December 25, 2009

From NASA, and from me

Happy Holidays from NASA :)

I have just been through a 3-years old's first real visit from Santa ... boy did she get some LOOT!

Luckily, she got a rocket, shuttle, astronaut and asteroid from her Uncle Jason :) They're a small island of scientific triumph in the sea of pink she seems to have received - I mean seriously! It looks like someone dropped a freaking Barbie™ Bomb in here.

Anyways, Happy Holidays everyone!

Rising Stars

Good evening all .. and of course, Happy Holidays

I got an awesome script running for CHDK tonight .. my first timelapse.  CHDK is allowing me to make basically 8 megapixel movies of the stars moving around, using photographic settings :)

I has a happy! Here's why:

The video is shot here in Te Awamutu facing roughly south-wards .. you can see the Southern Cross (Crux Australis) rising across the top left hand corner - real Kiwi Icon :)  I'm obviously needing things like better ISO settings and exposure control, but for a first time, I'm pretty happy with this.  My goal in this is to get a really good looking timelapse ... including the milky way if possible ...

As we draw near the end of the International Year of Astronomy, and the first 2 months of my astro-blog I'm thinking that this photography thing is way more complicated than I originally thought of.  Also, am looking forward to the next 5 years or so - New Horizons gets to Pluto in July 2015 - now that's going to be cool!   NASA has the Kepler project well underway .. looking for Earth-like planets around other stars and there's lot and lots of beautiful things to look at.

As for the blog, I have tried to keep it focussed on the sky, and my attempts to photograph it.  Hope you've enjoyed it so far.

Hope your holidays go well and you have a good time now and in the new year!!

December 22, 2009

Happy Solstice to all!

Longest Day!  Summer Solstice and not one naked wiccan! Damn it all!

So today's the day that the sun reaches it's highest point of the seasonal cycle .. from here on out, the days get shorter as we slide into autumn.

Bad Astronomy has a good, if northern hemispherical, write up and as usual lots of links and nice pictures about it all :)

No pics toinght.  Been cloudy all day, and most of the evening .. as the buggers have worked out that I am no longer in Snells and have come looking for me :)  I have laid hands on a good tripod (thanks Dad) and if it clears up later I will be out there seeing what I can get :)

So, there may be an addendum ... keep watching :D

December 21, 2009

Stars in MooLoo Land

Well, I'm here! After a stunning day of heat, 3-year old niece and her boundless energy and a kitten with almost as much energy .. night fell, and I found myself cursing.

Cursing my inability to hold a cam steady for 1/10 second, cursing my lack of telescope on such a beautiful night and cursing my SD card reader failure!

Still, all is not lost, and in the best traditions of taking the same shot in different places, I present you with these!

NASA pic O' the day ...

Expedition 22 Lifts Off

Mmmmmm ... Rockets!

And then, More Wow!

I was just about to go to bed, honestly!  But then I was checking out my feed from Bad Astronomy ... not that I'm stalking Dr Plait, man-crush or no ...

Ahem! Anyways ... go here!  Not only is it the link to the people who made the wow .. but there's links in there that let you make you OWN wow!


And to all, a good night.

Well away to Te Awamutu tomorrow for the holiday, lent Bill my rig earlier this evening, so I think I made his Holiday :)  Happy Christmas Bill!

Of course, once I lent my rig out, the skies cleared and all was a beautiful night for observing.  Murphy sits on my shoulder I tells ya, making snide comments in his Irish accent.

So I got some nice shots anyways to spite the bastard!  Was trying to get my camera to pull off time-lapse, which it does as part of it's video settings, but bugger that, I want 8 mega-pixel time-lapse dammit! So I will be working on that soonish too :)

So postings may be a little scarce for a while my friends.  But I do plan on taking some shots in TA - they have beautiful skies there, so keep watching.

Oh and Happy Solstice everyone! ;)

December 20, 2009

Oh. Wow.

This, as well as being beautiful, is just humbling ... 13.7 Billion Light years in six minutes, 31 seconds ...

December 19, 2009

NASA pic O' the day ...

Yeah yeah - it's not Astro as such, but rockets are damn cool too! Is there anyone who didn't wanna be an astronaut when they grew up? Hell I'm nearly 40 and I still wanna be an astronaut when I grow up!

December 17, 2009

What I want to do when I grow up ...

I want to take pictures like these:

As a budding, and very amateur,  astrophotographer I stand in awe.  That and I have a little man-crush on Dr Phil Plait.

Oh and thanks to Bill, there's also this one,:

But then who didn't want to be an astronaut when they grew up?

December 16, 2009

Cry 'Havoc', and let slip the dogs of War!

Went observing last night, with Martin and Karen.   Started off at the chateau du Val, where we had an awesome view of such wonderful sights as the Great Nebula in Orion, Jupiter with all four Galilean moons clearly visible and a fruitless but fun search for Uranus.  After that it was heading towards midnight and we decided to pack up the bucket and head down to the beach to watch Mars rise (12.07).

After waiting for a bit, Karen pops up saying "what's that orange star over there?" and we were off!  Mars appears very small in my scope, but quite bright and very very orange.  Quite quite beautiful .. most definitely a crescent in the scope, no sign of the Dogs of War of course - too small and too dim I would think.

There was much cursing on my part regarding the size of my scope, and what I would give for a 16-inch bucket, not to mention getting my hand pinched in the springs causing some little resentment towards my scope :)

So a good night all in all, some lovely things seen.  The Orion nebula and of course Mars.  Also Io appeared kind of red to me last night, could have just been atmospherics of course, or could be that Io is slightly red :)  Also, the night was filled with shooting stars - perhaps a fringe of the Geminids creeping down to the southern hemisphere :)

No pics of the night's activities of course, because I forgot to take the Camera Mount :(  I am, an Idiot.

December 12, 2009

Some Thanks

 I can't believe my remiss-ness.  Blame it on the RL I guess, but I am here to give some thanks (calm down Bill, not THAT kind of thanks :)

My heartfelt and extreme thanks go out to the Andrews - for the generous donation of laptops .. Eddie and Jackal, thanks guys, the gifts are awesome and sooo appreciated .. now I have something to take my Astrocam feeds and eventually control my motor system, hopefully leading to better quality pics. You guys rock.

So there we go, I'm sorry for the lateness of it.

Oh the sweet sweet taste of success!

Well the new camera is an unqualified success .. especially with the hack.  I got back from Welly and finally got a clear sky and all the right conditions to shoot for the moon .. so I did, and the ability to adjust things is awesome - also the ability to shoot in 3 bracketed shots is awesome, oh and well ... CHDK is just awesome :)

These are, without a doubt, my best yet.  Some notes on stuff for all that are interested - I manually fixed the chromatic aberration in Photoshop (moved the red and blue channels around), then applied a noise reduction and unsharp mask to the images.  I have not yet done any colour work on them, apart from colour noise removal, so they're fairly raw.

I most definitely has a happy!

Also, I have shifted from Flickr - as they want to start hiding my shots and I'm too cheap to pay for a pro account, so I went a hunting and found I can have up to a gig of photos here! So ... enough yak, on with the sexy shots!!

November 30, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Wellington Skies

Here's a surprising fact, I appear to have been made the god of all clouds .. they love me, and follow me where ever I go.  I'm at the penultimate day of my Wellington trip, get on the plane tomorrow morning and fly home.  And the skies down here have been clear maybe once and a half in the last week.

Is it the time of year? Is it my Movember mustache? Or just random happenstance.  I know it's not my scope, because Bill seems to have got some viewing goodness in while I was away.  So here's a coupl eof things I actually managed to shoot down here - cam only of course, as the rig is with Bill - and these were shot on the second night of my trip.

So here's the Moon, and Jupiter .. was a nice clear night, and I am still learning all the features of the CHDK, so my photography is a little all over the place atm ...

Then there's this one

Which I am quite fond of.  This is a shade over 10 minutes, shot from Axi's porch.

So back to Snells tomorrow - hopefully the skies will start behaving - although, not hoping much - and I can unleash the new camera and rig at the moon.  See y'all later.

November 23, 2009

News from Around the web

Well, since I am beset by the demon of cloudiness once more, and about to embark on my trip to Wellington, here are some links I find attractive - I hope you do too! 

Ok, they're all from Bad Astronomy ... but I still find them attractive. Dr P is also awesome.

November 21, 2009

Quick post - shooting between the clouds

Well wouldn't you just know it?  I lend my rig to Bill for a week and the #$%&ing sky clears ... arrrgh.  To be honest it clouded over again fairly quickly, but I took the chance to get some shots of the crescent moon - and have a bit of a play with my camera.  Things I learned:  ISO is sensitive! A dSLR has many advantages, mainly the bigger CCD that helps with noise, and of course the whole LENS thing *fume*.  How did I learn this most obvious factoid?  My esteemed flatmate, Jeremy, had his 1000D out with me, and his shots blew mine away :)

Here, let me share one with you:

I think he's done awesomely, even though I might grumble about his dSLR.  You can follow his Flickr account by taking the number off the end of the link above :) Or clicking on the one over there -->

So I have no rig for a week, I'm off to the Wellytown on Tuesday, and have given Bill the Dob for the week or so that I'm away - by all rights I should change the name of the blog to 15.2mm as that's about all the focal length I got without the scope :)

Anyways .. am off to go learn about RAW, ISO and various other TLAs

November 19, 2009

Clear Skies!

Well it all cleared up for about an hour!  So I rushed about panicking for about 5 minutes, then decided against getting the scope out as I only had 25% charge on my camera.

So, instead I got some star trails :)  Before the ubiquitous clouds rolled back in, I managed to get off 3 shots, one 10 minute exposure and two five minute exposures ... for my first ever star trails, I was quite happy!

November 18, 2009

Tiny Lions

Last night was Leonid season, with the peak apparently happening around 10 this morning.  Went out about 3:30 in the am and of course all I saw was clouds, and the occasional star, in between the clouds. "Where are these tiny lions?" I asked myself.  Then ranted for about an hour to my flatmate about clouds.

Am getting very very sick of clouds, have not had a clear night for quite a while now.  I am, in fact, considering either moving to a desert - where there isn't enough moisture to form clouds, or constructing some kind of evil genius doomsday device to rip a hole in the sky.

In other news - am getting fairly familiar with the Canon hack, so this is good, not that I have anywhere to use it. And I have started the search for a stepping motor - more electronics fun - but if anyone has an old stepping/servo motor that they no longer want, need or would be prepared to trade ... let me know?  Prefer one I don't have to assemble :)

In final news - Happy Birthday to my partner in cheap optics and weird telescope hacks, Bill!

November 12, 2009


OK .. here's the skinny.  Been offline for a few days, as y'all can probably tell.  But here's what's happened:

Fridays results were, quite frankly, shit.  Due to the CCD being around 2.5mm on a side, the object of the shot (in this case, was Jupiter) stayed on the fov for about 3 seconds, so I had issues even focussing the scope, let alone shooting anything good.  Also, due to my wee bucket needing collumation I was getting focal and exposure issues from the sides of the image to the center.  So not a good night Friday all in all.

However .. some other things have happened .. first off, my good friend Eddie has long-loaned me a Dell laptop - Eddie! I love you man, in that bromance way :)  Then on Monday my new camera arrived and it's a lovely little beast - have to give thanks to Fab and Sarsha for buying my Lumix so I could afford the Canon.  So the other night I got the CHDK kit loaded and had to go have a wee lie down.

Granted the 80IS is not an SLR .. but it now has most of the functionality of one - seriously, with the hack you can use the damn thing as an e-book reader if that's what you want to do.  It gives you control over everything!  And I mean everything - focus, aperture, exposure, timelapse, RAW format saving (both average and sum), remote firing and a whole lot of other things besides!  So I'm now learning how to use the hack basically and am pretty sure that my astro shots will improve somewhat :)

So then today, my 2x Barlow lens arrives! :) So now my focal length is effectively 2400mm :)

Now all I need is for the skies to clear - seriously, we've had one good night in the last 3 weeks!  First clear one I get, the cam+hack is getting a workout!

November 6, 2009

This is HARD

Ok, Astrocam2 works!  But it's a viciously difficult thing to focus and control.  I am having a wee hiatus between observations at the moment, both for a break and also because I need to give the moon an hour or so to get a bit higher in the sky.

So, the cam system works very well.  But it is very hard to control, very very hard to focus.  This isn't a bitch session, but I can see why a motorised 'scope would be ftw in the situation.  Focus as it goes kinda thing.

I grabbed some video of Jupiter, will transfer that from laptop nowish.  I'm immediately noticing some things however.  The colours and focus is excellent around the sides of the image, but the planet just goes to white in the center of the image ... anyone know why this might be?

I am such a n00b.

In other news, Canon should be here on Tuesday/Wednesday and then I can start the hack etc.  Also just ordered a 2x barlow from AstroNZ, so that should be here soonish too.

I will be back with more later

CCD is clean and now seeing into the IR

All is prepared, the CCD is as clean as I can get it, and now without IR filter on it.  Only trouble is, clouds moving up from the west :(

Forecast for tomorrow night looks good tho.

Fingers are Crossed

The sky is blue, the sun is converting hydrogen to heavier elements and I'm scouring the weather forecasts to see if it remains this way.  If it does, AstroCamII gets field tested tonight! Moon, then Jupiter, then if all is looking good, Mars.

Oh and I bought a new camera ... Canon IXUS I80S ... hopefully should be here next week.

November 3, 2009

AstroCam 2

Well I began.  And at this point, I am a little pissed off.  I got the camera apart, all the way down to the naked CCD, and I was happy.  Then I plugged it in and loaded up the drivers and hence the pissed-offness ... either I munted it when taking it apart - a distinct possibility, or it's not talking to 64-bit windows very well, something I will check out today by putting it on a 32-bit machine.

Also there has been no chance for photography, or even observing, recently, mainly due to the clouds that seem to live above my house.  This is frustrating, as Mars is visible in the east at about 2.30am now, and getting earlier all the time.  So I will continue with the trials and tribulations of Astrocam 2, and of course letting you all know about them.

In the meantime, Flickr put me onto a very cool and free ebook - How to shoot the moon with a dSLR.  The cool thing about it is all the settings he uses and also the walkthrough of image

And of course, while we're on the subject, my good friend Rusty has just started a blog around his photography ... head on over to and take a look!

Ok, and now, back to the cam.

Let there be w00t! And there was, and it was good.  Turns out it was the 64 bit drivers just plain not working .. plugged cam into 32 bit beastie and we're running first time, no problemo.  Turns out that naked CCD = blurry, so time to do some reading :D  Back with a new report, soonish.

Photographic Addendum

OK, so same deal as before - old 35mm film tube, this time one that actually FITS in the scope, lots and lots of gaffer tape, and some cusswords and we're there.  Something I learned - do not re-cut the film tube with camera mounted to it ... plastic dust and crap all over CCD - cleaned with horsehair artists brush.  So now I'm just waiting for Bill to show up with the Laptop, and I will be testing the rig ... probabaly on the barn 2km over there as It's too cloudy for moon and stars.

So here's the pics

I shall return with test results as they come to hand.

Penultimate Addendum
It works! Oh yes!!  We have an almost unqualified success!  Course was testing in daytime by peering into a window 2-4km away, but she's a go!  Last thing now of course, the stars!  But then will have to wait for the clouds to disappear ...

October 30, 2009

Hot hot hot!

New images of Mercury:

And NASA bombs the moon

October 29, 2009

Real Life Intrudes

Hey all, having to actually start doing some work now :)  I promised myself I would holiday until my birthday and of course now I'm 39 I have to be sensible (snort).  But the reality is that I am starting show reel work with a vengeance now and also picking up more frequent freelance work as well ... this is in a way good, in the same way that paying rent and eating is good.  But it is going to cut into my gazing time somewhat.  This is not to say that this blog or the gazing, snapping and general swearing at gear will stop, but the posts may become a little more infrequent.  I hope this isn't the case, but just warning.

Now that's over with, I will be starting the engineering work on AstroCam2 either today or tomorrow, and of course there will be pictures and a story for support :)  Looking like things are moving forward on replacing the Lumix with a Canon too - more on that as it happens.

October 28, 2009

Te Awamutu Results and ...

There are none .. it rained, then did the maybe cloudy sometimes thing.  However, I spent some time checking out the new candidates for Astrocam 2 and it's looking like the Logitech cam for notebooks is going to be pretty darn good.

Also missed the auction for the Canon I was going for on Trademe :(  Will keep looking tho.

Also, I'm 39 today :)

October 26, 2009


and of course, it's raining *sigh*

Clearer skies for a little while

Evening all, just about to box up my Dob in preparation for heading down to Te Awamutu for the next 3 days.  TA is not so urban, or as close to urban centers as where I am now, so I am hoping for some clear nights and awesome views.  So as I am packing, here is the upgraded version of the Astro-Kit that I will be taking with me.

As per usual, click to enlarge.  So I will possibly not be posting until I get back with results on Wednesday, I will see you all then!

Oh and a link sent over to me from the lovely ektax ... it's some truly beautiful stuff, and one day I would love to be getting shots like this:

October 24, 2009

Maintenance, Heavens Above and reCurved

As you can probably see, I have done a little site maintenance this morning, dredging out the CSS knowledge from when I used to design the web pages, killing that bloody annoying transparency behind the posts and adding a sexy new header image up there (my dob+the moon, from last night).  So the blog, which is 20 days old now, is looking a bit better :)

I found some awesome links last night, which I added to the Linkage section over there, chief among which is Heavens Above which has the cool feature of recording your Lat, Long and Alt then preparing tables of things like planet rise times and positions based on where you are ... I love it, it's awesome and consider this a plug!  If anyone's interested (looking at you Bill) Snells Beach is approx -36.4°N, 174.7°E with an alt of pretty much 0.

The other thing I found last night was CHDK (Canon Hack Dev Kit) which is a firmware extension for Canon digital cameras, that allows you have full manual control over pretty much everything, focus, aperture, ISO, all the way up to programmable time lapse.  So I am now officially looking to sell my Lumix if anyone's interested :) Nice little camera, for a very reasonable price.

Finally, I am working on a new blog (in addition to this one) to cover another of my recent obbsessions, the blog, which will be called reCurved is the experiences, results and fun of the SBGDSC (Snells Beach Garage Door Snipers Club) - which at this point amounts to 3 guys firing arrows at a target on my garage.  So I will let y'all know when that's up and running :)

So today, it's a beautiful sunny day, warm, full of (now) clean washing and hopefully (later) starting work on AstroCam2.  AstroCam having been retired to being gaffer-taped to the top of my secondary monitor so I can speak to my beloved Jacqui whilst she's in Malaysia. See you all tonight!

October 23, 2009

In the Shadow of the Earth

Well at around 8pm tonight, when I should have been making dinner, I was out getting some shots of the moon.  You guys know how I said that I was getting the Lumix sorted?  Well that might just only be for Jupiter, because a lot of my moon shots are out of focus again, or one part of the image is in focus and the rest isn't.

Some of this I think may be due to Mount II bouncing with the weight of the camera ... I tend to have it set to a 2-second wait then shoot, but even then, I am zoomed in 4x usually and the photos just look like they are blurred due to movement as well as the focussing.  Pop on over to Flickr and see for yourselves - any and all feedback is of course, welcome.

So tonight it's very very clear and cold, the crescent moon is out in the western sky, and I am thinking to myself it looks like an awesome night to see if I can see the more distant gas giants, which would be awesome as I have never seen them before.  However, I might just try get some better shots of La Luna before it sets as well ... possibly add a little more support to mount II, thereby taking it to mount II.V :)

Watch this space.

October 22, 2009

Stacking Em Up

Still finding my way around RegiStax 5 here, but here's the first result from the Lumix Videos.

and just as a comparison, here's one of the frames that I stacked to get it.

So I took the video into AfterEffects and stabilised it, then output it as uncompressed png stream and took that into RegiStax, from there I aligned it again (stabilised), stacked it and went bananas on wavelet settings.  As you can see the result is fairly oversharpened and the greenish halo on the right hand side is I think a result of chromatic aberration, I could shift the red channel over a bit.  This is teaching me that I need to shoot dark and flat frames next time, but again, I'm not unhappy with this result, stacking brings out a fair bit of detail, more than I expected.

The Death of AstroCam 1.0

Well.  I just reviewed the footage I shot last night, then hit the delete button on all of it.  Even at 1600x1200 Jupiter through the 25mm Lens is about 100 pixels square.  This wasn't the major problem, the thing that has caused me to lay AstroCam1 to rest is that I would be getting 1, maybe 2 frames in focus per 5 second video, then the camera would just lose it.  I got some frames that showed the bands, were in reasonable focus, and Jupiter wasn't just a big bright lens flare, but that's just it, 1 or 2 frames per video.

The 640x480 video shot on the Lumix came out much better - still a bit bright, and Jupiter is blown out to all hell, but it was all shot through the 9mm lens, so I have way more pixels to work with and I am starting to get a real handle on how to shoot with the Lumix.

I went out and got AstroCam V2 this morning - cheaper, lower resolution and non auto focus - Logitech Quickcam for notebooks - expect a post on the disassembly and preparation soon.

So, things I learned:
Autofocus is evil
25mm Lens is too wide a fov for good webcam video
Set Lumix to Macro
ISO 80/100 gives best results for detail, even if the moons disappear

No pictures yet this morning, about to stack some now


Awesomely clear night tonight, I have some stills and a bunch of video from AstroCam1.0,  The stills are some of the best I have done so far!  Some of them are almost in focus even .. I am stacking some of them now, so I will edit this post once I have something to show!  Happy Val!!

Bill! You sir, rock, the laptop saved the day today, at least I think so, they're still copying.  Sorry for being cheeky and keeping it, but I'm hoping the results from two hours of observing and shooting tonight will be some excuse at least!

So tonight is counted as a win for me so far.  Will do some frame stacking now and post again with results!


Holy crap!!!  I got the Spot!!!! Here's the first one, from the Lumix (laptop ran outta juice) .. 3 frames, stacked in RegiStax 5, then tweaked in Photoshop.

And here's the best of the full frame shots:

That's Jupiter (see the spot?) and the moons are (from Jupiter outwards) Io, Europa and Ganymede, at least that's what Stellarium tells me :)

October 19, 2009

Oh what a weekend!

Bill, you're a wonder, thank you so much for the loan of the laptop.  Got no results to show you however - basically the camera I got is too "bells and whistles" to give me the shots I want.  No matter what I do to the settings, the autofocus and autoexposure stays on, so after about 15 seconds, the planet fades out of focus ... incredibly frustrating, let me tell ya!

I got some footage last nght and was just setting up for tonight when, and I swear this is true, the sky clouded  over and began raining inside 15 minutes ... it's still raining now

So not good results for the Quest, however I have not given up!  I will try again with this webcam, Also with another, older one that I have ... and by the steel flesh of Ormagöden I will succeed!!

October 16, 2009

The Kit - AstroPhotography on a Budget

Morning all.  I am awake very early and the sky is very clear, unfortunately that huge sphere of hydrogen fusion reactions is up and washing out all the stars.  Here's hoping that tonight the sky is as clear.  If not tonight, I will settle for tomorrow, as I'm not greedy :)

So this morning I was looking through the stuff I take observing and decided to make it all into a bit of a kit, as this quest is starting to get serious now, and I find myself with a fair bit of stuff.

For those of you that arn't familiar with my situation, I am using an 8-inch (200mm) dobsonian mount reflector.  Nice, portable starter's scope, which I bought from the lovely people at AstroNZ.  It's not motorised in any way and I have 9mm and 25mm SuperPlossl lenses for it.

My stated quest is taking kick-ass digital photos of near-earth objects, on an extremely low budget.  So here's the kit I have put together to achieve this, plus a wishlist :) Click to enlarge and read labels :)

So the things not here are the Panasonic Lumix Camera - 8.1 MegaPixel Compact Digital Camera. And the scope itself.

Now the things I think I need - Laptop with USB2 for AstroCam, more gaffertape, more batteries and a thermos for coffee :) Oh and possibly an assistant!

Basically this allows me to get everything from star-trail shots to planetary closeups (as long as that planet is the moon).. if I can only sort out the focusing :D  All up, the cost of all this is under $400, a lot of it is stuff I found in the garage.  The most expensive items are the Lumix - $200 and AstroCam V1 - $100.

October 15, 2009

Clouds are capricious things

Looked outside just now, and after raining all day, it's cleared up .. I'm too sore and tired to do anything about it however, and still waiting on the use of a laptop and/or an assistant ...

Tooth out today, felling much better but still very sore ... see you all tomorrow

Rain, clouds and pain

Hey all, nothing toinght, except the AstroCam1.0 got used as a webcam for a while ... I'm fighting an abscess in one of my few remaining teeth atm, so maybe no posts for a while - dentist tomorrow morning!

However, I expect to have someone lend/give/misplace their laptop to me by weekend, so watch this space.  If the skies are clear enough, I'm going to try find Neptune!

October 13, 2009


Just awoken from my Nana-Nap and the sky is beautifully clear!!  Time to move the PC outside :D More as it happens :)  Just waiting for Jupiter to rise high enough to be in range of my limited USB cabling ... I really need a laptop!!

Waiting waiting ... Jupiter moves damn slowly, unless of course I am trying to focus on it :)  I love this stuff.

Stayed clear, but I ran out of time .. so maybe tomorrow


October 12, 2009

Oh! The irony, and possibly goldy and bronzy while we're at it

I'm quite fond of "pop culture" you know, I mean I don't go to Armageddon anymore and I have stopped watching a lot of TV, but found this funny this morning.  If you wish to gather any information on stars from Google, here's a tip ... include this on the end of your search string:

-"star wars" -"star trek" -"death star"

Sheesh! What is the world coming to? :D

Small Star Party

Well tonight I saw Karen and Martin come round as we tried to sort this camera out.and in a lot of ways, we did sort the camera out, except for the capturing of in focus video :(  Once more it seems auto-focus is my enemy, oh how I hate it!  Still all is not lost, the MacGuyver'd webcam from hell works, looks through scope, captures pics, is all good apart form the one little focussing issue .. which I will solve if it kills me.  The circuit board for the camera is mounted on the (green) lid of an old 35mm film canister, which was then snapped back onto the canister, and gaffer taped to the super-plossl metal body, with eyepiece removed.  It actually worked, apart form the afore-mentioned auto focus.

Many many thanks to Martin for his amazing gaffer-tape engineering skills and Karen for being the Lady of the Light and also being awesomely enthusiastic and patient at us guys rigging stuff.  Highlight of the evening was rigging up a rockband powered usb hub to boost the camera signal through about 4 or 5 usb extensions ...

Ok, I think I may have a solution .. I taped the camera onto the eyepiece, and although I had to guess focus (no laptop - all donations welcome!) it seemed to work a lot better ... I now have some video of Jupiter moving across my FOV .. with 4 moons visible  right now it's 668 million kms away too! ... So all is not lost I say, and now, bed

October 11, 2009

Oh also!

My membership package from the AAS arrived safely today! YAY! Now I belong to something astronomical!

The Quest is alive and well

Well after a truly awesome day firing arrows at my garage, and playing a bit of RockBand with my homies, I also found time to start the Great Webcam Project,  As my stated goal is to get the most awesome shots of near-earth objects as I can, even though common wisdom says I should save that for my 2nd or 3rd telescope - the one with the GOTO system and the mount worth as much as a good car.

Well I don't have that yet, so I am having a great time trying to make the equipment I have got do the trick.  So yesterday I bought a webcam from Dick Smiths, this one to be precise:

I bought this model because it has a 2 Megapixel CCD.  This means that I can get 10fps video at 1600x1200.  Which is pretty nice as far as these things go.  So this afternoon, I disassembled it.

Fearing the worst, as this model has the dreaded auto focus, which I am still blaming for the bad quality of my shots.  To my delight and surprise, when I plugged the (disassembled)  cam in and installed the software that came with it, I found that the software allows you to control anything you want, you can switch the autofocus off and focus the cam yourself, not to mention white balance and ALL that other good stuff you can't access on my Lumix.  So I am just about to take the whole kit and kaboodle out to the garage and see if I can make a mount to get it in the Prime focus of the telescope ... with luck from the clouds there should be something shot tonight!  Wish me luck!

Closing in on the Gas Giant

Well, I'm getting closer and closer to the good shots.  Still not brilliant, course it helps that my camera was NOT set to any ISO but to "Auto" which means it's little Panasonic brain goes "It's dark! ISO 1600!" And of course Jupiter becomes a big white circle with no detail, but you can see the moons :)

So tonight I got out about 2am, fiddled with mount a bit till I got it locked down hard, then started shooting, tweak scope, shoot, that kinda thing.  I swear the focus was right for my, admittedly old, tired and half-busted eyeballs, but through the camera it's still fuzzy-ish.  *sigh*

I bought a cheap webcam today that shoots video at 1600xsomething, so that's the next project to attempt ... going to need a laptop ... anyone interested in donating an old one? *grin*

Anyways ... here's the best shot of the night, well the only one I am prepared top show the world anyways. Jupiter, with I think Callisto and Ganymede as best I can make out from Stellarium.   I'm not disappointed, because this does show real progress, but I still want to do a lot better ... oh yes, the quest continues!

Night all!

October 7, 2009


I hates them

Telescope Maintenance

What's this?  Posting during the day?they will revoke my stargazing license! :)

Today's the day I will get my scope totally sorted, ready for the nights!  So the plan is to drag it outside, attach the camera, try out some of my focusing solutions, align the spotter scope accurately and hopefully get everything sorted to make the nights a little easier.  I will of course, let you all know how it goes.

Bits and Bobs

Too cloudy again toinght.  This is a pity as I have come up with a couple of possible solutions to my focusing problems - one involves a LOT of red cellophane, the other is more oldschool ... will let you all know more as I try them.

I would just like to put in a wee plug for Sellarium - lives here - awesome freeware planetarium software for your pc or mac.... very cool way of finding things in the sky before you go outside and freeze!  Big thanks again to Andrew at the AAS for putting me onto it.

I will also be trying to do some more frame stacking work next time I shoot stuff - I'm planning to use the moon, as it's bright and easy to film.  I will be using RegiStax to do it - good reason to learn the program and my early tests came out ok.  Pity my camera only does 640x480, but it will be good enough for a test.

October 6, 2009

Visit to the AAS and Skydome

Just got back from my first AAS meeting ... and it was awesome, tonight we talked about observing the gas giants, and how to find them.  Finally met the awesome Andrew and got a look at the big scope and some cool videos and podcasts re:astronomy. All in all an excellent night!  Also, and most importantly, Andrew took the time out to show me why my Dob is drifting - not got the springs on right! So now, I'm off to fix that, then see if I can get hold of Jupiter in between rain showers!

More to come if I do!

Later Addendum ... well I got some shots, but they aren't very good - out of focus mainly, also think I got some condensation on lens/eyepiece in the cold tonight.  So I'm packing it in ... this one is probably the best of a bad lot :(

October 5, 2009

Tonight is a wreck

Typical Snells Beach weather. The sky was clear for twilight, then since full dark have had full, if a little patchy cloud coverage. Never clear long enough to set everything up, bundle up and get out there. This, I guess, is the astronomer's lot, can't control the clouds really. At this point I'm ready to go play Tomb Raider Underworld for an hour or so and see if it gets any better out there.

In the mean time I did get a few shots of the moon as it was rising over my house ... here's one for your enjoyment :)

October 4, 2009

The Quest

For those of you who know me, and who read my other blog this will be familiar. However for any new people, or those people who don't read my other blog, henceforth to be used for other things, here's the links to The Quest ... also known as Where it All Started or How the Hell do I Keep This Thing Still?

The first post - The Quest - is here
Followed quickly by the second
and then the most successful to date, the third and fourth

And that will bring you all up to date on the state of my astro-photography.
Basically, if you can't be bothered reading that, I'm working through the process of taking photos of near-earth objects using my 8 inch dobsonian telescope and my crappy little Panasonic Lumix FS4. This is for the results of those shots, observations, links, and general blogginess .. I will upgrade the camera one day, and possibly even motorise the telescope, but lets just see where this goes shall we?

For now I am content to be on this journey, and anyone who is interested in shooting the stars on a budget or just with things you may have in your garage, I hope can find some advice, or at least a good laugh here.

I usually post my best shots and results to my Flickr account ... the astrophotography set is linked off to the side there, or for you lazybums ... here.

Looking out my windows right now, I see the sky has cleared somewhat and importantly, it's cold, which means it's time to start the Jupiter Project ... or at least get the moon in focus :)