Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Eclipse in Central Oregon

Living in central Oregon has its perks. One of which was I didn’t need to travel far to view the Aug. 21, 2017 Great American Eclipse.

Several days before the eclipse, wildfires sprouted up in this area and there was a fear that smoke would interfere with the grand show. However, those fears melted away as the morning brightened to a beautiful day.

Although I lived within the path of totality, I wanted a little more than the 45 seconds of totality predicted for where I lived. A couple of weeks earlier, a friend of mine and I scouted for areas to view and photograph the eclipse from. We found a nice spot deeper in the Twilight Zone which would provide one minute and 36 seconds of totality and marked the spot.

On the morning of the eclipse, we gathered our gear and headed to the spot only to find we weren’t the only people who thought it was a good spot. Knowing there were places just as good along the road we traveled on, we found another place about a half mile away, set up the equipment and waited.

My plan was to shoot a sequence of images of the eclipse with one camera, and then shoot totality with a second camera. One worked as didn’t. For some reason, my sequence shots were ruined by the combination of my solar filter and the camera I used. Instead of sharp, clear images of the progressive “Pac-man” sun, I got a series of images which had a nice haze around the sun. I had checked everything a couple of weeks earlier to make sure everything would work as planned, and it did.

However, the night before the eclipse, I borrowed a second camera to use for the sequence shots and failed to check how that camera would respond to the settings I developed with my personal camera days before. Even though the camera was made by the same manufacturer as my camera, it didn’t respond as well as my camera. Lesson learned.

What did work was the sequence shots was the timing. I would say it was perfect, but since I can’t prove how “perfect” the timing was, let’s just say it was very close to what I wanted. My first sequence shot was to be made six minutes before first contact, then six minutes later, another image at first contact and a new image every six minutes until the final shot was made, six minutes after last contact.

During totality, I was going to remove the solar filter, shoot a number of images to use in the sequence, then replace the filter and let the timer do its thing once again. But, I was so concerned with getting images from my camera, which had my 70-300 mm lens on it, that I forgot to remove the filter from the sequence camera and have a nice series of blank images halfway through the sequence. Another lesson learned.

As totality approached, I wanted to get the first Diamond Ring, then totality and finally the second Diamond Ring. With timers set to alert us to various stages of the eclipse, I began shooting and my friend began being awe-inspired. This was my second eclipse, so I knew what to expect. However, at totality, I was amazed at the number of planets I was able to see...Venus, Mercury, Jupiter and possibly Mars, along with several stars were visible. It is something I did not remember from my first total eclipse.  All I remember of that eclipse is the darkness and missing sun.  I was rather young at the time.

I am attaching several of my images from the eclipse. The first image is the first Diamond Ring effect as totality approached. It is a stack of three images taken one after another. Two images of totality follow. The first is a stack of five totality shots and the second is as the camera saw totality. The final image is the second Diamond Ring effect as totality ended.

I used AutoStakkert to stack the images and both were accomplished with a 1.5 drizzle effect. I am still trying to wrap my head around “drizzle” as it applies to astrophotography stacking, so don’t look for an explanation here.

In the grand scheme of things, the “Great American Eclipse” as seen from a dry canyon at the base of Grey Butte in central Oregon was a beautiful event. But not beautiful enough to make me an eclipse chaser. I’ll wait for them to come to me and one will in about six years.

By the way, the star seen in the lower left of the images I believe is Regulus.

On Oct. 14, 2023, an Annular Eclipse will slide through central Oregon. The center line will be about 50 miles south of me and if I am able, I will head in that direction to photograph the phenomena. It will be my second annular eclipse.

My first annular eclipse happened on May 10, 1994 and I timed a trip east to visit family in Illinois to witness the eclipse. It was rather interesting to see a slightly darken sky and that majestic ring around the moon. However, I didn’t have a camera at that time...but I will in 2023.

Skies here are still murky due to heavy smoke, and yesterday I glanced towards the sun about two hours before sunset and it shined in a beautiful ruby red color. I tried to capture what it looked like, but the color just didn’t come through.

Hopefully the smoke will clear someday and I can break out my telescopes once again (see previous post) and enjoy what I see in the night sky.

Until then, here is wishing everyone clear skies and great viewing!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Smoke in the Cascades

I have returned!  I know I haven't posted anything recently, but I spend very little, if any, time with the telescopes when wildfires are burning.

Currently there is a large fire burning to my north-northwest, one burning to my west and another burning to my south-southwest.  Smoke from the fires has been very thick where I live and moves in and out at its pleasure.  The last thing I want is corrosive smoke particles on my telescope optics.

My gear may not be great, but it isn't easy for me to replace.  So, during fire season, the scopes are stored and covered.  Fear not, however, for as the smoke is replaced by beautifully clear skies here, I will once again bring out the telescopes and allow my eyes to enjoy the sights they provide.

The photo here doesn't have anything to do with astonomy, but I like the image and it should give you a good idea of what I have been going through with the wildfire smoke.

In the image there are no normal clouds...just clouds of smoke.  The sun is about 30 minutes from setting and is sliding into a layer of smoke from the fire north of me.  Below that layer is a clear area with another layer of smoke from the fire west of me.  I really like the way the sunlight reflects off the lower layer of smoke.

I did shoot the eclipse...after all, I live in the Twilight Zone.  I figure I would wait until everyone is sick of eclipse photos, then I will post mine.  Might have a better chance of them being seen then...hehehe.

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Spotted Sun

Lately, I have been experimenting with equipment in preparation for the up-coming total solar eclipse next month.  Most of my experiments have resulted in failures.

But one consistent performer has been my Thousand's Oak 77mm Solar Filter fitted to my Canon EF-L 100-400 mm lens.

Although I can't remember the last time I had clouds above my head, for some reason it didn't occur to me to attempt to photograph the large sunspot which has been travelling across the Sol's surface.

So, not long ago I put the filter on the lens and the lens on the camera and fired off a number of shots...after locating the sun in the viewfinder.  I had to zoom back to about 150 or 200 mm to locate the sun, then zoom in to the maximum 400 mm to make the image.

My Canon EOS 60D has a crop factor of 1.6 which gives a field of view similar to that of a 640 mm lens.

Below is the image I shot of Sunspot 2665.  The image was made at 2:24 pm, July 14, 2017.  Below it is a close-up crop of the sunspot itself.  According to a NASA website, Sunspot 2666 is located about eight sunspot diameters above and three diameters to the left of the complex shown in the lower right. I cannot see the new complex in my image, but it is made up of two rather small spots.

That's it for now.  Clear skies and good viewing!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Better Late Than Never

I got in a couple of hours of good seeing last night.  I had no real targets in mind, but I always look towards Jupiter to begin my observing.

Once I got the scope aligned, slewed to Jupiter and with the ETX-125 (f.l. 1900) using the 32mm, I centered the Big Brut.  I watched the moons for a while and then looked for the Great Red Spot.  I couldn't see it with the 32mm, so switched to the 26mm.

I looked hard with averted vision and yet still couldn't make it out.  Switching to the 17mm with a green filter and thought I saw something on the left side of the planet. Unfortunately, Jupiter moved behind the tree as I was spying on it.  My southern view is very limited.

I then slide the 26mm back in and slewed to M13.  At about 75x, I wasn't able to resolve any stars, but the cluster actually appeared brighter than it did with the 32mm.  I swapped the two out and it was true.  Slipping the 17mm (110x) I still couldn't resolve any individual stars within the main globe, but the cluster was dimmer. 

I then moved to M102 and although I couldn't make out much of anything, I could make out a slight haze with the 27mm.  I then slewed to M101 and again, absolutely nothing but a dark area.  I keep trying to visually see this galaxy, but it really is tough for my small scopes.

Then a thought hit me…could I get both M81 and M82 in the same view?  Using the 27mm, I just barely had both galaxies on either side of the field of view.  I switched to the 32mm and at 65x, they were both comfortably in my view.

Finally, I wanted to see how the ETX-125 handled nebula, so I selected the Ring Nebula (M57), hit the GOTO button and when it was finished slewing, saw the nebula slightly above center.  I centered it and with the 32mm. the 26mm, the 17mm, and 13mm eyepieces, I could easily see the ring, but I couldn't make out any color.  What I did see was seeing shades of gray.  My friend, G.A., says that is all he ever sees…shades of gray.

This post was originally written on May 28.  However, due to brain fart, I never published it.  However, in the time line of things as they happen for this blog, this is the next in line.  Certain things have happened which prevented me from observing, including clouds, irrigation, wind and personal activities.  With things improving (including current cloud cover moving out), I will once again add to this blog and hopefully, not forget to publish.

Until then, clear skies and steady seeing!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Astrophotography and Jupiter

On Friday night (May 19, 2017) the ETX-125 and I had a late date with some sky objects.

I was able to quickly align the scope and when I punched in Jupiter, I found the planet sitting a little below center.  I was using the 32mm Plossl which gives me about 60 power.  After trying to define the various bands (I could make out the two major bands) on the planet, I decided I would try again to photograph the monster planet.

My previous attempt and only my second time trying astrophotography, was a total failure.  This time I was able to produce an image which didn't look like a blurry blob on my monitor.  That image is below:

I think it is a rather good image considering this was my third time imaging.  If you are wondering why there aren't any of the Galilean moons visible, the reason is simple.  The planet requires one exposure, the moons require a different exposure.  In order to to have both in an image, I would need to expose the planet, then expose the moons, then superimpose the planet on the moon image.  There might be a way to obtain an image of both at the same time, but I haven't figured it out yet.

By the way, if you are wondering what I used to make the image above, it was MalliCam's SkyRaider AG1.2c camera.  I shot a 30-second video and when processing the file, I ran it through Registax 6 to obtain the final image.  Most of process was automatic, but I was able to tweak the settings before I saved the image.

One thing I liked about the tracking of the Meade was I went inside after acquiring Jupiter to prep the camera.  I was inside for five or ten minutes and when I came back out, a look through the eyepiece showed Jupiter still in view.  It was barely moved from center.

After I finished with Jupiter, I input M13 into the control pad and the telescope found its way there and when I peered through the eyepiece, I noticed a nice grayish ball slightly above center and looking about half as much bigger than Jupiter did at 60 power.  I thought I could make out individual stars on the periphery of the dim ball, but I just wasn't sure.

My next target has been something I have tried to see for years...M101.  I punched M101 in the Autostar hand controller and hit GOTO and the telescope moved for a moment or two, then stopped. I looked in the eyepiece and nothing. Well, nothing isn't quite right.  There was stars visible, but in the central area there was nothing.  It may have been M101, but all I saw was blackness.

My next target was M82.  After a short period of movement the scope beeped telling me it is pointed to where M82 should be and when I looked, I could see a nice sliver of light pointed diagonally to the lower right of the view and the upper left of the view.  I admired the view for a few minutes and decided I would attempt to image M82 also.

And then my power tank died.  I had forgotten to make sure it had a good charge.  Wishing I could kick myself, I came in the house to get batteries for the battery pack of the ETX and realized I didn't have the correct size of batteries.

The moral of this post...always check your power supplies!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Jupiter and the Moon

As the moon rose on the evening May 7, it followed another bright object in the sky...Jupiter. Separated by a little more than three degrees, the pair look mighty fine travelling together.

I brought out the Canon 60D and the Canon 100-400 mm EF-L lens and as the sky faded towards dark, I was able to get this image of the couple.  Jupiter is seen in the upper right area in the full image.

Other than converting the image from Canon RAW to JPG, I also smoothed out the color of the sky. There were a lot of color artifacts which detracted from the actual color of the sky.

After sending the image to a friend of mine in Illinois, he sent back another image from which he was able to determine that the image also showed Jupiter's moon Callisto.  It is difficult to see, but in the full size image, Callisto is located at about 11 o'clock and about a two centimeters from Jupiter.

The camera was tripod mounted and the settings I used to shoot the image were ISO 1000, at f/8 for 1/640 of a second.  The lens was set at 300 mm.

Stormy Days

Along with watching the night skies when clouds aren't hiding everything, I enjoy watching a good thunderstorm.  However, there are normally few severe storms in central Oregon compared to other parts of the United States.

But I was pleasantly surprised when on the evening of May 4, I began seeing lightning flashes southwest of where I live.  I stepped outside to verify what I was seeing and saw flash...flash...flash. Realizing a storm was in progress and moving my way, I prepared my camera and headed to a good vantage point.

Once I found a good place, I began shooting.  I experimented with different settings until I settled on ISO800 with a shutter speed of five seconds and an aperture varying from f/5.6 to f/11.  I chose five second exposures because there was so much lightning that any exposure longer would have over saturated the images with too much light.  All the images were shot with a Canon EOS 60D and a Tolkina 12-28 mm wide angle zoom set at 18 mm.

Most of the lightning was of the cloud-to-cloud variety, with a few distant cloud-to-ground strikes. The storm also moved northward along the mountains 25 miles to my west.  Not all that far north of my town of Redmond, Oregon, the storm turned and headed northeast, giving Madras, Oregon, a night to remember.  But from my vantage point, all I saw was a spectacular light show.

This first set of images shows something I see even less often than thunderstorms in my area...Mammatus clouds.  Mammatus clouds are associated with severe storms and are the bumpy looking clouds which hang down from other clouds.  In the first image, the Mammatus clouds show up in the shadowed area along the upper third of the image.

In this second image, the Mammatus clouds are clearly seen highlighted by the lightning flash.

As I mentioned earlier, most of the lightning was cloud-to-cloud.  I very much enjoyed the way the lightning flashes highlighted the various clouds formations visible during the storm.  But it was the crawlers of cloud-to-cloud lightning which I really enjoyed.  Below are two of the better crawler images.

As nice as these images are (at least to me), they don't come close to my favorite lightning image I shot here years ago.  It was one of three lightning strikes during a short-lived storm, but it was a good one.  You can see the image here.