Sunday, November 12, 2017

Another Catch-Up Post

Not sure if anyone is still following this blog due to its inactivity. Not even sure if people really blog anymore, or just FaceBook and Twitter all the time instead, or whatever.

Been an eventful few months. The death of a close friend, a new job, a trip back home to Australia and a move to a new home. Some of these things I have experienced in the last few months have led me to live a little harder, chase some more dreams, value some things that I haven't on the past.

Anyway, astronomy...

Last month I was able to set my sights on Saturn with my relatively new astro imager, a ZWOASI120MC. Managed to capture a lovely shot, as seen below.

Image details:

 - Celestron C8 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope
 - Celestron CGEM mount
 - ZWO ASI120MC camera
 - Celestron 2X Barlow
 - 800 frames stacked in Autoskakkert2

It's the best image of Saturn I've ever captured. The conditions were probably 3-4/5, so a better image isn't far off but I now have to wait for next year. 

I've also been working on some wide field shots. We have moved out into the country, and have a property with spectacular night skies (bortle 3-4). The Milky Way is clearly visible, and the ability to shoot from my back yard is first-class. Below is a star trail shot I took with a lightning storm along the horizon.

As a result of moving out into the country, I have the ability to build an observatory which I am n ow in the middle of. More of that in the next post...

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Catching up - Moon, Venus & Eclipse

Okay, time to get the blog up to date! I'm not even sure if anyone comes here any more but I'll keep it going all the same.

Over the last couple of months, I have been testing out my new C8 OTA and New ZWO ASI120MC Camera combination. The skies here have been so-so, so I've been getting out when I can.

First, here's a pic of the camera on my C8 and CGEM configuration:

I'm using FireCapture freeware software to capture my video files from the camera. I like it a lot. It has different recommended settings based on the object you're shooting, and you can modify those settings as needed. Super-easy.

Here is a wide-field~ish shot of the moon:

...and a nice zoomed-in shot (i.e. camera + 2x barlow) of Copernicus:

I've tried imaging Venus, but getting some chromatic aberration, most likely due to a cheap barlow:

So, overall, not too shabby. Jupiter is rising earlier and earlier, so I'm looking forward to trying out the new gear on that marvelous gas giant. Until then...

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Rediscovering Planetary and Lunar

Last year was a bit of a bust. Between the weather, work and family, there weren't too many opportunities to get out under the night skies for me. Part of that involves driving further and further out of Austin, Texas, to escape the growing city lights. After some thought, I decided to plunge back into lunar and planetary astrophotography. You don't need dark skies for this, so I don't have to drive too far to image the moon and planets. My front garden would do just fine.

In that vein, I updated some astronomy equipment. Firstly, I acquired a C8 Celestron OTA second-hand. Came with a finder scope and terrific carrying case. This gives me a dedicated scope for lunar and planetary, and will later allow me to shoot more distant DSOs once I can attach my guiding setup to the scope.

Then, I was able to get a new lunar and planetary imager for Christmas. It's a ZWO ASI120MC camera, quite a step-up from the Philips Toucam I used all those years ago. You can see the full specs here, but the camera can also be used as an autoguider. Hmm. Image acquisition seems rather straightforward, using it with the FireCapture software which I like a lot (freeware!). It has different profiles for different planets and the moon built-in, so takes a lot of guesswork out of the various settings you need to make out in the field.

So, hopefully this new stuff will encourage me to get out more and take photos. Visually, the C8 is great. I needed to collimate it just a little to get it in shooting condition. It's offered great views of various objects so far, and I'm sure it will fir the astrophotography bill! The OTA is FASTAR compatible, so I'll check that out at some stage...

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Orion Rising

It's been a fair while since I have posted anything. Work and family life continue to make astronomy a tough pastime for me. However, I am committing to making a better go at it moving forward.

This past Thanksgiving, I spent a few days at my father-in-law's farm in Northwest Arkansas. He has killer skies, with the Milky Way being quite visible and M31 being easily naked eye visible. Despite a few high level aircraft contrails that persisted sometime after sunset, I snapped the shot below. You can clearly see the Orion constellation, with Sirius following from behind.

  • Nikon D7000
  • 18mm focal length
  • F2.8
  • ISO 3200
  • 25 second exposure
  • Processed in Lightroom

Friday, August 12, 2016

2016 Perseids

Another bad summer for astronomy for me. Very little opportunity to go out due to weather, work, family or [insert other excuse here]. One of the main reasons has been that my regular local observing spot had been taken over with light pollution. However, I have located another decent spot, and hope to get shooting again.

Last night I checked out the Perseids. Firstly, this was done with the family late at night, when the moon was up and high-level clouds were present. Saw a few fireballs, but nothing brilliant. I went back out to the countryside this morning, at around 4am. Completely different story - the sky was raining meteors! A very nice display indeed, with about 30 an hour, easily.

Below are a few captures from my early morning excursion. The images were taken with a Nikon D7000 and Rokinon 8mm. ISO 2400, 25 second exposures.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Another Arizona Trip

My father came to visit in March from Australia, and I had the opportunity to take him to Arizona for a one-week tour. We explored the Grand Canyon, Phoenix, Sedona, old Route 66 and various points in between. A highlight was spending an evening at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. We took in several lectures which were very interesting. Some were entry-level astronomy "sky at night" fare, but others were more focused on the evolving discoveries connected with Pluto - from it's initial discovery to the recently acquired images and knowledge provided by the New Horizons spacecraft and its team of scientists. Not still a planet??? C'mon now - let it back into the club. It behaves just like one, from a tectonic perspective alone!

We managed to get a view through the 24" Clark Refractor (pictured below) of Jupiter, after lining up for about an hour in the cold. It was simply stunning! The seeing was very good that night, and we could see a clear image of the Great Red Spot, the planet's wispy cloud bands with intricate detail and the four Galilean moons. I could even see detail within the GRS itself, different shades of red. It's the best view of Jupiter I have ever seen, and dad was pretty much blown away by it as well. I'll drag my 12" Lightbridge to check out Jupiter again soon, but I know it won't be the same!

We also had the chance to visit the impact crater near Winslow. The views of the crater from the observation decks were terrific, and they have a splinter chunk of the asteroid/meteor that caused the impact on display to touch and examine more closely. It felt like pure iron or metal, and gave you an eerie sense of the damage a really large asteroid of this nature could cause if it impacted our planet. Well worth a visit if you're up that way!

Hopefully I'll have some more astro-images to share soon as the warm, spring nights take hold here in Texas.