Saturday, November 19, 2005

London Planetarium and CCD imaging

Today was definitely a high gear Astronomy day. Instead of my usual Saturday morning lay in bed I got up at 7am so I could get ready and head down to central London for a special SPA event at the London Planetarium. The show kicked off at 10am prompt and was given by Robin Scagell. It was an excellent show concentrating on Mars. Some super CCD images taken by various well known imagers in the UK were shown. Robin took us through how Mars moves across the sky over different periods of time throughout the year. A young lady called Emily Baldwin from UCL, who's also an SPA member, took over the talk for a short while. She showed us some excellent images from Spirit and Opportunity. At the end of the show we were invited to stay and watch the normal show which the public see. The show has improved significantly since I last came to the Planetarium about a year ago when they were just getting familiar with the new software and projector they had then just installed.

Immediately after the Planetarium show I rushed up to Northampton to attend a special BAA event about CCD astrophotography. Thanks for the lift Robin and thanks also to Bob for the lift back down to Harrow. Much appreciated guys! We managed to get to the event during their half interval just in time for lunch giving us some time to mingle and chat to other BAA members who were present. The afternoon kicked off with two great talks about astro-photography using various telescopes and photography techniques. In between talks I managed to get a good demonstration of how to use various bits of imaging software, namely Iris and Registax 3 thanks to David Arditti and Robin Scagell.

Using the new imaging knowledge acquired at today's BAA event I set up my telescope after I got back home. Once again it was a very cold night, about -4C. Some notable mist which later developed in to a full blown fog was present so before it hazed over too much I managed to set up the 'scope and get a pretty decent polar alignment. Using an idea given to me by Robin today, I first inserted my 2x Barlow in to the diagonal, then inserted the an extender tube in to the Barlow. On top of all this I inserted the Lunar Planetary Imager (LPI). This set up produced a scaled up image of Mars and for the first time I was able to pick out features on the surface of Mars from the live raw video feed. Dark areas were definitely noticeable. The misty conditions made it hard to focus very well so I proceeded with haste as best as I could. Using Iris I captured two AVI files; the first 120 seconds and the second 240 seconds in duration, set to capture two frames a second. Setting a higher frame rate caused Iris to drop many of the frames. I think this a LPI specific limitation as I recall seeing the Philips Toucam Pro at today's BAA event being able to capture at a steady 15 fps. Anyway, the captures were both completed and next I fired up Registax. Following the procedure Robin had shown me earlier today I managed to process and stack the AVI files. I was most impressed with the results I managed to get. I think the misty conditions caused a slight halo to appear around Mars which resulted in Registax producing an odd arc around Mars. These images are vastly superior to the ones I have been taking over the last few days. Given a clearer night with better seeing, I think I should be able to improve even more on the images you can see below. Huge thanks go out to Robin and David for helping me out today and being kind enough to demonstrate Iris and Registax to me.


At Mon Nov 21, 09:47:00 am UTC, Blogger Paul Sutherland said...

The young lady would have been Emily Baldwin, one of the up-and-coming bright lights of the SPA!


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