It was getting late in the evening, almost 1:00 a.m., in my backyard on June 6th and I was ready to call it a night. But Saturn was peeking out from behind some houses, and I thought, “I already have all my filters set out, why not try them?”.
As I mentioned in the previous log about Jupiter, the seeing conditions sucked, with lots of haze in the sky. Jupiter looked like it was underwater at times. Anyway, it was what it was.
The Hyperion 36mm 2″ lens showed Saturn nice and bright, but no real division other than the main rings around the planet. The 25mm super Plossl showed things clear and bright, but as with the observing of Jupiter, a 15mm Plossl was too strong and anything with my Powermate giving me virtual 12.5 or 7.5 was way too strong. Again, my 17.3mm Delos was the Goldilocks of the night, with power just right. FYI, I was still aligned from earlier on Regulus, Antares and Denebola.
I knew my Ultrablock and OIII would do nothing so didn’t bother. The Moon and Sky Glow filter was too dim, and I couldn’t find a good setting for the variable polarizing for this one (but I was tired, so maybe not a fair test). I couldn’t see what I did with my Lunar and Planetary Filter, found it afterwards when I was cleaning up. Which means mostly I just did colours:
08 Light yellow — Too pale;
11 Yellow-Green — Pale, but okay;
12 Yellow — Dim and pale;
15 Amber — Corona around the planet;
21 Orange — Another corona;
23A Light red — Dark with a corona;
25 Red — Just dark;
29 Dark red — Too dark;
38A Dark blue — Too faint;
47 Violet — Too dark;
56 Light green — Light green, not bad otherwise;
58A Green — Too faint;
80A Blue — Too faint;
82A Light blue — Too dimmed.
What did surprise me though was that the V-Block brought it in nice and crisp.
Overall, I would say the V-Block or #11 vs. #56 were the best for me. But I still want to try the Lunar and Planetary filter by itself. Not a complete test, but it was easier than I thought and faster.
I was set up in my backyard on June 6th, trying out various things, and started observing Jupiter around 11:00 p.m. I think. I’m still getting going with my new eyepieces and layouts, so observed with my 36mm Hyperion 2″ lens, a 25mm super plossl, a 17.3 mm Delos, and a 15mm plossl. Just for fun, I tried playing with the Powermate 2x magnifier with it too, but seeing was way too hazy to pull up anything good. FYI, for alignment, I did a simple three-star Sky Align for the night to get going, and ended up with Regulus, Antares and Denebola.
At super low power, the Hyperion 36mm showed Jupiter relatively clear, moons were easily identifiable. The 25mm super plossl showed me good definition in the bands. But I tried the 15mm plossl (by itself) and played with the Powermate 2x to give me a virtual 12.5mm and 7.5mm power options, all three were too much power for the seeing conditions.
Which left me “best seeing” at 17.3mm with the Delos, with the major bands clear, but the image still pretty watery for the conditions. Nevertheless, it’s a good power to play with my various filters at the 1.25″ size.
I really wanted to test my various filters so started with an Ultrablock and an Oxygen III. Neither are designed for planetary use, and not surprisingly, they turned everything green, killed detail, and reduced the glow so much that the moons almost disappeared. Definitely not winners.
I tried the Variable Polarizing lens, which reduced glow, and the bands POPPED with a dark contrast. I was really surprised, didn’t think it would do squat. It’s not the easiest to adjust and use buried under an EP i.e. it’s one you turn and set, look, take it out, turn and set, etc. But it was really good.
For colour filters, I went through my full range:
08 Light yellow — Gentle dimming, good but very pale image;
11 Yellow-Green — Even paler than the #8, almost white;
12 Yellow — Better contrast, but moons still pale;
15 Amber — Light orange, little contrast, and there was a glowing corona around the planet;
21 Orange — Bright orange, no contrast, but the moons were prominent;
23A Light red — Orange corona;
25 Red — Just a red ball, no definition;
29 Dark red — Too dark to see much of anything;
38A Dark blue — Supposedly this is one of the best to view Jupiter with, but I found it way too dark blue, and the moons were non-identifiable;
47 Violet — Just a big purple blob;
56 Light green — Green with some definition, but glowy;
58A Green — Dim, pale;
80A Blue — Light, some contrast, no moons;
82A Light blue — Again, supposed to be great, but it was too bright, albeit with some contrast.
I tried the moon and skyglow filter, but it was just dim; the neutral density 25 dimmed it, which sounds good, but there was still a corona. And finally, I threw on the Vblock, which “popped” but it was hard to see sub-bands.
For some reason, I have no idea about my lunar and planetary filter. I’m sure I tried it, and I thought it was really good, but now I’m not sure, as I didn’t seem to record anything.
Overall, from lousy suburban skies, I would say the variable polarizing filter did the best of the non-coloured ones, and I would say maybe the #12 because it had some decent contrast. I’ll have to try it again with some darker skies, and I confess what I really want to do sometime is image all of them to show the difference. But that is a LONG way away at this point. I’ll settle for liking #12 and the VP filter for Jupiter.
Experimenting with my setup for taking pics through my scope with an iPhone XS Max, and my success of the night was Mare Crisium aka the Sea of Crises.
Adapting from Wikipedia:
A lunar mare NE of the Sea of Tranquility, it is about 556 km / 345 miles in diameter.
It has a very flat floor, with a ring of wrinkle ridges (dorsa) toward its outer boundaries.
The craterPicard is located just to the east of Yerkes (both at 8:00 on a clock dial), and northwest of Picard are the craters Peirce and Swift (at 10:00 on a clock dial).
Like most of the other maria on the Moon, Mare Crisium was named by Giovanni Riccioli, whose 1651 nomenclature system has become standardized.
The image was taken June 6, 2019, from Ottawa, Canada in my backyard using a Celestron NexStar 8SE, iPhone XS Max in NexYZ adapter, NightCap software, f/2.4 lens, ISO 15, 1/125s, single frame, modified in Windows Photos (flipped, straightened 8 degrees, vanilla filter for contrast, brightened).
For my first outing of the year, I did a basic alignment, didn’t really worry about levelling for example, I just wanted to blow the cobwebs out of my head. On Saturday, May 4th, the local RASC Centre was having members-only observing at the Fred Lossing Observatory (FLO) near Almonte and I was hoping to go. But the sky clouded in near me, the forecast was looking iffy for anything longer than an hour, and I was a bit tired. So I bailed. Apparently, I missed a good night though. Sigh.
But Sunday night had decent darkness, clear for skies, and transparency was average — about the best I can usually do, so I decided I’d go out to FLO for that night instead. I thought there might be one or two other people, but I was by myself initially. I unlocked the gate, set up my scope, and realized that I no longer knew where even West or North was in relation to the mound I was using. My phone wasn’t much help initially, so I eventually had to resort to the old school method — a physical compass that I keep in my gear for just such an emergency!
Another member dropped by, Nathan, and while he didn’t have a scope, we got by just fine using mine. The first star we saw was Capella, and almost the same time, Castor, Pollux and Arcturus. I decided to go for the full setup — setup with all the tightenings in the right spot and tube at the right height from the mount; levelling; aligning the spotting tool (although I skimped a bit on that one, I was pretty much dead centre already); and full GPS location coordinates. While my research tells me I should be choosing Arcturus and Regulus, or Polaris and Mira, when I chose Arcturus as the first star, the second star it suggested was Capella. Almost 180 degrees away. Okay, why not? Did the alignment, almost instant success, and when I then tested it back to Arcturus, it was DEAD CENTRE. A perfect alignment, first try.
So Nathan and I started a sky tour. Which we did for an hour, with some globular clusters, Mars, open clusters, some faint fuzzies, and a couple of decent doubles. It was fun, but Nathan couldn’t stay too late, and off he went. My alignment was still holding and I realized I have never really had a full sky tour from the settings, not really. Never with full proper alignment. So I reset to the beginning and started again.
I did almost three hours more for the sky tour of about 100 objects. Or about 1-2 minutes per item. I swapped out my 2″ x 42mm wide-angle for a 1.25″ x 32 mm decent size and when I could go tight, I used my 17.3″ mm Delos, my favourite eyepiece. Mostly I stayed at the 42mm size unless I was doing doubles or checking out how tight I could go on a globular cluster.
My best viewing ever
Everything worked. And with the 42mm guiding the majority of the star tour, pretty much everything I was looking for was easily within the Field of View. Of course, at 42mm, it seems like half the sky is in the FOV, so that’s not saying much. But it did mean I could find EVERYTHING that wasn’t below the horizons or caught in some trees. Here’s what I saw…
For open clusters, I found 21 objects:
M103 showed me an orange star at 42mm; still nice at 32mm; and good bright centre for an open cluster at 17mm;
The Christmas Tree Cluster was more impressive earlier in the night, but when I returned to it, it was a bit low on the horizon. Earlier, I could see lines of stars and a bit of structure in the shape of a triangle at 42mm;
M38 was a bright open cluster at 32mm;
M36 was slightly dimmer, and best seen at 42mm;
M37 is apparently the richest open cluster, but only mildly interesting at 42 and 32mm…however, at 17mm, it looked like a dark maze between stars;
M35 was good at 42mm;
M67 was good at 42mm but had a bright centre at 32mm;
The Beehive Cluster at 42mm didn’t seem to have a particular overall shape, but some structure was visible;
I loved the structures more apparent in the Stargate Cluster (still clear at 17mm), Seven cluster (at 42mm), Arrow Cluster (at 42mm), Crown Cluster (at 42mm), Coma Star Cluster (at 42mm, with arcs), Mini Coathanger (although hard to see shape), S Cluster (at 42mm), W Cluster, Coathanger (not much structure, even at 42mm), and the Horseshoe Cluster;
Spiral Cluster, M29 and M39 were all open at 42mm, but not super impressive;
For globular clusters, one of my favourite types, I saw 9 of them:
The Double Cluster was big at 42mm, good at 32, and still tight at 17mm;
M48 was pretty close to the treeline but nice at 42mm;
M5 is a tight cluster, at 42, 32 and 17mm;
Hercules is too;
As is M12;
M92 is equally tight;
M3 is like M5, only brighter in some ways; and,
M52 is pretty faint.
For double stars, I saw 28 of them:
19 Lyncis was visible at 17mm;
Castor was barely split at 17mm;
Tegman was supposedly a quad, but all I could see was a double at 17mm;
Theta 2 at 42mm showed a double of equal magnitude;
Iota cancer showed a blue and yellow/white double at 17mm;
Algieba was a very bright double at 42mm;
54 Leo could be split at 32mm;
M40 was a double, but it was very faint at any size EP;
Algorab could be split at 42mm;
24 Com was a colour double at 42mm;
Porrima required the 17mm to split the double;
35 Com is supposedly a triple colour, but at 17mm, it was only clear that it was a double;
Cor Carroll split at 32mm;
Mizar separated at 42mm;
Kappo Bo was average double at 42mm;
Epsilon Bo was a bright double at 42mm;
Xi Bo was average double at 42mm;
Delta Set was bright double at 42mm;
Graffias was a triple/double at 17mm;
Rasalgethi was a bright double, even at 42mm;
Nu Dra was an easy double at 42mm;
95 Her had different magnitude stars, even at 42mm;
Epsilon Cap is a quadruple star, but it shows more as a double+double, even at 42mm;
Zeta Lyr easily doubles at 42mm;
Albireo is one of my favourite bright coloured doubles, even at 42mm;
17 Cyg could be split at 42mm;
61 Cyg was easy at 42mm; and,
Delta Cep was another easy coloured double at 42mm.
For other DSOs, there were 47 objects :
There were a lot of faint fuzzies, mostly visible at 42mm – M95, M96, M105, M108 (could go to 32mm), M109, M98, M99, M106, M61, M100, M84 and M85, M86, M49, M102, M107, M56, M87, M88, M89, M91, M90, M58, M59, M60, M94, M53, M83, M101,
Other galaxies were soft fuzzies too at 42mm — Sombrero, Black Eye (a little brighter), Sunflower, Whirlpool, Cat’s Eye, Dumbbell;
The Perseus Cluster is a collection of galaxies, but mostly I just saw a bit of structure and a curved line of stars at 42mm;
The Little Fish asterism had a bright yellow star in the centre, possible double, viewed at 42mm;
M81 (spiral galaxy, Bode’s Galaxy/Nebula) showed in the same F.O.V. as M82 at 42mm. You could also see the core at 32mm and a faint core at 17mm;
At 32mm, you could see M82 as elongated galaxy;
The Eskimo Nebula is a planetary nebula, but all I saw were some basic stars at 42mm;
M65 had three galaxies showing at 42mm, along with M66 and NGC3628;
The Blinking Planetary Nebula didn’t seem like anything, even at 42mm; and,
the Ring Nebula and Ghost of Jupiter were both hard to see, even at 17mm.
In total, there were 21 open clusters, 9 globular clusters, 28 double stars, and 47 other DSOs = 105 objects for the night!
There were probably a couple of other ones in the first hour too. Like Mars, for instance.
Wrapping up the night
I tried taking a couple of photos but had no luck at all, and I was pretty tired at that point, so I started packing up. I noticed as I was moving from the parking lot to the mound though that Jupiter was above the trees if viewed from the parking lot, while still hiding where the scope was. Soooo, last effort for the night, I picked up the scope and carried the whole kit over to the parking lot and set up quickly again (without alignment). I focused in and saw four moons easily, and bands out the wazoo on the planetary surface. Normally, I’m lucky to see a band or two; this time, I could see smaller shadings too. What the heck, I thought, I might as well go for broke.
So I swapped my 17mm out for the 10mm Delos and looked again. I forgot for a moment that I`m looking at an inverted image, and I thought I was seeing a transit shadow — until I realized it was red/orange and it was in the right place since the image was inverted. The Great Red Spot! I saw it, for the first time!
What an amazing night. I packed up and headed home. My three-hour sky tour was awesome. And my best viewing night EVER. I felt like an astronomy god!
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…