Through the Looking Glass

Through the Looking Glass

Clouds, Snow, It Must Be Winter!

I drove to Amarillo December 20th and picked up a near mint Takahashi EM-11 mount. Got home, set it up, and shot a night's worth of SII to finish a M42 project. Then I came down with shingles, and life as I know it, stopped. CSAC was closed January and February due to the weather. I got meds to control the pain and my skies in Abilene have been clouded over for several weeks.  Weather says it will be clear here for three nights starting tonight, so we will see.

This cloud sequence has allowed me to get some gear in order for the next  dark sky assault. I purchased an adapter from Joel Short. It connects a T mount to Pentax M42, and is cut for the proper backfocus with a QHY8PRO. How neat!

 

 

Art at Texas Nautical Repair called asking for some pictures from my first light with the Takahashi Epsilon E-130D. I sent some and they ended up on the gallery at their website and at Anacortes. Art called a few days ago asking for more, and I bought an adapter to mount the QHY8PRO. 

I jerry-rigged another adapter from spare parts to fit a QHY9 to it. That covers most of my cameras. I think I can fit the QHY22, as well.

I have been studying tutorials and re-processing old data waiting on the weather to turn my way. I finally learned how to calibrate and stack in PixInsight, and the results are spectacular. The Canon DSLR had mirror shadow in the horsehead and rosette images I shot in November. I ran DBE and it was still present. I had to crop the lower fifth of the image to remove the gradient. I figured, "Oh Well", that is just the price to pay using that camera. PixInsight removed it completely in the stacking process. Awesome!

Jay Ballauer got the call to do the Intro to AP three hour talk at NEAIC in April. I will meet up with him at CSAC sometime next month. we will swap PI and Photoshop tips and talk about his upcoming trip to New York. 

I will be at the Texas Imaging Symposium at the Texas Star Party supporting TIS with Jeff Barton. It is a freebie; the registration, room and food is gratis!

I am past due being ready to collect a few photons. Check out the Tutorial page; I loaded a few good ones from my web search. I especially like the powerful stretching nebula without bloating the stars. It has pixel math, which I always avoided. Now I appreciate it because it is so useful. 

That's it for now. Clear Skies!

 

 

Thanksgiving Weekend 2013 Imaging Session

Jerry Keith and I met up at 3RF Comanche Springs Astronomy Campus Thursday afternoon for a few nights of imaging. I set up my new Takahashi Epsilon E-130D for its' First Light with the Canon 60Da DSLR. Jerry had a Gary Honis modified Canon T3i mated to a Takahashi FSQ106. The weather was just cold enough to let the cameras do their thing at higher ISOs. Got to love winter with DSLRs!

Jerry had a new Baader 7nm Ha filter and was itching to shoot the Horsehead with it. I pointed the Epsilon to the same target. The night was excellent; the SQM read 21.66 with a limiting magnitude of 6.89. There were so many "extra" stars evident; I had trouble finding Polaris to do my initial polar alignment!

I imaged until 2AM when things started getting a little icy. I covered the gear and called it a night.

Friday night was soft, nothing like the night before. I shot M45 and the Rosette. Later I shot flats and darks when the sky began to deteriorate.

Saturday night was overcast with a few sucker holes, so I called it early and watched Netflix in my RV.

Jerry sent me his Horsehead Ha stack after we got home. I did a HaLRGB blend with his data and mine. I think this collaboration produced a great image.

 

Later, I pulled up some Ha data I shot last February and added it to the data from Friday night.

 

I think both of these images are outstanding considering they were shot with DSLRs!  I must admit the Ha data in the Rosette was captured with a QHY22 CCD camera. But, you know what I mean!

 

 

Arizona Science & Astronomy Expo and SWAP 2013

Bruce Morrell and I drove to Tucson Nov 13th to represent Astrofactors and QHY CCD cameras at both venues. I enjoyed the imaging conference; plenty of great information and interesting speakers including Adam Block, Don Goldman, and Craig Stark, to name a few. ASAE was a big surprise; it was packed with leading edge products as well as old standards.

I took possession of a AP1200GTO mount a week before the show. AstroMart has been flooded recently with 900 and 1200 mounts for sale in order to raise cash for the new 1100 and 1600 models. I got a great deal. It is for a permanent pier mount in a future roll-off observatory.

I had my eye on a little Takahashi Epsilon E130-D hyperbolic astrograph that was just next door to us in the Takahashi America exhibit. Art sold it to me after the show. It went back to Houston for a final collimation check and was rung up there. It is the only one in existence in North America. The scheduled roll-out is set for January 2014.

 

I have been upgrading my equipment since the last blog entry, too. I now have a complete set of Astrodon LRGB and 3nm NB filters in 36mm round mounted in my SX filterwheel. The narrow band filters are awesome. Bruce sent me a fresh QHY22 camera to try out last month. It uses the new Sony ICX694 sensor with a QE of 77%. It is a little smaller than the KAF-8300, at 1" square and 6 MP. Here is a Hubble Space Telescope version of SH2-132 with the new camera:

 

The new filters allow me to image from my backyard between trips to my dark site at 3RF CSAC. Speaking of CSAC, I got lucky in early November with this mega-wide field of the belt & sword of Orion. I mounted the Canon 60Da and EF200mm f/2.8L II USM lens on the iOptron iEQ45 and shot it unguided 15X300 at ISO800

 

I am meeting Jerry Keith at CSAC on Thanksgiving day for four nights of imaging and product testing. I will post another update then.

Labor Day Weekend Party at CSAC

We had a private party over the Labor Day weekend just for the volunteers. Lonnie Wege brought toys from Celestron and left me with a Nightscape 8300C to test for a few weeks. I shot a nice Eastern Veil with it Saturday night.

 

The weekend was very experimental, for a change. I had to test the new Russian TAIR 3S lens and the 8mm Rokinon Canon lens. I temporarily rigged the TAIR with my QHY8PRO mounted on the iOptron iEQ45. I shot First Light on NGC7000.

 

 

 

 

Not the prettiest picture I have shot! I think it will be a good lens once I get used to it and mount it more securely. I shot his on Friday night and took the rig apart Saturday morning. I needed the Manfrotto geared head for my iOpron SkyTracker and 60Da to test the new fisheye lens.

 

 

Jerry Keith set up next to me with his new rig. It was nice having some company up on the hill. We listened to music and had a great time while the machines clicked away on the stars.

 

There was a lot of activity on the star field, too. Richard Brown, Joe Mungo, Dave Titus, and others were running Dobs. Lonnie was passing around the new Granite Celestron binos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overnight Disaster!

I started an imaging run at 1AM this morning with the EM-10. The DSO's transit was at 4:10AM. I set my alarm for 4:10PM and went on to bed. Do you see a potential problem, Houston? I got up around 7:30, raced outside, and sure enough, the mount had crashed the tripod. I set everything right and powered it up for a test. The DEC works perfectly. No movement left or right when the RA was applied. I could hear the motor, but no movement. I packed it up, called Fred at TNR. He will fix it. This is going to have a silver lining because it will be tuned up before it is sent back. I love redundancy. I have a working NJP and iEQ45 to hold me over. 

Imaging in My Backyard

I started imaging Saturday and have been blessed with clear skies each night so far! I really wanted a shot of the nova in Delphinus, so I setup up an unbinned LRGB @ 180 seconds and competed with the nearly Full Moon. I won! It took all my processing skills to make a decent image, however.

 

 

 

 

I set up a second shot around 1AM and went to bed. I skipped a step and didn't take a test preview to see how my target, the Tulip Nrbula, looked. It wasn't even in the image, to my surprise! Whoops! But, something even better was, and I never would have shot it, otherwise. I captured Barnard 146, 147, and NGC6871 to the right of the Tulip. It looks like a leaping porpoise! How cool is that?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Perseids Meteor Shower

I bundled up a kit to shoot the meteors and set up at Comanche Springs on Thursday, August 8. A storm blew up and knocked my mount over destroying a pair of 120mm clamps. The mount and telescope were unharmed.

 

Jeff arrived on Friday and we set the campus for the star party. Friday night I got my first round of images going with the new Canon 60Da. I used Backyard EOS for capture. I soon realized the nifty fifty lens set at f/1.8 was producing "seagull" stars, so that night's work was pretty well wasted. I did manage to capture three meteors in about 400 subframes shot at 30 seconds duration.

 

Saturday night I upped the ISO to 400 and set the f stop at 4. The stars were tamed and I set out in earnest to get some meteors. I shot around 600 subs, and pulled 12 meteors, which I will process and post today.

 

I learned that one needs a fisheye or extreme wide angle lens to capture meteors; the nifty fifty just doesn't buy enough real estate. I was pointing directly at the middle of the radiant between Cass and Perseus. Most of the meteors were appearing around 30 degrees to either side. It looks like the optimum setup would be to use the UFOCapture software JOhn Davis uses at Bucksnort on his all sky cam. http://sonotaco.com/e_index.html

 

 

 

 

 

I priced the Canon product and have determined I will probably purchase a 8mm or 14mm Samyung lens for future meteor shoots. I like the idea of stacking RAW meteor data and producing a composite image as opposed to shooting JPGs.

 

Dave Drummond got a great fireball shot Sunday night at CSAC:

 

 

 

 

I have discovered that I was way off in my strategy for getting clean meteor data. I used low ISO numbers thinking it would reduce noise in my RAW subs. Wrong! The meteors needed more sensitivity, like in the order of ISO3200 rather than ISO400. I shot 30 second subs, which was ok, and I used a tracking GEM mount which was probably unnecessary. I could have used a fixed tripod or sky tracker on a photo tripod. I also needed the WF lens as mentioned above. Good to know for future meteor showers. I will try to pick up a lens before the Leonids, or maybe in time for the Orionids this Fall.

 

 

 

 

 

I finally got enough data to compile an image. This is 16 of 300 subs shot Monday night and Tuesday morning August 12-13. I had severe vertical banding in the image and had to really trick it with Photoshop. Processing meteors from short exposure RAW files is all new to me! This accomplished what I set out to do; my First Light imaging a meteor shower. I learned a lot from the experience, and should have better results next time out. I looked ahead, and the next five or six events will have a Full Moon! Not good, but at least I won't need to spend money on a new lens for about a year!

 

Wrapping Up July 2013

I found a deal on the Canon 60Da camera a few weeks ago. It was $1203 with free shipping out of Hong Kong. I took advantage of it and have the camera here ready for service in a few days. I really like it because it has the China/Australia power plugs and requires an adapter to run on US power. It is a natural for future trips to Oz.

 

JOhn Davis is hosting his 2nd Annual Bucksnort Star Party on Friday. I am really looking forward to it because all my favorite imaging buddies will be there! I missed the first one last year because I was recovering from radiation and chemo and still too sick to travel ( or have fun, for that matter!) I will be migrating to 3RF CSAC next Sunday for a week, too. I plan to leave Bucksnort, drive to Abilene, and probably spend Sunday night, then roll on to CSAC Monday morning.

 

Mike Dennis and I have sewn up the speaking engagements at Okie-Tex 2013. I will be presenting a talk on Introduction to PixInsight - A Suggested Workflow, then another on Layers & Object Masks in Photoshop, and a third talk on 3RF. OTSP is refunding my registration and camp use fees, giving me a t-shirt, and providing a free meal plan. This will be the most economical OTSP experience of my life!

 

I purchased a suitcase-style portable 160 watt solar array from Solarblvd. It is more powerful and more compact than the existing 100 watt panel I have been using at OTSP and Eldorado Star Party in the past. I modified it with additional bracing to make it more sturdy, and it is under the bed in the RV right now. It fits there perfectly, so can stay in the RV 24-7.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will spend the next few days cleaning and stocking the RV, and editing the astro gear that is currently in the truck bed. I think I want to travel light in August; just carry the EM-10 and iOptron iEQ45 mounts, the WO 81GTF and AT65EDQ scopes, and "retire" the three ring circus for awhile.  It will be much easier to tear down and pack, for sure!

 

July 2013 Update

I just returned home from a week at 3RF CSAC. It was great, with only one night sacrificed to the Rain God. I shot an interesting Wizard Nebula HaRGB with the Explore Scientific ED127, the Bubble Nebula with same, a couple of fun DSLR shots around M8 with my old Canon XT, and began star trails experimentation with my Pentax Spotmatic and B/W film. I won't know any results in that department for awhile, as the rolls are 36 exposure, and I am too cheap to waste any unused ones!

I had so much fun with the XT that I bought a new 60DA this morning, downloaded a trial of Backyard EOS, and am getting pretty excited about future possibilities with that system! I picked up a SkyTracker at NEAF and already had the Manfrotto tripod and ballhead gear, so it just seemed a natural in the event I hit the road for Australia.

Here is a shot of M8, M20, & M21 with the Canon XT, Canon 200mm f/2.8 lens, 10X300 seconds @ ISO800

 

 

Wrapping up June 2013

I had a good month of backyard imaging. Shot some RGB while the moon was still dark, and got to do some narrowband, too! I never shoot narrowband at CSAC because the New Moon cycle is "sacred" and I get most of my color during that time. I have three mounts; why am I not shooting NB at the same time? I think I need to look into this.

 

I plan on upgrading my narrowband filters soon. I purchase inexpensive Omega filters, and have artifacts, lines, uneven backgrounds, as well as not a lot of resolution. I need to upgrade the SII and OII to be on a par with the Custom Scientific 4.5nm Ha filter I picked up awhile back on AstroMart. Straton software has really streamlined the tonemapping process so I want to do more narrowband imaging! I am especially proud of the North American Nebula in HST palette from my backyard in June:

 

 

 

 

I have this one prepped to go to the printer soon! I have discovered with tonemapping, "Less is More". It is so easy to over-process the colors. I had to redo this image again and again, toning it down each time, to come up with a finished look like this. I have come up with a simple workflow to really make the tonemapping work.

 

Start with a simple mild DDP in CCDStack. Save the result as a scaled image. Do the same for Ha, SII, and OIII. No sharpening, stretching, etc. Open each file in Registar and register OII and SII to Ha. Now open all three in Straton and remove the stars. Follow the tonemapping work flow at Astro Anarchy at this point. Voila!

 

I am packing the truck for a week under the stars at CSAC starting July 5th. This time I will also be shooting some old school B/W 35mm film star trails with my Pentax Spotmatic, and maybe try some guided AP with it, too. I like to add new elements into the mix to keep from hitting the wall and burning out. I have several targets in Cass and Cepheus that I plan to capture in RGB. I can add the NB later from Abilene. Ideally, I will get the Bubble Nebula and Cederblad 214 (NGC7822) with the ED127, the Veil Nebula with the QHY8 and Pentax SLR lenses, and possibly more work in Sagittarius and Scorpius. I plan to stay busy!

 

 

 

Backyard Imaging in Abilene

It is the last week of June, and I have shot all the targets in my "window" that rise and transit at reasonable hours. herefore, you can say I am caught up in Cygnus. Cass and Cepheus are still too low around 10PM; they will be prime in another month. I can't shoot o the south due to trees. I have an open lane to the east, and partial to the northeast.

 

I switched filterwheels yesterday and started shooting OIII last night. I added it to last month's Pelican Ha this morning. Bicolor "natural" palette with two narrowband images. I think it turned out pretty nice.

 

 

 

 

I will shoot SII tonight, then 10nm Ha later in the week. My goal is to make a nice Hubble Space Telescope palette of the Pelican, and eventually, the North American. This gives me something to do while waiting for future targets to get in the right position. It doesn't hurt to amass a large quantity of narrowband data from home.

 

I just added some Rosette Nebula Ha from a February shoot to some RGB from January 2012. I am sending it on to the printer in a few days.

 

 

I am looking forward to my next trip to CSAC on July 5th. Gerald Miller from Tulsa will be there for a few nights. We are swapping out the 30" Obsession with a fresh one from the warehouse in Crowell. The old mirror will be sent o OMI for recoating, and we will clean up all the wiring, etc, on the chassis.

 

 

Details of the Nomad Portable Observatory

My Australian friends, David & Petra, have shown an interest in the portable observatory. Here is a little show-and-tell that might be helpful in making one Down Under.

It is constructed with 1" galvanized steel pipe. It is called EMT (Electrical Metal Tubing) conduit here in the states, and is available everywhere. The connectors are available from canopy and tent mongers on the internet. An example can be seen at:

  http://tarps.com/chrome2.htm

I use 8 of the Flat Roof Corner, and 8 of the Closed T1. The EMT can be cut to any length. I use two lengths of EMT: 8 @ 6', and 16 @ 55.5". This make a rather small sized observatory; only 9.25' square, but it is adequate for one mount and table and fits well in the vehicle.

Inexpensive plastic tarps provide the sides, and I use elastic bungee-style ball end connectors. That's it!

 

 

 

Tee connector

 

 

 

Corner Connector

 

 

 

 

 

Cloudy!

I had a good run of clear nights after returning from CSAC. I switched over to the NJP when the  EM-10 Temma unit needed a fix. I installed my Astro-Tech AT8RC at the same time. It is f/8 with 1624mm focal length. I guide it with the Borg Mini-50 and SX Lodestar OK; I haven't found the need to use an off-axis guider. It has a nice Moonlite Hi-Res stepper motor focuser controlled with a Robo-Focus box. I rarely use it, but it is nice for globs, galaxies, and smaller nebula targets. The Moon was still right for color, so I shot the Cocoon Nebula and M13. I had a hard time synching it to the Sky X without a proper tuned finderscope! I probably spent an hour or so poking around Vega before it appeared on my computer screen. I aligned a green laser pointer in a Senta-based holder and centered it in my PHD Guiding screen once I centered it in Nebulosity. I shouldn't have a problem synching it next time!

 

 

 

 

Sometimes I just get really lucky. I shot 15 subs of M13, discarded 7 for elongation, and ended up with this:

 

 

 

 

Now the clouds are here for a few days. I will switch over to narrow band filters when it clears because the moon is getting brighter every night!

 

 

Back in Abilene

Saturday night at CSAC was a bummer for astronomy and imaging, but what a light show from the North! A front blew through around midnight and had all of us watching weatherTAP on the computer. I checked the forecast for Abilene and it showed clear skies for the whole week! I put the Nomad Observatory back together Sunday afternoon and shot six hours of IC5068 in RGB with the IDAS LP-P2 filter.

 

The circuit board appeared loose in the control box of my EM-10 last night result in a faulty connection to the hand controller. An 8 pin DIN receptacle has fallen apart and needs to be replaced. I switched it out with the NJP for the rest of this week's imaging. Redundancy can be a good thing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9 Nights at 3RF Comanche Springs Astronomy Campus June 2013

I arrived last Friday afternoon (May 31) and have imaged each night since. That is the good news. The bad news is it has been extremely windy here even after dark. Lots of data was just too poor to use, but I have pulled out a few keepers on this sortie.

I decided to go back to Australia next March for OzSky 2014. I think my old buddy Robert Werkman will probably go, and Fay Jordan from the Isle of Wight just paid her reservation fee. I am hoping Jeanette Lamb will migrate down from Kilcoy, Queensland, and spend the week with us at Coonabarabran. 

I will be carrying a very light weight astrophotography kit with me next time The Pentax M42 screw mount SLR lenses have proven to be excellent for extreme wide field applications. My low noise QHY8PRO CCD one shot color partners well with those lenses. I have a Manfrotto tripod, ball head and geared head that will fit easily in my suitcase. I will bring a single Dell D610 laptop for image acquisition and general internet use. It can travel in a laptop case with me, or I go in the suitcase, too. I have always hated lugging around a computer, because they get very heavy very quickly. My processing will be a little limited on 3 GBytes of RAM and XP, but I have a road copy of Photoshop CS2 and can just grin and bear the slow PixInsight  routines.

I managed to find comet Panstarrs in Ursa Minor two nights ago. I imaged it with a 100mm Vivitar lens stopped at f/5.6. I worried about rotation and streaky stars due to its close proximity to Polaris; it is in the shot, in fact! I limited the exposure to 600 seconds and shot 35 subs. The processing revealed I could safely go deeper on exposure time, and I needed to get in a little closer to compose a dramatic shot. I switched over to the Vivitar 135mm last night and got 10 subs at 900 seconds. It was extremely windy; I worried that it would just be a waste of time. I will let you be the judge.

 

 

C/2011 L4 (Panstarrs) in Ursa Minor
RGB: 10X900 seconds exposure unguided
Lens: Vivitar (M42) 135mm f/5.6
Camera: QHY8PRO
Mount: Takahashi EM-10
Location: 3RF Comanche Springs Astronomy Campus
Date: June 5, 2013

 

I got some color last Friday and Saturday nights for my Cygnus Group project started in May. I still need two more nights to finish it, plus a night on the elephant trunk, too.

 

 

 

 

I have the new William Optics 81 GTF mounted on the Takahashi NJP, but haven't gotten any good data with it yet due to the wind! I have been shooting in Scorpius. I till have a few nights left.

 

I set up my gear on top of the RV hill away from the star field this time. It looks quite busy for just one person.

 

 

 

Backyard Imaging in Hydrogen alpha

 

 

 

I have had a phenomenal run of clear nights here in Abilene since my return from the Texas Star Party. I have shot around 30 hours of data in the North American-Pelican region in Cygnus.

 

Flickr has updated its image and allowed me a terabyte of data storage. I switched my gallery over to Flickr this morning, as a result. I think it looks great.

 

Wow, what a flap about Adobe dropping sale of Photoshop CS6 and going to subscription! They currently offer CS6 alone for $9.99 a month to previous owners of CS3-CS6. Where is the advantage? I am not seeing it yet. Perhaps the Adobe Cloud would allow one to use CS6 on more than the two computer limit that goes along with the original purchasing agreement. I don't know that for a fact. I also wonder if the $9.99 per month offer will expire after one year with a future rate increase. I thought the company had a pretty good business model in the past. I hope it works well for them, but I am a bit pessimistic.

 

The Nomad portable field observatory has been working great in the backyard. There have been several windy clear nights, and it really cuts down on the breeze factor. I like it because it defines a "room" and feels more like an astro office.

I think the best gear I have purchased recently has been the Web Power Switch 7. I connect it via LAN cable to my imaging computer, and operate the switching from inside the house (or RV) with TeamViewer 8. It is available at http://www.digital-loggers.com/lpc.html

 

I will be acquiring RGB data for my Cygnus Ha captured here between May 31-June 8 at 3RF Comanche Springs Astronomy Campus. I think I will bring an abbreviated load of gear; not my usual everything including the kitchen sink approach. Just the stuff necessary to complete the Cygnus projects. Well, that sounds good today.

 

NEAIC & NEAF 2013

 

 

 

I had the honor of being a presenter this year at the NorthEast Astro-Imaging Conference in April. I had three one hour talks on the Dollars and Sense approach to beginning astrophotography. I was traveling with Bruce Morrell (Astrofactors.com), the US distributor for QHY cameras. I worked in his booth at NEAF and had the pleasure of working alongside Dr. Qiu, Dan Hollar, and Terry Hancock, as well. I owe a debt of gratitude to Bob Moore, the organizer of NEAIC. It was a fantastic event that I will always remember.

 

Dr. Qiu and Bruce Morrell at NEAIC

 

 

NEAF

 

The Texas Star Party 2013

Astrofactors table at the Texas Star Party with Bruce Morrell.

 

Texas Imaging Symposium at the Texas Star Party 2013

Sunday through Tuesday nights were fairly good. Not great, but clear enough to image. The seeing was terrible. The weather changed on Wednesday. It rained off and on through Thursday. Friday night cleared up like magic, but I was watching movies in my RV, instead. Everything was wet, and I didn't feel like risking any of my gear to moisture.

My friend, Sonya Ward, won the big door prize at the Texas Imaging Symposium. About $6000 worth of Apogee Aspen 8050 CCD camera and filterwheel! TSP was a very profitable experience for her! She will put it to good use in the future.

I moderated a Q&A session with the speakers on Wednesday. Present were Jay Ballauer, JOhn Davis, Robert Reeves, Jim Lafferty, Ron Dilulio, Alan Erickson, Vance Bagwell, and Jason Ware.

I was glad to get back home on Sunday. I bought a portable field observatory from Dave Eisfeldt. I set it up in my backyard and have been shooting Ha on clear nights this week. I will collect what I can and add the RGB component from 3RF Comanche Springs Astronomy Campus between May 31-June 8 New Moon cycle.

 

 

Inside the Nomad Observatory

 

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