Friday, December 30, 2005

Things That Look Ridiculous

Part I: An ETX-90 on a Meade Super Wedge. A classic case of too much firepower. (File under Astronomy Nerd Humor.)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

That's More Like It

There's still room for improvement, but this is more like it.

CSC said 4/5 for seeing, but I don't think it was that good. A low-frequency undulation, like the image was breathing.

12 Arcseconds

Mars is now just 60% as large as it was at the end of October--12 arcseconds.

Pretty good seeing for a change.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Disappointing Saturn

I actually rolled out of bed at 0200 to shoot this. The scope had been sitting out for 6 hours, so it should have been well-cooled. Seeing seemed pretty good, but it was kinda breezy out. So I'm just not sure why I can't seem to get a good, sharp focus on these. I shot a series of six, adjusting slightly between each one, and the third one was the best--but that's not saying much.

Collimation looks good to my eye--maybe I need someone more experienced to take a look.

I wonder if performing the raw mod to the NexImage would make a difference ...

Saturday, December 24, 2005

M42 II

Turns out there was a lot more in there to be seen. Layered in PS CS2, layer masked out the core to keep it from blowing out, Noise Fixer filter.

Friday, December 23, 2005

M42, the Orion Nebula

Click image for full-size.

It may not be the greatest M42 shot ever, but it's mine and I'm proud of it! Digital Rebel XT, 10" LX200@f/6.3, 8 x 30 sec, ISO 1600.

Mars Is Shrinking

Time's running rapidly out for the Red Planet.

Lord of the Rings

First try with the NexImage on Saturn. It was still kind of early, and the planet was only about 45° up. Seeing probably 3/5. They'll get better.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

I'm Your Venus

It's OK if you don't get too excited about this shot of Venus--it's not all that exciting. But consider that this is the sight that got Galileo kicked out of the Church, and it's a little more interesting.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


I used to think Ian was speaking Chinese, but am now pretty sure it's French, at least when he's watching Clone Wars and shouting "light say-BARE" at the screen.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

10 Days Old

Last night's Mars shots just plain sucked, but this shot of the 10-day-old moon with the Digital Rebel XT turned out pretty good I think.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Mini-Hands On: Meade LightBridge

I had an opportunity last night to get my hands on Meade's new truss-tube dobsonian, the LightBridge. Cloudy skies prevented actually observing with the telescope, so I'll just describe the mechanics.

The scope comes packaged in two large cardboard boxes, one for the base and another containing the optical tube assembly (OTA) and truss tubes. The base is typical for a commercial dob, being constructed of particle board covered with a white melamine veneer. Assembly is straightforward with the supplied allen wrench.

Meade offers the LightBridge in two variations--"standard" and "deluxe." The primary difference between the two involves the azimuth bearings in the base. The standard version consists of hard plastic pads, similar to the bearings found in other imported dobs. The deluxe version I used had a 10-inch or so roller bearing assembly sandwiched between two metal plates. The bolt holding the swivel base together has a hand knob for easy assembly, and uses a thrust washer to allow adjusting the tension of the azimuth motion. I found the motion to be smooth and precise, without the stiction I have with my smaller Hardin Deep Space Hunter. By tightening the tension, I didn't experience the loose feeling that other roller-bearing designs sometimes have.

The OTA is in two pieces, obviously. The primary mirror has a removable cover, but the secondary remains exposed. The six truss tubes are permanently attached in three sets of two. Attaching the poles to the primary tube involves fitting the flattened end of the tube into a slot and over a pin, an arrangement that worked well and felt secure. Three knobs held the tubes in place. The upper cage then attached easily with three more knobs. It wasn't immediately obvious which way to turn the upper tube, but it's correct when the seams on the two tubes align. The finished assembly felt rigid and secure. The truss assembly is open, with a shroud planned for future release. The white finish is attractive, but the flat black interior wasn't particularly black. Further, some parts of the white trim are visible through the focuser drawtube. Serious observers may want to flock the interior of the upper tube. The altitude bearings are aluminum, and rode on a felt-like material on the base. The motion was smooth, but not balanced at low elevations. Meade apparently is holding up the final release of the LightBridge so that a friction brake can be installed.

The supplied 2-inch crayford focuser felt smooth throughout its range, with only light effort required to turn the aluminum knobs. There's no finder scope, but Meade is including either a red dot finder on the standard model, or an advanced reflex finder (actually a modified rifle sight) on the deluxe model.

The optics are made in Taiwan by Guan Sheng, which enjoys a reputation for "surprisingly good" quality. The primary is center spotted--a good thing since this telescope will require collimation every time it is set up. Meade isn't including any type of collimation aid in the package, nor do they sell one themselves. The representative I spoke with uses an Orion LaserMate.

The LightBridge is certainly attractive to look at, and I suspect it's nice to look through. I don't know how useful a truss is at the small sizes the scope is currently offered at. The lack of a finder scope or object locator makes the scope a bit more challenging to use. Still, it's a nice package and I expect it to sell well.

<edit> Read another review on the LightBridge here.</edit>

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Better: Part III

Reprocessed less aggressively, and tweaked color to be more "Hubblesque."

Friday, December 02, 2005

Thursday, December 01, 2005


This is the first, quickly processed image from this evening. Much better seeing, and it shows.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Seeing: 2/5 Part II

This is Hamal through my Hartman Mask last night. The image is in focus when the 2 images converge into one. Good luck focusing when this is going on.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Seeing: 2/5

Not too horrible. 400/2000 stacked & processed. This is the rush job, so I didn't spend a lot of time on it. The planet's noticeably smaller from even just a week ago; down to 16" (from a max of 20") according to the LX200 controller.

Enthusiasm, or the Lack Thereof

I stood on the front porch and looked at the sky for about five minutes last night, then headed back in. I swear I could see Mars twinkle. Maybe I'm loosing my enthusiasm, but I just couldn't get motivated to haul a hundred pounds of gear to the end of the driveway to try and make pictures of a fuzzy ball dancing all over the sky while the temperature dropped 30 degrees. Seeing's gotta get better soon, right?

Saturday, November 26, 2005


Thanksgiving photos are up on the .Mac page.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


My first DSO @ prime focus. Digital Rebel XT + f/6.3 focal reducer + 10" LX200 Classic. 31 x 15 seconds unguided. I haven't trained the PEC on this setup, hence the short exposures. I'm pleased the stars aren't more "blobby." I used iAstroPhoto (a Mac version of DSLR Focus) to assist in focusing.

Looks like it could have used more frames. Still, I'm not unhappy for a first attempt.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Mars, The Moon & Saturn

CSC had seeing at just 2/5, but I set up in the back yard anyway.
First up is Mars with the new NexImage. I'm pretty pleased with the early results, and am looking forward to reprocessing these, plus trying again with better seeing.

That picture of the Moon and Mars that I wish I had made? I did get a shot of the Moon and Saturn.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

First Light: Canon Digital Rebel XT

A triple whammy today! My generous employer purchased a Canon Digital Rebel XT, so I got myself a t-ring to attach it to the LX200 at prime focus, and a piggyback bracket for the top of the scope.

This first shot is with the piggyback. I used a 100 mm macro @ f/2.8, 4.5 seconds x 12, unguided, ISO 800, stacked & resampled in KIS, levels & noise filtering in PS CS2. My very first DSO photograph is of Pleiades (M45). I'm rather pleased that some of the nebulosity shows up.

The second shot is at prime focus. It's a two-image mosaic, each one a single image, 1/125 sec, ISO 100. Composited in PS CS2, resampled down and sharpened, levels. The focus is off a bit--I was focusing strictly through the viewfinder. I'll try out iAstroPhoto once I get all the software installed to control the camera.

First Light: Celestron NexImage

I haven't been crazy about the Meade LPI, so I thought I'd give the Celestron NexImage a try. First impressions--a bit noisier on Mars, but three times faster capture. I can also use equinoX to drive the camera, which is much easier than how I had been capturing with the LPI. Hardware is still the 10" LX200+Televue 2x Barlow+Televue 2.5x Powermate (12,500 mm efl, f/50). Processed 1000 frames in KIS, stacked best 400, multiple passes with small wavelets. Histogram & smart sharpen in PS CS2.

This image is sub-par, and it's my own fault. It was cloudy all afternoon, so I didn't plan on setting up. But when I went outside at about 9:30 and saw clear skies, I quickly set up on the driveway. The scope never had a chance to reach ambient--it came out of the 70° house into the 50° air. The image was bouncing all over the place. I just wanted to try out my new camera.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


When the CSC says seeing is 2/5, it's a waste of time to try and image. I shoulda just gone to bed. We're on the back side of a cold front, so the seeing is gross, and since the temperature dropped more than 10 degrees since sundown, the scope never had a chance to get to ambient temp.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Feeling Guilty About:

Getting an invite in the work email to join the Austin Women's Forum and wondering, "Is that a good place to meet women?"

I Wish I Had Made This Picture

I did take the 6" dob out last night. Seeing was good enough to image, but the wind was whipping all over--would have been frustrating.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The Other Side of Mars

Keith's Image Stacker and Astra Image (via Virtual PC). Spiffy.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


"But honey, it's educational!"

(Actually, it is. Ian's saying lots of words, like, "no kitty" and "kitty stop.")

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Are You Tired of Mars Yet?

Don't worry, the Moon is coming back around.

No Dam Astronomers this week due to clouds. A few folks went last night, but I stayed home and shot this from the back yard just before the scope dewed up. This is from a five-minute stream on the wedge. I tested the long exposure with Starry Night first, and there's not enough planet rotation to worry about, and the wedge takes care of the field rotation. It's OK, but I'd like to find the way to the next level. I don't know if it's collimation, focus or camera. I suspect it's all three, and money is the answer to at least of two of them. *sigh*

Thursday, November 03, 2005


Click to view full size.

When I first posted the Mars on the left, I said it was as good as I was going to get unless I learned some new processing technique. Well, I did. Multiple, small passes with wavelets in KIS, and a minor touchup in Photoshop. Amazing.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

My Best Yet

With the time change and the planet rising earlier, it's easier to stay up late enough to image Mars. This is my best yet, from Tuesday night (11:20 here).

I replaced my cheap barlow with a Televue 2.5x Powermate, and I can see the difference. The Powermate and TV barlow give me an effective focal length of 12,500 mm (f/50!) in the 10" LX200. Apparently, the LPI likes as much magnification as I can give it. Seeing was about 3/5. Still shooting 2.5 minute streams, about 900 frames total, 400 or so stacked.

I also changed up the processing a bit. Instead of going all out on the sharpening the first time around, I made several passes with a much lower setting. Each one got a little better, and I avoided the "ring around the planet."

And for the record, anti-vibration pads really do work, and work well.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

As Big As The Moon, Part 2

Click here to scientifically prove that Mars was as large as the full moon on October 29, 2005.

Thanks Andy!

Still not convinced? Here's a picture I made from my front porch, looking east just after sunset.

And this is just for fun.

As Big As The Moon

The CSC said we were in for poor seeing, so I almost didn't set up. Glad I did, though.

These have not been resized like all the others--I added my cheap 2x Barlow to the Televue Barlow, giving a nominal focal length of 10,000 mm. That's f/40 in the 10" LX200. I was worried about being able to focus at that much magnification, but I think I did OK. I tried a new trick: I used the Universal Access system preference on the iBook to enlarge the display 2x, and then focused the image on the screen. I think it made it easer to see when I was approaching focus.

These are pretty close to the view I got at 515x through the eyepiece. For allegedly poor seeing, I was impressed.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Mo' Mars

Two o'clock Wednesday morning. Seeing could have been better, and the temperature was falling, so I was fighting two problems. It's not a bad shot, but still not as nice as the one I took out at Linda's. Maybe it's shooting surrounded by houses and concrete, instead of miles of pasture. Whatever it is, it's frustrating.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

First Light: Meade Super Wedge

I made a very nice deal with Todd for his modified Meade Super Wedge to use with the LX200. I had read lots of info online about aligning the wedge, and either I'm doing it wrong (possible), or it's just not as difficult as some folks make it out to be.

I found instructions on an iterative method of aligning that were easy to follow. Start level and north and follow the Meade instructions to align on Polaris using the wedge controls, then goto a sync star and align on it with the hand paddle. Meade thinks you're done at that point, but I continued: Goto back to Polaris, which will almost surely not be centered, and take out half of the error using the wedge controls. Goto the alignment star again, which will be off-center since you just moved the wedge, recenter it with the hand paddle and sync again. Repeat the process 4 or 5 times, and you should be accurately aligned. I found that 4 iterations was enough to not show any drift at all at low power, which was all I was after. Took about 15 minutes, maybe less.

The Mars shots I made weren't all that great. It was still too early, as the planet was only 45° up. I wasn't really dressed for the weather, so I packed it in. Tonight's plan is to set up at dusk, and grab a nap until around 2:00 and try again.

We're Number One

Texas #1 in BCS Rankings

Say it with me, it feels good, "The number-one Texas Longhorns ..."

Enjoy it while it lasts.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Dear Brad

I take it back--you're back on the list.

Your Former Pal,

Friday, October 21, 2005

Dear Brad

All is forgiven. Don't do it again.
Now, go get the Sox.
Your Pal,

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Lynkeos or Keith's Image Stacker?

Lynkeos or Keith's Image Stacker? Flip a coin. KIS is a bear to use well, but sometimes it's worth it. Aristarchus from Friday, 14 October 2005 at the dam.


Keith's Image Stacker:

I wonder if I can realign the stack in Lynkeos and sharpen it up some more.

My Shit List

George Bush
The Republican Congress
Barry Switzer
Osama Bin Laden

Brad Lidge

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Aristarchus and Mars Redux

I drove to Houston yesterday afternoon for David's 40th birthday yesterday, and instead of driving back to Austin, I headed out to Brenham to my sister's place. (These guys really need to update their blogs, don't you think?)

I made the right choice--the weather was pleasant, and both transparency and seeing were above average. I took both of these around 3:00 this morning.

North is right in this image of Aristarchus. Maybe this wasn't the best month to shoot this. The sun was a little low on Friday, and little high on Saturday. I don't know quite how I got the weird colors, but I'm not complaining.

Best Mars yet. This is from a 150 second stream, 2 1/2 minutes. I'm reluctant to go any longer, both because of field rotation and planetary rotation. I'm pleased with the shadow details. This is probably as good as I'm going to get, unless I learn some new processing techniques.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Dam Pictures

I didn't stay up late enough Friday night at Mansfield Dam, so my Mars isn't as good as I would have hoped under average-to-worsening seeing.

On the other hand, I'm not too disappointed in this two-image mosaic of Aristarchus and Copernicus. Didn't matter what I tried, but the sunlit side of Aristarchus crater would be overexposed.

Missed most of the regulars at the dam, but met a nice couple who had just purchased a new LX200GPS 10", the new version of my scope. Between JB & myself, we were able to get them up and running. Showed the moon in the big 30mm eyepiece to several visitors while waiting for Mars to get high enough to view.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Copernicus & Plato

Be sure to click on these to view them full size. I think they are my best yet. We had much better seeing tonight, although it was still probably just about average.

A two-image mosaic of Copernicus and Mare Insularum.

Another two-image mosaic, this time of Plato, Mare Frigoris and the lunar north pole.

Both images: LX200 @ f/10, LPI, best 20% of ~360 frames, stacked & darks removed in Lykenos, levels adjusted and sharpened in Photoshop with the FocusMagic plugin.


It was really a waste of time to try to make any pictures last night. Looking at the moon was like looking at the bottom of a swimming pool, so these are all pretty soft and noisy. Still, I figure it's good practice for the future.

Rupes Recta, the Straight Wall.

Southeast Mare Imbrium. That's Archimedes at the top, and Eratosthenes at the lower left.

Compare this view of Theopolis to the same area three days earlier.

Tycho in the upper left, and Clavius in the lower left. The lunar base in 2001: A Space Odyssey was in Clavius, and the monolith was in Tycho—the Tycho Magnetic Anomaly (TMA-1).

One of my favorite sites to observe. Plato and Alpine Valley. No sign of the rille in the bottom of the valley, but no surprise. Maybe a craterlet or two inside Plato?