Friday, October 27, 2017

First Deep Sky Imaging Test with CATE Experiment Scope and Mount

The weather last night was positively super so I set out to test the Daystar refractor scope that came with the CATE Experiment for some deep sky imaging. I used the same mount that we used in the 2017 solar eclipse experiment as well.

I really didn't think that the mount would perform as well as it did. But I was able to get up to 15 seconds of exposure occasionally before I encountered star streaking. That may have been more an issue of lack of polar alignment than the motors themselves, as well as the scope not being balanced all that well due to the additional weight of the Canon T3i that I used to capture the images below. I think I will have to put the Daystar scope on a longer mounting bar to achieve better balance.

And add to this the fact that the Moon was near 1st quarter and "polluting" the sky with its reflected light from the Sun. All the same, the weather couldn't have been more promising!

Since the mount is not a "go-to" mount I had to rely upon the age-old eyeball to put me in the ballpark of the objects I knew would be good tests for the setup.
All the images that follow were post-processed using Luminar (for Mac and PC, now).

First up was M 57, the Ring Nebula. Its that little greenish ball near the top center of the image. Granted, this was a challenge, to be sure for this setup but I was pleasantly surprised all the same! It is so very small that I wasn't even confident that it would be more than just a green-blue star, but there it is!
M 57, the Ring Nebula in Lyra

Next I headed over to the great globular cluster in Hercules, M 13. This was easy to image and it was much larger in diameter and easy to see!

Here is a cropped image of it:

Next, I headed over to the Dumbbell Nebula, M 27. Again, these are "stacked" images using DeepSkyStacker and post-processed to bring out more color and detail. Again I was quite well pleased that the scope and mount performed so well.

Here it is cropped in:

Now I went to the north-eastern sky and captured the Double Cluster in Perseus. This was a breeze to find and capture due to the large area of sky and the fact that I am just imaging stars.

Now it was on to the Andromeda Galaxy, M 31. This is a stack of 12 images at 10 second exposure times (total: 2 minutes) with the ISO set at 3200 on my Canon T3i camera. Very nice! I will be trying more of this in the future with many more images to stack! Should be beautiful!

Finally, I decided to try and capture a much dimmer galaxy, the Triangulum Galaxy, not far from Andromeda. This again was a stack of about 12 images, each for 15 seconds, with the ISO set to (12,800 (extreme!) With a lot of post processing of the final stack image this is what I got!

Camera running out of memory and desiring to see the results, I closed up shop and headed indoors!
Clear skies!

Monday, October 16, 2017

M 42 and The Warm Room

The skies cleared and the weather was a little warmer last night so I worked on setting up my "warm room" next to my observatory.

A "warm room" isn't really very warm but it keeps the extreme cold of night from settling in on oneself. It is only 4' x 6' in size, just enough space for two people, if needed. From it I can control the telescope (in the actual observatory) and the camera taking images. In it I can have a small heater which provides just enough heat to keep me from freezing. I also have a security camera that lets me see inside the observatory, even in total darkness, due to the fact that the security camera images in infrared and has an infrared lights. This will help me to see if the scope is moving properly or if it needs attention.

So by the time I got it all set up I only had enough energy to do a brief exposure of M 27, the "Dumbell Nebula". This is about 7 minutes worth of exposure. Not the best I've done but it did serve as a "proof of concept" for working the telescope from the warm room.
M 27 - The Dumbell Nebula - October 15, 2017
Meade LX200GPS 8" Telescope
Canon T3i - ISO 6400 - about 7 minutes exposure (stacked)

Rising early Monday morning I was able to capture The Great Orion Nebula.
This image is the "raw" image before post-processing...

And this is the "final" image after much post-processing.
Note: the image has been rotated 180 degrees from what it would look like through binoculars.
           I think it just looks better this way!
The image was created from various exposures from 10 seconds up to 30 seconds each.
Stacked with DeepSkyStacker to create about a 12+ minute exposure.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Amateur vs Professional Astronomer?

Astronomy (the branch of science that deals with celestial objects, space, and the physical universe as a whole) has always been the dominion of both professional and amateur astronomers.
Through the centuries the balance of astronomical discoveries (both optically and mathematically) has shifted back and forth between both groups of astronomers.

As of late the balance has shifted decidedly to professionals due to the creation of larger and larger telescopes and those being located in more and more remote locations around the world.

Someone might say to an amateur astronomer in his/her backyard, "What's the point? Why spend the money and the time doing imaging and viewing on your own? Go online and you will find more information and better (by far) images of objects in the night sky than you will ever produce!"

True. But even the word "amateur" explains why!

Amateur comes from the Latin word "amare", which means, “to love.” An amateur does it for the love of it, the beauty of it, the opportunity to be part of it, for personal enjoyment, reflection  and to share that love with others... even if the telescope or the images produced are not  up to the grade of being "professional".

And as of late, the tools the amateur uses, though on a much smaller scale than the pros have, have allowed the amateur to produce night sky images superior to what the pros were producing 20+ years ago!

And all is not lost for the amateur astronomer!

Amateurs are still making surprising discoveries even before the pros know about it! And if it were not for the interests, the love of it, there would likely be less support for what the pros do in government.

So go ahead, get outside at night!
Look up!
Even without a telescope there is beauty and more to be seen that cannot be had by looking online!

Do it for the love of it!

God created it to be seen, enjoyed and more!

Review of the Rigel Systems Quick Finder 1X Finder R-CRS

The telescope that came with the Citizen CATE Experiment (2017 solar imaging project in conjunction with the National Solar Observatory) did not have a finder scope, though it did have a solar finder as part of the equipment.
The lack of a nighttime finder made the scope barely useful for night sky observation.

I contacted Daystar (the manufacturer of the scope) about this but received a useless response, as if someone didn't bother to read my email.

I wanted something like a Telrad finder but the footprint of that finder was far too large for the body of the Daystar scope.

So after doing some internet searching I found the Rigel Systems Quick Finder 1X Finder R-CRS.

It comes with two bases so that one can have a base on two different telescopes and move the finder from one telescope to another without a problem.

It is "tall" which means it is easier to get your head in a good position to see through the finder and locate the object of your choice.

The LED "heads up" display has two concentric circles and a knob that you can use to adjust the brightness of them. There is another knob that allows you to control the "flashing" rate of the circles, it gets them out of the way briefly so you can see your target easier.

The three white knobs are to adjust the angle of the circles to your scope.
The process is an easy one:
* find some object far away that you can see easily with your scope (I used the Moon)
* turn on the finder.
* adjust the brightness and flashing rate.
* then using the three knobs bring the circles to center on your object.


By the way, ALWAYS turn off the finder to preserve the replaceable internal battery of the finder.
It is a good idea to keep a few of the 3 volt button batteries on hand (found at almost all stores).

Post-CATE Experiment Google Groups Created

Now that the Citizen CATE Experiment (2017 solar eclipse imaging for the National Solar Observatory) is over, I created a Google Group for those who want to extend their use of the telescope and setup for other personal astronomical observations and imaging.

This is the "home" group that will point one to a more specific interest in using the CATE equipment!forum/post-cate-project

Actually I set up several Google Groups:

One group is for continued solar imaging/observing:!forum/post-cate-solar-imaging

Another group is for lunar and planetary imaging/observing:!forum/post-cate-lunar--planetary-imaging

And finally there is a group for deep sky imaging/observing:!forum/post-cate-deep-sky-imaging

Still another group is for modifying the Arduino unit code and its use:!forum/post-cate-arduino-project

I will likely create another Google Group should someone come up with a good reason to do so.

So if you are one of those who participated in the Citizen CATE project and want to learn more and connect with fellow users of the CATE equipment please feel free to ask to join the groups of your choice!