Sunday, January 5, 2020

Astrophotography and Me

It is not easy. I spent three hours over three nights trying to figure it out. The theory is clear and I have the equipment. What I lack is The Knack: I do not enjoy fussing with the fine details of sensitive equipment. On the other hand, not only do I change the sparkplugs, I made an induction coil for a magneto when I dropped the original into the suspension frame somewhere, which is another clue. I found it a couple of years later, when replacing the water pump, which took two tries over two days. Astrophotography does not go that well for me.

Entry-level and beginner telescopes often come with cellphone mounts. Everyone has cellphones. They take pictures that would have astounded professional astronomers of 100 years ago. That is also true of our telescopes. Transported by time machine to 1920, a ten-inch dobsonian “light bucket” costing a week’s wages today would have been the envy of professionals back then. The two telescopes that I own would be called “hobby killers” by advanced amateurs. But it is a poor workman who blames his tools. 

For my birthday, I asked for a NexYZ 3-axis cellphone mount. It is the top of the line. The simple mounts retail for $9.95 and up. This was $59.95. It is a nice little gizmo. My cellphone is an iPhone 5, admittedly a bit old and underpowered. It is not very smart. I could download an app for it to enable or enhance astrophotography, but I am not trusting about apps on my phone. My telescope is a 70 mm National Geographic refractor. 

The first night, back in early December, I went to a nearby field and sighted on Jupiter and Saturn. Seeing them through the telescope, I could not get them in the camera. I eventually tried a street lamp as a target but the camera kept insisting on showing a large white circle. That was the first hour.

With the Moon at first quarter on the 2nd I went out to try again. While the sun was still up, I took everything into the backyard and made sure of my  equipment and set-up. I clamped the NexYZ and cellphone to the 32 mm eyepiece, and inside I sighted across the kitchen to a living room lamp. Then I went outside. I got the Moon. But not in focus. I did find the “iris” control for my phone and brushed the little sun icon down and down. 
03 January 2020 about 1900 hours
iPhone 5 and National Geography 70 mm
with 32 mm eyepiece
The third night went better and I found out what the three colored circles are for. Of the eight snapshots two were usable. Last night, I went out again and got one more out of six. However, the moon filter did not help and I still had to close the “iris” all the way. I also failed to get the Barlow lens to work for the camera. (It works fine for me.)

04 January 2020 about 1900 hours
iPhone 5 and National Geography 70 mm
with 32 mm eyepiece and Moon filter
All of the work was done with the 32mm eyepiece. I already know that the 20mm correcting ocular does not sit well in the eyepiece tube of this telescope. It is fine in my larger 5¼ inch (130 mm) Celestron reflector. Even though I planned to, I did not try the 17mm lens. I had enough.

I enjoy viewing the night sky. I like even better knowing what I am looking at. So, for me, reading astronomy provides the background for understanding what I see. I am happy that other people take nice pictures.

That said, I am not sure that I am happy with all of their manipulated images using Photoshop, PixInsight, and other software. I had a graduate class in geographic information systems. Using ERDAS, ArcGIS, and other software, information can be delivered via false color images, for example to show temperatures recorded by sensors. I am not sure that this is what hobbyists seek. At best, they manipulate electronic records to recreate what the eye provides naturally. At worst, they are destroying the actual record and delivering doctored data. 
ArcGIS image from GEOG 579 laboratory class
 Eastern Michigan University Winter 2010.

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