I purchased a modest dedicated astronomical camera (ZWO-ASI178MC) recently, mostly for eventual autoguiding of my telescope during long-exposure imaging. The ZWO is described as a “planetary camera” so I thought why not? With Jupiter and Saturn near opposition and in good viewing position, let’s get first light tests using those beauties?
July 4 – 5 was the night of the very weak penumbral lunar eclipse and everything was set up in my yard for that. I had also made significant progress getting the new computerized telescope mount functional. Using SkyWatcher’s Wi-Fi module and my iPhone, helped immensely, providing precise GPS location and time information to the mount. Finder scope alignment helped, too!
So after finishing with the Full Moon and removing the DSLR camera from the telescope, I installed the little ZWO.
The camera worked well and I was quickly able to record images of Jupiter and Saturn. As a bonus, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot happened to be on the Earth-facing side of the planet. As for Saturn, I could see the image swimming on the computer screen so I didn’t expect much and didn’t get much. You can tell it’s Saturn and even begin to see some atmospheric banding.
I still have much to learn about operating the camera control software and post-processing. As crude as the resulting images are, for first efforts the results are encouraging.
The night of July 5, 2020 brought Earth’s Moon, and planets Jupiter and Saturn together in the night sky in what is known as a conjunction. The bodies
didn’t appear all that close together, but because Jupiter is at opposition — its nearest orbital position to Earth — it was particularly bright. Much dimmer Saturn was off at an angle from the Moon forming a sort of triangle, if one drew lines between them. Humans love to connect the dots. At any rate, I went out to the countryside to photograph the gathering, first to a favorite storm viewing site. I shot an assortment of images, watching the motion of a few clouds around the Moon and planets. The clouds, I thought, added to the scene. From my first stop, I headed farther west hoping to capture an imagined scene with Moon and planets reflected in the waters of a small lake. By the time I arrived at the second stop, what I thought would be my prime location, slow-moving clouds had rolled. I stayed on location for quite some time, listening to bullfrogs and shooing mosquitoes, while watching the clouds. After some time I called it quits, packed up the gear, and headed home. I am, however, very pleased with the “consolation prize” seen above.
Early in April the planet Venus made an approach and passage through the Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters. Many, even most nights were cloudy but we had a couple of clear evening skies that allowed a bit of astronomy and picture-taking. It’s notable that Venus makes the Pleiades transit only once every eight years so this was a limited opportunity to view and record.
Our Moon was also quite lovely the nights of the transit though it did provide quite a lot of bothersome intrusive light. Nonetheless, Moon remains a favorite target of mine….
I was messing around with my recent soft-focused “antique” image of Moon’s Crater Tyco when I discovered a Photoshop sharpening feature I’d never used. I reprocessed the image using that setting and got a “better” result: sharper appearance of the crater itself but with more grain. I think I like this new one better than the one I originally posted. Here they both are: Reprocessed Above / Original Below.
I’ve tried in the past to directly connect a modern DSLR camera to the ca. 1901 Warner and Swasey 9-inch telescope I operate for a small college. Because some original fittings have been lost over the decades and I use an eyepiece adapter a predecessor built, the telescope’s couldn’t be used for focal plane camera operation. Focal plane would have been like using the telescope as a 3,200mm telephoto lens. So I was limited to afocal use — holding the camera with one of its own lenses over the telescope eyepiece and trying to record that image. When it worked afocal photography produced very good, even excellent results for the Moon; dim objects could not be handled that way.
Recently it occurred to me that I hadn’t tried eyepiece projection: using a special adapter to hold an eyepiece, connect to the telescope and camera, and project the eyepiece image on to the camera’s image sensor. I scrounged around and found and eyepiece projection adapter in pieces, put it back together and, trying it last night, got interesting results. On this first try with the vintage scope the images all came out in soft focus with details at the center of the image somewhat better than those surrounding it. The overall effect is, I think, quite artistic.
I’ll keep trying with that old scope, with my own new telescope as well, to try and get sharp images but, for now, we have some lovely lunar art!
Sunday night, March 18, was to bring a lovely sight to our western sky: a conjunction of a very thin crescent Moon, with planets Venus and Mercury. I arrived at the Medina County Park System’s Letha House Park, where I have after-dark privileges, about half an hour before sunset. I was a bit disheartened when I saw the entire western sky covered with a mixed pattern of cirrus clouds. I thought, “Oh, well, even if I can’t see the Moon and planets, it should be a spectacular sunset!” I need not have worried.
While I waited I was delighted by the evening songs of hidden birds. That sense of peace was shaken by Canada Geese, jostling for nighttime position, squawking and chasing each other in the air and on the waters. The geese provided me with entertainment and some lovely scenes of sunset-lit ripples and splashes.
As the Sun sank below the horizon, the clouds thinned considerably leaving some streaks floating in the light, reflecting in lake waters. The sunset, while beautiful, wasn’t as spectacular as I might have expected but suddenly the Moon became visible, then Venus, and finally tiny Mercury — and brighter than expected.
So, I shot many photos, changing exposure and composition, and captured a few images I rather like. I was a bit surprised and disappointed with the captures from the Canon 7D Mark 2 camera (a “crop sensor” camera) — they came out “grainy,” even though I stayed with ISO 400 for the whole shoot; that’s the camera I typically use for wildlife shots, not scenics, and I normally don’t see the grain. The full-frame Canon 6D performed very well (its images are typically “smooth”) though I wish I would have increased my exposures — too many were too dark and not recoverable — I’ll blame that on trusting the camera’s built-in LCD panel whilst judging exposures. The LCD, of course, looks brighter in the dark tricking my eye!
Still, in all, a beautiful night for a gathering of Moon, planets, and sky.
Yesterday (August 21) millions gathered along a thin path crossing the continental United States to watch a total eclipse of the Sun. Those with favorable viewing conditions along the path of totality enjoyed an amazing sight and experience. Totality fell close enough to a west-to-east center line across the continent that at least a partial eclipse was visible to anyone with access to clear sky.
Since, with some self-doubt, I had decided not to travel to the path of totality, I organized and promoted the Hiram Eclipse Watch event. With the support of the Hiram College Physics Department, it took place on the campus of the college.
I planned to set up two telescopes: a six-inch Meade refractor with a Baader Planetarium Safety Herschel Wedge, and a 90mm Meade refractor with glass/metal filter. I also was to carry my Canon EOS 7D Mark 2 camera, 400mm telephoto, and 2X teleconverter (>1,200mm focal length equivalent), and white light film filter. Only a day or so ahead of the eclipse, I was testing focus and exposure using the gear I’d planned to carry with me. The camera failed! I contacted Canon and they advised it needed to be sent in for factory service. Fortunately, I’d saved my old Canon EOS 50D DSLR. I pulled it from its storage box, charged the camera’s batteries, and without testing, bundled it up and took it to the Eclipse Watch site.
The 50D performed like a champ, making the images I’m showing here!
Despite last-minute worries over cloud cover, even possible rain, we had clear to partly-cloudy skies for the duration of our 80-percent partial eclipse. An estimated 375 visitors came out to share the experience, and by all accounts had an excellent time. Several guests even sought me out and thanked me profusely for bringing out the telescopes and hosting the watch event. Some families even brought blankets and enjoyed a picnic on the lawn in the shade of old trees!
Their happiness and excitement = my pay day!
It was very hot and fairly humid and I labored hard in the sunshine erecting and operating the telescopes, rationing out eclipse viewing glasses, explaining the eclipse event and solar features, and making a few photographs of my own. By the end I was dripping with sweat, dehydrated, hungry, and very tired. I packed the gear quickly because a newspaper reporter wanted me to email her my eclipse photos for publication.
In the cool air of the Physics office I was ready to edit and upload my image using my iPad and cellular connection. Oh, right. No adapter for the old-style memory card the Canon 50D uses! I had a memory card reader with USB connection with me but >> gad! << Hiram College computer network was down because students were returning to school and bringing malware in with their laptop computers! The Physics Department’s computer didn’t have a card slot for camera cards so I couldn’t transfer files from old card to new and to the iPad from there. Frustrated at every turn! So, I had to rush home to process and upload a photograph of maximum eclipse to a newspaper.
At home, I loaded the images on to my computer, edited the best one, composed a brief email, went to click [send] and the computer froze!! First. Time. Ever. Fortunately, after an emergency restart, the computer came back up as if nothing had happened, the message and image attachment had been saved in [drafts] and the email was transmitted. Whew!
End of day I was tired, wired, and dirty.
Oh yes, and happy.
A little experiment involving the waxing crescent Moon, our pond, and the lights from neighboring properties….
With all the hubbub over the “blue moon” lately, I popped out late last night to shoot a very bright and beautiful Moon. I decided to give the Canon 2X focal length doubler another go so attached it between the camera body and my 400mm lens; that gave me 800mm of telephoto goodness. Add to the 800 another approximately 50% due to the camera’s “crop factor” and I was shooting through a 1,200mm scope! The doubler does soften the image slightly but, with a larger image falling upon the camera sensor, I crop less to achieve a nice-sized Moon. At any rate, it was a beautiful sight to behold, I captured a pretty fair image, and, if you were wondering, no, the Blue Moon isn’t really blue! Next night, however, I was intrigued by the just-past-full Moon shining through clouds. Wouldn’t you know… refraction of moonlight by those clouds gave the scene a bluish tone! And that’s the last Blue Moon hubbub ’til 2018.