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 ...