Stargazing

As I mentioned in an earlier post, after looking up at the night sky through binoculars for the first time over my summer holiday, I decided to buy a telescope this year. On the 27th of January, I went to see a show at the local observatory, Stardome, and ended up talking to one of the staff about the telescopes they had on sale. I came home the excited new owner of a “Celestron Powerseeker 114EQ”.

My new telescope
My new telescope

It’s a “Newtonian” telescope, also known as a “reflector”. It uses a mirror to gather light, as opposed to a “refractor” that uses a lens. The light comes in the front of my telescope and hits a concave mirror 114 mm in diamater at the other end of the tube, where it is bounced back up to a flat mirror near the opening that reflects the light out the side into the eyepiece. I have 3 eyepieces that give 45x, 90x, and 100x magnification.

My first target was Jupiter, which I’d got a brief glimpse of from one of Stardome’s much more expensive telescopes after the show I saw. When viewing it from home, I was thrilled to be able to make out its 4 Galilean moons, and tried taking a photo. It turns out, as you might be able to guess, that holding an iPhone 4 camera up against the eyepiece of a telescope in the dark, then holding it steady and pressing the “take a photo” button without bumping the phone, is actually pretty hard. I got very lucky though, and the first photograph I took clearly showed an overexposed Jupiter and its 4 largest moons:

Jupiter and the 4 Galilean moons. In no particular order: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto
Jupiter and the 4 Galilean moons. In no particular order: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto

Some time later, I was also lucky enough to take a recognisable photo of Saturn using the same technique:

Saturn. It appears on its side because of the angle I was viewing it from. Click through to see the full image.
Saturn. It appears on its side because of the angle I was viewing it from. Click through to see the full image.

That picture was taken with the highest magnification eyepiece, which has a lens only about 6 mm in diameter. It was really difficult to hold my phone steady for this, even with the trick I’d learned of using the iPhone headphones’ volume buttons as a remote for the camera app. After this, I decided I should look to see if I could buy an adapter to fit my iPhone directly onto my telescope, but while searching for one I found an article about how to make your own adapter. I didn’t follow the steps in that article, but I did decide to give it a shot. I found a piece of plastic, an old cover for part of a swimming pool pump, that fit perfectly over my telescope’s eyepiece, and put it together with a bunch of foamboard and glue to get the final product. Here are a few pictures of the process:

The first layer
The first layer
The plastic backing
The plastic backing
The second layer
The second layer
The 2 pieces combined
The 2 pieces combined
Trying it out. It was a bit heavy at this stage, and overbalanced my telescope
Trying it out. It was a bit heavy at this stage, and overbalanced my telescope
Cutting it down to size
Cutting it down to size
All trimmed down. After this I sanded the edges and it was good to go
All trimmed down. After this I sanded the edges and it was good to go

Using this new adapter and some astrophotography image processing software called Registax that lets me combine multiple images or frames of a video to form a single clean image, I’ve been easily able to take some clear images of Jupiter, the Moon, and Saturn:

Jupiter, with some of the cloud bands clearly visible. Click to see the full image.
Jupiter, with some of the cloud bands visible. Click to see the full image.
The waxing crescent Moon. Click to see the full image.
The waxing crescent Moon. Click to see the full image.
Saturn, rings and all. Click to see the full image.
Saturn, rings and all. Click to see the full image.

Registax also allows for a bit of processing to remove noise and sharpen the image. I’m not sure what I think of this yet, as I’m pretty much flailing blindly and to be honest it feels a bit like cheating, but here’s what came out the other end when I applied some of its filters to that Saturn image:

Processing image of Saturn to remove noise and sharpen it. Click to see the full image.
Processing image of Saturn to remove noise and sharpen it. Click to see the full image.

I also took some photos of Mars, but they’re all horribly overexposed and not really worth looking at. I’ve been having trouble seeing anything aside from just a circle of light when it comes to Mars. It’s tough using an iPhone 4 as a camera. It’s not possible to manually change settings like focus or exposure, and in order to take photos and videos of Jupiter that weren’t overexposed I had to lock the camera’s settings on the brightest part of the Moon (done not by tapping to focus like usual but by holding my finger on the spot for a second or so). Luckily Jupiter and the Moon are quite close in the sky at the moment so that wasn’t too much effort, but moving the telescope back and forth between the Moon and Mars was quite annoying. I’m sure there’s a better way that I’m yet to find. It possibly involves buying a decent camera.

One other thing I was finally able to do last night is resolve the Alpha Centauri system (the outermost of the 2 “pointers” that show the way to the Southern Cross) as a binary star system. I wasn’t able to photograph it though, the stars still appear very close together and my phone overexposed them to look like a single star. I guess that’s a challenge for another night.

I’m also quite looking forward to the upcoming total lunar eclipse on the 15th of April. Although I’ve read that the Moon is meant to turn a dark red during the totality of the eclipse, I’m not really sure what to expect when it comes to viewing or photographing it, which I find pretty exciting.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Stargazing

  1. Honest and insightful. Just what a new person to astrophotography likes to read. It lets us know we’re not alone in our abyss of ignorance. Thank you for this page. You have a new fan right here. Best wishes to you for dark skies and a steady telescope. Maybe we can talk about steadying the 114EQ or at least dampening some vibration. I own one too and I’m sure you’ve noticed what I’m talking about.

    1. Hi critterdidit, thanks for commenting :)

      Yeah I have noticed vibration. Finding a spot out of the wind seems to make the biggest difference in reducing vibration, but I’ve run into other sources as well. For example, when I set up my telescope on a deck it would pick up vibrations from people moving on the deck.

      Of course, avoiding touching the telescope when looking through the eyepiece helps a lot as well, and it takes a few seconds to settle after even the finest of adjustments. Usually when I show others things through my telescope they automatically go to hold onto the eyepiece, so I have to tell them not to touch it or they won’t be able to see anything clearly. If it weren’t for the ability to take photos by a remote shutter button it’d be a lot harder.

      Of course, when everything’s magnified 90x or 300x, that includes even the tiniest of vibrations!

      Eric Teske has written about attaching a weight to his tripod to lower the centre of mass, which apparently reduces wind vibration. I’ve yet to try anything like that myself though. Here’s his article: http://www.ericteske.com/2014/04/new-gear-tripod-weight-and-green-laser.html

      I’ve been looking at Venus lately, as it’s currently up in the evenings and brilliantly bright. I haven’t taken any photos (need to find my old iPhone so I can use my mount) but it has been spectacular. I hadn’t looked at Venus until recently, and just like Saturn’s rings it’s one thing to “know” that Venus has phases and another thing altogether to see it as a crescent with your own eyes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s