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 http://www.stellarium.org/ - 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 :)