Posts Tagged ‘milkyway’

Sunday 31st (Sodium Boom n beyond)

August 4, 2011

Spent the morning very happily going over the potassium footage.  The whole thing is a symphony of physics and chemistry that eventually I decided it would take too long to explain, so I just put up the explosion footage.

It had been raining in Ridgecrest and this clearly was  a freak event.  The standard greeting in Rigercrest between the notably fat folks seems to be ‘hot enough for you’, and not without reason, I think it’s been over 100C every day I’ve been here.  However for the afternoon I decided I would give blowing up the sodium a go.  Now I have lots of sodium, and the scale and geometry is different.  Eventually I decided the way to do it was to get a stick over a reasonable sized vat, which meant that I could lift up the sodium from a distance, have it swing over the vat, then be lowered in.  Sodium is significantly less dense than water, and so would need to be weighted.  The sticks were typically about 10g, so eventually I wrapped up about 4 sticks in aluminium foil, attached weights to them and lowered them in to the vat from a distance.

Initially the reaction seemed really quite slow, to the point where I was wondering how this was going to pan out.  Indeed it took over 10 seconds before the first ‘explosion’ (compared to about 1second for the potassium experiment).  I, for my part am mostly certain this is related to the metal boiling.  However, when it really blew up (and did so quite convincingly) it really made a mess of the container.  Again, the hydrogen burning wasn’t really even a relevant factor, it’s just the adiabatic expansion of the gas released by the reaction.  In this case 40g gives about 40L of gas.  Thats a lot of gas to release in a 5L container!  On inspecting the aftermath it became clear that large chunks of sodium had been thrown clear of the reaction, not just unreacted, but unmelted!  This for me was a stunning observation!  It shows that whatever the reaction that takes place, the rate that heat is generated at the surface is MUCH higher than the rate the heat can be conducted away from the surface.  Sodium is an absolute bitch for making a mess!  Small amounts of sodium had been sprayed all over the tripod, and stripped the paint.  They had then picked up water to make conc. NaOH, draincleaner which will first turn you skin into soap, before chemically burning you.  The stuff was everywhere!  Cleaned up as best I could (again I was on the inaccessible dirt road to nowhere in my little ravine).  Headed back to LA.  Stopped off to see Lisa n Howard n pick up a shower, which I more than needed.  Initially i wanted to get up onto mnt Wilson early, for sunset, but got chatting to Lisa and that never happened.  It was full dark before I set out on the nightmare trek across LA by dark.  It didnt help that I managed to set the GPS wrong, and ended up on the long drive through the horrific twistiy winding roads of the Wilson range (rt 2).  There had been rain here too, and while the road was all but deserted, top speed was about 40 mph and ‘tire killing rocks’ materialized out of the gloom on a regular basis.  Driving that 20 miles was an incredibly intense experience, ultimately driven by ‘do u want it or not’.  I did, I wanted to get up on mnt wilson and do something on light pollution and LA.  I got there about midnight, and got my piccies!

Thursday n Friday (29th) July, Lotta Processing, Lotta Piccies!

July 30, 2011

The night of wednesday and thursday morning was when it all came together.  This is when I was sizing up what the kit I had could do, gather the knowledge to actually do stuff.  The problem comes is it almost worked too well, to the point where I was drowning  in data.  I have two laptops capable of timelapse, one camera capaable of whole sky timelapse, videocams n webcams capable of going on the back end of the scope as well DSLR that can mount up on the scope.  Sure it’s great having those options, but it’s almost too many options.

Plus I’m still a noob at the processing, particularly of the deep sky stuff.  After many an hour of fiddling I managed to get Deepskystacker to play ball with me:

M51 the Whirlpool Galaxy

M51 the Whirlpool Galaxy, ~ 10 x 30s exposures (11in SCT), stacked with DSS

Globular Cluster M22

Globular Cluster M22, ~10x15s exposures with a cpc1100The Helix Nebula, planetary nebular in Aquarius

The Helix Nebula, planetary nebular in Aquarius

With the deep sky camera I want to give folks an idea of what they will actually see at the eyepiece.  With the other stuff over the period of a day or two I managed to put together some moderately good ‘whole sky zooms’

The night of Thursday was a COMPLETE BUMMER!  So I decide that finally, I need a night of sleep, so I just rolled out of Ridgecrest to the hills above it.  Nice quiet area, looks to be used for motocross (albeit very rarely).  Same place I stayed the first night.  Beautiful night, not as black as the first night, but still very good.  I charge all the batteries up for the DSLR.  They run for about 3hrs, so I have to get up every 3 hrs to change the batteries, but hell, that still looks to a solid nights sleep to me.  This time I take off the lens guard which was preventing me getting the full 180 degrees.  The night was warm and fresh, although the dust gets up your nose every now and then.  Indeed it was so pleasant that I just got out a sleeping mat, and slept on the ground int he desert.  I love that sort of thing, waking up intermittently to see the Milkyway directly overhead, and spanning from horizon to horizon in a silver arch.  The time lapse ran solidly from sunset to sunrise.  Perfect, every movement timed, every footstep placed, a flawless executions, till I get down to the town and take a look at the piccies.  Turns out it wasn’t properly focused: GAAHHHHHHHHH.   GAHHHHHHHHHH.  GAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!  To further rub salt in the wounds the dark sky forecasts look poor for the next few days.  Dammit!  I needed that footage!  It was then I realised that I had probably left the wide angle lens for the webcam up on the pass.  Its only worth about 30 bux, but there is no real chance of finding one on the road, and none whatsoever in Ridgecrest.  I decided in the end to head up to the pass, for the third time.  I could see the weather looked fairly intense and brooding over the mountains.  The weather was some of the wierdest I’ve ever seen.  In the valley is was 40 or so mph winds, very strong.  However by the time I got up to the pass, it was dead calm.  Found the lens, took about 30 second.  A big relief.  But the wierd thing was the clouds appeared to be static.  Never seen anything quite like it.  Usually clouds can always be seen to move against foreground objects, but not these clouds.  They were moving incredibly slowly.  I set up the wholesky timelapse as it might look cool!  Shortly after dark it started to rain, turns out only a few drops, but it’s impossible to tell how things are going to go in the mountains when you can’t see the clouds.  I took the camera in.  A mistake as it turns out, but there were thunderstorms within 30 miles.  After that the clouds burned off somehow, and I set the timelapse up again.  DAMN!  I want whole sky, dusk till dawn!  Still had to get up 3 times during the night to change the battery, but no big deal.

Wedneday 27th July (It’s like sex!)

July 28, 2011

It was a disheveled piece of human flotsam that crawled out of the mountains that morning.  I had spent a night fighting a losing battle again sleep, and had, in terms of results, very little to show for it.  I know I thought to myself, look the night might have been one long concatenated mess, but at least I can haul my carcuss down to town and get a thousand calorie breakfast from mcdonalds, and Im sure you will start to get a grip once you have  a full stomach.  Regrettably, by the time I got down to town Mcdonalds had JUST finished breakfast.  The moment was a cross between ‘Falling Down’ and that moment in ‘Evil Dead, Army of Darkness’ in the alternative ending where he oversleeps.  Oh yeah it was one of those ‘the world conspires against me’ type moments.  After a long deep sigh, the eyes snap open with regained focus: time to go on the offense!  Online I soon discovered that the reason the Orion Deepspace Video camera wasn’t working up to expectation is it has an integration function in the menus!  I laughed, when all else fails: READ THE INSTRUCTIONS.  Spent a few hours rendering and uploading what I had.  Now the next problem, that damn screw!  I need a replacement for that damn screw.  Turns out Ridgecrest has a Home Depot, and I figured that was the logical place to try for a bizarre screw.  I was wrong- they had nothing!  Arse, thousands of bux worth of telescope crippled by a tiny screw.  Then it dawned on me, I could just drill and tap a hole myself for any screw I wanted.  Deep in my mind there was a spark, I had a drill and tap and a load of screws that would fit in the car, they were part of the stuff for the airplanes.

Picked up some supplies and headed back up into the mountains, same place at last night.  This time I was more seasoned on that grinding hill though and got up all the way without even a hint of overheating.

Up at the top of mountains, I sorted out firstly the backend of the telescope,

Then the webcam.

Come the test of first light, both performed admirably.  The sky wasn’t still enough for planets, but it was wonderfully clear.

The Deepsky video camera worked as expected! (~500 bux) :-)

The stripped MS webcam worked admirably (~50 bux) :-)

The video of the planets shot on by eyepiece projection onto the sensor of the D60 (~900 bux) was okay, but not as good as channeling it straight into a video camera.

The 60d I have to admit is a heinous machine for astro!  I got it primarily as I needed 2 DSLRS to do some of the projects I want to get done on this trip, to work with the 40D.  The 60D just idles circles around the 40D.  I think a lot of it is simply a better sensor.  More pixels, if they are not being used for resolution, mean faster light gathering, and lower noise.  The bottom line is the 60D goes up to iso ~6000, at least 2x what the 40D will do.  The 60D will also do video, which I thought might be useful, although thus far it hasn’t panned out, although this might just be teething troubles with the camera.  Just for an example, crank the ISO up to about 5000 and do a 1min exposure (unguided, bar the telescope tracking) on M51, and this is what you get:

M51, The Whirlpool Galaxy

M51, The Whirlpool Galaxy, 1min exposure, iso 5000, canon 60d

After that, all you need is an intervalometer and deepskystacker.  In many ways it’s such a cheat.  When I was young, I improvised all sorts of devices for the tracking, and there was none of this ‘cap a test frame to see if it’s centered’.  You took the pictures, and after minutes of painstaking guiding, you had to wait till at least the next day to see how well you did when you got the film processed.  Many a time I chuckle at night as to how what used to be hours of work, and a day or two to see the results from can now be effortlessly superseeded by a minute of scope time.

Later in the night, after visiting many a deep sky object, I turned the scope to Jupiter, then Mars, then the very late moon, all using the same magnification, just so I could give folks the scale of these things, all on the same magnfication.  The seeing was abysmal!  Mars was a swimming ball!  However all on the same magnification I got Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and the moon!

 

So yeah, I guess its like sex, in the dark, the first time is always a fumbled and inept experience.  However, having seen things in the broad light of day, and having had time to ponder on what went wrong and why, the second time can be more of the ‘tour de force!’ :-)

Tuesday 26th July (SCREWED, by a screw)

July 27, 2011

Tuesday 26th July.  Oh woe is me.  It always the bugger with astronomy is the more powerful the kit becomes, the harder it is to set up and get it all working.  Further seeing as it takes so long  to set it up etc, if you’re doing it you could as well be trying to do something.  However it’s a dangerous strategy.

So in the morning I headed down into Ridgecrest for breakfast and wifi at Mcdonalds.  Turns out they have some 1000 calorie breakfast (big breakfast deluxe or some such) for ~3.5  bux.  Great for a man travelling as it means you don’t have to worry about finding much food for the rest of the day.  Rendered and sorted out the files from the previous night, before picking up some food and water for potentially a few days in the mountains.

I was heading up to a place I found on google Earth that looked okay, but always difficult to tell.  Sky forecasts were excellent!  Going in I could tell it was going to be dark, very very dark, as you pass a sign going into the mountains, the first says ‘Next gas 90 miles’, and the next says ‘NO GAS’ (Sherman Pass Road).  Damn did my car struggle with that hill.  It was HUGE.  Small engine, in a very heavily laden car means the engine can, if you are not being very gentle with it, go from normal to overheated in less than a minute.  Indeed there was one point on the slope when I thought ‘that’s it, time to turn back’ as even with the heater going full blast, to suck as much heat out of the engine as possible, it was still getting hotter and hotter, and eventually I had to stop.  Fortunately a little further up the wind picked up and that helped out a lot.  But damn was this road deserted.  Once at the top it leveled out into a sort of plateau.

Found a turn off very soon just opposite the ranger fire station, and headed off down the dirt road off the road to nowhere.  Found a shade tree in the forest and put my feet up for a few hours.  Resting myself for the long night ahead.  The wind was strong, but I had confidence that it would die down by night.

At dusk, and not having seen another soul on the road I decided to head out for a astro site.  Turns out the site I had found on google was almost 20 miles away! Ag.  That would put me getting there in astronomical twilight.  The road snaked up above the trees, then I could see down the other side of the sierras and the smog in the valley on the other side.  All of a sudden the clearing opposite the rangers firestation looked very appealing, but that was 10 miles behind me now.  While I hadn’t seen another soul on the road, I was uncomfortable doing astronomy by the road side.  Drunk guy driving home at night, not paying too much attention, or expecting anything else on the road could me a recipe for a bad night.  I headed back for the dirt road off the road to nowhere, and set up the telescope!

The beginning of the night was amazing, watching the Milkyway appear out of the darkness overhead.  The initial idea was to run down the kit, and hopefully get some stuff done.  The original plan was to get Saturn, Jupiter and the Moon, all on the same magnification.

There are several ways I have of doing this.  I have a stripped down HD webcam I wanted to give a go.  That crashed and burned first.  It has one of those bright blue LEDs that needs to be covered, and I didn’ have anything to do that on hand.  Next was to try eyepiece projection on either the DSLRs or a camcorder.  That was the most annoying one.  Turns out there are screws to hold the eyepiece in, and the eyepiece projection kit slides over the top of it.  Well the location screw was missing!  I had no way to hold the eyepiece in, and no realistic prospects of finding it in the car.  Fortunately I have many screws in the car, and soon found one that would do the job, its just that it sticks out too far to allow the eyepiece projection tube to slide over the top.  NOOOOOO.   50 miles from anywhere with thousands of bux worth of kit, all rendered effectively inoperable by a 1 cent screw.  No problem, I still had that new Deep Sky video camera bought with the kind donations to this channel.  I was going to use this to give people a reasonable idea of what you can see through the eyepiece while looking at deep sky objects.  Regrettably it was still all boxed, and in the dark in the middle of no where, with no wifi, is not the best place to engage on the learning curve.   After much fiddling, I got it working, but it was shite, pathetic, unbelievably poor.  I wasn’t too fussed, I didn’t believe for a second that folks like Orion could field such a product that would perform so poorly, and that I was just missing something.  However the battery was dying on the laptop by this time, and I had to stand off on this was too.  By this time, the Milkyway was a magnificent arch overhead, the sort of thing that would move a man to poetry, but I was tired, and frustrated by my repeated failures over really small stuff.  It kind of reminded me of that Apollo 11 story.  While on the moon they managed to break off the lever that armed the return rocket.  For the want of a dime store component a multibillion dollar rocket and two mens lives lay in the balance.  Fortunately for them they managed to flip the switch using, if memory serves a biro!  I too probably could have solved all the problems given time.  But the night was getting on and I was very tired.  Set up the D60 (I’ve been v. impressed so far with the sensitivty of this camera).  This was just a 1min unguided exposure of M16 (The Eagle Nebula) (albeit with the ISO jackted to 5000).  After that I left it chuntering away doing 30s exposures at ISO 1000.

The Eagle Nebula

The Eagle Nebula, July 26th 2011

By this time it was getting cold, really cold, and I took refuge in the car, only to doze off once or twice as Jupiter rose in the East.  Went out about 4ish to see how the kit would perform on a planet, to my horror to find that the battery power supply for the telescope was struggling.  Depending on the supply, if you flatten the battery, it’s dead for good.  That pretty much put an end to the night.  Packed up everything.  The car was a complete mess by the time I finished, but had the engine running to get some juice back into the powertank.   Then drove up the dirt road to find somewhere that would have some form of shade come day break.  The horizon was already light by the time I finally pulled over for some shut-eye.

Monday 25th July (WHOLE SKY time lapse!)

July 26, 2011

Monday 25th July, up after dawn and rolled into LA.  Traffic is a nightmare!  Picked up the fixed camcorder by 9ish and headed over to a mcdonalds for wifi.    Caught up with blog n emails.  Notably I’ve now got a buddy in Hawaii who’s ready to give the global timelapse thing a go.  He sounds like he really knows what he’s doing and certainly has much better kit than me.  However I still needed a location to head to.  I checked out the clear sky forecasts and they were excellent in the Sierra Nevada valley.  Packup up and headed out, charging batteries on the way.  This is always the absolute nightmare of astro-on-the-road is when you are spending so much time out of doors in the hard sunlight, your body really syncs up with the sun in a powerful way.  Almost to the point where, sun goes down and you go to sleep, and yeah it’s REALLY hard to fight against that to stay up all night doing stuff.  On the way out of LA I stopped by and saw Lisa, who had lent me a couch during TAM.  Then the drive out to the North.   Again the traffic was a nightmare.  Got to Ridgecrest in late afternoon passing enroute something that looked like an observatory, but I now believe to be military radar of some sort.  It looks a good site.  Lots of roads leading off into the desert near the top of a mountain, purportedly for dirt bikers, but whatever, looked like my polite surburban 2wd low clearance could handle it.  Picked up the largest coffee I could find, and headed out into the desert.  In the end I hardly had to go that far off the road and was there for a fantastically dark sunset.  However there was wind, 10-20 mph wind.  Firstly thats the kiss of death if you are trying to point a telescope at a point source, and secondly there was a small amount of dust with it.  Now that was great for the lasers, meant you could see them easily, however its a killer for shutter mechanisms, drives gears etc.  I decided I would stand off on setting up the scope till the wind died down.  The wind didn’t die down, not even a little.  However the sky was superb with the milky way forming a glowing arch from horizon to horizon.  Started messing around with the cameras.  Even if I can’t do any astro, I’ve got some stuff to field test.  Most notably the 4mm ’180 degree lens’.  Gave good piccies of the Milkyway and after a while I decided to laser my name into a mountain, just for yuks.  After that, I spent a wonderfully pleasant night, with the cool desert wind blowing steadily through my car, all the time with my head poked out of the window, watching the stars slowly spin above my head.  Jupiter rose fast and high, and the late cresent moon somewhat after it.  The next morning I was quite happy with the results!

Cool, I Haz it.

July 26, 2011
This Picture says it all!

This Picture says it all!


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 21,216 other followers