Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Both eyes

Image obtained from Wikipedia.

Since I've got the Nikon Coolpix 995 I have taken more photographs than I have ever taken. This camera's design is way cool! There must be a degree of truth behind Charlie's comment, "Some love it. Others hate it." Me? I'm sharing the love.

Couple the timing of getting the camera with being exposed to those red/cyan anaglyphs, 3D pictures, at Adorama, the camera shop where I buy most of my astro accessories. Now part of my photo experience is to take stereo shots. I snap a left photo then a step or two to the right and snap again. All low tech and approximated, hoping the pics can be adjusted in GIMP. I've followed this GIMP tutorial with great ease. I haven't experimented with swapping the cyan & red channels to see the effect. The distance between the left and right are too far. With a little practice I 'm sure I'll be able to get this down. And NASA's various mission sites have a lot of material to work with.

As part of the work flow, I have the wife and daughter check the quality. Wife thinks the glasses look silly and I look sillier wearing them. Without waiting for a volley, she continues, "Now you're into 3d photos? Does that mean the bookshelf will fill up with new titles?" Only if I can find 'em at Strand. ~% D

But I am going to need to get us some "pro" 3D glasses better than free paper ones. She doesn't agree with me that all photos should have a 3D experience.

A shot of St. Patrick's Cathedral's spire taken from the middle of West 51st Street. Too wide of steps between shots.

Snapshot of Empire State Building from Madison Square Park after downing a Shack Burger & fries.

Created using material found at Open Tutorial which included links to JPL's Mars Rover images.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Down at the statues

Session name: 20061126.1730

This session I chose to observe down at the south end of the park by the statues because of the weather. The air was moist and Moon wore the veil of cirrus clouds. I intended to get some more practice time on setting up and using the camera. The statues is convenient but it is not Top of the Lawn. I realized last night that one of the best attributes of TotL is that it is clean. Down at the statues it smells - smells of the horses and homelessness. In one part, east of the entrance road, there is a nasty stench which kitty human litter is absolutely required. On the west side of the road, the smell is absent and the sidewalk is less crowded and much cleaner.

Steve and Eva stopped when they saw the camera attached to the scope. Apparently they were versed in photography and offered some tips. Wat struck me was that Steve said try different things but log them some where. Knowing where you and what worked will help for the next time. He mentioned Art Wolfe and suggested I look into his methods. It was nice having them by contrasted with the "Top of the Rock" hawkers who asked if I was looking in the girlfriend's window.

It wasn't a long observing session since the ecliptic is low and Moon is lower. It can't cear the buildings down here so the window of opportunity is to watch it cross the street. By 7:30 Moon had set into the building and I had packed up. Most of the time, I spend a few moments to appreciate the night sky and the nature about me, but this evening I didn't hesitate to pickup my bags and carry on.

20061125 - Moon descends over TimeWarner Center

Session name: 20061125.1730

Lovely southern horizon from TotL

This is the skyscape on Saturday evening. I met up with Charlie and Kin and we observed until midnight. The clouds had moved in and by the time we were packed it was pretty much clouded out.

Charlie's picture and Ben's picture better represent how our night sky appears when looking manhattan-South. (Theirs are taken on different sessions.) Absent in this photo but clear in theirs are the sharp light towers that radiate from distinct spots on this horizon. The CitiCorp building, located on the right of the photo and right on the tree line generally issues one narrow beam straight up. A broader glow from Times Square, located further right of the lighted, domed building near center, serves as a quick indicator as to the quality of our evening sky. If it is diffused, lacking any clear borders, the sky is considered bad.

Hawaiian George had stopped by, observed with us and shared a bit about his background and influences of his art. As a sculptor, George described some techinques with working with bronze and ho it reacts under different treatments. He spoke of works by others that are in MoMA, particularly Umberto Boccioni.

About the time George was considering to go, Time's Up arrived. The crowd may have prompted George to mount his folding bike and ride off to the east from where he came. George will return again on another evening.

Time's Up's Midnight ride is another rhythm in my life. Sometimes weather stands in the way from me being present but their monthly ritual ride is just as much an experience for me as it for them. Charlie and I didn't realize it was this Saturday. Kin noticed in the south western corner, a long line of dotted lights making their way north. They arrive and park the bikes, 25 ` 30 riders tonight. Richard, the coordinator of this ride, was bearing gifts, Clementines. How refreshing these were! The crowd was nice as usual and we showed them Orion's Nebula in the telescope and Pleiades in the binoculars. Next month Saturn will be coming up over the trees by the time they arrive. Bring those snacks - they're appreciated :^D

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Old Moon in the New Moon's Arms

Session name: 20061124.1730

Through a Takahashi 6x30 finderscope.

Pretty windy from the moment I arrived at 5:30pm to get a photo of the 4 day Moon. Didn't get a keeper, seeing was very poor low in the sky, the boiling I saw was evident in the shots. In the interest of gettting a crescent in my portfolio I passed up watching a darkside occultation of a mag 6 star. This star was later observed a good distance from the bright limb during last looks through the eyepiece. I packed up shortly after watching Moon set into our lovely cityscape with the wind still blowing.

On my way out around 7:30pm I wondered if any others of Team TotL would appear. I was leaving behind a clear dark sky with Pleiades rising above the treetops, Taurus and Orion still caught behind the trees. Was Mother Nature playing with me? I don't think I felt the wind that blowing on my way out.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Within the reach

I'm impressed by what's well within the reach of the amateur astronomer. Technology is cheap and can be bought as used equipment. A little patience can produce some fine results unheard of ten years ago. The following pictures are not necessarily the crispest but they do show lunar features well. There is a lot to be seen and be drawn to in these photos. Stratigraphy can be studied from these photos allowing one to sequence lunar events like how the Imbrium Basin overlaps the Serenitatis Basin. Investigate how the mare settled into these basins and make educated guesses as to how they formed and which came first.

For this particular cloudy day, I choose to hike in one of my favorite regions on Moon.

This is the original image with no post processing.
Nikon Coolpix 995; Image Size: 2048x1536; PEG (8-bit) Fine; FL: 26mm; Exp Mode: Programmed Automatic; 1/8 sec - F/4.5; White Bal: Auto; Sharpening: Auto; Noise Reduction: Off

The picture above is an unmarked copy cropped from the larger photo above. Below is the same cropped photo with markup indicating some of the more obvious craters. Compare this with the Lunar Atlas Chart - 78, Theophilus for feature identification (see reference below.)

These photos show the neighborhood surrounding Cyrillus & Catharina. In the eyepiece on this evening, these two neighboring craters appeared as a pair of binoculars. The southwestern rim of Theophilus can be seen superpositioned on the northeastern rim of Cyrillus. In terms of stratigraphy, that makes Theophilus younger than Cyrillus.

Also note that Theophilus's rim is catching light and blocking it from illuminating any points east, whereas Cyrillus' and Catharina's eastern rims rise high enough to catch the setting sunlight. These locations are slightly east of the illuminated Theophilus rim so their elevations must be at least that high. In fact, they are probably highre because of the curvature of Moon. Relative to location west of that, say Descartes, these rims, excepts their peaks, may fall below the horizon.

Altai Scarp really casts some deep, dark shadows south of Catharina and the arcuate can be followed curving westerly and northerly. Them be cliffs and even in 1/6th the earth's gravty, I wouldn't want to fall from there. Returning to Cyrillus, just east, one watches Mons Penck cast an obvious blocky shadow to the east, in the same neighborhood, finer black shadow lines interleave with higher ground. Looking northward into the shadowed grounds of Hypatia, having fallen into night time, we can let ourselves be fascinated with the undulations of light along the terrae before settling for the apparently smooth darker floors of Mare Tranquillitatis. Sabine is seen in the lower right corner, it's kissing cousin Ritter is clipped from this image. Nearby, east of this spot Statio Tranquillitatis, landing spot for Apollo 11, and three craters named for the first three men to the moon: Aldrin , Collins, and Armstrong have fallen into the shadow of the moon. Our next opportunity to see will be a waxing crescent of a 6-day moon.
Identifying patterns comes naturally. Whether they are significant or by chance is left to the serious selenographer to study and report. For example, Abenezra and Azophi begin a large arc of similar looking craters Geber, Almanon, Abulfeda, and Andel. If not for noticing this arc I would not have been introduced to them. Now they will serve as landmarks with Descartes and Dolland.
I recently read somewhere - forgotten off-hand - someone describe Sacrobosco as eternally surprised. Like asterisms with patterns of stars, it is easy to make "lunarisms" with the play of light and shadow. Here three obvious craterlets on the floor of Sacrobosco form two widely spaced eyes with an open mouth expressing fascination.


Click on image to go to the Lunar Atlas Chart LAC-78, Theophilus at the Lunar and Planetary Institute website.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Clicking photo brings you to the source where more details and a higher resolution can be found.

Pedestrians often comment how astronomy put things into perspectives. This photo of Earth and Moon captures just that. This is an old photograph taken by Mars Odyssey's Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) 19 April 2001. The photo is taken at an opportune time and place where the true distance between our two bodies are shown.

I cut and pasted a number of Earth but was one shy of 30. As the site reminds us, the Earth's diameter is about 12,750 km/7,922 mi, and the distance from the Earth to the Moon is about 385,000 km/239,227 mi, corresponding to 30 Earth diameters.

Source: Planetary Photojournal
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Arizona State University
JPL Image Use Policy

accept the frustration

Working with the Nikon remote control can be very frustrating. Until I swap out that device for another - not without additional investment - I will have to accept the frustration of the certain bugginess of this device. When it works it works - when burps it drives me nuts. "Serenity now."

All night long when observing the nearly 20 day old Moon, tens, maybe a hundred or more in total, flew across the face of the Moon. I thought, heck, these are going to look great, but not. Of the 75 snaps I got only 1 image that showed one.

Visually this was an orgy of lunar landscape and tiny, perfect silhouettes of migrating birds flapping across the face of the moon from west to east in just a couple of seconds or less. It was a first for me.

Another event was when we were sharing looks with the passersby, I was hopping for the Double Cluster. Passing the Muscleman Cluster I saw flying high a white bird, clearly discerning flapping wings and its body. It appeared very high because of its size, guessing about 5' based on my impression of Jupiter in this eyepiece, and the time it took to cross the field. In fact, after tracking it by twisting the RA and DEC knobs of the equatorial mount, I asked one of the persons standing of they were ready and prompted him to jump to the eyepiece. He watched the bird and commented to others that the bird's underside was reflecting the light which allowed us to seem it against the starry background sky.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Team TotL Assembles

Kin set the camera up on the ground and snapped this photo where he caught a meteor in the background, seen behind the Tak. Image taken by Kin.

Session name: 20061109.2045

This session was real fun, especially rebounding from the previous day where the Mercury Transit occurred behind downpours and clouds. This was the first time in a very long time, maybe a year, that the full team TotL assembled. Charlie, Kin, Ben, and myself set up with bins, refractors, and cameras at the Top of the Lawn. When I arrived about 8:30 ~ 8:45 the sky was clear but the air on the ground looked and felt silghtly damp. The wind was 10 ~ 15 mph early in the session finally easing up after midnight.

As for transparency and seeing, I recall looking to the Pleiades when it was high in the sky seeing all plus Asterope and Celaeno, I couldn't confidently say I saw Pleione. The Perseus Fishhook that hangs to the east of 39/delta Per consists of HR1207 (mV: 5.37), 48 Per (mV: 4.04), 51/mu Per (mV: 4.14), HR1324 (mV: 4.61) & 47/lambda Per (mV: 4.29). I could see all except the dimmest HR1207. I can't recall which double it was but Ben had an unequal double where the primary was yellowish an dthe fainter secondary was blue sitting just outside of a nice steady diffraction ring of the Airy Disk.

I looked at a couple of objects through all our optics and then got down to business with the Coolpix when Moon rose well above the trees. The dang Nikon MC-EU1 wired remote control is a pain in the arse, but when it is working it works well and I like it alot. Nothing short of voodoo gets this thing working and then avoiding conflict with a sensitive temperament like maybe waiting too long between pictures or impatiently trying to signal rapid picture taking causes an inrecoverable burp. Reboot, cross your fingers and chant the chant. By the night's end I had two good runs where I was able to trigger about 133 pictures.

The Nikon Coolpix 995 met the Takahashi refractor on its first light when familiarizing myself with the camera. I tried for sunspots with the setup picture here. Like a modern man, I'm trying to learn all this by not RTFM. It should be M's because there are quite a few manuals to read.

Charlie was giving me tips to test out with the camera like zooming all the way in to Digital 4x and then focus, setting the camera's focus to infinity (the mountain icon :* P).

One highlight of the night was when Tammy stopped by on her bicycle. She said she's passed by us in the past but never stopped. Tonight she did and was treated to starhops and binocular views. At one poitn I helped her find Pleiades in the bins by standing behind her and sighting the along the binocular tubes. With my wrists resting on hers, nudging the bins up and down, left and right, my head was right behind hers where I was smelling her hair. It's a kinky sidewalk astronomer thing. Tammy would eventually get to see the Pleiades, Hyades, Alpha Persei Association, and a meteor shot under Perseus.

Here are few photos shot last night. The only modifications to the original were cropping and reducing the image size from 2048x1536 pixels coming from the camera as fine. I have yet to handle on Registax4. I have a lot of drift in my photos because I don't have a motorized mount so I may have to take that into consideration. Dunno yet.

19 day moon. Clear skies, seeing good, some mild breezes at times.

Digital zoom of 1.6x of perimeter of Mare Nectaris, crater-trio Theophilus, Cyrillus, and Catharina and larger Fracastorius. Very soft image.

Same area as above but at digital zoom 4x

Southern hemisphere where Tycho captures the eye. Clavius seen south of Tycho, a ~9:30 position with craterlets on the interior floor and Rutherford & Porter on its rim.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Can't see the Milky Way...

This is a terrific picture of Top of the Lawn at night taken by Charlie of Astronomical Observations blog. One can see what we affectionately call the "gegenschein" rising broadly in the center of the picture. Just right of the tallest building capped with the dome-shaped light in the center of the picture is the general area of Times Square that contributes much to that glow. I don't think that it is caused by lights shooting straight up into the sky (and that happens with event spotlights) but a result of bouncing and reflecting lights off of all the surfaces in that area. All the way to the right is the CitiCorp building with the two red lamps atop and this building produces its own tower of light.
Both light sources are used to judge the clarity of the city night sky. It is easy to see whether it is low rise, broad, and diffused or high rise, narrow, and sharp.
Now that I have the same camera as he does, I'll have to get me own photo of this shot.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

20061105 - Marathon Day

Today the New York City Marathon completed. It was ratcheting up in the past couple of days and now it's over. I made my way into the park coincident with the lead runners passing the "1 mile to go" marker. The lead runner, Marilson Gomes dos Santos, had about a hundred yards on second & third place, fourth place was back another 100 or so yards. I was surprised to see the see the women's leader near the male front runners. I came to learn that they get something like a 30 minute head start so that the male & female finishes occur close together - gotta be something determined by the TV.

I planned to go to the park to practice shooting Sun with the Coolpix. I still have a ways to go in understanding how to make best us of the camera. The Nikon remote control, MC-EU1, has me scratching my head as i do not get consistent results. It seems to lose synch with the camera and most times I reboot the camera. As said not consistent and reviews across the Internet complain of its buggy behavior.

Focus is difficult to achieve with that little screen and I am not certain that what one sees on the screen is actually what gets photographed. Some shots appeared focused but when I got home and transferred them to the PC they looked less than appealing. Above is one of the lunar photos taken to practice focusing and realize how the Tele Vue Ranger interfaces with the Coolpix 995 setup. Not yet like Vern's but expect it'll be like getting to Carnegie Hall: Practice, Practice, Practice.

This is a 14d20h Full Moon where libration is favorable to the southeast. The photograph is flipped east west, lunar North sits around 1:00 position along the limb. Even though the evening terminator begins to grow, Mare Marginis and Mare Smythii can be seen in the terminator. Neper is the large crater with a central peak between the two maria and straddles the terminator. Mare Australe is seen further down along the eastern limb.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Changes at TotL

Next time you're up at Top of the Lawn - East, the spot near the benches where we observe events along the western horizon, look for the tree next to the trash. It's gone! Now where's the raccoon family to go after they grab the "abshicken" and want to munch on it in a safe location. And how are we going to obstruct the light from the lamp?

20061104 - Photo essay of practice run

Session name: 20061104.1015
Takahashi set up for sessionJust setup and ready to go.

Visual observing in the Tak"May have a look?" "What am I supposed to be looking at?" "You mean that's not dirt on the lens?" Probably the 3 most frequently asked questions.

Photographing with the TakCoolpix 995 attached to the straight through connector on the Tak.

Vignetted viewShot the whole soalr disk without telephoto magnification and the vignetting is obvious.

What we the people & the camera saw visuallyWith or without magnification groups 921 & 922 were obvious. Seeing was not steady some moments were crystal, sharp while mostly other times it was slightly soft.

This observing kit packed upThis is my Tak observing kit packed up at the end of the session.

Just bought a used Nikon Coolpix 995 to shoot the Mercury transit this coming Wednesday and then have a handy photography kit on hand for lunar observing sessions. This camera is a dinosaur, sounds like a brontosaurus, and is as fast as a 16MHz 68030 processor (MAC SE/30 :^D). It's not as easy as I thought it would be because focus is difficult on these little LCD displays, the user control that one can exploit is beyond me at this time.

Since I was practicing during the day at TotL maybe 75 ~ 100 persons stopped by. There were many I suspect not from New York because of their brogues, heavy accents, and some non-English. Tomorrow is the NYC marathon so there are a lot of folk in from the outside. It worked out well because I got a couple of hours in shooting Sun. Hopefully I'll be comfortable with the camera and setup by the time of Mercury transit.

One thing I've noted about showing Sun to the public is that they really don't know what they're looking at or looking for. I think that is normal because most haven't looked through a telescope and don't have any other experience to relate it to. Typically, I like to keep a low power view where the entire disk is observed. When people approach I suggest that they look at the sun "naked-eye" through the viewing window; in other words, without any optical aid but through the solar filter, as shown here. The scope looks through a hole that has Baader solar film and the other rectangular cutout is what I am calling the viewing widow. They look from the scope side.
I ask that they look for Sun in the viewing window so they have a context to refer to and have a little experience with the filtered view. This allows them to recognize the solar disk and then see the sunspots in the eyepiece. Most that ignore the suggestion and rush to get into the eyepiece don't know what they are looking at and think that the big white disk is light of the telescope and don't see anything else.

It's all okay. I pull out my trusty Moleskine notebook which I made a couple of sketches and show them what they see. It's funny that many return to viewing window to look at the solar disk "unaided" and affirm their understanding.

I like the Tak for these solar system sessions and it is ideal for the little kids. To accommodate all sizes of passersby a quick twist of the diagonal puts the eyepiece in the right place. Kids two and half feet tall can observe as easy as the adults.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Gotham City

Gotham City around 4:30 in the afternoon.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Stuart's Astronomy Media Player

[Astronomy Media Player]

This is absolutely a cool, convenient tool for us astro-consumer types. It's the astro-tainment appliance to receive podcasts in one interface.
Crossing my fingers for a button I can post in the sidebar. Stop by and let Tom know what you think.

Update: assigning proper credit ~% D