Posts Tagged ‘telescope’

A bright Supernova for NOT the Oregon Star Party!

September 4, 2011

Well the supernova sure has brightened a lot over the last week!

Supernova in M101, August 25th 2011, about a 3 hr exposure with an 11in scope and 2500 iso on a canon D60.

From the night of the 3rd sept. 1.5hr exposure comprised of 20s unguided exposures (chosen frames) of a cpc1100 with a canon 60d at prime focus (f6.3 reducer).

It now easily outshines the galaxy core and is the brightest thing in the field.

So it turns out one of the reasons I had the Pine Mountain Observatory to myself to do ‘supernova LIVE’  (Sept 1st) was because some of the folks had drifted off to the Oregon Star Party.  I too was advised to go, in part for the great skies of the ochico, and part for the company.

Getting there was a bit of a nightmare in that I set the wrong GPS coordinates (a combination of relatively little sleep the night before, and just drifting along with the scenery).  Either way, by the time I worked it out I was 50 miles down the road, and the GPS kept on trying to send me down dirt roads to nowhere to get back.  The tricky thing about dirt roads, is if they are good, you can get up to 45 mph-ish.  If they are not good, not only will you be doing well to make walking speed, but 10 feet can make the whole thing utterly impassable to a polite little underpowered low clearance suburban car like mine! (or the even more devastating, can get the car stuck!) Thus it was after an hour or so detour down a road that started like a ‘freeway’, then it  narrowed and narrowed and eventually turned into a road where I might as well have been trying to drive down a rough rutted river bed.  I think I did well to survive the turn around! Especially seeing as I was miles in the middle of nowhere by this point, with no apparent traffic on the road!  Eventually I decided to retrace my steps down the black top and do it right!

Thus is was that it was about 5pm by the time I arrived at the Oregon Star Party.  I had a brief exchange with the staff, who insisted on a 75 dollar registration fee.  I told them I was there just to take a look around- ’75 dollars’, that I probably wouldn’t even be there a full day ’75 dollars’, and so it went on.  Just for the record, that would make visiting the Oregon Star Party significantly more expensive than Disneyland, which is some 85 dollars for a day pass.  Apart from the OSP is just a bunch of guys sitting out under the stars ontop of a hill.  Now I was actually interested in talking to some of the vendors they had there, particularly Celestron and Orion (the latter about their crappy capture device on their deep sky video camera), but I was knackered.  So I put up my feet in the car and dozed a bit, trying to recover some strength and in part to work out what to do.  Eventually the organizer came out and said they were ‘locking the gate’ at 7pm.  This was bullshit, there was no gate.  Shit what were they going to do imprison everyone ontop of the hill for the night?.  I got his message thoguh, so at that I rolled back a mile or so down the road and found a place with a good northern horizon and set up the scope.  The ochico is notorious for having a fine dust that gets onto and into everything, including optics, and so I was quite happy to not have folk around disturbing the dust.  Set the scope up on M101 and cooked myself some ‘ramen noodle’ soup type stuff.  Hunger and a bad day are by far the best cooks, and it was the best meal I’ve thus far had on the road, snarfed down with butter and bread! Ahhhh!  Then I basically went to sleep for a few hours till M101 effectively set before packing up the scope.  Skies were, I have to say good!

Next day, I meandered over to the John Day fossil beds.  They were on the map and I had no real idea what the hell it was all about.  Turns out there are some fairly reasonable badlands here, full of fossils.  Regrettably however the fossil museum was an hour down the road in the wrong direction, and a tired thunderf00t wasn’t really up for it.  The sedimentary stuff here coincidentally is from the primitive cascades, and goes back 20 million years!  Yeah, exactly to when the supernova overhead capped off…..ooooooh!

Some of the 'Badlands' near the John Day Fossil Beds Oregon.

Picked up wifi and power at Prineville and processed the acquisitions of the night before, as well as a video of supernova so far.  By that time I had really only enough light in the day to make it back to Pine Mountain, where fortuitously, the deep sky forecast was near perfect!  Plus this really the last chance before the moon becomes a serious issue for a couple of weeks to get a good piccie of the supernova.

On Saturday night on Pine Mountain they do outreach, so I agreed to give them a hand: that night many a person was put into perspective with the Cosmos! 🙂  The odd thing was, all of this was apologetically put into perspective with distance and years in the millions, and of the hundred or so people I talked to, there wasn’t so much of a sign or a peep from anyone expressing the young earth creationist view!


A Night looking at Uranus!

August 24, 2011

Uranus is frequently overlooked and for many reasons.  Firstly, lets just say its name hasn’t phonetically aged well.  Secondly it’s small and faint, barely visible to the naked eye, and even the most powerful telescopes show little more than a tiny featureless grey-green disk.

Most powerful telescopes will show the five main moons of Uranus, Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania and Oberon.  The innermost of these Miranda, has, if memory serves the highest cliffs in the solar system (due to being previously (presumably) smashed by an impact) and has an orbital period of about 1.5 days.  That means you should be able to easily see its movement over the period of a night.

Now I had tried this previously, and had been surprised that the planets movement was comparable to the movement of its moons, but that night had been scuppered by a flat battery.

Movement of Uranus vs background stars

The stars in the background are fixed. The two picture of Uranus are taken a few hours apart, and while the moons (relatively close to the planet) don't move much, the planet conspicuously moves against the background stars!) (click to enlarge)

So it was that I set out with my scope on the evening of 22nd Aug 2011 to see what could be captured.  I decided to head up to an observatory site that had previously seemed good up near the top of the somewhat active volcano, Lassen Peak.  The site is high, almost 2 miles up, but the seeing was less than perfect (a very constant ~ 5mile an hour wind, which was probably a blessing in that it bought warmer air from somewhere, but was also a curse due to the wind chill- I was surrounded by snow fields!).

Nonetheless, at prime focus of the 11in CPC1100 with ~1000 iso and 4 second exposure on a canon 60D seemed to bring out easily at least 4 of the moons of Uranus.

After that, I just had to maintain the kit for 8 or so hour.  A pain in the ass, as there were several pieces of kit that all need to work or the night would be ‘lost’.  So you basically have to periodically check all the batteries on the various time lapse and tracking kit are working functionally.  The bottom line is you can actually get quite a lot of sleep, but its horribly disjointed. The practical upshot of which was the next day I was wiped out to the point where I had actually planned to head up into Oregon to do something, but for the first time ever on a road trip I did something I’d never countenanced before.  I stayed a night in a motel!!  First time in 5 years!  A motel 6 I should add!  All I wanted was somewhere where I could get a shower, a bed for the night, and damn, just sit back for a moment, put my feet up, and have a glass of wine……ahhhhhh.

I was REALLY happy when I processed this, not really for what I had hoped to achieve, which was to get the motion of the moons, as while it was visible, it wasn’t that great.  But what was great was the motion of the whole Uranus system against the background stars.  I knew this MIGHT be visible, but I really didn’t expect it to looks as cool as it did!  Now it should be said that most of the motion you see here is probably not due to the motion of Uranus, but due to the motion of the Earth.  Nonetheless, its still really cool!

The finished results!

Watching Sunset on the Moon, and things that go bump in the night!

August 20, 2011

Well it’s a start.  Sunset on the Moon!

This is the time lapse of sunset on the moon, taken at prime focus with a cpc11 with a focal reducer and a canon 60D.  The conditions were less than perfect.  This was about 9 hrs all in, and really quite an infuriating 9 hrs.

Firstly, since my ‘run in’ with the mountain lion, I’ve become VERY twitchy about things that go bump in the night, and would periodically scan the torch around, looking for ‘eyes’.  There was also an amusing part when a piece of paper blew out of the car.  The ‘sudden noise’ in the dark elicited an immediate reaction from me, which to the impartial observer must have appeared quite funny and disproportionate! (twirling around ready to attack the piece of paper…… hmmmm….  time to switch to decaf!)

Not all bad though, amazing what the heightened senses can find!

For some reason the telescope is lousy at tracking the moon.  I think this is to do with the fact that the Earth axis, and the normal of the orbit of the moon are out by about 6 degrees.  Practically what this means is the moon not only moves at a different rate to the stars (that is it goes around the sky in about 25 hours, not 24 like pretty much everything else).  But even with lunar rate, the tracking is poor.  I think the moon is also moving up/ down due to the difference in the normal of the Earth rotation and the moons orbit, and the mount is not smart enough to work this out.  The practical upshot of which is the moon will drift out of the field of view over a period of about an hour, so I had to set the alarm to go off every 20 minutes throughout the night in order to recenter the moon.

Further recentering the frames, taken every 2 minutes in editing is also a pain in the ass.  Thankfully Sony Vegas now has a ‘motion stabilizer’ feature that takes a lot of the donkey work out of this.

This is the finished product!  Well actually, only part of it.  At prime focus the telescope can get the best part of the moon in the frame.  I just selected one crater, as it shows the shadows nicely.

Tracking on everything else is perfect, in that at the end of the evening I dialed up Jupiter, and it went straight to it.  Cute! Never seen Jupiter by the full light of day before!

The Solar System in Perspective!

August 10, 2011

The Moon, the Jovian (jupiter) system, and the Uranus system, all on the same scale (all photographed prime focus through an 11in f6.3 SCT) aug 10th 2011.

The moon, Jupiter and moons, and Uranus and moons, all to scale.

The moon, Jupiter and moons, and Uranus and moons, all to scale. Click to enlarge.

It’s all part of a larger project I’ve been working on of trying to get time-lapse of various extra-terrestrial bodies.

The real problem is the Earth is just spinning too bloody fast!  Damn, there’s a reason why all those new telescopes are going out there in the Legrange points!

Initially I was having all sorts of trouble tracking the moon!  Hmm that just shouldn’t be, it tracks everything else in the sky just fine.  Then of course, the obvious dawns on me:- it’s tracking the stars and not the moon!  The moon goes around the sky an extra time every 28 days! Thats about 12 degrees a day, or half a degree an hour!  Given that the moons only about half a degree in diameter, no wonder it kept drifting out of the field!  Okay, so I got intermediate time-lapse of the moon, that shows the project is possible.  A failure, sure, but a very instructive failure.

After the moon I took some caps of Jupiter and moons, and Uranus and moons, great for putting them all into perspective.  Then it dawns on me, that it might be possible to do a timelapse of Uranus’s moons too, that’d be really cool.  So I set up the scope to take pictures every 5 minutes.  The results weren’t that impressive (well it only ran for a few hours before dawn), but more interestingly is that you can actually see uranus move against the background stars over this period.  It really threw me, because I was trying to line up the background stars, and it just wasn’t possible, then the obvious came to mind.  Duhh, Uranus is moving!  So yeah, inadvertently I’ve now found that you can watch the planets move in real time!  Probably works best on the faint ones, like Uranus, as you can see more background stars!.

Movement of Uranus vs background stars

The stars in the background are fixed. The two picture of Uranus are taken a few hours apart, and while the moons (relatively close to the planet) don't move much, the planet conspicuously moves against the background stars!) (click to enlarge)

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.

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!