Tag Archives: beginner

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.
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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?

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

Had an article published in the March 2014 edition of The Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomer. It’s the one titled Newbie Notes on page 4 and following. The article is about getting started in astronomy.

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B5ypgA5Unp6OclFGZWlUdklleUk/edit

Yes, I’m having a moment of vanity. It’ll pass.

If you’ve already read my “Getting Started” page, you’ve already read it.

If you live in the Delaware Valley, consider looking at DVAA as a resource for learning about and participating in astronomy.

Thinking ahead while at the end of cabin fever

I haven’t posted much recently because we’ve been snowed in and I’m at a point with this weather that I’m ready to kill someone.   There have been some clearer nights, but I’ve had it with the cold and looking at starry objects through cold-induced tears.  Somebody really needs to complain to Congress about this weather, like they would do anything about anything anyway.  Maybe I need to write an executive order?

I’m still working on my observation programs and trying to do more of the book reading end of astronomy.

I’m also in the process, with my family, of trying to put together the money, etc for going to Stellafane, an astronomy convention in Springfield, VT.

Nighttime shot of the observatories at Stellafane. On the left is the Milky Way, on the right appears to be a falling star or jet?

At Stellafane, they specialize in amateur telescope making.  I don’t know if that is what I’ll be doing while there (they have other things to explore, such as astronomy activities for kids, scavenger hunts, starhopping activities, astrophotography workshops, keynote speakers, meteorite studies, astrosketching classes, and their annual telescope making competition which has telescopes big, small, and unusual.

A Newtonian refracotor made from Folger’s coffee cans. From http://www.geocities.ws/rbmagnus/stellafn.htm.

Oh, and I forgot to mention.  Night falls, and everybody checks out the telescopes while looking at the stars.  As a graduate of the University of Vermont (class of 1989), I can assure you that there are definitely more stars there than here.

I’m also hoping to check out the Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomers (DVAA), the local star club.  I would have gone earlier, but weather has been absolutely forbidding.  Write your Congressman, please.  When I go, I’ll let you know how it goes.

I like being a newbie at this.  Learning something new and totally unrelated to what I do for work (I’m a psychotherapist) is refreshing.  I know that I will make mistakes as I go along, but every mistake I made will be an opportunity to learn something new.  I just hope to not make really bad mistakes.

Old Lady and the Telescope

Math! Physics! And The Eye of Agammotto. Oh My!

How I feel right now.  I also want a donut.

So, here’s the thing.  I got the Universe Sampler booklet from the Astronomical League.  It is a great introduction to things to see out and about the universe.

Awesome book, and relatively understandable.
Awesome book, and relatively understandable.  Love the Star Trek font.

I was having a good old time reading it until I hit IT.  Right Acclimation and Declension.  Er, yeah, I mean Right Ascension and Declination.  Yeah.  The stars, planets, etc. are all kinds of beautiful things to look at and admire, but who the hell invited all the math and science?????

I got the idea of Altitude-Azimuth pretty easily.  However, the Right Aggravation and Dumbination thing will need some work.

What is Right Ascension and Declination and Altitude-Azooza?  Er, Azimuth?  Ways to tell where things are up in the sky.  DON’T ASK ME TO EXPLAIN IT YET.

Here is a brief discussion of what these things are.  However, the diagrams explaining the concepts remind me of the spells that Dr. Strange used to cast.

See?

Right Ascension and Declination Coordinates, from http://www.stellarium.org/wiki/index.php/Astronomical_Concepts#Coordinate_Systems.

By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth, this science stuff is going to be an adjustment.

But, if this means that I can learn to be the Sorcerer Supreme and hang out with the Defenders and fight the likes of Dormammu, it can’t be all THAT bad, can it?

Bear with me, folks.  Give me the latitude (and longitude) to be frustrated as I learn.  And pass me some aspirin.

The Cycle of Astronomy: What to Do on those Other Nights

So, there are these things called clouds.

If you are an astronomer already, you know where I’m going.  Read on anyway.

Yep, clouds. Clouds are often the bane of my existence when it comes to this stuff. All the good stuff lies beyond them. It seems like ever since I started astronomy, I’ve rarely had anything but cloudy nights. And on the rare non-cloudy night, it has been as cold as space is.

20140126-082701.jpg

When I see this on my astronomy weather app, I just have to let out a big sigh of disappointment.

However, there is a cycle to astronomy. Some nights I can look at stars. Some nights I can only see a couple. Some nights I can’t see any at all. Some nights I’m too busy or tired to do anything but think, however briefly, about it.

During nights that I can’t observe, however, I can go to the other part of the cycle of astronomy.  I can read, and I can reflect.

As a beginner, I tend to look at beginner texts.  The one I am reading now is Nightwatch, by Terence Dickinson.  It is a beginner book, but pretty good.  I’m almost done with it.  It covers the basics of equipment and has some beginner star charts.

NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe

I understand that Turn Left at Orion: A Hundred Night Sky Objects to See in a Small Telescope – and How to Find Them
is also a good book.

I also have enjoyed the forums at Cloudy Nights (aptly named).  Pretty much anything you ever wanted to know about astronomy can be found here, and they have specific sections for beginners.

Cloudy Nights Forum Page
Cloudy Nights Forum Page

Seriously, you can get lost in there.

For quick and dirty but comprehensive information on things in the night sky that I am currently researching, there is always the National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to the Night Sky.  This book includes lots of information on things that you will see if you use a telescope, binoculars, or the naked eye.

For binocular research (which is limited due to its fixed limitations on magnification and aperture [ability to take in light]), I enjoy Touring the Universe through Binoculars: A Complete Astronomer’s Guidebook.  The funny thing is, I bought the book used off of Amazon.  It said it had scribblings, highlighting, etc.  I didn’t mind, thinking I might benefit off of someone else’s research, and that I would get the book at a discount, which I did.  Here’s the only scribbling I found in the book:

Clearly scribbling that will downgrade the value of a book.

The book is a guide to things that can be seen with a set of binoculars.  No, Virginia, you cannot see zits on the face of the Man on the Moon with binoculars.  For that, you might need the Hubble Telescope, if it is even THAT powerful.  That’s why books like this are important.

Another thing you can do is see what your local astronomy club is doing.  At this point, I’ve only been to star parties (more later when I get some pics from a local one in March or April).  However, I plan to get to some of the meetings (where they have lectures, etc.) when I get a chance.  They will range from extremely technical to simple, I understand.  But, I have found members of the club to be very approachable and enthusiastic about your progress in understanding and enjoying the hobby.

The other thing you can do is reflect on the hobby.  As a man of faith, I am often reminded of my favorite verses in the Bible on astronomy.

It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,

And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,

Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,

And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.  (Isaiah 40:22)

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Ps. 8)

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Gen 1:1-31).

I am sure that there are other writers, religious and secular, who have written on the feelings of awe one encounters when looking at the sky.  Whatever your beliefs, you have to admit that all of these are just wonderful examples of humanity’s reflection on the majesty of the creation that is above.  I really enjoy marveling at the wonder of what was made,  and I note that the more I look to the skies above, the more I appreciate what is here on the earth as well.

So, even on the cloudiest of nights, or during times when you can’t see the stars or anything else for that matter,

Foggy morning in the neighborhood, 12/13

you can always, always engage your sense of wonder.  That is what you can do on those Other Nights.

14-1-20 12am Observation (Orion) [Obs #1]

This is my first official observation for the purpose of working on observation programs for the Astronomical League.  At this point, I’m working on the Binocular Messier Program, the Constellation Hunter Program, and the Universe Sampler Program.  It won’t be as hard as people think, as there is a bit of overlap in these programs.

First up, the constellation Orion, part of the Universe Sampler Program and the Constellation Hunter program.

Scan sheets, Wikipedia, Photos.

Observation Sheet for the Orion Constellation
Observation Sheet for the Orion Constellation

Above is a scan of the sheet I used for the observation of the constellation Orion.  It is inverted in order to better bring out the sketches.

Orion is one of the biggest constellations that just stands out, particularly in the winter sky.  The other big constellation in the sky is the Big Dipper.  Both are used as orientation guides when looking at the night sky and getting bearings.

Following are two links for Wikipedia articles about Orion:  Orion (the constellation) and the Great Orion Nebula, which is located in the set of stars directly below Orion’s belt on the left side of the belt.  These include plenty of information about this famous constellation.

Finally, here are some Orion-related photos from this observation.  Click on them to see them more fully.

Orion the Hunter
Orion the Hunter.
A color photo of the constellation of Orion.   It is also documented proof of my daughter staying up waaaaay past her bedtime.   The area I live in has a significant amount of light pollution, which was present tonight.
A color photo of the constellation of Orion.
It is also documented proof of my daughter staying up waaaaay past her bedtime.
The area I live in has a significant amount of light pollution, which was present tonight.
B&W photo of the constellation of Orion.
B&W photo of the constellation of Orion.
The Great Orion Nebula.  Although taken from a tripod, I made the mistake of using a zoom lens at the full extension, so there is some trailing.  The fuzziness around the brighter stars is the nebulous part.
The Great Orion Nebula. Although taken from a tripod, I made the mistake of using a zoom lens at the full extension, so there is some trailing. The fuzziness around the brighter stars is the nebulous part.