Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year


Palm Tree (Moon Over Miami):


Saturday, December 30, 2006

High Dynamic Range

I've been reading about using multiple exposures to generate high dynamic range photos, where you can retain both highlight and shadow detail by combining over- and under-exposed images. Here are some of first attempts made at sunset at LKY Ranch.

Friday, December 29, 2006

NGC 2024, The Flame Nebula

You usually see pictures of the Flame alongside it's famous neighbor, the Horsehead Nebula, and you usually see it in a bright red flaming (sorry) color. Well, that red color comes from ionized hydrogen, and it's a specific wavelength that my stock Canon 350D is virtually blind to (and is going to remain that way since I don't want to spend the $350 to have an internal filter removed from the camera). So instead, here's a closeup of the flame without the red.

Information from NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day:
Explanation: What lights up the Flame Nebula? Fifteen hundred light years away towards the constellation of Orion lies a nebula which, from its glow and dark dust lanes, appears like a billowing fire. But fire, the rapid acquisition of oxygen, is not what makes this Flame glow. Rather the bright star Alnitak, the easternmost star in the Belt of Orion visible to the nebula's right, shines energetic light into the Flame that knocks electrons away from the great clouds of hydrogen gas that reside there. Much of the glow results when the electrons and ionized hydrogen recombine. … The Flame Nebula is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, a star-forming region that includes the famous Horsehead Nebula.

I don't have all the exposure details, but it's 30 frames stacked from the 10" LX200 @ f/6.3 and Canon 350D.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Christmas Pictures

Christmas pictures are here.

More of the ones Ian shot himself are here.

STS-166 and the ISS

Holy cow, I wish I had shot this! Imaged by Paul Rix in Zanesville, Ohio. The shuttle and space station passed approximately 212 miles directly overhead. This image was shot an hour before the shuttle undocked from the station. Shot with the same telescope I own, a Meade 10" LX200 Classic, and a Philips SPC900NC web cam, this image is the best of nearly 3500 frames.

Be sure to click for the full-size image.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

NGC 2392, The Eskimo Nebula

Maybe not the definitive photo of this object, but at least it's recognizable. 160 x 20 seconds processed in Nebulosity. Stock 350D in the 10" LX200 @ f/10. I'm still dealing with PE, mirror flop and guidescope flex, and imaging at 2500 mm focal length just makes it worse.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Telescope Connections

How I connect my Canon EOS 350D to my Meade LX200:

The variable-t adapter gives me about 118mm spacing--maybe a tad much, but it's close. I may try removing the long t-adapter and moving the focal reducer to the front of the focuser. The spacing changing with the focus kinda weirds me out, though.

How I connect the MacBook to the telescope, camera and guide camera:

Man, that's a lot of stuff hanging off the back of the scope. I don't know how I'd want to shorten it up, though. Maybe invent a low-profile focuser where the drawtube actually extends up into the LX200 baffle?

[Edit: 3 February 2007]
Looks like someone stole my idea, sort of. Check out this focuser from Moonlight where the focal reducer attaches to the end of the drawtube. Very slick!

[Edit: 22 March 2008]
Here's another slick solution to the long overhang. He's moved the focal reducer to inside the focuser drawtube. Good stuff.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Conspiracy Theory

(Sorry folks, no astronomy today--it's gloomy out.)

Has anyone considered testing Senator Tim Johnson for polonium 210?

Monday, December 11, 2006

First Light: Meade DSI+Nebulosity

I'm borrowing Barry's DSI to try it out with Nebulosity and OS X, and boy, do I like it. I had tried this camera before using the Meade software, but it's Windows only, and, to me at least, it was everything that's wrong with Windows--ugly, counter-intuitive, and uncontrollable. Nebulosity, on the other hand, is a breeze to work with.

Anyway, here's the heart of M42, the Orion Nebula. This is a short, quickie job--just 10 frames X 15 sec at full gain, through the LX200 with the f/3.3 reducer.

Update: I reprocessed the capture using Drizzle, and found some more detail:

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Makes a Great Gift

Need a gift for the designer in your life? Why not Lorem Ipsum apparel from Not Another Lorem Ipsum Store! Features the classic "Latin" phrase used by typesetters and designers since the 1500s.

The Ability to Write in English Might Be Useful, Too

The best candidates will be have be working toward or have a degree in graphic design and know these software programs:
Illustrator , Photoshop , Quark Express


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Woodlands Christmas Parade

Linda driving Squeak & Bella, while Ian, Keith & I entertain the crowd. December 2, 2006.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Christmas In Austin

How to tell you're in Austin for Christmas:
1. Santa is wearing cowboy boots, and
2. Your child is wearing shorts because it's still 80 degrees the week after Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Happy Holidays

Season's Greetings from the Quarter-Meter Telescope at the Heritage Park Observatory!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Raising The Roof

I ran into problem in the Heritage Park Observatory: the building was sinking. It had dropped enough that I had to park the telescope "just so" get it to clear the roof. I finally broke down and bought 40 concrete pavers and 280 pounds of sand. With Trudy's help, we got the building disassembled, re-levelled, paved and rebuilt in just a couple of hours. The hardest part was getting the materials home--one paver's not too heavy, but 40 of 'em is another story.

I've got plenty of clearance now. I'm just worried that I won't be able to see Polaris any more--that's going to make aligning interesting!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

M33, The Triangulum Galaxy Returns

When last we saw M33, I was calling it a learning image. Well, I've done some learning, but still have some more to go.

This one's 45 x 60 sec. I'm getting the periodic error trained out of the LX200 mount, so the stars aren't long streaks like they had been. I probably could have shot 90 or 120 seconds subs--the image would look better if I did. I'm still working on autoguiding, too, which will make even longer subs possible. My polar alignment is getting closer; I've iterative aligned the wedge as best as possible, but there's still some N-S drift, which means there's probably some field rotation, too. Neublosity's align and rotate is helping out here by taking out the rotation between subs. I'll eventually learn how to drift align--I think I'm getting close.

Still my regular setup of 10" LX200 Classic @ f/6.3 and the stock Digital Rebel XT.

NGC 7293, The Helix Nebula

Ugh. Just awful. 60 x 60 sec (+ 5 darks & 5 flats) in the 10" LX200 @ f/6.3. I had to stretch the heck out of it to get anything to show. You can barely make out the nebula on any of the single frames. I'm sticking with bright things for a while.

Friday, November 24, 2006

M31, The Andromeda Galaxy Returns

M31 was the first deep space object I shot one year ago. This is a tight shot of the core, showing dark lanes spiraling away. Every star you see here is between us and the galaxy.

30 x 30 sec. The short exposures gave me the nice round stars.

M42, The Orion Nebula Returns

Another rerun, this time a new version of M42, The Orion Nebula. Also here is M43, de Mairan's Nebula, a.k.a. the Running Man.

Shot this through the ST80 riding piggyback on the LX200. I learned a few new tricks since the last time I tried imaging with this scope.

This one's a composite of two images: the core of M42 is 30 x 10 seconds, the rest of the image is 30 x 30 seconds, Rebel XT.

M1, The Crab Nebula Returns

We've had the best week of weather for imaging, so I've been out five nights in a row. I need to start backing up a bunch of older stuff, because I've got gigs and gigs of new data to process.

Up first, M1, the Crab Nebula. I shot this the first time back in January, and I'm pleased with the progress I'm making. This one's 42 x 60 sec.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

NGC 457, The Owl Cluster

Click for full-size.

I really like the way this one turned out. NGC 457 is an asterism in Cassiopeia that's fun to show to kids. "Hey! Do you want to see E.T.?"

The diffraction spikes are synthetic, created in Photoshop using Noel Carboni's Astronomy Tools Photoshop Actions Set. I like it.

Image is 45 x 60 sec, Canon Digital Rebel XT, 10" LX200@ f/6.3. Processed with Nebulosity. I'm really digging this app and finding out what all it will do.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Double Cluster

Click for larger image.

This came out better than it should have. 30 x 60 sec. for NGC 869; 10 x 60 sec for NGC 884; all unguided on the LX200 @ f/6.3, Canon Digital Rebel XT.

Wedding Pictures I'd Like To See

Saturday evening the whole family came to Austin for my cousin James' wedding. Lovely ceremony, the bridesmaid's dresses showed lots of skin, and an open bar at the reception.

So today when I went to see the pictures, I got this warning on the computer at work:

Detail: Access denied by SmartFilter content category.
The requested URL belongs to the following category:

I knew we left the reception too early!

On hoisting, and petards

From Laid-Off Dad. I wish I had written this:

On hoisting, and petards

One of the great modern conveniences of this or any century is the Daddyvator™, which allows the more diminutive among us to demand a greater vantage point of the world around them. It's a simple device; the child pushes a button on Daddy's knee, and that child is slowly hoisted up to Daddy's eye level. Once aloft, the child has several options, including:

  • reaching and/or whining for things that have been stashed out of his sightline!
  • gumming up and/or crushing Daddy's glasses!
  • voiding his nose and/or mouth on Daddy's collarbone!
  • offering up his soft, warm neck for kisses and/or abundant zerbiting!
  • and/or so much more!

When the child wants to return to Earth, he pushes the button on Daddy's nose and is slowly lowered.

This is all very charming until the child ages into a forceful Toddlesaurus, unaware of his burgeoning strength. At this point, he greets you at the door by slamming an implement -- usually one of his brother's phony power tools -- into Daddy's gimpy kneecaps. And once in the crook of Daddy's arm, he demands release by punching Daddy, full force, in the schnoz.

Then Daddy gets to wipe the tears from his eyes, knowing he has taught his child well.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Apparently Not

I was driving in to work this morning when I passed a truck pulling a stock trailer with a longhorn cow and a buffalo inside. I thought to myself "only in Texas," until I noticed the truck and trailer had Arkansas plates.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


The fog comes in on little fog feet.

We regret the error.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Creating Custom Hybrid, Auto-Open CDs in Mac OS X With Toast 7

I'm posting this because I can never remember the steps to making this work.

1. Launch Toast 7. From Utilities, select "Create Temporary Partition…"

2. This will be the Mac half of the disc. Copy into the temporary partition (which is actually a disc image) the content you want. If you're using a custom background, this is where you arrange the icons. Note that the background image must be at the root level of this partition. Once you have everything in place, leave the window open and select "Log Out…" from the Apple menu. This "locks" the window and icon placement in the partition.

3. Log back in. Launch Toast 7 again. Mount the temporary partition. (I opened it and made sure it was all arranged the way I wanted it.) With Toast set for Data, Mac Only, check Compressed and Auto-open disc window. Drag the partition to Toast and Save As Disc Image…

4. Mount the image in the Finder. It should auto-open and look like the temporary partition.

5. In Toast, select Custom Hybrid. You may have to go to Preferences, General and check "Show legacy formats and settings."

6. Click "Select Mac...", choose the still-mounted image, uncheck "Optimize on-the-fly," and click OK.

7. Click "Select ISO…" and add your PC content.

8. Burn or save as a disc image.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

M27, The Dumbbell Nebula, Reprocessed

I downloaded a new image processing app called Nebulosity, which offers more control for stacking, aligning and processing than Keith's Image Stacker. Mostly I was looking for a way to de-rotate an image stack. It's not a perfect program--the sequence of steps required is a little vague--but I'm happy with the early results.

Here's September's shot of M27 processed in KIS and Nebulosity.



Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mercury Transit

Well, that was underwhelming. It's a dot. Yup, still there. It's cool when you think about it, though.

Shot this with the NexImage through the ST80 and the Orion white-light filter. That's a big-a sunspot coming around on the right.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Caught the sun going behind the house at the end of the block as I was setting up for tomorrow's Mercury transit.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Oklahoma (State) University

I'm glad I'm not an OSU fan. Never mind the sound drubbing they took from the Texas Longhorns, but you know the 30-second spots that run during college games where the school gets to say how great they are? During the game Saturday night, TBS ran one for UT, then one for OU. Right state, wrong school.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Dear Looser

(I shot this with the phone on my camera, which I haven't quite yet mastered, so excuse the crappy picture. The writing on the sign says, "If you want our troops to loose.")

Dear Looser,

First, thanks for making my job so much easier. It's folks like you who made me see that voting Democratic really isn't such a bad option.

Second, you might have noticed that things aren't going so great for our troops right now. October's been pretty tough, you know? So might it make a certain amount of sense to try something different? I mean, after your quarterback throws his fourth interception, you think about benching him. Or put it this way: If George Steinbrenner were President, do you suppose Rumsfeld would still have a job?

Your Democrat Pal,

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

M33 Revised

Thhanks to Rammysherriff on Cloudy Nights for touching this up and turning me on to PixInsight.

M33, The Triangulum Galaxy

I still have many issues to resolve--guiding, alignment (there's field rotation going on here), gradient removal and so on. Let's just call this one a learning image.

I moved the focal reducer in front of the focuser, so my imaging train is scope, FR, WO crayford, adapter, camera. I like the wider field, but it's vignetting. Stretching the histogram to get the galaxy to show just makes it worse.

30 x 60 sec., LX200 10" @ f/6.3, Rebel 350D


Halloween pictures are here.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Comet SWAN

30 x 30 sec, Digital Rebel XT, 10" LX200@ f/6.3. You can just see the tail going up & to the right. I could have used longer exposures, but I don't have a way to guide on the comet.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Dobsonion Rhapsody

I came across this little ditty on Cloudy Nights.
(Sorry about the cheesy midi file--it was the best I could find.)

Dobsonian Rhapsody

Is it a real scope?
Will it allow me to see
Celestial wonders
Like M33?

I'll look in the sky,
and give it a try to seeee.

I'm just a poor boy,
Can't afford quality,
It's easy come,
easy go,
Now I have
no cash flow

Any fit my wife throws
doesn't really matter to me....
To me.

Momma, Just bought a scope
Fed Ex just dropped it at my door,
I maxed my credit card for sure
Mama, the obsession's just begun
Soon I'll be havin' lots of fun
Mama, woo-ooo
I wasn't sure what to buy,
so I gave a dob a try
I'll give it first light this time tomorrow,
If it's clear, if it's clear, that's all that really matters....

It's twilight, the time has come,
to set the scope to cool
and use a collimation tool,
Goodbye everybody, I've got to see,
If skyclock indicates good transparency...

Mama, woo-ooo
No matter how I try,
I can't seem to see anything at all-

I see a little silhouette af a man
John Dobson! John Dobson!
Will you check my collimation!

Neighbour's back porch lighting
Very very fright'ning to me
Drives me crazy!!
Drives me crazy!
Light pollution bugs me so!

But I'm just a poor guy,
Playing a rich man's hobby
Staring a lot into a real cheap eyepiece!
Finding stuff sure is tough, can I use goto?

Starhop there! No! You cannot use goto!
Starhop there!! No! You cannot use goto!
We will not let you goto! Let me goto!
We will not let you goto! Let me gotto!

Mama Mia, mama mia! mama mia, let me use goto!
Cloudy Nights has a thread set aside for me, for me, for meeeee!

So you think with a starchart I can find anything
Like the Hercules Cluster and the nebulous ring!
Well, maybe, but I don't see a thing baby,
Guess I gotta get a Telrad, just gotta get a Telrad for me!

Nothing else matters,
But astronomy,
Nothing really matters, nothing really matters to me...

I shoulda wore warmer clothes......

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Having a Blast in Phoenix

So here we are in Phoenix shooting a couple of videos for Corrosion Protection Products when they ask, "Who else want to give the sandblaster a try?"

File this one under "harder than it looks." The good news: there's a device on the air inlet for the helmet that cools the air about 20°, so it's pretty comfortable in there, except for the part where you can't turn your head to see, or hear anything with the earplugs in. The bad news: it's tedious. The blaster cleans a spot just a couple of inches wide. Imagine trying to paint the side of your house evenly with a can of spray paint and you get the idea. At least we were in the yard instead of a work site, where the pipe would have been in an excavated ditch.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Sunday, October 08, 2006

M57, The Ring Nebula

The Ring will always be special to me--the very first DSO I ever found myself. This is only 12 x 30 seconds (low battery), guided. 10" LX200 Classic @ f/6.3, Rebel XT

Great Late Afternoon Light

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Aristarchus Redux

A better view of Aristarchus and Vallis Schröteri. Better seeing, but I'm still not satisfied. I've got a couple of more processing tricks to try.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Aristarchus & Gassendi

I wasn't going to make any pictures last night, but I went out on the driveway about 10:30 and saw a clear, steady sky. I pulled out the little dob, looked at the moon and said, "I ought to shoot this."

Turns out the sky wasn't as steady as the small scope led me to believe--I'm guessing 3/5--so I'm a little disappointed in these.