In my previous posts, I had the same three targets. The moon is easy (ISO24, 1/250s), although the fuller it gets, the more washed out if I don’t use a filter:
And I can see some single frames of Saturn are worse than others (ISO32, 1/10s):
But I was REALLY setting up so I could play with my camera centring. As I noted in a previous post, the feedback from an online FB group was that my EP wasn’t centred. So I wanted to ensure 100% that I was centred last night. For one of my stars off to the side, defocused into a doughnut, I was clearly NOT centred (screengrab of Night Cap below):
But I moved the stars around a bit in the EP and managed to get something a little more balanced:
And then BAM, I got this:
Only minor differences in positioning, no difference in my centring over the EP. The beauty of the adapter I’m using is that it centres on its own (the physical connectors are aligned so they ALWAYS centre properly). Which left me REALLY confused. Does that mean I’m only centred and aligned for that specific spot on the screen? Not out to the edges? I went back to focus, found a single star, tried ISO10K for a short 2s, and got this, a nice little dot:
I tried Altair, and dropped ISO to 8K while keeping it at 2s:
Under the heading of weird, I dropped exposure to 1/2s, and got this, with a few extra stars poking through more than they did above:
When I increased to 4s, I got some more stars, which makes sense:
I tried another EP, the Hyperion 36mm, and tested my “setup” with a screengrab:
And again, I could find at least one spot that was dead on.
But ISO 10K and a 4s burst? No additional stars. WTF?
So I did the same settings again. And got this:
More stars, different sized star capturing. I bopped over to a small open cluster, dropped duration to a single second, and ISO to 8K. And got more stars, but mixed pinpoint and not. Sigh.
Just for fun, I was wondering what would happen if I did a video of the cluster and stacked it. Nothing that useful, apparently.
A second video did NOT stack well at all.
I also tried a video of (I think) Altair again. Then converted in PIPP and stacked in AutoStakkert. After the one above, I wasn’t expecting much. But it actually seemed to work, while limiting it to I think the best 10%:
The little stars aren’t pinpoint, but overall, the image is promising I think. Now I just have to start figuring out why one works and the other one doesn’t.
In my previous two posts, I noted my standard setup for backyard imaging:
Celestron NexStar 8SE;
stock alt-azimuth mount;
an iPhone XS Max phone running Night Cap software;
the Phone Skope smartphone adapter; and,
a 25mm Celestron Plossl.
My last set of targets for the night was stars. Although my thinking was more like:
Okay, the moon is easy. I’ve got a handle on planets. Now I need to figure out how to do stars.
There’s a guy online named Loren Ball who can do an amazing job getting asteroids, and his stars are always pinpoint perfect. His technique is to use a hand-held magnifying glass to get his stars in focus, and then snap away. He sets his iPhone for ISO 8000, does 10s bursts in Night Cap, has documented all the buttons he pushes to do that, and then stacks 18 images in Nebulosity. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, it seems.
Nope, not even close. I had a few early shots about two months ago that I was happy with, and it seemed like I was on the right track. I took a stab at the Lagoon Nebula and got this on June 8th:
But getting back to that point has proven challenging. I thought I would start with a very simple object — Polaris. Nice, big, bright, can’t miss it. I followed Loren’s button-mashing order to the letter, set my ISO to 10K, and reduced duration to just 5s (the recommended time to start with). The brightness can present some challenges with the lighting in the image, not to blow it out, but it’s easy to see on the screen.
And at first blush, I was okay with it. The other stars aren’t pinpoints, but it seemed okay. Until I posted a few shots online, and people noticed that the “circular” field of view wasn’t quite circular. It’s a bit warped downward to the left. Which apparently meant my camera wasn’t perfectly centred over the eyepiece (although I think it meant my eyepiece was a bit crooked more than the centring was off — my new adapter pretty much CAN’T be uncentred, it’s moulded specifically for my camera, it lines up perfect every time). Loren’s view was that I wasn’t actually at 10K ISO. Except the app said I was, the EXIF data says it is. Not sure how I would know if I wasn’t, or how to check otherwise. Hmm…
M82 showed me a faint galaxy but the stars were elongated:
The stars really showed up as elongated for the Mini Coathanger cluster:
I tried to get clarification online about what those elongated stars meant…I thought I had already reduced the number of variables to focus on technique, as Loren kept saying I was being too complicated. But I had reduced to a single eyepiece, a 25mm Plossl, gives me about 80x magnification which is relatively easy to work with. The new adapter should have given me perfect centring if I put the lens in right. I used the magnifying glass to pinpoint my stars, so I should have been in focus. So what did elongated stars mean? Did it mean I was getting subtle star trails at 5s?
The response was almost immediate — the centring was off, so I wasn’t getting flat stars, not a drift/star trail problem. And my focus. Loren repeated, again, that I should use the magnifying glass, but I *had* done that, which I told him, but he kept repeating it, saying I wasn’t listening, and it finally just pissed me off. I had followed his instructions to the letter, even made a checklist to do it. When I’m frustrated, I appreciate someone offering help, but if they’re not listening to what I’ve done and instead just telling me to just do the same thing over again, it moves past help and well nigh into condescension, and just added to my frustration. At that point, I’m better off going on my own because that kind of rote help does not help at all. And to be honest, I’ve found the two groups I was using somewhat unpleasant in recent weeks for some of the conversations in it, maybe it’s the heat. Whatever. I unfollowed four astronomy groups and moved my focus to my own stuff and a couple of email groups I use. One of the guys on FB who was actually quite helpful is offering feedback through DM, so hopefully, I’ll figure this out in stages. In the meantime, I’ll share my other results.
A very light M10 globular cluster:
Some of the stars in M18 (an open cluster) were okay:
I like the “W” cluster, but you have to cock your head to the right to see it:
I tried twice for Albireo and the second one split the star properly, but neither were great:
I got a bunch of stars in M39 (open cluster again), but still elongated:
M2, a faint globular cluster, is the type that suggests I’m not actually getting up to 10K for my ISO — there should be other stars in those fields.
I liked the look of Epsilon Pegasus which I hadn’t seen before:
M12, another globular, gave me slightly better detail:
But when I tried stacking it, it didn’t improve anything:
I *really* liked M23, nice big open cluster, lots of stars and not as elongated (but I don’t know why!). Stacking didn’t change the outcome:
The target that Loren had suggested for me to try was M25 since it has so many stars in it. And as soon as I published it, the guys online said “You’re not centred” (see dialogue above). Which is true, obviously. So I need to work on my centreing some more (or more likely, the vertical-ness of the EP in the adapter).
Stacking didn’t do anything to help, even with 20+ pics of 5s each. Need to work on that, but as I said earlier, that’s a later priority. I moved on to the Blue Snowball. And, while I can’t say I got anything amazing, there IS something blue in there:
I tried for the Bubble Nebula, but got nada for the nebula. Even the stars around it aren’t great:
Dumbbell Nebula? Nada. Eagle? Lots of stars, no nebula.
I tried for the Swan Nebula, and I did get a faint bit of fuzziness near the bottom.
For the Veil? Nada. Hmm…Maybe I’m NOT at 10K ISO. Hmm…On the other hand, I looked at the Wild Duck Cluster for the first time. And I think it looks really cool with a lot of potential for the future.
When I figure out the right technique, Wild Duck and M25 will be my test subjects. And maybe the Lagoon Nebula again. See if I can get some more colour.
From my previous post, you’ll see that I was set up in my backyard on Saturday, August 10th, with my Celestron NexStar 8SE, stock alt-azimuth mount, an iPhone XS Max phone running Night Cap software, the Phone Skope smartphone adapter, and a 25mm Celestron Plossl. My second set of targets for the night was planets. The moon was pretty close to Jupiter, so that was a wash, and not that far from Saturn, but I thought I might as well try since I was already out.
With digital zoom maxed out the wazoo (never a great approach to get good results), ISO at 50, and duration at 1/10s, I did a couple of single frames of Saturn. I have to say, while they’re not great, they didn’t completely suck either.
There’s even some colour in there. Shocked me that I could get ANYTHING with digital zoom and so close to the moon, but hey, I’ll take it.
I have blogged previously that I’ve set a goal for myself of figuring out how to work my iPhone to take pics through the telescope, and I’ve had earlier success for the moon. But to be honest? The moon is dead simple. If I set an ISO between 24 and 50, and play with my duration to be between 1/100th of a second to 1/300th of a second, and it’s relatively in focus, I can get “something”. The more moon there is showing, the brighter it is, and it’s easy to get washed out without a filter, but any of the setup problems virtually disappear when it’s the moon.
On Saturday, August 10th, I stuck my head out of my back door, saw the moon and went ahead and set up. As always, I’m setting up a Celestron NexStar 8SE, stock alt-azimuth mount, and an iPhone XS Max phone running Night Cap software. The only “variables” that were up for the night were the new Phone Skope phone adapter that allows you to mount the phone over the eyepiece and my choice of eyepiece, which tonight was a 25mm Celestron Plossl that comes with the 8SE scope. My night was divided into three “target zones” — the moon (below), planets (next blog post) and stars (the blog post after that).
With stock f/1.8 settings, I used ISO 24 and 1/300s to get me this:
That is a straight single frame, no tweaking or adjustment of anything other than flipping it horizontally to correct for my diagonal giving me the mirror image by default. Like I said above, the moon is dead easy.
I tried stacking in Nebulosity, and I have little experience using it on the moon. I made it worse, stacking all the images:
I thought it was my choice of stacking technique, so I went a little more complicated to remove the possibility of rotational errors, and, well, it was even WORSE:
I really don’t need to stack it, the single frames are more than sufficient for now. Post-processing will come, but it’s farther down my priority list.
At the top of the big image, I zoomed in a bit to see the top ridge above Mare Imbrium. It is called Montes Jura, and the little alcove below it is Sinus Iridum. The closer photo is below:
The big crater is Copernicus and the little mountain area above it a bit to the left is Montes Carpalus. A third of the way from the bottom of the picture to Copernicus is the landing sites of Apollo 12 (Nov 19, 1969) and Apollo 14 (Feb 5, 1971).
Zoomed in even further on Copernicus, starting to have some issues with focus:
The crater is about 93km across, and about 3.8 km deep (from the top of the rim). The little mountains in the centre are 800m tall, the result of rock “rebounding” upwards after the impact crater was formed by a meteor hitting it.
I then decided to go to the bottom of the moon, and see what I could get of the rocky/bumpy portion. About one-third of the way from the left side, and one-third from the bottom, just below the darker area, there is a prominent crater with a dot in the centre. The crater itself is my favourite, Tycho, and I have no real idea why. Maybe I just like the name of it, but mostly I think it is because it is one of the first ones I ever imaged and subsequently learned its name. Tycho is near the size of Copernicus, 85 km across, but a smidge deeper (at 4 km, or 4.7 km if you go to the top of the ridge). The central mountain is 2 km tall.
The two craters are quite different in age though — Copernicus is about 800 million years old, while Tycho is a young buck, only 100 million years ago. Or, as the joke goes, 800 million and 100 million, plus two days, as I took the photo two days ago.
Having finished the Carp star party on August 2nd, we headed up to the inlaws cottage for the weekend. It’s kind of a small family compound, and there are usually three or four sets of “aunts and uncles” (i.e., Generation 2), a handful of cousins and spouses (i.e., Generation 3), and sundry grandkids (i.e., Generation 4). It can get busy and 30+ is not an uncommon total number of people. This weekend was a smaller bunch, we only had 28.
After we arrived on Saturday, I was frequently asked, “Did you bring your scope?” I hadn’t this time — we just brought Jacob’s smaller scope. The Celestron NexStar 4SE is WAY more portable than my big 8SE, and it has the advantage of having crisp clear images given that it’s a Maksutov-Cassegrain design. We considered setting up on Saturday night, but there was a huge cloud moving in from the north, as there has been on several previous visits. Often the South West area of the sky looks “okay”, but North West is frequently terrible. We didn’t bother setting up.
Sunday was clear all day. The sky had a few wisps of cloud here and there, which is little indication of the night, but in this case, it held. When the night started to fall around 8:30, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. There was some soup at the horizon, but other than that, nada.
The moon was clearly visible, and Jacob set up manually on the moon. We had a bunch of people come over of the 26 other people there, with most popping in for at least a quick look. Normally when I’m up there, there isn’t much to see on the moon. This time, we had a thin crescent, a clear terminator line, and before it got too dark, visible earthshine on the dark side of the terminator line. I guided them to find Mare Crisium and a couple of craters that I imaged back in June, and they were blown away by the level of detail on the moon.
Where we were set up is a deck next to a dock area, and it is just boards above a shoreline. As such, it is a bit springy to walk on, and we had to enforce a “one scope, one viewer” rule that people had to wait on the grass until it was their turn. There were a couple of times we had five or six people waiting to view the next object.
It took a while to get through all the kids and the adults for the moon. Then we turned our attention to Jupiter. Again, we ran through all the kids first as many were heading off to bed, and then through the adults. Lots of questions, and lots of attempts to see the bands. I boosted the power, and added a filter at various times, all trying to bring out detail as easily as possible for them to view. With the 9mm Plossl, J’s scope has about 180x magnification, so the planet was discernible for just about everyone. From time to time, it was hard to resolve the bands, but some of that was getting people used to using the focusing knobs themself. Jacob hung in like a trooper, helping people figure out what to do. However, I realized that with the scope aligned, and most of it sitting relatively still for Jupiter, he had very little to do. He said he wasn’t bored, but it wasn’t that exciting either.
We did take a bit of a time-out in between the moon and Jupiter to perform a full alignment plus Jacob tried out all the various eyepieces. I was a bit surprised by the results. While everyone and their eyes are slightly different, I love my Delos eyepieces with the wide FoV. Jacob by contrast was more enamoured of the plossls. They work well for him, and as I was about to order a new 6mm one for him, it was good to know which style to get. It doesn’t hurt either that the style tends to be a bit cheaper, and gives a nice division of eyepieces between us for packaging and bundling.
After everyone had seen Jupiter, and most had drifted away, I started a quick sky tour. Just for fun, since the night skies were so clear, I tried for M110. This one is almost always at the start of my star tour on the 8SE, and to be honest, I have never seen anything. Maybe a faint fuzzy at most. In J’s scope? In between some trees? It was a very large and bright fuzzy. It’s an elliptical galaxy, and while we didn’t see much detail, it was far more obvious than anything I had seen before in that area. Which made me want to try for Andromeda.
M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, is hugely popular. Everyone says “Make sure you show people Andromeda”, etc. But to be honest, I have never really seen Andromeda. A faint fuzzy at most. Mostly because I frequently observe on nights when there is a moon, and partly because I frequently view from light polluted skies, I almost never feel like it’s worth my time. I even confess there have been times doing a star tour where I just skip it entirely. This time, it was visible in a gap between some big trees, a nice open area of the sky over the cottage, so I went for it. And BAM! There it was, completely clear.
Nebulae. Galaxies. Open clusters. All were available for the viewing. Double stars too. Albireo didn’t disappoint. Five of us looked at it over the course of the night, and we all saw slightly different colour combinations. Globulars were a bit disappointing, but the rest was coming out great. It was hard to pick just the right “next” object as I worked through the star tour with Andrea and Jacob. In the end, we were trying to finish up just in time for Saturn to come out from behind a bunch of trees close to our viewing site. I thought Saturn would be in view about 45 minutes from when I first saw it (I walked out on a dock to see past the treeline). Instead, the movement across the sky took almost 2 hours (!) before Saturn appeared in our line of sight. Jacob got to see it just before 11:30 and bedtime, but Andrea had just given up at that point.
After J left, I went and got a bunch of the remaining adults (six or so) who were still up, and gave them a look at Saturn. While they were impressed, I think they had been more impressed by the Galilean moons and our own moon itself.
J’s 4SE scope worked great. If I had had my 8SE that night, and there were a couple of faint objects begging for the bigger scope, I probably would have stayed up almost all night. It was simply the best sky I had seen in 35 years, all the way back to when I was a young teenager out at the lake and the sky was full of stars.
Plus, just for a bonus during the night, every so often a meteor would streak across the sky. I saw about 4 for the night, J saw his first, and a couple of other people did too. After packing up around 12:30, I sat at the edge of the lake and just stared out at the sky. I would have loved to stay there all night, but I was exhausted and I reluctantly put myself to bed. I’m hoping to go back up in a few weeks, and I am dreaming that one of the nights will be even half as good.
A great night, great skies, and great company with whom we could share the stars. It doesn’t get much better than that.