Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The Moon, Day 4 and a test

The day ended with clouds in the North heading in, and clear towards the moon. I grabbed the Skymax and 450d on a camera tripod and took a shot of the moon. I'd like to get a good sequence of each day and make a montage, but I don't think it's going to happen...


Then, after getting the moon shot, I spotted some planes flying high, and figured they'd be good practice for panning at these focal lengths for when the ISS is passing through and I get a go at imaging it up close. Not easy to do, and it's a bit dark given the time, but it's worked. I feel I need to do some more of these practising, it's actually quite fun too. This was tracked using the Celestron 6x30 finder I'm using on the Skymax


Monday, 30 March 2009

Weekend Moons and more time

Saturday had a few moments early evening, when the moon poked here nose through the clouds. The thin sliver of a two day old moon was lovely. I got a couple of shots using the Skymax 102 on a camera tripod


I thought I'd see what a different orientation would look like


I then removed the Skymax and setup with the 55-250 to capture some Earthshine, whilst the moon was cradled in the trees.


That was that, the clouds then covered everything.

Sunday was a reasonably nice day, but cloudy, however, by the time evening came around, the skies had cleared. I had another pop with the Skymax at the moon, the sky was light enough, I was able to get some blue.


The evening wore on, and thanks to the clock changes it took, what seemed forever to get dark. By 9pm, the last clouds had gone and the sky was dark, and crystal clear. I got out the gear, levelled, polar aligned, and went hunting for Bodes and the Cigar galaxy to add some more time.

After faffing for an hour, trying to locate them, and eating through my power pack, I'd had enough, I just couldn't work out the right position. So I popped the 17mm Hyperion in the Konus and used my 24x80 finder scope. After only a moment, both patches of grey were visible. This is the first time I've seen them both in a scope, quite an amazing sight, even if all I could see was a faint, couple of pale grey smudges.

Finally, having managed to find them, I setup for 3 minute exposures and set the gear capturing. By the time the powertank ran out, I'd managed only 34 subs, if only I'd managed this earlier, I'd have got 45 or 50... Ho hum. I grabbed darks and flats, and set the stack running, combining all the data from this and the previous session on the 18th. A bit of processing in PS and here's the result


I'm really pleased with the results, there's even a hint of red beginning to show on the cigar.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Group Gazing

Yesterday evening, as the sun was going down, there were a group of us out on a walk. I'd checked on HA, and noted a mag -5 flare and the ISS passes. I had a compass with me to make sure I got my orientation correct. So a couple of minutes before the flare, we all stood with a good view of the correct patch of sky, and did some star and constellation spotting in the still quite bright western sky. Gemini, Orion, And a few stars, Sirius being the most obvious. We had a brief discussion about why Betelguese looked red and the scale of what we were looking at. Then at just the right moment, I got everyone looking north, and we all saw the mag -5 flare. The bright ones are always more impressive. I explained what it was we had just seen, and everyone was quite amazed. About half an hour later, after a bit more of a walk, and a bit more constellation spotting. Orion was striding proudly across the sky and was really very clear (when not obscured by the fast moving clouds). I pointed out Leo and Saturn sitting just below. Unfortunatly, no one had any bino's good or otherwise, so couldn't see anything more than points. But, we all turned around and watched the ISS climb gracefully into the sky, pass overhead and into the trees. That was the end of the walk anyway, so no more then. Shortly after the clouds set in good and proper and that was that.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Iridium 57 and M67

I got another Iridium flare last night, this time a mag -3. I really like this one, using the 50mm prime certainly gathers a load more light, and 50mm gives a very nice image scale.


I also watched the ISS drift gracefully over with the boys.

A bit later on, as the sky was clear, I decided to setup the scope for gathering a couple more hours of data on the Leo Triplet. There were two problems with this, one I couldn't find them again, and two the wind was gusting strongly causing issues in any sub that went longer than 1 minute. After probably 45 minutes trying to find them and work out my max sub length, which wasn't enough for galaxies anyway.. I gave up and went for a cluster. They don't need the sub length, so that's fine... Anyway, whilst I was looking through the captured images prior to the stack I found this


I also spotted another satellite higher in the sky, but I've not been able to determine what it is.

Anyway, I swung the scope around and worked in locating M67. This to took a while, and it was only with reference to nightwatch, I realised I'd got my scales wrong and was looking too high. So downwards a little, and there it was. Excellent. I set the gear going for 60s subs.

After capturing and processing with bias frames I ended up with this


I have to say I'm not happy with the result, it's come out very green, and I've had to try and process that out. This only seems to be happening since I started using Bias frames, so I'm going to restack this image, my M81/M82 and my triplet images without the Bias frames and see how they come out. I think I may go back to my original methods as the colour balance was always better for me.

Iridium 30 and the Triplet

I was able to get out and capture my first flare in a while. I setup the Satcatcher, and used my 50mm prime lens


Then a little later, I setup the HEQ5. I tried to find M81/M82 again to add a load more data, but failed, I think this was down to a high level mist around that area. It certainly made things tricky. But whilst I was trying to find them and taking test shots, I did get this ...


I don't know what it is, but...

I gave up and slewed around to have a go at the Leo Triplet. I found the correct three really quickly and set about capturing data. I found, to my surprise that I was able to get some 4 minute subs unguidded. However, it got a little breezy so I had to stop the capture and go back to 3 minute subs.

Anyway after not long enough, the power tank ran dry. I've really got to get the mains power sorted out.

After stacking and processing, here's the image.


It really needs a lot more time, but I'm pleased with it.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Working on Bodes' Cigar

I've been trying to lift out more info on the M81/M82 image, but despite several restacks and a lot or processing, I've not managed to do anything further except a lighten.


I'm hoping to get a load more data tonight, see if I can get a bunch of 3 minute subs instead of 2.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

A cigar for bodes ?

Another clear night. I carted out the HEQ5 and followed my normal setup routine, and checked focus on Alnitak. I decided last night to have ago at M81 and M82. So before trying to find them this time, I rechecked my information. It took me a while to work out how to point the EQ mount at them, first off, I lined up, checked in my 24x80 finder and could see the grey haze, fired a test shot and yep, the Cigar was indeed there. It occured to me, that the position of the mount, with the scope moving down and the counter weight up, probably wasn't the best option, although by far the easiest to find them. So I slewed the mount around, and worked my way in to find them on the other side. I really struggled to get underneath enough and to get the scopes pointing in the right direction, but I got there in the end, but use of a camping mat and lying underneath it. Then a few tweaks for framing, a couple of test shots to check exposure times, yep up to 2 minutes at least. I decided 2 minutes and lots of subs rather than pushing too far on the sub length.

I took a few dark frames, set the timer remote for 30x2minutes and let it get on with it. When that was complete I took a few more dark frames, and set it all going again, this time aiming for 45 subs. Unfortunatly after only 29 subs the power gave up on me. I can't wait to get proper mains power in the garden. I took some more darks, then flats, and bought all the kit back in.

I popped all the frames in the stack, and set the dark multiplication factor. After reading some info yesterday about dark scaling, as long as you have bias shots, you can scale shorter darks up to the image shot duration, so taking 30s darks and multiplying by 4 in DSS. This was my first time trying this and it seems to have worked well. This of course means that 4 darks take the same time to capture as a single light frame meaning more time is spent capturing real data, cool.

Anyway, this is a first edit and needs some more work, but by the time I was done with the stack I was a bit tired to do much more.

59 x 120s @ISO800, 21 darks, 21 flats and 23 bias frames, log sqrt stretch in DSS then tweaked in PS


The arms in Bodes were much clearer in PS last night, not sure what's happened there...

I also added the Bias frames to a restack of my M3 shot from the other night... so here's the reedit


The kit is working well and I'm happy with the data collection capabilities. I need to finish off the EQmod cable, and get guiding running, then I'll be well away.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Phew It works

Another clear night. Another opportunity to check things out and see if I've still got the problem. During the day I'd found a couple of things wrong. Firstly, the head mount bolt was a little looser than necessary which mean the HEQ5 head wasn't tightly connected to the tripod head. Not a good thing, but not enough for it to fall off. I also found that one of the piggyback mounting nuts was loose, the addition of a spring washer and tightening it down solved that. So, all looking good fingers crossed.

I carted all the gear out, levelled using the Ambubble, set the PA setting circles, powered up and polar aligned. I also rigged up part of my camera safety fittings just in case. I need to work out a way of setting this up better, but I'm sure this would have worked if needed. I swung the mount using the clutches to point at Orions belt, and used the slew controls to centre Alnitak, then used this to focus, then balanced the mount. I decided then, that I'd go for a target I can find easily, so headed off to find The Beehive in Cancer. I used the 24x80 (Konus + 17mm Hyperion) finder and had a good look at the beehive, centred it in the camera viewfinder, removed the Hyperion, and took a test shot. 60 seconds was good, no trailing. 90 seconds also no trailing. Phew. I figured 90 seconds at ISO800 would do nicely, set the timer remote and let it do it's stuff. I had to gently apply the hair dryer a couple of times, but as dew was only just beginning to form on the lens, I was able to clear it in under the 10 seconds of the interval my timer remote is set for.

Whilst I was setting this up, at about 20:27, I saw something shoot across the sky, west to east at about Zenith. Far to fast for a Satellite.

I got out the 15x70's and had a little nose around. M44, had a look for M67, and I think I found it. M42. Then swung around, and following the instructions in TL@O I had a look for M3. I found it easily.

Once I'd captured my M44 data, changed camera battery and completed darks and flats. I swapped SD Card and unmounted the Frac combo, and mounted the Skymax 102 instead. It had been suggested on AC, that the little Mak would be very good with the 450d on a Globular cluster, and given where M3 was sitting, figured it was worth a go.

So I fitted the camera with the CLS filter, I'm not sure this was truly necessary with this setup, and will probably try this again without it. Focused using Saturn, grabbed a test shot, and was quite surprised at the result, considering this is a mammoth crop of a single frame


I set the timer remote for 60 second exposures @ISo1600 and went into to process the M44 data.

Whist the stack was running, I hadn't realised, but the power pack had run nearly flat, so the mount had stopped tracking. Oh Goody. This meant I only got 14 useable subs of M3. It looks like I'm limited to only 4 hours with the Maplin power tank. Maybe this is a dodgy battery, or a damaged battery, I don't know. So I grabbed the darks and flats, and cleared up.

After stacking the M44 data, I stretched the histogram with LogSqrt in DSS and tweaked a little in PS


The M3 data was also processed, but there were not enough lights. I also had some oddities when I used 7 flats with Vignetting going in the other direction, and a green colour cast, not had this before with the CLS after stacking.


I had a restack and used only 3 flats instead and that seems to have helped. I've also been able to remove the colour cast with tweaking.


The M3 data really needs more work in processing, but these are just a couple of quick rough edits, so I'll spend more time on it later. I'm glad everything is now working as I expected, and I've found what I hope is the cause.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Horrible nights

Saturday night, whilst supposedly clear, and yes I could see a few stars, like Sirius, was murky overhead to the point that Sirius looked like a faded out spot, not the brightest star in the night sky... Well actually, I suppose it was still the brightest star in the night sky, after all it was about the only one I could see.

Tonight, after starting out the same way, finally cleared properly around 2230. I grabbed the HEQ5 and setup. I have a new ambubble level, so used that to level the mount off. Set the date/time circle on the polar scope and polar aligned. I used Saturn to focus on, when the rings are a lovely flat line at 10x on liveview, it's there. Balanced the mount. Then set off to find M67. Well I found M44 ok, using the clutches to point to the right patch of sky, then used the control to slew to M67, a few minutes and a couple of test shots later and no sign... Then it twigs, I went the wrong way... Ok. I came back in and grabbed the 25mm celestron ep. Popped it in the Konus diagonal and used that as a finder. Still nothing. This is silly. Anyway, I thought to myself, enough is enough.

So I headed off to look for the Leo Triplet. After a little time alinging on the right point in the sky, I took a test shot. 90 Seconds and the stars are trailing. What's going on ? This is the first time I've had trailing below 2.5 minutes. I checked and re polar aligned. Then as I was looking in that direction anyway, went looking for M81 and M82. Couldn't find them. I went back to the triplet, and I think this time I got the right place, but I'm still getting trailing at 90s. The mount is pretty level, given that the last time I got out, I didn't even bother to level and got 2.5 minutes I don't get this. Anyway by this point, I'd been outside over an hour, I'm feeling frozen, I've achieved nothing but frustration and some clouds were lurking around the North. I gave up, cleared up and came in.

Whether this is because of my little cable test with the USB TTL cable for guiding or not I just don't know. I completed the cable and tested it yesterday. All seemed to work ok, the mount responded as I was expecting, and I could control it happily from my PC. I plugged the handset back in and could slew happily too.

I did notice an odd vibration noise from the scope whilst the mount was tracking, I think the tube must have been amplifying it, and slewing at speed seemed noisier tonight. I don't know what's going on.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

A couple more moons and a go at Saturn

Last night, was again clear, very surprising that was. I started out, with a quick shot with the Skymax 102 on the camera tripod


I couldn't resist colouring it


I then set the camera to jpg, continuous shooting and locked the shutter release remote. some 60 odd frames later I stopped it. I stacked the 61 frames and came out with


I little later on, the moon was higher, and the sky was still clear, I took the NexStar Skymax SLT out and set that up. I tried a few AVI's on the moon with the SPC900, but there's not enough contrast in them to stack properly. I had a go at Saturn, firstly just the webcam in the Skymax


Then had a try with the Ultima Barlow.


The blue lines are back, and it's got to be the gain causing it. I had to push up the gain. Anyway, considering how rubbish the seeing was lsat night, seeing the rings of Saturn was tricket it was that bad, I'm really rather pleased with these.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

More Mooning around and a first Saturn of the year

Sunday was a real mixed bag of weather. Sunny, cloudy, rainy. There was a brief clear spell in the early evening, and once again, I popped the Skymax on my camera tripod, the 450d at prime and grabbed a shot of the moon against the blue sky.


The clear gap didn't last and within the hour it was raining again.

Anyway, as I was getting ready for bed, checking doors etc, I saw the sky had cleared so I grabbed the Skymax on the NexStar and dashed out for a short session. I used the webcam to capture a few sequences. Having messed up the alignment... The moonwash across the sky confused me, and I aligned on totally the wrong thing, the tracking was not as good as it can be, so the AVI's were quite short.

First up Aristarchus 231 of 256 frames

I pulled out a bit of colour too

Then I moved onto Gassendi 481 of 703 frames

I decided I'd have a pop at Saturn, this is all 274 frames

I'm not sure what caused the diagonal lines, the only thing I can think of, was I had the gain on the webcam up quite high. I've got some work to do on this, my laptop screen is always very dim when running on battery and that's making my job much harder to get the settings and focus right.

Anyway, thanks to CW on SGL, I've found a way to remove the lines, run a small Gaussian blur on it..

I also finally managed to get my frames from the 450d stacked into a 3 pane terminator mosaic. This was shot using the 2xTC on the 450d at prime on the Skymax. I had to convert the RAW frames to jpg before Registax 5 would play ball with them, it's still in Beta release though, so hopefully this will work better once fully released.

I really like the Skymax, it's working great for me.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

We saw a Double

On Friday evening, before the heavy clouds set in, I'd spotted a mag -7 flare prediction. I wasn't able to setup the satcatcher, but the family and I saw it. A good bright one that burnt through the thin cloud nicely. And amazingly, whilst it was beginning to fade a second one poked it's nose through the cloud at about the same brightness, slightly lower than the first. A lovely sight and the rest of the family were quite surprised and pleased to see the pair too.

Mooning around

I've had the opportunity over the past few days to use a Skymax 102. And amazingly the skies have played ball. It's a very compact little scope, which is pretty light, but with a stonkingly long focal length for the tube size, making it marvellous for the moon. As the scope didn't arrive with any accessories, I've put the celestron 6x30 finder on it, it seems to be working nicely so far.

Well in my normal way, having spotted the moon in the clear blue sky on Thursday, I popped the Skymax on a camera tripod, put the 450d at prime, no teleconverter needed here, as the focal length is 1300mm, and grabbed a shot. Focusing isn't the easiest of tasks, the focuser is mounted at right angles to my refractors, but I think I got to grips with it.


As the night drew in, the skies remained clear, so I mounted the Skymax on the NexStar, I have to say this is a very lightweight combination, which is a good thing, and went out for some playing with my webcam and some observing.

I had intended to have a go at getting some more of the Lunar 100 targets, but set the mount up too low, so I couldn't observe comfortably as it was hurting my back, I need to adjust a little more. Anyway what I did see through th 5mm Hyperion was quite astonishing (it overpowers the scope a bit, and I think I really need about a 6.5mm for optimum power, but it worked).

I put the webcam in, seeing wasn't too good, but I managed to achieve focus. And shot of a few sequences of avi's, they were stacking in Registax 5, with wavelets, then a small tweak in GIMP

A couple of Clavius
340 of 800 frames

866 of 2000 frames

Then onto the mountains...
Alpes 1378 of 1492 frames

and Apennines 526 of 652

I did try to get in even closer with the Ultima barlow, but everything became too wobbly to be able to focus. At that point, after a lot of trying with the Ultima, I gave up, popped the 450d with a 2xTC in and took some frames to try and stack with Registax 5. I've so far been able to get anywhere with doing this, it may be because it's in beta.

After capturing those, I gave up, ice was forming on everything including me.

Then yesterday afternoon, there were some cloud gaps, showing the moon nicely. So I once again grabbed the Skymax, popped it onto my camera tripod, and grabbed a shot with the 450d. I turned the camera a little to frame it better


I think this is a lovely little scope, and I will buy it for the price I've been offered for it.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Just a few Moon shots

The sky was a mixed bag last night. Clear spells with fast moving clouds sweeping through to blot everything out. I did manage to grab a couple of shots of the moon through holes, by mounting the scope on my camera tripod.

C80ED with a 2xTC @1200mm

And as there was some colour information showing through, I pulled out the colour

I've also been loaned a Skymax 102 to try out, it has a bit of a longer focal length (1300mm) and therefore doesn't need the TC, also being a shorter length tube, it's actually easier to use on the camera tripod. It's different to focus, and will take some playing with to get used to.

This has had a high pass sharpening filter applied.

And coloured too

I did put the Skymax on my NexStar (this makes a very light little combo) and set it up in the garden twice last night, only to find that within moments of getting aligned on the moon, the clouds moved in. So it's not really had anything like a proper test out as yet. One night soon hopefully.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Some Lunar shots and not the Leo Triplet

Saturday was back to normal, with a cloudy day. As the evening set in, it started to clear, leaving some thin, high level mist lurking. I took the opportunity, put the C80ED onto a camera tripod and used my camera and a 2xTC to grab some shots.


I took about 17 in total, and had a go at a stack. I used DSS (not ideal) to stack them. Registax 4 throws a fit at the 450d frames, and Registax 5, being a beta, also threw an error. I didn't have time to work that out. Anyway, I tried a few passes of high pass filter sharpening on it.


A little later on, and the mist had cleared, so I carted out the HEQ5, setup, polar aligned, I'm still surprised quite how easy this really is. As Leo was riding nice and high I thought I'd have a go at the Leo Triplet, a group of three galaxies in the belly of the Lion (ooh, I like that...). Anyway, after using Saturn to get focus, the usual liveview at 10x, I slewed around to about the right spot. Then spent the next 35 minutes trying to find them. I even used the 24x80 finder scope thingy I have mounted (my Konus and a 17mm Hyperion) but no joy. In the end, I fired a test frame and went looking for fuzzies. Yep, got one, centre of the frame. Hurray, thought I, set the timer remote and let it go to work. I'd set for 90x2.5 minute exposures... but after only about 90 minutes, the skies clouded over. I didn't get time to observe with the bins whilst the scope was doing it's stuff, mores the pity. I got a total of 36 frames @ISO1600, stacked in DSS with darks, flats and flat darks, then stretched in PS, for some reason, the DSS adjustments didn't seem to work so well.

Anyway, my Leo triplet image


It turns out, that whilst I've got 3 faint fuzzies on here, they are the wrong 3 faint fuzzies, and therefore not the triplet I was aiming for. This is M95 and M96 (much harder targets than M65 and M66 that I'd been wanting). The real triplet is a little ways off the right of the frame. Oh well. Next time. I'll also come back to this pair once I've sorted guiding out and can spend a lot longer on each frame.

Which should have turned out to be the following night, but my back was really hurting and I didn't feel up to carting the gear out. Instead I put the C80ED on a camera tripod again and grabbed a couple of shots of the moon.

The normal orientation


and I decided to try a portrait version as well.


A real shame about last night, the sky was so clear, but there'll be plenty more.