Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Moon Occults Regulus, 3rd November 2007

On the morning of the 3rd November, 2007, there was a challenging event that took place in the skies over the southern United States and part of the Americas; the Moon occulted the star Regulus in the constellation Leo. For many, this was not too much of an issue, since many points in the midwest and further were still in darkness. Here in Jacksonville, though, it would be occurring at sunrise.
Based upon the information I had on hand, this was going to be tough. I was pretty sure that it would be visible with binoculars and even just barely naked eye. But, I wanted to try and catch it on video. Based upon my experience with the VCR, though, I figured I'd see what sort of still images I could grab. For this, I used my Supercircuits CMOS camera fitted to my Meade 60mm (on an alt/az mount) telescope, "Spindrift".

I also opted to use my Samsung SCC-4201 for wide angle shots.

At 7:00am EDT, I had all of my equipment outside; the VMO-1 with my Power Macintosh 5260/100 "Sofia", "Spindrift" carrying the CMOS camera, and my Samsung, "Sammy". I grabbed my first few images between 7:10 and 7:12, switching between the two cameras.

Notice the bottom image on the left, taken with Sammy at 32 frames integration; you can actually see "Earthshine" lighting the Moon's shadowed section.

Even though it doesn't show, the sky was now medium blue. The contrast was making it appear darker in the cameras.

The first thirty minutes of any occultation are fairly uninteresting. I used this time to grab images and fine focus both instruments (for instance, the automatic focus feature on Sammy was turned off and had to be reset). At 7:31, it was time to begin recording the final series of images. Sammy obtained the following image as Spindrift was fine focused.

The sky was now brightening up significantly, but due to the CMOS camera's built in gamma correction (automatically adjusting for brightness and contrast), it still looks almost black. I started taking images with Spindrift and the CMOS camera alone. I collected almost 20, but these three pretty much summed it up, starting at 7:31, then 7:35 and finally 7:40...

Going, going, gone.
I could have waited the almost half hour to record the Moon's finishing its obscuring of Regulus, but instead decided to pack it in. It would probably have been too bright anyway.
Still, it was a wonderful way to test out my equipment and make the best of what I have. And for what I have, I am truly thankful.

Grabbing The Comet

I do video astronomy. For that purpose, I have a number of nice little cameras, ranging from old black and white security cameras to purpose built cameras. There are three cameras I use consistently, however; an old Sensortech B&W with telescopic lens, a basic little Supercircuits color CMOS camera in a purpose built housing and a very nice Samsung SCC-4201. That latter camera has come into its own for this comet.
The clouds finally began to break up after almost a week of overcast, on the evening of the 30th of October. I wasted no time and wheeled my VMO-1 (that's the Vagabond's Mobile Observatory 1) outside with Breanna's TV/VCR unit. At around 9pm, I finally had a hole. Through that hole, I finally caught the comet.

Unfortunately, I chose to use a VCR. This produced a lot of noise, and during the processing phase, I lost color. But I did catch it. The above image, by the way, is a paltry 5x!
It became overcast again, and would persist until the night of the 1st of November. Again, I wheeled the VMO-1 outside, but this time with my Power Macintosh 5260/100 on board. This ex-Torrington School District machine is setup for AV work. I call it "Sofia", and say what you will for its performance, for this task it was superbly fit. Now, I could forego the VCR and send the video directly to the computer. The results were much better.

The comet's golden color was now discernible. While this camera is not perfect, it is certainly a step in the right direction. With the addition of the Macintosh 5260, it has become an inexpensive means to obtain video imagery I might not ever have the opportunity. It also proves to me that what is considered by many to be a useless machine has found utility.

The Macintosh 5260/100 and my cameras, 1 November 2007

I suspect that there will be more adventures with this gear coming soon.

A Constellation, A Comet & A Missed Opportunity

So, there I am, Tuesday night, 23rd October 2007, preparing my souped up video camera to grab some images of Perseus. For the past couple of weeks, my column has run a series of articles regarding the Andromeda/Cassiopeia/Perseus myth. Since this week the series wraps up in Perseus, I wanted to grab some images of the more interesting objects within the constellation, namely the Perseus III OB association (one of my favorite objects).

The camera has had some work done lately. It now sports a better looking mount, made from corrugated plastic, some hardware and JB Weld, fixed snuggly beneath the main housing with very strong double sided tape. Not only has the greatly improved the sturdiness of the system, it also looks much better. I've also decided to employ my wheeled "Mobile Observatory 1", a combo toolbox/workbench with wheels. All was set for the night of the 23rd of October.

I was wheeling my equipment outside when the clouds began moving in. Perseus was still behind the trees; it was not quite 9:15. But I suspected that it would be high too late, that it would be obscured.

Indeed, I was to be proven correct.
As I was beginning to pull the extension cord outside, a sold line of overcast began to come up from the south, completely obscuring the sky for a large swath save for some sections above the east and west horizons. Adding insult to injury… it began to sprinkle.

Meanwhile, short period Comet 16P/Holmes was preparing to do something extraordinary amidst that very stellar association I intended to video.

It pains me so much to think I could have caught that flare real time. I understand how Charlie Brown must have felt whenever that football was yanked aside.