Tag Archives: Star Party

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.

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.


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.


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.


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?


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.

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.:

Getting Started: What an Absolute Beginner Should Do

Taken in Stellarium.  See http://www.stellarium.org/.  It's FREE.
Taken in Stellarium, a software program that presents the universe on your computer for planning an observation session. See http://www.stellarium.org/. It’s FREE.

So, how do you get started?  There is simply too much info out there and it is easy to get lost.

So, here’s a really simplified way to get going.

As a rank beginner, there are three things I have learned.  I call these the 3 Looks.

1.  Look UP.

Before buying gadgets, worrying about eyepieces and filters, declinations, the ecliptic, all of that, just look up.  See what is up there and ponder it.  Remember constellations you are already familiar with and try to find them.  Try to find the man in the moon.  See if you can identify planets vs stars (hint:  the planets don’t twinkle).  Watch for shooting stars (which are seasonal).  Just spend some time getting lost in the stars and noticing what you can notice.  Engage your curiosity.  Ponder who we are in relationship to the universe.  Engage the WHY of astronomy.

2.  Look AROUND.

Find resources.  In the US, find your local member society of the Astronomical League.  Go to a Star Party and look at the stars through what equipment they bring and ask questions.  Find a mentor.  Join and participate in your local member society.  Read intro books.  Get knowledge.

Also, get resources.  Find a nice, flat place to view the stars that is away (if possible) from metropolitan areas and that allows people after dark (GOOD LUCK).  Let people know where you are before you go, bring a reclining beach chair and/or a blanket, and have fun.  It is far more fun if you are able to go with others.

3.  Look THROUGH (Viewing Aids).

Telescopes are sexy.  But start simpler so you can get your bearings.  Use just your eyes.  Use a project such as the Astronomical League’s Constellation Hunter Observing Program to learn your way around the constellations, or use a planisphere (here‘s how to use one) or a book such as Nightwatch.  That and a jacket, warm hat, gloves (all as needed), and flashlight with red cellophane tied onto it with a rubber band (to allow you to keep your night vision), and you are good to go.

Before you go, though, be sure to use the Clear Sky Chart for your area, which tells you whether or not you are going to have a productive time or if you will be looking at clouds all night.  In the example below, Sunday night looks horrible.  Monday night doesn’t look too bad.

Clear Sky Chart for the nearest observation point to my house. There are relatively simple directions for how to interpret it at the webpage. See http://cleardarksky.com/.

If you absolutely must engage your inner geek at this point, consider an app for a smartphone such as Star Walk (as of January 2014, it is available for a whopping $2.99), or, if you have a laptop, consider Stellarium (http://stellarium.org), which is FREE.  Make sure you use “Night Mode” when using it, to preserve your night vision.

Then, consider upgrading to binoculars.  7×35 porro prism binocs will do just fine and are nice for looking at constellations.  I have a set of 10x50s that I use which are in general recommended in astronomy forums as the standard, but find these to be about at the limit of handheld usability (due to shakiness).  My 25x100s really bring things up close, but need a very stout tripod.  Start with the 7x35s or similar.  Easy to hold, don’t shake much, easy to transport, and if you don’t like astronomy, you can use them for other purposes.   7x35s, especially wide angle ones, are excellent for introduction to the starry skies.  Flea markets and garage sales are good places to get them cheap.  Just be sure to check mechanical functions and alignment before buying.  Also, stay away from fixed focus binos and zoom binos–your ability to get crisp images will be limited.  While binos don’t have the reach of telescopes, they provide more contrast and you will see more using them.

Later on, consider telescopes, considering a Dobsonian (good bang for the buck) as an entry option.  At this point, you should have someone helping you select, as there are many telescopes you simply want to avoid.

For more information on raw beginner stuff, this is the beginning of a decent video series:  (Eyes on the Skies Stargazing Basics).  You can get lost on the Internet with information on astronomy.  Have fun, but consider using the forums at http://www.cloudynights.com/ as a bookmarkable entry point.

Have fun.  Look UP, Look AROUND, and Look THROUGH, and you will be good to go.

So, why Astronomy?

Pleiades, or “Seven Sisters”. Taken from Creative Commons licensed material. Photo from Jim Keller (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimkster/). No changes made to the original image.

He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea. He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south. (Job 9:8-9)

When I was 8 years old, I wanted to be an astronaut.  I used to read quite a few biographies of different astronauts and dreamed of being up in the stars.

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. Copyright info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Neil_Armstrong_pose.jpg

As the years went by, however, I never did get to go up there.  Life happened.  I found myself in a career helping people as a social worker and pastoral counselor.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  Going to the moon is still written down on my bucket list.  If science creates a way for this overweight arthritic body to get up there for free (I am a social worker, after all), I’m there.  But, it isn’t likely.  So, for many years, I kept my eyes down here on Earth, looking at different sights here, getting caught up in the rat race, politics, all the usual mundane yuck.

One night, in my mid-40s, however, I looked up.  I noticed the stars again, and considered the vastness and relative timelessness of space.  I considered how caught up I had been in building my life and dealing with the problems here on Earth and forgot about how truly insignificant those problems are compared to the vastness of space, as well as the vastness of God’s love in creating the expanses of the universe.

So, I started to think about the stars again.

Later on, I happened across a listing for a local Star Party.  A Star Party is a public service provided by amateur astronomical societies to cultivate interest in astronomy.  My teen daughters were bored out of their minds one weekend, and I had read that we were expecting a meteor shower, so I invited them to a Star Party in Delaware.  We had so much fun that I kept my eyes peeled for another one.  After the second one, I certainly was hooked, and my youngest wanted to explore it with me.

I kind of went about getting involved a little backwards by starting with a telescope first (really, one should start with the naked eye to get a bearing, or at most binoculars).  However, once I did that, I fell in love with the timelessness I dreamt about as a child that I was experiencing as a father.

Oh, I’m a rank beginner.  But, I enjoy every opportunity that I do take to do this.  I’ve also found others who do this and am slowly learning about the hobby (see the Delaware Valley Amateur Astronomers site).

This blog will hopefully do a good job at showcasing my progress.