Saturday, October 29, 2016

Space Shuttle Columbia launch April 4, 1997 as seen from Cocoa Beach

April 4, 1997 we got to see Space Shuttle Columbia launch from the top floor of our hotel in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Reading more about the mission STS-83 it was actually cut short due to a fuel cell problem. Pretty neat that we got to see a shuttle launch during our Florida vacation, it feels like a real piece of history!

I found this video while converting my family's VHS home movie archive into digital files. It's been a huge project, much more time consuming than I originally thought. No wonder companies charge hundreds or thousands of dollars to convert and archive home movies. Sheesh!

I'm on the home stretch! It's been about 50 hours of work so far, I'm counting it as 2 years worth of Xmas presents for my mom. They're all going to be in the cloud for safe keeping, and on an external hard drive spliced into individual clips that are labeled and tagged with dates, people, and places.

vhs home movies

It's also inspired me to start taking more video. I take a lot of photos, but I don't take much video of everyday activities and moments. I decided that 2 minute videos are the perfect length to give the future home movie viewer time to assess what is going on and what year it is so the clip doesn't end before they get their bearings.

If there's one thing I want to share after archiving all of these home movies it's this: Once us kids were in middle school, there were fewer and fewer home movies, and the movies that we do have are all of things that seemed important at the time but ultimately aren't - like dozens of jazz band performances and footage of buildings on a European tour. We can just Google facts about Big Ben, but we can't go back in time and capture those little moments of everyday mannerisms, conversations, etc.

My theory is that once us kids got to be teenagers, we didn't want to be in home movies, and band performances were sort of a legitimate excuse to film us kids who probably would have rolled our eyes at a video camera during birthday dinner. My suggestion to everyone out there is to do an annual birthday interview where the birthday person talks about what has been on their mind for that year, what seemed really important, demonstrate a hobby or give a tour of the house, what are the hot topics of that time period, what are their thoughts and interests. This is the kind of stuff that's fascinating to watch back years later.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Venus Shines at -3.8 Magnitude

Plenty of planets in the night sky right now. I missed the Jupiter/Mercury sunrise the other day,  but I did catch an extremely bright Venus setting over the roof of my neighbors' house at -3.8 magnitude. By far the brightest planet in the night sky, Venus is often mistaken for airplanes or other flying objects. It's rare that I go outside just to get a photo of a planet by itself, without something more interesting or rare to capture - like a conjunction or interesting alignment. But on October 11, Venus was shining along the rooftop and I think the interesting foreground made it really stand out.

Foreground composition is something I've been working on in my photos overall, so this was a good chance to practice. The roofline isn't very interesting, but there's more going on than just a planet by itself in an empty sky. In hindsight I should have increased the f-number to get the chimney in focus. I always think back to this depth of field test I did when I first got my Canon T5i camera.

venus setting
Venus setting, single frame with Canon T5i, ISO 400, 110mm, f/4.5, 1.6 sec
Following my 'trying to get things in the foreground' theme, this photo of Mars in Sagittarius didn't turn out as interesting as I hoped with a few leaves floating between Mars and Nunki mag +2.1. I'll need to work on it, maybe when there aren't any leaves on the trees I can get some interesting foreground compositions.

mars in sagittarius
Mars in Sagittarius single frame with Canon T5i, ISO 400, 110mm, f/4.5, 1.6 sec

Hunter's Moon Putting Out the Fall Vibes

The full hunter's moon this weekend will put out some decidedly Fall vibes as it rises into a brisk autumn sky. With all the ambience of a pumpkin spice lattes, camp fires, corn mazes, and chilly night temperatures - I was feeling it tonight when I snapped this photo just a few minutes ago!

The hunter's moon peaks this weekend. It's currently at 97.8% full. Tomorrow (Saturday) it will be 99.9% full, and reaching perigee (closest approach) just after midnight Sat/Sun at 98.9% full - so basically a 'supermoon' if you're into that kind of stuff. According to PhotoPills it will appear 7.3% bigger than the average moon.

october 14 hunters moon 2016
Single frame with Canon T5i, ISO 100, 170mm, f/8, 1/125 sec
Cheers! Go out and enjoy this perfect Fall weather and check out the hunter's moon tomorrow night!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Homemade Double Sided Solar Filter for Refractor Telescope and DSLR

double sided telescope and camera solar filter

I modified my DIY homemade solar filter for my DSLR to add a side that will slip snug over my Meade 285 refractor telescope. You can check out my previous post about how I made the initial filter, but it's basically a bunch of poster paper and tape around a $10 square of black polymer.

solar filter on telescope
Double sided solar filter fits on both telescope and DSLR lens
I only have one sheet of this black polymer stuff, so I made a double sided filter that fits on both. Look, it still fits on my DSLR 300mm lens.

solar filter on camera
Double sided solar filter on DSLR camera 300mm lens
I wasn't even planning on doing this project today, so zero planning went into it. It started when I was cleaning out a closet and found this cardboard mailing tube that had some posters in it. It looked like a good size for a solar filter that goes over the telescope. I tried it out and I was right, this 3 inch cardboard mailing tube was a perfect fit! A little snug but easy to get on and off.

mailing tube for telescope
Found out the tube was a perfect size!

mailing tube for telescope
Measured where to cut

cardboard tube cut
Cut the cardboard mailing tube with a large kitchen bread knife

cardboard tube cut
Kinda rough but it did the trick!
So next I took the existing filter that I made previously and I taped the tube to the other side. I wrapped another layer of tape around the outside to hold the other tape in place, and then guess what, I taped it some more.

The end result is this totally low budget totally makeshift solar filter. Fabulous! It still only cost me about $10 to make, and all of the real cost is tied up in the little sheet of black polymer.

Following Observe the Moon Night with (Carefully) Observe the SUNday

Can the Sunday after International Observe the Moon Night be known as Carefully Observe the Sun Day? Maybe we shouldn't encourage the general public to observe the sun, that could turn bad. But anyway, I had gorgeous clear skies today and had a busy and fun morning working on solar projects! I don't observe the sun all that often. Check it out, each of the active regions (sunspots) are the size of the Earth!

sunspots october 9 2016
Canon T5i single frame prime focus on Meade 285, ISO 800, 1/60 sec, 900mm

I find it much more challenging than observing the moon for a few reasons: You can't look at the sun to line up your telescope - I ended up slewing around hoping to stumble upon it in my eyepiece. Viewing your camera's LCD screen in the daytime is terrible - and if you rely on it to focus like I do, this becomes extremely challenging.

Today's sun from showing active regions

I modified my homemade DSLR solar filter to fit over my telescope. This is my first solar image at prime focus, and it was my first time observing the sun through my telescope eyepiece. Here are some more photos from today:

meade 285 refractor solar observing
My solar observing setup with Canon T5i at prime focus on Meade 285 with homemade solar filter

I noticed the finder scope was producing a scary looking magnified dot of light, and I imagined a magnifying glass burning a hole in my shirt while I looked through the telescope. No thanks! While it didn't look like the dot was too hot, I covered the finder scope with an eyepiece cap just to be safe.

finder scope and sunlightcover finder scope

Here is my homemade solar filter attached to the telescope. The tube is a good fit, but I added some tape just to make sure it wouldn't blow off while I had my camera attached to it. I'll go into more detail about the modification to my filter in a separate post.

meade 285 refractor solar observing
DIY solar filter anchored with tape so it doesn't blow off and ruin my camera or blind me in one eye. 
There's a trade off between the resolution of the sun at prime focus, and the ability to carefully control focus with the Canon T5i focus controlled by my laptop. So what's more important? A larger disk size but clunky manual focus out in the sunlight where it's hard to see anyway? Or careful laptop focus controls but smaller disk of the sun?

camera hooked up to computer
Canon T5i with 300mm lens and solar filter connected to my laptop with EOS Utility
sun 300mm
Canon T5i 3 frames stacked in Registax, ISO 400, 300mm, f/9, 1/250 sec
I think the resolution wins and the prime focus is a little nicer even though it's not as sharp, it looks more natural even in one frame without stacking. What do you think?

compare prime vs 300mm sun photo
Compare prime focus sun (left) vs DSLR at 300mm stacked (right) 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

2016 International Observe the Moon Night

I've been celebrating International Observe the Moon Night since 2012, and even if I don't have it marked on my calendar, I've coincidentally been observing the night sky on the observation of this day every year. I think that's the point, right? It motivates you to get out there and do some observing, or in my case astrophotography.

Tonight, I tried to do a quick prime focus shot using mirror lock up with my Canon T5i. The problem with mirror lock up is that it takes so long between frames, it confuses Registax. The good thing is that the mirror doesn't shake my telescope on this ancient (15 year old) EQ mount.

Here's my best attempt in about an hour while dinner was being made. Everything from focusing to cropping in Camera RAW, to stacking, to Photoshopping all in a short amount of time.

2016 observe the moon night
Canon T5i 14 frames stacked in Registax, ISO 400, 1/125 sec, prime focus Meade 285 900mm
Chris asked me, what would happen if International Observe the Moon Night fell on a new moon? Well, my guess is that it doesn't, the date seems to change to make sure that the first quarter moon is high in the sky.

InOMN is usually held in the fall, when the Moon is around first quarter. Fall in the Northern Hemisphere is generally a good time for InOMN, because of school schedules and the weather, and a first quarter Moon is visible in the afternoon and evening, a convenient time for most hosts and participants. Furthermore, the best observing is typically along the dusk/dawn terminator, where shadows are the longest, not at full Moon.
This day has only been celebrated since 2010? I say let's keep it going! Great excuse to get outside or to hold an event for the public!