Saturday, June 29, 2013

Photos from museum exhibit 'Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination'

Well these photos aren't really night sky related, but who cares! It's Star Wars! This exhibit came to the Indiana State Museum, which is walking distance from my office. I got Chris to take me today after getting coffee with our new friend Drew.

The costumes looked like costumes, which I suppose is a credit to the lighting and special effects teams who made the movies into more than actors on a sound stage. The original storm troopers had black elastic holding them together, it was really amazing how "normal" some of the stuff looks off camera, away from the magic. The hand-painted models were the most impressive. It's amazing the amount of work put into something used in a handful of close up shots. 

Me hanging out with the original Yoda, ear hair and all

The original Darth Vader costume. This really hits home how low budget the first movie was, and how rectangular future gadgets were supposed to be. The black leather is showing its age as well.

Amazing detail covering every square inch of the Millennium Falcon

Large hand-painted model of the Millennium Falcon, about 4 feet across in immaculate detail

Hi little guy!

The original Chewbacca costume!

These two! Props? Costumes? Both?

Luke's X-Wing with great detail

My favorite piece in the exhibit. The actual original Yoda puppet!

Roger, roger!

This star destroyer was about 3 feet long, amazing detail!

Various air traffic light trails

We don't have fireflies here in Brownsburg, but we have an airport pretty close by and like 5 hospitals with careflight helicopters - so it makes for an interesting and busy night sky. I took this with my point and shoot, which is why there are big gaps between the trails. Max exposure time is 15 sec and it takes like 10 sec to process before the shutter opens again.

star trails and air traffic
Stacked in StarStaX, each at ISO 400, 15 sec
My favorite is the one that bobs up and down, I'm pretty sure that was a helicopter. I'm gonna try again on Sunday night when there should be tons of air traffic with people coming back from weekend activities.

Drat! Checker-board JPG image compression artifact strikes again. Huf! Here is the PNG version:

94% Waning Gibbous is the Missing Piece in my Moonsterpiece Moon Phase Composite!

My several month Moonsterpiece photo composite is complete! I've been working on this beast since February, slowly adding to my waxing phase collection, and eventually capturing all but one for several tantalizing cycles!

Victory was inevitably mine, however, as I was able to capture last week's 94% waning gibbous moon high above the haze at 3:59am on June 25, 2013.

composite of moon phases taken with Rebel XT
It feeeeeels soooo gooooooood! Click to enlarge
94% waning gibbous
The elusive final piece, captured in 30 subs at f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 100, 300mm
Now off to the printers! I'm totally making my composite into a print for my office wall.

iPhone Lightning Photos with Slow Shutter Cam App

I haven't found an easier way to photograph lightning than with Slow Shutter Cam () for iPhone. With a live exposure view, you can see what the final product looks like before closing the shutter. In light trail mode, it's just amazing. I wish my DSLR had this feature. The background is never over-exposed, it's like the app is just selecting the brightest pixel from a series of photos or video. With a DSLR, I'd imagine the entire scene continues to get brighter and brighter as you keep the shutter open - making bulb mode lightning exposures tricky.

lightning photo on iphone
Got lucky with this one! My favorite of the night.

I had my iPhone in my Glif tripod mount.

I used my Apple headphones with (+) volume button as a remote shutter release.

Several lightning strikes within the clouds

Storm rolling in from the NW

Sunday, June 23, 2013

June 2013 Supermoon with apparent size comparison

It was raining when I came out of the movie theater after seeing Man of Steel, so I didn't have high hopes of catching the Moon of Steel, er, "supermoon" last night. As always, I was walking my dog when I noticed a break in the clouds. It wasn't totally clear (a few thin hazy clouds remained) but there was another wave of heavy clouds on its way so I knew this was my chance.

I must say, I like having plenty of yard space to the side of my apartment complex, rather than a courtyard where all the doorways face the yard. This way I can feel less self-conscious setting up a tripod with big zoom lens in the middle of the night.

I stacked 19 frames in Registax, which cleaned up the supermoon a bit, but it's obviously not as clean as my Snow Moon from February earlier this year.

how big is the supermoon

Moon photographs for the birds! (and of birds)

There's this big dead tree across the street from my apartment complex. I see it every time I take my dog out, and I've been waiting for an excuse to photograph it. On Thursday, I saw about 40 birds perched on the tree and thought it would make for a great photo (especially with the moon rising behind it).

Shooting in the changing light was a little difficult. The sun had already set, so I was in that "magic hour" right before it gets dark.

bird and moon
Click to enlarge, ISO 100, 300mm, 1/200 sec, f/5.6

bird and moon
Nature in the warehouse district

Traffic was whizzing by at 35 mph with only a small sidewalk between me and the 5 lane road, but I'd still like to scamper across the street for a star trail photo some time. This big dead tree would be perfect (no moving leaves to blur the shots).

Brilliant ISS pass over Indiana

My brother called me on Thursday night to let me know the International Space Station would be flying overhead later that night. He said he heard it on the news. I verified by going to Heavens-Above and saw that indeed the ISS would be flying over Indiana at 11:00pm at -3.4 magnitude reaching a max elevation of about 60° or so.

I'm glad they reported it on the news, but you can tell they only report the really spectacular passes otherwise they'd be listing a handful of visible passes every couple weeks.

What luck! The station would be flying out of the NW directly toward my balcony, and the sky looked like it would cooperate. This was a great chance to try out ISS spotting from this new location, along with an app I've been dying to test under these circumstances - It's called Precise Time () and it "synchronizes time from high resolution Atomic Clocks from around the globe." Unfortunately it doesn't have the ability to SET your iPhone's clock, but you can open the app to see the seconds ticking away in precise time.

I used the app to watch for the appearance of the ISS, and was successful in comparing the predicted appearance within +/- about 1 second. This could be very handy for spotting Iridum Flares!

international space station over indiana
Series of 20 second exposures stacked (you can see little breaks in the ISS path)

international space station over indiana
Series of 15 second exposures stacked (point and shoot camera)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Clouds muck up first real star circle attempt from my Indiana location

271 images stacked, each at ISO 400 for 15 sec

I had my point and shoot set up on a mini tripod on my balcony overnight. I retrieved the camera around 3:50am with a dead battery, so I think 271 is about all the pics I can take back to back.

I noticed that from the NW I get quite a few planes coming presumably from Chicago toward Indy and beyond. On a clear night, maybe a little earlier, I'd like to get some air traffic stacked in with these long exposures. Then again, it's almost the shortest night of the year, so there probably isn't as much traffic that late at night.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Blood red sunset over Indiana on June 17, 2013

My west-facing balcony is really paying off! I can easily check the sky conditions at any time. I saw this bright burning sky while I was on the phone with my mom and I said "I gotta go, there is a really cool sunset and it can't wait."

Not only can I not multi-task, but I had to use my phone to record a timelapse video (bottom).

The TimeLapse app () on my phone now has smart exposure, so you can see it constantly trying to keep up with the changing light. 

Venus-Mercury and Moon-Spica Conjunctions on the same night!

Dim Mercury was moving ever closer to brighter Venus just after sunset. I was able to get these photos of the pair low over the horizon.

170mm, 1.3 sec, f/5.0, ISO 400
The moon was also very close to Spica, but a blob of clouds was rolling over the area. I actually like it with the look of smoke surrounding a glowing moon and a little beacon off to the right. I have enough photos of the moon-next-to-things, so a few clouds for variety really ain't bad!

200mm, 1/5 sec, f/5.0, ISO 800

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Clouds rollin' in! Evening sky iPhone time lapses from my first week in Indiana

I took these videos using a time lapse app on my iPhone 5 shooting in 1080p. I forget the exact settings, but they're around 40-50 times regular speed.

I'm getting pretty sick of these clouds. They swoop in from Lake Michigan to the NW, and always get worse in the evening for some reason.

View from my new apartment balcony

Thoughts after my first week living in Brownsburg, Indiana... It's definitely not rural - even though we do have corn fields, the light pollution from the city and surrounding areas are distinct reminders that I am a 5 minute drive from sprawling malls, the intersection of 4 interstate highways, and the expanding residential communities of Indianapolis.

On the other hand, I've had nothing but thin layers of hazy clouds since I've been here (except the night that it rained for about 14 hours). With that in mind, I can't really give an evaluation of the sky on a clear night just yet. The light domes on the horizon were likely magnified by the reflective layers of cloud - making them look worse than normal. 

Clouds aren't all bad though, and I've gotten to enjoy a series of sunsets since day one. Here is a crescent moon from my balcony the night I moved in...

Crescent moon through evening clouds

And here's my view of the horizon facing west in the evening...

Screen shot from balcony sunset timelapse video, taken with iPhone

Setting sun with sundog (right) taken with iPhone
I'd estimate that I have a view of about 5ยบ above the horizon from NW to S, which is where a lot of comet and planet action takes place in twilight. I'm also pretty excited about being able to leave my camera out at night without worrying about it getting stolen since I'm on the 2nd floor. 

Purbach's Cross / Lunar X on June 15, 2013

I've tried before to get a good shot of the Lunar X or Purbach's Cross. I noticed that I accidentally got the X in an earlier shot before I knew how to stack images to reduce noise, so I wanted to make a more deliberate attempt.

The X is clearly visible about 3/4 down the terminator of the lunar disc. Although the "Lunar terminator" sounds like a great science fiction movie, it's basically "the division between the illuminated and dark parts of the Earth's Moon. It is the lunar equivalent of the division between night and day" (Wikipedia).

I usually try to see the X around Half Moon (50%) but it actually occurs much sooner. Using a lunar phase iPhone app, this X occurred at 43.25% illumination.

Sorry for the JPG, Blogger was being funky and said my PNG wasn't an image file for some reason.