Sunday, December 26, 2010

New Imager

I just completed work on modifying a Lifecam HD to work as an astroimager.  The work involved removing the front lens and reassembling the camera in an eyepeice extension tube.  You can find detailed instructions on how to do this on the web.  It looks a lot harder than it is. The hardest part was getting the lens assembly off the circuit board; the screws are very stiff.  My standard mini screwdriver did not have a long enough shaft to give the leverage I needed to get the screws out.  I managed to borrow one with a long and thick plastic handle; it worked very well.  My tests with the cam imaging interior objects with a camera lens indicate that the imaging chip does well in low light and noise seems to be well controlled, especially for a CMOS imager.  Stay tuned for details on testing; so far, the weather is not cooperating (of course).

And before I forget--seasons greetings to everyone who stops by this blog!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


The weather continues to be awful here in Indiana.  Snow and cloud!  No chance to get the scopes out and look around.  I am excited by a book i just read about amateur detection of extrasolar planets.  It sounds as if it could be a really interesting project!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sun pix for December 10

I think I am getting the hang of imaging a little better. I have found that confocal imaging seems to be the only way to get a digital DSLR to work with the PST.  I have tried the mod of unscrewing a barlow lens from its tube and screwing it onto the bottom of the eyepiece adapter.  I can get close to focus this way, but I hit the end of travel on the PST focuser before I actually achieve it.  I hope to be able to adapt a webcam soon and to experiment with it.

The pix below were taken in burst mode and processed in Registax and the standard Windows photo processing package.  I have a much better package of my own, but I need to install it on my (relatively) new laptop.  Click on each image and you'll see a bigger view.

The first image has been enhanced to show surface detail.  Notice the detail around active area 1131 and the filament about this area.  The "orange peel" texture of the sun's "surface" is fairly well displayed.

The second is processed to show maximum detail of prominences on the edge of the solar disk.  As with other images I've posted, much more detail was visible with the eye than is displayed here.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sun pic

Here's an unprocessed pic of the sun taken confocally. The filter was tuned to show surface detail rather than prominences. Spot 1131 is clearly visible, with 1133 above and to the right.  Note the structures around 1131.  Temp when this pic was taken was 18 degrees F--pretty darn cold, but worth it.  Much more detail was visible with the eye, including a large filament between 1131 and 1133.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Coronado First Light!

I must have been a very good person because today the skies cleared around lunchtime and I was able to take the Coronado out for first light.  I mounted the scope on a Bogen tripod (one I use with my ETX 90).  The solar finder makes finding the sun easy and a centered solar image in the finder put the sun right in the middle of the field of view.  I plugged in the 12mm Kellner and took a look.

Experienced amateur astronomers know not to expect too much when they look through a scope; they know it takes time and patience to tease out details.  But that was not my experience with the Coronado.  I took one look and could see a huge prominence at the 2 o'clock position on the sun and a large group between the 7 and 8 position.  A tweaked the tuner and they jumped in brightness and detail.  Active area 1130 was clearly visible, with significant amounts of surface detail.

I tried to image with a T-adapter and with a barlow--no luck on getting focus, but I was on a tight schedule, so I stuck the camera up to the eyepiece and took an exposure.  The result (after some cropping and a little enhancement) is below:

So from unpacking to the above in under 5 minutes--not too bad!  The pic does not show all the surface detail visible to the eye, nor the delicate structures visible in the prominence itself.  But for a quick eyepiece shot, it gives you an idea of what this scope can do.

The supplied 12mm kellner works well--and even better with a 2x barlow, which gave superb views.

I didn't want to pack up and return to work--but needs must!

I've owned a lot of scopes and experienced the joy of moving from a 90 mm scope to a 10 inch.  But nothing compares to the experience I had with the PST.  It's hard to put into words what it is like to see the sun as a "living" entity--changing in front off your eyes.  Again--the level of detail I could see was on a par with some of the best PST images you will see on the web--even better, I would say.  This little scope opens up a whole new world of astronomy and I can't wait to do more with it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I just got an amazing delivery!  Santa has come early with the most amazing gift--a Coronado PST.  Of course, the arrival of this wonderful piece of engineering guarantees another 10 days of cloud. I came into my office to find a large package standing in the corner.  I opened it up, and inside was a smaller package.  I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the PST box in this smaller package.  So here are some pix and observations as I unpacked the instrument:

The box alone is designed to make an astronomer's heart beat a little faster!  Inside is a very nice and functional carrying case:

The case is sturdy and feels solid.  Unlatching it reveals the treasure within! 

The warranty is for 5 full years and the serial number and other information is hand-written on the card.  Also included is the user manual, which is a simple and clear instruction sheet.  I suspect this has been updated as, unlike earlier sheets, it contains information on tuning the filter.  Removing the paperwork reveals the PST in  all its glory:
The scope is a REALLY tight fit in the foam, so I removed it gently and carefully.  The scope itself is surprisingly hefty and the workmanship is first rate.  It feels like what it is--a high quality, precision instrument.

The scope comes with a 20 MM Kellner eyepiece:

 The scope itself is one of the new series with the blue objectives.  I have heard that these scopes are a little more accommodating than the old ones for imaging with SLRs.  I will have to check this out when the clouds lift (probably sometime around the New Year!).

I'm very impressed with this scope, and I can't wait to try it out!  Thank you, Santa, for a wonderful gift!

News Update

To add insult to injury, not only are the skies cloudy, but it is snowing.  The forecast is that it will end by noon, but I'm not hopeful as I look outside; it seems pretty settled-in to me. 

There are a couple of news items worth mentioning.   Those of you who follow astronomical news will be aware of the disappearing belt on Jupiter.  The South Equatorial Belt (SEB) went missing about a year ago.  Amateur Wayne Jaeschke is tracking a significant disturbance in the planet's atmosphere that seems to presage the return of the belt.  Stretching almost halfway around the planet, the disturbance has grown significantly since it was first detected in October of this year.  It is easily visible in most amateur scopes, and amateurs are encouraged to monitor the belt's possible return.

Late yesterday (Nov. 30), the sun produced a B-class flare with associated coronal mass ejection (CME).  It's too early to say if the CME is headed our way, but we might be in for some high-latitude aurora.  More details as they become available.

So keep your eyes on the sky.  Hopefully, you'll get chance to take a look at Jupiter.  I'll keep watching the snow...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Murphy's Law

My imaging efforts to date have used webcams, and I do intend at some point to continue this imaging.  However, I was really looking forward to doing  some imaging with a Nikon D40.  Nikons are not built with astroimaging in mind, but I have seen some excellent results with the D40.  Today, thanks to an act of great generosity, I received a T-adapter and Nikon lens mount adapter.  I was looking forward to doing some solar work, and, until yesterday, the weather seemed as if it would cooperate with at least partially sunny skies.  However, a line of storms moved through throughout the night in anticipation of the arrival of this equipment.  The result is that it is likely to be cloudy for the rest of the week.  Anyone who has bought a new telescope is well aware of the "5 days of cloud" curse.  But to have the same ill-luck when a camera adapter arises argues that the powers that control these things have lost their sense of proportion!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sunspot 1130

Saturday, Nov. 27 was clear and a beautiful day for observing.  I set up the ETX-90 to do a little direct observation.  Unfortunately, not a spot in sight.  I note that sunspot 1130, currently near the center of the sun's disk, is developing rapidly and is becoming quite an active area.  Unfortunately there is a solid overcast today, with rain and thunderstorms expected tonight.  However, it looks as if the sun might make an appearance tomorrow and I'll take a stab at imaging 1130 if I can see it. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Coronal Hole

Solar wind is streaming from a coronal hole and buffeting the earth's magnetic field.  A high-latitude auroral alert has been issued.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Quiet Sun

The earth facing part of the sun is currently quiet.  Active regions 1126 and 1127 are not active sources of flares.  However, on the far side of the sun, there are a number of active regions (5 or so), so there's something to look forward to.  Skies continue obstinately cloudy here in Indiana, so I've been unable to do any imaging.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Early Pix

Imaged on 9/27/00 @ 11:20 UT. Equipment was ETX90RA, Quickcam VC Captured with Vega 1.1; processed with AstroStack; tweaked with Photodeluxe. Each image is a composite of 25 BMPs. These are prime focus images--no barlow or eyepiece projection was used.  The pinkish coloring was a common artifact of the Quickcam.  My aim is to move to the next level and capture better images.

What this blog is about

Notes from a Small Observatory is a blog about my work as an amateur astronomer.  My main interests are Solar, Lunar and Planetary observing and imaging.  I'll post observations, images, and news items of interest here; I'll also talk about the tools I use and the challenges involved in observations and imaging.