Monday, June 24, 2013

Anyone want a loaner telescope?

Being the president and webmaster of our astronomy club, I quite often get offers for people who want to donate a telescope to our club.  This is how we got the Meade LX200 and recently the observatory dome.  Do I ever refuse the offers - sometimes - if they are obviously not very good scopes or something that would be found on the top shelf of a sporting goods store.
If a scope is pretty decent, I usually can't refuse the offer and will go pick it up.  After a while, my house may end up looking like a tripod farm.  It's starting to do that now.
So, I need to give these telescopes a good home.  How do you get one you ask?  Easy - just a few requirements.

  • Must be a member of our club (Eastside Astronomical society)
  • When we have our rare clear skies, take it out and let it play in the yard. 
  • Take it to a local star party viewing and show kids the moon, planet or some deep sky object. 
  • Come over and get it. 
Send email to request a scope. 
Six inch Celestron refractor - come get it!
What is available?
  • Celestron 6 inch refractor  - pictured above. 
  • Celestron 8 inch Compustar (this is a very early "goto" scope and has a lot of gear with it.  Needs a Y2K chip uptdate)
  • Meade 10 inch SCT (another early "goto" scope with a boxy computer with it.  NOTE: the drive on this one is kind of messed up and not working right, but it can always point and look). 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

It's always clear when the moon is big and bright.

Never fails.  When we get a clear night the moon is always there blowing away all the dim stuff with the natural light pollution.  Sometimes it's best not to fight the thing and take a shot at it.  So here is another image taken with the Canon 60Da.  This would look good in any camera, but this one has 18 megapixels!
Photo is a mosaic of 4 images assembled carefully and blended to hide the zipper line where it was put together.
Then a quick slew to M3 globular for a few shots.  This is a single image at about 2 minutes at ISO 1000.  Not a bad looking background, huh?  Hot pixels just aren't there!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

ARKYD Space Telescopes - affordable mini-Hubble?

Planetary Resources is a company in Bellevue, WA that is working on developing small space telescopes which will be used for finding near Earth asteroids.  Mainly for future resource mining, but also for tracking the dangerous ones that could impact the Earth, such as the one that hit Chelyabinsk a few months back.  It will also be used to find planets around stars, which is probably needed soon with the recent problems with the Kepler spacecraft currently scanning the sky between Lyra and Cygnus. At this time, 132 planets have been found.
Alex, we're in space!
Although, I think the really exciting thing about these spacecraft is the fact that they will be publicly available for astronomical imaging currently through where they are taking pledges to reach a $1 Million goal.  $200 will get you a chance to point it at an object of your choice, and $25 will get you an image of a photo you send up with the Earth in the background.  I did donate $25 to the program so I can get my own "selfie" photo as they call them, your photo with the Earth in the background (See my sample above).  The fee of $200 is a reasonable deal to get permission to point a space telescope above the clouds/smog/turbulent atmosphere and get a photo of M-51. (If you are a reader of my blog, you probably figured out that is my favorite target to image!)
The telescope is 200mm so that is somewhere between a Meade ETX-125 and LX-90 in equivalent aperture, but this is a fast scope at f/4 focal ratio.  The ETX is a fairly small scope, but above the atmosphere and light pollution for $200?  It's like a mini Hubble!
Here are the techie details about the telescope: (it's got some nice filters on board that I'd love to try here in my own backyard!)
  • Primary Optic: 200 mm aperture, f/4 primary optic
  • Resolving capability: ~ 1 arcsecond
  • Detection capability: to visual magnitude 19
  • 5 MP+ image sensor
  • Wavelength range: 200 nm to 1100 nm
  • Available filters: UV bandpass (< 300 nm), B, V, R, OIII, Hα, 1 μm bandpass, Luminence (Clear)
  • Active image stabilization
I did send Planetary Resources a letter and resume for a "General Space Nut" job position they offered.  I'm a perfect fit for a job like that.
Hey, Planetary Resources! Please take a moment to view my resume,  cover letter and LinkedIn page please call me anytime. I'd be very interested in talking to you about any job that I might be a fit for.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tidying up cables for the clear nights

Cameras in place
Showers were forecast today, but nothing happened rather than a windy day with big clouds and sun so it was a good day to work on the Astro-Shack.
I fit the new camera on the scope and got it all in place.  I finally did something I should have done years ago - put some tidy wrapping around the camera and other cables.  I found some wire wrapping stuff at Fry's and put that on.  Why? To make it look cool, and most of all, sometimes when slewing the telescope it will bog down and I'll look over and see that it's trying to strangle itself in it's own cables.  Ouch.
I left a large loop in the cable bundle now, so hopefully that problem is minimized.  Kind of clear tonight, but terribly twinkly from the winds, and drifting high clouds.  Just not very good.  So I wait again for a good night to try test run #2 of the camera and new cabling.
Tidy cable loop
In the left photo you can see the camera arrangement.  I have the Orion Starshoot auto-guide camera on the refractor, and the new Canon 60Da mounted on the LX200.  I would have tried a solar image today, but looking at the current sunspot data, there wasn't much there right now so I didn't try.
I also swapped out some speakers so I now have some great sounding Pandora streaming out there now too!

If nothing else, it looks pretty cool!

Friday, June 7, 2013

First light with new improved camera.

The 60Da.
I came across a great deal on Craigslist (thanks for finding that Traci!), on a Canon 60Da camera.  I won't mention the price, but I saved a lot of money on it. This camera is Canon's latest step back into DSLR Astro-capable cameras after about 7 years since they first came out with the short lived, but still popular, 20Da (the "a" is for astro).  So what sets this apart from a normal 60D?  This version has about 3x the IR/Red channel gathering ability (at least from what I read), and it has a super low noise ratio also for those long exposures.
The flip out screen - so nice!

I got lucky last night and actually had a chance with some clear skies.  Transparency was kind of lousy, and clouds rolled in as I was taking the 6th image, but I got enough for a quick image stack and processing to see what it can do.  I also bought a registration for a cool imaging software called "Backyard EOS" which has a lot of really nice features, and it's super easy to use.  I really like the auto-dithering feature it has with Phd Guider.  That's really slick.  It will move the scope a few pixels between frames to minimize the repeating noise.  As for noise, I was quickly impressed with how little background noise was seen even after a 3 minute exposure at ISO 1000.  Very clean data.  I didn't take any dark/flat frames in this test run, but it came out looking really great.  I did have some errors in autoguiding, which caused the elongated stars, but that's another issue.
Focusing this camera is going to be a HUGE time saver!  It has a live video mode so you get a live image on the screen. Combine that with the remote focusing from the computer and I had the image focused in just a couple minutes.  Usually, with the old camera, I would take a shot, focus, take another, focus, swear a bit since I went the wrong way, focus - and repeat until I was there.   A Bahtinov mask and a couple minutes and it's ready!
The camera has a few different RAW modes with maximum resolution a massive 18 mega pixels!  I'll need to invest in a bigger hard drive for my data.
So here it is, the "first light" image from the observatory armed with the new 60Da.
  • M-27 Dumbell nebula
  • Camera: 60Da
  • Filter: CLS
  • Scope: Meade LX200 at f/6.3
  • ISO: 1000   |  Exposures:  6 |  Time:  3 minute each
As always, click for full size