Karl's Astro-Journal

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- 2013 Astro Journal -

Busy Sun

November 16, 2013:   There's a lot going on in the solar system these days.   Most of the buzz is about all the comets visible, mainly comet ISON which is dazzling observers since it's recent "brightening" in the morning sky just a few days ago.   So with all these comets flying around why am I showing an image of sunspots?   Well, I could say that the sun is having a resurgence of activty during its long awaited "solar maximum".   Or I could say that comet ISON will be orbiting extremely close to this very active sun.   Or I could admit the truth, ... that I'm just too darn lazy to get up at 4:30am to take pictures of the comets.   In any case, the sun is interesting to observe with all its sun spots that could launch solar flares into space at any time.   If the solar flares hurl "Sun Stuff" in our direction, I'll be looking for Aurora Borealis to start dancing along the horizon of our north facing valley.

More "Getting There"

October 14, 2013:   Another long weekend of observatory construction culminated with placing and securing the dome on top of the finished roof.   (don't ask how, i.e. a major Advil job and a special thanks to our good neighbor Bill for lending a hand.)   Placing the dome was a very specialized task (sort of a figure-it-out-as-you-go, never-did-that-before task) and the last major hurdle to getting the project ready for winter.   The remainder of the work is typical construction with wood, screws, nails and a few days of good weather.


October 08, 2013:   Working on the observatory has left little time for other activities including, strangely, astronomy.   But tonight's clear air and moonless sky beckoned and I decided to collect my gear and take a few pictures.   The Dumbbell Nebula, M27 was nicely positioned in the southwestern sky and is a great target for a 120mm scope.   The picture shown here is a single exposure of about 4 minutes with a dark-frame of unknown length subtracted.   Polar alignment, tracking and signal-noise issues are all present in this image that still manages to be a fair representation of the planetary nebula.   Hopefully, the observatory will help mitigate each of the these imaging problems.

Getting There

October 03, 2013:   Progress on the observatory project has been slow, but things are getting done.   A marathon day of working on the walls and installing the roof has given me hope that the project may actually get finished this year.   Working on engineering projects for the past 25 years, I am no stranger to the concept of "behind schedule and over budget."   A wet summer has not helped.   Building this observatory has been a challenging project and only my past experience working in home construction for several years has made it seem do-able.   The remaining work includes installing siding, roofing, doors and windows, and of course the dome itself.   With any luck there will be enough good weather left this year to get it all sealed up for the winter.

The Straight Wall

June 17, 2013:  A successful trip to the hardware store provided enough odds and ends to cobble together a simple camera mounting attachment and then take images with a Canon Power-Shot A710IS in movie mode.  This evening’s target was the Lunar feature known as the "Straight Wall," or Rupes Recta in Latin, located in Mare Nubium, the Sea of Clouds.  The 65 mile long fault-line is readily visible when the moon is between 8 and 9 days old. (It was 8.7 days old for the picture shown here.)  The .avi movie file was processed using Registax, in a manner similar to the process used for Saturn as described previously.  Here are a few pictures of the camera set-up: camerasetup01  camerasetup02. 

Pressing the shutter induces quite a bit of vibration into this set up.  Fortunately the Power-Shot has a 10 second delay feature which is enough time for the vibration to dampen out and to do a little last second focusing before recording begins.

8' Explora-Dome

May 23, 2013: I've had the thought to build some kind of observatory for several years now.  Every time I set-up and tear-down my equipment for an evening/night of observing it crosses my mind that a permanent set-up would simplify this laborious business.  The idea gained some momentum in 2012 when, at the Northeast Astro Forum (NEAF) we noticed the Explora-Dome display near the main entrance.  We talked to the friendly folks there from Minnesota and now, a year later, there's an Explora-Dome sitting in our garage.  The clincher for me was reading an on-line review of the Explora-Dome wherein the writer stated that since having the dome he had used his equipment more in 2 months than the previous 2 years.  I'm not hoping for that kind of ROI here in cloudy Upstate NY but I will say that there's been many a clear evening that my scope remained in its case when it could have been out under the stars.  So I'm giving myself the whole summer to construct a shed of some sort on which to set the new Explora-Dome.  Perhaps an "Observatory" menu button will be added in the near future.

Image proceesing of Saturn

May 20, 2013: This picture shows the image refinement process I've been using for Saturn. The process begins by taking about a 30 second movie with a Canon Power-Shot A710IS in Movie Mode mounted on a tripod behind a 120mm f7.5 Sky-Watcher refractor w/ a 2x Barlow & 12mm plossel eyepiece. The telescope is set to track so the view of Saturn moves through the camera's field of view pretty quickly with this arrangement, limiting the length of movie possible but allowing for a fairly vibration free movie. The 635 frame .avi file is then opened w/ Registax and after selecting some align-points on one of the better frames, Align/Stack is run on the best 30% of frames, as selected by Registax. The somewhat mysterious Registax process of "Wavelets" is then applied to the stacked image. Finally, brightness and contrast are adjusted using Paint Shop Pro 9. Perhaps a better image is possible with this process and the equipment I have available. Certainly a night of quiet air and "good seeing" would help and perhaps greater familiarity with Registax functions.

Saturn a few days past opposition

May 06, 2013: Saturn was just at opposition near the end of April and is always a welcome sight in any telescope.   Amateur images of Saturn as seen on the web are sometimes jaw dropping in the detail that is possible with modest (and sometimes not so modest) equipment, software and a boat-load of know-how.   I recently downloaded a free program called Registax that allows stacking many images into one composite image.   The purpose of these types of programs is to improve the signal to noise ratio in digital photos.   Registax hasn't helped much with stacking .jpg images but .avi movie files seem to be its forte.   I do not have an astro-video camera so I've been strapping our Canon PowerShot A710IS point and shoot onto a scope and using movie mode to create an .avi file.   The image shown here was made from the .avi frames of a 30 second movie.   Hopefully, I can get better at this image-processing technique and post another (better?) image of Saturn before too long.   Here's a typical video frame before processing with Registax.saturnvideoframe.jpg

Click on Image for a before and after picture

May 06, 2013: Recently, I came across an astro-forum discussion of a telescope focusing device known as a Bahtinov Mask. (named after its inventor Pavel Bahtinov)   It sounded interesting and a few weeks later I stumbled across a box of them for sale at the Northeast Astro-Forum (NEAF).   I bought one that seemed like the right size for my 120mm refractor.   The Bahtinov Mask is placed in front of the scope, which when pointed at a bright star, produces diffraction spikes.   When focusing the scope the goal is to create perfect symmetry with the spikes, indicating that your scope is in focus.   So far, I must say, it's fantastic!   It's easy to use and I'm very impressed with how well it works.   A more complete explanation of how the Bahtinov Mask works can be found at:   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bahtinov_mask  

Galaxies M81 & M82

May 04, 2013: May is beginning with a really nice string of very clear cloudless nights.   The seeing gets better as each night progresses into the late hours and the galactic pair M81 and M82 are nearly overhead after midnight, prime targets for some astro-imaging.   The photo here is the average of two 4-minute exposures at ISO 800 using a Canon 10D DSLR attached to a 120mm Sky-Watcher f7.5 refractor.   I subtracted a single 4 minute dark frame from each image and adjusted contrast and brightness in Paint-Shop-Pro.

Comet C/2011 L4 PanStarrs

March 30, 2013: Comet PanSTARRS remains visible in the western sky.  It is slowly fading and binoculars are required to find the comet in the twilight sky after sunset. The image here is the average of 8 images taken through a 120mm f7.5 Sky-Watcher telescope.  Rain is on the way so it could be a few days before we can check up on PanSTARRS again from here in New York.  It's slowly moving toward M31, the Andromeda Galaxy.  Definitely, a nice photo opportunity for later in the week.

Comet C/2011 L4 PanStarrs

March 17, 2013: Comet Pan Starrs has been an elusive target.  We tried twice before earlier in the week but cold and clouds sent us home without finding the comet.  But this evening we were determined to try again.  So Alicia and I headed out to Lion's Park in Greene, NY which has a pretty good view to the west.  Initially the sky was still too bright as we searched using binoculars.  After about 15 minutes, with the skies gradually getting darker, we finally found the comet hiding behind thin clouds in the twilight.  We quickly switched over to viewing Pan-Starrs with the 120mm Sky-Watcher and then added a camera piggy back to take some photos.

Aurora March 2013

March 17, 2013: Awake at 5:00am EDT, I peeked out a north facing window and noticed that special glow indicating an aurora display might be in progress.  The NOAA Wing Kp Actvity Index  confirmed that a geomagnetic storm was underway with a predicted level topping off near nine! (haven't seen that in a while).  With just a half hour or so before dawn would start to lighten the skies, I headed out into the 10oF morning to capture a few pictures.  It was an impressive display filling a good deal of the horizon from the northeast to the northwest.  Now the question remains, start some coffee or back to bed.... hmmm?

Additional Images:   130317b.jpg  



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