So I posted earlier that my astronomy season has kicked off, and I’m good to go. With the news that Jupiter was in opposition this week (the closest it will come to Earth all year, hence LOOK NOW for your best view), I thought, “Well, yeah, I want to set up”. And because it’s a PLANET, not some dark sky object, I can do it from my backyard.
So on Tuesday, I was in a hurry to set up before Venus disappeared behind a house, and I wanted to show my wife and son, so I set up the scope on our deck. Anyone who knows scopes knows a deck is a bad idea unless it’s cement. Otherwise, they jiggle if anyone walks. Hard to get vibrations out, but whatever. Anyway, got it set up, quick solar system alignment on Venus, good to go, showed the family, all good.
Then I did a quick sky tour, realigned on Procyon and Capella, not bad, and then I started doing a quick sky tour while I waited for Jupiter to come up over a house. Not awesome, but then again, I hadn’t done ANY OF THE PROPER ALIGNMENT THINGS I know I need to do.
Did I put on the vibration suppression pads? No.
Did I set up on actual ground and not a deck that bounces with every move? No.
Did I put in my most accurate time, location, etc.? Nah, general ballpark.
Did I level the scope? Nope.
Did I choose two good stars fairly far apart in the sky with different altitudes? Nope.
Did I do a careful alignment for RIGHT/UP? Yes! I’m not a neanderthal. Well, I mean, I didn’t do the proper doughnut thing to align or use a reticle, I just eyeballed it, but I did do RIGHT/UP at the end.
Gee I can’t imagine why I didn’t have great alignment. If only I had a post where I could refer back and teach myself how to do it correctly. (Best alignment process for the Celestron NexStar 8SE). Stupid lazy git.
Anyway, I really wanted to get to some astrophotography of Jupiter. It wasn’t awesome but I got a white blob. Wasn’t really expecting anything.
But it was promising enough that I started my “new project” anyway. I have my wife’s old iPhone, and everything I’ve read says iPhones tend to focus better on EPs than Android for their camera design, and the best software on the market seems to be Night Cap(ture) which is only available for iOS. So I decided I would repurpose the phone that is sitting unused, basically an iTouch / iPod at this point, and use it as my dedicated astro camera.
I charged it enough to boot and discovered I couldn’t go any further without a SIM card. What? I don’t want it as a phone, why do I need a SIM card???? Dang it. Researched ways to bypass, and while there are lots of sites that say you can do it, one of the FIRST steps they say is to borrow another SIM card. Umm, which part of “I DON’T HAVE A SIM CARD DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?”, which is pretty much 75% of the comments on those articles too. Or I could jailbreak it. Or I could find the original SIM card. I called one of the repair places that fixed my tablet, talked to the tech, and he basically said any SIM card for an iPhone should work, and my wife DOES have a new one, soooo…anyway, I tried my Android SIM card first, no joy in Mudville. My wife’s sister had used the phone at one point for a camera on some trip, so she got it working somehow, and it turns out she did have a/the card for it, but well, I was impatient. I popped out my wife’s card from her current iPhone, and guess what? They’re totally different sizes. Great. What the hell. I popped it in, and tried to put it in the card slot anyway. No way this should work. It doesn’t even “fit” in right…smaller than the old one.
And the phone moved to the next step. While I held it in place, it let me activate the phone again, register with the app store, all of it. Then I put the SIM card back in my wife’s phone, rebooted, all good there too. Onward!
Found the app store, connected to wifi, went to NIGHTCAP, tried to download, it needed a code from my wife’s account, annoying but manageable, all good to go. Then it tells me NIGHTCAP requires iOS version 10+. The iPhone 4S? Limited to v.7. No joy in Mudville.
I tried it in the scope on Wednesday night anyway, and the controls seem just too basic with the stock camera app. Can’t change ANY settings. Sigh. Okay, well then. On to the Android phone.
The best app for Android is apparently Camera FV-5. I downloaded it, got set up, mounted the Android phone, played with the layout and setup of the physical adapter to figure out the “best way” to align. I went out to the scope, and couldn’t see anything on the screen.
Now I have a good option for this…often the problem is that the scope isn’t “focused” for that EP, and when you do get set up, you can’t go back to look through the EP as it’s now mounted to the phone. So the easy solution was to pick up two cheap EPs at the same magnitude as the other two I want to use…a 25mm and a 15mm. So I can focus with the first 25mm, get it lined up, and seeing “something”, and in the meantime, I can mount the second 25mm to the phone adapter. When I’m ready to take a pic, I just need to swap EPs in and out. I can do the same at the 15mm level if I ever get that good at the basics.
I couldn’t get ANYTHING to work at 15mm. I switched out to 25mm, and again, I was having no end of challenges to get it lined up in the EP. I’ve done this before with the moon, with no trouble, and even on Tuesday night, I could get SOMETHING. Not last night, not at all. Now, part of it is a challenge figuring out the app settings, mainly around three parts:
- White balance — when you do night shots of the sky using your DSLR, most of the astrophotography sites suggest the tungsten setting (good to get rid of fluorescent light normally) as it balances things better. You might have to soften or adjust lighting afterwards, but a good option. Yet I’m not taking a shot of the night sky directly, this is a shot of the EYEPIECE basically. No idea what is the best setting and my tweaks weren’t producing any noticeable improvements.
- Light metering — Which option to use for this is almost anyone’s guess…balanced across the image, focused on the dots that are the planets, moons and stars, or something else entirely?
- Focus — for DSLRs on the night sky, you generally want it at “infinity” to be in focus for star points. But this isn’t the sky, again, it is of the EYEPIECE that is basically millimetres from the camera. Do you go Auto? Macro? Infinity? As with metering and balance, tweaking wasn’t giving me any better results.
I posted a question on Cloudy Nights in their Astrophotography area, but no guidance yet.
So I said “screw it”, I’ll just do a bunch of visual observing. And hey, maybe I can try out the Ultrablock that is supposed to knock out man-made light pollution. If it does, I have no way of knowing. My alignment was so far off that at one point, I told it to go to Jupiter, and it pointed to a spot where Jupiter had been almost 90 minutes earlier! It had aligned previously, but then I changed something, replaced a star somewhere and obviously screwed up. Because when I told it to go to Jupiter, and it was off, I manually adjusted to Jupiter’s real location and told it to align again. It thought about it for about half a second and said, “Nope, that’s too big an adjustment for me, not going to do it, try again tomorrow, ya lazy git who didn’t bother to follow the right alignment procedure at the start!”. Okay, maybe the wording was something like “unable to adjust”, but that’s what it meant.
Good thing the star party is tomorrow. I need to do some serious observing with the RIGHT alignment process from the start.