Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fortress of Solitude

I've been passionate about Astronomy and night sky observing since my early teens.  Decades of visual observing with telescopes large and small - purchased as well as hand ground mirrors.  The only detector was my eye and brain working together to tease out dazzling details or observe the faintest of objects.  At star parties the visual folks are sharing views and working on casual or serious observing projects.  There is a distinctly social element to it.  Who can resist sharing a crisp view of Saturn's rings, a bedazzling globular cluster or the challenge of a barely detectable distant galaxy.

 Meanwhile, over in the other part of the field are the imagers.  Friendly yet serious, and not a little bit mysterious with their high tech gizmos enmeshed in an unruly tangle of cords.  Often fussy about stray light (tho the visual folks can get a bit testy as well) there is a separation not only physically but also in the gear and goals.

For a little over a year now I've pushed pretty hard into the imagers world.  It really is different.  Not better, not worse ... just different.  I don't want to over generalize but one observation I've had is that it is a much more solitary journey - even when in the company of friends.

The setup is more complicated.  All those cables and USB connections.  Batteries.  Computers.  Cameras and filters.  A million little details to keep track of.  Any oversight means a waste of precious dark time.  All of which requires focus.  And I don't know about you but I just can't carry on a conversation while I'm aligning or keeping track of exposure times or trying to remember to refocus after changing filters.

When all goes well there is still time to converse and enjoy the company of others.  Heck if all is going really well I like nothing more than to wander over and steal views from my visual friends.  But there is no doubt to me that imaging is a much more solitary journey whether with others or not.  And I am certainly much more likely to go out alone if I am imaging even if I still much prefer the company of friends.

One June night in the Fortress - taking one last frame before moonrise.
A imaging friend of mine calls it the Fortress of Solitude.  Time alone under dark skies is good for the soul.  Even if surrounded by technology and gear.  Besides, keeping busy with all those gadgets helps keeps me distracted from all the scary rustles and glowing eyes from yonder bushes :)

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Different Look at North America

I now have more images than I have time to process.  I'm working my way back to finally finish some earlier images that were left to the wayside.  Blame it on my eagerness to use the new QSI camera.  Oh, that and learning a new workflow now that I have to process each color channel separately.  There is always something to keep this imaging pursuit from becoming easy.  But hey ... I *can* handle a monochrome image without too many problems.

This was taken back in the spring.  The goal of the evening was to take a LRGB widefield of the M81/M82 region (which I haven't finished processing either).  After shooting those, there was still some time before dawn and I noticed that Cygnus - one of our summer friends - was rising in the east.  What a great opportunity to try out the new Hydrogen-alpha (Ha) filter on the North American nebula!  I imaged well past astronomical twilight.  With the very narrow (3A) filter it didn't make any difference.  Very cool.  Now I too will be able to use the ubiquitous disclaimer ... "taken under the full moon in my light polluted backyard".  But this was taken at Fremont Peak State Park which is one of the better dark sites easily accessible from the south San Francisco bay area.

I decided to present the image rotated sideways from convention.  I think it highlights those wonderful dark nebula clouds.  At least they seem more obvious to me when I'm not so focused on making those ionized hydrogen clouds into a continent.

The dark complex separating the North American and Pelican nebulas (where the Gulf of Mexico should be) looks to me like a frog jumping into a pond.  The obscuring dust really seems to stand out in front of the nebula.

Other patterns emerge too (the head of a golden retriever in the "pacific", a pontificating elephant in the center, others?) - much more obvious to me than the "Pelican" ever was (the Pelican is the common name given to the nebula just off the coast of "Florida").  Maybe we should look at our night sky friends in new orientations and perhaps see details we otherwise miss.

Sideways North America

Taken at Fremont Peak State Park, CA  April 30, 2011
QSI583, Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L @ f/4
Astrodon Ha (3A) filter

19 x 300sec exposures (95min total)
AP900 Mount
calibration, registration and post-processed in PixInsight