My Spacelab in Space

Archive for March, 2014

Winter Star Party Part 3

The fifth night it rained all night, which ended up providing fantastic skies for the sixth night. I tried a few objects early on, but they didn’t come out too well. I waited until around 2 AM and started taking shots in Centaurus. The first is the radio galaxy Centaurus A. This was with the Astrotech and 60DA, ISO 1600, 49 x 1 min.

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I had tried Omega Centauri on earlier nights, but I got a fantastic shot this evening with stars resolved in the core. This was with the Astrotech and 60DA, ISO 1600, 35 x 30 sec.

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Following my earlier shot of Scorpius, I had been dying to get a good shot of the Milky Way region visible in the edge of that and I got my wish tonight. here’s the resulting shot. This was with the Astrotrac and 60DA, 50mm, f/4, ISO 1600, 16 x 5 min.

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The highlight of this image is the Pipe Nebula in the middle.

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Following this shot, I couldn’t resist a similar shot of Sagittarius with the same settings. It was getting light so I only ended up with three shots here.

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I then took one really wide field shot of Scorpius and Sagittarius as twilight was starting to break. Venus is the incredibly bright star at the bottom left.

Mega Wide South
Finally, i watched the sun rise over the ocean. I swear I saw a reverse green flash, but the coolest thing I saw, which I’ve never seen before, was a mirage sun. This is caused by refraction (ie a mirage). You can see it on image it looks like there are two suns. I’m also not sure, but I might have gotten a solar prominence (thought it might just be another atmospheric effect).

Sunrise 1 Sunrise 2

That was the last of the pics from the Winter Star Party. I had a great time there and hope to get back again sometime.

Winter Star Party Part 2

Night three was the best night yet. The previous two nights, we had to dodge clouds and observe through “sucker holes” all night. This night, it was very clear until around 4 when it got hazy. My first set was with the Astrotrac and the T2i of the Double Cluster in Perseus. This was with the 200mm lens, f/4, ISO 800, 20 x 2 min.

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I took a few with the Astrotech refractor that night, too. The first was a series of shots of M42. I did some HDR processing here, one set to get the faint nebulosity and one to get the core near the Trapezium. The longer ones were ISO 800, 13 x 2 min. The shorter ones were ISO 800, 14 x 15 sec. Here’s the composite image, processed in Photoshop.

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From there, I went to the Rosette nebula. This was with the Astrotech and 60DA, ISO 800, 14 x 2 min.

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I then did IC 410, a nebula in Auriga. This was with the Astrotech and 60DA, ISO 1600, 41 x 90 sec.

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Next, I went to IC 417 also in Auriga. I positioned my field so you can see M38 as well. This was with the Astrotech and 60DA, ISO 800, 41 x 2 min.

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For a few hours I did some wide fields while waiting for cooler stuff to rise. One was of the constellation of Canis Major. There are parts of the Milky Way in here, but also lots of star clusters. This was with the Astrotrac and T2i, 50mm, f/4, ISO 800, 12 x 5 min.

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I also did an extremely wide field of this area showing Puppis and part of Vela. This was with the Astrotrac and T2i, 16mm, f/4, ISO 800, 12 x 5 min.

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Next came two things I’ve been dying to see for years. The first is the nebula Eta Carina, which rises about 9 degrees above the horizon here. I actually had to relocate my mount to see it, but we had a perfect view to the horizon over the ocean. Eta Carina is actually bigger than the Orion Nebula. I managed to see it through a 24″ scope and it was quite gorgeous. I found out about something called the Homunculus Nebula, which is apart of this area. This was with the Astrotrac and 60DA, 200mm, f/4, ISO 1600, 61 x 1 min.

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The second thing I’d been dying to see from here was the Southern Cross. I had actually seen it higher on the cruise ship, but the light pollution made it impossible to get a great image. At about 2:30 AM, it was nearly standing straight on the ocean with the bottom star barely cresting the horizon. Both the Jewel Box and the Coalsack Nebula are visible here. This was with the Astrotrac and 60DA, 50mm, f/4, ISO 1600, 10 x 5 min.

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As these images were finishing up around 3 AM, I noticed that the cross was standing straight up and all four stars had a reflection in the ocean! So I snapped this image with the T2I, ISO 3200, f/4, 16mm, one 25 second image. Also visible here is Alpha Centuari, the closest star system to our own. I don’t have enough resolution here to see Proxima, the actual closest star.

Crux Super Wide

The fourth evening it was nice skies for the first few hours then it clouded up. The only image I took was this wide field of the constellation Orion. Visible here is the Orion Nebula complex, the Horsehead and Flame Nebulae and also Barnard’s Loop (the red arc near the top). This was with the Astrotrac and 60DA, 200mm, f/4, ISO 800, 14 x 5 min.

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More in the last post.

Winter Star Party Part 1

Following my cruise I had one day of down time so I ended up renting a hotel room in Key West. I won’t tell you what I paid, but suffice it to say, I spent more on it than on the entire rest of the week. Of course, I flew to Miami on a voucher and most of my cruise expenses were paid for, so I didn’t mind too much.

The Winter Star Party is a gathering of astronomers on Scout Key between Big Pine Key and Marathon. The skies aren’t completely pristine as there is light pollution from those towns as well as Key West and Miami visible, but the advantage is that to the south there is absolutely nothing until you get to Cuba. Also, you are near the southern tip of the continental US, so you can see some constellations that either aren’t visible at all or only get a few degrees above the horizon from higher latitudes.

The entire week is camping, which I hadn’t done in a long time, so I had to buy a lot of gear to prepare. Since I flew into Miami, I only brought my small telescope and the Astrotrac mount with me as well as a Canon 60DA and Canon T2i. A member of my local astronomy club was driving down and I had him bring my bigger CGEM mount and some other gear that I couldn’t take on the plane.

The gates opened at 12 PM on Sunday, February 23. However, people start lining up much earlier. I was told that four cars were already in line at 10 PM the night before. I arrived at 4 AM and there were 24 cars ahead of me! Once they open the gates, there’s a mad dash for people to get camping spots. I camped with some other people from Maryland in an area with lots of trees where we’d get a little bit of shade during the day. It was quite hot all week. We set our scopes up just south of our tents and were there for five nights. The first two nights were mediocre, the third was pretty good, the fourth was only good for a few hours, the fifth was raining and the sixth was absolutely amazing. We had to leave Saturday morning, but Saturday night looked even better!

I’ll post some more about the camp later, but first, the astropics! Click any pic for hi-res.

The first astropic I took was actually from the side of the road while I waited for the gates to open. Omega Centauri was just clearing the trees, although you can see some in the stacked image. This was with the Astrotrac and 60DA, 200mm, f/4, ISO 800, 20 x 1 min. From here this hits 17 degrees above the horizon. I’ve seen this before from Missouri, but it was almost impossible. Keep in mind this was taken on the side of a major highway!

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The first night, I was having some major trouble getting my CGEM mount aligned (a spring was missing from my finderscope bracket, so I tried finding the guide stars by eye…big problem) so I didn’t have a chance to take a ton of pics before the clouds rolled in. The one I did try was the Supernova Remnant in Vela. I’m not sure I actually can see it here, but the view is quite nice. This was with the Astrotrac and 60DA, 200mm, f/4, ISO 1600, 9 x 3 min.

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The second night ended up being a lot more productive. I got a red dot sight for my Astrotech EQD 65mm refractor on the CGEM and was able to get it polar aligned quite well. That being said, I didn’t take too many pics through it that night and they aren’t worth posting. I got three really nice pics this night.

The first was of the Seagull Nebula in Monoceros. This one takes an awful lot of exposure time to pick up so it’s kind of dim, but you can see it. This was with the Astrotrac and 60DA, 200mm, f/4, ISO 1600, 19 x 2 min.

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This is out of order of when I took them, but the next night I got this through the Astrotech refractor on the CGEM. More magnification, but again, it’s pretty hard to see it. This was with the 60DA, ISO 1600, 40 x 90 sec.

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I did a wide field of most of Vela. The constellation is actually quite large so I couldn’t get the whole thing in the frame, but you can see a lot here. This was with the Astrotrac and 60DA, 50mm, f/4, ISO 1600, 10 x 5 min.

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The whole time I was taking these, I’d set up the images then take a nap. My tent opened up to the south and my night vision was pristine upon waking up each time. One southern target I wanted to get was Rho Ophiuchi near Antares. This is the nebulosity just up and left of the bright star. Some of the dark areas of the Milky Way are visible in the lower left. This was with the Astrotrac and 60DA, 50mm, f/4, ISO 800, 7 x 5 min.

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More to come in the next post.

Carnival Liberty Cruise Part 2

Continued from the previous post. As before, click any photo for a hi-res shot.

The third port was San Juan on Wednesday, February 18. I didn’t care too much for this island in general, but there were some cool views.

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I did zip lining again and saw some more great expanses of the island.

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This night I ran up on deck to try to catch the Large Magellenic Cloud. We were just barely far enough south to see it. However, the light pollution on deck and the fact that I couldn’t do a longer exposure made it impossible. I did, however, get the constellations Dorado and Reticulum in this picture, near the bottom.

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Our final port was Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos islands.

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I did kayaking again [find out who and link to them]. This was an awesome trip. We saw a lot of wildlife including egrets and herons.

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But the real highlight of this, for me, was getting to see flamingos in the wild. I learned the proper collective noun for them is a “flamboyance”. As we neared them, we scared them and they started to fly around, but then landed again.

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One of our guides also collected a handful of the wildlife seen in the ocean here including sea urchins, sea cucumbers, sea anemones and conch. I actually tried conch meat raw. It was not altogether terrible but I don’t intend to try it again.

Also on this island is Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. They think it’s hilarious if you ask them where your shaker of salt is.


One more thing I wanted to mention about the cruise was the amazing singer in the piano bar, Jonathan. He interacted well with the crowd and had a great singing voice. I captured this video of him singing How Great Thou Art. Kind of a weird song for a bar, but I enjoyed it.


We had one more day at sea then we arrived back in Miami and I went down to the Winter Star Party.

Carnival Liberty Cruise

I just got back from a two week vacation. The first of this was spent on the Carnival Cruise ship Liberty. The cruise left out of Miami and went to ports in the Eastern Caribbean including Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, San Juan, Puerto Rico and Grand Turk in Turks and Caicos. Here’s some of my favorite pictures. Click any photo for the hi-res version.

We left Miami on February 15 to a beautiful sunset.

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My second week of vacation was to be spent at the Winter Star Party doing various astronomy-related things, so I had brought some of my gear on the ship, hoping to get some pictures as we were venturing much further south than I’ve ever been before. This turned out to be quite difficult for several reasons. First, the ship rocks. Second, the deck is lit up like a city. As such, I wasn’t able to get very long exposures, so I had to take a bunch of really short (ie 1 second) exposures at high ISO.

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We arrived at the first port on Sunday, February 16. Half Moon Cay is a private island in the Bahamas. There’s not much to the island but the things for cruise ship passengers. Only 50 people live on there year-round. The rest of the people we saw commute every day from nearby islands.

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I did two excursions here. The first was a bike ride and small hike to the highest point of the island. A whole 60 feet in elevation! But I did get some good views.

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The also took us by stingrays.


The second excursion was a kayaking adventure. I bought a waterproof bag so I could take my nice camera with me. Taking a selfie with a DSLR in a kayak is not easy.


The next day was a day at sea so I didn’t take many pictures during the day. I did get a nice sunset shot and also the Southern Cross was quite high at night. I would get a much better pic at the Winter Star Party.


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The second port was St Thomas which we arrived at on Tuesday, February 17. I awoke to see this island outside our cabin.

This island is absolutely gorgeous.

I did two excursions here. The first was a quick ride to the top of a mountain providing an excellent view of the port.

The second was Tree Limin’ Zip Lining (I’m not quite sure what “Limin'” is). I was quite disappointed when it started raining as we got to the course, but the rain went through really quick and started clearing up. We got gorgeous views of Magen’s Bay, where people such as Oprah and Bill Clinton own houses.

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I also couldn’t resist giving a Shaka Brah:


We pulled out just after sunset and I got a great picture.


To be continued in part 2.