As I mentioned in the last post, I am a fair-weather astronomer. So even though I want to do “more” this year for astronomy, back in January, I debated whether I could allow myself to skip the lunar eclipse, seriously considering avoiding setting up because it was just TOO DAMN COLD to be working with a metal tube for very long, not to mention freezing my hands, nose and feet. Or having my glasses continually fogging up. Meh. But in the end, I decided I would set up…I mean, I have to, if I want to consider myself an astronomer, right? But then it clouded over and I could pretend to be miffed while secretly being relieved. But if last year was any indication, I need to make a much greater effort to get out there and observe other than waiting just for our monthly Star Parties.
This year I have no real excuses not to be rocking my astro hobby, including some basic AP.
I have a big enough aperture on my Optical Tube Assembly (OTA) to gather some decent light.
I have a mount that I have figured out, even if it isn’t designed for serious AP.
I have the Cadillac of smartphone adapters.
I have the latest in iPhones.
And I have Night Cap, the crème de la crème of astrophotography apps for iOS, with instructions from a master user.
Plus, not for nothing, I splurged on a small bonus setup for myself…since you have to focus on objects, get them centred, etc., and then put the phone and stuff on it, I figured why not put a 25mm lens in (for example), get it all lined up, and THEN, dramatic pause, use the adapter and phone already set up on a second 25mm lens to just swap them in and out. The master user online just leaves his setup with the same EP all night, viewing through the camera just as easily, but I am not sure that will work for me out of the gate. Plus, I want to be able to image what I first have already “seen” through the scope — the photos are meant to be souvenirs of my visual observing.
But using the OTA + mount + adapter + iPhone + software + EP all together seems a bit like a mathematical formula that says:
1 working OTA
1 working mount
1 good adapter
1 right smartphone
1 good software app
1 appropriate eyepiece
= 1 good photo.
However, for me, the learning curve is still there, and I would say it is more like the co-efficients come out as:
- OTA = .6 to .7 simply because I’m not in very dark skies in my backyard;
- Mount = .4 as I still have gremlins if I don’t set it up perfectly;
- Adapter = .1 at present, which I will explain below;
- iPhone = .8 to .9 as I figure out the setup and features (even as basic as turning off the “auto screen off”);
- Night Cap software = .3 at present, although I updated my settings the other night based on expert help online, so it should make a huge difference; and,
- EP = .5 at present, just as I’m not sure which EPs are the best to use with the camera on the phone.
If you put those coefficients into the formula, you would get say .6 x .4 x .1 x .8 x .3 x .5 = .00288. Or about 2/5 of a percent quality of that 1 good photo.
Yeah, I know, the math doesn’t really work that way, I’m exaggerating. But based on my outcomes for my first outing, that estimate isn’t far off my first result. Sort of my own personal version of Drake’s Equation.
My first outing of the year — Sunday, April 28th
I wanted to get a bit warmed up with the hope there will be a lot of viewing this year with some capacity building to take some photos. I SHOULD be able to do this. I just have to get it all to work together.
For my first setup of the year, it was a bit rough. Not everything was in the right boxes, one of my brackets that goes under the mount wasn’t in the right place, and while I can sometimes do it all in about five minutes behind the car, this took me closer to 20 to just get set up, let alone aligned. And that was doing it in the full light of day! Sheesh. Definitely rusty. And as I was doing it, I realized part of the problem was that back in October, my last viewing was not meant to be my last viewing, I was going to go out again and sort everything back into place before hanging it up for the year, but the last outing was cancelled. And I never adjusted the storage. Oops.
But I did manage to get set up.
Since it was still daylight, my first attempt was to see if there was anything worth seeing on the sun. I have a Kendrick Baader solar filter that works fine for my scope, a bit basic, but lets me see the sun without frying my eyeballs. I don’t have a great case for it, so I keep it in the original box and foam packaging inside a larger small tub, and I had thought it would keep it completely safe. Particularly as I never put anything on top of it. Apparently not. I did the “hold it up to the wall to see if there are any pinholes” showing on the shadow and sure enough, there was one. Not sure how, but it has a minor puncture mark. These things take a fair amount of pressure to do that to, so not sure what happened. Anyway, I cheated with a piece of thick tape to cover it, rest of the filter is fine. And I rarely use it so although the viewing is a bit blocked, the danger is mitigated, and I’ll think about replacing it at some point with something sturdier if I can. Sigh.
So I set up on the sun, and the little filter that covers the front end of the tube has a little sun finder — a little pinhole that reflects on a small shade — so when the sun shines through the pinhole and onto the disc on the shade, you should be dead on for the sun. I don’t know what the deal is for other people, but it usually is near the disc, but not dead on. I have to move the tube around a bit to find it. So I moved the OTA around. And moved it around. And moved it around some more. And yet no sun was showing up in the EP. WTF? How am I not getting a bright bright bright sun? How the F*** can I miss the SUN???? The tape isn’t blocking enough to do that, is it? I was sure I understood the physics better than that, but maybe not. Not critical, I don’t do much solar, but not sure what I was doing wrong. I slewed the scope around to take the filter off and I noticed it was on partly crooked. The top was right against the flush of the opening, the other 2/3 were out about half a centimetre. Ohhhhhh. Readjusted, tried again, hey, look, the sun!
Nice simple disk. Hmm…it doesn’t look like anything worth seeing. Hmm…hey, I have lots of new apps and my phone handy, why don’t I just check to see if there is anything to see today?
Let’s see…”There are no sunspot regions on the Earth-facing solar disc today.” Well, pooh. Not even a simple sunspot? Oh well.
I aligned my TelRad, got it set up, seemed okay. Mind you, I’m in my backyard, and I can only look down about five houses to line up, so not exactly the best of distances to be sure, but hey, close enough.
Attempt #2 – Alignment
Okay, I have another confession to make. I was feeling REALLY lazy tonight. I just wanted to shake the cobwebs out of my viewing. So I did a basic setup, didn’t check my levelling, put it on the wooden deck in the backyard rather than the ground, blah blah blah. And I did a simple 3-star alignment process rather than choosing the best two like I’m supposed to do. I figured it would be good enough. And it was. I don’t know which two of Procyon, Spica and Arcturus it was using, but it worked.
I started doing a simple Star Tour later. A bunch of my first objects to the north are hidden behind a few houses. Eventually I started seeing a few stars. An array of things like M35, 36, 37, 38. Ghost of Jupiter at one point. A few faint fuzzies as I went. A couple of double stars. I wasn’t spending much time on them, mostly working my way through looking for a reasonably bright globular cluster.
In the back of my mind, I was thinking I would go for another faint fuzzy like I had last year with my wife’s iPhone 6, one of the things I couldn’t get with my old Samsung. Her phone showed me this:
[iPhone 6 Plus, Night Cap, 10s, f/2.2 4.15mm, ISO7303, a 25mm Celestron Plossl, Celestron NexStar 8SE, Meade smartphone adapter] I didn’t realize what that was but my online guru tells me it is Messier 3. Yay, I’ve imaged a Messier object. Tick that box.
At New Year’s, I ditched my old Samsung and got a top of the line iPhone XS Max. And I’ve been DYING to try it out. I set it up with NightCap in kind of default settings. Used my 25mm Plossl again on the 8SE. And switched to the NexYZ adapter. I snapped a picture and waited. I got a 1s shot, f/1.8, ISO9216. And it looked like this:
That was not an intentional dark for processing. Umm…I reset and tried again. And somewhere in the middle of resetting, I got this:
Cute, but not what I’m trying to do. Unless those are a series of stars coming towards me. I tried again, and for a moment I actually thought I got a globular cluster. Before realizing I wasn’t looking at a cluster. And that’s just some sort of haze on the glass somewhere, with a smudged Arcturus over to the left.
Then, with 1s duration, ISO2300, Auto white balance, I ended up with a bit more pointy star:
Then I made an incredible discovery — space has some sort of green butterfly up there:
Sigh. Try again…ooh, a bit pointy again.
I played with the settings, it stayed at a 1s duration, but bumped my ISO up to 9K, still auto WB, and umm, well, again, not what I was expecting:
I then somehow changed my settings to ISO 4K, still 1s, but manual exposure and manual white balancing. And got this:
I don’t know if that blue-ish artifact is something on the lens or what. I just know this is not what I was going for overall. Sigh. Fortunately, the online guru has given me better settings for my next attempt.
I packed up for the night and will try again. Part of the challenge in setting up for me at the moment is that when I get looking at an object, and then put on the camera + adapter, two things happen. First, I am not really seeing a very good “live view” through the phone, which makes it hard to see what I’m actually going to snap. Second, the weight seems to tilt the scope a bit, which means what WAS centred, is now low in the scope (high in the EP), and I have to readjust to get it into the camera’s FoV. More trial and error to figure that out. It would be great to do this with the moon, much easier to work out some kinks, but for now, this is what I have to work with. Stay tuned…