Monthly Archives: January 2013

More bad photos

Some disappointing results with the S100; photographing Jupiter’s moons, Pleiades, and the Orion Nebula. The last one turned out at least a little interesting; more light than I can see with my eye. But still. Things I’ve learned:

  • The stock S100 is not well suited for astrophotography. In particular the stupid software limits you to 15″ exposures, and slower than 1″ you’re stuck at ISO 80. WTF? 1″ and ISO 6400 was what I used for most of these images.  CHDK may fix the stupid exposure software problem.
  • Manual focus is very difficult on the live preview screen. In general the focus on astrophotos is terribly fiddly.
  • It’s not much fun taking pictures this way. Too much fiddling with tech, not enough enjoying the view of the stars. Also staring at bright camera screen instead of peering into the depths is not awesome.
  • 10″ exposures without a star tracking mount don’t really work.

All in all this is disappointing, I feel like the camera got in the way rather than making this fun.

Jupiter photos

Success! Of a sort, with the S100 camera clamped to the eyepiece. A photo of Jupiter where you can make out some of the cloud structure. Also a crappy blurred photo of the moon system.

Disappointing; these images are worse than what I can see with my eye. My whole interest is long exposures where the camera sees more than I can see myself. But Jupiter is so bright it’s not necessary to do a long exposure. And without a tracking mount and a better optical setup, I’m not sure I’ll do much better than this.

Focus was still difficult. Also exposure was remarkably hard to do in the camera; the live preview was pretty helpful but really have to examine the photos. And developing the images in Lightroom requires some finesse, this may be the first time I really wanted all of Photoshop’s controls instead of the simplified Lightroom system. A medium contrast tone curve was the biggest help, also boosting shadows.

I should add this is my first real observation of the Great Red Spot. Not a clear image below, but I could definitely see it in the photos.



Steadypix, better luck with smaller camera

Just set up my telescope with the Orion Steadypix adapter clamp and a Canon S100, a little point and shoot pocket camera. Works much better than trying to hang the old dSLR off the clamp. Much more room to maneuver, less weight, and I can get the camera to reliably focus through the eyepiece.

The Steadypix has more play in it than I’d like. The camera moves 2-5° if I push it, in the axis around the tripod bolt. But I think the play is in the rod attachment that lets you swing the whole camera out of the way, not in the tripod bolt mount. Also focussing is tricky. I focussed for my eye first and then the camera was mostly in focus, but I still had to turn the telescope focus a bit. And with that much weight I have to sort of pull up on the focusser, whatever clutch there is in the focusser doesn’t want to lift the whole camera. Getting this really sharp is going to be very difficult.

Camera settings.. Full manual mode, f/6.3 (stopped down a bit for sharpness), ISO 1600. Lens is zoomed in a bit so I don’t see the circle of the eyepiece, just the center of the eyepiece image. Camera manual focus set to as near focus as possible (10 inches?) and then focus with the analog knob on the telescope while watching the live preview screen. 1/1600s exposure for daytime, but of course much less at night. Irritatingly the S100 doesn’t have a jack for a shutter release, so I’m stuck doing the 10 second timer thing to avoid shaking the camera too much when taking a picture.

Sample images below are 1×1 (at ~1200px wide) of a distant tree during daylight. RAW mode with Lightroom default developing, also camera JPG. Honestly the quality here is pretty bad, but we’ll see what happens at night.

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First Minmus landing

I’ve been having a lot of fun with orbital mechanics simulator Kerbal Space Program. Here’s some screenshots from my first almost-successful landing on Minmus. Ran out of fuel at 500m over the surface and still going 20m/s, bent the spaceship a little bit. Also Jebediah’s a bit concerned about how he might be getting home.

Hello from Minmus!

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Is this part important?

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May be here awhile

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First light (software edition)

I’m dorking around with plotting all the stars in the Hyg database in Javascript / HTML using D3. Here’s the “first light” for my code, where I generated a GeoJSON file with the 100 brightest stars and loaded it up in QGIS in a simple projection.

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Yeah, it’s not much, but you can see Polaris way up on the north and Orion there in the left middle. It’s flipped left/right because of the naive translation of coordinates (alternately because we’re looking at the sphere inside out).

I haven’t found a good flat map of the entire celestial sphere like this. I guess it’s not very useful since we’re used to seeing half the sky unprojected, not distorted like this. And the “north pole” in our case is Polaris; not acceptable to distort it to hell like Google Mercator. OTOH we’re so used to looking at online maps this way.. Even Wikisky is using a curved projection.

Here’s a slightly fancied up plot with star names and color for brightness.

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And one more shot, this one from working Javascript code using D3 and an equirectangular projection. 5000 stars drawn (pretty much all with magnitude brighter than 6.0). The swooping band is quite distinctive; is that the Milky Way?

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And same presentation with the Mollweide projection

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SteadyPix, need things to look at

The Orion SteadyPix camera mount is a failure so far. It just kinda sorta works. It’s a rig that clamps on one end to your eyepiece and at the other end has a tripod mount bolt for your camera. It’s pretty adjustable so you can hold almost any size camera up to the eyepiece for some afocal photography. It’s well built. However… I have a hell of a time getting a clear image in my DSLR. Canon 350D, 28mm f/1.8 lens, it seems totally random whether I get an image or not. I managed to get one clear daytime image of a distant tree through it, and I kinda sorta could see a fuzzy blob where Jupiter was tonight. But mostly I can’t get it lined up right. Not a lot of room to move, either, I fear scratching the lens. And if the telescope is pointed below about 50° the weight of the camera pulls the scope down, the mount can’t handle the weight. All in all not a good hack. I’ll try again with this camera rig with a small point and shoot (a Canon S100), I suspect that will be more forgiving. What I really want to do is prime photography though, camera back mounted directly to the focusser. This whole eyepiece + lens thing is dumb. Apparently it’s necessary though, like many Newtonians my Orion 8″ has a funny geometry and the camera can’t achieve focus at all. Haven’t tried it, but everything I’ve read says its true.

Great clear night though! Revisited lots of old favorites. Really clear image of three bands of clouds on Jupiter. And I saw Europa just before it got occulted. Orion Nebula looked grand and beautiful in the 25mm eyepiece, lots of detail and even a little colour. Found Andromeda Galaxy again quite quickly, and tonight it was clear and dark enough I could make out M32 and M110 as well. I even popped in the 7.5mm eyepiece for M110 just to be sure, there it was! Didn’t succeed in seeing the Pacman nebula (NGC 281), couldn’t find it. May have seen it there but hard to pick out from the general Milky Way. But easy time heading over to Caroline’s Rose, that is a really beautiful object.

I’m astonished at how fast I can re-find things like the Andromeda Galaxy or Caroline’s Rose; it took me 15+ minutes to find each the first time, now it’s 30 seconds. I wonder how many objects I can have that kind of memory for?

I really need a list of targets + charts to find them. I’ve got some books and stuff for that but it seems like a chore to do all the prep. Also I’m not interested in some of what the books encourage finding; double stars for interest. Just not that excited. I should just work through the Messier catalog, using seasonal visibility as a guiding principle.

I keep hoping to wake up early enough to catch Saturn. It’s so low in the sky, and I have to get up before 6:15am to beat the sun.



Quick effort to do some photography by holding up the DSLR to the eyepiece; fail. I could handhold the 1 second exposure acceptably but couldn’t get proper focus with the 28mm lens and Canon 350D. Need to read on how that works.

Also failed to spot Uranus. I tried finding it by sighting down from the Square and left from the bottom part of Pisces, but no luck.

Jupiter put on a nice show, three moons all in a cluster on one side.

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