If you’ve been out in the evening for the past week, you may have noticed three shining lights grow closer and closer together until May 26th, when they formed a perfect triangle. These lights were the three planets Jupiter, Venus and Mercury. They came together for a close, rare conjunction on the 26th. I was worried by partial cloud cover during the day, but they cleared in the west in time for me to snap some photographs. Since these planets are close to the horizon, they don’t offer much a view through a telescope due to all the atmosphere and pollution you look through. Enjoy! (Mercury at top, Jupiter at left, Venus beneath)
It was a great day for the 2013 Auburn-Opelika Airshow. A chance of showers that didn’t happen, clouds, and a comfortable temperature. A great all-day event, with Huey and Cobra Helicopter rides, a P-47, a P-51C from the Tuskegee Airmen “Red-Tails”, and lots of fun stunts. These are a few photos from it, you can see some more by going over to my Airplane Set on Flickr.
A Huey Helicopter (above). You could buy a ride for this one.
I love panning, it’s great for any fast moving target. It gives a sense of motion to the photo.
I’m sure you’re all anxious to know what happened. I’m back at home in Alabama now, but our week in Maine was so busy I hardly had time to download photographs from my camera. So, I’ll try to summarize the rest of the trip in one post. (oh, please forgive the mistake in the last post. That was supposed to be April 16 and 17.)
Ok, on April 18th we took a small tour of the University of Maine. My favorite part was seeing their planetarium and observatory, housing an 8-inch Alvan Clark refractor. Alvan Clark was probably one of the best lens makers in America. This telescope was made by his company Alvan Clark and Sons in 1900, making the scope 113 years old. Pretty cool! They’re building a new observatory in a new location that will house it and some more modern equipment.
Fast forwarding to Saturday, the Big Day. That was the day of the Kenduskeag Stream Race. My father and brother entered the race in the Junior/Senior category, and placed third. Way to go! (This photograph was taken at a rapids call Six Mile Falls. It’s notorious for tipping canoeists, kayakers, or any other craft you choose.)
On Sunday, we went poling. Dwight King was kind enough to teach us how. I’m standing in the sandy-colored “NuCanoe”. The NuCanoe is sold by my grandfather’s business Katie’s Kanoes .
We returned Monday. Please, feel free to visit my Flickr page to see more photos from these events!
Greetings from Bangor, Maine! My father, brother, and I flew in on a late flight to our final destination of Bangor International after stopping in New York. It was very cool to fly as the sun set, and see lights flicker on from the houses. This is a more-photos-less-words post, so here’s photographs of the flight and our day today.
Plane wing on the flight
Flying during evening
Night flight, over New York
Flying over New York.
In Maine, there’s still ice in the water! My dad is sitting on the rock.
Celebrating Ice Out! Ice Out is when the ice breaks up on the frozen-over lakes. Ice Out happened at Cold Stream Pond a few days before we arrived.
Remainder of ice at Cold Stream Pond.
Stay tuned, to find out the real reason we’re here. (Hint: it involves a canoe!)
I would have posted this earlier, but I wanted a couple more shoots to post the best. Unfortunately, weather does not always cooperate.
I started imaging at about 1 A.M., but that’s just my best guess. After waking the mount from hibernation (I had set it up and alined it earlier that evening), I sent it slewing to the Moon. For once, the seeing wasn’t terrible. Not to say it was good either, but not as bad as the before. After some casual glances at various magnifications, I told the mount to go to Saturn. It looked pretty good! The first Saturn observation of the season, and the first time with the C9.25. The Cassini Division (the big gap between the rings) was clearly visible, as was some slight cloud banding. Best view was at 235x magnification. I then went back to the moon, and took some video. All stacked in Lynkeos. I’m really starting to dislike Lynkeos. It’s aligning process could be better, and it has trouble stacking large numbers of frames.
The moon is at F/10. Saturn is at F/25, best 300 frames out of 3,800. These are only jpeg files, but you can click on them to go to my Flickr page where the original TIFF file may look better.
Birds are small. I bet you don’t think about it that much. But, have you ever seen a Cardinal out in the yard, and pulled out your camera to take a picture, only to find that Cardinal’s a small red speck in the image? Yep. I wanted to image birds, so here’s what I did.
Because birds are small, I need a long focal length. This means a big lens. For those of you who don’t know, a longer focal length means more magnification, to put it simply. A 50mm focal length is considered close to what the eye sees. A 300mm is a telephoto. A 500mm is a super-telephoto. Anybody using anything beyond 700mm is considered mad. Ok, kidding. Kind of. (Nikkor just announced their 800mm F/5.6 lens, with autofocus, VR, ED and Fluorite elements, and about everything else imaginable)
Alright, so I can’t afford the longest Nikkor (big shock). So, are there other options? Yep. There are cheaper lenses from other manufacturers, most of them ultra long zooms like the Sigma 150-500mm F/5-6.3 lens, similar to the lens I owned. I found these lenses are not as good. They’re slow. Their autofocus is reported to be slow. They aren’t sharp, unless stopped down. For very bright sunlight with fast shutter speed and tripod, they’re OK.
There are commercially made, long focal length mirror lenses like this one. But these are Catadioptric and Cassegrain designs, so usually have a slow F/stop. These also have central obstructions. More on that in a bit.
So, guess what? I’m finding more imaging applications for my 6″, F/5 Newtonian telescope. Imaging with a telescope? Yep. What most people don’t realize is that a telescope and a camera lens do pretty much the same thing. They bring light in the visual spectrum to focus. One is just optimized to take an eyepiece, the other to attach to a camera body (and usually has autofocus). They both can have the same problems, such as chromatic aberration, coma, field curvature, and others. My 6″ F/5 Newtonian telescope is a 750mm F/5 lens with manual focus. My setup at left. My scope rides a huge video tripod with fluid head. And don’t tell me I can’t shoot 750mm in wind, because some of these photographs were taken on a very windy day.
There is one big difference, though. My telescope uses a mirror, instead of a lens. Which means it needs a secondary mirror placed in front of it to change the placement of the
focal point. This secondary mirror casts a shadow on the main mirror (the primary), called a central obstruction. It’s usually not a huge problem, but out of focus highlights are doughnut shaped, unlike a pure lens system with nice, creamy bokeh. But this only happens on the brightest of out-of-foucus highlights.
However, if I time my shoot right, or frame it correctly, I can minimize to eliminate that effect. Take, for example, my favorite bird photograph of mine to date (below left). Most everything out of focus is pretty smooth. Why? Because it was taken on a cloudy day. Overcast skies spread light well and evenly, so there aren’t exceedingly bright highlights. So, if
I limit my shooting to overcast days, I get some good shots. That’s not to say I can’t shoot on bright, sunny days, like the cardinal above.
Coma is also inherently bad in fast Newts. I found F/5 fine, I can’t tell unless I frame the subject on the very edge.
The fact that my D3100 doesn’t focus at infinity in the Newt also means it can focus close. Very close. It’s closest focus is something like 12 feet from the front of the tube (I haven’t measured). This also means it can’t focus on the bush 35 feet away. It’s a small range. All these photographs are taken under a feeder in the tree, so it’s a bit easier. Enjoy the photos, I’m having fun shooting birds.
It was warm last night. Comfortably warm, but not a lot of the flying, biting armies. It was clear, too- but the seeing was terrible. The Clear Sky Clock seeing blocks were Green, y’all. Not good. But, it was clear. And that’s a miracle after what happened in my last post. The ground wasn’t even wet or saturated, as it usually is after hard precipitation. So I thought, “Why not?” and lugged the ‘scopes out, set them up, and was onto GoTo procedures as twilight was fading. I had my trusty 6″ AstroView out, and the CGEM hooked up to it’s (very) small battery pack, a homemade concoction assembled from an unwanted hand vac. This was it’s first time out in the field, and it did well for the time I was out. But I digress. I decided I didn’t want to do a full blown Two-Star alignment, so I decided to try out the Solar System Align. It work exceptionally well, placing ‘ol Jupe well within the view of my 25mm Plossl. Centered it up, pressed Align and I was ready to go, and off I went to the moon. After getting the moon in the field of view, and noting that CSC was indeed correct on the seeing, I wandered over to the AstroView. Plopped in the 25mm giving 30x, focused carefully, and gazed at the lunar surface. Not long after, I decided to do some photography through the AstoView- at F/5. “But I thought you said there wasn’t enough infocus on the AstroView for DSLR imaging at F/5…” There isn’t, as is. But I found a way around that. What I did was unscrew the piece at the end of the focuser tube that holds the eyepiece. I then held up my DSLR w/ t-ring square to the focuser, and fired several shots with a cable release. The brightness of the moon, and the comparatively short focal length allowed me to do this successfully.
In goes the 25mm Plossl for visual viewing. If you ever get a chance, try viewing the moon low power during 1st quarter. It’s an amazing 3D effect. The moon looks like a globe- and I could make out the limb of the unlit side, as well as see stars in the background. Of course, the terminator was impressive. Time to kick the power up a notch. In goes the 2.5 PowerMate for 75x (which, by the way, is the closest I can get to the SCT’s lowest power of 98x). I noticed that the seeing was less bothersome, probably due the smaller aperture (smaller aperture is said to decrease the affects of seeing) and lower magnification. The Moon was putting on it’s usual impressive display of detail, despite the seeing. Montes Apenninus- the lunar Apennine Mountains- is my favorite lunar feature, probably because I don’t know a lot of others, and because it’s very impressive in the eyepiece. So after panning up and down the terminator, I went over to the SCT. After some lunar viewing, I slewed over to Jupiter, just to see if I could see anything. Nope, not really. Just a fuzzy blob with two equatorial belts. So, the moon was the decided target of the night. [Note- the SCT image is through the diagonal, as I don't have a 2" t-ring adapter, or a 1.25" visual back, or a 2" to 1.25" adapter.] In goes the camera, and I rattle off a number of images for stacking later. I found that at about 1/250th second exposure did a pretty good job of freezing the terrible seeing. All my images up to now have been individual images. So, after that was out of the way, I decided to try some video. After taking some short videos, I decided to call it a night and head in. So… off with the OTA, off with the counterweight, out with the power plug, into the shed with tripod and mount, on goes the counterweight, on goes the OTA, in with the battery pack and eyepiece case, in with the AstroView, and I’m inside processing the night’s catch in a jiffy. I started with stacking the individual pictures, my tried-and-true method. I do all my stacks, video or otherwise, with a free downloadable program Lynkeos. I would use the more popular (and probably better) Registax, but Lynkeos was the only program I could find was Mac compatible. After the pictures, I cautiously bring a video into the program and start playing around. What did I find? I found that I love stacking video frames a LOT better than normal photos. A short video captured about a thousand frames. Of course, not all were usable, I let the program choose the best 50-200 or so. Here’s the result. Yes, I know the majority is overexposed, but I’m not an expert processor. I don’t know anything about wavelets, I just played around with the sliders until it looked good. I do think, however, I applied to much unsharp mask (sharpening). Practice makes perfect, I guess, so I’m heading out tonight, and I hope I get something good (despite the CSC predicting green-squared seeing again).
Early this evening, I’m sitting at the table, eating dinner with my family. I glance out the window and notice a warm breeze, some slight rain beginning to fall, and a large front moving in from the west. Nothing to worry about, it looks like an early summer storm. A few minutes later, it begins to rain harder. Some lighting is seen, with cracks of thunder. It’s still light in the east, but rapidly growing darker from the west. We continue eating. Then, a light, steady, metallic pinging is heard on the metal roof. Hearing the hail, the entire family rushes out to the front porch to see gumball sized hail falling. We watch for a few minutes, and begin to wander back inside to dinner as it lightens up slightly. Before we sit again, however, we hear very large bangs and crashes- we run outside again to see 1 1/2 inch hail falling. The banging gets louder and more rapid, as larger and larger hail begin to fall. My Mom and Dad stare in disbelief and horror as 3-inch hail slams into the uncovered vehicles. The hail on the metal roof is deafening and you have to shout to be heard. It looks like cannonballs are shot into the pool and the pond.After 5 minutes of heavy hail it stops and I run out to take pictures, and to collect the largest hailstones with my sisters. Take a look at the photographs! I hope no one was hurt out there.
The largest hailstone I found was 3 1/2 inches.