Continuing with Mars

A partial replay of a few nights ago, with the roof very stiff to open. As I heaved and pushed it eventually came free and rolled to the other end of the shed with a booming shriek. Dogs in backyards around began to bark, and my next-door neighbour’s lights snapped on. I sat quietly until the rest of the world calmed down, and at some point I shall have to make a peace offering to my neighbour. Yikes!

I upgraded the laptop on Thursday, and tried capturing Mars again on Friday. The capture was snappier, but capturing using a Quicktime movie still only gave me a 19.9 Mb file. On the other hand I was able to capture 400 images in batch still mode, and after some processing this was the result:

Small version of Mars from Friday night

or as a double sized version (the processing is very slightly different):

Larger version of Mars from Friday night

As usual this is captured with a 5x Powermate on a f6.5 110mm William Optics FLT-110. Time was 4.21 -4.25 EDT, or 8.21 UT, so the Central Meridian is 307 degrees.

I’m always bothered when I see a bright ring at the edge of a planet – it seems to me that it’s a sign that the image has been over-processed, an artifact of the sharpening filter. You can see such a ring in the smaller Mars image, and I’m considering reprocessing the image so this does not appear. Any comments — either way — would be appreciated.

Oh, and closing the roof was a smooth and quiet operation, with no uproar. Daylight opening and closing has been without incident, so I suppose I’ll just have to wait till next time to figure out where any noise is generated.

Sleep and ravelled sleeves

I was hoping to stay up tonight and observe, but though I waited until just after midnight to make a decision, I’ve decided I’m just too tired to do it, and once I complete this entry I’ll head off to bed.

The problem is that I’ve been doing this for several nights now. Last night I captured this image

Mars 20050921

FLT-110, 5x Powermate, Sep 21 1.15-1.23 am EDT, CM290;20 of 30 frames

and I’ve been up now for three nights running. Add to that the complication of a nasty cramped muscle a couple of nights ago which kept me awake, and I haven’t had a full nights sleep for a few days. Additionally, while I’m not unhappy with the image after processing, it’s based on too few frames — only 30 images captured in 5 minutes instead of the 350 I expected. Until I resolve the underlying problem (probably by increasing system RAM) observing will be sub-optimal.

Show me the way to go home — I’m tired and I wanna go to bed!

Reworking Mars

This is a reworked verson of the image capture from 19 September 1 am. Previously I had saved this as double size from Lynkeos, but this time I saved it at normal size (as captured) and then did a little further image sharpening with Photoshop.

Small reworked version of 20050919 image

Mars revisited

The last time I imaged Mars I was happy to get a few images, but I really wanted to capture more. This time around I was ready to fire up a Toucam II for the first time with the FLT and a 5x Powermate, but I ran into a few problems.

The first (and anticipated) problem was in getting the planet onto the chip. I had reset the mount and wasn’t about to go through a lengthy realignment process, so I figured to have this problem. I did have the mount set up well enough to center the image in a low-power eyepiece, but beyond that I had to do a bit of searching to get Mars centred in the Toucam frame.

Another problem was getting the exposure correct. I was trying Keith’s AstroImager with the Toucam, and the view while adjusting the shutter and gain was rather small. I think that’s the driver rather than Keith’s AstroImager, so that will be a problem with any software using this camera on the Mac. To compound the issue, the laptop has limited memory, and is slow as a result – only 4 frames per second while observing, but drastically slower when capturing the frames. Things should improve once I increase the memory.

The worst difficulty though was that I was unable to reach focus with the tools available, at least, not without a number of compromises. I am using a 2″ extender, but it looks as though I’ll have to pick up a 3″ extender to make this work. In the meantime I pulled the extender and the Powermate out from the OTA and fastened them in precarious positions in order to get to a focus (luckily the moon was available to serve as a test subject, or I would never have been done). This led to optical alignment problems though, and the image is unfortunately beset by fringing, and to make it worse there is dust somewhere in the optical path so that there are obvious defects in the images.

So, with all the fiddling around with new equipment I only managed to capture 32 images, all affected to some extent by bad seeing, and combined the twenty or so “best” images to come up with this:

Mars, about 20 out of 32 images(Observing from Woodbridge, Ontario, on September 19, 1.05 am – 1.09 am EDT)

and for comparison, a simulated (by CalSky) image of Mars with about the same aperture and time:

Simulated image of Mars

I’ll try to do better — I promise!

Ouch! That’s bright!

I reset the mount parameters, and needed to synch on something. The moon was available, so why not? Well, it’s not that it’s impossible–it certainly can be done–but it’s not something one should do, at least, not on a low power. On a low power you’re taking the brightness of the moon, as gathered by your light-efficient scope, and concentrating it into a smallish object. Now, when you’re using a high power, that’s a fairly extended item, but on a low power it’s not much bigger in appearance than the naked-eye moon, and you’re stuffing a lot of light into a small area.

Not a smart move if you aren’t thinking about it. Major ouch! and total destruction of whatever night sight you may have (which, given that the moon is in the sky in the first place, may not be much). So, when I recovered, I synched on Altair. It was a lot less painful.

A little woodwork

The roof was well stuck — I had to get to the outside and shove, go back inside and pull (and lift), go back outside and shove, go back inside — it took a number of cycles before I got the roof off the 4×4 which forms the top of the south wall, but eventually I got the roof open. I ran a small plane over the 2×4 of the roof panel, and similarly ran the plane over the east wall facing, which has been scraping against the metal roof panels. In addition, a corner was interfering with the roof panels as the roof closed, and this, rather than the rub of the 4×4 against the 2×4, may be what caused all the trouble. My Black & Decker jig saw hasn’t been used in years, but today it saw service, and seems to have turned the trick. At least now the roof will close fairly quietly, though it hasn’t been tested in a night-time (cold, damp) environment. I’m keeping my fingers crossed – I’m hoping to image Mars tonight, and I’ll try a new way of drift alignment using the camera instead of cross hairs.

No go…

In anticipation of a good night of observing I started working on the scope. The Telrad is poorly placed for use with the FLT-110 and the Express 80 at the same time, so I figured I’d move it around to the other side. However, when I turned it on as a check I found the batteries were gone – in my last session I apparently left the LED turned on. I replaced the batteries, but no joy – the LED was still dead. It seems the battery holder isn’t giving a good connection, and the original batteries may have been OK. Something to work on later….

It was getting hot inside the SkyShed. The sun was streaming in through the door, and I decided I should open up and start cooling down for the night. I opened the roof latches and tugged on the roof handle. Nothing. The roof is well and truly stuck. It’s hard to pull with any real effort, at least as things now stand, since I’m afraid that if the roof should start to move I’ll go flying over or through the telescope on its pier. I tried pushing from the other end, but it’s still stuck. When I went outside to check the roof I found the metal roof was hanging up on some of the wall piers and boards at one corner. I did some impromptu metalwork, but the roof was still hung.

Looking at the two-by-fours and four-by-fours of the roof and wall I can see that the roof timbers are bowed downward in the middle of the roof end wall. This means the weight of the roof is sitting on the end wall rather than floating 1/8″ or so above it. I have to decide whether to shave the roof tibers with a jack plane or lower the wall a little. The wall seems to be flat on top, and pretty much level, while the roof is bowed, so I supposed I have to plane down the roof timer. I find this alarming, and I’m wondering if shaving the two-by-four down slightly will be a pointless exercise — I may have the same problem again a little later. Meanwhile, my roof is stuck, and observing is off for the night.

Lens Work #59

I was looking at the current issue of Lens Work and admiring the gorgeous black levels in the photos. They achieve an incredibly deep warm black which is comparable in quality to the very best art prints. Mind you, the magazine is expensive for its size, so I suppose you should expect high quality, but it’s supported entirely by sales rather than advertising, so I still expect money will be tight in their operation.

I find Lens Work is always worth a look, even when the content is not to my taste. I dislike Carol Golemboski’s “Psychometry” images, but it’s necessary for me to see them to figure out why I don’t like them.

Katrina relief

All or any of the following items may be true for some value of true. But….

–The devastation in New Orleans could have been avoided!

–The destruction of New Orleans was predicted, but inevitable.

–The guvmint dint do enuf!.

–The government allocated resources according to the perceived risk and performed acceptably given the circumstances.

–Bush is a jackass!

–Bush is a concerned human being doing his best!

Though I’m late to the party, people are still in trouble. Please consider donating to the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or an equivalent organisation.

Many thanks to Brian Alvey for his suggestion, code, and image to allow adding the Red Cross logo to Starstruck and Earthbound pages. I’ve modified it slightly to link to my local national organisation, and have added the Salvation Army. I will be happy to add other charitable organisations given a logo and web address.

“I hold every man a debtor to his profession, from the which as men of course do seek to receive countenance and profit, so ought they of duty to endeavour themselves, by way of amends, to help and ornament thereunto.”

— Roger Bacon (1561-1626)

Bacon was referring to the profession of law, but we are all practitioners of the profession of life. We owe a common duty to our profession, that those of us who are successful within the profession give aid and succour to those who are not.