Wednesday, September 30, 2015

YALE (no, not the University)

Yet Another Lunar Eclipse.

Usually I'm a bit more disinterested in Lunar Eclipses.  They come, they go.  The popular press and media makes a bit deal about it.  The Blood Moon Super Size Me Things Come in Threes Apocalypse.  Sigh.  And why am I so grumpy with the seemingly ever more popular characterization of "Blood Moon".   It doesn't look like blood.  It's orange.  Copper maybe.  Orange Moon or Copper Moon are much better descriptions with less drama/pseudo religious connotation.  Lunar Eclipse would be even better.  I cringe when I hear kids saying, "did you see the blood moon?"  I hope they actually understand what is happening - after all we have come a long ways in the last few thousand years.

The excitement at a "Super" lunar eclipse is also overbaked.  Last one until 2033!  Well sorry, the "Super" part is accounted by the moon being at perigee-syzygy (read closest approach in the moon's elliptical orbit).  This results in a colossal 14% or so increase in the size of the disk.  If only "Super" meant 14% bigger to McDonalds.  I'm pretty sure there is not a human on the planet than can say with any certainty that they can tell the moon is 14% bigger in apparent diameter.  So it goes.

The next full lunar eclipse around these parts (New Mexico) is in January 2018 so we've only a little more than 2 years to wait as long as you don't care about the "Super" part - which you can't see anyway.

OK rant off.  With all of the above out of the way ...

This one was real pretty.  Don't remember the last time I saw a lunar eclipse so close to the horizon. Makes for a bit more drama when you can see the eclipsed moon next to terrestrial features like mountains or cityscapes.

Eclipsed Moon over the Sandias and northern outskirts of Albuquerque NM, Sept 28, 2015
Note the traffic on I-25 streaking across the base of the Sandias.
This lunar eclipse was also a opportunity to connect with friends near and far.  Most notably with my astro-posse hanging out in the coastal hills of the San Francisco peninsula waiting pensively for a break in the clouds.  As we are an hour ahead I was able to send them updates and they in turn kept me updated on navigating crowds and clouds.  Fortunately they were rewarded with a break in the clouds with just a few minutes of totality remaining.

Clouds to the East also kept my Austin Texas pal waiting nervously.  With friends and family by his side they waited with little hope ... but towards the end of totality they did get a glimpse.  Nice thing about the eclipse is you can make what you want of it - nice excuse to get together - outside at night!

A friend in Los Gatos texted ... can't see a thing!  But I don't think they cared much as they dined on delicious food and the Raki flowed ....  People together, connecting, outside, at night.

New friends and neighbors were texting excitedly as they watched from their homes nearby.  My wife and oldest daughter joined me on the room of our patio.  We watched together as I took advantage of our clear skies and clicked off picture after picture with the camera on a tripod.

Pretty orange moon suspended in the inky dark punctuated with stars.
Mid eclipse through 200mm lens on a static tripod.
With anything much more than a 100mm lens you really need a tracking mount to get any kind of detail on the moon.  Exposure times much more than a quarter second will blur details - even with mild magnification.

I still think the best way to enjoy a lunar eclipse is in a comfy chair with no visual aids or cameras.  Just relaxing with friends and family, near or far, under the night sky.  So wonderful to begin to see stars appear and later, mid eclipse, the Milky Way.  It would be wonderful if the lunar orbit wasn't so inclined so we could enjoy a lunar eclipse every Full Moon.  If that were the case I wonder how it would have changed how the ancients viewed eclipses and if we would have stamped out the memes of evil portent long ago.

As it is we only have to wait until 2018 to do this again (at least here).  It will be another opportunity to get together with family and friends under the wonders of the night sky.  As long as that happens I guess I can live with another "Blood Moon".

Friday, February 27, 2015

Venus, Moon, Gate

Another DSLR shot to make me feel like I am still imaging the skies!  Last Friday was (another) cloudy day so I didn't expect to see the conjunction at all but went outside at dusk and was surprised to see we caught a break.  The Western sky was clear so I quickly ran in to grab the camera.  Ran off a few quick shots with the 24mm lens.  Impossible to capture Mars along with Venus and Moon without resorting to combining images with different exposures but I noticed a nice composition with the Gate to our little courtyard.  So my conjunction substitutes Mars for the Gate.

Venus, Moon, Gate ... click here to flickr

Not much deep sky work happening here in North Central New Mexico.  I blame the near persistent cloud cover.   To those that image the sky (at least deep sky) the presence of *any* clouds is reason enough to close up shop.  Many people will exclaim ... but it was so clear last night!  Well, being able to see some stars, even a lot of stars doesn't quite cut it.  Looks like I will need to adapt to trying to image "in between" on those nights of intermittent clouds.  Yes I was spoiled by the days or weeks long periods of clear cloudless skies in the North California Bay Area.  Of course they are also suffering a severe drought ...  On balance I guess I'll learn to deal with the clouds!

Taken in Corrales New Mexico, February 20, 2015
Canon T2i (stock), Canon 24mm f/2.8L  @ f/1.6,  1/8sec exposure, ISO 400 
Raw image cropped and mangled Lightroom

Monday, November 10, 2014

Moon over Sandias

The nearly full moon rising above the Sandia Mountains just east of Albuquerque.  The mountains are bathed in radiant reds and oranges during sunset which likely gives rise to their namesake - Sandia is spanish for watermelon.  Under the right conditions the mountain side seems to radiate light - a truly beautiful sight.  Look quick though ... the effect lasts only a few minutes.

click here to Flickr for full size version

Taken in Corrales New Mexico, November 5, 2014
Canon T2i (stock), Canon 200mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM @ f/5.6  

Raw image cropped and mangled Lightroom

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

First Image, New Digs

I guess this will have to count as my first "astrophoto" from my new home in Corrales, New Mexico.  It's a landscape, it's the (Full! Super-Duper) Moon, but it'll have to count.

Super Moon, New Mexico style
The imaging gear remains packed away in the garage ... I collected my last data sometime in January and then began preparing for the move from California to New Mexico.  Now we are ramping up "Monsoon" season here so I expect any deep sky imaging will have to wait a couple more months.

Until then I'll have to practice some astro-landscape and conventional (read daylight!) images. New Mexico has a never-ending supply of clouds, lightning, mountains, deserts, wonderful people and other interesting things so I'll have plenty to do.

The above is a composite of 3 images.  Dynamic range is just too dang large.  Waited too long to cheat take advantage of a twilight Full Moon shot.  Done in a hurry (reminder to self ... keep camera on tripod ready to shoot 24/7 while in New Mexico).  All three exposures were "off" so much more practice is needed.  Also needed to fire up the (gasp) dreaded PS for some dark art higgledy piggledy.  I admire anyone who has burned devoted a portion of their brain cells to mastering, shudder, PS.

I'm sad for the posterization but that'll teach me to get proper exposures next time.  I wanted to avoid the "pasted-in" moon look and feel OK with how it came out.  It was a remarkable full moon in person and it kind of captures the feel.

By the way ... the brightly light golden building is the Sandia casino.  It's going to be a feature from any pictures taken from my patio ... guess we'll have to get used to it.

 New Mexico Super Moon

Taken in Corrales New Mexico, July 14, 2014
Canon T2i (stock), Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM @ f/4.5
Composite: 1/100,  1/25, 2sec exposures @ISO400
Raw images mangled in PS5 and Lightroom
Image Capture with Sequence Generator Pro

Monday, October 28, 2013

Vale of Tears

Yay for new gear!  Don't you just love it when you spend hard earned cash for new gear and it all works wonderfully right out of the box?  So do I.

Wonder if I'll ever experience that.

Anyone who expects to solve problems by throwing around kilo-dollars has yet to experience all that astrophotography has to offer.  I have a story to tell - but it will be another time.  Let's just say I've survived -

"gementes et flentes in hac lacrimarum valle" (mourning and weeping in the valley of tears)*

-my personal Vale of Tears with pretty much all new gear and have come out the other side with a nice deep image of the Veil Nebula (I'm feeling overproud with the use of the homophone).

I've set aside my lovely Canon lenses for a Takahashi FSQ-85 (the baby-Q) and a updated QSI683 camera.  Takahashi optics are the bees-knees but their mechanicals (read focuser) suck.  But as I just said I'll save that tale of woe for another day.  Even with the focal reducer bringing it to a focal length of 337mm its like looking through a soda straw to "us" camera lens folk.  How are you supposed to image anything through these refractor "pea-shooters" anyway?  Now, now,  I'm not complaining ... just saying its an all new way to "frame" the universe.  It'll take some getting used to.  And lots of mosaics ....

After I solved some of the hinted at "mechanicals" I decided on the Veil as a nice first object.  I already had the Ha and OIII filters so all was good there.  Framing experiments soon revealed that I'd have to shoot *two* frames to get the whole thing (is that my beloved 200mm EF-L lens chortling from the camera bag?)  So that just doubled the length of the project.  Next I made some terrible blunders errors in judgement like shooting the OIII all binned 2x2 and the Ha all 1x1.  That made for some hassles latter during processing.  I spread taking the data over some 20 different nights this summer/fall - not all nights were completely devoted to this project but most were.  And yes, the assorted screw-ups had me tossing full nights of data - but dang ... 20 nights!  That's some perseverance full on scratchy hair-shirt monkery!

Veil Nebula in Ha and O(III) 

All-in-all some 40+ hours exposure time.  Mostly in Ha and O(III) but also some RGB exposure for star color.

I know "conventional" bi-color Ha/OIII are red/teal.  I'm sorry but I don't like "teal" and while I know the O(III) line at 501nm is "teal" it's my data and I can make it any color I want.  I decided for blue-ish purple.  An imaging buddy suggested it looks like minerals under short-wave UV.  I like it!  Later I might come back and make it forest green/orange just to be ornery.

I wanted to control the brightest parts of the nebula (near 52 Cygni and also the "eastern" Veil) better than I did but what I really wanted was to bring up the super faint arcs and tendrils on the periphery.  I'm pretty pleased with that.

So, finally another image.  Hopefully it won't take another 6 months for the next!

* from the hymn "Salve Regina".  And no,  I'm not Catholic - it's just that the latin makes me feel smarter.

Bi-color Veil

QSI683, -25C
Astrodon Ha (3A), OIII (3A), RGB filters
RGB (15x2min) x2 frames bin1x1 3hrs total
Eastern Veil Frame Ha (36x15min) bin 1x1, OIII (30x15min) bin 2x2  16.5hrs total
Western Veil Frame Ha(50x15min) bin 1x1, OIII (46x15min) bin 2x2  24hrs total
AP900 Mount
Image Capture with Sequence Generator Pro
calibration, registration and post-processed in PixInsight

Taken at:  Bumpass Hell, Mt Lassen, California
                 South San Jose, California
                 Montebello Open Space Preserve, California
                 Lake San Antonio, California
Taken on: July 19,20
                August 11,15,16,18,22,24,26,27,31
                September 5,6,7,8
                October 2,3,4,5,6

Monday, April 29, 2013

Butterfly, Crescent, and Bubble

Here is my first go at a bicolor image.  It is the same field as the previous post ... I wanted both the Butterfly and the Crescent nebulas (Cygnus) in the same field.  Oh ... and this time I didn't forget my narrowband filters. Don't give me any grief about not posting this image for 7 months.  Life happens.

I chose to experiment with a more "orange" palette.  I'm sure with some more work I could figure out how to make the OIII regions (notable around the Crescent) more obvious.  Next time.

Butterfly and Crescent and ...

Now if you blow up the part of the image next to the crescent (200%) one can just barely see the Soap Bubble Nebula.   In the red box.  Arrow pointing at it.  I'll give you a moment.

See it?  Faint little guy.  It is notable since it was discovered by a amateur astrophotographer in 2007.  Now that we know where to look anybody can image it though I thought it was pretty neat to pull it out with a lil ol' 200mm Canon lens.  

... Soap Bubble

Butterfly, Crescent, and Bubble

Taken at Lake San Antonio, CA  Sept. 12-14, 2012
QSI583, Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L
Ha (3nm): 24x10min bin 1x1 @f/2.8
OIII (3nm): 24x10min bin2x2 @f/2.8
Total exposure time 8hrs
AP900 Mount
calibration, registration and post-processed in PixInsight

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Intermediate View

The Lassen trip resulted in one CCD image - the area around Sadr, the "center" star of the northern cross.  I knew before I started that this wouldn't be the finished product (are astro images ever truly "finished"?).  You see I forgot the wheel with my narrowband filters at home. So I wasn't able to shoot any Ha (Hydrogen alpha) which would have really made these dust clouds pop.  So I imaged with Luminance and Red, Blue, Green filters only.  At least I have a head start on the color channels for the next dark moon cycle.

In a couple weeks I'll be on another multiday dark sky outing when I can really do this field some justice.  Stay tuned!

Intermediate Image

Taken at Lassen National Park, CA  August 17-19, 2012
QSI583, Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L
Luminance: 12x5min bin 1x1 @f/2.8 & 12x5min bin 1x1 @f/4  2hrs total

Red:  12x5min Green: 1 2x5min  Blue: 12x5min  all bin 2x2
Total exposure time 5hrs
AP900 Mount
calibration, registration and post-processed in PixInsight