Sunday, February 1, 2015

Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) with DSLR on Motor EQ-1 Mount

I'm getting better at polar-aligning my motor driven EQ-1 mount, and increasing the total exposure length I can achieve without star trails. However, now I'm running up against another barrier - I'm getting to the point where my sky conditions have too much light pollution to even merit longer exposures.

long exposure without star trails DSLR
My longest single frame without star trails (left) straight from the camera. I love the aqua color of the comet without any processing! Stacking always seems to make it a dull green.
ISO 1600, 300mm, f/5.6, 20 seconds, Canon T5i on motor driven EQ-1.

With the sky beginning to wash out even after 20 seconds, you can tell that my techniques are advancing up against another ceiling, the sky conditions themselves. Even if I did have a super fancy tracking mount, would it even be worth it if I can only get exposures of 20 seconds?

comet lovejoy DSLR 300mm
Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2 with Canon T5i on EQ-1 mount
Stack of 31 light (ISO 1600, 300mm, f/5.6, 13 sec), 21 dark, 23 bias, and 15 flat frames
Processed in DSS

comet lovejoy DSLR 300mm
Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2 with Canon T5i on EQ-1 mount
Stack of 31 light (ISO 1600, 300mm, f/5.6, 13 sec), 21 dark, 23 bias, and 15 flat frames
Processed with layers from both DSS and Photoshop

And yes, I'm using flat frames like a good boy! Every time I learn something new it seems to make my imaging procedures longer not shorter! Flats make a big difference though, it's like the "eating your vegetables" of astrophotography. I used the same technique I talked about in this previous post.

Flats should be gray, not white. Below is a sample of one of the flat frames (left) and that same frame with the contrast turned WAY up (right) to show that there really is some gradient and vignette information there even though to the naked eye it just looks like an even gray wash. The purpose being that the image processor, such as Deep Sky Stacker, will remove the hot spot gradients and corner vignettes.

flat frame compare with contrast gradient
One of my flat frames with contrast boosted on one side to show gradient information hidden within. Adjust exposure time until you get a good histogram just to the left of center. This one happens to be ISO 1600, 300mm, f/5.6, 1/640 seconds.

take flat frames with computer screen
Taking flat frames with DSLR - I actually took them hand-held as close to the screen as possible while moving the camera around to make sure I didn't get a dust spot in the same place each time.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Moon Rock Displays and Peekskill Meteorite

Not that it's a competition, but I couldn't help but notice differences in the moon rock displays in the National Air and Space Museum compared to the National Gem and Mineral Collection at the Museum of Natural History. What do you think? Who showed it best?

moon rock displays
Moon rocks displayed at (L) the National Air and Space Museum, and (R) the National Gem and Mineral Collection in the Museum of Natural History
Let's take a step back and look at the display case for each. I'm realizing half way though this post that I sound like a real jerk judging the displays - when really just seeing moon rocks in person is totally awesome and mind blowing. But I couldn't help but notice a big difference!

apollo moon rock
Displays at the National Air and Space Museum look a little dated, the display window is foggy, and the lighting is flat
gem collection moon rock
Moon rock in the National Gem and Mineral Collection looks futuristic and befitting a moon rock! The light sources are hidden, and the light is crisp white
Here's another interesting anecdote - the gem collection has a lot more meteorites than the Air and Space Museum, and when I was in the gift shop I asked about buying small meteorites. The person behind the counter said they no longer sell them and alluded to a controversy, saying that the 'air and space guys' decided meteorites were their 'thing,' and that the gem collection gift shop shouldn't be able to carry them. Museum gift shop turf war!

Speaking of other items in the gem collection, here is a meteorite celebrity of note... the Peekskill meteorite!

meteorite that hit car
Peekskill is famous for being caught on multiple video cameras and smashing into the trunk of a car

peekskill meteorite
Peekskill meteorite

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Best Photos of the Year for 3 Year Blog Anniversary

January 28, 2012 was the day I learned that my point and shoot camera has a long exposure mode. This brought the night sky much closer to home, and started me down a path I'd never imagined! This is turning into a blog anniversary tradition to look back over the past year and reflect on my favorite and/or best photos of the year, just like I did for year 1 and year 2 of informed stargazing and night sky photography.

Personal best Andromeda and first successful run with my EQ-1 motorized mount. I owned the mount for months before getting the chance to really do it justice, and it's been paying off ever since. It takes a lot of work, but it is like night and day.
A super nice Perseid meteor with change in color and perfect javelin shape. This was really the year of the meteor photos even though I didn't get any Geminids like I did the past 2 years. This is probably my most colorful and possibly best meteor.
Huge Camelopardalids meteor with visible smoke trail, as seen in this animated GIF I made using multiple frames. This was a new shower, and I really lucked out! This is the real deal, it made me really feel like an astrophotographer!
asteroids animation
Change in Ceres and Vesta positions in 24 hours, as shown in this animated GIF from two different nights. This was also the year of the animated GIF, I really like this image and it took a ton of work!
The year I entered into solar photography, and a gigantic sunspot! I made my own solar filter for my camera with a sheet of black polymer and was able to get a totally new view of the sun. A real milestone!
solar eclipse
Partial solar eclipse, viewed from my office window with my home made solar filter. This was an exciting event and I feel like I showed some real persistence to get this image through the clouds a few minutes before going into an appointment at work. Just shows you can make time for it even if you're busy!
lunar eclipse composite
My first total lunar eclipse and my best photo probably so far, I'm super proud of this! I had to wake up super early on a work day, and spent hours stacking photos for each stage of the eclipse. It was an amazing event to see and to document, I'll cherish this photo for years to come. My parents had a huge poster of it framed and it's in my family room now.
iphone sunset
Amazing sunset and iPhone photo at that! Indiana is amazing for skywatching, I've never seen so many rainbows and cool sunsets. Forget 'big sky country' it's all about the crossroads of America when it comes to cool sky colors.
Supermoon and one of many moon photos of my suburban skyline. It's nice to have a backyard and a view to the South, as well as a view down the corridor of backyards to see the moon rising over the rooftops.
trifid nebula and lagoon
Lagoon Nebula and Trifid Nebula with my EQ-1 motorized mount. This year I really upped my deep sky game with the mount, and I've only used it a few times. Still plenty of room for improvement!
milky way
Probably my best Milky Way photo to date, I just wish I had my EQ mount for this one. I took it on a fixed tripod during a work retreat into the woods. It was the darkest sky I was under all year, and I got some good naked eye views of the Milky Way as well. Hoping to improve on this over the summer with some tracking and maybe even see some of the colors.
green fuzzy comet
New year comet, this one I got with just a fixed tripod. Pleased with the nice color with what seemed like minimal effort. It must be a sign that I'm getting better and more comfortable because this really seemed like a pretty casual acquisition.
earthshine moon
Interesting earthshine moon photo: This year I've been working on including more foreground objects to add interest. I've sort of gotten over the hump of being so new that I just try to get the right settings, and now I'm turning some attention to composition and the more artistic side of astrophotography.
public radio booth
That time I was on NPR Science Fridays, wow what a treat! This was out of the blue, one day I got a call about taking moon photos with an iPhone, and a couple days later I was live on the air. This is like my peak fame, my 15 minutes, I still can't believe it haha! Me, on NPR, wow!
neil tyson audience
Getting to see Neil deGrasse Tyson speak for free on the UIndy campus. Honestly, the excitement of the event was better than the talk. It was more a celebration of science than a science lecture. It was very pop culture and fun. Being part of this audience of 4000 was great, and my husband came with me - which is always nice when he supports my interests!
orion nebula
Too legit to quit Orion Nebula, this image is my pride and joy for the year. I feel like it's a huge milestone and a gateway into the realm of 'real' astrophotography. I take a lot of dumb little fuzzy blob photos, but this is legitimately a deep space image from my own backyard. I feel validated and like my improvement is undeniable, and it makes me excited to keep learning. I also have this image framed in my family room.

So there you have it, this was a fun walk down memory lane for the year! Here's hoping for a successful and productive new year, plenty of new territory and things to learn!

Favorite Can't Miss National Air and Space Museum Highlights

I took a spontaneous trip to the National Air and Space Museum so I didn't have the chance to plan ahead and map out every must-see can't-miss artifact in the collections. I'd been there before, about 15 years ago, but I didn't remember what the best highlights were. I ended up spending over 3 hours roaming around and snapping photos of my favorite pieces!

1. The last boots to ever leave human footprints on the moon - This was by far my favorite piece in the entire museum! There's something special and intimate about these spacesuit accessories. I don't know what it is about them - maybe the instantly recognizable tread pattern, or the fact that when these boots left the surface of the moon we never went back. It's special, and cool, and sad, and makes you think. It's just the kind of thing that belongs in a museum!

last boots to leave human footprints on the lunar surface
The last boots on the moon! Gene Cernan 1972 last boots to leave human footprints on the lunar surface in 1972
museum moon boot exhibit
I spent 10 minutes with the boots, and asked a stranger to take a photo for me!

museum sign last moonwalkclose up moon boots detail

close up moon boots detailclose up moon boots detail

moon boots tread on bottom

2. The REAL 1903 Wright Flyer - This begins my trend towards appreciating the REAL stuff so much more! I grew up in Dayton, Ohio and we learn all about the Wright Brothers from elementary school right through middle school. It's a big deal! However, our Air Force Museum doesn't have 'the' original first airplane, it has the 1909 Wright Military Flyer. I really liked see THE FIRST airplane, the real deal.

wright flyer 1903 in museum

wright flyer 1903 in museumwright flyer sign

3. Apollo 11 Command Module - There and back again, the command module from Apollo 11 the first moon landing. This is definitely a national treasure! It kinda sucks that it's under foggy plastic, it's difficult to see the real surface detail and get a good photo because of the glare.

apollo 11 command module capsule

apollo 11 capsule from above

apollo 11 heat shield detailapollo 11 heat shield detail

The command module hatch door is open so you can see inside. The door itself is pretty cool, it's in a different display upstairs!

apollo 11 hatch doorapollo 11 hatch door

4. Mercury Friendship 7 Capsule - The capsule that carried John Glenn as the third American in space and the first to orbit the Earth.

mercury friendship 7 capsule museum
Mercury mission Friendship 7 capsule - carried John Glenn first U.S. orbital flight
john glenn camera first orbit
Elsewhere in the museum you can see equipment carried during this flight, including this 35mm camera and a huge survival knife and rescue signal mirror. It's sort of weird to think about bringing a huge knife into space, like the kind you would take camping.

5. Gemini IV Capsule - the capsule that carried Ed White to perform the first spacewalk by an American. The Gemini missions bridged the technology gap between Mercury and Apollo and made technical achievements such as changing orbits and docking - basically making space flight controlled instead of just shooting a can around the world a few times!

first american spacewalk capsule
Gemini IV command module capsule - first US spacewalk
gemini 7 jetpacked white gemini helmet

Elsewhere in the museum you can see the maneuvering jetpack, helmet, and gloves used by Ed White on his first EVA or extravehicular activity AKA space walk.

6. Stardust Capsule - returned the world's first particles from a comet. It's amazing to think that this capsule went to a comet, collected tiny particles of dust using aerogel in the tennis racket type arm, and came back to Earth to end up in this case right in front of me. I was in the presence of a comet chaser! Pretty cool. Plus the aerogel is just weird and neat to look at. Hardware provided to the Smithsonian includes actual flight components, again making it that much cooler that this is REAL stuff!

NASA stardust capsulestardust aerogel

7. Actual Moon Rocks - I'm going to write a future post about 'who displayed it better?' because the gem and mineral collection at the Natural History Museum actually wins out on the attractive display of these precious bits of the moon. Nonetheless, here is one on display here in the Air and Space Museum.

basalt moon rockbasalt moon rock

8. For coolness factor, Apollo 11 sunglasses - these iconic sunglasses are perfect Smithsonian artifacts as bits of culture. The style just screams space race!

apollo 11 sunglasses
Not the most historically significant pieces in the museum, but one of the coolest - the style is iconic of the space race!

These are my personal favorites! Do you have something that is your favorite that didn't make my list? Leave comments below! I know there are a ton of amazing things to see in the museum, and obviously they are all important and noteworthy - that's why they're in the museum! But these objects had the biggest personal impact on me and that's why I included them in the list.
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