Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Seeing Tiny Rainbows Near the Sun Makes You a Sundog Millionaire

small rainbow near the sun
Single frame, increased saturation, ISO 100, 1/2500 sec, f/5.6, 18mm
small rainbow near the sun
Single frame, increased saturation, ISO 100, 1/2500 sec, f/5.6, 44mm

What is that small rainbow near the sun? And that faint rainbow above it in the clouds?

A sun dog, phantom sun, mock sun, or parhelion, is a light appearing in the sky at the same elevation as the sun and 22° away from the sun. The distance from the sun is always the same because hexagonal ice crystals in the atmosphere refract the light at a consistent angle.

Sundogs are members of a larger family of halos created in this way, and can appear as pillars, small rainbows, or arcs that form a halo around the sun.

This was just a little guy - check out my parhelia pillars and lunar halo photos!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

M94 and M53 with DSLR for May Observing List

The May Observing List motivated me to catch M53 for a second time, and M94 for my first time. Just like last time, I used α Com just below M53 as an anchor star to help me compose my shot in a way that would let me take multiple photos back to back while keeping the blob in frame.

M53 messier object
1 min 22 sec total exposure, stack of 82 subs, 71 darks, 53 bias at ISO 6400, 1.3 sec, 300mm, f/5.6

M53 messier object
Original (uncropped) same as above

M94 was new to me, but I located it without much trouble. There is a small asterism (6 stars, each around mag 8.5) only 1° from M94 that looks like a kite or a magnifying glass. Composing my shot based on this asterism made it much easier to ensure M94 stayed in frame while taking multiple photos back to back.

M94 messier object
Stack of 195 subs, 71 darks, 53 bias, ISO 6400, 1.3 sec, 300mm, f/5.6
The asterism was obvious enough for me to make note of it in my observing notes, which mostly consist of acquisition settings for my DSLR. Whenever I do a bunch of Messier Objects in the same night, I can't always tell them apart until after processing - so I started writing down the order and settings for each one

asterism near M94
My asterism reminder in my observing notes

M94 brings my Messier total to 63 objects!

Meteor Hunting Consolation Prize: Beautiful Star Trails

I had two cameras out last night for what's being called the Camelopardalids, the first meteor shower produced from Comet 209P/LINEAR dust. My DSLR ended up catching a bright meteor that left a puff of smoke hanging in the air for 2 minutes. My point and shoot caught the smoke but missed the actual meteor flash.

Both cameras produced hundreds of photos of the night sky from fixed tripods - which make for excellent star trail photos once stacked using free StarStaX software.

My point and shoot produced 252 usable frames, which is typical of its battery life. I get fewer in winter when the cold drains the battery faster, but in 50°F air this was normal. My DSLR was set to JPEG instead of RAW to allow for as many photos as possible. I only ended up with 850 images over about 3 hours. I suppose I could have used RAW format for this, because it didn't come close to filling up my 64GB memory card.

I still need to learn to tether my DSLR to my laptop and buy an AC adapter for unlimited shooting! But for now, 3 hours in the can is a good chunk of time.

Ugh, I just realized as I was typing my photo specs into the pics below that I had my camera stopped down for no good reason. I could have opened it up to f/4.5 for some brighter images. Oh well! On a positive note, I didn't have to Photoshop any planes out of the images because there were only a couple and they just so happened to fly in the general direction of the star paths. Can you spot them?

DSLR star trails
Stack of 850 photos, each at ISO 800, 18mm, f/5.6, 15 sec
Canon T5i

point and shoot star trails
Stack of 252 photos, each at ISO 800, 6.2mm, f/2.7, 15 sec
Canon PowerShot A3100 IS

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Camelopardalids Meteor Fireball with Smoke Trail Animated GIF

Camelopardalids meteor with smoke trail
Camelopardalids meteor with smoke trail - Click to enlarge!
10 frames each at ISO 800, 18mm, f/5.6, 15 sec
Canon T5i
Camelopardalids meteor
Camelopardalids meteor - single frame same as above

Same thing with the brightness turned up a bit... Click to enlarge!

Camelopardalids smoke trail
Camelopardalids smoke trail - Click to enlarge!
8 frames each at ISO 800, 6.2mm, f/2.7, 15 sec
Canon PowerShot A3100 IS (Point and Shoot)

I took the shots above from my balcony in Brownsburg, Indiana on May 24, 2014 at 12:04am. Each frame is a 15 second exposure (there were only 8 frames from the point and shoot because it has longer processing time). The smoke trail was visible for roughly 2 minutes based on the camera timestamps. I had no idea they stuck around that long!

Images are cropped from their original size. Here is a single frame straight out of the camera (below).

Camelopardalids Meteor canon t5i
Single frame (uncropped) straight from camera
Canon T5i at ISO 800, 18mm, f/5.6, 15 sec

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Ceres and Vesta Movement in 24 Hours Animated GIF

I'm so totally pumped! I wanted to create an animation showing the movement of asteroids Ceres and Vesta. I lucked out and got 2 clear nights in a row with Ceres and Vesta in the same frame! I toggled back and forth in Photoshop to create a 2 frame animated GIF of their change in position.

ceres and vesta movement in 24 hours animated gif
Stack of images from fixed tripod on consecutive nights
ISO 6400, 300mm, f/5.6, 1.3 sec

There they go! Sailing through the night sky! I'm so pleased with how this came out, particularly because it took so much work to make. Each frame is a series of exposures stacked in Deep Sky Stacker (27 frames and 16 frames respectively). The sky was in a slightly different position, so I had to rotate to align the 'fixed' background stars, add arrows and labels, and animate it.

Any apparent movement in background stars is a result of me not aligning the images precisely - although the stars are moving relative to each other ever so slightly, there's no way my camera would detect the tiny movements in 24 hours (or even hundreds of years for that matter).

6 Messier Objects in One Shot Near 6 Com

I found an extremely busy area of the sky inside Coma Berenices that is littered with galaxies and other Messier catalogue objects. I aimed my Canon T5i at a relatively bright star 6 Com and let it click away for 10 minutes (I actually set a timer for 10 minutes and let it go).

The result was a HUGE image mosaic of stars smearing across my computer screen. I cropped the file down to the least smeared patch and ran it through, which helped me identify 6 Messier objects all in the same image. The large image is below, sliced into smaller pieces as identified by the white boxes.

6 Com region of the sky, 4 min 22 sec total exposure time, stack of 197 subs, 71 dark, 53 bias
300mm, ISO 6400, f/5.6, 1.3 sec each
M86 and M84
M86 and M84

M88 and M100
M88 and M100

M99 the Pin-Wheel Nebula, and M98
M99 the Pin-Wheel Nebula, and M98 (just barely).
Ok, so I'm maxing out on gray blobs here, but I'm at 300mm so I can't get any closer with my DSLR right now. I guess these will have to count until I get my EQ mount up and running. Still counts!

This haul brings my Messier total to 62 out of 110!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Taking Vengeance on the Black-Eye Galaxy M64

Last summer I took a wide angle shot of Coma Berenices and ran it through to see what I could see. I identified the Black-Eye Galaxy as a tiny speck of gray in a sea of gray specks. I vowed to return to the Coma Berenices at 300mm to get a closer look, but when I returned I was off by a good 15 degrees and accidentally photographed globular cluster M3.

Two nights ago, I collected 1048 frames of the clear night sky from my apartment balcony. I have a shutter lock, and I have to step off the balcony and stand in the doorway so my shifting weight doesn't shake the entire wood balcony.

I finally bagged M64 undeniably after almost a year. It's a little anticlimactic, but gratifying. Messier total is up to 56 out of 110!

Black-Eye Galaxy M64
Crop and labeled version of the image below
Black-Eye Galaxy M64

Black-Eye Galaxy M64
Uncropped M64 with Canon T5i, stack of 106 subs, 71 darks, 53 bias, each at ISO 6400, f/5.6, 300mm, 1.3 sec
Total exposure time 2 min 13 sec

Stars in the Arch of Spring

I read about the Arch of Spring, or the Spring Arc, in this week's sky at a glance from Sky & Telescope - but I couldn't find a photo or other description anywhere online. The blurb says that "the western twilight Arch of Spring is sinking..." and names Castor and Pollux as the top of the arch, with Procyon to the left and Menkalinen (β Aur) and Capella to the right. Since I couldn't find a photo anywhere online I made my own tonight!

Basically, the Arch of Spring is simply half the Winter Hexagon. Not all that surprising, but a noteworthy landmark in the western sky this time of year.

stars in the arch of spring
Canon T5i, ISO 800, 18mm, f/7.1, 10 sec

I also caught sight of Mercury before it dipped below the western horizon. We've had so much rain lately, I wasn't even aware that it was setting in the west until now, and I believe it's already on it's steady crawl back toward the sun.

jupiter and mercury
Canon T5i, ISO 200, 24mm, f/11, 8 sec

M104 the Sombrero Galaxy with Canon T5i from Fixed Tripod

Messier 104, the Sombrero Galaxy is a spiral galaxy in the constellation Virgo. It's very picturesque, and one of my favorite galaxies to look at. This was my first time attempting to photograph M104, and until the object appeared on the May 2014 observing list, I had no idea it would even be visible to my Canon T5i using a fixed-tripod technique.

M104 brings my Messier Object total up to 55 out of 110!

M104 the Sombrero Galaxy
M104 cropped and labeled from original image (below)

M104 the Sombrero Galaxy
Sombrero Galaxy cropped from image below

M104 the Sombrero Galaxy
M104, stack of 123 subs, 71 dark, 53 bias frames, each at ISO 6400, 300mm, f/5.6, 1.3 sec
Total exposure time 2 min 38 sec.

Coma Star Cluster (Melotte 111) in Coma Berenices

I'm familiar with Coma Berenices from last summer, but I was excited to get to know it a little better with a few objects on the May 2014 observing list. The Coma Star Cluster, or Mel 111 from the Melotte catalogue, is an open cluster of stars that sort of reminds me of the Hyades because of it's vague heart or V shape. This is a very busy piece of sky, but most of the stars are not visible to the naked eye from my location in central Indiana.

Coma Star Cluster
Coma Star Cluster, stack of 21 subs each at ISO 3200, 300mm, f/5.6, 1 sec with Canon T5i on fixed tripod

Coma Star Cluster in Coma Berenices
Coma Star Cluster (Mel 111) with labels

16 Comae Berenices (16 Com)
Crop from above photo, 16 Comae Berenices (16 Com) looks especially cool with its 3 faint neighbors

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How to Locate HD 162826 "Sun Sibling" in Hercules

You might have seen recent news items about the Sun's sibling star or "sister star" identified as HD 162826 in the constellation Hercules. If you try to locate this star in Stellarium or other star charts, it might not immediately appear because this star goes by many other names.

According to Wikipedia, other designations include 2MASS J17511402+4004208 , GSC 03093-01946 , TYC 3093-1946-1, BD+40 3225 , HD 162826 , HIP 87382 , HR 6669 , SAO 47009.

In Stellarium, the star is labeled HIP 87382 from the Hipparcos Catalogue.

Locate HD 162826 sub sibling
Location of HD 162826, aka HIP 87382, relative to Vega (Screenshot: Stellarium)
find HD 162826 sub sibling
Location of HD 162826 in Hercules (Screenshot: Stellarium)

Monday, May 5, 2014

First Quarter Moon Through Canon T5i Live View

My plan was to take a video with my Canon T5i to demonstrate how shaky the camera is on the tripod with and without my 2.5 pound weight. I noticed that without the weight, my shifting body weight on the deck produced more movement - but with the weight, touching the camera produced more movement. Interesting...

Anyway, while I was adjusting the camera and trying to focus on the moon through a thin veil of clouds, I noticed how useful my camera's live view feature is - especially when I used digital zoom to crop in an additional 10x magnification. I adjusted the focus manually after digital zooming, and it was surprisingly good considering I rarely manual focus on anything through the viewfinder.

quarter moon live view
Waxing quarter moon at 300mm, f/7.1, ISO 100, video mode live view 30 fps, and additional 10x digital zoom
moon canon live view
Instagram filter on the photo below lighting up the sky a bit
moon canon live view
Moon with Theophilus crater clearly visible (May observing list check!)

This live view observing technique might be useful at outreach events to the public - it's surprisingly clear with just a 300mm telephoto lens, and the large display screen makes it easier for multiple people to view at the same time - or for people who have difficulty looking through an eyepiece. Then again, there's something more authentic about looking down through an eyepiece that makes it more fun. If I wanted to look at the moon on a screen I'd go online.

Next on my list of things I should have already done but haven't done yet: Finally installing my drivers to tether my camera to my laptop to live view on my screen! One of these days...

Sunday, May 4, 2014

May 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. 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 I got 6 objects in one night thanks to their close proximity to each other in the constellation Leo.

This month, I'm looking forward to four Messier objects that are new to me, which will hopefully bring my Messier total up to 58. These objects include my personal nemesis M64, the Black-Eye Galaxy that I maybe sorta saw in one wide field image, but could never track down again.

Also this month, we might have a chance to see a new meteor shower on the nights of May 23 and 24, with an unknown rate of meteors! Estimates for this new Camelopardalids meteor shower (as it's unofficially known) are between 100-1000 meteors per hour!

Mel 111, the “Coma Star Cluster”, Open Cluster in Coma Berenices, 12h 25.0m, +26° 00', mag = 1.8, size = 275' (Use your binoculars for this one – it’s big!)

Mars, planet currently in Virgo, 12h 43m, -2° 58’, mag = -0.95, size = 14.5”

M94, Spiral Galaxy in Canes Venatici, 12h 50.9m, +41° 07', mag = 8.1, size = 11' x 9.1'

Alpha Canum Venaticorum, “Cor Caroli”, Double Star in Canes Venatici, 12h 56.0m, +38° 19', mag = 2.9, 5.5, sep = 19.4"

M64, the “Black-Eye Galaxy”, Spiral Galaxy in Coma Berenices, 12h 56.7m, +21° 41', mag = 8.5, size = 9.3' x 5.4'

M53, globular cluster in Coma Berenices, 13h 12m, +18° 10′, mag = 8.3, size = 13’

Zeta and 80 Ursa Majoris, “Mizar” and “Alcor”, Double Stars in Ursa Major, 13h 23.9m, +54° 56', 2.3, 4.0, 4.0, sep = 14.4", 709". It is sometimes rumored that being able to split Mizar and Alcor naked eye is a test of your eyesight. But actually, it is really a test of how dark your sky is! At magnitude 4.0, Alcor is easily washed out by light pollution.

M51, the “Whirlpool Galaxy”, spiral galaxy in Canes Venatici, 13h 29m, +47° 11′, mag = 8.4, size = 11′ × 7’. The companion galaxy NGC 5195 can often be seen in close proximity to M51.

M3, Globular Cluster in Canes Venatici, 13h 42.2m, +28° 23', mag = 5.9, size = 16.0' (Located about a third of the way from Arcturus to Cor Caroli. It’s bright enough to be seen as a smudge in binoculars from suburban skies.)

Theophilus, crater, first quarter Moon

Palus Epidemiarum, small mare, last quarter Moon

Challenge Object:
✔ M104, the “Sombrero Galaxy”, Spiral Galaxy in Virgo, 12h 40.0m, -11° 37', mag = 8.3, 8.9' x 4.1'