Saturday, October 24, 2015

First Quarter Moon

Nothing special about this image, just the first I have taken with my Celestron Goto 8i SE scope. I am just getting used to it and learning how to use it with a Canon DSLR attached to it. This was taken in the alt-az mode which is a bother if any object in near zenith. The air was quite turbulent with thin clouds passing by so I probably overdid the "sharpness" setting in post-production.


Monday, October 12, 2015

Northern Skies without guiding test

This image of the northern night sky was taken with multiple short exposures (30 secs) without guiding (just sitting on the tripod) with my Canon t3i and then processed with Deep Sky Stacker. Deep Sky Stacker is a program that will take astrophotography images of the same subject and stack them together to make it look like a much longer exposure. This one was about 8 images. You will see that the trees are blurred but the stars are not ! It helps bring out fine detail in the northern part of the Milky Way. With a little more post production (see next image) I made the Milky Way appear even more, but this was simply a test.

Note: if you click on this first image a larger view will be shown. Then if you use your left/right arrows on your keyboard you can toggle quickly between each image.

Using GIMP Levels:

Comments or questions are always welcomed (well, as least nice ones)!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Overhead View of our Milky Way Galaxy

This shot was the result of 5 - 30 sec exposures taken with a Canon t3i and a 10mm super wide angle lens at ISO 1600. I was out in the evening hoping to catch a Draconid meteor but to no avail. Still, with a few passing thin clouds I was able to capture the beauty of this part of our galaxy. North is to the left, south to the right. (click on the image for a larger view)

Comments or questions are always welcomed (well, as least nice ones)!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Local News & TV Station carries some of my Blood Moon images!

It is always a joy to see your pics make it to the public !

KTZV in Bend Oregon

The Bend Bulletin newspaper

Comments or questions are always welcomed (well, as least nice ones)!

NASA Makes "New" Revelation: Mars Has Liquid Water

NASA apparently needs more money.

One way to get it is to get the public press all in a tizzy about something NASA has known for some time: Mars has some kind of "water" on it that produces "flows" under the right conditions.

So how do you get Congress interested? You get the press involved! And you make it "mysterious"! You tell them that on a particular date (today) they are going to tell the whole world of some "fantastic" discovery. So the press goes to work, and speculations run wild: Aliens? Life? Civilization? And all of America is waiting with anticipation...

Then the truth comes out... but not all of it reaches the average citizen and likely never reaches the members of both houses of Congress.

As a result the TRUTH about Martian water is lost in the press headlines (anything to sell a paper, fill up time on the evening news, sell ads on websites) and seldom makes it into the brief paragraph that follows the headline.

Half Truth: NASA says it has found "liquid water" on Mars.

The Other Half Truth: It isn't liquid water as we commonly know it.

  • You can't drink it as it is so laden with minerals and salts. Even our sea water is not embedded with the same level or type of minerals and salts. 
  • Perchlorate is the key ingredient Martian "water" that keeps "water" from freezing in the extreme cold environment of Mars (Summer: -100 degrees F at night and Winter daytime temps: -195 degrees F) And it is poisonous! It's an oxidizer in rocket fuel, but it also occurs naturally particularly in arid environments (i.e. Mars). All kinds of health problems result from ingesting even small amounts of it. Removing it from fairly "pure" water is hard enough.
  • Add to it all the other minerals and chemicals harmful to life, be that plant life or animal life... well, you get the picture. 
  • Any effort to desalinate Martian water would take far more energy than our present desalinization plants do with sea water that is in our oceans, and that is a lot of energy (one reason you don't see a lot of desalinization plants around!) In comparison, our sea water is "pure" by Martian standards and is (would be) far less expensive to build and operate.
  • And if you totally desalinate the Martian water, guess what? It FREEZES, even in Martian summer! And if it does somehow get warm enough to stay in liquid form, the lack of sufficient gravity would cause the water to evaporate and be lost into space. Hmmmm...
So as they say, "Nothing new here. Move along, folks."

The NASA scientists who "broke" the story were careful enough to state the actual composition of the Martian water. The press was not.

Comments or questions are always welcomed (well, as least nice ones)!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The "Blood Moon" of September 27, 2014

This lunar eclipse was a little harder to capture as the Moon entered totality prior to rising above the eastern horizon (the Sun having set only 15 minutes or so earlier in the west). The weather was very cool due to a stiff breeze blowing out of the north. We selected Rosland Elementary School here in La Pine for our viewing point. My goal was to capture the rising Moon next to Paulina Peak. The sky was still fairly bright, no stars, when I finally was able to locate it rising next to Paulina Peak, near La Pine, Oregon. SUCCESS !

Then as it rose and the night sky began to darken I captured it over the peak...

My wife helped me with the photography as we were using three cameras in our "expedition" and this is one she captured showing the wide field of view...

Finally, this image taken with my Bushnell telescope. That is a star to the right of the Moon.

Comments or questions are always welcomed (well, as least nice ones)!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The North American Nebula

Another beautiful evening, steady atmosphere, and perfect for some wide angle astrophotography.
I attached my Canon T3 to an old equatorial mount with a RA drive and was able to take exposures up to about 2 minutes without star-trailing.
Here is a post-processed image of the northern part of region of Cygnus (a.k.a. "The Northern Cross) which has a number of nebulas (reddish) and dark regions which are dust-laden sections in the disk of the Milky Way. Can you spot the North American nebula? If so, the bright star to the right of it is Deneb.
Canon T3, 105 sec at f/4.5 and ISO 1600

Comments or questions are always welcomed (well, as least nice ones)!

The Milky Way - Just another awesome evening star gazing!

Sometimes we lose the forest for the trees.

And I am no exception. I am embarrassed to tell you how many telescopes I have, all of which have different purposes, but all of which look at "trees."

There is something wonderful that is missed looking at (or trying to find) the "trees" (galaxies, nebula, planets, etc.) What is missed is the "forest," that great expanse of the starry hosts, especially when the Milky Way is front and center. There is just something awesome about laying on your back, head up and gazing at it!

Suddenly for all your desire to see other galaxies you finally notice your own! And then you begin to think about just how far you are from the center of your own galaxy and yet, there it is! Then you begin to look at all the individual stars you can see around you and how you are floating on a orb in space, completely surrounded by magnificent suns, burning in a variety of colors. And then it strikes you... that for all the scientific facts we know about these stars which we can see with our naked eye, only the one that is below the horizon, our Sun, has a habitable planet in the "Goldilocks" zone (not too hot, not too cold). And here I am, enjoying the view of the Creator's handiwork, the great canvas of the night sky, not caught up in equipment and gear but simply looking at the "forest"!

This is an 8 minute exposure at ISO 800, f/4.5 wide angle lens. You can see the brilliant star Vega at the top edge) all the way down to the top of the constellation Sagittarius.

Comments or questions are always welcomed (well, as least nice ones)!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

An Early Morning Harvest of Perseid Meteors!

The annual meteor shower associated with the Comet Swift-Tuttle is on a roll ! The Perseid meteor shower (named after the constellation Perseus that the meteors appear to come from, which is just an optical illusion) is doing fine this year. What is a meteor? First off, a meteoroid is a small rocky or metallic body traveling through space. When it encounters our Earth's atmosphere, aerodynamic heating that takes place at speeds typically about 45,000 mph begins to burn up the rock (sometimes no larger than a grain of sand thought sometimes much larger!). This produces a streak of light, both from the glowing object and the trail of glowing particles that it leaves in its wake. Then we call it a meteor ("shooting star" which, of course, it is not a star). If a piece of the meteor manages to make it to the ground it is called a meteorite. (WIKI link).

Here is my harvest of meteor photos taken August 13, 2015 from 1:30 am until 4:30 am from La Pine, Oregon. These were taken with Canon DSLR's set at 1600 to 3200 ISO, f/4.5, from 30 to 60 seconds. NOTE: Click on each image to see a large version of that photo.

This small meteor produced a small tail, either as a result of it being a small meteoriod or optical perspective. The brightest star in the upper left is Polaris, the North Pole star.

This is another one, also near Polaris:

As you see in this photo, the meteor was moving from left to right, with meteor's tail is pointing back to the constellations Perseus (center). The tail was quite long! In the upper left quadrant you might notice the galaxy Andromeda!

Some meteors are very faint:

And some are very bright, often referred to as a bolide. This one got away from me and streaked from right to left!

 Sometimes the color of a meteor changes, as you see in this next image, from green to orange as it slows down from the atmospheric drag on the rock:

 Here are a few more to look at:

and then dawn begins...

Comments or questions are always welcomed (well, as least nice ones)!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

First Light with a 2.1mm f/1.2 lens on my Mallincam Micro Ex

The skies cleared enough last night from the Mexican monsoons (yes, they reach all the way to Oregon and beyond) and the forest fire smoke, I went out and tried my new 2.1mm (f/1.2) lens ($12 from Amazon) on my MC Micro Ex (1/3 inch sensor).

Exposure 1024x, Gamma .3, DNR 5, Brightness 70

As it was, I could not even see the Milky Way with my naked eye but the camera and lens combo easily picked it out! The field of view as about 160 degrees (horizontally).

I would suggest and recommend this lens to all who own a Mallincam Micro Ex !

The objects in the upper and lower left are part of my observatory building...

You can see an airplane streak in the upper right...

This is a screen capture at a higher contrast that also shows directions...

Comments or questions are always welcomed (well, as least nice ones)!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Once in a Blue Moon...

When someone says "Once in a Blue Moon," you know what they mean: rare, seldom, even absurd.

This year it means "the end of July." For the second time in July, 2015, the Moon is about to become full.  There was one full Moon on July 2nd, and the second on July 31st.  The above shot is one I took on that evening... photoshopped blue (LOL). 

According to modern folklore, the second full Moon in a calendar month is "blue." 

Strange but true: Sometimes the Moon really turns blue. 

You can see a blue moon several ways. The image below was photographed on July 25th by Giuseppe Petricca of Pisa, Italy. In it he increased the saturation of the natural colors of the Moon.

The areas that emerge in a strong blue color (mostly in the Maria regions) are areas rich in Titanium, proof of ancient lava flows, and those contain more titanium in contrast to the Maria orange regions, that are poorer of this material.

A truly-blue Moon can be seen after a major a volcanic eruption. Back in 1883, for example, people saw blue moons almost every night after the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa exploded with the force of a 100-megaton nuclear bomb. Plumes of ash rose to the very top of Earth's atmosphere, and the Moon became an azure-colored disk.

Krakatoa's ash was the reason. Some of the plumes were filled with particles 1 micron wide, about the same as the wavelength of red light.  Particles of this special size strongly scatter red light, while allowing blue light to pass through. Krakatoa's clouds thus acted like a blue filter. People also saw blue-colored Moons in 1983 after the eruption of the El Chichon volcano in Mexico. And there are reports of blue Moons caused by Mt. St. Helens in 1980 and Mount Pinatubo in 1991.

Forest fires can do the same trick.  A famous example is the giant muskeg fire of Sept. 1953 in Alberta, Canada.  Clouds of smoke containing micron-sized oil droplets produced lavender suns and blue Moons all the way from North America to England. 

Comments or questions are always welcomed (well, as least nice ones)!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Crescent Moon and Earthshine

A beautiful evening in the high desert of central Oregon!
The crescent Moon was hanging low in the west after sunset so I thought I would take two photos of it. The first is a standard shot with the exposure set for the sunlit side and the second set to show the light that is hitting the Moon that has bounced from the Sun, off our planet, off the Moon and back to us! This is visible with the "naked" eye and even with binoculars! Give it a try!

Comments or questions are always welcomed (well, as least nice ones)!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Ah, SUMMER again! The Ring Nebula

Summer has returned with clear skies and I am back in the observatory again! Yea!
But I am out of practice with my equipment and so a lot of time was spent recalibrating and refreshing my poor memory, lol. But I did catch Saturn (not all that exciting now since it is dropping low in the southwest) and the Ring Nebula (high overhead). Didn't do any regular visual viewing (eyeball to the eyepiece) but did do some astrovideo (see photo of the Ring Nebula below) with my old Celestron C8 scope. Lot's of work still to do to bring my technique back up. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Jupiter - Venus Conjunction (on closest approach to each other) and The Nearly Full Moon

The planets were even closer this evening than the previous! This was taken with the same 1000mm lens as the previous night's.

Here is a map of Jupiter's moons seen in the above shot:

Here is the previous night's shot, side by side, with tonights:

To give some perspective, here is a wide angle shot from a friend:

NOTE: Some media reports have compared the June 30, 2015, conjunction to the 2 B.C. conjunction of the same planets often identified as the "Christmas Star" reported in the book of Matthew. In fact, there is no comparison. The conjunction of 2 B.C. was almost 200 times tighter than last night's meeting. In "The Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomical and Historical Perspective," Susan S. Carroll writes:
On June 17, 2 BC, Venus and Jupiter joined .... in the constellation Leo. The two planets were at best 6” arcseconds apart; some calculations indicate that they actually overlapped each other. This conjunction occurred during the evening and would have appeared as one very bright star. Even if they were 6” arcseconds apart, it would have required the sharpest of eyes to split the two, because of their brightness.
By the numbers: The June 30, 2015, conjunction was 0.3 degrees (1080 arcseconds) wide. The 2 B.C. conjunction was no more than 0.002 degrees (6 arcseconds) wide. Last night was beautiful, but the Christmas Star blew tonight's away!

The Moon was especially bright and beautiful last night and deserving of inclusion in this blog!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Timelapse of June 23, 2015 Auroras !

This is a compilation of over 70 photographs taken with three different Canon DSLR cameras over a period of 1 1/2 hours.

It's CONJUNCTION night! Jupiter and Venus!

About 9:35 pm PDT, I went out doors, looked to the west and there is a spectacular conjunction of Jupiter and Venus (the brighter one on the lower right) ! This is the closest they will be to each other visually for some time to come.
Also captured in the image (Canon t3i with a 1,000 mm lens) are Jupiter's four major moons! From upper left to lower right they are: Ganymede, Io, Europa, and Callisto. That was a photo surprise for me!

Just as spectacular in binoculars right now, too!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Northern Lights seen from La Pine, Oregon !

After a KP-8 event from the Sun earlier, this morning, the northern sky gently lit up with auroras! Though the human eye could not make out the colors (or maybe it is my old eyes that cannot!) the colors popped in the digital cameras I was using (Canon t2i, Canon t3, Canon t3i). All were taken at ISO 3200, 30 sec, f/4.5, daylight color balance, and with wide angle lens.

These images were enhanced to bring out the colors that were really there. Program used: GIMP

The whole display lasted over 1 1/2 hours!

Some of these made it on to our local TV station Z21 website (and I presume on air) !

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Beautiful evening in the observatory with the Moon

This is a scaled down version of the HUGE file that was created of the Moon last night. It is a stitched image of about 20 sections of the Moon put together into one. The detail is far greater than a single image would ever be! Here is a slightly larger image of the above photo.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Just practicing... practicing... practicing!

Much about astrophotography is about practice.
It takes time to understand all the practices that can make for a good astrophoto.
And that means having sufficient number of clear skies in a row to create a habit.
Such is where I am at after a long "winter" of cloudy skies (but little precipitation.)
So I am "out of practice" and the only way "in" is to take every opportunity to "practice" more.

Summer is rapidly approaching which means less "night" in the night skies and observing (and taking astrophotos) needs to be done much later in the evening or better still in the early am (say, 1 to 3 am).

Last night was nice here after a warmish 70+ degree day. I opened the observatory about 10:15 pm and set things up for astrophotography instead of astrovideoing. Without a goto mount, finding objects, even with a focal reducer, is not easy. After much poking around in the sky I looked at my star chart and decided to point in the region east of the constellation Leo where there are many galaxies close (visually) to one another. Couldn't miss!

Here is a test (only a test, mind you) of 36, 20 second exposures stacked with Deep Sky Stacker of the area near M86. I used my modded Canon XSI body (not the best choice for the subject) on the Celestron C8 telescope (classic version) with the Celestron focal reducer (which makes for a wider field of view but reduces the exposure time by about 40%). This is a cropped (1/4th) view of the full image. It is equivalent to a 12 minute exposure but is quite grainy due to the high ISO setting on the camera. With more exposures stacked it would have reduced the grain considerably.

M86 is the bright blob in the upper right hand corner, a large galaxy indeed.
The other galaxies are (left to right) NGC 4425, NGC 3307, and NGC 4413.

The biggest problem I encountered was the position of the telescope at the time which I was attempting to photograph these galaxies. It revealed itself as slightly streaking stars (instead of the round stars it should have been.) This was due to the telescope's moving from one side of the meridian to the other side. The mass of the scope shifts and the gears don't engage as tightly as the scope approaches its meridian. Only after the scope is sufficiently past the meridian do the gears mess tightly enough to prevent "slop".

What does this mean? Either I need to start the photo session much sooner (more and more unlikely as summer approaches) or I need to get to bed earlier and wake up in the middle of the night when my subject is no where near the meridian or well past it.

Some of this you can learn by reading but experience drives it into your brain!

Practice, practice, practice!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Updated Photo Of April 5, 2015 Total Lunar Eclipse

I did a little post-processing on my photo to bring out more colors. Due to the need to capture the deep reddish-orange of the portion of the Moon in the umbra (the darkest part of the Earth's shadow on the Moon) I had to over-expose the brighter limb (which was in the penumbra shadow section.)
The blueish-purpleish cast is due to the Sun's light passing through the ozone layer in our atmosphere.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Three Consecutive Total Lunar Eclipses

Here is a collage of the last three total lunar eclipses I photographed from my home observatory in La Pine, Oregon. Enjoy!

Third Lunar Eclipse in a row for me!

Despite the bad weather, the cloudy skies, and even the prediction of snow, the skies barely cleared enough at totality to allow me to capture my third total lunar eclipse in a row!

Focusing was almost impossible due to the fact I didn't get up until the moon was nearly 85% eclipsed. And then the foggy clouds made even finding it very difficult.

But just about 4 minutes before totality the sky around the moon cleared up!
Here are the results, un-photoshopped.

Now the moon was getting low, into the tall pine trees here...

Well, it was awesome to see this eclipse and
to hear quail calling in the distance
in the total darkness!

Now we wait for another...

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

This Month In the Night Sky

Each month this year I hope to post a link to The One Minute Astronomer site that gives, in brief, all the major happenings in the night sky. Here is the link to the month of April, 2015.

Or you can just glance at the highlights that follow (taken from their page)

4 April 2015. Full Moon, 13:05 UT. (The “Pink Moon”, “Egg Moon”, or “Grass Moon”).
For an animated view go HERE

4 April. A brief lunar eclipse occurs near today’s Full Moon just two weeks after last month’s total solar eclipse. Many lunar eclipses last an hour or more, but this one is unusually short. It lasts just under five minutes, from 11:58 UT to just past 12:02 UT. Observers in the eastern half of Australia and all of New Zealand and Hawaii can see the entire eclipse. In western North America, the total eclipse will be visible in the pre-dawn sky, but the Moon will set before the eclipse ends. Observers in eastern North America and most of South America will see the Moon set before the eclipse reaches totality.
8 April.  Early risers can see the waning gibbous Moon just 3º from the planet Saturn in the southern sky before dawn. Saturn still hovers above the three bright stars in the head of the constellation Scorpius. The planet grows larger and brighter as it moves towards opposition late next month.
8 April. Jupiter stops its nightly westward, or retrograde, motion and begins to move eastward from night to night in the constellation Cancer and back towards Leo. The planet is slowly appearing to dim and grow smaller, but it’s still a splendid sight in a telescope. It lies high in the southeastern sky as darkness falls. It far outshines all stars in the sky.
10 April. Mercury lies at superior conjunction and is lost in the Sun’s glare. It quickly moves into the evening sky in a few days and makes a respectable apparition after sunset for northern observers at month’s end.
11 April. Look for brilliant Venus near the lovely Pleiades star cluster in the southwestern sky as darkness falls. Venus is the dominant sight in the western sky after sunset all month. At magnitude -4.0, it outshines every object in the night sky except for the Sun and Moon and continues to move a little higher each day.
12 April. Last-Quarter Moon, 04:44 UT.
18 April. New Moon, 18:57 UT.
19-20 April. In the prettiest display of solar-system sights this month, the fingernail crescent Moon, Mercury, and faint Mars are visible together in the western sky after sunset. Have a look with binoculars after sunset.
22 April.  Look for the Lyrid meteor shower late on April 22nd and early on the 23rd. Meteors from the Lyrids appear to trace their paths back to a radiant about 10º southwest of bright blue-white Vega, a point which is actually in what’s now the constellation Hercules. The shower was named before the constellation boundaries were formalized in the early-20th century. The Lyrids are sandgrain-sized pieces of dust and ice left over from the long-period Comet C/1861 Thatcher. In dark sky, you might see 10-20 Lyrid meteors per hour anywhere in the sky.
26 April. First-Quarter Moon, 00:55 UT.
30 April. Look for Mercury low in the northwestern sky after sunset. Today, it’s just 2º southwest of the Pleiades and about 10º above the horizon after sunset in the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, the planet is much lower at this apparition and much harder to hard to see.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Using Deep Sky Stacker Live software on the Great Orion Nebula

The clouds were gone! For the first time in ages (ok, maybe three weeks, at least since I did some truly deep sky imaging) I was able to get out into the observatory and do some astrophotography. The seeing wasn't great but at least I didn't have to play "footsie" with the clouds or fog.

I had just downloaded Deep Sky Stacker which includes it's companion software Deep Sky Stacker Live. The later software is awesome because it takes images "on the fly" as you are photographing "live" and complies (stacks) the "subs" (exposures that are far less than needed for a good bright image). So as one is taking images, Deep Sky Stacker Live is at work at the same time, saving lots of time after the observing session is over.

Here is what a "sub" image of the Great Orion Nebula, also known as M42 (in the constellation Orion) looked like:

Taken with a modified Canon xsi body, ISO 1600, 10 second exposure, daylight setting, through an orange Celestron C8 (8 inch) SCT telescope. with a Celestron Focal Reducer (to f/6.3) like this one.

Here is the same subject AFTER Deep Sky Stacker Live did it's thing after stacking about 110 "subs" resulting in an image worth about 18 minutes of continuous exposure with the same setup:

Lots more detail for sure but the color balance needs some work as well as contrast.

So I opened up the GIMP program and did some "levels" work and here is the result:

What is amazing is the the "sub' if pushed to this same level of brightness would look like this:
Obviously this image is unacceptable...but add 110 together and it minimizes the grain and adds details!

You may be asking, "Why not just take one long exposure of 18 minutes instead of going through all the trouble of 110 subs?"

Well, the answer may surprise you, even perplex you.
When you take a long exposure the possibilities for telescope tracking errors are many: the scope can be jostled by a short breeze, the motor in the scope can have periodic errors due to manufacturing, the motor can be affected by someone turning on an electric heater in the house or a minor "brown out" by the power company, the scope can be accidentally bumped by it's operator, the scope can be jiggled by a large passing semi-truck's vibration in the ground, the ISO needed to produce a bright image is very grainy (see above photo as an example), the telescope may not be accurately aligned with the North Celestial Pole (no, the "North Star" is NOT the North Celestial Pole), ...shall I go on?

As you see, the possibilities of ruining 18 minutes of work can be ruined irreparably by any ONE of these variable factors, not to mention that you then have to take 18 more minutes to produce a "dark" frame (covering the telescope and opening up the camera sensor for the same amount of time that it was open in the first place). The purpose is to uncover "hot pixels" that are in every image that also ruin the overall image.

So we do "subs" and use programs like Deep Sky Stacker Live to produce high grade quality images of deep sky objects like the Great Orion Nebula.

In conclusion, this is my FIRST effort at using Deep Sky Stacker Live. I believe it will be possible to get even more detailed images as I learn its various setting and work under better seeing conditions!

Here is one more post-processed image of the Great Orion Nebula from this session in the La Pine Observatory (in my back yard):

God bless you with His wisdom and may you appreciate His glorious handiwork!

Psalm 19:1
"The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands!"