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.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

It's Lyrid Time!

As I type this posting, my camera is working away outside, hopefully imaging magnificent shooting stars associated with the Lyrid Meteor Shower.

The predicted peak is early morning on April 22.  There is the possibility of seeing (in my case, imaging) 12-15 an hour.  I'll be happy with one...and extremely happy if the clouds hold off until after I bring my imaging gear inside.

When I first checked the sky at about 9:30 p.m., Friday evening, there was a thick cover of clouds over my area.  I assumed my imaging time would be non-existent.  However, another check of the sky around 11:30 p.m. provided my eyes with a sky full of stars and very good conditions.

But the conditions were nothing like the quality of the sky early in the morning on April 21.  From my backyard in town, I normally see three stars in Ursa Minor.  One of the stars, of course, is Polaris. The other two form the far end of the bowl of the dipper.  Friday morning I could see all the stars of the Little Dipper.  So I setup my camera.

At approximately 2:03 a.m., while I was inside enjoying the warmth, a meteor gracefully displayed its end which was fully captured on my camera.  You can't miss the meteor in the image below.

Oddly enough, the meteor shown above is the only meteor I was able to capture Friday morning.  My camera clicked its way through around 535 images.  In all, I captured the passage of two aircraft, seven satellite transits and one meteor.

The image was taken with a Canon EOS 60D with a Tolkina 12-28 mm Wide Angle zoom attached and set to approximately 14mm.  Shooting data was ISO 1600, 15-second exposure and an aperture of f/4.  The image was saved in JPG format.

Earlier that morning, I stepped outside to make sure everything was still working strong and as I turned towards my entry door, my eye was drawn to a sporadic meteor entering the atmosphere just south of Jupiter.  I followed that meteors trail as it moved northward until it disappeared about 15 degrees above the northern horizon.  The meteor was slow and a very pleasing yellowish gold in color.  It didn't leave a train, but at times, small bits seemed to fall off and instantly burn up.

It was only the second Earth-grazing meteor I have seen.  It traveled across a good three quarters of the sky before disappearing and was visible for a good five seconds.

I initially thought the meteor might have been captured on the upper part of one of my images, but that wasn't to be.  However, I do like the one meteor I did capture.

Hopefully my camera is working well and the Lyrid shower is providing me a good show.  I'll know in a couple of hours.

Monday, April 17, 2017

An Open Cluster Stack

Those who know about my enjoyment of astronomy, also know I enjoy meteor photography.  I set my camera gear up for all showers, including minor ones, to get that perfect meteor.  I have yet to capture that “Great Nighttime Meteor,” but I keep shooting and trying for that one shot.

A while back, I purchased a Tolkina wide-angle zoom mainly to use for meteor photography.  However, I also use it for wide area shooting of the night sky. 

Recently, I used it (combined with my Canon EOS 60D) to shoot a dozen images of Melotte 111, or Collinder 256.  To many, the naked eye open cluster is called the Coma Berenices Cluster.  The cluster is located below the bend in handle of the Big Dipper and about three times the distance the top of the bowl covers…if that makes sense.

Saturday evening proved to be one of the few clear nights I have experienced here lately, so I took the recently acquired Celestron SkyMaster 15x70 binoculars outside and pointed towards the cluster.  From what I have read, the cluster covers about 7.5 degrees in the sky.  Unfortunately, the SkyMaster binoculars have a field of view of 4.5 degrees.  Wanting to see the entire cluster in one swell swoop, I decided it was time to break out the Canon.

At the time I decided to photograph the cluster, it had moved to directly overhead and getting my tripod to point straight up takes a lot of leg adjusting and balance checking to get things working together.  The problem is my tripod is designed mostly for video work and not well suited for working straight up.  Once I found the balance point, I took a couple of test shots, saw that the cluster was most likely in the view and after setting the lens to 14mm, shot a dozen 10-second exposures.

Since I have yet to have good luck stacking images, I wanted to practice with these photos using DeepSkyStacker.  I have other stacking programs, but they are the ones I have used in the past with non-impressive results.  For the most part, it is the alignment of the images which have been the problem in the past.

After transferring the images to my computer, I started DSS on the working computer and opened the User’s Manual for DSS on the laptop for reference.  I really didn’t need to read much to figure out how to use DSS.  It is rather straight forward if the person doesn’t plan to do a lot of manipulation of the images prior to and during the stacking process.  I just wanted to see a good stack with stars aligned well.

And that is what I got.  The image below is the results.  My only concern is in the stacking process, a lot of the stars visible in the original images are not in the final product.  I should probably read the manual.

The cluster is located in the lower left area of the image about a quarter of the way from the left edge.  It is a small grouping of stars in the image, but through the binoculars, it is spectacular, even if I cannot see the entire cluster.

One other note of interest to no one in particular…today I began receiving items I ordered which I plan to use during the “Great American Eclipse” on Aug. 21.  Soon as the days clear here in the Pacific Northwest, I will accustom myself to their usage.

My next trip to the stars will most likely be early morning on April 22.  You guessed it…the Lyrid Meteor Shower.  Although the shower officially began April 16, and will end on April 25, the peak of the shower is predicted to be around 3 a.m. April 22.  My camera is ready to go if the weather cooperates.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Practice Makes Perfect...

Yes…it sounds like it is a bit early, but everyone knows the old saying…practice makes perfect.  And I would like to be as close to perfect as possible on Aug. 21 when the moon will sweep in front of the sun.

I am somewhat lucky, as I live on the southern edge of the zone of totality, but I won’t experience the eclipse where I live.  I hope to be about 30 miles north of here very close to the centerline.  And I do hope to get a series of good eclipse photos.

I have never photographed a total eclipse, so what I do on the day of the eclipse will be a first for me.  However, I will soon have everything I need to make those photos become a reality and will then start practicing what I need to do.  I do wish I had a second Canon body, as that would make everything a lot easier…maybe I will be able to borrow one between now and then.

I plan to use the following equipment in search of the ultimate total solar eclipse photograph.

1 – An ETX-80 Observer 
2 -- Helios Solar Glass Filter of 108 mm size 
3 – A Revolution Imager connected to a monitor, or a MallinCam SkyRaider AG1.2c Imager-Guider attached to a laptop
4 – Canon EOS 60D 
5 – A Tolkina AT-X 12-28 PRO DX wide angle zoom
6 – A Thousand Oaks Optical 77 mm threaded white light solarlite filter for the lens 

Since I will need to remove the solar filter during totality to image the corona, I will need an easy way to remove the filter without disturbing where the camera is pointed.  Rather than spend a few moments unscrewing the filter, I have obtained a set of 77 mm Xume lens and filter holders.  I will “lift” the filter off the lens, shoot the totality phase, then reattach the filter to the lens and continue shooting the final partial phases.

Should I be able to obtain a second Canon body, I will have my Canon EF 100-400mm II on that body and using a Tiffen variable neutral density filter, photograph the corona during totality.  Hopefully, I will be able to “stack” the images to get better detail in the corona.

Now you must be thinking, “What does he need to practice?”  I’ll tell ya…

As I said earlier, I have never photographed a total eclipse.  My main concerns are setting my equipment up to provide the best images possible.  The final part of that will depend on where I setup for the eclipse itself.  Since I plan to image the entire eclipse, I do need to know what the best focal length of the wide angle lens will be.  That needs to be determined ahead of time and then used at the shooting site.

The next part I need to practice is the combination of the ETX-80 and the camera to attach to the telescope.  Both will allow “live” view of what the scope is seeing, but which camera – the Revolution Imager (RI) being a video camera adapted for astronomical use and the MallinCam being a 1.2 megapixel CMOS camera – will provide the best image.

A test with the MallinCam several weeks ago on the daylight moon (see previous post) revealed something I wasn’t counting on…a small field of view.  The sun would also fit in the field of view, but it would need to be carefully monitored to maintain the view.  I have yet to use the RI, so I do not know what will be its field of view.  However, I do have a .5 focal reducer.  With it, I should be able to increase the field of view.  But the reducer does need to be tested on both cameras to see which works best.

And finally, the last thing I want to do at the viewing site is to be figuring out how to use the camera I chose.  Once my solar filter for the ETX-80 arrives, I will be practicing on the sun.  Hopefully there will be some sunspots to image.

I think I have covered most of what I will be doing before the “Great American Eclipse” occurs.  As I mentioned in the beginning, I live on the southern edge of totality, in Redmond, Oregon.  The best place to view the eclipse in central Oregon is Madras which is about 30 miles north.  However, predictions are for thousands upon thousands of eclipse fans to arrive in the area of Madras.  Since I somewhat know the area, I will be searching for a decent spot where my friends and I can view the event with the fewest number of people to interfere with our enjoyment and most importantly, our equipment.

Besides, I am not a big fan of crowds. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Daylight Moon and Camera Test

On Sunday, April 2, 2017, I decided I would "play" with a recently acquired camera in daylight.  I wanted to see what I was doing...good or bad.

The camera is a MallinCam SkyRaider AG1.2c (you can find info on it here).  The scope I selected (not that I have that many scopes) was the Meade ETX-80.  I considered using the ETX-125, but laziness made the decision for me...the -80 was in a better position to remove from the storage room.

Since it was a rather nice day with very few clouds in the sky and an almost quarter moon hanging at about 11 o'clock in the east, I decided to practice on it.

After doing a simple solar system alignment of the scope and inputting the moon on the GOTO, I centered the moon in the view of the 26 mm Super Plossl and made sure I had good focus in the eyepiece.  I observed for a short period through several of my eyepieces (all Plossls if you are wondering) and decided I would attempt eyepiece projection and see if I could obtain an image using that system with my Canon EOS 60D.

After striping down all the "not-really-needed" heavy objects on the camera, I slipped the 17 mm eyepiece into the adapter.  The 26 mm was a bit long and protruded into the camera's mirror area and I didn't want to take the chance of damaging the camera, so I used the lowest power eyepiece I had which didn't cause me alarm...which turned out to be the 17 mm.

Sliding the outfit into the eyepiece holder after making sure the moon was still centered in the view, I turned on Live View and attempted to obtain focus.  It never happened.  I'm not sure why I couldn't obtain focus.  As a matter of fact, I saw nothing on the camera's LCD which indicated any light source.  So I removed the Canon camera setup and decided to try the MallinCam SkyRaider.

After starting the laptop (actually, it was a netbook which came with the camera) and making sure the MallinCam software saw the camera, I switched to live view and there was the moon on the screen of the netbook.  However, it was out of focus.  I attempted to get good focus, but found a problem with a daylight test...the sun washed out the netbook screen and I could only tell when the moon was way out of focus.

Since the object of the adventure was to test the camera (and learn how to use it), I began recording what was being shown on the LCD.  Since I couldn't see to focus well, I decided to slowing move focus up and down the scale, stopping for a few seconds after making a slight adjustment in the hopes of getting at least one decent image.  After about one minute of recording, I shut everything down and took everything inside.

Anxious to see what the video looked like, I found where it was saved and doubled clicked it to begin play.  I got a box stating Windows didn't know how to open the file.  I checked to see what type of video file I had created and noticed it was a .ser file.  What in the world is a .ser file I said to no one.

I now know what a .ser file is and after checking the net, found a number of utilities to help process the files, and most importantly, view the files outside of the camera software.

One thing I noticed immediately, was the view of the moon as seen by the camera appeared much larger than it did through the eyepiece alone.  Centering whatever I plan to image will need to be very well done.  Although the moon was poorly centered in most of the frames, I still found a few which were decent enough to show here.  

After picking the best one, I did a bit of sharpening with Faststone's Image Viewer, then converted it to grayscale.  I also cropped it from 1280 x 960 to 900 x 900.

I have a lot to learn about astrophotography, but I like the way this image came out.  By the way, the reason I converted the image to grayscale was because I did not like the color of the sky.  It was a strange blue-green color and I couldn't figure out how to make it more closely match the color of the daytime I went with grayscale.

Friday, March 31, 2017

A Clear Night...Finally

It has been a very cloudy month in the Pacific Northwest.  However, the night of March 30/31 was a cold, clear night.  A friend of mine uses Megrez to determine how well the seeing is and for me, the 3.3 magnitude star stood out fairly easily in my urban sky.

I decided I would tackle a couple of galaxies...M101 and M51...and took out the ETX80. 

After aligning the scope, I punched M51 into the Audiostar Handbox and watched the scope slew towards the area of M51.  When the scope finished slewing, I looked into the eyepiece and at first saw only a couple of stars.  I was using a 32mm Plossl and after a few moments, noticed a little fuzzball about midway between west side of the view and center.  I had to move the scope a little to center the galaxy in the view of the eyepiece.  I don't think I will ever hit the correct manual slew button on the first attempt...hehe.

I was pleased the GOTO found the galaxy as I wasn't exactly perfect in aligning the scope.  Through the 32mm, M51 looked a lot like a fuzzy comet.  It being rather small in the view, so I swapped out the 32 for the 13mm. 

Again M51 was to the west of center and a slight adjustment (still didn't hit the correct directional button right away) put it more or less centralized.  With the 13mm, I could see an oval shape to the fuzzball, but no other detail.  I was rather disappointed in that.  I thought The Whirlpool Galaxy would show some arms.  I switched out the 13mm for the 6mm, but I lost the contrast with the 6mm and went back to the 13mm.  

With the 6mm, there was a star of about 8 mag to the east of M51.  With the 13mm, I could see one other star north-northeast of M51.  It also appeared at about 8 mag.  All attempts at using averted vision to see some detail didn't bring out much, although I thought for a moment or two I was seeing some banding of arms.  It would come for a split second, then disappear.

Being the "Old Fart" that I am, my fingers were beginning to go numb in the 28 degree temperature, so I decided M101 could wait for another day.  After seeing what I saw of M51, I wonder what M101 will show.

Maybe I'll use the ETX 125 on it.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Aldebaran and the Moon

I realize this post is a little late regarding the occultation of Aldebaran, but in my defense, I have no excuse.

I had miscalculated the time of disappearance March 4, but did decide to go out and see how long before the Moon would cover the star.  I took my binoculars with me and raised them to the Moon only to find Aldebaran moments away from disappearing.  I watched the occultation and went back inside and prepared my camera to photograph the reappearance.

I boosted the ISO on my Canon EOS 60D to 6400, selected Aperture Priority, put on the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens and opened it up to f/5.6 at 400mm. Several minutes before the predicted reappearance, I went outside and to begin taking photos (handheld) every 30 seconds or so.

Outside I was greeted with high clouds which varied from thin to thick, but moving fast over the Moon.  I was a little disappointed, but started photographing the Moon, hoping to get something.  When it was a good 15 minutes after the predicted appearance of Aldebaran, I called it a night (it was about 20 degrees at the time) and loaded the images on my computer.  After a quick "look-see" of the RAW images, I didn't see anything and worst of all, the high clouds were blowing out a lot of detail.

The next morning I began looking at the images a little closer and attempted to fix the high cloud glare.  I found an adjustment in exposure, combined with a gamma tweak did a decent job of lessening the glare of the clouds. I applied the changes to all the images and began looking through them.  About midway I noticed something in one of the images which looked like Aldebaran peeking out from the side of the Moon.  The next image proved it as it showed Aldebaran a couple of diameters from the lunar limb.

The image below shows the progression of Aldebaran from hidden to fully exposed.  Images which followed the third photo here were too badly blown out due to thicker high clouds.

In the montage, the first image, Aldebaran is still behind the moon.  In the second image, taken at 20:06:52, a small portion of Aldebaran is visible emerging from behind the moon just above the 3 o'clock position.  In the third image, taken approximately one minute later, Aldebaran is fully visible and away from the Lunar limb.  

I live in central Oregon, however a friend of mine who lives south of Chicago also viewed the occultation.  He sent me this information after viewing my montage.

"Your pictures showed exactly what I saw, Aldebaran to the center right of the "round" North latitude lunar sea Mare Serenitatus. The star had the same look I saw. No color, like it was washed out by the Moon's glare. Your picture is exactly what I remember."

He added the only difference was he could see Earthshine from the north Pacific Ocean.

Until the next clear sky moment, keep looking up!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Feb. 10 and 11, 2017

It's a milestone day!  My first true astro post...

Feb. 10 brought a penumbral lunar eclipse at moonrise.  Since my eastern horizon is rather blocked by tall trees, I waited until I could see the moon well enough to see if the Earth's shadow was visible. Unfortunately, I couldn't see any chance in lunar brightness from the time I began watching and the time the eclipse was predicted to end, which was around 6:45 pm.  But in my defense, I have old eyes and the moon was very bright.

Several hours later, I grabbed the binoculars and went outside to look for Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková.  I had a good idea of where the comet would reside in Hercules and went to the south side of a storage shed on the property where I live.  I tucked myself into the slim shadow of the building and scanned the area below the keystone.  I didn't see 45P, nor did I see anything which looked greenish to my eye.

Once again, the bright moon interfered with what I wanted to do.

I did briefly consider bringing out the camera and tripod, but it would have been difficult to set the tripod in a spot I could frame the image based on several factors...the moonlight, the snow still on the ground and the proximity of the building to about the only place I could setup.

Snow depth is falling finally, and should open my regular observing area soon.  I don't have great sky views here, but I do have a north-northwest to east view of the night sky, and a sliver of a southern sky.  But I do have a nice view above me.

Not sure when my next update will occur, but I do want to give the ETX-125 a maiden voyage.  I spent a few hours this afternoon mating my Lenovo laptop with both the Meade scopes.  I had to order another USB-to-Serial adapter and it arrived in today's mail.  After loading the drivers for the adapter, I made all the connections and was able to control the scopes from the computer on most of the astro programs I have on the computer.  I didn't test the setup on all of them, as I will only be using the Meade Autostar Suite program and C2A to control the scopes.

Well, that is all for today.  Clear skies and no moon, y'all!

The Beginning

What is Ashrunner's Skies?

The simple answer is that it is an astronomy blog I have started.

The not-so-simple answer is that it is a blog where I will talk about my adventures in Astronomy.

I know there are probably thousands of astronomy blogs on the internet...and the majority will be better than this blog for the most part.

I started this blog as a way to keep me interested in what I see in the night skies.  When there isn't a lot of snow on the ground and the temperature is above 20F and I have nothing better to do, I will be outside watching the night sky, photographing meteors in the night sky, or peering through a telescope at the night sky.

I have always loved the night sky.  When I was 14 or 15 (give me a break...I'm 65 now), I developed an interest in astronomy.  For Christmas that year, Santa brought me a 6 inch reflecting telescope on a German equatorial mount.  As soon as I could, I dragged the scope to my backyard in south suburban Chicago and looked through the eyepiece.  I didn't point the scope anywhere in particular, I just pointed it up at the sky.  When I looked through the eyepiece, I was amazed that I was seeing a lot more stars than I could see with my eyes alone.  I was hooked.

A year or so later, my father read about a public star party at an address near where we lived.  On the night of the star party, he dropped me off and began to mingle with the gathering people.  I learned a lot of interesting things that night, looked through some really good telescopes and met a number of people who would become good friends.

The star party that evening was hosted by the Lowell Astronomical Society of Burbank, Ill.  One of the people I met was president of the society and he invited me to join...and I did.  I remained a member of the society until I joined the U.S. Air Force.  I stayed in the Air Force for more than 20 years and although my interest in astronomy remained, I never had a telescope...binoculars...yes, but no telescope.  Even after I retired, I couldn't afford a decent telescope (my 6 inch reflector disappeared four or five years after I entered the military).

But that as all changed.  After retiring from the military, I began nature photography.  I don't make a living at it, but through time and the assistance of a friend, I have acquired a good camera and several excellent lenses.  I have used the camera mostly to photograph the sky during meteor showers, but I will also occasionally photograph a random part of the sky hoping for a beautiful sporadic meteor.

Along with the camera (it is a Canon EOS DSLR) I have two telescopes.  Both are small scopes, but are of excellent quality.  One is the Meade ETX-80 Observer, an 80 mm f/5 refractor telescope.  I have owned this scope for about two years and have used it to view the moon, Jupiter, Saturn and Venus mostly.  I have also looked at the Pleiades star cluster and the nearby Beehive cluster.  Both are beautiful sights in the fast f/5 scope.

Most recently, I took delivery of another telescope...the Meade ETX-125 Observer which is a 127 mm f/15 Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope.  I have yet to view anything through it as the night sky has not cooperated since the scope arrived on my doorstep.  If the optics on the new scope are as good as those on the ETX-80, I'll be very happy.

I also have several cameras which connect to my telescopes.  I hope to be doing some astrophotography in the coming days.  And as I learn the trade, I'll post to this blog for those who read Ashrunner's Skies.

Stay tuned for clear skies!