Reviews

Youtube astrophotography guides

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There are numerous guides you can find in Youtube, most of them are basic and simple enough to get you going with your image processing right away but one of the best I’ve seen so far are made of DugDog’s Easy123-guide.

Have a look on how you work with curves and levels in Adobe Photoshop in order to enhance non visible light data on your stacked image with two simple steps.

Square Kilometer Array (SKA)

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Square Kilometer Array

One of the most prestigious projects is about to take place in south Africa called the SKA (Square Kilometer Array). SKA is a group of smaller parabolic antennas which together combined will create a huge telescope array that is 3000 km in diameter and will occupy 12.5 million hectars.

The sensitivity of this array of telescopes will exceed 50-100 the sensitivity of current radio telescopes around the globe. The building project itself it about to cost 1.5 billion euros (1.5 followed by 9 zeros €)!

This is a major breakthrough for astronomy. Astronomers will have now a big advantage in order to uncover the secrets from the big bang aftermath shortly after it took place.

The SKA is about to be operable in year 2025. Let us cross our fingers and wish all involved project members congratulations for this opportunity and good luck during the assembling period.

Recommended reading:

Discovery’s last journey

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Early STS concepts: Image from Wikipedia
Early STS concepts: Image from Wikipedia

A historical decision (article in Dagens Nyheter) been taken in NASA for a while ago retiring all old space shuttless  (a.k.a. STS: Space Transportation Missions) starting with Discovery. I remember back in my early years reading my grandfather’s space magazines originating from the 70:ies regarding the plans for constructing these advanced ships, taking people out for space missions. Back then, it felt almost like science fiction. I recall the accidents with Challenger and Columbia as if there were yesterday and what devastating consequences they had upon the astronauts families, NASA’s budget and the common view on the risks astronauts are taking trying to conquer and master space. It never was an easy job considering all the risks and accidents that happened through all the years even if the shuttles gave a false safety thinking in comparison to the Apollo missions back in 60:ies. Regardless the STS program was made to be longlived and it has outlived many previous manned space programs in time length. I personally will miss these shuttles that wrote history (Hubble Space Telescope, International Space Station. MiR), but this retirement means also the opening of a new era taking humans further deeper into space in future missions, such as the planet Mars!

http://www.nasa.gov/

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/index.html

The sun through Mylar filter

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The sun through Mylar filter
The sun through Mylar filter

Mylar filter blocks most of the visible light spectra (up to 99.9%) in difference to an H-alpha (see my previous blog entry). If you want to manage observing sun spots cost efficiently and cheap then Mylar filter would do the job for you. Although an H-alpha filter would provide you with more details such as solar prominences, the Mylar filter is just allowing you to watch the sun’s cromosphere and there fore just sunspots. However, since this filter is lightweighted, can be carried easily around and can be mounted on ordinary camera lenses that would allow you to witness a Venus/Mercurius passages or a solar eclipse if you want to travel somewhere without carrying around heavy telescope equipment.

I personally prefer Baader’s astrosolar filter due to good quality. A Mylar filter must be kept dry and in room temperature if you want it to be long lived. It is nessesary to inspect your filter before attaching it on your telescope/camera lens since even a small pinhole can damage your eyes permanently during observation, without even noticing!

The best way to inspect your filter before using it, is by placing it infront of a flash light in a dark room. That way you would easily be able to spot any damage on it’s surface.

To photograph the sun doesn’t only require you to have the right settings on your camera, but you have to take multiple shots in order to get a clear shot spared from atmospherical distortions which are more intense and common during daytime. Most astrophotographers are using explicitly a web camera to shoot planetary objects, allowing them to get rid of unwanted images by running the video sequence through a software such as Registax. I’ve got a Youtube video showing you how these atmospherical distortions look like, by clicking here (Beware of the sound).

The image above shows the sun spots 1161 and 1162 as they appeared on Sunday 21 February 2011. Canon EOS 50D, ISO 250, Shutter speed 1/8000, WB: Custom, William Optics Megrez 72 Doublet APO, Image was processed in Adobe PS.

Skywatcher’s Synguider

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Skywatcher Synguider
Skywatcher’s Synguider

Having limited time to spend while trying to set up all the equipment, level the mount parallel to the ground, adjust the balance of your mount with the telescopes attached on it, polar align your telescope, if you have a GOTO mount then you may need to star align, … The list can be made long and supposedly you do road astronomy then your time is consumed by many tasks this late evening planning on loading your car and transferring your equipment to a remote location free from light polution.

You’ve been waiting more likely for the perfect weather circumstances by now and have been thinking all the time about taking shots of your favorite object? Then welcome to the club. By the time you are ready to start your exposures a cloud is passing by, blocking the view. Other times a mist is joining the scene, or technical issues arise. Either way you’ve been wasting way too long time on things that could instead been made easier.

Skywatcher came up to a solution when it coms to guiding and created a gadget by considering that guiding is no easy business for anyone, considering your weight distribution while you’re tracking the heavens above having backlashes, attaching a camera adding by more weight to your equation, your power supply may not be even, or many other factors that may add to your guiding frustration.

With current solutions on autoguiding you need a special camera, software and a laptop. But why make things so complicated when there is the perfect solution for users with Skywatcher’s GOTO-mounts?

I strongly recomment this synguider, and I’ll start posting photos showing the difference between life before synguider and after 😉

Using new stuff

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Baader UHC-S
Baader UHC-S

Studying physics is really limiting my time from doing fun stuff, especially when it comes to one of my most favorite hobbies (astrophotography & star gazing). Even though of my time limitations, I couldn’t stop myself from finally buying new equipment I’ve long desired and saved money for, such as a mount upgrade (EQ 6 Pro), a new camera (Canon 50D) and two refractor telscopes from William Optics (Equipment page). I’m definetely now a happy amateur astronomer and even if I’m not able to perform any backyard astronomy these days, the weather wouldn’t allow me anyway and there fore there are no hard feelings since I miss nothing.

Although that is not the truth entirely, I’ve been out late evenings scanning the night skies, focusing on my primary goal objects such as M31 (Andromeda galaxy), M13, Double cluster and the Pleiades. These objects will definetely occupy my time for hours (apart from photo processing the images). I’ve also upgraded myself to Baader’s UHC-S filter which is a fine filter suited for astrophotographers living in suburban areas.

During mid october this year we had comet 103P/Hartley 2 passing by between Cassiopeia and Perseus constellation but I must admit that this comet was absolutely nothing spectacular and definetely not worthy the time. I went out trying to locate this object which was around magnitude 8 and even though with well trained eyes it still looked like any other star. No tail or obvious halos around it even by using wild imagination, so I decided instead to spend some time gazing at galaxies.

Astronomy event in Hven

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Lecture about variable stars
Lecture about variable stars

Came back after an amazing weekend in Hven, a little isle between Denmark and Sweden where astronomer Tycho Brahe once was the head of Europe’s top astronomy researches, trying to resolve problems around the heliocentric model by observing the parallax between stars. We arrived there at Friday morning by car together with Sara and another member of the Tycho Brahe astronomy society.

Sara and I decided to camp by assembling our tent close to the beach on the north-east side of the isle and by the time we were done, we attended our first workshop which was dedicated to Astrophotography. To my disappointment both course leaders were talking 2½ hours about their own telescopes and their old telescopes but nothing about astrophotography… Apart from a slide in their powerpoint presentation with around 30 terms in Astrophotography. During that time Sara had difficulties to keep herself from sleeping, so we decided to abandon this workshop and go for lunch.

Lecture in spectroscopy
Lecture in spectroscopy

The coming days we explored a bit of the isle, eating in most of the restaurants, attending workshops, looking at books, filters, telescopes and talking to professional and amateur astronomers. This event is the first of its kind in Scandinavia partly because we got many participants, but also because it was filled with lectures from professional and experienced amateur astronomers bringing up things about dark matter, exoplanets, variable stars and the cooperation between amateur and professional astronomers in matters of observational data and common research areas.

Within a few days I will post a few links on videos from these lectures and workshops but apart from one lecture in English, the rest was in Danish and Swedish. Unless you understand Danish or Swedish I really recommend you to watch the lecture in variable stars given by Christopher Allen.

Astronomy vendors
Astronomy vendors

One thing that really brought up my curiosity was a lecture in Spectroscopy by Køge Bugt. It is amazing what amateur astronomers got in their hands when it comes to advanced equipment but also their enthusiasm on this kind of homemade research!

The event days came to an end by a few lectures from professional astronomers and a few words from the head of the board from Tycho Brahe Astronomy Society. This event went beyond my expectations thank to all effort, enthusiasm and energy that came from all the participants and people behind the scenes. I will get back with more photos soon!

Celestron NexImage Solar System Imager

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Celestron NexImage
Celestron NexImage

Last night I finally received my Celestron cam! After some adventures between Amazon.com, my bank and VISA, because of warranty & delivering issues towards me as a European customer it’s finally in my hands. I’m eager to start working with this camera as soon as possible whenever weather circumstances allow me.

The installation worked smoothly on my Windows XP service pack 3 for both my PC and the laptop. This cam is used to record a planetary object such the sun, moon or the planets. The software that follows with the camera assists you to filter out blured and badly exposed images due to atmospheric conditions. I’m giving you a couple of examples on the results below.

For details related to this product visit Celestron website at: http://www.celestron.com/c3/product.php?ProdID=354

Be aware of the sound:

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Play chess with Christer Fuglesang

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schackChrister Fuglesang  challenge in chess towards Dagens Nyheter has started. It is now possible to vote for the best chess move against Christer Fuglesang. The moves are analyzed by the Swedish chess master Richard Wessman and by publishing three possible counter moves for the news readers, you can vote on one of them. The winning move (with most votes) is then finally announced to Fuglesang.

The following link takes you to NASA’s live web TV. In a few days we will be able to follow the launch:

An exhausted Christer Fuglesang

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An exhausted Swedish astronaut answering questions to reporters representing different Swedish newspappers.

Godspeed Christer! Good luck with your mission! It truly means a lot for Sweden to have a representative out in space.

To follow STS-128 visit one of the NASA links bellow. NASA put some effort in reporting the progress for the 30th ISS mission and I would think they will air the launch live by streaming it through their website on the 24th of August. I will get back with more links.

Links:

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