Thursday, June 2, 2016

Imaging at the Isle of Palms--Jupiter & Mars are Alright Tonight!

The weather in Indiana has been consistently cloudy for weeks, so I was really looking forward to our vacation on the Isle of Palms, just off the coast of Charleston, SC. We arrived at precisely the same time as Tropical Storm Bonnie. The grey skies and relentless rain did not look promising. And while it was grey skies and warm rain with palm trees, it seemed an ominous sign of things to come. After two days of cloud and rain, conditions improved. But it seemed the weather was settling into a pattern familiar to me in Indiana--clear days and cloudy nights.

Last night was different. The clouds stayed away and the night sky was velvety black and transparent. One the the great things about the Isle of Palms is that sea turtles nest here, so lighting is very strictly controlled by ordinance. One of the less good things (astronomically speaking) is that the island is covered in dense, tropical foliage. Our house is no exception and I had to setup in the driveway to image. Good polar alignment is pretty much impossible as the house blocks the pole star. That put DSO imaging out. But at 32 degrees south, Mars was a brilliant object in the SE. Jupiter was also, of course, very prominent and that was my first target. I brought the VRC 6, which, although better suited to DSOs, did a great job with a barlow, giving an effective focal ratio of f/18. The DS 2.3+ gives a very wide field, even in this configuration, but its resolution enables aggressive zooming.

Seeing was very good (as it often is on the coast) and I was able to capture a pretty decent image of Jupiter, especially for a 6 inch scope. I captured a 700-frame avi and stacked and processed the best 150 frames in Registax. The first image is a cropped version of the original, the second is the original, stacked image which shows the wide field of the VRC 6 even at long focal ratios.