Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pluto from your backyard

Pluto has always been on my "Astronomical Bucket List" to observe. Although I still have to make my visual observation using my "big-gun" Apertura AD12, my general observing for at least the last year and a half has been almost exclusively done via "Electronically Assisted Astronomy" and from my home site. Pluto visually is doable with a 12" aperture, but I need some nice dark skies and I just don't get out that way much anymore, especially during the week.

"Electronically Assisted Observing", as I prefer to call it, affords me the ability to use filters and exposures to cut through the majority of my light pollution, and observe faint objects that would elude me even with larger aperture from my local site. My weapon of choice from home is my trusty C8. I have two options to do my observing with it; the Mallincam Jr Pro and my Lodestar X2 M.

The Lodestar has become my weapon of choice for a few different reasons. One is it's such a simple setup over the JrPro. The JrPro is an analog device, so I need the control cable, the power cable, and the video cable. Plus, I need to have the capture devices, which is my Dazzle USB device. Second, frankly the image quality of the mono Lodestar is much preferred over the JrPro. One of the major drawbacks I find with the un-cooled JrPro are the hot pixels, "Christmas Lights" as some call em. Yeah, not a great thing to have in your astronomical image, but that's the price you pay to have an economical device capable of showing you some really faint details in deep-sky objects. Finally, the software for the Lodestar, Lodestar Live, is just plain easier to use than Miloslick in my opinion. I know much of that has to do with the fact the Lodestar is mono vs. the color JrPro (ya don't have to mess with color balance etc) but over all I find its just easier to use to get very nice images.

Mallincam just released the SkyRaider, and boy it looks NICE! A USB device and dedicated software that looks easy too, and it comes in mono or in color. Mallincam is THE go-to folks for assisted observing by the mainstream, and this camera is sure tempting. However, so far I'm keeping the Lodestar. As more folks get out on NSN and show off its capabilities, I may certainly change my mind, but for now, I'm happy. Oh, and currently the Mac version of that software has some concerns, so I'm holding off for that reason as well, until the Mac version is verified to have the same capabilities of the PC version.
Now, back to Pluto.

So the first image is Pluto done about this time last year, and with the JrPro. Not bad really, but you can see the hot pixels and even the ones that were masked out by the dark-frame. Stars are decent, but not completely round. Again, very good however for this style camera!

Now the image of Pluto on the left is from the Lodestar. Much smoother, nice round stars, etc. Easier to see Pluto in my opinion. The image directly to the right is my confirmation via Stellarium.

Coma in the image to the left is the issue with my spacing and focal reduction, and not the Lodestar

So Pluto is off my bucket list, well sort of.  Hopefully this summer I can trek out to a dark-sky location, get the big ol' AD12 out, and track Pluto down visually. I'm going to sketch the field too, just as a verification and a nice log of my observation.

So get yourself out and track down Pluto, whether that is electronically or visually, and ideally both. It is a wonderful accomplishment, and one to take a great deal of pride in nabbing for yourself.

Friday, June 19, 2015

WorldWide Solstice Festival 2015 THIS SUNDAY!!!

Join a truly WORLD WIDE effort to share solar astronomy with the masses THIS Sunday   June 21st. With over 1600 members and participating clubs, it's sure to be a HUGE success.

Pamela Shivak and John O'Neal are the creators/coordinators for these events that actually encompasses BOTH solstice dates of June 21st and one in December. I will be doing 4 separate events for this Sunday June 21st.

1. Google+ Hangout LIVE at 2pm (Central US Time)
2. A Special LIVE At The Eyepiece Show!  Starts at 3pm (Central Time). You can call in or join the chat!
3. LIVE broadcast of the Sun via my NightSkiesNetwork Channel (AtTheEyepiece) (weather permitting after 1pm Central time until sunset)
4. A LIVE Solar Outreach at Old Fort Parkway in Murfreesboro TN.  (Weather permitting) This will be at 11am, and last until 12:30pm.

For a full description, please see this excerpt from their official Facebook Group:


Have a Solstice Festival, or post solar or solstice related photos! It's that easy!

Join the SOLARACTIVITY Facebook group for more worldwide events!
Now a word from John O'Neal about the SOLARACTIVITY WORLDWIDE SOLSTICE FEST!
Over the last few years I've done a fair amount of public outreach, as an individual & as an astro club member. One of the things I've learned is that when you announce an outreach event you can expect some people to show up, maybe ten, maybe a hundred, if you take out adds in the papers, etc.
BUT, if you announce that you are going to hold a FESTIVAL, many, many people will come. Usually in DROVES. WHY? Because people LIKE festivals!!!! Festivals provide the festival goers with entertainment!!!! and with FOOD, BANDS, MUSIC, CRAFTS, ARTISTS, VENDORS, SOLAR SCOPES, did I say FOOD????? Festivals draw children, adults, wives, husbands, lovers, teens, tweens, businesses, politicians, newspaper and media groups, etc. The appeal is universal.....
The music and vendors and food present at many of these festivals is a huge draw, which astronomy clubs and even single individuals can not hope to compete with. But if our members partner with these festivals to bring their telescopes, images and solar presentations to the festival, they can dramatically increase the scope and breadth of their event by opening it up to a much larger group of presenters and participants, which will in turn allow us to reach a much broader, more diverse and dramatically larger audience. And, isn't our goal to share our love of all things solar with as many people as possible, to extend our reach, to cross cultural and ethnic lines, to share with the masses. Art, music, good food and good company will bring many more people to us and our telescopes, than an ad in a local paper advertising an astronomy outreach program.
So, without further ado, I give you the (drum roll) WORLDWIDE SOLSTICE FESTIVAL!!!
The festival will encompass BOTH solstice dates. In June, northern hemisphere participants can do outside venues while Southern Hemisphere participants can schedule indoor activities, if weather warrants that. On the December date, we northerners can host indoor or virtual events and presentations while, our southern hemisphere participants can host their WORLDWIDE SOLSTICE FESTIVAL during their local summertime.
If there is no local festival in your area, clubs and individuals can partner with Metroparks, civic groups and/or business interests to start their own festival. You can invite musicians, bands, artists, crafts people, food vendors, solar power representatives, etc. Let your imagination be your guide! You can partner with Metroparks, Museums, libraries, your local NASA office, etc, etc
The sky is the limit. You have the freedom to make your WORLDWIDE SOLSTICE FESTIVAL EXACTLY what YOU want it to be... The sky is truly the limit.

Be sure to check out and join the Solaractivity FB page and the WWSF pages. Oh, and POST UP YOUR IMAGES! So here is wishing you all CLEAR SKIES, so we all talk about it next time At The Eyepiece!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

OBSERVING ALERT - A Very Active Sun!

Hello all my fellow backyard stargazers, it has been awhile. April wasn't a very good month for me here in TN, lots of clouds and rain. May hasn't started out great either, but I did get a window yesterday (May 13th) to do some white-light imaging and Hydrogen-Alpha imaging of our Sun.

Right now, the Sun is putting up a great show for white-light observers, with plenty of large and small active regions to enjoy. is a FANTASTIC SITE!!   Go support them!
Here is my effort at capturing AR2339 with my Celestron C8 at f20 (Shorty 2x Barlow) and my ImagingSource DMK21.04 camera. This is 2 mins of frames, stacked and processed with Registax.

Whitelight observers aren't the only ones that enjoyed the sunspots yesterday and the details on the solar disk, there was a wonderful prominence as well!

Here is my processed image of about 2 mins of frames grabbed by my Coronado SolarMax 60II and the DMK21.04 camera, oh and with a 2x Barlow too.

Prominence in Hydrogen-Alpha captured at 1240 Central Time
Now one of the coolest things you can do with prominences, and even with sunspots, is to create a time-lapse of their movement over time. Its a great way to highlight just how dynamic our Sun actually is!

I setup the ICCapture software to capture a still image every 2 mins, for 3.5 hours. I then used Registax6 to create this time-lapse movie based on those individual frames over that time period. I'll put up a quick video on how I have found to do it with another posting. You will notice the orientation is different from the image above to the video below. That is because of the meridian flip on the equatorial mount. In addition you will notice the difference in some of the frames size. My mount isn't perfectly aligned and thus there was some movement of the Sun in the frame as I left this pretty much unattended, but I think the Registax program did a great job nonetheless. Enjoy!


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Best Jupiter of the Year and all shared on NSN!

A spectacular night last night! Well, at first at least. Conditions were not that great, with transparency quite variable, but I knew that often times that may mean some steady skies, so I kept with the game plan and started to set up about 8:30pm.

I started observing at about 9:00pm, and was already to go on NightSkiesNetwork to share the views of Jupiter and the Great Red Spot transit that was going to begin getting underway at 9:10. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. Needless to say, the night started with great steadiness, but even within the short time frame of a couple of hours, deteriorated to average. Just goes to show you that for planetary observing and imaging, patience and timing really pay off.

All of these captured with Celestron C8, 2x Orion Shorty Barlow, DMK21.04 monochrome camera.
All images were 2min avi's, processed in Registax.

GRS just coming into view  21:06 CDST

GRS now on disk, seeing was GREAT at this time

GRS just a tad more on disk, seeing still WONDERFUL

GRS now fully on disk, but seeing started to deteriorate

GRS with Ganymede and Europa, seeing went back to being GREAT  Local time 22:11 CDST

GRS almost at mid-point, seeing probably average now

Last video of the night, seeing average at best, GRS now mid-point    23:52 CDST

Friday, February 27, 2015

Ep 96 - Jupiter Events for March (Part 1)

Check Out Science Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with At The Eyepiece on BlogTalkRadio with At The Eyepiece on BlogTalkRadio