Sunday, August 30, 2015

Atik Cameras releases an Entry Into EAA with the Atik Infinity Camera

I think we are officially in the breakout time for EAA (Electronically Assisted Astronomy). Mallincams have been out for many years, and finally some camera manufactures are taking notice of the strong desire within the amateur astronomy community for ways to observe objects in real time with imaging devices optimized for just that.

Atik Cameras have been around for awhile and producing some wonderful cameras for astronomical imaging. They just released news on their new Atik Infinity, their first foray into the world of "video astronomy". A Sony ICX825 chip, un-cooled camera that promises long exposure capability with minimum noise, something Atik cameras have been doing for a long time

Here is the video of the Atik crew doing some preliminary tests on what appears to be a pre-release of the software and camera. Looks promising!

What surprises me is the creation of their companion software to the camera. I'm surprised only because there are now a few folks out there making great electronically assisted astronomy software, AstroLive and Lodestar Live come to mind off the bat. AstroLive is a for profit option that works with a wide variety of cameras, while Lodestar Live was created by an EAA enthusiast that wanted a easy to use yet powerful program to leverage the capabilities of the Lodestar X2 and earlier models. Its been reported too by the way that LL will work with other Starlight Xpress cameras, but I can't verify that.

It is certainly going to be some exciting times ahead for EAA observers! For a complete list of specs, be sure to check out Atik Cameras for more information when its released.

Here are some color sample images as well direct from Atik Cameras!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Impressions of the DayStar Quark Chromosphere H-Alpha Eyepiece

DayStar Filters released their Quark Hydrogen-Alpha "Eyepiece" during NEAF 2014, or close to that from what I can find. If you listen to my podcast, At The Eyepiece, you know I have mentioned the DayStar Quark a few times. You will also know that I have been following amateurs images with this device, and I have been impressed with what DayStar has been able to accomplish with this unique "eyepiece" design. 
Now fast forward to June 20th, the day before Worldwide Solstice Festival, and yours truly has in his hands a 66mm ED APO and the Quark Chromosphere Hydrogen-Alpha Eyepiece. Of course, as any true amateur astronomy knows, the clouds came with it. Frankly its been horrible weather  here in middle Tennessee for weeks; hot/humid with days of solid clouds from time to time. Just when you think you're going to get some Sun, you do, but unfortunately hot and humid weather means very muggy and mushy skies, just enough to tease you with sunlight but horrific transparency washing away any significant attempts you make at solar observing, at least with hydrogen-alpha.

All that  change just a few days ago, when I was finally greeted with some BLUE skies! I grabbed the 66mm ED APO and Quark, and was finally able to put this combo through its paces. Looking back I guess it was a blessing having those few "mushy" days  since it allowed me to become  familiar with the operation of the scope and eyepiece combo with my camera and software setup, which by the way are  the ImagingSource DMK21.04 monochrome camera and ICCapture software. 

There really isn't much familiarizing to do with the unit itself frankly. The unit fits into either a 2" or 1.25 visual back or diagonal. It comes with a 90-240VAC power adapter, or you can opt for purchasing a separate 8-hour battery pack. This power is necessary because the internal Etalon is temperature tuned. The tuning knob allows wing shifting of +/- 0.5 angstroms with detents at every 0.1. You can't actually use the Quark without ensuring its powered, so keep this in mind. It also takes about 10 minutes to be ready, a convenient LED goes from red to green when you're good to go.  

Imaging and Electronically Assisted Observing

I consider myself a novice at solar image processing, but quite familiar with the live streaming my views  via NightSkiesNetwork. Anytime I'm a the eyepiece, others are at the eyepiece with me! Why not share the views with others right!

Well the below images are my first trials with the DayStar Quark Chromosphere Ha Eyepiece and a more advanced form of image processing that I usually do, since I generally process and post up in monochrome only. More on that however another time.

imaging, quark
WoW! 66mm ED APO, Quark Chromosphere Ha Ep.
So as you can see, the Quark gets some up close and personal with our closest star. That's because the unique nature of this eyepiece requires the unit to have an integrated 4.2x telecentric barlow lens. Considering this fact, DayStar recommends using refractors with f-ratios between f4-f8. The 66mm ED APO that I use is f6, and the sharp optics gave me very pleasing results. My bet however is seeing will be even more important if your going to use a scope with slower than f6, so keep that in mind.
66mm ED APO,  Quark Chromosphere Ha Ep.
There was a pleasant surprise when I was familiarizing myself with the Quark. I was wondering if I could get a wider fov and decent results if I used an older 1.25 GSO .5 focal reducer that I had laying around. I put the .5 in the nose piece of the DMK21, and was pleased that I could focus and the image was indeed wider and sharp. Cool!  NOTE AND VERY IMPORTANT  Put ANY reducer at the eyepiece or the imager and NOT in front of the Quark!!!! Damage or worse can occur.

Below is an image taken with the 66mm ED APO and the .5 focal reducer.
66mm ED APO, .5 GSO Reducer, Quark Chromosphere Ha Ep.
Next I tried the Quark in my 80mm f6 refractor. Yep, no problem there either! Cool x2! Now regarding apertures and the Quark. There are recommendations  out there for getting an ERF (Energy Rejection Filter) for refractors larger than 80mm when you plan on tracking the sun (goto mount for example). I have even seen folks recommend ERFs for 80mm and lower. The reason behind this is simply the heat buildup possible on the Quark as well as the elements of the telescope itself. I have seen some posts recommending a  IR/UV filter to assist in the reduction . Best advice I can give you is to lean towards safety and always go with the ERF or contact DayStar with your questions directly.

Now back to my impression now that I have had the chance to do a decent observing/imaging session with the Quark.
I said before I consider myself a novice at imaging, but intermediate at live streaming. I can tell you from doing a NSN broadcast on Thursday July 16th, the Quark Chromoshere Ha Eyepiece is great! Lots of great detail in the filaments I viewed. Contrast was very  good, and the detail we could see was impressive. The Sun had a real textured appearance too it, the tiny wisps of the chromosphere really stood out with the Quark. 

 I also will note that the Quark really showed a level of detail in chromosphere that I don't recall viewing with my Coronado SolarMax60II. Most apparent is viewing the limb of the Sun. The Quark gives me a very clear "layer" visible with the chromosphere, well above the "surface disk" of the Sun. Plenty of spicules visible and detail along the limb that was very interesting to observe.
The other interesting effect was that I can follow the filaments as they go towards the limb and become prominences against the blackness of space. Now keep in mind this is the chromosphere version of the Quark, so I was quite happy to see prominences as easily as I did. That said, I did notice that the prominence were not as bright as with my SolarMax 60II, but the fact that I could easily trace the filaments as they approached the disk and still make out the prominence without significant changes to my exposure was impressive to me.

The few people joining me for this live broadcast on NSN all commented on how well the Quark appeared to be doing. Each of them said they were impressed, and that this was the first time they have seen the Quark in action. You will surely see more of me on NightSkiesNetwork with the Quark on my channel AtTheEyepiece.

Visual  Observing
Honestly didn't spend much time on this since it was soooo hotttt. I first tried my 40mm PL eyepiece, which permitted a whole disk view. I had a very hard time positioning my eye to the eyepiece in order to get a consistent view and opted to change to another eyepiece. Regarding eyepieces, DayStar recommends a 32-40mm eyepiece, and specifically TeleVue. Well I don't have any TeleVue eyepieces, so I decided to put in a Celestron 26mm PL I have. This view was nice, with filaments visible and active regions. I did have some difficulty positioning my eye but it was much better than my 40mm. I used my wonderful 14mm Meade eyepiece, and got some up close and personal views. The filaments had nice contrast, and I can see some interesting detail all throughout the disk. At this magnification the seeing did detract from time to time, but when it was steady the view was great.

The bottom line is with the temperatures as they were, it made me rush through my visual tests.  In this brief visual observing session, I think the "sweet spot" for my local conditions is probably going to be the 25-32mm range, with good conditions prompting me to bring on the 14mm.  I'll have to get back to you on that one, once I invest in a high-quality Plossl like Televue. Hopefully by then the outside temperature isn't 103 degrees with 92% humidity, which makes visual solar observing almost unbearable.

DayStar has a real winner with the Quark Chromosphere Ha Eyepiece. You are no longer stuck with "just" a dedicated Ha telescope. The DayStar Quark frees you from that constraint and truly opens up a wide variety of options for Hydrogen-Alpha observing. You can now have 1 scope to use 3 different ways; nighttime observing/imaging, daytime white-light observing/imaging (with a separate Photosophere filter of course), or Hydrogen-Alpha observing/imaging. Versatile,  affordable and enjoyable,  that's the Quark Chromosphere Ha Eyepiece.

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!