The Great Red Spot

The Great Red Spot
Ok, I wish I took this picture, but it is actually a Hubble image of Jupiter. Incredible isn't it?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Jupiter 2009

In 2009, I spent a fair amount of time learning some of the basics of planetary photography.  Like any other discipline, the learning curve is quite steep.  It helps though, that there are a large group of very adept amateur planetary photographers who are more than happy to help a newbie along.  I found the planetary photography forum on Cloudy Nights invaluable.  I found quickly that the drive on my 1978 vintage Celestron C8 was not up to the task of long focal length planetary photography.  On Astromart, I found a used Celestron CPC1100 and soon it was making its way to me.  I also purchased a SkyNyx 2-0M video camera, some Astronomik RGB filters and a large pile of other miscellaneous bits and parts and soon I was up and running. 

It does not take a genius to figure out that it takes more than strapping the appropriate goodies to a telescope and pointing it to the sky to get good images.  Astronomical seeing, the steadiness of the atmosphere, is also vitally important.  In central Texas, you probably never get ideal conditions.  But you can get decent conditions.  To find these best conditions, it requires continuous monitoring of the weather, both on the ground and in the upper atmosphere.  I used the site Skippy Sky to help me identify when it was ideal to photograph.  The process is a little like waiting for a perfect storm.  What typically happens is that you wait for weeks to have good conditions only to have them occur on a evening for which you are otherwise committed. You know the drill.

Once in a while though, conditions come together and you are able to take some pictures.  You take video images in blue, green and red.  You then stack the images from the video into one image to improve the signal to noise ratio.  Finally, you combine the red, the green and the blue image into one color image.  Whew!  It is a bit time consuming.  In the end, you can get pictures like this one.  While there are many areas that con be improved upon, it will work for a beginner. 


Astro blogging

I am starting this blog so I can collect in one place the things I am learning about astronomy.  Don't expect anything earth shattering here.  It is just a hobby and it is just for fun.  I also plan to post my photos here and to start I will collect some old ones I have taken so that I can be caught up to the present day. 

To date I have mostly done planetary observing and photography.  I chose the planets because they are bright and easily observable from an urban environment.  In the Bryan/College Station Texas area, we suffer from a lack of good, dark sky, observing sites.  I know this is a problem everywhere, but here, outside of the major urban centers, it just seems kind of strange.  Through the Brazos Valley Astronomy Club, I have been able to do some dark sky observing, largely through the generosity of one club member, Mark Spearman. Without Mark, the club would have no place to observe.  This puts a fair amount of pressure on him, which is unfair.  Narrow band imaging is also an option from my mag 4 skies.  I am working on equipment for this but narrowband filters are expensive and I have to save up to buy them.  So planetary photography is the way to go for now.