Perseids meteor shower - Wet wet wet!

Posted by XTSee on 15th August , 2010

Nothing, not a sausage. As I feared, it was rainy with just the odd passing gap in the clouds to peer through, but even then saw nothing, but with a Zenithal Hourly Rate predicted of 80-120, i.e. in theory a meteor every 30 to 60 seconds, we would hope to have seen something.

Saturday night was a little clearer but my missus and I only saw one decent meteor streak, although we weren’t outside for more than 15 minutes.

Sometimes I wonder whether the predicted peak dates are correct?

Considering I saw quite a few meteors in about a 10 minute period on Tuesday (a couple of days before the predicted peak dates), I think the professional astronomers who give us the dates are perhaps a bit out on their dates!?

How do they know? Is it based upon the orbital paths and observations of the previous year? I wonder if some adjustment should be made. Ok, sour grapes I know, just disappointed when I read about other peoples successful nights.

How was it for you - Did you have better luck than we did?

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Perseids meteor shower?

Posted by XTSee on 13th August , 2010

Looks like it could be a bit of a damp squib tonight/tomorrow (12th/13th August) here in the UK!

However Tuesday night was gorgeous, clear, bright, no moonlight, and comfortably cool.

One of those nights I could NOT miss.

Took the XT10 out, and using its Intelliscope I saw all manner of things (aligned with my new illuminated crosshair reticule, then accurate to within about 5 arcsecs, [I got a -0.3 Warp Factor on the Inteliscope]).

Nice when its setup and brings you pretty much spot on each time. First time I’ve used it since a spring clean on the mirror about 2 months ago, re-collimated, etc, and it performed really well.

Jupiter was amazingly bright with 4 moons, and I could see the missing southern band since that impact (or not see it!).

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Never trust the weather forecast!

Posted by XTSee on 10th May , 2010

20x80 Binos

20x80 Binos

For the first May bank holiday weekend my wife, the dog and myself took ourselves away to the Lake District for a 4-day break. Before going I had checked the weather forecast which predicted a pretty poor weekend for the whole duration.

As we packed everything ready to go away, I looked at my giant binos and thought, “There hardly seems any point as its going to be mostly cloudy, wet and dismal all weekend“.

Silly me! It doesn’t take much to pack binos and a tripod.

Once we were up in Cumbria, we had just one major downpour on the Saturday afternoon, but otherwise lovely clear starry views between some light cloud on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights! I even saw a couple of meteors.

I guess we just get so used to poor viewing conditions in England, that we kinda give up sometimes.

Moral of the story: Never trust the weatherman!

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XT10 Point Vertical - not Align Dec Mark!

Posted by XTSee on 21st April , 2010

I received an email from Joao in Mexico, who has just purchased an XT10i, and had a question for me about the Intelliscope unit supplied with his new XT10i telescope. He was confused because the Intelliscope altitude encoder board supplied seemed to be too large when he came to install it on the side panel. The board was larger than the pre-drilled mounting holes allowed for. I suggested this sounded like it might be that the wrong Intelliscope unit had been provided, and when Joao discussed the problem with his supplier, it transpired this was exactly what had happened. They had supplied the Intelliscope unit intended for the XX14i, instead of for the XT10i. Thankfully they are sending him the correct unit.

Much of my astronomy recently has been focused on my Celestron C6-SGT Goto scope on an EQ mount, mainly due to my interest in astrophotography with a modified webcam. Anyway, prompted partly by Joao’s question I decided it was high time I got my XT10i out again and enjoyed some nice bright views of the night sky with the XT’s larger aperture. English weather has at last abated and given some nice clear nights, so last night I took the XT10i out for a long overdue spin.

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SPC900NC webcam: Pleiades, M81 and M66

Posted by XTSee on 6th March , 2010

After my experimental “first light” imaging session with my newly modified Phillips SPC900NC webcam for Long Exposures (Steve Chambers mod), I have now processed the images and this is what they look like. They’re not visually fantastic, but for a first attempt I’m well pleased. Generally they were 15-20 second exposures. They couldn’t be any longer because I had not drift-aligned my scope. Also I setup K3CCDTools to take a sequence of only 5 frames for each object, because my objective is learning, not quality at this stage. I also created a Dark Frame image which K3CCDTools subtracts from frames to remove webcam noise and hot pixels.

Photo of Mars

Mars

First image is Mars again. I wanted to improve on my Mars imaging of a few nights ago, and tonights session was a much clearer night, but despite poor seeing the results are more detailed. This used the webcam in Normal mode (long exposure switched off), since Mars is far brighter than deep sky objects like nebulae and galaxies.

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Section of Pleiades

Next up is a section of M45 the Pleiades. I had hoped that with my focal reducer (0.6x) I would get a full view of the group of stars, but the webcams field of view is simply too small, so I probably need a better focal reducer. So, that’s something else I’ve learned! The exposure is simply too short to show any of the lovely blue nebulosity normally associated with the Pleiades.

M81 Bodes Galaxy

M81 Bodes Galaxy

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Wow! My first properly imaged DSO, this is M81 Bodes Galaxy. If the scope were properly drift aligned to stop trailing I could have taken a much longer exposure than the 5x 20 second frames I took for this shot, which should have brought out detail in the spiral arms. All you can see in this image is the bright central core, but compared with pro photos the spiral arms would actually extend out to almost half the width of this photo! Maybe I should have said, sod the trailing just up the exposure to say 1 minute to see what it looked like.

You can see a better example of M81 taken with a webcam at Ash’s Astro Pages, a site I came across which gave me a good idea of what sort of results I should be able to achieve. And with a 10inch SCT (mine is 6inch), plus a Canon 350D and stacking 27×3minute frames you can aspire to get a fantastic image of M81 like this, awesome. I’ve got a little way to go yet! :)

M66

M66

And here is M66, part of the Leo Triplet. Again the webcam field of view is too small to capture the neighbours in the triplet. Even though I took 5 frames set at 15 seconds each, sometimes K3CCDTools makes the timing of the first frame a lot longer (I think its to do with when you click the record button if you’ve already been previewing the image for a while). This resulted in the first frame being about 25 seconds long, and so this picture is actually just that single longer exposure frame, and shows just a bit more of the galaxies structure, albeit rather faint.

Overall the things I have learnt are:-

  • to get good results I will need to stack more images to improve the quality
  • I will need to learn drift alignment properly to get much better tracking of objects, and this will enable me to take longer exposures without trailing
  • while the webcam is great for learning, I should set my expectations appropriately. Its not a professional camera, so it won’t give the smoothness, detail or quality of DSLR’s like the Canon 300D or 350D which are faourites for amateur astrophotography.
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LX Trials & Tribulations

Posted by XTSee on 5th March , 2010

Its the end of another long cold session with my Celestron C6-SGT and everything is packed away. Ice is melting off the screen of my laptop as I type and drink a nice mug of hot chocolate. Its been a very nice clear night and finally, at last, I have been able to try out the Long Exposure mod on my webcam. Hooray!

After another short session grabbing a couple more sequences of Mars, trying to improve and refine on my previous session shooting Mars (but poor seeing again - I think it must be heat rising from the neighbouring houses, particularly with their boiler fumes puffing out).

I felt the best and least taxing astro object to have a go at for “first light” with the LX mod would be the Pleiades. Orion and M42 would have been nice to try, but they’ve set below the neighbours house already.
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Mars images processed - see the Polar Ice Cap

Posted by XTSee on 3rd March , 2010

Mars 1

Mars 1

Here are the processed images of Mars from my imaging session last night using an SPC900NC webcam and 2x Barlow, with my C6-SGT XLT telescope.

These were approx. 10 x 30 second duration AVI sequences which I aligned and stacked using K3CCDTools, and including some histogram and unsharp mask enhancement to bring out the details.

I only uploaded these 3 photos because the overall results are fairly similar.

Mars 2

Mars 2

The night was very misty, and with light cloud, and lots of movement due to poor seeing, so I’m very pleased with these first “proper” astrophotography pictures I’ve taken of Mars.

Another thing that surprised me was just how “red” the Red Planet really is.

The last time I attempted Mars was just over 2 years ago, by holding Pentax Optio L30  digital-cam to the eyepiece on my Orion XT10i 10inch Dobsonian, which were incredibly blurry and amateur.

You can see how awful those photos of Mars were in the Astrophotos section of the main website.

Mars 3

Mars 3

With these photos I feel like the results are actually worthy of being called “astronomy”, and I’m also impressed at being able to see the polar ice cap quite so clearly.

I’d like to have another go on a better night soon, while Mars is still bright and high.

Hopefully I will be able to get better detail, because observed by naked eye I am sure the polar ice cap covers more area, but I think the poor “seeing” has caused it to recede somewhat in the image processing.

If you look very carefully you can see NASA’s Spirit Rover stuck in the sand, poor thing! :-)

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Imaging Mars

Posted by XTSee on 3rd March , 2010

Just a quick diary post tonight. More practice at setting up and polar alignment of my EQ5 Synscan Goto, and C6 SCT, to try and get some webcam images of Mars. I’ve managed to get some footage at prime focus and 2xBarlow recorded into K3CCDTools. Too late to be processing tonight, so pics will have to wait. The seeing was not terribly good, and I was doing a lot of chase-me focusing! In fact that seemed to be about all I was doing. I was impressed by the redness of Mars through the webcam, and spent ages trying to get not only focus correct, but also experimenting with the settings; FPS, Gain, Shutter Speed, Gamma, Brightness.

I must be getting the hang of polar alignment, and scope 3-star alignment now, because even at 240x magnification Mars took a good 15 minutes to move only slightly off centre. I’ve yet to master drift alignment. Dew control was good also.

Really I had wanted to try out the webcam long exposure mod too, but yet again I’ve been foiled by light cloud and mistyness moving in after an hour or so, which meant that by the time I’d got to grips with Mars, there was just no way I would get any DSO’s, and the moon was rising, with a big misty halo, and consequently a very poor view of it. Patience is definitely a virtue, but I’m getting a bit fed up with all this waiting. I turned on the LX mode anyway, and was pleased that it is working properly now, with Mars looking like a mini-Sun.

On another note, I’m about half-way through creating a new page for the main website detailing my dew controller, with lots of pics and links to the various other sites I came across while researching it.

That’s all for now. Anyone else doing webcam imaging of Mars recently?

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A Night of Achievements

Posted by XTSee on 21st February , 2010

Good nights for astronomy are often few and far between in the UK. We’ve had the usual run of miserable, rainy, cloudy nights. Sometimes when the early evening sky looks promising, inevitably the clouds roll in by the time we’ve had our supper!

So when a good, clear, cold night comes along you grab the opportunity, and make the most of it. Last night was one of those times, so I planned to get several things done which had been waiting far too long;

  • Become more familiar with Polar Alignment
  • Check the collimation of my C6-SGT (Schmidt-Cassegrain)
  • Try viewing Mars again
  • Try out my SPC900NC webcam now that I’ve done the Steve Chambers long-exposure mod (quite excited about this)
  • More testing of my home-made Dew Controller

Polar Alignment

In a previous post I explained how I had installed my new polar scope in my EQ5 mount, but that it absolutely did my head in. Well I’ve done a fair bit of reading up on it, and now have it set up correctly.

  1. I re-centred the reticule inside the scope body (I’d made the classic mistake of undoing the adjustment screws too much and it had dropped down inside).
  2. I have done a daytime sighting up on a distant abject and collimated the polar scope reticule for rotational centred alignment with the RA axis.
  3. I’ve learnt how to set the polar alignment RA index scale and date circles to give correct indication of Polaris transits for any day/time (always wondered what those scales were for!).
  4. And using PolarFinder.exe I can double-check I’ve got it right (although you must remember to set your longitude every time you run the program, pity it doesn’t remember this setting).

So this time polar aligning went fairly well. I used the date circles to ensure I knew how to use them - practice makes perfect, and compared the RA rotated position of the reticule for the Polaris circlet, with the screen display of PolarFinder. Finally careful alt/az adjustments of the mount to bring Polaris into the circlet.
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Astronomy Podcasts

Posted by XTSee on 17th February , 2010

Well, maybe I’m slow on the uptake, but while experimenting with my iPod Touch more over the last few days to see what other astronomy related apps I can find (Star Walk, Starmap Pro, Moonwalk, etc), and the excellent NASA App being a fantastic resource, I have taken the time to find out more about podcasts.

So I did some searches in iTunes for astronomy related podcasts.

In part this was because I wanted to learn more about webcam astrophotography imaging since recently “modding” my SPC900NC webcam for Long Exposures (Steve Chambers mod), and found some podcasts which provided me with info on this topic.

Anyway, in doing so, I stumbled upon the excellent podcasts created by Fraser Cain & Dr. Pamela L. Gay at AstronomyCast.com and UniverseToday.com.

The teamwork and combination of Fraser who has a mellow, cool, young charm, coupled with the gorgeous voice of the incredibly knowledgeable Dr. Pamela Gay, makes for fascinating listening. I have suddenly discovered not only the convenience of enjoying podcasts in the car (I now drive slower), walking the dog (Ben now gets longer walks), or just before going to sleep (resulting in less sleep!), but also just how much I have been missing out in the furthering of my knowledge of astronomy.
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