Tag Archives: delaware valley amateur astronomers

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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T-4 Days….

Until Stellafane!

I’ve been busy starting to do packing work and realize I have a bit more packing to do in front of me.  I’ll be ready in time, though.

I’m looking forward to Stellafane, hanging out with fellow members of the Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomers, and learning about amateur telescope making (ATM).  I already have two telescopes (10″ and 8″ reflectors) as well as three binos, so after I get a 80mm refractor, I’m done.  But, I’d like to see how they are made.

I’d also like to try to pick up an 11mm Nagler eyepiece for mid-range observation (I have a 24mm eyepiece).  I also have my eye set on a 3-6mm Nagler for really up close work, but that resides on my Amazon Wish List and won’t happen until after my next quarterly bonus.

I’ll have a bit more to post after this coming week after I go to Stellafane.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, check out this cool commercial for the Weather Channel about Cherry Springs State Park in the boonies of PA.  That’s my next major destination.

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.

 

First Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomers (DVAA) Star Party of the year tonight.

DVAA Star Party tonight.

Bringing my daughters and two, possibly three, of their friends. I’m bringing binos (they usually have telescopes only).

It starts at 7:30. Come if you’d like and bring a friend. Dress in layers and bring a blanket that you don’t mind getting dirty or wet as well as binos if you have them.  It’s at the Valley Forge Model Plane Airfield.

The weather doesn’t look awesome, but it isn’t bad, either.  It should be pretty sufficient, according to Cleardarksky.com.  Bradstreet Observatory is the observatory at Eastern University, the nearest weather observation site.  Click on the chart to see an explanation.  The key things are in the top 4 rows of blocks.

Here’s some (admittedly bad) pics in a slideshow format from ones I went to last year with my daughters.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Directions to the field, etc.:
http://dvaa.org/VFNHP.html

A UFO?

Last night I was out just observing in general with my 10×50 binoculars.  I was trying out my red dot finder and found it to be extremely helpful.  I looked at Jupiter, Orion, the Pleiades, Perseus, Andromeda, and Cassiopeia.  Just for the fun of it, no official recording of observations.  The sky was not too great in terms of transparency, about a 2-3 on the following scale.  I live in a “white zone”, i.e. a place heavily impacted by light pollution.  Having a street light on my property doesn’t help, either.

1 :: Mostly Cloudy

2-3 :: Hazy; 1 or 2 Little Dipper stars visible

4 :: 3-4 Little Dipper stars; Milky Way not visible

5 :: 4 Little Dipper stars; Bright parts of Milky Way visible (Scutum starcloud)

6 :: 5 Little Dipper stars; Milky Way visible with averted vision

7 :: 6 Little Dipper stars; Milky Way visible

8-9 :: Excellent: 7 Little Dipper stars; M-31 (Andromeda Galaxy) visible

10 :: Superb: M-33 (Triangulum Galaxy) and/or M-81 (Bode’s Galaxy) visible

While looking at Andromeda and Cassiopeia, I saw a rapidly moving gray object that did not have blinking lights moving from S through NW in Andromeda through the lower part of Cassiopeia around 9:18 or 9:19p.  I had never seen one of these before.  It was most likely a satellite.

With a little help from people in the Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomers group, I was able to access a database of satellite passes at Heavens-Above.com, but didn’t see my newfound friend.

Interesting.  There were other satellites in the general area, but none that were flying from S through NW around lower Cassiopeia at that time.  Maybe it was one of those satellites that aren’t on the official register, or perhaps an NSA satellite keeping an eye on us or the little green men were involved.

Probably just proof of just another space related conspiracy theory.

I’ll be wearing my tinfoil hat to work today.

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.