Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Setup update

Since my last postings I have added both guide scope and guiding camera with software to the equation. The next process is to streamline the entire setup to a much less nesty bundle of cables, and re-address the GOTO issues.

The Return

Back to the blog after a massive break, I had completely lost interest in everything of late, and have taken some time to get better and back to things. My son has re-energised my love for astronomy and I find myself once again back in the garden, freezing and happily looking up at the sky from horizon to zenith

Friday, 15 May 2009

Guiding - The Black art

As I continue down the mystical path of guiding my telescope using a MAC I continually come against the same brick wall, "Windows only" on software, grrrrrr!! I do not use a Windows PC but getting someone to write a piece of software for a minority of users to use in a hobby that is also in a minority is not easy, luckily I happened onto this site and the lights went on. With a hugely comprehensive list I set about exploring the various possibilities of what I could use.

Your first port of call of course is going to be the free software and without exception there are some amazing titles, such as PHD Guiding (Press Here Dummy) and Stellarium. But amidst all of this the black art again takes over, as guiding is well practiced, but by no means standard, most peoples guide set-ups are particular to them and how they wish to guide.

This information is completely confusing for a beginner and seems altogether like a huge mountain to climb. Enter Steve Richards. Steve is an astronomer like you and I, he doesn't have the biggest and best kit, he has "normal" equipment and a sensible head, I looked over his site which can be found here, and slowly I began to fell a whole lot better about learning to guide.

The first thing Steve does is let you know that you are not alone, and that everyone who has learnt astrophotography and guiding had to start somewhere, Steve also has a book which after looking at his site I bought and it has become my bible, the book can also be bought from Steve's site (I am no relation by the way just very very enthusiastic)

From reading Steve's work I was better able to make an informed start at guiding and have even fabricated a mount to take my guide scope on to the top of my 6" Celestron SCT, the biggest thing that Steve's writings have helped me with is patience, patience to take my time and get the set up right from the start.

I have chose the excellent Equinox 6 software coupled with Astroplanner and will guide with Equinox 6. I also have a GPSUB for direct connection of the ST-4 port on the mount for smooth guiding, for an explanation on GPSUB and ST-4 then please look at the excellent tutorials on the Equinox 6 website under the "Autoguiding" tutorial.

I will initially be imaging with a Phillips Toucam Pro webcam using Keiths Astoimager, and also a Nikon D40 DSLR at prime focus.

I am able to talk like this, and be confident in my writing thanks to thorough research and great support from good friends on Twitter, you can find me on there just look for @craiggold.

Now if the cloud EVER clears I will be posting my first images with my new setup.

I wish you all the luck in the world if you are just thinking about guiding and astrophotography, but I promise you, it's really not as bad as you first think, just do your homework and talk to as many people who guide and photograph as you can, as they will have made all those mistakes that you want to avoid already.

Good luck and dark skies to you all.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Starting to guide

My next adventure in astronomy is to start guiding, so that I can improve my photographs and really nail some good images.
I began the usual trawl of looking on the tinterweb for what was available to use to guide my scope and give me the stability in my images.

The choices for guiding are clear it would seem, you either sit in the CCD or webcam camp, now there is no questioning the brilliance of CCD (Charge Coupled Device) technology, producing high quality imaging and is a superb tool for guiding, with guiding CCD's able to plug directly into the guidescope port on your mount even, and guide the scope direct.

But CCD comes at a hefty price tag, with even a cheaper end guide camera coming in at around £150 without software. I simply cannot run to this at the moment, but hey, everyone has a webcam!

I have a Logitech Quickcam S7500, which works fine on my Macbook Pro, this coupled with the superb Keiths Astro Imager and I was set, the software recognised the webcam instantly and I was able to easily take images and use Keiths Image Stacker to produce an image of my office, Keiths Astro Imager also guides, so I was really pleased.

The last mountain to climb was a big one it seemed, as the world of astronomy is very rightly focussed on the rarer than hens teeth Phillips SPC900 and Phillips Toucam webcams, and therefore converters and extensions to couple your webcam to a 1" 1/4" are largely focussed around the afore mentioned excellent cameras.

So what to do? well it may be a little known fact but an old 35mm film case will slip very nicely over the end of an eyepiece, well my eyepieces anyway, if you take of the rubber eyecup you can easily pop the film canister on the end and it will stay put very well, excellent! Now how to attach the webcam to the canister. This is even less basic than the other end on the eyepiece. Cut the end off the canister and fix it to the webcam with the lens centered. On the Logitech the canister slips onto the front really well and even lips over the lens housing with a rather satisfying little click, a smear of silicone around the outside to hold in place and I was done.

This is obviously not as robust as the bought and purpose made adapters but I don't really care, it was easy and it works.

Results to follow, as well as images of the modded cam.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Imaging Saturn - First go

I watched the weather closely all day yesterday, hoping that the evening would bring one thing, no cloud. Luckily I was pleased to see a warm, clear evening unfold before me. By 8pm I had my CG5 outside and pointing North ready for my first ever try at imaging a planet, the sun set and I waited very nervously for Polaris to appear so as to begin my alignment. Using my polar scope I carefully set up the already leveled mount and followed my same procedure for polar alignment, checked and re-checked then added my scope, and balanced, lastly putting on my home made dew shield.

I powered up the Goto and began 3-star alignment, this is where the trouble began for me, as for some reason my Goto had spat out all of it's PEC and tracking data, the scope slewed around totally incorrectly and my heart sank, I had crowed over Twitter about how I was imaging that night and it was going to be great, and now here I was, Goto giving me trouble and the most wonderfully clear, dark canopy above me.

I was relying on the Goto's tracking to give me the stability for my first go at imaging planets, my Celestron sat and looked at me blankly, as if to say, it's not my fault, I have not done this to annoy you!! Me and my Goto had never seen eye to eye, but we had an understanding, but tonight it was rebelling.

So what to do? well, resigned to the fact that I will not be having the best of times tonight with technology I swung my scope to Saturn and attached my Nikon D40 at prime focus and decided that I would see what happened.

The first thing that strikes you is of course that with just a T-ring and adapter in place, distant objects such as Saturn, do not appear very large in the viewfinder of the camera, this of course makes focussing a real issue, but I fired off several images to see how we got on, not well is the answer, the image was out of focus and because of the length of exposure (around 10secs) Saturn appeared as a nice white teardrop on the viewfinder, even Saturn was sad to see me.

But I persisted and I learnt very valuable lessons last night, the main one of being just how much I still don't know, but it also filled me with such inspiration to continue to try to get a good image. I simply wont be buying a CCD as the price goes beyond what is "Amateur" to me, but my Nikon D40 is a superb camera, and I don't doubt it's capabilities to produce the images I desire, my 6" Celestron Schmitt Cassegrain is also well up to the task. As with all things operator error is the failing.

It did make me appreciate the level of work that goes into producing the images we see in magazines and on the net, and also the sketches that people like @Space_Jockey produce, the attention to detail is mind boggling, hopefully Space Jockey is planning a tutorial of his methods, you should check them out at his blog.

I'm off to read a little more, practice a little more and continue my absolute passion for Astronomy, and whether you rate the images or not I love them.

So get outside and give it a go, take a picture of the moon or stars, your recording an amazing world of beauty and violence as stars explode and are born, can you tell I like this yet?


Monday, 20 April 2009

Campaign for dark-skies

I'm sure most people are aware that dark skies and astronomers go hand in hand, but are you aware of just how high the amount of light pollution is getting these days? Well check out the picture below taken from the Campaign for Dark-Skies website

This shows the amount that light pollution has increased over the last 50 years in the city of Bath. Now there seems to be an argument over darker areas and safety, which I can fully understand, but look at the image at the top of the blog, thats the nigh time view of Telford.

What is the need to allow so much light to escape into the night sky? A fine example of how light pollution can be kept to a minimum is the Qatar race circuit, this race track is lit, and suitable for Moto GP racers to use at night, just look at the way the light is diffused just onto the track.

I can see that this is an expensive task to achieve, yet surely there must be someway to pass on this technology to suburbia? Think of your outside lighting, do you just illuminate your garden or the rest of the neighborhood as well, do you really need 500 watts to see?

The following are the aims of the campaign for dark-skies;

CfDS wants to to see:

  • Greater use of modern fittings which control the light emitted, to minimise sky-glow and light trespass.
  • The right amount of light for the task, not wasteful over-lighting - Sensible wattages (a 40W light will adequately illuminate the average driveway and garden) up to a maximum of 150W;
  • Controls on floodlighting of buildings, sports facilities, etc., with appropriate shielding, baffles and mounting adaptation causing lamps to shine preferentially downwards;
  • Instructions about sensitive mounting, and information about light trespass and other possible adverse effects, in packaging of all exterior lights.

CfDS believes that:

  • Astronomers have the same lighting needs as everyone else;
  • Street lights should NOT be turned off, but well directed to illuminate just the street;
  • Everyone should have the right to illuminate their premises at night if they so wish, as long as it does not intrude into neighbouring properties;
  • Lamps used should comply with Institution of Lighting Engineers' guidelines (revised 1994), with 150W as a maximum value for typical domestic and small-scale commercial premises;
  • In the absence of proper regulation of light, which is as much of a potential pollutant as noise and other impactors, retailers should take the lead in preserving a night-time environment showing a balance between good quality lighting and enjoyment of that night-time environment;
  • The promotion of outdoor lighting should concentrate on aspects of visibility and careful lighting, rather than making debatable claims about crime deterrence and links between brightness and effectiveness;

CfDS points out that:

  • Minimising light pollution saves precious energy resources. The amount of greenhouse gases released into the environment by power stations can be reduced.
  • Well designed light sources emit little or no light above the horizontal. Unshielded lights may, depending on the design, emit well over 50% of their output above the horizontal.
  • Glare from roadside lights, as motorists know too well, is another result of poor design, and is distracting when driving.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Astronomy sods law

As most of you are aware there is a rule in astronomy, it states; "Should you buy any new item of equipment for the use of looking at the stars, an obligatory period of cloud will ensue, the amount of cloud is relative to the amount spent".

I spent £27 and I have had 3 days of cloud grrrrrrrr!!