controls hadn't put gloves on, I can't operate the camera properly with gloves, and my fingers were beginning to feel quite numb, or is that not feel much at all ? Once the kitchen light was off, I snapped a couple more frames of Leo, and tried a quick experiment on The Beehive just to see what the camera would show. I snapped a couple of fully zoomed 30 second shots in RAW. The image showed the pattern of the stars nicely if somewhat trailed. This was a pleasant surprise and I will have a go at capturing the Hive at some point. Gotta work our the most appropriate zoom and shutter speeds.

I had a great evening, viewing 5 Satellites, taking a passable image of Leo, and seeing some objects as if for the first time thanks to these Hyperions, did I mention, I love these eyepieces ?

Monday, 3 March 2008

Dots and Dashes

At last, a little clear sky. At least in between the clouds. Sat down and looked into Heavens Above for a list of early evening satellites to watch for as the youngest keeps asking, and printed off a long list for last night. Ten all told. Got out for the first one and had a look for Iridium 32. I finally spotted the tell tale moving dot and went to the door to call the youngsters over. This was scheduled to be a mag -8 flare. Some how, I lost track of the satellite at just the wrong moment, whilst I was at the door and missed the flare. Still not seen an Iridium flare yet, this is getting tiresome. Next up, was the Cosmos 1943 Rocket, and didn't manage to see that nor Iridium 90. There was probably a little too much cloud around really and I think they were playing hide and seek in the clouds.

Finally, managed to see the next one, Lacrosse 3 and watched it pass up and over and disappear into the Earths shadow as it approached Gemini. Then whilst trying to find the Cosmos 1154 Rocket, something odd caught my eye. My youngest and I both spotted a fast moving streak, trailing fire to the south of us. It appeared to have bits coming off and disappearing and after only a few short seconds broke up and vanished altogether. A moment later, Cosmos 1154 came sailing across the sky. Whilst I was watching this, there was a second much shorter lived streak of light whizzing across the sky. I didn't catch this as well as the first one, only in preiphery, but the youngest watched it.

Then in came the clouds again.

We managed to see a few objects naked eye, all playing peekaboo behind the clouds. The Pleiades and the Hyades. Orion, Lepus and Sirius. Auriga, Gemini and Mars, all of them in the direction the satellites were being hunted.

At this point we headed in. Had a few things to do through out the evening, and ever the optimist, I kept looking out the back door in the hope that the clouds would be blown away, but no. They just kept getting thicker and thicker. I did one final check just after midnight. I was astonished. No, the clouds hadn't been blown away, but the colour of the underside was totally different. Instead of the usual mix of yellows and whites blotched onto the underside, they were dark. I'd read somewhere that West Sussex turn out a lot of the street lights after midnight, but this was the first time I'd actually seen the effect.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Clear Skies - Wot clear skies

There has been no observing done over the past few nights. The skies have not been good. I haven't had any opportunity to play with the pics I took either. Therefore no updates. There is to be an update on the scope mounting dilemma shortly, watch this space. I also need to get a proper test done on the RAW mode hack that I've installed in my camera, but this is tricky without some clear sky to capture. Results will be posted, when I have some.