Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Yesterday's Sun...

Keeping with the astronomical theme as I prepare for the Venus/Solar transit next Tuesday I decided to do a little experimenting with different ways of photographing the sun. Of course all the methods shown here involve different methods of attaching the camera to the telescope but the one thing they all have in common is safe filtering. Please do not attempt to look at, photograph or in any way magnify the image of the sun without proper solar filtering.

The view through the spotting scope which is also solar filtered.This was taken by simply holding my small P&S camera up to the eyepiece and snapping the shot.
This first shot is one that will be familiar to anyone that read my post on the May 20th annular eclipse. This is the view through the spotting scope that is attached to the main scope. It's a simple straight through 8x finder used for broad pointing of the main scope. When an object is in the wide field crosshairs of the spotting scope it's generally dead center of the telescope eyepiece of the two have been properly aligned.

My rig set up in the backyard. That's my Canon 5DMII with the 100-400 lens piggybacking on top. Yes, It's filtered as well. Not too happy with the results from that setup.
In this shot you can see the camera is piggy-backed on top of the scope. The lens is a 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 with a 1.4x extender. The long end of the focal length being a 560mm f8 effective lens.
I really couldn't get a decent shot with this configuration besides the weight was just too much to be carrying on the top of the scope without any counter-balance.
My two trusty dogs had to get in the shot too. That's Sirius laying in the shade behind the scope and Bellatrix or Bella walking around the scope. She just wanted a view too....

Bonus for the first commenter to tell me the reason for my dogs names. I'll send you an 8x10 of either the annular eclipse composite or the composite I'm going to create from the Venus transit!

The camera attached via eyepiece projection. Images are soft. Need more patience....
This shot shows the camera attached to the telescope in a method called "eyepiece projection" because there is an actual eyepiece between the camera and mirror which adds to the magnification of the image.

There are advantages and disadvantages to photographing using this method. The big advantage is the extra magnification so you do not have to crop and zoom in on images to get decent closeups of objects like sunspots.

05-28-2012 - A closeup of one sunspot region using eyepiece project. It's sharp enough to tell the umbra and penumbra apart.05-28-2012 - Panning down from the previous shot to show more sunspots.05-28-2012 - Panning down from the previous shot to show more sunspots.
The biggest disadvantage is that it makes it extremely difficult to focus and the slightest breeze or bump completely blurs the image. You can only use this method when conditions are absolutely perfect. The magnification is so high that even the mirror moving up to allow the exposure will cause a slight vibration that will blur the image. For that reason we use a method called "mirror lockup" where the mirror is actually raised shortly before the shutter is fired.

Another method is called "prime-focus projection" where the camera is attached directly to the telescope without the magnification of the eyepiece or diagonal mirror. This basically gives the widest possible image through the telescope even though it's not very wide. With this setup I am effectively shooting at 3048mm f/10.

05-28-2012 - Prime focus at the telescope shows about 80% of the solar disc.
Even at the widest possible setting I am not able to get the entire solar disc in the frame.

05-28-2012 - Approx 3:30pm local time. Two images stitched together to show the entire disc of the sun.
By combining two images shot at prime focus and using a stitching program I'm able to create this full disc image. The really cool thing about this image is that with the way I adjusted the contrast and brightness of the image a solar phenomenon known as "faculae" are visible in a couple areas around the 10 and 5 o'clock positions of the limb or edge. It's the areas that appear as "white spots" instead of the usual dark sunspots.

05-28-2012 - Prime focus with the 1.4x extender attached at the camera shows about 50% of the solar disc.
This final image is sort of a cross between the previous two methods. I used the 1.4 extender and attached the camera directly to the telescope. I'm not sure what this method would be called because I've never seen it done.

I'd like to encourage anyone that is able to SAFELY view the sun next Tuesday to do so. The transit of Venus is a very rare event. In fact, it's one of the rarest astronomical events. The last time this happened was a relatively recent 2004 but prior to that the last time was in 1882 and the next time it happens is not until 2117. That's 2117, not 2017, so needless to say, none of us are going to be around for the next time it happens. If you are unable to SAFELY view the sun then please visit this site for a live webcast of the event. If you do have a SAFE method for viewing the sun then check out this site for details on where and when it will be visible at your location.

Hopefully you get a chance to see this spectacular event but if not, as Jack would say, "Keep Looking Up!"

Monday, May 28, 2012

Astrophotography...Can't think of anything more frustrating!

From recent post regarding the solar eclipse I know many of you have learned that astronomy is a passion of mine. And of course being a photographer I've always tried my hand at astrophotography.
I really should just give it up! It's so frustrating to do well. i really have to give it to the guys/gals that make it look easy. The patience that is required to get really good at this is beyond my means. Sure, I can take a decent shot of star trails with the camera on a tripod but when it comes to photography through the telescope, the sun & the moon is my limit.
You folks have already seen my solar work so tonight I set up the scope to capture the first quarter moon phase and here's what I came up with. Two decent shots....of quite a few taken.


I then made the mistake of turning the scope to Saturn and giving it a try. Sure you can tell it's Saturn but it's not very sharp and has very little detail.

Planetary Photography is so difficult and is only surpassed in difficulty by deep sky photography that requires exposures lasting minutes and sometimes hours. I've tried it in the past....no fun. But the results can be impressive. Somewhere in a drawer I've got images that I captured in the "old days" on film. I'll have to dig those up and share one day.

Till next time.....

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Under the Ring of Fire!, Part Deux

A few days ago I posted about my recent trip to witness and photograph the May 20th Annular Solar Eclipse. I shared with you pictures taken the day of the event.
What I didn't share with you at the time because it wasn't finished being edited is a video I created from the images. Both the telescope camera and the other camera lens setup were triggered via remote to fire off a shot every 15 seconds. The telescope did a great job of tracking the sun so I rarely had to adjust its view. The other camera/lens combo on the other hand was simply mounted on a tripod. If I placed the sun in the upper left corner of the frame and let it go, about 5 or 6 shots later the sun would have drifted down to the lower right and I'd have to re-adjust it's position.
It's this series of images, 530 in all, that I decided to edit into a short video of the entire event. It was quite a long and tedious process, taking a total of about 8 or 9 hours to complete. But I'm very happy with the results and excited to be able to share it with everyone here tonight.
For the very best results you really should watch it in HD and full screen.
Enjoy and please leave a comment if you like it.
Clicking on the image below should take you to the video in the gallery. From there, click on the FullHD icon above the clip to watch it in all its glory.

Friday, May 25, 2012

North Loop to Fletcher Peak.

There's something to be said about getting out early in the morning, breathing fresh, clean mountain air and hitting the trail with great friends. If I could do that everyday and make a living at it I certainly would. Just yesterday I hit the North Loop trail up in the Spring Mountains with two buddies and had a great time. Initially we were talking about doing the Big Falls hike but at the last minute decided on Fletcher Peak via the North Loop Trail.


My hiking buddies Fred Bell & Steve Theodore.

I've hiked this trail probably more times then any other in the Spring Mountains. It's a really great trail and quite the lung burner. Especially when you've got Fred burning up the trail in front of you. I wish I could keep up with this guy. He's like a machine! Before you know it you hit the crest of the trail and you are pegging 10,000' on the GPS. This was my favorite trail to climb when I was preparing for my Kilimanjaro trip.




There are are lots of small flowers in bloom at the moment along this trail.


Along with quite a few old Bristlecone trees.


The Three Amigos - Myself, Steven Theodore & Fred Bell.


Steve is the master at capturing the shapes and textures in nature.


From the high point on the North Loop trail, looking west, you have a great view of Mummy's Toe, or the foot of Mummy Mountain.


Fred posing with the Bristlecones.


Strange to see a cairn built on the end of a log but whatever....


Steve & Fred pose for a 6 image pano. The peaks in the background from L-R are Griffith, Charleston & Mummy.


Steve takes a break near one of the areas old Bristlecones. Notice how the roots appear to be completely exposed above ground. We had a discussion about whether or not the trees are still alive. They do appear to be dead but how is it that they have not decayed or been eaten by termites or other bugs? Steve seems to think they are preserved by the high desert mountain air. Maybe so. All I know is it's very cool to be walking among trees that have been around for many hundreds and some, thousands of years.

Till next time......


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In the path of The Ring of Fire!

For my close friends out there they know of a few of my passions. My wife and two dogs of course being #1 on the list. Most of my friends also know I love hiking, backpacking and photography as well. But my closest friends also know of another of my hobbies. Astronomy
When I was about 13 years old I was helping my dad clean out our attic one spring day. I ran across a small Sears telescope in a box. It wasn't mine, it must have belonged to one of my older brothers. In fact, I never even remembered seeing it before so my guess is that they got tired of it many years before. I decided to take it out of the attic and play with it and that is how my love of astronomy began. I waited till dark and set up the scope to look at the crescent moon. The scope really was a piece of crap but I persisted and eventually was able to train it on the moon and was amazed at being able to see craters on the surface! Weeks went by with me looking at the moon every evening, fascinated by the changing phases, I started reading and learning about what caused the changing look of the moon. Then one evening just as I was about to bring the scope in for the night I noticed two bright "stars" rising in the east. They were very bright, brighter than any other stars in the sky and they had a strange look about them. They didn't "twinkle" like the rest of the surrounding stars. In fact they glowed steadily without the slightest flicker. I decided to point the telescope at them and see if I could find them. Up to this point I had only looked at the moon and it had gotten fairly easy to find in the very narrow field of view of this scope. Eventually I was able to spot the larger, brighter of the two objects. It looked like a tiny beach ball with a couple stripes on it and there appeared to be four other tiny lights lining up around it.
This is roughly what I saw though not quite this clear.
I wasn't exactly sure what I was looking at but I was positive it wasn't a star.
next I decided to point to the other object just above it but not quite as bright. After fooling around a bit I was finally able to get the object centered and in focus. Holy Cow! Saturn!













This again is roughly what I was looking at. The two images above are NOT mine. They are samples found online of what got me hooked on astronomy.
Putting two & two together, I realized the first brighter object had to be Jupiter and its four Galilean moons.
I immediately started saving up for a bigger, better scope and eventually purchased another larger Sears refractor and continued exploring the sky and learning the constellations.
The new scope also came with a solar projector. A small filter that went over the front element and a plate that attached to an arm on the scope to allow you to safely view the sun. I remember sitting in the yard with a drawing pad and trying to draw the image of the sunspots projected onto the plate. I really thought I was doing good scientific work then!
Eventually, like all hobbies, it got even more expensive and I bought an 8" Celestron SCT scope. This one had a motor and would guide with the stars as they rotated above. It was with this scope that I had a chance to view and photograph my very first solar eclipse. It was July 11, 1991. I couldn't afford to fly to Hawaii or drive all the way down to the tip of Baja California to witness the total eclipse but I had a friend living in Flagstaff, AZ at the time and I packed up the car, scope and all, and headed across country for a solo trip to observe/photograph the eclipse from the parking lot of Griffith Observatory. Somewhere I have slides from this trip. I'll get them scanned and post some other time.

By now I'm sure many of you are wondering where the heck are the pictures from the solar eclipse this past weekend, right?
Keep your pants on, they're coming.
Living in Las Vegas we were fortunate enough to be close to the center line of this past Sunday's annular solar eclipse. Had we stayed in Vegas though we would have only seen a partial eclipse and I've already been there, done that. A good friend of mine, Fred Bell, and his family and my wife decided to drive up to the Wayne E Kirch Wildlife Management Area about 180 miles north of Las Vegas. They have camping spots and just so happen to be right under the path of the "Ring of Fire".
We drove up to the area Saturday afternoon and camped out overnight under the stars so we'd have a prime viewing area for the eclipse. As it turned out, the road access to the park would be closed most of the day Sunday for the Silver State Classic Challenge auto race so we didn't have much company in the park other then a few fishermen that barely knew anything about the eclipse.

We made it to the campground and settled in before sunset and I captured this image from our camp site.


Sitting around the campfire, smores, blankets, clear skies and Iridium Flares!


Speaking of Iridium Flares......


The summer Milky Way rises above our campsite. The red dotted line in the upper right is an airplaine flying overhead during the 30 second exposure. Looking at the image full sized you will notice four faint "scratches" also in the image. Those are passing satellites.


Another image like the last except I used a red flashlight to light up the campsite.

The next morning, Sunday, May 20th, we packed up camp and moved a few miles down by one of the lakes to our planned observing site. The surrounding area of the lake was very marshy and had plenty of waterfowl and other birds to shoot.







OK, OK, enough teasing. I know everyone wants to see the eclipse photos so just a couple more shots to show off the setup and they are coming.

My latest telescope, a Meade 12" computer controlled scope. When photographing through the scope it is equivalent to a 3050mm f/10 super telephoto lens. The other tripod has the 600mm f/4 Canon super telephoto with a 1.4x extender on it. So that setup is an 840mm f5.6 setup. Followers of my safari adventure will remember many of the great close ups were captured with that rig. Both the scope and the lens are covered with solar filters to safely view the sun during all phases of the eclipse. A special thanks to my friend, Glenn Petrichick, for loaning me his solar filter while he was out of town and unable to view the eclipse. It was used on the 600mm lens.


Our exact location, very important to know....


This angle shows the solar filters attached to the front of the scope and lens.


Checking out the sun wearing my stylish solar glasses I made using safety solar film and an old pair of 3D movie glasses. NO, you can't safely view the sun using movie theater 3D glasses. I only used the frames and attahed the solar film to the front to block 99.998% of the sun. Looking through these you can see nothing but the disc of the sun.


Checking focus and alignment on the big lens.


Our own private viewing area, just us and the birds!


The view of the sun through the 840mm lens.


And through the telescope. The image is too large to fit on a single frame. Notice the sunspots? The smallest spot visible here is larger then the Earth! Kinda puts things into perspective for just how tiny and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things.


First Contact! The name for when the outline of the moon first blocks the solar disc. In the bottom right you can just see the beginning of the eclipse.


First Contact through the 840mm setup.


A little bit more of a bite here.





A cool view taken with my P&S held up to the telescope's spotting scope.
This shot was taken just a minute or so before second contact. Second Contact is when the entire outline of the moon is visible with the surface of the sun showing an unbroken ring around it.


Second Contact!


The one time I wish the scope's magnification wasn't quite so high. With it we are unable to view the entire Ring Of Fire.



Third Contact, when the moon breaks the ring once again. Total time for the Ring of Fire from our location was 4:05 seconds. And just like that, it's over.


Now we wait for the end of the eclipse or sunset. Which will come first?


Another shot with the P&S through the spotting scope.






Just minutes before the eclipse is about to end, Fourth Contact, the sun makes contact with the horizon.









And there it is, the end of a perfect astronomical event. The sun sits on the horizon and I quickly started breaking down the scope because it's been a very long day and we still have a 3.5 hour drive back to Vegas. I wish I had remembered to take a photo of the back end of the Xterra while it was fully loaded. I had just a sliver of a view through the rear-view mirror yet we managed to break down and get the truck packed in a record 30 minutes.
The following image is a composite of 13 images taken throughout the series, edited in Photoshop to combine them into a single "multiple-exposure" image.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT © 2012 SIRIUS PRODUCTIONS, LLC - Photography by Greg McKay
DO NOT copy, print, re-post without prior written permission.

The end of a great weekend, camping with family and great friends.
Next on the astronomical agenda, June 5th, Venus will transit across the sun. If you think solar eclipses are rare, they are as common as water compared to Venus/Solar transits. Since man has had the technology and understanding of astronomy to safely view the sun, Venus has only passed directly in front of the sun seven times. After the June 5, 2012 event, the next time it will happen will be the year 2117! Click HERE if you'd like to learn a little more about this event. Remember, the same rules apply for viewing the Venus transit as apply during a solar eclipse. Safe filters are mandatory! of course, you can always visit my blog here the day after the event for my coverage.

::: Edit 5-27-12 :::
I finally completed the edit of the entire sequence of images taken with the 840mm lens/camera. The camera triggered a shot every 15 seconds throughout the entire eclipse and I finally finished editing the sequence together to create this short video clip. Watch with the sound up and the highest possible resolution to get the most out of it.