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.