Monday, December 30, 2013

Kemble's Cascade (Kemble 1) a Straight Line of Stars Through Camelopardalis

Another new object (asterism) was introduced to me this month by the December observing list. Kemble's Cascade (Kemble 1 from a very small catalog) is an apparent straight line of stars intersecting the dim constellation Camelopardalis. The strange constellation name seems to be a Latin word based on three Greek words: giraffe, camel, and leopard (Wikipedia). Sounds like a wonky animal to me!

Because the dim stars of the constellation were near impossible to see in my viewfinder or on live view, I pretty much aimed the camera in the general direction and took some 4 second exposures looking for the line. Once I saw it, it was very obvious! Like a little parade of stars!

kemble's cascade straight line of stars
Stack of 17 subs, 23 darks, 21 bias at ISO 6400, f/5.6, 300mm, 1.3sec
Kemble's Cascade
Single frame at ISO 6400, f/5.6, 300mm, 1.3sec
Kemble's Cascade in stellarium
Kemble's Cascade isn't an object in Stellarium, but it's located here relative to Camelopardalis in this screen shot.

The Muscleman Cluster: Stock 2 Open Cluster in Cassiopeia

I had no idea what Stock 2 meant when I read it on the December observing list. When I looked for it on Stellarium it wasn't there, so I did a Google image search and found some observing sketches of a cluster near the Double Cluster. Following the arc of stars coming off of NGC 869 I started to see what was described as a stick figure with arms up next to its head flexing. People see different things in the asterism, but since I enjoy weightlifting, I'm going to support the name "Muscleman Cluster" coined by John Davis (as told by Phil Harrington).

Stock 2 sounded like a strange name at first. It's actually part of a catalog of open clusters and Stock 2 is the second object out of 24 in that catalog named after Jürgen Stock.

Stock 2 Open Cluster in Cassiopeia
The Double Cluster with line of pointer stars makes Stock 2 relatively easy to find if you go looking for it.

Stock 2 Open Cluster in Cassiopeia
It's also called the Strong Man or Muscleman Cluster because it resembles a stick figure in the double bicep flex bodybuilding pose.

Stock 2 Open Cluster in Cassiopeia
Here is my interpretation of the Muscleman Cluster asterism, with a little trapezoid for the bodybuilder's banana hammock.

Stock 2 Open Cluster in Cassiopeia
An outline of the bodybuilder in the Muscleman Cluster.

Stock 2 Open Cluster in Cassiopeia
Stock 2 appears in my copy of Sky & Telescope's Pocket Sky Atlas

New Camera (T5i) Test on Fixed Tripod Stacking Method: Andromeda, Orion, Pleiades

I'm easing in to using my new camera, the Canon T5i, so I did a couple test shots on familiar objects using a technique I already know: Stacking short exposure images from a DSLR on a fixed tripod. I wasn't going for a new personal best or anything, but I wanted to take some short stacks to see how the new camera compares to the Rebel XT.

The first thing I noticed was that my memory card fills up A LOT faster with 18 megapixel RAW files. I only got about 150 shots where with the 8 megapixel XT I was getting closer to 250 in a single memory card. I actually filled the memory card, dumped the files, and went back out to shoot more a total of 3 times to take advantage of what seemed to be the one clear night in December.

andromeda galaxy canon t5i
Andromeda (M31) stack of 24 subs, 36 darks, 12 bias at 300mm, f/5.6, ISO 3200, 1.3 sec
orion nebula canon t5i iso 3200
Orion Nebula (M42) crop from stack of 42 subs, 36 darks, 12 bias at 300mm, f/5.6, ISO 3200, 1.3 sec
orion nebula canon t5i iso 6400
Orion Nebula 300mm crop, this time at ISO 6400, 11 subs, 23 darks, 21 bias, f/5.6, 1.3 sec
pleiades canon eos rebel t5i
Pleiades (M45) stack of 34 subs, 23 darks, 21 bias, 300mm, f/5.6, ISO 6400, 1.3 sec
Although I only did short stacks, I may have inadvertently achieved my best effort on the Orion Nebula with very minimal post-processing. Rather than working for an hour to bring out nebulosity, I had a fair amount of gray cloudiness emerge just from the fact that my ISO was higher. I think I like the ISO 3200 Orion better than the ISO 6400 due to the reduced noise. Either way, very promising for just a test shot of less than 50 light frames - and only 11 light frames for the ISO 6400 image!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Canon EOS Rebel T5i ISO Test on Orion, Andromeda, and the Pleiades

I just got the Canon EOS Rebel T5i for Christmas, and I used it for the first time last night! I was able to photograph a few popular celestial objects, and I wanted to make some test sets to see the level of noise at ISO higher than what I was using previously (Rebel XT only goes up to ISO 1600).  What do these night sky objects look like at ISO 3200, ISO 6400, and ISO 12800? All of these tests are with single frames on a fixed tripod in 25ºF clear weather about 20 miles outside a large city.

Andromeda (M31) shot at ISO 3200, 6400, and 12800
Andromeda (M31) shot at ISO 3200, 6400, and 12800

Orion Nebula (M42) shot at ISO 3200, 6400, and 12800
Orion Nebula (M42) shot at ISO 3200, 6400, and 12800

The Pleiades (M45) shot at ISO 3200, 6400, and 12800
The Pleiades (M45) shot at ISO 3200, 6400, and 12800

As you can see the noise goes up a great deal between ISO 3200 and ISO 6400, but I think the jump in noise from ISO 6400 to ISO 12800 is a deal-breaker when it comes to using it for astrophotography. I think I'll try stacking some images to reduce noise in the 3200 and 6400 range.

Hopefully when I get my motorized EQ mount set up I won't have to resort to such high ISO to reveal faint deep sky objects, but this was a fun little experiment using fixed-tripod techniques I'm already familiar with!

Canon EOS Rebel T5i
Canon EOS Rebel T5i

Friday, December 27, 2013

International Space Station with Slow Shutter Cam on iPhone

International Space Station with Slow Shutter Cam on iPhone with a clip on fisheye lens. I had to grab a last minute extension cord because the cold drained my phone battery in about 5 min. Our downstairs neighbors backed into their parking space and the tail lights made the roof turn red. So cool! It turned out better than I had hoped!

International Space Station with Slow Shutter Cam on iPhone
Several minute exposure in light trail mode (blend Lighten)
I found the predicted path of the ISS using Heavens Above, and set my iPhone up on a tripod using the Glif tripod mount. I used my Apple headphones as a shutter remote. I got the fisheye lens as a stocking stuffer for Christmas! Already putting it to good use!

I didn't notice the new Slow Shutter Cam upgrade until I opened the app for this photo. It now gives the option for full 8 megapixel size, and I had to go through and change a bunch of options back to how I had them before. Kinda threw me for a loop for a second there. 

iphone clip on wide angle lens
iPhone clip on lens kit under $10.00 on Amazon

Scope Nights iOS App Gets Facelift and New Features in Version 2.0

I love the iOS app Scope Nights because it combines the simplicity of traffic light weather forecasts (good, fair, and don't bother) with more detailed breakdowns, and predictions for remote and local locations. I use it to plan my observing and night sky photography ahead of time.

No weather forecast is going to be very good more than a few days out, but I usually look for a streak of more than one good day - that means I'm much more likely to actually have a good observing period somewhere in there.

stargazing weather forecast app
Before and after the upgrade to Scope Nights 2.0 - packing more information into the same space while keeping it clean

Scope Nights recently got a facelift to match the simple elegant look of iOS 7 on iPhone and iPad, along with some new features...

What's New in Version 2.0
  • Full iOS7 compatibility, look & feel
  • Improved ratings using cloud cover and precipitation probability
  • Moon phase observing threshold
  • Wind speed gust sensitivity switch
  • List of international dark sky parks
  • Clear period local notifications
  • General bug fixes & improvements
  • Advanced feature premium upgrades

I really like the clear period local notifications, in fact I got one just now about tonight's forecast! It looks pretty solid, hopefully the weather holds and I can try out all the new gear I got for Christmas!

scope nights notification screenshot
Clear period local notification for my area tonight! Thanks for the heads up!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

December 21, 2013: Happy Winter Solstice!

You can either think of the Winter Solstice as the shortest day of the year (9 hours 21 minutes of sunlight from my latitude), or the day when the sun stops getting lower in the sky and starts it's climb toward midsummer (June 21, 2014). From my latitude, the sun will be up for 15 straight hours during the Summer Solstice!

sunrise december 11 2013
Sunrise has shifted to the SE, photo from December 11, 2013 taken on iPhone

Today, the sun will rise at 120.4º and set at 239.6º, looking at a compass face, it's easy to see that the sun will not "rise in the East and set in the West" like it's supposed to. Rather, it will peek its head over the horizon in the SE to SW sky.

winter solstice daylight
Compass face showing the position of sunrise and sunset on the Winter Solstice from my latitude

photopills screenshot
Augmented reality view through the app PhotoPills showing the path of the sun today on the Winter Solstice

Since we have had rainy overcast skies for 90% of the month, it's no surprise that we have showers today on the Solstice. Using the app PhotoPills , with augmented reality views of the sun's path and some seriously amazing daylight planning charts (below), I suppose I can enjoy the Solstice through the eyes of an app.

photopills screenshotphotopills screenshot

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Star Trail Thumbprint with Star Labels

Do you recognize these stars just by looking at their trails? (Answer below)

381 images stacked from my Geminid meteor shower watch

Because the position of stars relative to each other is fixed (unless you want to get technical) the streaks made with a fixed camera on a rotating Earth will appear the same year after year. In this sense, star trail paths are like a stellar thumbprint in the sky.

As I'm learning to recognize more and more constellations and stars, looking at things a new way is still a fun challenge. I've labeled the most recognizable stars in this field - with the wild card Jupiter which does change its position relative to the other stars over time. It was a little tricky, but after labeling a few it became super easy to see some common landmarks (skymarks?), such as Orion's belt and the Pleiades.

Did you recognize the stars without their labels?

Location of China's Chang'e 3 Lander Jade Rabbit Moon Rover

On Saturday morning, China successfully landed a robotic craft on the lunar surface. It was the first "soft landing" on the moon since 1976. The Chang'e 3 lander touched down near a crater called Laplace A in the Bay of Rainbows (Sinus Iridum) on the northern edge of the Sea of Showers (Mare Imbrium).

Location of Chang'e 3 lander
Location of Chang'e 3 lander that deployed the Jade Rabbit rover on Saturday, December 14, 2013
This is my photo from September 18, 2013


Laplace A crater
Landing location near Laplace A crater. NASA image (public domain) by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).
The small arrow to the bottom left of the image above shows the location of the Soviet Lunokhod 1 rover, which was the first rover to land on something other than the Earth. Lunokhod 1 landed in 1970, and now has a new neighbor 43 years later.
Laplace A
Laplace A
Laplace A
Laplace A

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Geminid Meteors with Canon Rebel XT over Indiana, December 13, 2013

This was my second time photographing the Geminid meteor shower. After coming up short after 3 nights of shooting last year (1 good meteor candidate), I was ready for another try. The forecast called for a huge snow storm to roll through the night of December 13-14 (the peak night). However, the night of December 12-13 was clear for the most part.

I went to see The Hobbit double feature in IMAX 3D with my brother, and after being in the theater from 7pm - 3am I wasn't in any mood to do some serious star photography, especially with work in the morning. I knew I would regret it if I didn't at least TRY to catch some Geminids the day before the peak, and am I ever glad I did! The bright moon was setting, and I had the benefit of a remote shutter lock this year (compared to taping the shutter down last year). 

I watched the photos download onto the computer, and didn't see any meteors in the thumbnail images. I took 381 photos total, each at ISO 800 (couldn't go to 1600 because of light pollution), 18mm, f/4.0, 15 sec each. My camera clicked away on the balcony from 3:21 AM to 5:06 AM when the battery finally died in the cold. 

When I finally looked through all the photos "by hand" on the computer one at a time, I was thrilled! Not only did I have a good "candidate" for a meteor, I had TWO very obvious meteors originating out of the constellation Gemini. Jackpot!

Geminid Meteors december 13
A Geminid meteor between Gemini and Canis Minor, it appears to be originating out of Jupiter near the center of the contellation

Geminid Meteors december 13
A Geminid meteor to the right of Gemini, this one's trail appears to originate out of top of the constellation between Castor and Pollux. I can't believe I nabbed this one just 2 min before my battery died!

geminid meteor composite
Composite of the two images above, color and contrast messed with in Photoshop

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Hazy Winter Moon with Venus, December 7, 2013

We've had clouds for at least 10 days in a row, including a storm with about 5 inches of snow - freaking crazy! When I saw the Moon with Venus peeking through the haze, I just had to go out on the balcony and snap some pics.

Moon with Venus, December 7, 2013
Single frame 4 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400, 18mm

Moon with Venus, December 7, 2013
Single frame 13 sec, f/7.1, ISO 400, 18mm

The haze actually makes Venus look much larger, so I'm pleased with how these simple photos turned out! It's so nice to have a snowy perch for photos so I don't have to trek out into the field full of frozen dog poop just to take something quick.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Complete! IAS Novice/Urban Observing List for November 2013

At first my plan of attack this month was to photograph Andromeda again, because M110 and M32 would be included in the shots and I'd knock out 3 in one swoop. Since I just made a huge effort (534 subs) on Andromeda in September, I was putting it off and putting it off - and then we had a streak of clouds for 10 days or so and I never got around to it. I did take a handful of photos that I was planning to add into my stack, but the amount of effort to process all of it over again for marginal improvements was unappealing. Maybe if I get a new camera for Christmas I'll make another solid push.

Next up, I revisited some old friends in Cassiopeia and had no trouble locating a few in the same night. I caught Comet ISON in early November well before its confusing trip around the sun, and rounded out the month with some lunar geography and my best image of Uranus to date.

The lunar targets were add-ons for me because my gear has a separation limit of about 14" (arcseconds) but I'm glad I was able to get the minimum 6 targets without relying on the somewhat easier lunar locations.

Distant Gas Giants, Uranus and Neptune with DSLR

Uranus was an observing list item for November, and the last time I photographed Neptune I wasn't zoomed all the way in with the 300mm lens - so I wanted to try to get both of them this month. Although they just look like stars with my gear, it's still fun to try to locate them. 

Neptune was fairly easy, and I had a good shot out my west-facing balcony. Uranus was very tricky because Pisces doesn't offer many bright landmarks for me to hop between - which is evident from the nameless stars surrounding it in the photo below. 

uranus DSLR 300mm
Stack of 165 subs, 40 dark, 40 bias, f/5.6, ISO 1600, 1.3 sec, 300mm

neptune 300mm DSLR
Stack of 92 subs, 40 dark, 40 bias, f/5.6, ISO 1600, 1.3 sec, 300mm

December 2013 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.

December looks like fun, with a chance to take a closer look at some otherwise familiar objects (Polaris and Pleiades), and some objects that are brand new to me. Again, separation could be a bit of a problem, but I'll do the best I can!

Alpha Piscium, double star in Pisces, 02h 02.0m, +02° 46', mag = 4.2, 5.1, sep = 1.7"

Stock 2, open cluster in Cassiopeia, 02h 15.0m, +59° 16', mag = 4.4, size = 60.0'

Gamma Andromedae, double star in Andromeda, 02h 03.9m, +42° 20', mag = 2.3, 5.5, sep = 9.8"

Iota Trianguli, double star in Triangulum, 02h 12.4m, +30° 18', mag = 5.3, 6.9, sep = 3.9"

NGC 869 / NGC 884, the famed ”Double Cluster”, two open clusters in Perseus, 02h 19.0m, +57° 09', mag = 5.3 / 6.1, size = 29.0' / 29.0'

Alpha Ursa Minoris, ”Polaris”, double star in Ursa Minor, 02h 31.8m, +89° 16', mag = 2.0, 9.0, sep = 18.4"

M34, open cluster in Perseus, 2h 42.0m, 42° 47’, mag = 6.0, size = 35.0'

Beta Persei, ”Algol”, variable star in Perseus, 03h 08.2m, +40° 57', mag = 2.1-3.4

M45, the ”Pleiades” or ”Seven Sisters”, open cluster in Taurus, 03h 46.9m, +24° 07', mag = 1.2, size = 110'

”Kemble's Cascade”, nearly linear asterism in Camelopardalis, 03h 57m, 63° 00', mag = 5 to10, size = 120'

Challenge Object #1:
M77, galaxy in Cetus, 02h 42.7m, -00° 01', mag = 8.8, size = 6.9' x 5.9'

Challenge Object #2:
Comet ISON, eastern sky before dawn, check star charts for position

Conjunction: Saturn, Moon, Mercury on December 1, 2013

I have been planning to photograph this conjunction since November 2, and since the close conjunction of Saturn and Mercury was clouded out, I was super excited to have a clear morning to see the moon join the pair. I took a lot of photos to make sure I had something that would turn out, and I played a bit with depth of field looking at the moon through trees.

It was awesome seeing the thin 3% illuminated waning crescent moon, and I can't wait to see the waxing crescent out my balcony window in the evening in a few nights. Not too cold this morning either, here are my best shots with details...

1.3 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400, 130mm 12/1/2013 – 6:53 AM

2.5 sec, f/9, ISO 400, 75mm 12/1/2013 – 6:57 AM

1.3 sec, f/11, ISO 400, 300mm 12/1/2013 – 7:05 AM

5 sec, f/11, ISO 1600, 300mm 12/1/2013 – 6:42 AM (position of tower tweaked in Photoshop)

2 sec, f/9, ISO 800, 180mm 12/1/2013 – 6:49 AM