Friday, 9 June 2017

Solargraph project - 2017 first half

In 2016 I’ve been at the Astro Camp organized by the Hungarian Astronomical Society in Tarjan. Two astronomers gave me 3 solargraphs, one I gave away for a good use to Northolt Branch Astro, one was a test and this one.
The solargraph was put out on 30th January 2017 at Wimbledon Common at the windmill facing toward the Ranger Office. I really didn’t know what to expect from this project as this was my second solargraph in real use. It’s been collected on the 7th June and made me so curious, what I might find inside the enegy drink can.
Here are some photos about opening the can containing the photo paper.


But what is this thing called solargraph??
Well it is a very simple photographic camera for taking very very long exposure wide angle photos with a pinhole camera.
You use a box or a can, cut the top 1/3 off and put a light sensitive photo paper inside. So the paper is taped to the inner side of the can, whilst you make a whole onto the opposite side of the can, hopefully ending up with the pinhole camera.
After the paper carefully placed inside, taped at the top to hold it at a fix position, we close the can and tape it around to seal it from water, humidity etc. It is that simple.

But I have never made one myself yet, but definitely will in the future because solargraph is a lot of fun!!

But let's see the result of 127 days of waiting. The original photo that came right out of the can is on the left. The one on the right is post processed in Photoshop. 


And finally this is a video summary about the whole project. Couldn't document as professionally as I planned, but let's say this was the first step on this long road :)



Friday, 2 June 2017

Proper farewell to Thomas Pesquet and Oleg Novitskiy

This is a very special post for many reasons. I've been imaging the International Space Station for years now and it usually takes time to get used to the new astronauts - at least to me. Thomas Pesquet is one of the really cool ones in my opinion, he was heavily involved in science (just like the others of course) and he was/is a great ambassador for space travel, science and astronomy during his stay on board the station.
How cool is the fact, that whilst I am writing this blog post, I am also watching Nasa Tv showing Thomas and Oleg as they have just landed in Kazahstan and making their way out of the landing module.

Last night was a promising night with two very bright ISS pass, a possible SpaceX Dragon supply vehicle launch and some proper deep sky observation too.
Second over head pass details and star chart
Sadly the Dragon was grounded due weather circumstances, which wasn't the best news as I really wanted to give a try on imaging at 3000mm focal length. Next time I guess....

The first ISS pass happened just a little bit before 10pm, part of the sky was still fairly bright so I didn't give time lapse imaging much chance yet. The close up shots didn't give me the results I was expecting, but it was still an amazing experience to see it and show it to friends and their neighbours. They loved it!

Sometimes I have problem with imaging, nobody said this is walk in the park though. Occasionally, despite doing the exact same drill as usual the result is just not coming.
But remaining determent and keen on trying to achieve my best mostly pays off - sooner or later.

The second pass went up to 59 degrees of elevation. You can see the screenshots saved from They always give a very accurate prediction of the expected illuminated ISS passes.

Second over head pass star chart

As prediction showed, ISS was passing above Moon, Jupiter and even Arcturus too. Timing was super accurate as always, so decided to keep taking 30 second expos and made a composite photo with the individual frames to make its full pass visible.

                    Composite shots, one with ISS only and the other only with star trails as well

                                 This is a video footage - kind of a summary about the night

Whilst the camera was clicking, I was busy with preparing my Skywatcher 250/1200 Flextube dobson scope for close up imaging.
It went fine, quickly sorted out the good frames with PIPP in ISS mode and later, running through all the frames I had to realize the success. It always feels amazing, when some kind of details reveal themselves, parts like the Cupola, BEAM, Leonardo module, Kibo and Columbus modules etc.

Sequence of the best frames taken with telescope

Best shot with most details

Once the ISS buzz was over, I let my camera continue taking photos looking north-east direction. In the meantime - for the first time I could test my 10"dobson under clear sky with no light pollution.
After we did the most visible object - moon, Jupiter and Saturn - my hunger was huge for deep sky objects.

So I started with Albireo, a wonderful double star. Then hopped onto M57 Ring nebula, M13 Hercules cluster, Mizar double star and eventually M51 Whirlpool galaxy.

Well M51 really blow my mind!! I expected one faint fuzzy ball and that's it. Instead I saw faintly the spiral arms of the galaxy too... no words really. Not bad - just think about it, that object is approx. 23 million light-years away. Really left me speechless.

A bit of spinning with planet Earth

Skywatcher 250/1200 Flextube scope on dobson base
Zwo ASI120MM camera
Zwo Red filter
Televue 2.5x powermate

PIPP and Photoshop

Saturday, 27 May 2017

International Space Station (ISS) marathon enhanced with a special Jupiter affair

First of all I must begin with the fact, that 2017 was a disappointing year so far in terms ISS close up imaging. Whenever I had time and had bright overhead passes, weather treated me poorly, never really helping me to achieve my plans.

Especially now, when finally I have a good equipment for this particularly special area of photography - a Skywatcher 250/1200 Flextube telescope on a dobsonian platform. Also I got rid of my color ASI12MC camera, instead I use the mono 120MM version with filters, particularly red filter for ISS.

But eventually the heavens opened up for London in the past few day, warm temperatures and absolutely perfect clear sky was our present after all the bad weather.
So I decided to do an ISS marathon - at least a few attempts on high magnification ISS imaging. Due work I couldn't stay up till morning, so I did the ones around midnight. 

I had one over head pass on the 25th May 2017 at 11:15 pm which was at 64 degrees of elevation at its highest point, this was the period when the station was relatively at closest to me. The result was pleasing, despite the odd angle the Sun illuminated ISS - basically pretty much from sideways. 
I managed to identify a few little details on the station, such as the Cupola, BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module) and the Canadarm 2 robotic arm. To be honest my main goal was Cygnus-7, I've marked its position but I'm not entirely convinced if visible. 

Before ISS pass I collected a few frames of Jupiter through Zwo Red filter

The second attempt happened on 27th May 2017 at 0:36 am, similar pass at 68 degrees of elevation, ended up nearly with the same photo, slightly more blurrier than the first attempt. Probably it is less overexposed, Leonardo module, Cupola and BEAM are less bright so easier to identify. I wanted to catch a much higher over head pass too, but I found a better challenge and chose that instead...

Comparison of the two shots taken at nearly same circumstances

Because not too far from my location there was the ISS Jupiter transit opportunity. The gas giant was nearly 34 degrees above horizon, the predicted transit time was at 10:22pm when the International Space Station was roughly 700km from my location. 


Probably the toughest task was to make the decision about camera settings. Only rarely happens, that the current visual magnitude of ISS (at the exact time of transit) matches the other object's visual magnitude. This one wasn't one of those rare occasions sadly, the station was so much brighter (even if it doesn't seem to be a massive magnitude difference), that I couldn't avoid slight overexposure. But this seemed to be the borderline based on experience from previous night. So in Fire Capture I set expo to a value of 0.88 ms time and gain for 55.
First here is a time lapse video taken with my dslr (Canon 600D and a Samyang 8mm fisheye lens). I have to say it was tremendous fun to see ISS rising and approaching fast toward Jupiter. The transit seemed so unlikely at first sight, but the prediction was (obviously) correct and eventually took the right direction. I tried to watch the event with naked eye and also keep an eye on the laptop screen too.

Phenomenal  experience, highly recommended to anybody - even with naked eye. The sheer accuracy of the prediction blows my mind every time I witness it.

ISS near Jupiter pass

The gif above shows the actual close pass. It is a real shame, that I couldn't find a place on the centreline, this could have been a nice ISS transit - I mean as good as it can be from UK at this relatively low elevation.
Mind this is approximately the real speed of the event. I never work with the raw video directly, instead usually brake the video down into frames and after post processing those frames, I make a gif from them. This way I can enhance the frames slightly, getting rid of some noise if possible and make all the necessary general improvement (contrast, brightness, etc.).

My scope has 1200mm of focal length (FL), which usually isn't the best magnification for close ups so I use a 2.5x Televue powermate to get the right magnification level. But due my inaccurate position from centreline, I did't want to risk missing ISS completely. Therefore barlow option ignored and went for prime focus instead. This way I could avoid any failure - believe me there is nothing more frustrating than missing ISS because your field of view is too little. It happened to me at a few lunar and solar ISS transit, so kind of learned my lesson.

Composite photo of the near pass

And finally here is a funny shot, another composite from the time lapse. Playing wizard with ISS wasn't planned at all. At home I was laughing out loud , when I discovered the possibility of a cool composite shot.

So do you like my ISS laser pointer? :D

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Monochrome era

A little heads up on what's about to come soon :)

I've seen many of the planetary imagers working with mono cameras, which can give stunning results over the color ones. Therefore I have purchased a brand new Zwo ASI 120MM monochrome camera and a second hand manual Zwo filter wheel with LRGB and IR pass filters.

Just learning WinJupos in depth now, what's already clear is it won't be walk in the park. But that's exactly what's giving me extra motivation for sure....

Weather has been a genuine disaster in 2017, I had one good night for imaging Jupiter, but the strong jet stream took away all the finer details.

Here is where I am right now, the best few shots of Jupiter so far. I have to say not as good as ones taken with the 120MC color version, but hoping for improvement both in image quality and weather.