Sunday, October 17, 2010

Warm ups

Calstar 2010 is one week gone.  I did spend the extra night this year.  Ah, the extra night.  The night you hear about from the lucky few who stay one night more.  Of course it is always "the best night of the entire star party".  Inky dark.  Sugary Milky Way.  Dry.  No twinkle twinkle little star.  Is this somehow the reward for staying the extra night?

The experimentalist in me wanted to test the theory and I can say on the basis of one data point it is absolutely true.  By far the best night of the star party.  The half dozen or so of us that stayed over were spaced around the periphery of the Calstar field, guardians of our own peculiar good fortune.

My pals James and Dan close by enjoying crisp refractor views.  Rogelio and Eric at the far end creating their next masterpieces with deep, methodical expertise.   I'm there with gear akimbo intent on getting some serious time in the bank for M33.  It was a special night.

Over course of the star party I took wide fields imaged with my new 10-22mm EF lens as well as though my AT80LE refractor.  From 10 and 14mm to 480mm with nothing in between.  The EF-L lenses sat warm in the camera bag on this outing.

A week home now and faced with a few gigs of data to process I decided to warm up on what really amounted to some test exposures for the refractor.  First light for the refractor, first images with the T2i bolted onto the end, first images on the AP900, first guided exposures ever.  A lot of firsts.

 Double Cluster in Perseus.  click to flickr

There is a fair bit of curvature in the f5 field of the refractor - not surprised, I'll need some kind of field flattener.  The above is rather severe crop to make the worst bits go away.  I suppose I could have spent some more time making the stars prettier but mostly I wanted to start the processing queue with something easy.  I know I have some really challenging processing ahead.  Consider this some toe touches to get me started.

Double Cluster

Taken at Lake San Antonio, CA  October 8, 2010
Canon T2i (stock), Astrotech AT80LE, 480mm  f5
Astrophysics AP900 mount
Imaging temperature: 18-22C in-camera sensor temp
30 60sec exposures @ ISO1600
57 darks (sensor temps 18-22C to match imaging temp range)
14 flats (1sec ISO 100) 22 flatdarks
pre-processed and stacked in Nebulosity
post-processed in PS4

Friday, October 8, 2010

It was better than this ... honest!

Friday morning at Calstar.  When all the vapor of the earth rose to meet all the vapor in the sky to condense in a burst of aqueous white.  It wasn't as bad as it seems ... the early evening was plagued by clouds but later the sky did clear only to bathe us in thick films of dew.  For those armed with dew heaters the after midnight sky was actually presentable.

Despite the conditions I was able to give my new ultra-wide 10-22mm lens a try.  Amazing fields ... if I get anything worth posting you will see it here ... much later.

Tonight promises better skies.  We'll see.  Batteries charged for the dew heater burn!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Jiffy Pop time

It's that time of year.  The 11th Annual CalStar starparty will take place at Lake San Antonio, Oct 7,8,9.  I'm heading down early.  I don't make it to any other large multi-day starparties - for me, this is it, and my favorite.

I've done visual astronomy on and off for, well, a long time.  This will be the first year I am taking the camera.  But instead of ditching the eyepiece I've found that taking images has actually rekindled some of the old passion for observing.  I've stared at some objects for hours and hours as I processed the images - now I want to appreciate them over again using a different media.  This one more subtle, more ephemeral, more personal.

To that end, I'm actually pulling out my Obsession 18 which has been gathering dust in the garage for 3 years.(truss poles - check,  ratchet do-hickeys - check, actually packed the wheelie bars and ramps - check).  My fantasy will be to get the camera ripping pictures for an hour unattended while I calmly push the giant dob around.  More likely I'll be fussing over the camera gear, tripping over wires, then spending way too much time trying to find that first star to just start star hopping.

I'm also bringing along my AP900 mount.  The mount I bought some 10 years ago to do astrophotography - but still haven't taken a single picture with it.  How's that for making a silly purchase before I was ready planning for the future?  (counterweights - check, mounting plate bolts - check, hand paddle- check, blue tops -check).

Then there will be my trusty AstroTrac ... bing, bang it is all set up and ready to go.  Takes all the fun out of the hours of set up and fussing required for a "real" mount. (manfrotto head - check, um, huh, not much else to forget).

Three mounts, two scopes, one camera, 3 lenses.  Way too much.  And this year I'm moving a little slower.  But the way I'm thinking of it ... I'll have a lot of choices, 4 nights, and the best company one could ask for.

The *only* reason I still own a pickup truck.
The careful observer will notice that picture is a rather wide field.  Yes, first light for my newest toy.  More on that later!

Yes, time again for Calstar.  Can't wait for that 1am break time. A chance to warm the insides and enjoy the simple pleasure of Jiffy Pop shared with friends.