Moon all stitched up

Last Monday was the first day of the first week of Term 3 in Victoria and I headed out to Taylors Lakes SC to hopefully get some observing in with the regular crowd. When I arrived I could see Venus, my first real glimpse since the Transit, and the Moon was peaking through the clouds. But there were a lot of clouds! But just to show you that a bit of unfavourable sky certainly can’t dampen the spirits of this group, let me relate the evening to you;

We got the telescope outside and set up, but couldn’t align as the only things we could see were the Moon and Venus, and even that was intermittent. No stars, meant no alignment. So we went manual. We managed a quick glimpse of Venus between the clouds and setting for the evening. (Another planet ticked off the list.) While we were waiting for the Moon to come out, or Venus to come back, how would we amuse ourselves? Of course, at this point, everyone is realising that patience really is a virtue. ‘How about one of the planes’ someone asks. ‘Cool’ someone else comments. From which followed a 15min plane watching exercise through the telescope which was a lot harder than you would think.

Group shot of Taylors Lakes Astronomers as we waited for the clouds to let us get some work done.

Group shot of Taylors Lakes Astronomers as we waited for the clouds to let us get some work done.

But patience payed off and while the planes were distracting us the skies began to clear and the stars and Moon started to appear. Still in Manual mode, we decided to head straight to the Moon before the clouds took over again. Besides, the clouds were still dominating the sky. There were some very excited students after they managed to get a very nice image on their Android phone.  After much admiration of the First Quarter Moon, we decided to connect the new camera I had just purchased for the program using the Award the program had been given late last year. I am very pleased to say the camera has certainly not disappointed. Image and details are below, but first back to the evening. After taking a range of images of the Moon, Saturn came out from behind the clouds and we attempted to take some images as well. Not quite as impressive as the Moon, but not bad for a DSLR. All this time Andrew had been in charge of moving the telescope around while I played with camera settings and took the shots.

After we had finished with our photography, I left the students and teachers to practice their alignment of the telescope, now that we had enough stars to use in the Northern sky. I went off to download the images so we could all have a look on the projector before we finished up for the night. Safe to say everyone was very happy with their pictures.

So, the details.

I now have in my possession a Canon EOS 700D DSLR. While I am still waiting on my Astronomik CLS filter, I did add a remote to my arsenal so I could trigger the shutter remotely. We had a play with many of the settings on the Moon images and the following seemed to be the best combination;

Brightness Histogram - look for the majority of the x axis to be used for best results. Camera settings below.

Brightness Histogram – look for the majority of the x axis to be used for best results. Camera settings below.

Shutter speed 1/200

ISO 400

White Balance was set to AUTO, but is more important for long exposures.

Individual Moon shots that were stitched together

Individual Moon shots that were later stitched together

We took a series of photos as the entire Moon was too large for the field of view (FOV) of the telescope. These four images were then “stitched” together using various software. Possibilities were to do the stitching manually using Photoshop or GIMP and a tutorial on this can be found here and here. The Canon software that is packaged with the camera, ‘Photostitch’ can also be used, but I found it more suitable for large Panoramic views. The software that generated the best image and the most easily used was ‘AutoStitch‘ which is currently a Demo for Windows and a relatively cheap App for iOS devices and well worth purchasing. The resulting image was seamless and the colour matching is sensational.

Stitched together image of Moon taken at Taylors Lakes Secondary College on 15/7/13

Stitched together image of Moon taken at Taylors Lakes Secondary College on 15/7/13

For Saturn;

Close up image of Saturn. Single image.

Close up image of Saturn. Single image.

Shutter Speed 1/50

ISO 400

As we were unable to track with the telescope we did not take any video. The process of taking video then stacking the individual images has a lot of potential to make the image even better as much of the noise obscuring the object is diminished. The stacking can be done manually, again using Photoshop or GIMP or a purpose built program such as Registax which has just been updated.

Well done to all the team at Taylors Lakes as it was a real team effort. Plenty of advice and suggestions and offers to help, assist and finally take over.

End of Term II Part 3

The crowd at Northcote SC looking through our Meade

The crowd at Northcote SC looking through our Meade

Wednesday nights have taken on a whole new meaning at Northcote HS with regular observing sessions. One of the school’s parents is also a keen astronomer and he has brought along not one, but two of his own telescopes. One is a fully computerised 8” Celestron SCT and the other is a 10” Dobsonian telescope that he has made himself and folds up into these neat boxes for storage, also home-made. Much kudos!

More of the crowd with Peter's Celestron

More of the crowd with Peter’s Celestron

So with two or three telescopes at the school, the word quickly got around that there was some cool stuff going on and the size of the evenings has grown exponentially! On the second last week, @AstroKatie went out for some great viewing on a relatively warm night and perfectly clear skies. The list of objects they observed was endless, including the star, Zubenelschamali (yes that is a real name). Why Zebenelschamali, other than so I can say the name again, it is supposed to be the only green star that actually looks green. ? you say. In actual fact, our Sun is a green star, but because the light from a star covers the whole visible spectrum, the colour being defined by which wavelength has the greatest intensity, it actually looks white. Of course if the greatest intensity is green, you have red and blue light making a contribution to the overall light from the star and the final result is white light. As for what we saw, the jury was out and maybe we need to try imaging the star to see it’s true colour.

All of the crowd with Peter's home-made Dobsonian in the foreground.

All of the crowd with Peter’s home-made Dobsonian in the foreground.

The next week, I headed out because @AstroKatie was rubbing shoulders with Astrophysicists at Caltech and JPL getting private tours of the actual Mars yard and playing in the control room. Jealous much? Yes, me too. But then she missed out on over 60!! people turning up to the observing night during the last week of term. It was a good thing we had three telescopes or the queue would have been heading out of the school. What a sensational turnout on what I thought was the coldest night of the year so far. We were hoping to hook up Miss Pohl’s dad’s new camera to take some images, but the temperature took a further drop and the dew set in, so something to look forward to next term!

Astro students on the telescope at the Work Experience observing night

Astro students on the telescope at the Work Experience observing night

Every year the Astrophysics group hosts a group of 12 year 10 students to do work experience in Astrophysics at The University of Melbourne. This is a week of practicals, talks from astronomers, research and culminates in the work experience students giving a talk on a topic in Astronomy to the Astrophysics Group. This year we also had an observing night on the Wednesday. The skies were clear, the night not too cold and all the parents were also invited to come along. With over 30 people, another big night of observing. Cat, who organized the week, Craig, Steph and Daniel also helped out. They were sensational setting up the telescope while I explained the telescope to everyone and pointed out some features in the sky. We looked at Saturn, Clusters, Alpha Centauri and Zubenelschamali before calling it a night. The parents were just as enthralled as the students and were very appreciative that they were involved in the program.

Students and parents at the Astrophysics work experience observing night

Students and parents at the Astrophysics work experience observing night

Brad headed out to Footscray City College on the last Tuesday and they also looked at a range of objects with a very nice turnout of observers.

Suzanne Cory hosted their own night also on the Tuesday (that meant three schools on the one night!) as they become ever more proficient on the telescope.

Lastly, on the Thursday night, I held the first training session for our new and tenth school, Glenroy College in Glenroy. A great turnout of 5 staff, we went through the process of aligning the telescope, looking at Saturn through a range of objectives and identifying various celestial features. We are very excited to have Glenroy College join the program and we look forward to meeting the students and discovering the night sky in August.

End of Term II Part 2

During the last week of Term 2 we had two schools observing on the Monday night. Craig and Steph headed out to Taylors Lakes and I was off to Charles La Trobe College in McLeod. The night was misty, cold, but the infamous Supermoon was only one day old and the sky was clear enough to see quite a few objects. While still in the suburbs of Melbourne and the Northern ones at that, the two schools experienced a very different sky.

At Taylors Lakes, Craig had planned on giving a talk on Exoplanets but it had been so long since the skies had been clear at Taylors Lakes that they took full advantage of the breaks in the cloud and spent the entire evening observing. So we will just have to stay tuned for Craig’s talk next term, but in the meantime you can have a look at Craig’s gallery of images he has taken with his phone. Here is the report from that evening;

The one star alignment process worked well. We had the best view yet of Saturn by this group and successfully managed to record images of it on a Canon EOS 500D. We discovered that it is quite hard to take an image of Saturn on our mobile phones! We saw the binary system Alpha Centauri. We tried to find the Jewel Box but were unsuccessful.

Image of Saturn taken at Taylors Lakes with Canon EOS 500D DSLR with 800 ISO setting

Image of Saturn taken at Taylors Lakes with Canon EOS 500D DSLR with 800 ISO setting

Observing group at Taylors Lakes SC during the last week of term

Observing group at Taylors Lakes SC during the last week of term

Overall, it was a very good finish to term two given that we have not been able to use the telescope for the last few weeks due to the weather. Also, this was the first time that we had used the telescope to image an object, a copy of which is included with this report.

This photo shows Paulo pointing at the night sky, he is always full of enthusiasm. During the evening he had his mobile phone out with all the usual apps and was having everyone listening to the sounds of Saturn and then Jupiter as he downloaded them from NASA!

Regular attendee, Paulo, pointing out the night sky features to the Taylors Lakes group.

Regular attendee, Paulo, pointing out the night sky features to the Taylors Lakes group.

Can’t wait until we see the images you produce next term.

Over at Charles La Trobe, we started the evening playing with a new App I discovered at a TeachMeet (more on that later). The App was created by NASA, an augmented reality program that allows you to look at and interact with the NASA spacecraft in 3D. Spacecraft 3D is free, available on Android and IOS phones and tablets and is so cool! Here is an image of one of the students having a look at Voyager. My hint, Curiosity, the Mars Rover is by far the best – you can make him move!

Student looking at 3D Spacecraft on tablet with marker on desk. So cool!

Student looking at 3D Spacecraft on tablet with marker on desk. So cool!

Outside on the telescope, we had a very nice image of Saturn and then swung around to the South and looked at some star clusters and Alpha Centauri binary stars. The sky was covered in thin low-lying cloud, so only the brighter objects were visible and the West was completely covered. Students, Sarina and Farid took over the telescope and took us on a journey of the night sky.

Year 9 student, Sarina sending the telescope to Alpha Centauri at Charles La Trobe College

Year 9 student, Sarina sending the telescope to Alpha Centauri at Charles La Trobe College

The highlight of the evening though, was when the Moon finally rose into view. As mentioned, it was one day after the full moon, so we had a fantastic opportunity to image almost the entire face of the Moon, after we all oohed and aahed over the craters of course!

Year 11 Physics student, Farid driving the telescope to look at the Moon

Year 11 Physics student, Farid driving the telescope to look at the Moon

We connected up a Nikon D5100 DSLR to the telescope and took a range of photos across the Moon as it did not fit in the camera aperture. Sarina and Farid also took a range of images of the Moon and Dave from Quantum Victoria stitched them together as a mosaic to produce this image using the Autostitch software for Windows. Many cameras also come with similar software, and you will have to admit that this is a very nice image!

Mosaic of Moon on 24th June 2013 taken with Nikon 5100D DSLR courtesy of students of Charles La Trobe and Dave Feillafe at Quantum Victoria

Mosaic of Moon on 24th June 2013 taken with Nikon 5100D DSLR courtesy of students of Charles La Trobe and Dave Feillafe at Quantum Victoria

As an aside, I was reading through an edition of the Astronomy magazine and they had an article on the Moon. What took my eye though, was a detailed drawing Cassini (the Astronomer, not the telescope) did of the Moon.

This was the first Scientific drawing of the Moon published in 1679 and included the head of a woman in one of the features. This woman was thought to be his wife and has been replicated in other drawings of the Moon since then. I then had to see if the woman also featured in the Charles La Trobe mosaic of the Moon. Sure enough you can pick out the feature and almost see the Lady on the Moon (and you all thought it was a Man on the Moon…) Let me know if you can spot the Lady or the “Moon Maiden” in our image.

EarthSky has also written a great post on some of the Moon Myths, such as the Dark Side of the Moon, tide in people, etc.

End of Term II Part 1

The last couple of weeks of Term 2 were rather busy for the Telescopes in Schools program, with a record 7 schools observing on the last week. Everyone was making use of the great weather and clear skies after almost two whole weeks of constant rain. Obviously way too much to put all in one post, so enjoy the next week of updates and images as we continue to explore some astrophotography and introduce a new school to the program.

First up are the last two reports from the girls at Pascoe Vale Girls College.

Tuesday 18th June 2013

Gaby aligning the telescope

Gaby aligning the telescope

On the 18th of June 2013 classes 9H and 9C had the fantastic opportunity to look through a telescope. We were very fortunate to have such a clear night for we were able to see the brilliant sights of the moon and the planet Saturn. Whilst gazing at the moon we were able to depict all its craters that were made from meteoroids. There were shadows and even craters within craters. It definitely wasn’t an image that you see every day. Saturn’s ring was also clearly visible through the telescope as were its many moons. When clouds crossed over our view of the moon we were given a stunning image to perceive: a moon halo. All the colours of the rainbow formed luminous rings around it. We got many great snapshots of everything we saw. It may have been a freezing cold night, but the sensational views were worth it!

Holding a captivated audience as I point out the features of the night sky

Holding a captivated audience as I point out the features of the night sky

Hala Spear 9C, Maryam El-Ali 9C, Leyla Gulsen 9H, Delara ER 9H, Elisa Yazici 9H

Other comments:

The moon’s craters!! It was so, so amazing!!I had never seen anything so extraordinary. The craters and everything about the moon was the highlight of my night. It was great that we got to see it in such detail. Hala Spear

Students and teacher at the Year 9 viewing night

Students and teacher at the Year 9 viewing night

My favourite part was when I saw the moon up so close. It was an unbelievable moment! Elisa Yazici

Tuesday 25th June

The night was clear and still. From the naked eye the stars above were just small balls of gas but from the telescope the sky came alive.

Students and parents at Pascoe Vale Girls College ready to view Saturn through the telescope

Students and parents at Pascoe Vale Girls College ready to view Saturn through the telescope

Saturn was a small faded yellow button sized ball with rings orbiting around it. The stars viewed varied from the multi-coloured spectacle known as the Jewel Box Cluster to the white flames of the Omega Centauri and the vibrant blue glow that the Southern Pleiades Cluster produced. The telescope also showed open clusters of stars which were part of the star sign Scorpio.

More students and parents at Pascoe Vale Girls College

More students and parents at Pascoe Vale Girls College

The iPad proved a vital item of the evening and a source of amusement for all. Through the Go Sky-Watch app we were able to see the names of the stars and constellations that were visible through the sky above us. The evening was an overall success and a worthwhile event for all.

By Monique Nair, Kara Manoussakis and Jessica Ridgeway

Other comments:

I liked the Jewel Box Cluster! We were talking about how different some stars look and how beautiful they appear. Claudette Mansour

We also spent a bit of time on some astrophotography over these two nights. On the first evening, we attached a Canon EOS 400D to the telescope. The issue with this camera is the absence of liveview which makes it quite difficult to focus the image and needs to be done by trial and error. Hence in this shot of the Butterfly Cluster, many of the stars are not circular. You do get a very good indication of the rainbow colours of the stars in this cluster though. The camera was set to 15 sec exposure time and ISO of 400. The after image processing included small adjustments to the brightness and contrast in the Canon software package.

Butterfly Cluster M6 taken with Canon EOS 400D attached to the 12" Meade. Consists of one 15 sec exposure.

Butterfly Cluster M6 taken with Canon EOS 400D attached to the 12″ Meade. Consists of one 15 sec exposure.

The next week, we attached the school’s camera which is a Canon EOS 1100. Glad to say we are getting better at the focussing and we continued to play around with the settings. This time we focussed on C76, another open cluster. This time the exposure time was set to 10 sec and the ISO 800. Two of the best images were then layered on top of each, aligned with 50% transparency for the top layer in the freeware package GIMP. A tutorial of this method can be found on Steve’s Digicam site.

Open Cluster C76 taken with Canon EOS 1100. Two 10 sec images layered using GIMP

Open Cluster C76 taken with Canon EOS 1100. Two 10 sec images layered using GIMP

As you can see our astrophotography is coming along quite nicely. Certainly the students and teachers were amazed at the spectrum of colours visible in these images.

Stunning Saturn

It is currently school holidays in Vicoria, Australia, but that doesn’t mean the Astronomy stops! Program founder, Dr Shane Huntington, took his telescope out last week with his 5 year old son and took a great photo of Saturn.

Hi All,

Some of you may have noticed that Saturday night (June 29) was particularly clear. At the moment I have a minor shoulder injury so moving my 8” Meade telescope is quite difficult. But even so, I thought it might be a good time to introduce my five year old son William to the night sky.

So I set the telescope up nice and early and aligned it with the South Celestial Pole. I have added an equatorial wedge to my scope so that if I ever want to take long exposure photos I can do this without the stars rotating in arcs across the photo. The larger 12” scopes we have supplied to all schools do not have the equatorial wedge, but because they are far more powerful than my little 8”, you can still get great shots of deep sky objects without a problem. And to be honest, the setup for the equatorial mount just takes about 5 times as long!

I aligned the scope and centred it on Saturn. We finished dinner and by this stage it was dark enough to have a look. It is quite challenging to teach a 5 year old to look down the middle of the objective, but fortunately his eyebrows gave me a hint as to when he was looking at Saturn! Why stop there I thought, so we grabbed our Thorlabs camera (the same one supplied to all schools) and hooked up the computer.

At this point I realized that it was really starting to get a bit damp, and without anything to control the dew on the telescope I knew we only had a few minutes before we would have a problem. So we quickly collected some video at about 9 frames per second. Once back inside we processed the data. We used the free Registax software which basically grabbed the best 200 frames out of the nearly 1000 we had recorded in the video. We enhanced the contrast and a few other features and ended up with a nice little picture of Saturn. William referred to it as “not bad” but I suspect he was comparing it to the one from Hubble on his wall. Personally I think it was a reasonable image given the short time we had and the likelihood that the telescope had a partial dew covering.

Saturn taken on 29th June 2013 courtesy of Dr Shane Huntington. Video taken with Thorlabs CMOS camera, then clearest images stacked using Regitax software.

Saturn taken on 29th June 2013 courtesy of Dr Shane Huntington. Video taken with Thorlabs CMOS camera, then clearest images stacked using Regitax software.

I certainly look forward to seeing what the larger 12” scopes in the schools can do.

Cheers

Shane

Thank you Shane for sharing your photo, we hope William pesters you to take more images and begins to increase his admiration for your work!

If you would like to find out more about Saturn or see some more spectacular images, try these sites;

NASA Solar System Exploration – Saturn

Cassini Solstice Mission – JPL

Saturn will remain a prominent feature in the night sky for a few more months yet!