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About this blog

Hopefully a long term blog about my Astronomy experiences etc.

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Thursday 19 February 2015

It's been quite a few months now since I've been out for any serious sessions with the Telescope. However the bad habit of smoking does get me outside on a regular basis where naked eye observing was regularly taking place during those months. My latest purchase is a GoPro Hero 4 Silver. Working in IT and having a love of gadgets the camera has opened up a lot of opportunities which also include using it for a bit of Astro Photography. I only purchased the camera a few days ago and the forecast was goof for some clear skies during the evening. Leaving the GoPro in its waterproof housing the camera was mounted onto a Gorillapod and just sat on the decking outside my back door. The light in my back garden was very poor in not being able to see very much of what was around on the floor. I set the camera to take 30 second exposures constantly where over the 2 hours it recorded 240 images. When I started viewing the images I was absolutely amazed as to how much detail it had picked up in my garden as well as picking up the movement of the sky. The amount of stars captured was also quite a surprise. A well worth purchase where I hope to produce a lot more images similar to these but in some better locations. http://youtu.be/19RiC0DMoX4




Sunday 23 March 2014

Another night of clear skies forecast for most of the night, however it was also forecast with some low temperatures around freezing point. With barely even seeing a star over the last week I was certainly determined to get out with all the gear and make the most of the night, even if it was work the following day. The daylight is certainly starting to draw out now as Jupiter become clearly visible from around 19:00 and most views in the zenith to southern skies really do not pick up for another hour after that. After my last success of capturing detail in Jupiter with the webcam I was keen to get out and see if I could improve. After spending around 20 - 30 minutes messing around with the cam and laptop I could barely see any detail at all. It may have been down to me or the skies were just not as clear as they looked on this cloudless evening. All was not lost as I was going to make the most of things until the cold told my feet to pack up. With the scope reasonably polar aligned and the MD working well I could see Pleiades M45 still above the house soon to be out of site for the night. Back to one of my favourite parts and I sat the EOS 300D on top of the scope and lined up to M45 at a FL of 300mm. I set the intervalometer to take 15 second exposures with the usual gap of 12 seconds to allow for the RAW file to be written to the card and set it off. While the camera was clicking away I went back in the house and grabbed the 10x50 bins and tripod for some extra viewing. Just a couple of days earlier someone had posted a question about sketches here which turned out to be a nice thread. This had got me in the mind of having a go myself. So grabbing a pencil and small sheet of paper I lined up the bins to Pleiades M45 as I thought that this may be a nice easy target for my first ever attempt at a sketch. I probably spent about 15 minutes back and forth between the bins and looking down at my piece of paper illuminated by my little pocket red torch hung from the tripod. It's certainly right what someone mentioned in that when you do a sketch you really do take in everything that is in the EP. Pleiades has always amazed me being so bright and a great little cluster ideal for the bins. My finished attempt at a first sketch can be found in the link below. Pleiades - My First Sketch By the time I had finished my sketching (attempt at a sketch that is) I went back to the camera and it had finished its run. Checking the last few images and M45 had already started to drop below the roof of the house. In the end when I checked them all later on and processed them I only had the first 15 lights usable to stack. Below is the link to what I got on the camera. M45 15 Lights 20 Darks 20 Bias With M45 gone out of sight it was time to move on to another target. I really wanted to try and catch as much detail as I could and was keen to get a star filled sky. Next target was Beehive Cluster M44. It was rather dim in the sky so decided to go for a more wide field shot and focused on a bright object before roughly lining up where it was. Being a shorter FL at 75mm and still on the scope with the MD running the exposure time was increased to 25 second exposures. I can't remember how many lights I took but I do know that I forgot to record any darks, so ended up using some darks from the others I created on the night even though the exposure times were different. I was a bit out on the alignment but when I processed it was amazed just how much detail I pulled out. M44 Beehive Cluster The feet were starting to send me a message that they were not happy with the temperature. So I decided to go for longer exposures. So far I've searched for M81 / M82 three times, the first two I just couldn't find in the scope, think I had spotted them with the bins but can't be sure. On the third time I had to sweep the sky in the rough area before I eventually found them. So this time I used the Rigel to point me where I thought they were and left the camera at the 75mm FL. With the scope now pointing right near the zenith the exposure settings were changed to 45 seconds and a gap of 15 seconds between exposures and 30 lights to be taken. Started the images running and nipped back in the kitchen to make a nice hot cup of tea (hopefully the feet may get some of that heat). Going back outside with a nice cup of tea really did help to keep me going longer. When the camera finally finished after 30 minutes, the lens cap was put on and another 20 minutes later for the darks to be taken. At this point I took my 20 bias images to cover for all the nights attempts. Now I wasn't expecting much other than hopefully a fully star filled sky. To my surprise when I processed the images right in the middle you can clearly make out M81 and M82. Link below is what I managed to record. Hopefully next time I can use a longer FL and line it up correctly again to get more detail. M81 / M82 Wide Field The one good thing about going from my EOS 300 film camera to the EOS 300D digital camera is that the crop factor on the DSLR is 1.6 making the 75mm lens actually go to a 120mm lens and the 300mm go to a 480mm. What isn't so good is that all my wide angled lenses are no longer wide. It was around midnight that the feet finally sent the message to the brain they didn't want no more cold, so it was time to pack up. Everything back in the kitchen to air before packing away. The lens cover on the scope was actually iced over as I had left it on top of the kids trampoline, but everything else was pretty clear. The primary did take quite a while to clear after it hit the heat in the house, but was all dry when I went to bed. Things all packed away so it was time to download the images and stack them all in DSS. All the results you have seen from the links above. Looking to get out on the next clear night to do some more now.




8 - 11 March 2014 - Collimation and Clear Skies

8 March 2014 - Collimation Since even before I bought the scope collimation has always been on the mind. Like most newbies the thought of tampering around with the mirrors is not a welcoming job. However in my quest to get the best out of my budget scope I thought the least I could do was try and check it. Even before I had bought a collimator I had watched a couple of videos on how to do it, well it was more than a couple as there were several covering the Cheshire and the Laser. My scope doesn't have a centre spot on the primary so that was another hurdle to get over. Fortunately I got some advice over the phone from Alan at Scopes and Skies who gave me a work around that didn't entail pulling the scope apart. Yes it's not as quick as having a centre spot, but for a newbie it was by far the preferred way of doing this for the first time. Rather than going in to the whole details I did create a forum post in the Beginners section that can be found below. http://stargazerslounge.com/topic/210348-first-collimation-newbie/ 10 March 2014 - Clear Skies The forecast and weather for Cumbria (like most of the country) has finally changed. No more dodging cloud and having viewing sessions ranging from a few minutes to a couple of hours. So with the first night of clear skies forecast all night the plan was to head off to the local dark sky site being only a 10 minute drive away. After getting home from work and having tea, my 10 year old daughter who often attends the local society with me wanted to come along. So the car was loaded up and the sky was still fairly light from the sun, so we decided to wait a while until the effect of the sun subdued a bit. It wasn't long and after a 10 minute drive arrived in the car park for where we were going to setup. By now most of the effects of the sun has gone from the sky. However with a moon only being a few days before reaching a full moon, it was a very bright night. You could clearly see to setup the scope from scratch, only requiring extra light to see the spirit level. With the night sky so bright it was far from what I had been hoping to see with only the very brightest of stars visible in any direction. However this didn't stop me and I was soon hunting for objects and experimenting with the DSLR and a wide angled lens. After only a couple of images I soon decided that anything with the DSLR was not going to work on this night with the camera on a tripod, so I spent the next couple of hours at the scope and with my binoculars. My daughter did venture out of the car a couple of times, but she was more than happy being in the car with my other pair of 10x25 binoculars I keep in the car and playing on her phone. Not too many objects were viewed on such a clear night. However I did get a few images of the moon prime focus. It's quite amazing that with such a small amount of objects to look at, just how long you can still spend outside. I knew it was time to pack up when my feet were getting cold. Here is one of the images I took of the moon on the night. Although I didn't achieve anything near what I had hoped, I still do not think that it was a wasted night. After all I had only ever been to the location once before and that wasn't with a scope or binoculars, so in fact the bright skies helped me with the first visit. Strangely though when I got home I could probably see more in the sky than when I was out in the open and I had street lights to contend with. Must have been down to the fact that you could shelter up against a hedge or wall and cut out portions of the sky. 11 March 2014 - Clear Skies Day 2 After the previous night I wasn't keen to head back to the dark sky site with such a bright sky. So this time it was back out in the back garden on the decking as I was only going to be primarily looking at the moon and Jupiter. First up it was time with the moon. Initially just viewing and this time slipping in the ND filter that I had bought. Certainly made things a little easier on the eye. The DSLR captured a few images while I was concentrated on the subject and then moving over to the xBox webcam. Moon with DSLR Moon with WebCam and stacked with Registax After an enjoyable time with the moon is was a small pan over to Jupiter. The best as usual I could get visually was to get the two atmosphere bands flickering every now and then. With a couple of failed attempts with the webcam not being able to capture any detail I had another try. This time I left the ND filter in to see if I could get any more detail. To my surprise I could start to get something a bit more on the laptop screen. Now it may also have been better viewing conditions or better focusing but at least more was being shown. Recording the video I was more hopeful that when I processed the video there would be more showing. Well there was as below, a quick go at it and I know it's very pink but there was detail there. I then did a little more on this the following night to take out some of the pink. With the main two objects seen it was starting to get late, so a lot of the gear was taken back indoors left to air in the warmer air when it was soon covered in condensation and left to slowly clear. I then just spent time at the scope looking for something, more like attempting yet again to try and find M81 and M82 which I haven't been able to find. The scope was pointed to the rough direction and the RA axis locked with the MD still running. Slowly sweeping the scope along the Dec axis, I would then just unlock and move the RA axis over an EP width, lock again and then sweep back along the Dec. Looking for anything that wasn't a star. After a few minutes I spotted a very faint smudge, concentrating on the smudge I was sure that I had found one of the objects I had been looking for. Back in the house to grab the laptop again and fired up Stellarium fixed on M81 and M82 and changing the view to what I should be seeing with my EP. Now what I could see was no where near as bright as what Stellarium was showing, more than likely some of the moon was having an effect. However what I was seeing was one of the shapes. So looking for some nearby stars as a guide I could work out where I was. Now if someone could have seen me I had the laptop turned at all angles to get my bearings with what was in the EP. After deciding where I was, a little nudge and I had both in the EP. At last I had found M81 and M82 and a great end to a nice evening. Wednesday and the fog had moved in, the same for Thursday and Friday has seen us back with cloud again for what seems the foreseeable future.




First Entry - How it all started back in January 2014 to Date

Not knowing how all this works here is the first entry into my experiences into Astronomy. The Very Beginning For years I've always been interested in the sky, the objects up there and much more like general and natural science to name but a few. I remember a very long long time ago at around the age of 12 I got a Tasco telescope for Christmas. It wasn't nothing special (under today's standards it is very poor), but it was mine. All it really got used for was some daytime viewing which wasn't the easiest of things on its wobbly mount. However with it came a lunar map and a map of the solar system covering the main planets etc. I think I spent more time looking at those two maps than actually using the telescope. When I moved from Suffolk to Cumbria back in 2012 I came across the envelope that contained the maps, still in excellent condition and decided to give these to my 8 year old daughter as she often has fleeting interests in this type of thing. The telescope is still about somewhere, hidden in a cupboard just like most of us hoarders do, just can't part with something. :smiley: I remember the Solar Eclipse well that we had in 1998, where I made the trip from Suffolk to Cornwall for what I was hoping as the best viewing position. However on the day the clouds rolled in as the eclipse started. However they thinned enough to see the event and I remember vividly that when it reached totality, the whole place went silent. Nothing was heard until the sun broke out the other side. At that point the birds went deafening loud and people just packed up and cleared away as quickly as they could. Quite strange as there was still another 20 minutes or so of the eclipse. Back in the early 2000's I remember when we had a planetary alignment. I had gained a copy of a piece of software called Red Shift 3 from the cover of a magazine. This was the equivalent to Stellarium that many people use today. It helped by pointing out where I should be looking for the planets. I think I managed to spot them all with the exception of Mercury. With it being so low in the sky I didn't have a very clear view where I lived with houses in the way on the other side of the road. The Start Of The Real Interest and First Proper Telecsope It was the Star Gazing Live on BBC2 in January 2014 that really hooked my interest. I had initially missed the first episode but did catch up on the iPlayer watching them all. Regular email hit my inbox from a certain High Street supplier and they were all with offers of Telescopes. Luckily this supplier accepted PayPal, where I had a small amount of funds to spend. After a bit of research, contact a local society and posting to a different forums site I didn't actually get any advice back on if what I was looking at was a good buy. So I decided I had researched as well as I could and decided to buy the Celestron Astromaster 130EQ, the one without the Motor Drive as that was an additional £40 and I could buy it on it's own for just over £30. The new scope was delivered at work the week after Star Gazing Live and coincidentally it was the same day that the local Astronomy Society in Carlisle had an open evening. I took the scope home from work, had tea and quickly had it assembled. It was nice and easy to do as after the point of ordering it I had spent many hours on YouTube researching about the hobby and the scope I had ordered. Now do I think that I bought the wrong scope? Knowing what I do now the answer is probably. Do I regret buying the 130EQ? No. More will follow showing how I have got on with the scope and it may not be the most ideal but you can have lots of fun exploring and actually get quite a lot out of it. Local Astronomy Society The local Society had an open evening on the day my new scope arrived. So that night (where I had already enquired about it) both my daughter (10 years old) and I headed off to the open evening. The room was very small for the amount of people there, it was very friendly and we both enjoyed ourselves. Although from my intense watching of YouTube videos there was very little they spoke about that I hadn't learnt. It was a joy to meet like minded people who share the same hobby or at least have an interest in the hobby. It was nice to see their home made scope and we both ended up in the local paper. :cool: Leaving the evening their next meeting was to be held at the local nature reserve that had just received the dark skies which was only a 10 minute drive from where I live, where both my daughter and I were keen to go along. At the next meeting it was a lovely clear night, most of the same people turned up from the open evening with the exception of one or two. It was at the time where the new Super Nova around M81 / M82 had just been discovered. They had the clubs refractor there and one member had their own scope too. Both had GoTo on them and we were shown some of the objects I had been observing that time, but best of all I was shown the Super Nova, where still today at writing this part of the blog I've been struggling to find at home on my own. The second part of the evening was a slideshow and talk on what we can expect to see. Another very enjoyable evening, again we both enjoyed and was looking forward to the next meeting. The third meeting we attended was a talk on the Rosetta probe and Asteroids. The meeting started with their normal notices and things to look out for which was great as it highlighted some new things to be aware of, especially the Iridium Flares where all the information can be found at the http://www.heavens-above.com/ website. Again I had been reading up on the Rosetta probe prior to the meeting. The meeting really only touched on the probe and moved to asteroids. At the end we were handed around some Asteroid fragments that had been collected from various parts of the world, showing us how variable the actual content of the asteroids could actually be. Another most enjoyable evening, looking forward to the next one which is sometime after this blog entry. Just checked the website and it looks like we missed the National Astronomy Week event at Watchtree Nature Reserve. Typical we were looking forward to attending that. My Observations and Experiences January - Early March 2014 Setting the scope up for the first time was nice and easy, taking it outside and a very rough Polar alignment was made due to partial cloud cover. This seemed to be the theme for quite a few sessions as most of you will know the weather in the UK for the start of 2014 has not been good for this hobby. With a long photographic background, getting used to using the EQ mount took two or three sessions. Especially having to spin the scope on the mounting rings to get the Eye Piece and Finder in a suitable orientation to use. With Jupiter high in the sky it was the first object that I spotted. This was keenly observed by my daughter and myself. The wife and my wild 12 year old son also had a look and were suitably impressed, especially being able to see the four moons. Almost every session I have had since that first one, has always entailed a good look at Jupiter. It never fails to amaze me and I am always keen to look at it every time. Now it may be the conditions or it may be the quality of my scope, but I never see very much detail showing the atmosphere. Looking off to the edge does show flickers of detail at times. I was quite impressed that within my first few sessions I managed to find the Orion Nebula M42 and Andromeda M31. Admittedly M31 did take me a few minutes to find in the scope, especially as I was still using the standard RDF, or should I say trying to use it. :rolleyes: Oh and how could I forget the moon. It has to be one of the objects that everyone notices and always had to take a look at, especially when you have a full moon and observing a lot of other objects is then limited. With getting the bug it was already time to start trying to add to the standard equipment. Within a few days I had ordered a Rigel finder to replace the RDF and the Motor Drive to help with observing. Webcams, 2x Barlows and another EP were also added but I will go into the imaging further below. The Rigel has to be one of the best buys, it transformed the use of the scope making life so much easier. Even finding the bright Jupiter could take 30 seconds or so with using the RDF. Somewhere in the middle of all that buying I also purchased a set of Olympus DPSI 10x50 binoculars. Now of any of the equipment I have these get used the most. They are practical for any break in the sky, can easily pick out many objects that cannot be seen by the eye and can be used in the daytime (which I still have to do). They are so ideal for hunting for a lot of objects in the sky. Where Andromeda takes me several minutes to find with the scope I can find it within a matter of seconds using the binoculars. Of all the stock equipment that came with the scope, the 20mm EP is a real joy to use. A nice wide field of view and giving a nice low 32x magnification. With a nice wide opening and reasonable eye relief it is ideal for someone wearing glasses. The 10mm EP I have to say is pretty poor. It has a very narrow opening and was briefly getting used just to see Jupiter or the Moon with that little extra magnification. After the first few sessions I was keen to start trying to find some more objects. Being new it isn't easy to know what to look for but I soon came across Pleiades M45 and that still has to be one of the brightest and enjoyable objects that I look forward to seeing. With browsing the forums daily someone posted an image of the Beehive Cluster M44. So I looked it up to where it was and found it very quickly. I've tried to find Bode's Galaxy M81 and Cigar Galaxy M82 a couple of times now. The first time was before I bought the bins and just could find no trace of them and I knew where I should be looking. I tried again earlier this week and still unable to locate them with the scope, however I think that I did find them with the bins, but could not get the scope to the same location. I will say that just because I've tried a couple of times I certainly will not give up. Imaging With a strong photographic background from many years photography I have probably had a better understanding to the needs when it comes to Astro Photography. In all the years of doing photography if it was just for myself or a judge in a club competition, I've always had a battle compared to the best. Mainly by not having the equipment that other had. However this never stopped me as every now and then you always come up with an image that is as good as the rest you see. I had a vast range of equipment in the pre-digital days. Three 35mm cameras used for colour, slide and B&W films, plus a medium format camera which produced some nice large negatives. To top this off when you process your own B&W films and prints you get something that the modern digital age will never come close to. It was 2003 when I got into the digital imaging with a Canon S45 compact digital camera. I made sure that I got a camera that allowed a lot of manual settings that you get with an SLR as the DSLR cameras were well out of my price range at that time. A few years later I then got the EOS 300D, where the main reason was because I have the EOS 300 film camera. So the controls are almost identical and all my lenses could be used with the DSLR. So how do I go about bringing my Photographic skills to the Astronomy world. I have a scope that isn't suitable for DSO. During all my YouTube sessions I came across a video by Forest Tanaka which can be found here This is one video I wish I had seen well before I got into Astronomy, as it would have helped me to explore the sky and take a lot more wide field images before taking up the hobby.However like anyone new with a scope when you first look through that EP you just want to try and capture an image of any sorts to show someone else. I did nothing but fail with mobiles, that's even with three different types I have to use. So I resorted to using the compact camera. The first image of the moon was just hand held to the EP. The second image of Jupiter was so much harder that I had to sit the camera on a tripod. This meant constant adjustments of the scope to track Jupiter and then constantly moving the camera to frame the image. I'm sure many of you have done just what I did at the EP and were pleased with your results you got. My first proper subject getting away from AFocal was the Orion Nebula. I think it was somewhere near to 80 images at 1.6 seconds with the EOS 300D sat on a tripod and a 300mm lens. For a very first image I was pleased with the results. I think I will go back to the original DSS image at a later point to see how much I can improve it. I then bought a cheap webcam but when testing it just didn't have enough control. So I bought an xBox webcam for under £5 delivered. The modification was quick and simple. Below are my first proper efforts of Jupiter, the second being with the 2x Barlows. Now they are no where anything as good as many post in the forums so I know I have a lot more work to do and just hope that the scope can produce better images. I got the usual lunar that everyone must have tried when they use a webcam. Not too happy with that but it was my first attempt with the webcam. My first ever prime focal shot was lunar again as below. Focus is a little out but will certainly be visiting this in the future. Back to the camera on the tripod and I got Pleiades. After I fitted the MD, I just had to see how I could push the exposures compared to having the camera on the tripod. The scope was polar aligned the best I could get it and the MD slightly adjusted to try and get tracking as close as possible. Upping the exposure times to 20 seconds was being ambitious to what I had done before. The good thing about digital is if it doesn't work just hit the delete button. If you don't try you will never succeed. First subject of the night was Andromeda. I thing that being in a town the LP has not helped on this, but I can see it in the image which is far more than I can do with the naked eye. Second was round to the normal Orion. Again low in the sky the LP has done no favours, plus only 10 images may not have been enough. Lastly on the night I got the Beehive cluster. Probably the better result on the night as it was higher in the sky and less chance of LP. Many people make lots of notes as they go on, I've spent far too much of my life at a keyboard and hopefully the blogs here will be my record of how I get along. In these forums the people are so friendly and helpful from what might seem a silly question, a very specific techincal question or just general banter.



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