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Observatory Tour 2011

Just before I left NSW on the big move to TAS, I thought it is about time for a road trip to some of the prominent observatories in the west of the state. The car had just been serviced, and was itching to get out on the highway, so I went off on a 4 day 1500km round trip. The original plan was to do some tripod based imaging runs that could be turned into time lapse or star trails with the observatories in the foreground, but the clouds rolled in after the first day so that was out. Still I got a bunch of photos of each observatory and got to see some of the science on each site.

I also found that Adobe Photoshop/Lightroom has a Panorama feature which is great for capturing the awesome views that won't fit in one frame!

Observatory albums:

 

Some final GRAS Images

Since my new astronomy gear is due to arrive any day now (*) and I will be moving to Tasmania in just a few weeks, I have finished my account on the GRAS telescope network. In order to use up my remaining points, here are some images of the Eagle Nebula, and the Plaiedes. I'm still having trouble stacking LRGB images in MaximDL, especially when the L ix 1x1 binned and the RGB is 2x2 binned, so I have kept the two separate for now.

Images

 

Spring time in Sydney

Spring has finally shown itself, and with the weather warming up, so to are the number of critters around and more colour in the garden. While I wait for my astro gear to arrive and my move to Tasmania in a few weeks, I pointed my cameras towards the ground instead of up in the air.

Images

Pushing buttons, developing Photons... roadtrip!

Last weekend I went on a short road trip to Rylstone. Most of my equipment is now in Tasmania awaiting my arrival, but I kept my DSLR and tripod. The original plan was to do a time lapse video, shooting a 60second exposure every 5minutes from twilight to dawn. When I woke up in the morning I found that only 11 frames were usable before clouds came over. Since the moon was out at twilight I didn't think the images would process very well but I was quite surprised at the results.

I did a little experiment, looking for the difference between RGB calibration and per-channel calibration in Deep Sky Stacker. I also recently got hold of Adobe Lightroom after reading up on using it's developing features, and thought it best to pay up now while I'm a student to avoid the extreme cost of Adobe products later. In Lightroom you can use the paintbrush tool to selectively darken and lighten different areas, to bring out the detail of the Milky Way cloud. The I increased the noise reduction. After finding the results on a single frame quite pleasing, I went back to the RGB calibrated stacked image and managed to bring out the galaxy cloud and darken the sky some more.

While I was on the road, I got a couple of the GRAS scopes to image IC434 (Horsehead) and Flame nebula so I can keep exploring MaximDL. Stupidly I also selected to do some SII and OIII filters so I could do some false colour stacks, and then I realised that IC434 was pretty much only good for the Ha filter.

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Some more Images from GRAS and Lightbuckets, MaximDL trial is going well

While I wait (impatiently) to move to dark skies, my current equipment got shipped off to the destination this week, and I follow in a couple of months after this uni semester ends.

In the meantime I got some more credit on GRAS, and I've been using up my existing credit on Lightbuckets - finally my imaging run there got started - not quite sure if Lightbuckets is here to stay or not, their telescopes seem to be offline A LOT and there was talk of shutting down in the forums, although the news pages say they're back. Anyway, I got some more images to process, even though I don't have my own equipment right now.

That means I can trial MaximDL - a really nice astro-image processing tool. I've found it really easy to use, and even my inept pushing buttons has produced some great images. Soon I'll try a target using Ha, OIII and SII since I have those filters myself, but for now, here are the results from the Horsehead nebula on GRAS G20, and Andromeda Galaxy on Lightbuckets LB003.

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More Remote Access (my first GRAS images)

 

Since I'm in the process of moving interstate and all my equipment is locked up in a container hundreds of kilometers away, and since it's pouring rain outside, and since I'm eagerly awaiting delivery of my new telescopes, I needed to scratch an imaging itch. I need to practice combining LRGB images, and try out some new software. OK I'm still in the process of figuring out the last parts - evaluating both MaximDL and CCDStack deciding on which package to invest.
 
So I found out there's this site, Global Rent a Scope that has a dozen or so telescopes of various capabilities, ready for users to remote access. After trialling the service on M27 (Dumbell Nebula), I signed up for the Plan-90 account to tie me over for the few months until I'm set up in Tasmania.
 
Over the past several nights, I've done some single images of M27, M31 and M33 (which I did an image for each colour in LRGB). Apart from a guide problem with G04 which I reported to support and they will fix, I'm impressed with the results.
 

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Why U no post??

New content has been pretty light on the site in the past few months. Apart from a long run of really crappy weather, now most of my gear is in storage, largely unaccessible, since I'm planning a big move.

Not wanting to pre-empt anything final, but if you've been following my Twitter feed, then you probably already know that I've found my rural property and made an offer to buy. So in about two months I'll be living under dark skies of my own home!

Before I leave NSW, I will be grabbing my cameras out of storage and taking a few days for a road trip to the remote observatory sites in NSW to get some photos for my Observatories photo section.

I also have some new gear on order, taking advantage of the great exchange rate at the moment, which will be ready for my arrival in Tasmania towards the end of the year. When I've settled in, I'll also be clearing some land to put up a permanent observatory. Woowoo!

Online Telescopes - Slooh and Lightbuckets

Since I'm pretty much fed up with the crappy weather this year, another weekend forced inside due to nothing but rain, I decided to look into trying out some online telescope services to get my astro-imaging fix. I've signed up with Slooh which has been around since 2003, and Lightbuckets.

Slooh provides a near real-time flash plugin, and for $49 a year it's pretty good value. You can make up to 5 reservations over a 7 day period, with each target being imaged for 5 or 10 minutes, depending on the telescope. They have two telescopes in Canary Islands and one in Chile. The plugin is very simple to use and I like the instant fix you get when you click on the "take pic" button. I've already used up all my reservations this week, but I get to look in on what other people want to look at as well, so it certainly is good value for money, and with a simple interface. Your images are also shared with Google Earth so you are helping to map the universe.

My Slooh snapshots from this week are below.

I also signed up for 250 points on Lightbuckets. This is a more expensive service but is more flexible. It also has three scopes to choose from, one of them being a half-metre but expensive at 70 points per hour. I'm yet to use this as it was just an hour before sunrise in Rodeo New Mexico when I signed up, so I should have some images from there in the next week or so. They have an easy-imaging option, but also a full-control application where you can select the target, guide-star, exposure times and types. You then get access to the images to process with your own software.

One of my original aims with this personal astro database was to image all the Messier catalogue. Now I know using an online telescope is cheating a little, but I still plan to personally image most of the list, but there are some objects that are not observable from my southern hemisphere location, so having cheap access to these online telescopes is a huge bonus!

Images from my first login at Slooh

Great Globular Cluster in Hercules M13

Designations

Images

Slooh Snaps 26 April 2011

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