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M82 Supernova SN2014J

January 25th, 2014 No comments

A few days ago, a Type Ia supernova was discovered in Messier 82 (NGC 3034, the Cigar Galaxy).  Because of clouds, it took a few days for me to image it.  Here’s my first shot of M82 and the supernova.

M82 and supernova SN2014J
Details: 12x 300sec L frames, iTelecope.net‘s T11: PlaneWave 20″ CDK, Planewave Ascension 200HR, FLI ProLine PL11002M. New Mexico Skies, NM. Processed in Nebulosity and Photoshop.  Acquired 20140124 2240MST to 20140124 0040MST

Comparing to other recent photos, it looks like it’s still getting brighter.  It’s brightness is expected to increase over at least the next week.  Get out and take a look!

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Messier 51 – The Whirlpool Galaxy Under a Full Moon

April 27th, 2013 No comments

When doing astrophotography, I’ve always dodged the moon like the plague.  Since not imaging when the moon is up severely limits how much shooting I can do, I decided to see what I could do with a full moon high in the sky.  I was pleased to find out that as long as you can keep the direct moon light out of the scope and you aren’t imaging close to the moon, you can actually get astrophotos when the moon is up.

I did an M51 imaging run starting at 2am local time using Telescope 20 at iTelescope.net’s New Mexico Skies observatory.  The telescope is a Takahashi FSQ-106 with an SBIG ST-8300C camera.  I shot 12x 300second images.  The seeing was reported as around 2 arc-sec.

I watched a few other people imaging that night and scopes that did not have solid side tubes (like the CDK truss scopes) didn’t do well with the moon.  Refractors with dew shields seemed to do fine though. The moon was at about 99% illumination just over 60 degrees away from M51 during my imaging run.

I combined the images using Nebulosity’s Normalize Images & Standard Deviation 1.5.  From there, I kicked around levels, curves, smart sharpening (bright areas), Gaussian blur (dim, non-star areas), and Star Spikes Pro in Photoshop.  I cropped it to the middle 1920×1080 pixels and came up with this…

M51

Click the photo to see the full sized version.

For my first astrophoto on a full moon night, I’m really happy with it.  For now, I’ll stick with a “60 degrees off” rule and greatly expand the number of nights I can image.  There’s at least one “hmmm” I still have to figure out – how does light pollution impact this?  Imaging from in town will likely give completely different results than imaging from a dark sky site.  Gotta figure that out…  more astrophotography!

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Explore Scientific ED127 Robofocus Installation – Part 2

April 27th, 2013 No comments

In my last post, Explore Scientific ED127 Robofocus Installation – Part 1, I talked about how I modified (bent) the attachment bracket to align the Robofocus properly with the telescope’s focus knob shaft.  I also talked about a few possible options for attaching the bracket to the telescope’s focuser.

After some more research online, I decided to try attaching the Robofocus mounting bracket to the telescope using 3M Command brand double sided tape.  I was initially concerned that using double sided tape might allow too much free play in the Robofocus and create unwanted backlash.  As it turns out, using the 3M Command brand double sided tape worked great for attaching the Robofocus bracket to the bottom of the focuser.  By default, the Robofocus control program has built in backlash control that makes the focuser always approach a resting position from the same direction.  I had to reverse the default direction for this setup, but that just required a quick 10 second procedure (instructions are in the Robofocus manual).

Just after I finished the Robofocus installation, I went on a dark sky trip to Hole In The Wall Campground in the Mojave National Preserve in southern California.  I had to fight 30-60mph winds each night I was there, so I didn’t get much from my imaging.  However, the wind was calm for long enough for me to try out a couple focus techniques.

Robofocus installed

I started out using the Robofocus for manually controlled focus (via the hand controller and ASCOM POTH) with Nebulosity’s Fine Focus mode. I was really happy with that until I tried FocusMax with MaximDL. I only have a demo of Maxim, but the capability that FocusMax brings is amazing.

For FocusMax/Maxim, I roughly followed this tutorial:
http://www.flemingastrophotography.com/focusmax.html

So far, the only difference I’ve noticed is that with the ED127′s Crayford focuser it’s possible to bump the extension tube and make it slide in the focuser without the Robofocus rotating. I also noticed a very slight amount of creep over my 4 day dark sky trip. Instead of building a 12+ V-curve model as described in the link above, I just did a few before my final focus. It still worked remarkably (shockingly) well.

With FocusMax & Maxim, my focusing procedure is:
1) Slew the scope to an appropriate part of the sky & loosen focuser tension screws (my focuser has 3)
2) Connect the Robofocus to ASCOM POTH
3) Open Maxim (it auto-connects to POTH…didn’t want to connect directly to the Robofocus for some reason)
4) Open FocusMax & build a V-curve
5) Go inside & drink hot chocolate for 5 minutes
6) Hit the focus button in FocusMax (2nd step of V-curve focusing)
7) Tighten the focuser tension screws
8) Take perfectly focused images

I haven’t tried FocusMax with CCDSoft, but I plan to soon. CCDSoft was included with my SBIG camera and it reportedly works well with FocusMax too. For now, I’m taking my light frames using PHD & Nebulosity. I plan on trying Sequence Generator Pro soon as an alternate to Nebulosity (SGP has plate solving & its own focus routine).

Robofocus installed

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Wink At The Moon – Neil Armstrong 1930 – 2012

August 25th, 2012 No comments

Neil Armstrong passed away today.  In honor of him, his family’s request was:

For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.

Here is Neil’s obituary at NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/people/features/armstrong_obit.html

Here are a few photos I took of the moon tonight.  Wink at the moon…

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Curiosity on Mars

August 5th, 2012 No comments

Congrats to the team who got Curiosity this far. Here’s the first image from Curiosity. Taken just minutes after touching down on Mars.

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Venus Transit – June 2012

June 5th, 2012 No comments

Venus is currently transiting the sun.  This will be the last time until 2117.  Here are some shots of the transit sized to 2048×2048 pixels.  Enjoy!

More photos soon!

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May 20, 2012 Solar Eclipse – Teaser!

May 20th, 2012 No comments

I’m still digging through the 1500 photos I took today of the eclipse.  Here’s a teaser image…

This image was taken by Bryan Duke from Henderson, NV on May 20, 2012 at 6:35PM PDT.  It was taken with a Canon 5D Mark II, Celestron 80ED telescope (600mm, f/7.5), Thousand Oaks Optics solar filter, & Celestron CGEM mount.  The photo was 1/125 sec at ISO 100.

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OS X Lion – The Missing Galaxy

August 21st, 2011 No comments

For full disclosure, I need to share that I had a photo in the running for the Lion background image. The photo that has that honor is way better than mine.

I knew something was up! Like everyone else, when they unveiled the new Andromeda Galaxy (aka Messier 31) image used for the default OS X Lion background, I thought it was perfect. I still do. Still, something bugged me about it. As an amateur astronomy kinda guy, I’ve looked at the Andromeda Galaxy lots of times through telescopes and taken several photos of it. Last night, I had my telescope out & looked at Andromeda around midnight. I figured out what bugged me about the Lion background photo.

There’s a whole galaxy missing!

Messier 110, an elliptical galaxy, is a satellite of the Andromeda Galaxy that’s missing from the Lion background photo. Check out the photo comparison below. The first one is the Lion background image. The second one is an Andromeda Galaxy photo taken by the amazing astrophotographer Robert Gendler that I scaled & rotated to match the Lion background. Look on the lower middle portion of the images. Notice anything missing?

…as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

Seriously, though…who cares? The Lion background, much like the previous OS X backgrounds, is meant as art. The blue glow & star field around the galaxy have had some work done to them too. I love the default Lion background image. You just probably shouldn’t use it for astronomy class.

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Milky Way Stop Motion

June 19th, 2010 No comments

Graeme Devine of Santa Cruz, CA recently posted a gorgeous video made from several hours worth of exposures of the Milky Way.  He took the shots from his front porch.  His work really shows off what you can do with a DSLR hooked to a computer.

Most DSLRs come with software that lets you take timed exposures at specific intervals.  To nail the aim, focus & exposure, set your camera on a tripod, connect it to your computer and take single frames until you get the look you’re going for.  Manual mode with 15 second images at ISO1600, f/5.6 and a fairly wide angle (24-35mm) is a good place to start.  Tweak your settings until you get everything how you want it.  Depending on your viewing location’s darkness, your image settings may vary drastically.  After everything’s set, shoot images every 30 seconds for as several hours.  Noting when the Milky Way transits your field of view is important – as is dodging the moon.

An A/C power adapter for your camera will make sure you don’t run out of juice.  If nothing else, make sure your battery is fully charged before you start.  Long exposure photography

Remember that most video is rendered at about 30 frames per second.  At one shot every 30 seconds, it’ll take 7 1/2 hours to put together a short 30 second video.  Once you have all your shots, you can render them to video using your favorite video editing software.

Check out his video here:  http://yfrog.com/6frqjz

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Canon 5D Mark II Firmware 1.2.4 Is Out

February 8th, 2010 No comments

The DSLR that I use for astrophotography is the Canon EOS 5D Mark II.  It’s an amazing daytime camera and it has great low light capabilities.  Canon recently released new firmware for the 5D Mk II, version 1.2.4.  Among other things, this update includes fixes for problems with noise in long exposure bulb photos.

If you’re a 5D Mark II user, you can get the new firmware here:

http://web.canon.jp/imaging/eosd/firm-e/eos5dmk2/firmware.html

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