Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Bad start to holiday

Well today was the day I was meant to jet off to India for my trekking/astronomy holiday. Unfortunately the flight has been postponed to tomorrow morning. What a major bother. No alternative flights available at such short notice. Damn shoddy show by Air India. I think this calls for some kind of compensation!

I've packed away my Meade ETX105 and various camera adapters and T-Rings so that I can hook up my wife's Canon 350D to the telescope. I'll also be using a web cam to capture some AVIs of various objects. Can't wait to get out to India. Unfortunately due to the flight delay all my plans for my wedding anniversary have been scuppered. Drat.

I was a bit surprised when I double check my flight tickets that I'm allowed to take 35Kg onboard instead of the usual measly 25Kg which is usually the limit on other air lines. I guess Air India jolly well know the profusion of gifts and tonnes of personal effects us Indian's always travel with! HAHA!

I've read that it's a pleasant 25C during the day in Kolkata at the moment and qutie chilly at night, dropping close to zero. When in Gantok, the capital city of the state of Sikkim, the nights will be even colder but seeing conditions up at 7000ft should be very good. Fingers crossed!

Bring on tomorrow morning! Here I come clear skies! Happy new year to all reading this blog entry and expect more updates in 2006.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Glorious Saturn rises in the east

Ah, my favourite planet is back. Saturn is rising earlier. From my back garden I'm getting a clear and unobstructed line of site to the ringed giant. I spent a good three hours imaging Saturn on 17th December 2005. Temperatures had dipped to almost -2C in the local area so it was back to looking like an Inuit again!

Click on each image to view it at the proper size.

image of saturn

Tonight I tested out my IR filter for the first time, though I must admit on Saturn it made little difference compared to images without the IR filter. I've read that a yellow #11 Meade filter will do much to to bring out the mid equitorial belt on Saturn. I'll have to try that out next time.

image of saturn

I had a rather peculiar experience when it came to processing the AVI files in Registax. I was using the Philips ToUcam Pro II 840K for the first time (thanks Robin!). It comes with a rather nice video capture application called VRecord. The default colour space/codec setting in in this software is set to I420. It appears Registax 3 doesn't like AVI files captured using the I420 codec. When I tried to process a 1350 frame AVI file it had only managed to stack 78% of the frames after six hours! I decided to capture an AVI indoors of the sofa and use the IYUV codec which is selectable in VRecord. Registax appeared to like this file very much. Therefore, I used VirtualDub to convert all the AVI files IYUV AVI files. I later received an email from the author of Registax who recommended I use the "Save old format AVI" in VirtualDub. I haven't tried this out yet but I'll give it a go later.

image of saturn

Seeing cinditions were pretty average to poor tonight, even though it was cold and cloud free. I had trouble getting a sharp focus. I'm going to have to make a Hartman mask very soon and use that to see if I can improve the accuracy of my focusing.

image of saturn

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Satellite image of oil depot explosion

Hot of the press! There was a massive series of explosions at a major oil depot in Hemel Hempstead, near London early in the morning at around 6am on 11/12/2005. Police report that the incident appears to be an accident though they're keeping an open mind about it. I managed find this satellite image courtesy of the UK Met Office on which you can clearly see the dark smoke trail from the explosion.

Clear skies - It happens sometimes

Well then! I spent a solid six hours observing tonight. Must be a personal record. Seeing was fairly decent although things started fogging up towards the end of the observing session.

I got my first Saturn images (302Kb PNG) of the season. Seeing was awful for the first two images as Saturn had just peeped over the roof of my neighbours house. The final image was much better as Saturn rose and cleared the heat vapour from the properties.

Mars seems to be receding very fast. I'm not picking up as much detail as I used to a few weeks ago. I tried to grab some images by stacking my 2x and 4x Barlows which ended up making the images of Mars worse. Obviously too much mag for my small 'scope. Next time I get a clear night I'll try the 4x just by itself. The moon (160Kb JPG) was out in full glory tonight. Since it was placed very high up, seeing was really decent. I managed to grab a nice montage of the moon which included one close up using the 2x Barlow.

I entertained a few friends who were on MSN and Yahoo chat by streaming real time images of the moon via video chat. They were all impressed. It's great seeing and hearing the reaction of people who've never seen the moon up so close.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Patrick Moore sing along

Hero worshipping, idolising, admiring, call it what you will, but sometimes you can take it a little too far, don't you think? A prime example is this song about Sir Patrick Moore (approx 1.7Mb MP3). Quite a funny little number. There's also an animated version of the song. Whilst we're talking about Sir Patrick Moore, I just had to share this MP3 (1.3Mb) with you all. It features Patrick Moore speaking to the The Doctor on the telephone. Hillarious!

I'm sure there's more out there on the web. If anyone has come across more strange ode's to famous astronomers, please let me know.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Deal of the century or dud of the week?

I'm always on the look out for a bargain, especially when it comes to astronomy related equipment for as any British "mug" interested in astronomy will know, here in this green and pleasant land, prices for toys to feed our hobby are quite literally astronomical when compared to other countries, especially the USA. Inevitably we all end up as mugs by paying over the top prices resulting in each and every one of us feeling mugged! Therefore, enough of this mugging mania! Here's a bargain for you. LIDL, that bastion of cheap food, that super market chain any respectful Waitrose regular would not be seen dead at, has just put up this portable 12V/7A power pack. These little boxes of energy are invaluable to us astronomers as they can be used to power our 'scopes and other related equipment. Be careful to make sure the voltage and amp rating is compatible with your equipment or you may end up frying something you paid a lot of money for. If you're not sure, try posting a comment in helpful chat forums where you’ll find many-a-spod ready, willing and able to furnish you with the most detailed information would care to know about. Be warned, because of the way LIDL manage links on their web site, the above link to the power pack may not work after a few days of this blog entry. If the page doesn’t work, here’s a picture of said power pack to help you find it in-store the next time you pluck up the courage to sneak in to LIDL with your hoody on (so that no one you know recognises you) ;-)

  • Practical mobile power supply for 12V equipment
  • With 12V/7Ah rechargeable accumulator battery
  • Power supply options:
  • - Integrated 12V cigarette lighter socket
  • - Power socket
  • - 3, 4.5, 6, 9 and 12 V jacks
  • LED battery status indicator
  • Size (cm): 20 x 8 x 17.5
  • 3 Year manufacturer’s warranty

Sky At Night Magazine Forums

It appears that Sky At Night Magazine have launched their own brand spanking new chat forum. So far it's quite sparse on posts and the number of topics is small but that's probably because it launched this week. It'll be interesting to see how this develops and how many familar names we'll see posting in there.

Iris problems resolved

Today was a bad astronomy day. I set up my 'scope at about 9pm and let it cool down. After half an hour Saturn had risen high enough to view from my back garden. I must admit I did a very lazy alignment which resulted in usless goto performance. The problem with Iris was still bugging me. It wouldn't recognise the Meade LPI. In the end fog rolled in and got the better of me and sent be retreating indoors. I decided to inspect the Iris web site and refer to an article called use of the web cam. There it was, staring at me in red font colour; the answer to all my problems. For others who are having the same problem as I am, as in Iris not recognising that the LPI is connected, you should take note of the following paragraph from the Iris documentation:

Note: if your webcam is not recognized by Iris, it may be possible that you have a problem of video channel definition. By default Iris uses channel 0 and that cannot be to modify from the program. It is however possible to change theis default parameter in the following way: (1) leave the Iris program (2) edit the file IRIS.INI which is located in the Windows directory (it is a text file), (3) change the value of the WebCamDriver parameter using a value from 1 to 10 (4) save the modification you have performed and leave the text editor (5) run Iris and test again (6) start again at step 1 if problem persists.


So now that problem is resolves, I'll hopefully get a fog free clear evening some time soon to do some proper imaging.

I noticed some limitation of the Meade ETX tonight. Coupled with the 4x Powermate and 20mm eye piece brings me very close to the sensible magnification limit of my little telescope. That's 294x mag approx. Warm air turbulance rising from the roofs of the houses which I had to see over was probably a contributing factor to the bad seeing tonight.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Bluetooth your 'scope

I've always wanted to be able to control my telescope remotely. There are a number of options that have recently hit the shelf. The latest one comes from the makers of the Starry Night astronomy software. It's the Starry Night BlueStar Telescope Adapter- which retails in the USA for $149.95. This is a bluetooth product which attached to various computer driven telescopes made by Orion, Celestron, Meade and others. You plug it in to the RS232 port of your 'scope and then pair it with your bluetooth enabled laptop or desktop computer. The product claims to have a range of up to 9-10 meter depending on conditions. I wonder how well it would stand up to cold climates. The unit operates on 2 AA batteries and also has a USB pass through socket thus eliminating the need to buy a serial to USB converter cable. This is great for more modern PCs which often don't have serial ports. I have not used the BlueStar Telescope Adapter yet but it certainly looks promising. I'd be interested to hear from people who have used it. Post your comments people!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Registax problems resolved

After receiving some very useful advice from David Tyler and James Jefferson about my problems with Registax, I managed to reprocess my AVIs from 19/11/2005 and bring out more details in surface features of Mars. It seems like one of my AVI files are problematic. Everytime I tried to process it I got an alignment lock error from Registax. In the end I processed another AVI file which I had saved and everything went smoothly. With the image to on the right, I set the quality threshold to 50%, as opposed to 80% on the image to the left. I also selected a sharp starting frame for the image on the right and made small gamma adjustments in Registax to augment the clarity of the dark areas slightly. Anyway, here's are my results.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Skype Beta nightmares

What a nightmare! I installed Skype 2 beta today. Ever since I installed it none of my AVI capture software works. IRIS fails to recognise my LPI and K3CCDTools also thinks there are no USB video capture devices attached to my PC. Even after un-installed Skype 2 beta nothing works. I searched the web for information but nothing I found helped. Strangly enough, Autostar Suite is able to recognise the Meade LPI without any problem but that's no use to me as it cannot capture AVI files. Just when I was about to give up and assume I had to reinstall Windows, I came across a brilliant software package called Virtual Dub. This software has been around for long time but I only just came across it. It has a no-nonsense installation procedure. You just download the ZIP, unZIP everything and that's it! No set up program, nothing installed in your Windows registry. Just run the EXE and off you go. The great thing is this software recognises my Meade LPI and allows me to capture AVI files. I'm back in action and able to continue my planetary imaging.

I had about one hours worth of observing today at about 17:00 before the clouds moved in at about 18:00. I got to test out the Astro Engineering 4x Powermate. The optical quality of the image it produced seemed to me to be right up there. Mars appears crisp and clear and I couldn't notice any loss of light intensity compared to my 2x Meade Barlow. I wasted a whole load of time trying to get the AVI capture software to work due to the problems mentioned above and ended up not being able to do any imaging tonight. Seeing wasn't so hot tonight so it wasn't such a loss. I'm looking forward to stacking the 4x Powermate and the 2x Barlow on the next clear night to see what type of image I can capture. Logic tells me that this level of magnification could very well exceed the sensible limit of what my 105mm telescope is capable of. I'll just have to try it out and see what happens.

Friday, December 02, 2005

4 x Powermate and IR Filter

I guess I've left it a little late to get my IR Filter but I guess it's better late than never. The filter arrived yesterday and today my Astro Engineering 4x Powermate arrived through the post. What a hefty chunk of lens that is! Nice. Looking forward to some clear skies soon so I can try it out on Saturn.

I've been toying with the idea of buying the new Aluminium hard case from Meade for my ETX105. Since I'll be taking the 'scope abroad more often it might be worth it. Who would have though a portable 'scope would have cost so much with additional extra purchases later on! It's all a scam! *mwah-ha* Reminds me of one of Bill Bryson's books where he's about to embark on a trek across the Appalachian trail in North America. He goes to visit a trekking store to buy his rucksack and is floored by all the optional extra's he would have expect to come with the bag but instead came are separate purchases amounting to four times the cost of the bag itself! Shockingly similar parallels to my telescope.