Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Year's End - Work and Photos in Review

Well, 2016 is in the photo bucket and there are not a lot of photos in that bucket due to health, home projects, and the darned cloudy and extremely cold weather. The transit of Mercury (in photo below the Moon) was a first for me!
As far as observatory modifications, I added another set of rails (to the left of the observatory) so now I can run the roll-off roof in both directions. I have installed one of two power winches to aid in rolling of the roof.
Equipment-wise, I sold the NexStar 8i SE and the Meade LXD-75 6" achro refractor. In their places I purchased a NexStar 4 SE and a High Point 6" f/4 reflector (for astrophotography).
The total number of hours in the observatory took a hit compared to the past two years, probably down 50% and the total number of posts on this blog is also down. Please, just some clear skies when I am not busy, weatherman!
2017 has a lot of projects in the observatory that need reworking or completing as well as photography I am looking forward to doing and perfecting.
Check back throughout the year and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Unboxing of my new High Point 6 Imaging Newtonian Unboxing

Received a new scope from High Point Scientific this past week. It is a High Point 6" f/4 Imaging Newtonian OTA - 6F4N. The cost was only $299 for the OTA (optical tube assembly). Came via UPS and well packaged!

About the scope there is more information about the OTA at High Point Scientific:

I created an "unboxing" video. I have only had a chance to use it for visual proposes and I am impressed! I can't wait for some truly clear skies to put it through its photographic paces!

Here is the video at youtube:

Thursday, September 29, 2016

September 28, 2016 Wide Field Photography with Canon 40mm lens

The weather was fantastic this evening and so I headed out to the observatory just to do some tests with my Canon 40mm "pancake" lens.

At f/2.8 it is very "fast" but the best images came when I stopped it down to f/4. Using my Canon t2i camera and Celestron NexStar 4SE mount (I removed the telescope and put the camera in its place) and put the mount in the equatorial mode.

I was able to get up to one minute exposures (at least) though I chose to limit most of my images to 30 secs each, choosing instead to stack the photos with Deep Sky Stacker Live. The camera is "unmodified" so it is not as sensitive to infrared, thus it does not get as much redness in nebulas as a result. But this evening was about testing, not creating.

But here are a few results:

Wide Field around Andromeda Galaxy (full view):

20 -30 sec exposures at ISO 1600
40mm at f/4
stacked for a total of 10 minutes
post-processed with GIMP 

This is a "cropped in" image of the same...

 Wide field image around IC 1396 (centered)
6 - one minute exposures at ISO 1600
40mm at f/2.8
stacked for a total of 6 minutes
post-processed with GIMP

Wide field image around Cassiopeia (slightly upper left)...
17 -20 sec exposures at ISO 1600
40mm at f/4
stacked for a total of 5 1/2 minutes
post-processed with GIMP 

All images were stacked with Deep Sky Stacker Live and post-process with GIMP photoprocessing program using Levels

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


This speaks for us amateur astronomers!
...and it makes it possible to do some astronomy
in the morning later too !

First Photo Session with the Belt and Sword Region of Orion

Got up early (4:30 am) and headed out to the observatory in the backyard to photograph the region around the Belt and Sword of the constellation Orion (due south at that time of the morning). This region is one of my favorites in the night sky! In it you can see the Great Orion Nebula, the "Running Man" nebula, the "Flame Nebula" and a hint of the "Horsehead Nebula".

I had a little trouble getting started (roll-off roof was stubborn, the camera connection to the computer was inconsistent) so I did not get as many images as I wanted to... but Orion will be with us through the winter so I will have many opportunities to do even better astrophotography of it.

Here is a stack of 44 images (approximately 25 secs each at f/5.6, zoom set at 70mm, ISO 1600, Canon t3i, DeepSkyStacker Live, Celestron 4SE mount. Total effective time of exposure: 17 minutes then post-processing with GIMP.

A Brief Photo Session on Andromeda Galaxy

Last night's sky was awesome! This is a brief attempt at capturing the Andromeda Galaxy (M31). It is a stack 0f 60 - 30 sec images for a total time of 30 minutes. (More info below the photo) Enjoy His creation and worship the Creator!
30 minutes (30 sec each exposure, total 60 images)
Take with a Canon XS w/ 250mm zoom lens
Processed with DeepSkyStacker Live and GIMP

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Great video of the Solar Eclipse's Path in August, 2017

First you RETHINK, then you SELL, then you UPGRADE!

I have put my Celestron NexStar 8i SE telescope up for sale on craigslist today.


I have had to reevalutate my passion astronomy, specifically astrophotography. Visual astronomy isn't my bag anymore as my eyesight isn't up to par (floaters, near-sighted, not as sensitive to low light, etc.) And astrophotography is limited by my location (southern skies blocked by my neighbor's tall pine trees) and limited by weather, age, and equipment. And also I am likely to post to craigslist my Meade 12 inch Dobsonian scope (more on that in a later post)...

As much as I want to produce quality astroimages, the reality is that I would have to invest the cost of a new car to get them... and I am NOT that passionate about that, nor do I have the money to achieve it.

So I while I am planning on upgrading my primary telescope and mount, I will have to learn contentment and not allow my happiness to be dependent upon my images rivaling those who have invested far more into this hobby.

Because though my NexStar 8i SE is a great scope and mount for alt/az visual astronomy it is not the best for astrophotography due to the way Celestron "permanently" mounted the scope on its mount.
I say "permanently" with quotes because it is possible (and I have done it) to remove the scope from its mount, add a dovetail bar, and put it on another mount (i.e. a German equatorial mount hence GEM). I have done that with some success.

However, at the Oregon Star Party, the very first night the declination motor on my LXD-75 mount got smoked, over-heated, and burnt out. Apparently I was not careful about doing a meridian flip and the declination motor housing pinched up against the RA housing too long and poof, no working motor. Stupid me.

I did pick up another used Celestron GEM when I left the OSP but have not been satisfied with its "goto" ability... as in not even close.

So I believe it is time to a NEW mount and scope, a GEM that has reliable "goto" ability AND has the scope on a dovetail bar... OR a scope on an alt/az mount that will allow reasonable astrophotography ability with a reliable "goto" feature.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

My Review of Celestron's Stereo Binocular Viewer for Telescopes

My eyes aren't getting any younger and with floaters and astigmatism viewing through one eye just isn't getting it done. So I picked up one of Celestron's Stereo Binocular Viewer for use with my Celestron NexStar 8iSE and NexStar 4SE telescopes. I got it through Amazon for $162 (warehouse deal price, regular price would have been $185.)

It came with a really nice aluminum case and the bino has a great feel to it.

Here it is mounted on my Celestron 8iSE:

And mounted on my Celestron NexStar 4SE:

Since the Moon was at first quarter and the skies were clear with little turbulence, I was astonished at the clarity and the feeling that you were just hovering over the Moon! The detail was... WOW !

It is amazing what details that TWO eyes can pick up that one eye has trouble with. The interior ridges of the Copernicus Crater kept me at the scope for minutes! Here is a poor shot taken with my smart phone through one of the eyepieces.
Copernicus Crater on the left side.

Like a regular pair of binoculars, you focus with one eye closed, then focus with the other closed but use the diopter (twisting the eyepiece) until it is sharp. Open both eyes, adjust the spread of the binos to match your eyes and be prepared to be wow-ed!

If you have the cash to spare... GET ONE!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Three Evening Planets with the Celestron 4SE

Took my Celestron NexStar 4SE out last evening for a few quickie images of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

All were taken at prime focus with a Canon T3 at ISO 400 @ 1/125th sec. These are cropped from the single shot and are "actual" size comparison with each other. Nothing to write home about but it was an experiment anyway. Ideally I should have used my Canon t2i or t3i in the cropped movie mode and then used software to find the best frames and integrate them into a higher quality result.

You can see that the planet is gibbous (no longer a full circle)
as our planet is pulling away from Mars (getting ahead of it in orbit around the Sun).

You can easily see several of the cloud belts
and a hint of  in the the Great Red Spot
near the lower right edge of the planet.

The lower part of the rings of Saturn
are tilted downward in relation to us.
You can just make out the two major parts
of the rings as well and perhaps a hint
of a slightly darker cloud belt on the upper part
of the planet.

Just a reminder: These were taken with a small scope (4" mirror)
as compared with the Celestron NexStar 8iSE (8" mirror).
While the 8" is twice the diameter
it has 4 times the light gathering and detail potential of the 4".

Personally, I am just surprised that I was able to get what I did with this little scope! 

Monday, July 4, 2016

M 27 - The Dumbell Nebula

The weather was cooperating and M 27, the Dumbell Nebula was calling! I decided to do something I had not done before: image one subject for 30 minutes of stacking! Using the HIGH setting on my Canon t2i (ISO 12800) the image was quite grainy:

But stacking 180 - ten second exposures like the one above resulted in:

Quite a significant improvement ! I love the DeepSkyStacker program that accomplishes this.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Clear Skies and Lots of Captures !

M 27 - The Dumbell Nebula
12 minute (24 - 30 sec images stacked with Deep Sky Stacker)
NexStar 8iSE - Canon t2i at prime focus - ISO 3200

The skies really cleared up last night and so it was out to the observatory!
The first part of the evening, while the Sun was still up, was spent using my Mallincam Micro Ex on the Moon with the Celestron NexStar 8iSE scope. It was EXCELLENT ! Such detail and good contrast! (I will post a few shots in the next blog).

But what really got my blood pumping was when I connected the Meade LXD-75 mount (on which the NexStar scope is mounted) with my old Dell laptop and Cartes du Ciel star program. After aligning the scope with Arcturus, I hit "Sync" and was off to M 13 and though it was not dead center (my fault I am sure!) it was in the field of view... and that at prime focus! And so I was able to go into hyperdrive and hit each target without any fuss... unlike using the hand controller! It made the evening so enjoyable and fun!

M 13 - The Great Hercules Globular Cluster
30 secs single exposure
NexStar 8iSE - Canon t2i at prime focus - ISO 6400

Then it was off to more... and all were in the frame without any trouble!

M 5 - The Great Hercules Globular Cluster
30 secs single exposure
NexStar 8iSE - Canon t2i at prime focus - ISO 6400

M 29 - Star Cluster
2 Minute - single exposure
NexStar 8iSE - Canon t2i at prime focus - ISO 3200

M 14 - Star Cluster
30 sec - single exposure
NexStar 8iSE - Canon t2i at prime focus - ISO 6400

M 57 - The Ring Nebula
2 Minute - single exposure
NexStar 8iSE - Canon t2i at prime focus - ISO 3200

M 56 - Star Cluster
2 Minute - single exposure
NexStar 8iSE - Canon t2i at prime focus - ISO 3200

M 71 - Star Cluster
1 Minute - single exposure
NexStar 8iSE - Canon t2i at prime focus - ISO 6400

Monday, June 6, 2016

Addition to La Pine Observatory building

For several years the observatory roof only could slide to the north-west on rails (the right as seen in the photo below). This meant that the western sky was pretty much blocked by the roof. So a few days ago I began the process of adding on new rails to the building so that the roof can slide to the south-east.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Back in the Observatory again !

Well, at long last the skies are more clear than not! Last night's skies were EXCELLENT ! Here are a few of my captures using my Celestron NexStar 8 inch telescope (8iSE) with a Canon XS camera body attached to it. The exposures were short, 10 seconds each, but stacked using DeepSkyStacker Live software to create a final image that is much longer.

I started off with M 13 in the constellation Hercules.  Sometimes called the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules or the Hercules Globular Cluster, is a globular cluster of about 300,000 stars. M13 was discovered by Edmond Halley in 1714, and catalogued by Charles Messier on June 1, 1764. It is about 145 light-years in diameter, and it is composed of several hundred thousand stars and is 25,100 light-years away from Earth.
It can be seen as a fuzzy patch with binoculars but it takes a good telescope to make out the individual stars...

From there I went to one of my favorite nebulae, M 57, aka The Ring Nebula. Located in the constellation Lyra, south of the brilliant star Vega (which is almost directly overhead in late summer in the evening from my location in Oregon). This nebula was discovered by the French astronomer Antoine Darquier de Pellepoix in January 1779, who reported that it was " large as Jupiter and resembles a planet which is fading". Later the same month, fellow French astronomer Charles Messier independently found the same nebula while searching for comets and became the 57th object on his list.
First up is the "wide view" that my Canon XS (modded) camera sensor captured with my Celestron NexStar 8iSE telescope with the Celestron f/6.3 focal reducer. As you can see, it was a very tiny ring !

But here is a 1:1 cropped image of M 57 from the above photo. You can see the star in the middle that is the source of the explosive ring of gasses around it. The nebula is a shell of ionized gas is being expelled even now into the surrounding interstellar medium by a red giant star, which was passing through the last stage in its evolution before becoming a white dwarf. 
I was pleased that my modification of the camera made it significantly more red sensitive. I hope to capture a better image in the future months but without the focal reducer (which give a wide field and short exposures but results in a less magnified view.

Then I slide over to M 56, another smaller collection of star, a very small globular cluster compared to M 13. Charles Messier, who cataloged these objects know as Messier objects was looking for new comets with his telescope nearly 300 years ago and was annoyed by these fuzzy patches of stars and nebulae. So he made a list of them so that he would not be distracted by them. It was discovered by Charles Messier on January 19, 1779. M56 is at a distance of about 32,900 light-years from Earth and measures roughly 84 light-years across.

Finally, I moved to M 92, another brilliant globular cluster in Hercules. It was discovered by Johann Elert Bode in 1777 but was independently rediscovered by Charles Messier on March 18, 1781 and added as the 92nd entry in his catalog. M92 is at a distance of about 26,700 light-years away from Earth. M92 is one of the brighter globular clusters in the northern hemisphere, but it is often overlooked by amateur astronomers because of its proximity to the even more spectacular Messier 13. It is visible to the naked eye under very good conditions (but not with my old eyes now !) 

Well, I was getting sleepy and decided to close up the observatory for the night (12:30 am).
I am looking forward to a productive summer enjoying God's creation!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

M3 Globular Star Cluster

The skies were clear and cool Tuesday evening and this is the result of 7 stacked images with my Canon t2i on the Celestron NexStar 8iSE telescope. Total exposure time 2 minutes at ISO 3200.
Click on the photo for a larger image.


Monday, May 9, 2016

My video of the last few minutes of the Transit of Mercury today

This is a very close up video taken with my Celestron 8 inch telescope and my Canon t2i camera at prime focus at 100% actual image (at times at 200%). Enjoy!


May 2016 Transist of Mercury

The skies cleared and the winds calmed down in time to capture a rare event: the transit of Mercury across the face of the Sun. Mercury is the dot just right of lower center. The other major spot (upper center is the sunspot group AR 2542. Taken with a Celestron 8iSE (8 inch scope) with a 5 inch Baader filter (white light only) and a Canon t2i camera at prime focus.

Closeup of Mercury:

Mercury as it approaches the edge of the Sun near the end of its transit:

Mercury at "Third Contact"

Mercury about halfway between Third and Fourth Contact with the edge of the Sun

A transit of Mercury across the Sun takes place when the planet Mercury comes between the Sun and the Earth, and Mercury is seen as a small black dot moving across the face of the Sun.
Transits of Mercury with respect to Earth are much more frequent than transits of Venus, with about 13 or 14 per century, in part because Mercury is closer to the Sun and orbits it more rapidly.
Transits of Mercury occur in May or November. The last four transits occurred in 1999, 2003, 2006, and May 9, 2016. The next will occur on November 11, 2019

Here is a collage of the images I took of the event:

Here is the video of the last few minutes of the event:


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Celestron NexStar 4SE Telescope is here!

After my first Celestron NexStar 4SE was received out of collimation, Celestron honored its warranty and replaced it with another new one. This one is PERFECT ! It has such great clarity and tracks very well ! I wanted a "go-to" scope that was also "grab-n-go" size and weight and this NexStar 4SE really fits the bill.

Within hours of assembly, I took it out for its "first light" on the Moon and Jupiter.

First I took a prime focus shot of the Moon:

Then I dropped in a 2x teleconverter...

The Canon t2i has a movie mode of 640x480 cropped:

But then there was Jupiter, with it's moons (left to right: Ganymede, (Jupiter), Io, Europa

Then a close-up of Jupiter, once again with the cropped movie mode, processed in Lynkeos on a Mac. You can just barely make out the Great Red Spot at the upper left of Jupiter. Visually, I could make out the moon Callisto just as it moved away from the bright disk of Jupiter (in this image it would have been in the lower right hand portion). I was impressed by the views of this little scope !

Here is the scope and camera mounted on it.