Category Archives: How To

My old friend returns

Today is the first day of school for my youngest daughter. So, contrary to other times, I was up. As I went outside to let the dog out, I noticed that Orion was up. Orion is quite possibly my favorite constellation, as it has so many things in it to look at.

I quickly went inside and retrieved my 10 x 50 binoculars and was able to see the Orion Nebula (M42) to some extent. The dawn was already breaking, so it was not very clear because it was fighting sunlight and morning clouds.

However, it’s good to see my old friend again. I can’t wait until I can see it in darkness again.

Transparency was 1, seeing was 8.

Astrophotography with a Fisheye, take two… and Observation of the Summer Triangle

Folks, I will post an entry re my time at Stellafane, I promise. However, the editor of our astronomical club newsletter forced me at gunpoint (really, he did! Really!) to write an article for the newsletter, so I will share something after that is published.

One thing that happened when I went there is that I tried to do astrophotography using a fisheye lens but screwed up with using too low an ISO (a measure of film sensitivity, leading to photos that were too dark (you’ll see them later.

After the debacle that was my failed attempt at astrophotography at Stellafane, I decided to try again.

This time, I originally planned to go to StarFest 2014 at Hopewell Furnace tonight, which is another amateur astronomy conference. However, I managed to get a light fever, and did not feel like going everybody else sick instead. I decided to do astrophotography work at home, and to also break out my telescope. There was not much that I could see in my sky, because there’s so much light pollution in Havertown, and the summer haze makes it worse. However, I was able to see the Big Dipper, four stars of the Little Dipper, and various other stars. I’d rate the transparency at a 4 and the seeing around 6. For here, It was a good night. I did manage to see Cygnus and the Summer Triangle, which was unusual for this time of year.

So, these are some pictures of my slightly better attempt at stack astrophotography. In the last two final photos, there are some slight diagonal lines. That’s due to the fact that I’m trying out a demo of Nebulosity 3–it’s a Mac program that does photo stacking. I was using my Canon 60D using my Rokinon 8mm Fisheye, set at infinity with an ISO of 1250 for a 10 sec exposure after a 10 second delay. I didn’t use bias or flat images, just dark images.

Notes about the individual photos are below.

First step of stacking is taking pics with the lens caps on to help the stacking program (Nebulosity 3) figure out what sensor errors are present.
First step of stacking is taking pics with the lens caps on to help the stacking program (Nebulosity 3) figure out what sensor errors are present.
Since so many pictures are very dark when I do this, it helps to use my red flashlight to mark the beginning of sets.
Since so many pictures are very dark when I do this, it helps to use my red flashlight to mark the beginning of sets.
This is the sky taken without stacking. Unfortunately, all of the ambient light against the dark led to many pictures of the lens' apeture being open (the reddish spots). I hate light pollution.
This is the sky taken without stacking. Unfortunately, all of the ambient light against the dark led to many pictures of the lens’ apeture being open (the reddish spots). I hate light pollution.
The final stacked image. I used high contrast, lower exposure, more blue, increased clarity, and vignetting in Adobe Lightroom to cut down on the light pollution effect.
The final stacked image. I used high contrast, lower exposure, more blue, increased clarity, and vignetting in Adobe Lightroom to cut down on the light pollution effect.
Some of the things that were visible. Of course, the Northern Cross was visible as well, but I didn't want to confuse the Summer Triangle picture with it, which overlaps.
Some of the things that were visible. Of course, the Northern Cross was visible as well, but I didn’t want to confuse the Summer Triangle picture with it, which overlaps.

Picked up some stuff

20140726-082629-30389795.jpg

At Stellafane they have a swap table, where fellow enthusiasts sell the stuff that they no longer need.

I picked up an equalizer (compensates for the weight of 2″ eyepieces while using 1.25″ eyepieces so one can just counterweight the scope and be done with it (I no longer have to ask my child to be tied to the other end of the scope). I also got a Peterson mount for my 25x100s (it ain’t pretty, but it lets me use the 25x100s at zenith), and the seller threw in a set of Oberwork 20x90s with a 1.5x finder for $110.

I also picked up a Tele Vue 2x Barlow and a 6 and 9mm couple of Bushnell 1.25″ eyepieces for $130.

I think I did well.

Of course, as someone here said, if I don’t like it, I can always bring it back and sell it at the swap table. I responded to him that now I understand why there are people here who have come to each Stellafane since 1969, to much laughter.

Useful tool for identifying objects in the night sky

Useful tool for identifying objects in the night sky

OK, so I haven’t posted anything recently. My sincere apologies, and there are more things coming.

There are a couple of other things that would be useful to add to this guide to identifying objects in the night sky. Here they are:

1) Does it explode, burning your retinas and evaporating your body? It’s an incoming nuclear missile.
2) Is it humanoid in shape and diverts #1? It’s a super hero.
3) Is it constantly in and out of rehab and does it say, “You like me! You really like me!”? It’s a Hollywood star.

Any other objects you care to add?

First trial run of Prius car camping

 

Big Dipper taken from inside my car using Night Moves, an iphone photo app, and Photoshop Express, another Iphone app.
Big Dipper taken from inside my car using Night Moves, an iphone photo app, and Photoshop Express, another Iphone app.

Last night I did a test of car camping to see how it would go.  I didn’t have all of my equipment (that’s a chore for a later trip.  In addition, I use a C-PAP, and the car charger I purchased for it decided not to keep a charge, so I had to run it off the battery in READY mode (otherwise know as “ON”).  It used perhaps the larger part of a gallon of gas for the whole night.  Other than that, it was a suitable trial run.  If the kids are willing (not likely), I might be up to taking them on a real overnight in the Poconos or Assateague in June for a maiden voyage.

SETUP

The weather forecast was spotty, so I knew i’d have to hurry with the setup.

10404560_10203166702184022_1356505905_oI used a Habitent (from Habitents.com, also see my earlier post) as the main shelter add on to the Prius.   I also put up a sun shield for privacy.

10379142_10203170723924563_2051657573_n

On the rear side windows I put no-see-um mesh to allow ventilation.  The mesh windows are from Skeeter Beater (http://theskeeterbeater.com/) and were simple to install.  I plan to get rain guards for the windows of the Prius so that if there is rain, ventilation can still happen.

10379243_10203170725044591_497141305_nI chose the camoflauge pattern to break up the view of what is inside to help with privacy.  It worked pretty well last night, although I do think one skeeter bit my butt, however, you probably didn’t need that image.

The inside was set up pretty much as I stated in my earlier post.  I basically put what equipment I did have in the car in the front seats.  I used my great kilt as my sleeping bag, simply folded once under and over me (What’s a great kilt? ) on top of a Thermarest pad and exercise pad.

10361201_10203170725164594_3577459_n

 

I also had a DD 3×3 tarp which I originally wanted to put up over the Habitent, but it didn’t work.  Instead, I stored things under it in leanto mode.

10396492_10203170725564604_1398246402_n10396322_10203170725724608_893767593_nIt’s held up by REI Hiker staffs that have street hockey balls on the spikes to make them more socially friendly.  In retrospect, I’m not happy with that setup, as it is still too low.  However, I’m not guaranteed trees to set up with.  I’m seeking ideas on what to do with that.

If you are used to tarp camping and wondering why I set it up in such a haphazard way, the reason why is because I was rained out!

10416763_10203167421802012_1150230112_nI was pretty much just able to set it up like that in time to run into the car and wait out the storm.  The tarp held up, so I just left it as is.

HOW IT WENT

I finally got settled and hooked up my C-PAP and went to sleep around 10p.  Around 11:30, I was awoken by a flashlight shining on my face.  Turns out my daughter Noel, who earlier had stated she didn’t want to try camping, changed her mind and decided to camp with me.  So, I moved what equipment I had around, and put some in the front seat, some under the tarp, and she got sleeping supplies and joined me.

Around 2 AM, I got up to watch the Camelopardalids meteor shower.  I nudged Noel to see if she wanted to see it also, but she is a teenager.  At first there were quite a few clouds, then they cleared and I got out of the car to look.  Unfortunately, I was not out in the desert of Arizona, but in my driveway, which is near Philadelphia, PA.  I know that a meteor shower happened because I would see occasional streaks, but the tree, street light, and ambient light pollution kind of got in the way, sadly.  You can see those meteors, right?

10385239_10203169778980940_482661334_nI settled in for the rest of the night after that, waking up to a little bit of a backache, which was resolved in a half hour.

CONCLUSION

The night went well overall.  There was some condensation on the tent, but no leakage, despite a storm.  Both the tent and tarp worked as advertised.  The Skeeter Beater did its job, although one or two may have gotten through anyway.  Ventilation was only a problem during the storm, so I plan to get rain guards for the windows to help alleviate that.  The C-PAP worked fine, although I still need to work out an arrangement due to the fact that the engine makes noise when it kicks in to recharge the battery.  I do need to rethink how to handle the tarp so that I can get more height and thereby use out of it.  The Prius handled the two of us comfortably.

I’d love your suggestions for ways to improve the setup, and I look forward to the next attempt!

 

 

 

 

Preparing for Stellafane and other Star Parties–Turning my Prius into a Star Party Tent and Figuring out Packing.

Stellafane is about 2 months away at this point, however, the star party at Cherry Springs is a month away, and there are rumors of some DVAA members going to Blue Mountain at some point soon.  So, I’ve been kicking the prep into high gear.

I’ll update this post as appropriate as we get closer, in case people like the way I pack and want to try it themselves.

LODGING

First item of business is sleeping quarters.  On a social worker’s salary, spending $100 per night or more on a hotel for just me is a bit much when it is Thursday through Sunday.  So, I needed to look at other options.  I looked at many tents, but ultimately decided to go with http://www.habitents.com/.  They produce a tent that fits on the hatchback of any Prius from 2003 forward.  Here’s a couple of stock photos from the Internet:

Fits two. Snugly.
It can also provide a nice view.

Below are some photos from what I have set up so far with my own car, graced with my daughter Luci channelling Vanna White.  I still need to pack up more when the time actually comes.  I’ll show you more pictures then.  The photos below have not been touched up, so please accept the flaws.

First, this is what it generally looks like, with the windows  of the tent down.   The windows do, of course, go up.  The chief advantages of using this kind of tent are to enhance ventilation, increase leg room, and enhance one’s Prius geek street cred.  Basically, what you are seeing is that it attaches to the hatchback, which is up, and from which it hangs.  It has the big door, and it also has two side windows.  The windows have a plastic part that keeps out the rain, and the no-see um mesh part that keeps out the bugs.  Of course, both can be opened.  The Habitents is made out of 180T 1000 polyurethane coated polyester tent fabric. Polyester is stronger, more UV resistant and retains its shape better (does not stretch) in wind and rain. Polyester is naturally hydrophobic and the polyurethane coating increases its water resistance, according to the website.  The hooks go in well below the paint, so I didn’t see any problems with putting it on in terms of scratches.

image_7One question is about the waterproofness of it while the hatchback is open.  The website purports that rain will fall into the groove in the picture below where it attaches to the hatchback and it will run off to the side.  I haven’t tried it yet, but the next time we get a rainy night where I can sleep in it, I’ll give it a whirl to see.

The installation was easy.  In the picture below, a long webbing pocket fits on the top of the hatchback to form something of a seal.  Then, after draping it over the car, you lift the hatchback, pull the tent over, and lightly hook up the straps, tightening later.  It took about 2 minutes the first time, so it could conceivably be done in a relative downpour.

image_11

Below is what the inside of the car looks like.  The front seats are moved all the way to the front, and the back seat has the headrests off and are moved forward.  The hatchback trunk cover is removed.  That’s a Thermarest Base Camp XL mattress on top of a thick yoga mat.  It fit fine.

OK, so she’s prettier than Vanna White.

image_14And, the next two are me inside with a view of the neighborhood.  I had PLENTY of room in terms of length (I’m 6’3″!) and could see sleeping pretty comfortably in there, assuming that I didn’t have a tremendous amount of other stuff keeping me company.  More on that later.

image_2It took a lot of junk food to make the mountain in this picture.  I’ve seen smaller mountains on the Moon through my telescope.

imageAs you can see in the pictures above and below, sitting room is an issue with this arrangement.  Being 6’3″ and big, I needed to do some twisting to get around when lying down.  Being new to the tent, I entered and exited by the side doors, which took some acrobatics.  In the future, I’ll enter by the back flap of the tent, duh.  Here’s Luci sitting comfortably with and without mesh.  I was able to do the same when I cleared the part of the tent under the roof of the car and sat under the trunk door.

image_6 image_12Habitents recommends that Prius campers purchase specific plastic containers for storage (about $6 each at Targét) which can be stacked between the back seat and the front seat (Sterilite 56 and 28 qt containers, stacked).  I plan to put clothes, dry food, toiletries, etc. in these).  The purpose is so that there will be a level space for the head to rest beyond the end of the back seat.  Don’t let the picture below fool you.  This worked just fine when I tried it, because my chest and head made the back seat go down to become even.  While camping, I’ll have my pillow there.

image_4Of course, the front seats will need to be storage spaces.   I plan to put my car jumper battery there (to power my C-PAP, which will also be there), as well as food and whatever else will fit that MUST remain dry.  To drive, however, the containers behind the seats must be moved.  This arrangement, therefore, would be most comfortable for one person, less comfortable for two.  I would not add more than that for this tenting situation.

image_8 So what else will I do?  I have a tarp on order which I plan to string up between a pair of hiking poles and the inside of the doors.  This will provide some shelter from the sun and a private place to change.  I’m also debating just hanging the tarp off the hatchback itself.  I’m open to input on this.  I have some ponchos that I plan to hang off of it to help with privacy.  More pictures as I get closer.

I also noticed that even with the ventilation of the tent, it was still hot.  So, I think I”ll bring a couple of old sheets to hang up along the length of the car windows for privacy, and I’m considering getting some no-see-um mesh to hang on the windows with magnets.image_10

Price for the tent?  $99.

Now, look.  I know you are looking at the pictures.  Yes, that’s a Prowler Regal in the backyard.  Currently, we don’t have a car that can tow it, and for one person going camping, you can’t beat the gas mileage of a Prius compared to a Suburban towing the darned thing.  I will miss using a shower, though.

We are selling the Regal, if anyone is interested.  It’s a 40 footer with bells and whistles.  Camping outdoors in the summer in air conditioning is quite popular.

PACKING LIST

Here’s what I’m thinking of bringing, if space permits.  I’d love input on these, and have already benefited from some:

  • [ ]Credit card
  • [ ]Clothing
  • [ ]Sunscreen
  • [ ]Reading glasses
  • [ ]Sunglasses
  • [ ]Hat
  • [ ]Umbrella and/or poncho
  • [ ]Sneakers/sandals
  • [ ]Reservations
  • [ ]EZ Pass
  • [ ]Power cords for gadgets brought
  • [ ]Computer and cords
  • [ ]Iphone & cords
  • [ ]Ipad and cords
  • [ ]Earphones
  • [ ]Toilet kit
  • [ ]Swiss Army Knife
  • [ ]Camera and charger and other equipment and lenses
  • [ ]C-Pap with backup mask
  • [ ]Medications
  • [ ]Wash car, check fluids and tires
  • [ ]neck pillow
  • [ ]Pajamas
  • [ ]Tent
  • [ ]Sleeping Bag/sheets
  • [ ]Sleeping Pad
  • [ ]Dew Shield (need to make)
  • [ ]Insect repellant (with DEET)
  • [ ]Red flashlight and red cellophane
  • [ ]Star Atlas
  • [ ]Reading glasses
  • [ ]Snacks/Food
  • [ ]Towels/washcloth
  • [ ]Nylon rope/paracord
  • [ ]Bungee cords
  • [ ]Warm clothes, warm shoes/hiking boots, hat, warm jacket
  • [ ]Batteries for astronomy stuff
  • [ ]Allen wrenches
  • [ ]Duct tape
  • [ ]Electrical tape
  • [ ]Logbook/pencils
  • [ ]Camera
  • [ ]Telescope/Binoculars with mounts (just bringing an 8×30 and a 10×50 with a p-gram mount to Stellafane)
  • [ ]White drop cloth
  • [ ]Tarp
  • [ ]tent spikes
  • [ ]battery charger (have one for the C-PAP, need to purchase a second one)
  • [ ]Furniture (table, lounge chair)
  • [ ]Hiking sticks for tarp
  • [ ]Sterilite 28 and 56 quart container x2
  • [ ]Lighter
  • [ ]Coleman stove and fuel, cooking supplies
  • [ ]Water container (5 gallon)

If space permits:

  • 25×100 binos with tripod (can’t see the zenith with these, but can see other things)
  • Guitar
  • Tin Whistle
  • Don’t worry, I will leave my bagpipes at home.
Don't believe me?
Don’t believe me?

Any other ideas for packing?

CONCLUSION

I’m really looking forward to going to Star Parties to see what they are like, and I’m even more looking forward to meeting people and relaxing in the outdoors.

I’m looking for suggestions and questions and comments on ways to make camping at Star Parties more awesome, so feel free to comment here.

 

What is a Star Party?

If you have an hour to spare, this video will show you.  Even though it is a bit dated, it will still show you what it is like, from what I understand (my first one will either be at the end of June or the end of August).  More importantly, it does a good job of explaining why people do amateur astronomy, the reasons for which are simply timeless.