Monday, March 17, 2014

12 Best iPhone Astronomy and Astrophotography Apps You'll Use Constantly


I use Slow Shutter Cam to take photos of the International Space Station streaking overhead, to turn campfire sparks into trails of light, to capture lightning strikes, falling snow, make light paintings, and photograph fireflies. This app does it all!


I used to use The Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE) to plan the position of the sun and moon with some success. But once I found out PhotoPills does all that and so much more, I made the permanent switch! PhotoPills includes too many features to list here, but the ones I use most often are sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moon set, twilight times, magic hour times, moon phase calendar, moon position, quick exposure calculator, max exposure to avoid star trails calculator, field of view calculator, and of course the ephemeris. It's on Page 1 of my iPhone, right next to my Astronomy folder (too important to dig for it in the folder).


Also on Page 1 of my iPhone screen, Scope Nights has replaced my folder of weather apps and bookmarks. Although services like meteoblue.com give great detail in their weather forecasts, I prefer the simplicity of color-coded icons for a quick glance at my chances of a clear night. You can set limits on what conditions are too extreme to make observing worthwhile - such as moon phase, temperature, humidity, and wind speed. The app can also notify you if clear conditions are likely that night, giving you a heads up and extra motivation to head out.


Star Walk was one of the first iPhone astronomy apps I got, and it's still one of my favorites. I use it when I'm taking the dog for a walk and want to orient myself or look up a star quickly. I even use it out in the field when I decide I want to photograph a Messier object but hadn't bothered looking up its location ahead of time. I recently used it to find M35 in the foot of Gemini, and its star charts were complete enough to help me zoom in exactly where I needed to. I also use it for some conjunction planning, and to take screen shots for social media comparisons.


I first got into high ISO iPhone photography with Night Modes but soon adopted NightCap as my go to dark photography iPhone app because of its ability to take high quality TIFF images, and take infinite back to back exposures (the only way to go for true iPhone star trail images). I also used NightCap to take my best raw iPhone camera image of the moon with no additional lenses, and other night scenes.


When it comes to iPhone time lapse photography, TimeLapse stands alone. It's the only app I use to take timelapse photos with my phone. I've used it for nature shots, a pine cone experiment, numerous sunsets, cloud videos, crowd videos, and some twilight moon shots.


Moon Globe HD comes in handy for some lunar geography out in the field, or even while I write blog posts on my laptop. It's a quick and easy reference. I use it to identify features for my observing challenges, and look up news items.


Satellite Tracker Plus is great when you're waiting for an ISS pass outside. I don't use it as my primary resource - because nothing beats Heavens Above - but once I know when to go out, it helps me know when and where to start looking or to plan a camera angle ahead of time.


Precise Time gives you live UTC time alongside your local time, which saves the trouble of converting times given in press releases or other websites into local time. It's super simple, extremely accurate, and helped me predict the ISS appearing to the second.


Dark Sky is a great way to look up dark sky maps on the go, or to check the light pollution in an area as you drive through it. It seems to use the same data as Dark Sky Finder, which is a little dated, but nicely integrated into Google Maps.


SkyWeek Plus is what I look at when I'm bored, or when I want to make sure I haven't overlooked any cool night sky objects coming up. It has a dark vision mode, and lets you instantly add things to your phone's calendar. Very nice!


Theodolite is a nice little tool that has a lot of uses. You can use it to reverse look-up the elevation of night sky objects in degrees (point it at the moon and read the degrees rather than look up what elevation the moon is supposed to be at). You can use it as a level for instruments, or as a protractor to determine the angle of your camera or scope. It's also a compass, camera, has zoom, and dark vision modes.


Update: Finally finally finally! New iOS apps like this one let you adjust the ISO exposure settings manually, so you don't have to trick the camera into the right setting by locking it on another target. This is going to make things a lot easier!


iphone astronomy appsThat's all for now! Honorable mentions coming soon - but I wanted to cap the list at a dozen.  I'm thinking of doing away with my astronomy app folder and dedicating an entire page to these wonderful apps.

Also, it was fun checking out what was in my app folder almost a year ago to the day. There have been quite a few new additions since then, but definitely some tried and true favorites. 

Hopefully the next year brings even more cool and useful apps for appreciating and playing with the night sky.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

iPhone Timelapse Video of Sunset with Crescent Moon (March 3, 2014)



Here is the timelapse video I referred to in an earlier post about the sunset on March 3, 2014 that includes the setting crescent moon. I took this timelapse on my iPhone using the TimeLapse app and then went to the gym. When we got back from the gym the moon was very low over the building next door and I got some nice photos of it with my Canon T5i.

iphone on tripod
iPhone with the Glif tripod mount on my balcony railing (plugged in so it won't die in the cold)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Turning an iPhone Video into a Sharp Moon Photo

iphone moon photo with registax
Final product, 5 second iPhone MOV converted to AVI and stacked in Registax
I used my homemade iPhone telescope adapter mount to hold my phone over the eyepiece (digiscoping). I used a 9mm eyepiece on a vintage Meade 285 (60mm, 900mm, f/15). I took the video on March 6, 2014 at 10:32pm ET.

Next, I converted the iPhone MOV file to AVI to work with it in Registax. I also have a blog post outlining that process using the conversion software Streamclip MPEG.

Once it's an AVI file, you can "stack" the video in Registax similar to a stack of still photos.

Here is a short video I put together with slides of my mount construction, the raw MOV file (very shaky because I was actually holding it in the right position over the eyepiece), and the final product. It's amazing how Registax is able to pick out the best bits and align them even with a shaky video like this!



Obviously the moon photo needed to be flipped horizontally to compensate for the angled mirror in the neck of the telescope just before the eyepiece. Hmmm, I bet this has a technical name. [Looking it up] It does! A star diagonal - how pretty. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Free Creative Commons Moon Photos (Royalty Free)

Feel free to use these moon photos in your non-commercial creative project! I always love finding free images that I can use for posters or whatever, so I wanted to try to make these pictures easier to find. They are completely royalty free and have a creative commons attribution non-commercial license. You can also email me if you want the RAW files (teskeej@gmail.com).

Suggested Attribution:
Image by Eric Teske (CC BY-NC 3.0)

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

free moon photo

Free Stock Lightning Photos (Royalty Free Creative Commons)

Feel free to use these lightning photos in your non-commercial creative project! I always love finding free images that I can use for posters or whatever, so I wanted to try to make these pics easier to find. They are completely royalty free and have a creative commons attribution non-commercial license. You can also email me if you want the RAW files (teskeej@gmail.com).

Suggested Attribution:
Image by Eric Teske (CC BY-NC 3.0)

Free Stock Lightning Photos

Free Stock Lightning Photos

Free Stock Lightning Photos

Free Stock Lightning Photos

Free Stock Lightning Photos

Free Stock Lightning Photos

Free Stock Lightning Photos

Sunday, March 9, 2014

March 2014 Indiana Astronomical Society Novice/Urban Observing List

Phil Dimpelfeld from the Indiana Astronomical Society creates a Novice/Urban Observing List each month for newbies like myself with not-so-dark skies and not-so-powerful equipment. March marks the 1-year anniversary of the Novice/Urban Observing List. Phil recently announced the addition of a Level 1 list for true beginners to get familiar with important and recognizable objects. I'll continue pursuing the Level 2 list with slightly more challenging objects.

Last month was quite a challenge, with a number of double and triple stars too close to separate with my camera (plus I'm unmotivated to take my telescope out in the snow or into the field of dog poop land mines). I'm still counting down to our new house that's being built in Noblesville. I can't wait to have a yard with a south-facing back yard, and a concrete patio to myself.

All in due time, for now here is the Novice/Urban Observing List (Level 2) for March. Plenty of decent sized objects, and fairly bright. It should be a breeze to knock this out!

Zeta Cancri (08h 12.2m, +17° 39'), Double Star in Cancer, mag = 5.6, 6.0, sep = 6”

M48 (08h 13.8m, -05° 48'), Open Cluster in Hydra, mag = 5.8, size = 54’

M44 (08h 40.1m, +19° 59'), the “Beehive Cluster” in Cancer, mag = 3.1, size = 95’

Iota Cancri (08h 46.7m, +28° 46'), Double Star in Cancri, mag = 4.2, 6.6, sep = 30”

M67 (08h 50.4m, +11° 49'), Open Cluster in Cancer, mag = 6.9, size = 29’

38 Lyncis (09h 18.8m, +36° 48'), Double Star in Lynx, mag = 3.9, 6.6, sep = 3”

M81 (09h 55.6m, +69° 04'), Galaxy in Ursa Major, mag = 6.8, size = 26’x14’

M82 (09h 55.8m, +69° 41'), Galaxy in Ursa Major, mag = 8.4, size = 11’x5’

Atlas – crater on the Moon (first quarter)

Mare Imbrium – the Moon (third quarter)

Challenge Object:
SN 2014J – supernova in M82 (the only star visible in M82). (If you observed SN 2014J earlier in the year, your observation still counts!)

Incomplete! IAS Novice/Urban Observing List for February 2014

These darn double and triple stars are a real challenge. With my new 6mm eyepiece, I think my Meade 285 refractor has the chops for a lot of them - I just haven't been taking my scope out in the snow and dog poop mine field. I was able to photograph the open clusters. M50 was a new one for me, and I got to re-visit M35 and M41. Messier object 41 was actually my first open cluster I ever photographed about a year ago, so it was nice to see how far I've come with equipment and techniques to make my images much prettier.

M35, open cluster in GeminiM41, open cluster in Canis Major

jupiter snippetM50, open cluster in Monoceros

Oceanus Procellarium

  • M35, open cluster in Gemini
  • Beta Monocerotis, William Herschel’s “Wonder Star”, triple star in Monoceros
  • M41, open cluster in Canis Major
  • 12 Lyncis, triple star in Lynx
  • Jupiter, planet currently in Gemini ✔ (no corresponding blog post)
  • M50, open cluster in Monoceros
  • NGC 2392, the “Eskimo Nebula” (Caldwell 39), planetary nebula in Gemini
  • Castor (Alpha Geminorum), double star in Gemini
  • Mare Tranquillitatis, first quarter Moon
  • Oceanus Procellarium, third quarter Moon ✔ (no corresponding blog post)
  • Challenge Object: Sirius, double star in Canis Major

Friday, March 7, 2014

Deep Sky Improvements: Revisiting M41 and M35

I'm pretty sure M41 was the first open cluster I photographed (other than the Pleiades) about a year ago. It really helped me realize that there are more objects out there that I can see with my camera than I had ever imagined! I've come a long way since then, so I was glad when M41 came up on the observing list for February.

open cluster M41 with T5i
M41, stack of 118 subs, 77 darks, 70 bias, ISO 3200, 300mm, f/5.6, 1.3 sec
compare M41 with XT and T5i
Comparison of my previous attempt with the Canon Rebel XT, and my latest (right) same photo as above

M35 is a repeat for me as well, last seen in May 2013 with asteroid Vesta nearby. Again, the amount of light gathered by the T5i with the same exact lens is pretty amazing.

open cluster M35 and propus
Stack of 60 subs, 77 darks, 70 bias, ISO 3200, 300mm, f/5.6, 1.3 sec

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