With a clear (cold) night forecast and no school the next day last night was a great and rare chance to do some family astronomy, so we invited Ben and mum Jules over. Mindful of the plunging temperature I lit a fire in the back garden and set up both the 130 pds with the Go-to and camera and got the Dob out.
Fire or not, it was a bit parky to stay out for long, but we still had the chance to do a round of the Crab Nebula, The Orion Nebula, Betelgeuse and Andromeda and discuss each one. There was lots of discussion of “that splodge there” and so on, and it was great to be sociable whilst looking up at the sky! Hope the weather is kind to us and it’s not too long before we do it again.
With a streaming nose, feeling full of flu and having cancelled a Christmas night out it was a bit frustrating to look at the Friday night weather forecast, especially as I’ve just picked up a little metal ring adaptor to turn my finderscope into a guidescope. Temptation got the best of me- I set up as much as I could indoors then did the final alignment bits outside and attached the laptop for the guiding and setting the camera going before heading back indoors for the lemsip and night-nurse.
The intent was to try 5 minute exposures at ISO800 on a couple of targets and work out how to do guiding. First thing that I learned is that the Push Here Dummy software is really well named- I was up and running very quickly. Second thing is that rushing is never a good idea as the first hour of exposures was lost. I’d set the ISO to 12,800 to check the framing and forgotten to set it back. An hour later, instead of subs of Andromeda I had 12 pictures that were completely blown out. The second batch was more successful. I then moved the scope to the Flame Nebula for the third hour and M81/2 for the fourth. With bed calling I did some flats and bias and then put the whole kit in the garage to do the darks whilst I headed to bed.
Didn’t get to finish processing them until today. I think all of the targets could clearly have done with more subs and possibly longer exposures (especially M31), but altogether they’re a bit better than previous efforts- there’s even a hint of a Horsehead! Wish I’d felt well enough to sit out and do some observing (especially after reading Andy’s post!) but given how rough I felt on Saturday it’s probably as well I didn’t. Mucking about with the pictures on Gimp was a reasonable substitute!
Bringing the kids back from an afternoon out today at sunset we were looking at the moon and discussing earthshine, as you could clearly see the part of the moon unlit by the sun in the darkening sky.
As we got home I tried to get out and get a snap through the scope, but by the time I’d sorted the kids out it was too dark and the moment had gone. I did however manage to get a decent focus on the moon (for once) and looking through the photos later there was some good detail. I checked the web for what to look out for on a seven day moon and one of the best features is sunrise over Mons Hadley the landing site for Apollo 15. Very pleasing!
Wow- sounds like some members have had some brilliant sessions over the weekend. Parental duties have got in the way for me a bit, but I did manage to get a out for a mini session on Friday night with the Dob and the Goto and managed to get some pics of M1. Thanks to Roger for some tips to improve my GIMP knowledge.
(SW130 p-ds, ZWO ASI224, 35 x 60s lights + darks and flats).
So, the clocks have gone back, the dark evenings are here and (when the clouds and rain leave us alone) there’s some great stargazing to be done. Within reason I’m quite happy to get my thermals on and put up with a bit of cold to enjoy the show, but I also like to share (inflict?) my hobby with my nearest and dearest and my chances of getting them outside in this weather for any length of time are pretty slim. Over the summer I’ve been good friends with eBay and have picked up some bits and pieces to enable me to bring the hobby indoors.
The kit I’m using is: HEQ5 Mount, Skywatcher 130P-DS, ZWO ASI224 Camera (with an LP filter) and a laptop running Cartes du Ciel (I know lots of club members like Stellarium, but my geriatric laptop doesn’t!) to control the mount, SharpCap to run the camera and TeamViewer to control the laptop remotely (I tried using Remote Desktop, but Windows wasn’t having any of it).
First chance to use it came up on Sunday night- full moon or not! Altogether it took about half an hour to set up (hopefully this will drop with practice). Pictures below show the setup (complete with frost) and then images of what we could see in the session. Whilst we were running I saved the captures and later stacked them along with a dark stack (not sure I’ve got this bit right) and did a histogram stretch- these are shown alongside.
Altogether, it worked well- both being able to easily show images and the novelty of pointing at something on screen and then images of it appearing a minute or two later. Some friends popped over and they were quite taken with being able to all see it at the same time and discuss rather than taking turns at the eyepiece and being unsure of what they were seeing.
The brighter objects were certainly better- the targets we looked at were:
Albireo – right image is 15 x 10s exposure.
M57 Ring Nebula – right image is 15 x 30s exposure.
M27 Dumbbell – right image is 30 x 30s exposure.
M15 – Globular – right image is 35 x 30s exposure.
Gain was set to 300 throughout. I also tried the Double-double, which became the Single-single and M81 which just came out as a blob- I think this and the Dumbbell might work out better with a bit less moonlight. Overall it was a really successful evening- the setup time is a bit of a pain compared with the 5 mins it takes to set the Dob up (and that includes making a cup of tea!), and it lacks the magic of finding it yourself and seeing with your own eyes. But for sharing with others it’s brilliant, and later on I even managed to get my month-end books done with the scope still on which made that task less of a drag than usual!
Oh- and thanks for the earlier post in the blog about using old storage boxes to protect your laptop/shield the light from its screen- worked a treat!
I’ve had a bit of an e-bay splurge over the summer and bought a few bits of kit, one of which has been a small ETX telescope for taking away with us (see earlier post) and another of which has been a little ZWO webcam type effort because… well, why not?
With the full moon out and not a lot of chance for DSOs I decided to spend an evening combining these recent purchases and looking at the moon, and I decided to see how the little camera coped on what should be an ideal target. Sam came out to join me and the little ETX was giving us really beautiful crisp sharp magnified views through the eyepiece. This, to me, is wonderful, and I can easily spend hours doing it- Sam liked it too, but wasn’t quite as fascinated.
So we got the laptop out and plugged the camera in and started looking at the exact same thing on screen- what a transformation! Sitting with the hand controller, controlling what appeared on screen, picking out the major landmarks and taking snapshots of it, he was in his element- he could not have been any more thrilled.
Without wanting to attach too much significance to one event and one child, I do think there’s a generation issue here. For me there’s something brilliant in the knowledge that the actual light my eyes are experiencing has travelled across space from the source of the object I’m looking at. But for younger people (and how much of an old git do I sound?), who are used to experiencing the world through screens and technology, this is what grabs them.
Some photos below to give you an idea of what we were looking at- they’re not the greatest as frankly I was having trouble getting anywhere near the controls!
After several weeks of either cloudy skies or work getting in the way there was an window of clear sky tonight. It was before proper darkness and a bit hazy too but beggars can’t be choosers…
Started off by lining up the scope and finders on Vega.
A quick sneak over to the Double Double, lovely and sharp in the 7mm
Down to the Ring Nebula. As was suggested to me, I’ve lengthened the tube of my reflector by attaching the plastic covers from a couple of document wallets with Velcro and this is helping a lot with contrast in my light polluted back garden. Even though the sky was a bit hazy, the Ring stood out as a lovely crisp..well.. ring!
And across to Albireo. Since the back end of the RAG mtg in May with Andy and Damian this has become a favourite target – I really love the contrasting colours.
Next up was M56 which is a new one for me. I managed to find it after a few sweeps between Sulafat and Albireo. It was a fuzzy dot in the 25mm, and a larger fuzzy dot on the 7mm! One to re-visit when the conditions are better…
M92 was lots better- was able to resolve 20+ stars around the edge in the 7mm- very pleasing.
And because you have to when you’re in that bit of sky, I took in M13 next. Always a joy… I find myself wondering if you were on a planet in that cluster would the sky look like Van Gogh’s famous Starry Sky painting? To quote Wikipedia “It has a densely packed central region, with up to a hundred stars populating a cube only 3 light years on a side. To illustrate: Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to Earth, is just over 4 light years away. In other words, stars in the cluster’s core region are about 500 times more concentrated than those in our immediate stellar neighbourhood.” I think it would really be quite something…
I was left thinking about that, because at that point the clouds rolled in a merciful 1 hour later than forecast. Only 40 minutes observing time, but 6 targets and a real bonus when I wasn’t expecting anything.
We’ve had our last few summer holidays camping in France under wonderfully dark skies. As my interest in the night sky has grown I’ve wanted to bring my scope along- but as this would have involved deciding which of the children to leave behind, Mrs Leonard has said no! Inspired by what I’ve seen some of the club members achieve with much smaller scopes I found myself on eBay and eventually came away with a Meade ETX105. It has a nice sturdy mount with it, but with space really at a premium I was forced to use an alternative mount on this trip, otherwise known as a collapsible camping cupboard! It worked reasonably well, but rather lacks the heft and stability of the proper tripod…
Week 1 was something of a loss, with my not having accounted for the tall trees that covered the whole area, but one morning the moon did drift across the clearing our tent was pitched in and I ended up with a little audience of observers who came across from the playground to take a look. Also managed to get a couple of pictures…
Week 2 was rather better- the campsite was next to a busy road and rather light polluted, but a short drive to the beach (with Sam for company) solved that. The skies were pretty dark from 10pm onwards and once the scope was aligned we spent a long time looking at Saturn. It was noticeably higher in the sky than at home and the view was really clear and crisp in the 7mm eyepiece. It was only Sam’s second observing session so I spent the rest of the session teaching him the controller and looking at M13 Hercules Cluster, M31 Andromeda and M57 Ring Nebula. Hercules and Andromeda were bright and clear but the 4 inch struggled a bit with M57. The real highlight, though, was the great views without the scope of the Milky Way- clear and bright from out over the Atlantic 2/3 of the way across the sky to where the onshore light pollution washed it out a little. I’ve taken quite a few photos on various settings with the camera on a simple tripod and it’ll be a cloudy evenings project to try to turn them into something decent, but in the meantime a rather noisy jpeg is attached!