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.
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.
The weather forecast was spotty, so I knew i’d have to hurry with the setup.
I 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.
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.
I 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.
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.
It’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!
I 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?
I 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.
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!
Aside from the cultural history of Mars, it is noteworthy that it wouldn’t be a particularly fun place to stay. Too cold, covered in rust, and only a tiny bit of yucky tasting acidic water. Yes, if I were a Martian, I would want to invade the Earth. Earth girls are cuter.
Now, on to my rant.
See all those stars in the Star Walk picture? See all the stars in the picture of Mars that I took? What? No stars in the picture I took? Just Mars, right?
Folks, I did this observation in my company’s parking lot, which is flooded with light. That night I could see Mars, Spica (lower right hand star in the “box” in Virgo), and Jupiter. That’s about it.
That’s light pollution for you.
Seriously, it is a real problem. I’ve heard of complaints from city folks when they went out to the country and thought people were poisoning the air because they saw a “cloud” that extended for the length of the sky (er, that’s the Milky Way, city mouse).
The first time I really SAW the Milky Way was when I was bowhunting in Sullivan County, PA (Northern Tier). I was camping in my car and was awakened at 3AM by a bright light. I opened my eyes and looked outside to see loads of stars, very much like the picture above. I marveled in wonder and felt sad that where I live, one is not able to see such sights.
I live in a “white zone,” an area classified as the highest level of light pollution available. Where I live, I can see the larger, brighter constellations. That’s about it without a telescope. In the following link, which includes my town, Havertown, you can see how white it is.
Compare that with Cherry Springs State Park, near Coudersport, PA, an International Dark Site (one of the darker places in the country). That’s in blue, which means it is better. I suspect the grey area below is either not measured, or even better, but not easily accessible.
It’s pretty cool. It has black and white photos on the inside (perfect for an amateur astronomer, who will pretty much be seeing black and white anyway through a scope for the most part. It is pretty easy to use the book as long as you know your way around the heavens.
Let’s find the Orion Nebula (M42), which we looked at briefly before. The Orion Nebula, surprisingly enough, is in Orion.
Now we’ll find the object. Knowing that it is underneath Orion’s belt, we see its listing and the page number in italics. On the right of the inside cover pages is a listing of Messier objects.
Moving to page 65, we see some color photos (the O Nebula is that awesome that it rates color photos, but don’t get excited–the photos are time exposures, and you will likely see its awesomeness in black and white). On the left page we see information about it within the context of the constellation, and some writing about the object itself. On the right page is a finder diagram at the top (that explains which object is which is in position in the photo, and to the right of that are the R.A. and Dec. coordinates, which are also around the larger featured picture.
Other than an author’s bio and an index in the back, that’s it. Simple, straightforward, and fun.
Lots of thanks go out to my friend, Pyracantha Hannah Shapero, who was thinking of me and sent this to me. Pyra is a Brandeis and Harvard-educated artist who makes beautiful work related to the stars, landscapes, science fiction and fantasy, and iconography. She also produces fascinating ambient and experimental electronic music. Please feel to explore her work and to pass it on to others who may enjoy it as well. Her website is: http://www.pyracantha.com.
The citation for Vehrenberg’s work is:
Vehrenberg, H. (1983). Atlas of deep-sky splendors (4th ed.). Cambridge, MA: Sky Publishing Corp.
Today I braved the elements again and got in another observation. This time I went a little west of Cassiopeia and looked at Andromeda and the Andromeda Galaxy/M31.
Again, I had focus issues with my camera. I think what happened was a combination of star drift and too wide an aperture. I was using my 50mm lens, and I noticed that I had stuff out of focus at 1.8, but when I moved my aperture to 3.5, it improved. I was able to get a picture that wasn’t too incredibly horrible out of about 20 shots. In this one, the Andromeda Galaxy is somewhat present.
Here is the image with a little more of a guide to what you kinda sorta are seeing:
That smudgy thing in the circle is the Andromeda Galaxy. It is around the size of the moon, about 2° in size. It is noteworthy that Mirach (β Andromeda) is a red giant. By naked eye this could not be seen, but it could be seen in the above photo.
Here are some clearer views in Stellarium.
I also spent some time fiddling with a multi reticle red dot finder that I purchased which goes on top of the 25x100s. Got it to work by zeroing in on the moon. It does make finding things easier, assuming I can star hop to where they are. With binoculars, though, compared to telescopes which are inverted and/or upside down, it is far easier. the Finder can also double as a rifle sight (yet another hobby of mine).
While what’s below isn’t my actual red dot finder in action (it was a bugger trying to take a picture of it due to depth of field issues), this is essentially what it would look like looking through it.
Here is my observation report for tonight:
Sadly, due to shifting transparency conditions, I was not able to see the Andromeda Galaxy using the 25x100s tonight, although I was able to see it with my 8x30s earlier in the evening.
Andromeda is named after the daughter of Cassiopeia. Andromeda was apparently chained to a rock to be eaten by the monster Cetus, which is behind Pisces. It is bordered above by Perseus, below by Pegasus, to the right by Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia, and the Pleiades are to the left. Pisces and the Triangulum are to the left, but closer. Only one or two stars in Pisces were visible tonight, and Pegasus was behind trees.
The Andromeda Galaxy/Messier 31 is one of the largest deep space objects of the Messier group. It is a spiral galaxy about 2.5 million light years away from Earth. It will collide with the Milky Way galaxy in the future! In 3.75 billion years. Not high on my list of anxieties this week.
Today focused on a constellation for the Constellation Hunter Program, Cassiopeia. The weather was pretty bad for viewing. I put up with it, though, because we are expecting 3 storms this week, and it is probably the best I’m going to do for now and the near future. About all that one could see were constellations and Jupiter. I only saw about 4 stars of the Little Dipper–it was pretty bad.
For the record, until tonight I pronounced it Kas-eee-OH-Pe-Ah. Apparently this is how you pronounce it. It is also the most boring video I’ve ever seen on the topic. Needs more of a body count. But, now you know.
Tomorrow is Groundhog Day, and I’m already sampling woodchuck recipes and posting them on Facebook in the hopes that Puxatawney Phil is browsing prior to his big time tomorrow morning. I’m not going to let an oversized agoraphobic rodent get in the way of my learning about the wonders of the universe.
Here’s my official observation log for tonight. I think my sketching is getting progressively better.
That being said, I thought I’d try taking pictures with my nifty-fifty lens (50mm) to see if the pics came out clearer. In my infinite wisdom, I took it off of Autofocus, and never managed to remember that I needed to manually focus it. I’m just grateful that anyone who knows anything about photography, videography or the like is not reading this.
Anyway, here are some of the pics, such as they are.
Cassiopeia from Stellarium. The Andromeda Galaxy is in the lower left (not observed due to weather conditions). This is what Cassiopeia is supposed to look like, at least on the computer.
One of my eventual goals with astronomy is astrophotography, the art of taking photos of what is in the sky.
This is a good discussion of the equipment and processes involved in looking at deep space objects.
Of course, all this equipment isn’t completely necessary, unless you desire to take pics of deep space objects. There are plenty of pictures out there of other kinds of objects that come out just fine.
The photos I have taken, for better or for worse, are from my Canon 60D on a tripod. The imaging workflow he mentions will bring out more of the colors, of course, and the software if free or cheap.
Of course, I have gear envy and would love to get all of the stuff he has. Who wouldn’t?