Monday, 5 January 2015

Tracking Mount, EXIF Data and Final Edits Log

Having wetted my appetite for astrophotography I have decided to take the plunge and put a deposit down on a tracking mount. The mount will counter the rotation of the earth and ensure that the object being imaged remains on the camera's sensor. Such a mount does not come cheap but is essentially for any long exposure astrophotography. I've heard it said that it is better to have a £60 telescope on a £600 mount than a £600 telescope on a £60 mount.

In anticipation of my move into imaging I have been exploring how to best manage the potentially large amount of data and files that comes with RAW images from my Canon EOS DSLR Camera. As well as the images themselves there is various information about the image recorded in the image file. This includes the file name, date image was taken, exposure length and the ISO. This information is collective known as EXIF (Exchangeable Image File) data and there are free software available on the web that will allow you to extract this information for a collection of files and create this in a csv file format. This information will be very useful when accessing and organising images for stacking and processing.

In addition to this I have also created a spreadsheet to record and organise the finalised images after all the processing is complete. Below are the columns that I plan to capture.

It might seem a bit overkill but this will help me catalog all my efforts and also allow me to track my progress.

Image Id
Object (NGC etc)
My Type (ds,db, pl etc)
Date Finalised
Final Edit Name
Object (Other)
Object Name
Lights - # Exposures/ISO
Darks - # Exposures
Bias - # Exposures
Flats - # Exposures
Stacking Summary
Processing/Editing Summary
Original File Name
Original File Location

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

First ever DSLR astrophotography...

...well, first ever DSLR photography really :)

Images below were taken at Butser Ancient Farm on Sunday 28th December 2014. I have been working my way through "Digital SLR Astrophotography (Practical Amateur Astronomy)" purchased on Kindle. It has given me a good grounding to DSLR Astrophotography and has some basic projects to help get me started.

The first image is of the Orion Constellation, taken with my Canon EOS 450D on a standard camera tripod. I was surprised and impressed by how well the star colours are captured. The highlighted star, Betelgeuse, is a very unstable red giant and could go supernova in the near future (astronomically speaking). This would be a tremendous sight, visible also in the daytime.

The second image is of the Orion Nebula (which can be seen as a fuzzy patch below Orion's belt in the first image). The 100 exposures were take with the 450D attached to my Altair 80mm EDT Refractor telescope and manually tracked on my alt-az Sabre mount. I stacked the exposures with Deep Sky Stacker and cropped down the Nebula in a basic windows image editing application. There has been no further processing done to image.

My next step is to explore editing and processing images. Photoshop is the industry standard but there are free options out there, for example GIMP, which I will give a try.

Orion Constellation: 30 sec exposure, ISO 1600
Orion Nebula (M42): 100 x 0.6 sec exposures, ISO 1600 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Observing Session Summary - Saturday 4th October 2014

First night out with my new set-up. I had the dew control accessories and the Canon 450D hooked up to the 8 inch GSO and for the first time I had my new 80mm triplet mounted as a counterweight.

The 80mm is built for Astrophotography so is a bit overkill for visual work. This said, the views of the Moon through the 80mm were out of this world. Next step is to get some images of the Moon. 

I also had the camera hooked up to my laptop to try to get some images of M31 (the Andromeda Galaxy). With help from my brother we manually tracked the galaxy and got 180 shots. We also took the calibration frames.

Unfortunately, the images wouldn't stack in Deep Sky Stacker because it could not detect any stars. This was likely becaue the 1.6 second exposures caused the stars to trail. Not to worry; a good learning experience. Any deep sky imaging really does need a motorised equatorial mount to track the stars.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Long time no blog!!!

It's been a long time since my last post back before the summer. It appears that this is quite normal since opportunities to get out and observe are less due to the shorter nights over the summer. However, I have not been idle; I have done quite a lot of research and expanded my kit somewhat which you can see in the pics below. I will give a brief summary of what has been going on, some observing successes and my plans to evolve my hobby further now that the observing season is back on.

Planning and Logging Observing Sessions:
Back in Spring I did a lot of research on how to successfully plan and log an observing session. Until recently I would get a list of targets for the season from periodicals like the Sky at Night magazine and some books, ie 'Turn Left at Orion'. I would then use print-outs from Stellarium to plan each starhop to the target object.

While quite fun and a great way to learn the night sky this approach is quite time consuming. Mostly I would only know on the day that the nearest dark sky sight would be open, so I would end up rushing the preparation for getting out that night.

I decided to do some research to see if there was anything out there that could aid my planning. This paid off and I found Starmap HD for the ipad which is excellent field tool for the low-tech visual observer.

While quite pricey for an app, I think it was £11.99 well spent since it has made a tremendous difference to my observing experience. There are many features. Below are some of those I find most useful:

Starmap HD Key Features:
  • Tonight - allows you to see which objects are visible tonight. Perfect if you've had no time to create a detailed plan for the evening. You can filter the list by observation means, time of observation and object type. You can also sort the list by best, magnitude, rise and set time. 
  • Find - once you have selected a target you can hit the find option and you are taken to the star map screen and provided with a real time star hop to help you locate the object.
  • Optics - you can add focal length and field of view settings for your telescope, finder, eyepieces, Barlow and reducers. When in the Starmap view, this allows you to see exactly what you would view through the telescope. You can move between the eyepieces with swipe gestures; very useful for when going between the finder and your eyepiece. You can also flip the view horizontally and vertically to adjust for various image flips from your lenses and mirrors.
  • Path-finder - this feature allows you to overlay on the Starmap view a star hop from a bright star to your target
  • Featured - with this you can create a quick-reference list of objects; perfect for preparing and organising your targets for a night's observing.
  • Logbook - here is a free-text area of the app where you can edit and save any text content as separate logs. Ideal for planning a session and logging your findings.

Other Accessories:
In addition to the above I have purchased 2 more accessories to improve my observing experience. My recent observing sessions were cut short due to one of amateur astronomers' key nemisis; dew. Dew had gotten to all the optics by about 11pm and with no way to remove this I had to pack up and go home. To overcome this I purchased some heated dew bands, powered by a leisure battery, that fit around the key optics and prevent dew from forming altogether. Means my session can go on to the early hours in the morning.

My second purchase was a Meade Ultra Wide Angle Eyepiece. The lens in this eyepiece does some clever things with the light to give the effect of being out there in space with the stars. A nice alternative to my zoom eyepiece.

I have also began to get together some kit to do some basic Astrophotography. I got a Canon 450D DSLR camera and the adapters to connect this to my telescope. You can see in the pic below. I have also linked the camera to my laptop so I can control the camera using the EOS Utility software that comes with the camera. It is worth noting that I picked up the majority of these accessories from used item websites.

I haven't yet had the chance to test this setup out in the field. However, when I do I will being trying to get some shots of M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. There is an excellent tutorial by Forrest Tannaka who does something similar with a DSLR mounted on a regular alt-az camera tripod. See the link below.

Canon EOS 450D DSLR, 18-55mm Lens, t and ring adapters,
Meade 5000 Ultra Wide Angle 82 degree Eyepiece.
Scope with dew heaters and controller, and Canon 450D hooked up
Scope hooked up with with dew heaters & controller,
and Canon 450D DSLR Camera

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Observing Session Summary - Saturday 17th May 2014

Butser Ancient Farm was open Saturday so had a another good chance to use the new scope and even the smartphone adapter for some astrophotography. It was a moonless night so had an ambitious list of targets. Although, some I could not see because the observing sight has a hill that makes objects in the far west difficult.

Here I provide the list of targets and a summary of the observations.

Some visual observations to get familar with navigating the skies: I used some tips from Turn Left at Orion to get familiar with the Spring skies. I successfully located stars' Castor and Pollux in Gemini and Regulus in Leo. Plus stars Arcturus and Spica and the constellation Corona Borealis.

M 13 Globular Cluster (HERCULES): A spectacular sight although I think a little impacted by dew.

Comet PANSTARRS C/2012 K: In URSA major. Chart 4 Chi Star. Think I saw it. Was certainly in the right place. Appeared like a small star with a slight haze on one side which I guess was the tail.

Planet Saturn (LIBRA): I have saved the best for last. A great visual view of the open rings both. Also had some success with capturing my first ever image with my smartphone. See below. It's simply 20 images taken with my Galaxy S3 mobile mounted to the eyepiece on my telescope and then stacked in software called RegiStax.

Here is a link to my session log:

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Smartphone Adapter for Astrophotography

I've shared some pics of the progress and finished smartphone adapter I've been working on. Had lot's of help from my brother, and I mean lot's; he's the DIY one.

Materials and hardware were easy to source. The adapter is made from a bar of aluminium shaped using a metal drill, pliers and file. The wing nuts make for easy adjustments. This is then attached to an old smartphone case to mount my Samsung S3 mini.

Finished product is very robust. Can't wait to give it a go on the Moon and maybe even some planets.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Observing Session Summary - Saturday 19th April 2014

Butser Ancient Farm was open Saturday so had a good chance to use the new scope. It was a moonless night so even better for some deep sky observing. I took along my copy of "Turn Left At Orion" but found I mostly used the binoculars to spot some objects and only used the scope to get a better view of those target I found. Good to know that the bins wont be left out.
Here I provide the list of targets and a summary of the observations.

Mel 111 (Coma Cluster) Open Cluster: Spectacular sight. Found very quick with bins. Was also visible to the naked eye. Counted at least 20 stars with bins. Because of the wide field of this cluster it is best through binoculars.

M 53 Globular Cluster: Used the star chart to find this one on the fly with the bins. Found the right location with the bins but could not see it. Bob had this in his 10 inch goto and said this would be a tough find with my push to 8 inch. Was chuffed because I managed to find it with star hopping :)

Mars: Had a great view of Mars. I could see surface detail on the red planet. There was a dark patch on the top right as I looked at the planet through the eye piece. Dave said I had probably the best view of all the scope out that night, even the bigger 10 inch dobs.

ISS: We had a pass of the international space station at about 21.00. As it passed I put the cross hairs of my scope a little ahead of the stations trajectory and as I looked in the eye piece I saw it wiz by with some detail. It has a rectangular shape and was. Pretty cool.

Here is a link to my session log:

I also am working on an adapter to mount my smartphone in front of the eye piece to take some photos of what I can see. I can also load the data into some software to stack the images to get some more detail out. Once I have some results I will post the images up here with some detail of what I did.