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My first attempt at astro imaging - Mike Wilson
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My first attempt at astro imaging

Tonight was a remarkably clear night, so I thought I’d give some seriously amateur astro-imaging a go. No preparation and no research, after all – how hard can it be? 🙂

I needed a webcam, so I plucked the Microsoft Cinema HD off from the top of my monitor, took an eyepiece adaptor from my eyepiece collection and – with a roll of red electrical tape – bonded the two together. A webcam-as-an-eyepiece in true guerrilla style, nice.

 Mobile Photo 1 Sep 2010 01 07 21
What does a webcam, looking at a webcam, looking at a webcam; see?

I dropped my little experiment into the diagonal eyepiece holder of my scope and attempted focussing on Jupiter and after failing miserably for twenty minutes, I saw a hint of red on my laptop. I needed to make it bigger, so I took a Barlow lens (doubles the effective magnification) and inserted that into the telescope eyepiece holder, inserted a 32mm eyepiece into that and then – with more copious use of red electrical tape – attached the whole wobbly lot together.

Mobile Photo 1 Sep 2010 01 06 46Mobile Photo 1 Sep 2010 01 06 15
My old physics lecturer once said, “You only need two things in life; tape to stop things and WD40 to make things go”.

This stack of optical equipment didn’t really have any space for filters so in adjusting exposure for Jupiter (and it’s moons) I had to contend with the bright reflection from the planet as well as the overly bright Farnborough street lighting.

 Mobile Photo 1 Sep 2010 01 05 55
Who says a Mac cannot be a PC?
Here running the Microsoft Cinema HD capture software on Windows 7 in a Virtual Machine on OS X Snow Leopard on a Macbook Pro 15” 🙂

I took a selection of ‘photos’ using the webcam’s 5mp CMOS sensor as well as several minutes of video. During the video, I caught Europa (one of Jupiters moons) transiting across Jupiter too. At first I thought it was an artefact or a spider hanging from our nearby washing line.  I confirmed it was Europa using Stellarium:

image image image image image
The transit of Europa (that black smudge is Europa).

image image

I hope one day soon we prioritise Europa for a probe exploration. This moon is like earth in that it is mostly ocean. The water there is oxygenated and could support life. Wouldn’t it be amazing to find life on another world, even if rudimentary – the ‘fish’ here probably wouldn’t share our common ancestry. It’s quite possible that geothermal activity on Europa means that some of it’s water would be warm, too. Bath is boring – who’s up for a spa-hotel on Europa? 🙂

And here are my results. These are the first astro images I’ve ever processed. The top one is the direct result of aligning and stacking 292 frames of 720p High Definition video (using Registax, but only after image frames were extracted using ‘SUPER’). The second image is the result of 9 stacked images from the camera’s built in 5mp camera.

 Jupiter 2010-09-01 00-42-31 

Next, I will be working on making a more permanent modification to the webcam (stripping it down, getting it into a custom housing and removing the built-in IR filter) and also getting a digital camera mounted onto the eyepieces for higher resolution a-focal photography.

I will return to blogging about technology, small business, freelancing and other issues, shortly 🙂

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Scott Kane 2nd September 2010, 1:18 pm

    Hey Mike!

    Quick comment to say how much myself and my youngest daughter are enjoying this series. She’s a bit of a sky buff and I have a hunch a telescope may be in our future. 🙂

    • mikelwilson 3rd September 2010, 12:32 pm

      Thanks Scott! Hope you and your daughter pick a scope (or binoculars) and enjoy the night sky! Some of the world’s darkest places on land are in Australia although I wouldn’t recommend the trip to get to them… 😛

  • Scott Kane 5th September 2010, 10:17 am

    Hi Mike!

    Yes, and right now they’re under water! (It’s been raining a little)

    I saw Halleys Comet by travelling inland. Well worth it as it was barely visible in Melbourne. Had a ball some years back in a little town called Gillandra. Fellow had a telescope and dome (small by NASA standards, but huge by ours). Wonderful view and of course that town is in the center of New South Wales, so not a lot of lights to contend with.

  • mikelwilson 7th September 2010, 9:20 pm

    Oh how I would love a dome in the garden. Need a bigger garden of course, you can’t see much from my townhouse garden here with buildings all around. This weekend I’m off to a star party (yes, another one!) and hopefully will be able to do some astronomy while I’m there 😛

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