Wednesday, December 12, 2012

It's cold outside....

Well, last night was an absolute corker!
I wrapped-up warm and got out in the very cold December night.
Brilliant Orion to the South, really bright Jupiter and it's moons in Taurus just to the West and the glittering Pleiades.
The Milky Way clearly overhead with the double-cluster near Cassiopeia clearly visible to the naked eye.
Oh ..... and I got to see at least 15 of the Geminids - some very bright and some not so.
The stars were really just like jewels in the sky and it was a truly memorable night.
I then went in at 10:30pm to watch the tribute to Patrick Moore on the BBC.


Monday, November 26, 2012

I Stand Corrected

Following Fridays "moon shadow on Jupiter" high I asked the question at Stargazers Lounge, a fine source of information at any level, and this was their response;

So that's it then, this weeks jobs will be cleaning my lens, checking my camera sensor and hopefully producing better shots.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Focusing on the Subject

Having had some successful nights observing and taking pictures I feel more relaxed setting up my equipment.  This is evident as I have now found how to focus my ep's when used in the projector.

As the moon was bright I thought I'd try Jupiter first.  These pictures are taken at 150X mag, the highest I can go with my current equipment, and shows a moon, top middle, during transit across the planet.  That's right, barely a week ago I was pleased I had cloud bands now I have a moon transit.  This is evidence of how much can be achieved in a short space of time if you just practice.  I have checked a few Stellarium and the Jupiters moon site (a link to this is on the right hand side of this page) and can't see that it was one of the major moons so I'll ask the question on the net and get back to you on that.

I also thought I'd take some movies and have a go at stacking.  What I have found is that my pc struggles with over 100 allignment points over 500 frames.  I also found that it takes a long time and my results were worse than the video.  It's a complex process trying to tell Registax which frames to use but again I will persevere and keep trying.

This is the video I am working from and shows Tycho in the middle of the frame.
This is a still I took of about the same area;

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

When Old Friends Come a' Calling

The moon was a bit of a hindrance last week so tonight I went out and there it was 8.5 days old, a mere 242,195 miles away and at only 63% of it's brightest phase being just half full (or a waxing gibbous if we're going to get technical).

It's been ages since I've looked at it and, well, after scanning it for 10 minutes or so I thought I'd take a picture or 20.

(Exp 1/250sec ISO250 f5)

The Apennine mountains looked fantastic as the long shadows were cast down from their peaks (toward the top of the moon), likewise the craters Alphonsus and Arzachel with their mountains inside them (half way down at the line of termination.

Sometimes it's nice to revisit old friends!


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ahhhhh Andromeda ....

So Al has produced a superb shot of Jupiter from his back garden. Not one to sit on my laurels I stepped-up to the plate. One of my personal favourites is M31 (The Andromeda Galaxy). I've tried to get this before but I was convinced that I could do better .... and how right I was! It was a very cold evening on Saturday (17th Nov) and the sky was superb.
Auriga, Jupiter, Taurus and Orion just starting to make it's way now - signalling (at least to me) the coming of winter, to name a few.

Here we have M31. Nikon D40 35mm f/1.8 ISO800 15sec.
And M45 (with Jupiter and Taurus). Nikon D40 35mm f/1.8 ISO400 8sec.

These images are the basic jpegs from the camera. I also shot in RAW but I could not get them any better in my image manipulation programs. So maybe that's a lesson learnt?
Happy viewing.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Like a Dog with a Bone

Early November, when the autumnal evenings are lit up with the flash of 2nd rate explosives are not normally a time I relish but after last Mondays pictures I thought I'd retry.  Seeing was pretty poor to awful due to the cloud and moisture but there were gaps in the cloud coverage so I hunkered down over the eyepiece / viewfinder to see if I could improve on my last Jupiter picture.
Well, it depends on how you measure success; I did use an 15mm eyepiece in my projector so in effect I was taking a picture at a 100x mag AND I did remember to shoot in RAW.
Details - Exp 1/50sec ISO 800

I have got a 10mm eyepiece which would be the next step but I'm happy with what I have at the moment. I also probably didn't have the camera set up exactly right & I didn't try taking a video and stacking the images.  Too many things to remember in the cold night air with the results of Chinese gunpowder skills blasting off all around you!

Astronomy is a real roller coaster ride.  You get a bit disheartened at first when you realise that the pictures you see in books are not the ones you'll ever see through your scope.  You accept that, enjoy the new astral sights and then you start to take pictures, which again brings you down as it's difficult to capture what you actually see but if anyone had told me that I could take a picture of Jupiters moons, like in the last post, 4 years ago I wouldn't have believed them, now I have definite cloud bands and a little colour.  I'm happy.

What next?  Andromeda!!


Monday, November 05, 2012

Remember, Remember........

Being a clear night I thought I would try for some more experimental photographs.

I still can't find infinity using my adapter/ eyepiece combo so thought I'd try some plain afocal shots using the camera as a 500mm f5 lens.  Unfortunately I didn't take the pictures in RAW so was unable to edit them as much.

This is what I got;
Jupiter with the Galilean Moons - Exposure 1/5 Second (From L-R Calisto, Ganymede, Io & Europa - though don't quote me on that!)
 Above is Jupiter (Exposure 1/640 sec ISO 400.  Now bear in mind I had no eyepiece so I have zoomed the backside out of this but I'm sure there are cloud bands visible!
And finally
The Pleiades. Exposue 2.5 secs ISO 640. I did take a shot of this a couple of years back so this is just a marker for me.  There is a little movement which may be the tripod or exposure time, I'm guessing it was movement.

Apart from all the fireworks going off it was a great sky tonight and not too cold.  Hopefully we'll have many more!


Friday, November 02, 2012

More Moon, More Learning

A couple of Moon shots; the top was taken yesterday and the other last week.

Both shots were taken by attaching the camera to the scope with no extra magnification.  The colouring is vastly different due to the exposure time.  The top needed to be slightly less.  The moon is a great target to practice with as when it's this bright the rest of the sky is bleached out making most astronomy pointless.

I'm also learning how to use different software to help correct my mistakes.  As an example I have "rescued" the top picture and given it a more realistic hue.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Looking East

Outside again on Saturday night (13th Oct.). Quite a chilly one and good clear skies although I did have some slight light pollution - light hitting low cloud that shows-up in the photo.
Taken around 21:00 looking due east using camera only.
M45 (Pleiades) to top right of frame, Auriga to the left, Taurus to the right (the bright orange star is Aldebaran) and Jupiter is the bright one in the centre.

f/1.8 6sec ISO200 35mm.


Thursday, October 04, 2012

Autumn Watch

So, as the owls hooted I took my first foray into the October night and pointed my camera and scope skywards and what a delight it was!
I always love this time of year - a chill in the air, you can almost smell the snow and wood burning fires to boot - great!
Left we have "The Moon" taken with my 2.5in Petzval at Prime Focus (520mm ISO 200 1/250sec). Notice there is no colour aberration at all! - these are great scopes. You can also see the "roughness" of the mountains on the circumference.

Right we have my first time lapse photo. It is a collection of 24 stacked images (done using Registax) and finished off in Paint.NET. The "jitteryness" is caused by each single exposure not being long enough. Each frame was taken using a fixed lens (35mm) at f/1.8 ISO200 15sec. This really needs to be 30sec and may be a higher ISO - say ISO400. You get the general idea. I kept the chimney pot for reference but it also gives the image some depth of field.

Other highlights of the evening were:
Jupiter - two cloud bands clearly visible with it's four Galilaean moons.
Auriga - a new constellation for me. This really stood out as I looked North-East.
Four meteorites - one really bright to my West at around 21:00.

These images are some of my best and I hope to have much improved ones over time.
I am seeing more and more each time I go out. I have been an amateur astronomer for some years now, but I am constantly amazed by how much new stuff I am seeing.


Friday, September 07, 2012

Ah, Those Barmy Late Summer Nights

After two blogs of pictures you can tell that I'm venturing back into the garden after dark.

I've taken 100's of shots as I practice with my new camera.  You'd think having a nice DSLR and scope would equal great pictures but no, I'm finding out it is a great skill and one which needs lot's of practice.

Anyways, it's great being back outside and getting reacquainted with all the old sights.  Vega has looked amazing, almost straight up and Arcturus has lit up the Western Skies (I think) but the stars that most tell me what time of year it is are the ones that make up the Plough.  So recognisable I can chart the year by it's position relative to my garden.

Early September is when it's at it's most recognisable (see above) but slowly it tips around the bottom of the pan and the handle becomes a nocturnal sundial of sorts.  You can also see the optical "double" stars Mizar and Alcor clearly on my picture above (2nd star of the handle).
(Picture: f5.6 Esp 20sec ISO 400)

Hopefully this is a start of new regular blogs and as MJ has purchased new equipment too there should be a plethora of amateur pictures!


Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Not a Astrophotography blog, Honest guv!

As promised I decided to take some more shots.  Still blurred, work in progress, but I did manage to fire off a couple of 75X Mag shots.

The purpose of putting these shots on to the blog is to try and narrate the process of improvement for both the reader and photographer!

Next time I'll try without the scope!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

New Camera, New Lessons

In April of this year I purchased an Olympus E PL1, a micro four thirds camera for holiday snaps and better astrophotography.  Yes, I'd read reports about the amount of noise micro four thirds can generate while taking dark shots but it's only a hobby right, let's not get too anal, I'm an amateur.

So, 5 months later I finally get a chance to try it out, almost 2 years to the day when I tried my first attempts at astrophotography using a compact and vice-like adapter.

The shots below were taken using a 15mm eye piece and Revelation afocal adapter.

All the shots are out of focus but the subject matter is clear.  On close inspection I think the "blur" is down to movement, so that's the first thing I'll practise! 

Incidentally my first shots, 2 years ago (see 2010 posts) are also poor but had improved greatly within a month.

Looking out of the window it looks like we have the same moon tonight so I'll be back out agin!


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Iridium flare

As an aside to the last post - I also saw my first Iridium Flare as well! I was simply looking up and saw a satellite moving across the heavens, then BOOM! a brilliant flash of light. It also continued to "pulse" before it hit the Earth's shadow.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A new scope

I have recently (well months ago actually, but the weather just has not been kind for any viewing at all!) purchased a 2.5in (62mm) Semi Apo refractor. I am a bit of a refractor lover, but, as I already have a 4in Mak I wanted to get something a bit special - so here it is, the Revelation Astro Petzval (giving the Semi Apo) - a very portable scope indeed.
I could do with a better diagonal but I paired it with my Japanese made 26mm Meade LP eyepiece, which is sweet.
The last 2 nights have been absolutely glorious albeit a little light but I just had to get out and give it a go!
I have also been forced to learn a few more stars and constellations as I have had to star-hop as the scope does not have a finder as yet. (I also used the iPhone Distant Suns App.)
The first thing I noticed (well 2 things actually) was how pin-point the stars were which was helped by the smooth action of the Crayford focuser. Even with the small aperture the optical quality was clearly noticeable - no false colour.
I was hoping to see the crescent Moon, Saturn and Mars but as a huge hill sits to my South-West I was out of luck :(
So I turned to a few old faithfulls - M13 (The Globular Cluster in Hercules) and M32 (The Andromeda Galaxy). Both were clearly visible even in the lighter skies with a small mag. and aperture.
I know I need to test the scope more, but on first use it is an absolute find!


Monday, June 11, 2012

Sky View Cafe

I've just come across "Sky View Cafe" on the web (in links on the right). It's a Java application so you will need the plugin for your browser - but that's all. Free planetarium software - great!


Thursday, April 05, 2012

Just a quick one.

Could all readers please sign this;

It would put pressure on the govenrment to focus on light pollution and maybe bring some stars back for inner city dwellers.

Thank you


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

And again ....

Well, out again last night with just a quick update of the previous post.
I have said this before, but I am seeing things lately that I have never seen before, either naked-eye or optical.
Another one is M44 - Praesepe at mag 3.10 in Cancer. This is left of Orion and is a naked-eye open cluster. A real delight in the binos as well. Then if you simply move to the 7 o'clock you come across M67 - another open cluster at mag 6.9. This is easily visible in the binos.

So it suddenly dawned on me that with this evening and the last I can easily get to mag 7 in the binos. and probably further given a moon less night.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

An outstanding evening

So last night I decided to use the binoculars (12x50) and take a few shots with the camera. This has to be one of the best sessions i've had and really shows the need for a good pair of binos for that "quick-look" session or even the all-nighter!
I was so impressed by the rich wide-field views I got I may even invest in a larger pair soon. I got to see nebula and star clusters that I have never seen - although my naked eye observing has improved the more I go outside and learn the night sky as well.
Worthy objects are:
The open clusters M37 (Mag 5.6), M36 (Mag 6.0) and M38 (Mag 6.4) - these "jumped-out" in the binos
Orion Nebula M42
Pleiades M45 - a really good sight above the crescent moon and Venus
The double-double of Alcor and Mizar in the Great Bear.
Of course the planet favourites as well - Venus, Jupiter (now setting late evening), Saturn (now rising late evening) and Mars.

This night more than most has really re-invigorated my interest in Astronomy (not that it needed it), but really highlights that fact that you really do not need more than a pair of £20 binoculars to really enjoy the sky. I think I might have mentioned that before?! ;)



What an Alignment 31/2

Not one to miss out on the act, but without a DSLR to capture the full majesty of the evening sky, I fired off this shot, taken at about 8.30 on 26th March. Venus glaring just above and right of the moon and Jupiter below.

The real view looked better but my camera picked up too much brightness from the moon. Hey, I did use a tripod!!


Monday, March 26, 2012

What an alignment! (3)

Well kind of. Trying out my new Nikon 35mm f1.8 lens I was lucky to have very early clear skies and was able to take this hand-held camera view! I am also blessed with one of the darkest skies I have come across as I live in the sticks, although this was taken at dusk.
So we have (left to right) - Venus (top), Jupiter and the crescent Moon.
The image does not really do the naked eye view justice, even my 4 year old son and 2 year old daughter were in awe of what they could see.


Monday, March 12, 2012

What an alignment! (2)

Well, no picture this time - sorry, but a good deal of information!
So, viewed Venus last night - it was like a half moon in miniature -a great sight and then Jupiter to it's left with 3 moons visible.
Orion was of course splendid in the West and to the South-East Mars is a really good sight - really stands out as being "red".
I also like to just stand and stare (hoping to catch a shooting star or two) to take in the whole sky. It really is an awe inspiring sight - I could spend hours just looking up .... which has just sparked a memory of being about 12 and at my parents house with camp bed and binoculars - just looking up. Very good memories.


Friday, February 24, 2012

What an alignment!

Well, just a quick one here. A picture taken from my back garden of (left to right) Jupiter, Venus and the Crescent Moon. Great.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A night at the camera

I decided that I would forget about the telescope for a while (although I have been getting my best views of the Orion Nebula lately at 52x - really fills the eyepiece view) and simply concentrate on the camera.
I have never been overly successful at taking pictures with the scope, so I dismounted the telescope and replaced it with the camera - I can now properly "track" stars using the EQ mount and motor drive. This is essential for long exposure photography - anything above 10secs. really needs a drive.
After a few shots of Orion I decided to swing towards Cassiopeia in the hope of catching M31 - the Andromeda Galaxy, and what do you know .... I did!!!
The photo in the top-left clearly shows M31 and if you look closely you see the diffuse light produced by the spiral arms. WOW!
[Camera: Nikon D40. 55mm F/5.6 30 sec. ISO-1600]
For comparison, I have "auto-leveled" (the light) in the second image to prove that indeed it is where I say it is.
This was my first try at this sort of thing. I really wanted to do a few exposures in minutes, but my remote release had packed-up!
It is true that you really do not need much equipment to get some really good results.


PS - Don't forget about Star Gazing Live on BBC2!