Tag Archives: constellation

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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14-4-9 9:16PM OBSERVATION (MARS) [OBS #4]; and a serious rant.

So, last night’s observation was of our planetary neighbor, Mars.

What is it with Mars, though?  It seems to bring out all the crazies.

First off, we have this musical masterpiece:

WAR OF THE WORLDS: The Disco Version

Then, we finally have figured out what THEY have planned for the Red Planet:

The Illuminati Discusses their Plans for Mars (not quite so coherently)

And last, but not least, Pastor John Hagee shows his adeptness at astronomy (wait, that’s astrology, actually.  Isn’t that something guys like he don’t….oh, never mind.).

The ‘Blood Moons’ heralds the Apocalypse?

So, this is what Mars is, anyway, despite all the speculation and fluff:

Mars, captured through Nikon Aculon 10×50 binos with my iPhone 5s. Edited in Lightroom 5.4

This is my more formal observation of it.  Sad to say, I did not see any little green men.

14-04-09 Observation--Mars (3 of 4)
Observation form for 14-4-9 (Mars)

And here is what my iPhone app, Star Walk, had to say.

14-04-09 Observation--Mars (4 of 4)
Mars at 9:16 on 14-4-9 as seen through Star Walk, an iPhone app.

So, what kind of things are on Mars?  Can’t see much from my picture.  But, here are some things about the Red Planet:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars

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).

Wikipedia pic of the Milky Way in the Black rock Desert of Nevada.

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.

Havertown, PA light pollution 4/12/14
Havertown, PA light pollution 4/12/14

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.

Cherry Springs State Park Light Pollution 4/12/14
Cherry Springs State Park Light Pollution 4/12/14

The website where you can go to look and see what light pollution is like near you is at http://www.jshine.net/astronomy/dark_sky/.  You can also check out http://www.blue-marble.de/nightlights/2012.  I’m definitely moving to South Australia.  The USA is too depressing.

Light pollution is  a serious problem.  Check out this PBS documentary on the issue:

PBS Light Pollution

How good/bad is your area?  Use the Bortle Dark Sky Scale.  My area is pretty bad, around a 7-8 on the scale.  Hope yours is better.  If it is, invite me out!

New Book! Vehrenberg’s Atlas of Deep-Sky Splendors, 4th ed.

My friend, Pyracantha Shapero, who knows of my latest astronomy addiction, has graciously gifted me with a copy of Hans Vehrenberg’s Atlas of Deep-Sky Splendors (4th ed.), a fascinating work.

Deep Space Objects...it's what's for dinner.
Deep Space Objects…it’s what’s for dinner.

It is available at Amazon:  Atlas of Deep-Sky Splendors.

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.

Sky map on inside cover of Vehrenberg (1983).  Did I mention that this book is HUUUGE?
Sky map on inside cover of Vehrenberg (1983). Did I mention that this book is HUUUGE?

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.

42/43 refer to Messier numbers (the Orion Nebula is 42).  The page number is 63.
42/43 refer to Messier numbers (the Orion Nebula is 42). The page number is 65.

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.

Left page
Left page
Right page.
Right page.

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.

Good stuff.

The citation for Vehrenberg’s work is:

Vehrenberg, H.  (1983).  Atlas of deep-sky splendors (4th ed.).  Cambridge, MA:  Sky Publishing Corp.

14-2-11 7:45-8:20PM OBSERVATION (Constellation of Andromeda/Andromeda Galaxy [M31]) [OBS #5]

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.

Canon 60D with 50mm lens.  32.0 sec @ f/3.5, ISO 100.  Unannotated.
Canon 60D with 50mm lens. 32.0 sec @ f/3.5, ISO 100. Unannotated.

Here is the image with a little more of a guide to what you kinda sorta are seeing:

Canon 60D with 50mm lens.  32.0 sec @ f/3.5, ISO 100.  Annotated.
Canon 60D with 50mm lens. 32.0 sec @ f/3.5, ISO 100. Annotated.

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.

Andromeda Constellation in Stellarium
Andromeda Constellation in Stellarium
Detail of Andromeda featuring the Andromeda Galaxy.
Detail of Andromeda featuring the Andromeda Galaxy over on the right.

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).

Red Dot Finderscope
Red Dot Finder
140211 14-02-11 Observation (Andromeda Constellation and Andromeda Galaxy) 7-45p to 8-20p - 35
Red Dot Finder

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.

Observation report for Andromeda (Constellation) and the Andromeda Galaxy.
Observation report for Andromeda (Constellation) and the Andromeda Galaxy.

Per Wikipedia:

Here is info on Andromeda, the constellation.

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.

Perseus figures as the savior of Andromeda from Cetus (See this part of the Perseus myth).

Here is info on the Andromeda Galaxy/M31.

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.

Here is an interesting video on the Andromeda Galaxy:  Video on Andromeda Galaxy from NASA (public domain)

I hope to do another observation of the Andromeda Galaxy in the future, when transparency conditions are better.

14-2-1 9:45PM OBSERVATION (CASSIOPEIA) [OBS #4] and more practical uses for Hamburger Helper when the weather stinks.

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.

The most promising recipe so far. Photo credit: http://bennydesk.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/ground-hog-helper1.jpg

Here’s my official observation log for tonight.  I think my sketching is getting progressively better.

140201 14-02-01 Observation (Cassiopeia) - 12-Edit 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.

Out of focus pic of Cassiopeia.  50mm lens on a Canon 60D.100 ISO, 1" shutter speed, 1.8 aperture.  Monochrome.
Out of focus pic of Cassiopeia. 50mm lens on a Canon 60D.100 ISO, 1″ shutter speed, 1.8 aperture. Monochrome.  In this picture, you can see how cloudy it was by the band in the upper part of the picture.
Out of focus pic of Cassiopeia.  50mm lens on a Canon 60D.100 ISO, 1" shutter speed, 1.8 aperture.  Color.
Out of focus pic of Cassiopeia. 50mm lens on a Canon 60D.100 ISO, 1″ shutter speed, 1.8 aperture. Color.
Out of focus pic of Cassiopeia.  50mm lens on a Canon 60D.100 ISO, 1" shutter speed, 1.8 aperture.  Monochrome
Out of focus pic of Cassiopeia. 50mm lens on a Canon 60D.100 ISO, 1″ shutter speed, 1.8 aperture. Monochrome.

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.

Here is information on Cassiopeia from Wikipedia. It has some Deep Space Objects (DSOs) and a few binaries in it.  None of these could be distinguished tonight.  I’m saving these up for later, when weather isn’t so terrible.

14-1-22 10PM OBSERVATION (JUPITER/GEMINI) [OBS #3]

Jupiter from the Canon 60D DSLR with a Tamron 18-270mm lens at 18mm.  EXIF info is here:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/nateprentice/12096761876/meta/
Jupiter from the Canon 60D DSLR with a Tamron 18-270mm lens at 18mm. EXIF info is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nateprentice/12096761876/meta/
Observation record for Jupiter, Gemini, Castor, and Pollux.
Observation record for Jupiter, Gemini, Castor, and Pollux.

14-01-22 Jupiter in Stellarium up close14-01-22 Jupiter in Stellarium up close.

So,

I left work a little early, as we had a blizzard recently, and I had a number of cancellations at the psychotherapy practice for which I work.  I looked up at the sky, and as is typical for after a major storm, the sky was clear.  Cassiopeia was clear as day.

But, we are talking about MY luck, right?  I got home and had to get a few things done around the house, then we had a guest, and then I went outside, and clouds had formed.  Cassiopeia was gone.  Orion was around (it often is), but I saw that the last time.  Jupiter was in a clear patch, so I took a pic or two.

Couldn’t get any real detail on Jupiter–that will have to wait until I start bringing out the telescope (too darn cold right now–14 degrees F, with a wind chill of 5 degrees F!  Brrrrr!).  But, I was able to see Castor and Pollux, the “twins” of Gemini with the naked eye (the conditions stunk, so that’s all of what I was able to see of Gemini).  When I took the picture, I took it at the widest setting, and cropped like mad.  Picture quality did improve compared to earlier pics, and I noted that Castor appeared to be a blue star!  I had never seen a blue star before!  Of course, I looked it up on Wikipedia, and it turns out that the blueness is an artifact of the fact that it is light from several very close stars (see below).  Even on the cruddiest nights, one can experience new things.

14-01-22 Shot of Jupiter in Stellarium within the context of Gemini.
14-01-22 Shot of Jupiter in Stellarium within the context of Gemini.
Jupiter, Castor, and Pollux
Jupiter, Castor, and Pollux.  Check out that blue star!

Per Wikipedia:

Here is information on Jupiter.

α Gem (Castor): the second brightest in the constellation [of Gemini] after Pollux. Castor is a sextuple star system 52 light-years from Earth, which appears as a magnitude 1.6 blue-white star to the unaided eye. Two spectroscopic binaries are visible at magnitudes 1.9 and 3.0 with a period of 470 years. A wide-set red dwarf star is also a part of the system; this star is an Algol-type eclipsing binary star with a period of 19.5 hours; its minimum magnitude is 9.8 and its maximum magnitude is 9.3.

β Gem (Pollux): the brightest star in Gemini, it is an orange-hued giant star of magnitude 1.2, 34 light-years from Earth. Pollux has an extrasolar planet revolving around it, as do two other stars in Gemini, HD 50554, and HD 59686.

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.