Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Weekend on Mt. Lemmon with Adam Block.

Those are BIG mirrors
Earlier this month I took a few days off from work and "snowbirded" myself south to Arizona like a silver haired retiree (but without the motorhome and small dog) for some sun and clear skies.  I did find what I was seeking with about 78 degrees and blue skies, while Seattle got pounded with inches of rain and flooding.
The main reason for going south was to attend a session of Adam Block's CCD Imaging Workshops.  This was 3 nights and 4 very full days of imaging, stacking, registering, normalizing, deconvolution, and a whole lot of other stuff.....and of course use of the big 32 inch Shulman RC scope.  Wow!  What a fine piece of optics that thing is. 5,500 lbs of scope which slews around the sky with barely a whisper of sound.  Adam is a lucky guy to have access to that - for public outreach and hard-core guys like us!
Where my brain filled up
The weather could have been a little better, we had some high clouds passing through, but down there if you don't like the sky, take a break and wait an hour or two.
At the start of the trip, we were taken on a tour of the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab where we saw where some of the mirrors for the largest telescopes on Earth are made.  The mirrors for the GMT (or Giant Magellan Telescope) are being built here.  The lab is on the side of the University of Arizona's stadium.  The location reminded me of the Manhattan Project where the first atomic bomb was being developed under the University of Chicago stadium seats.
Observatories in the moonlight
We later went up to the top of Mt. Lemmon and unpacked our computers and luggage into the dorm rooms.  The place we stayed in was a former military facility where there used to be radar searching for nasties which they would then direct Titan missiles to launch (another museum I'll have to see down there another time).  The place is nice, and still has a little military feel to it, the dorm style rooms were very comfortable and the restrooms just down the hallway.
I need one of these.
We spent most of the time in the classroom where Adam taught us a lot of his secrets to processing images using CCDStack and Photoshop.  A little was review, but most of the methods were new to me (or at least a different way of doing it that I never knew), so mental saturation did happen quickly.  Adam does publish some good CDs describing his methods so I did buy that from his website.  He can't sell the disks at the workshop, since it conflicts with the U of AZ, but I was sold on going to his site and ordering one for myself!
Photons collected here
We did get to use the big 32 inch Schulman telescope.  Mostly for imaging, but the last night we had finicky weather so we just did some visual observing.  Despite the hazy skies, I have never seen M42 look as nice as it did through the that scope.  You could easily make out the wispy details around the Trapezium and see way out along the edges of the nebula.  I wish I could have taken a few exposures of that to play with!
Rooms, plenty of good food (thanks Beth), and a ride from the airport and back where included in the cost of the workshop.  If you are interested in this kind imaging, I would highly recommend Adam's workshop.  I would say this was an intermediate to advanced workshop.  So I'd suggest that you know something about stacking, darks, flats, and have had some good practice with Photoshop before attending or you may get a bit overloaded.
Grade: A+
Far left dome is the home of the Schulman scope
NGC 157 sample image we processed
M 76 another practice image we used

NGC 1555.  From actual data we captured.

| Mt. Lemmon Sky Center |
| Adam Block's web page - Caelum Observatory |

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