Astronomy with Araz

It was a semi-cloudy night on Friday, July 25, 2014. That night, I met my friend, Araz Boghossian, who is a photographer, electrical engineer, and amateur astronomer, in King City. Using his vehicle, we went to a lake near his house. Before we parked, a man that was there questioned why we were there at this location. We explained to him why we were there, and was all right with it.

We quickly unpacked all our equipment and got it assembled. It was a good location, but since it was near a lake, it was infested with large mosquitoes, hungry for human blood. I had a mosquito repellent clip-on, but it didn’t work (I later learned I didn’t set it up right.) There, I was able to use my new equipment, such as my new flip mirror, which allows me to connect two devices into my telescope, such as an eyepiece or a camera; and my DC adapter, which lets me connect the telescope to a car adapter to run the telescope off its power supply.

We did a lot of astronomy there. We first aimed at Mars. Since it is moving away from opposition, it didn’t give us much detail, and we quickly moved onto Saturn, swatting mosquitoes at the same time. Once we had Saturn in view, we had a look at the beautiful, ringed Saturn. When Araz saw Saturn, he was awestruck by its beauty. We kept looking at it, and we noticed three of its moons glowing dimly in the telescope. It was quite amazing and surprising that we were able to see three of its moons.

Using Araz’s camera, we decided to take a few pictures of Saturn. Araz, fighting the bugs around him, quickly got his Nikon DSLR camera, switched his lens with his T-ring so that he can put it in my telescope. Once it was firmly attached, I flipped the mirror. Initially, there was no image, however, we quickly realized that it wasn’t focused properly to the camera. The eyepiece and the camera require different focusing, which meant we couldn’t see using the eyepiece and the camera at the same time. Fortunately, we were able to get Saturn in view of the camera. Once Saturn was centered in the camera, we were able to take many photos. The first few were relatively blurry, but as we played with the focusing, the clarity improved. Eventually, we were able to get a great set of images of Saturn, which clearly showed the gap between the planet and the ring. It was beautiful.

After a good imaging session, we decided to move onto M51, a galaxy I have yet to find. After, unsuccessfully, trying to find it among a sea of stars, we decided to try taking some images of the night sky itself. Therefore, Araz removed his camera from my telescope, replaced the T-Ring with his 18 mm lens, and left the shutter open for a long time. He was able to take some star trail images, which meant that the camera wasn’t moving with the Earth’s rotation, as a result, it captured the movement of the stars in the night sky. He showed me the pictures, and the images were well captured. At the same time, I was still looking at Saturn, and it was still shining beautifully.

After his long exposure images, we decided to try and take a long exposure image on my telescope’s piggyback mount. We tried to take a picture of the Big Dipper, which didn’t turn out as we hoped. The image we took was more of a star trail image than an image of the Big Dipper. This meant that my telescope wasn’t properly tracking the night sky. I would need to get my telescope repaired.

After that, we decided to call it a night. We packed up our equipment and headed back home. It was a great night. The sky was clear enough to view the planets and the stars with. Waking up the next day, I was covered in mosquito bites. Nevertheless, it was a great experience. Hopefully, the next time Araz and I meet, we will have more targets to search for, and my equipment will finally begin to work better.

Until then, happy observing!

Light Pollution

Four days ago, after a series of cloudy and rainy nights, the sky finally cleared for a rare view of the night sky. Taking advantage of that, I decided to take my telescope out for the night and use my piggyback mount.

A piggyback mount is an attachment for telescopes that allows a camera to be attached on top of it. Using the tracking feature of the telescope, one could take long exposure images of the sky for a long time and avoid sky trails, which occurs when a camera takes a long-exposure image of the stars without compensating for the Earth’s rotation. Below is an example of star trails:

IMG_0161During that night, my goal for the night was to take a long exposure shot of the sky using my piggyback mount. However, I failed to realize that the light pollution in my backyard and the moonlight in the sky would obstruct the view of the stars in the sky, and that seeing conditions for the stars would not be optimal.

When I was taking the pictures of the sky, I was expecting to see crisp black images with stars shining brightly. Instead I got an image with dim stars and a bright background blocking the stars. This is due to the light in the sky blocking the stars. The light is coming from the Moon and from the light pollution.

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An image of Jupiter on a brightly illuminated sky

Light pollution is when artificial light shines at the sky and obstructs the view of the stars. It can come from the car lights, lights from buildings, and especially from streetlights to name a few. Light pollution is most prevalent in urban areas, such as Downtown Toronto, New York, Yerevan, and many other major cities. However, light pollution declines as you move away from the urban centres.

For example, if one was in an urban centre like Downtown Toronto, or Yerevan, and you looked up into the sky, you would likely only see the Moon, the planets, and the odd star. Far out of the city, like in Algonquin park, there is very little artificial light, which will give you an excellent view of the sky, and maybe even the Milky Way.

Light Pollution is a major problem in many cities. However, there are organizations who are committed to reducing the amount of light pollution in our cities. One such cause is: Light-Pollution Abatement Committee operated by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. This committee was formed to work with the municipal, provincial, and federal governments as well as with concerned citizens to reduce light pollution and create darker skies for all to enjoy. They encourage people, organizations and governments, to advise each group of the situation at hand and talk to each other and find solutions.

If you want to help as well, iOS users can download two apps that can help one find clearer skies, and help identify light polluted areas. The first one is “Dark Sky Finder”, which is a map of North America, Europe and Australasia that charts out the level of light pollution in certain areas, like Toronto, New York, Sydney, and other cities. The other app is the “Dark Sky Meter”. It allows one to measure the night sky and see how dark it is compared to total darkness. In addition, users can submit the data that they find to the Save Our Stars (SOS) program, which will assist the SOS program in their efforts to chart light pollution in our skies. The links are:

http://www.jshine.net/astronomy/dark_sky/

http://www.darkskymeter.com/

After some time, I decided to call it a night, and brought my telescope into my house.

A few days later, I was thinking about what my priorities should be during this period of the Full Moon. Knowing that the moon and the surrounding light will obstruct my view of the stars, I decided to recommit myself to observing the Moon when it is visible in the sky. When the next clear night comes, I will be there to see the Moon.

Today, I processed a number of images that I took and I achieved this result:

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The night sky post-processed.

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Jupiter through a DSLR Camera. Post-processed

WORKS CONSULTED

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_pollution

http://www.rasc.ca/lpa

The Old Moon in the New Moon’s Cradle

Hi everyone,

Happy New Year to everyone and Merry Armenian Christmas (January 6th) to all my Armenian friends.

On January 3rd, as the sun set, I noticed in the navy blue sky, that a thin crescent moon was visible in the sky. Therefore, I decided to take my telescope out and take images of the moon.

For Christmas, I got nice additions to my telescope: a new T-Ring and T-adapter for use with DSLR cameras. Therefore, I decided to take the photos using my brother’s DSLR camera, which was a Canon EOS D60.

I took my telescope out in the bitter cold night at -16 degrees celsus, and quickly got it set up aligning it to the crescent moon. Looking at the crescent moon, I saw a small portion of a mare, and many craters on the lower part of the crescent. It was beautiful. Since I was using a DSLR camera, I could take long exposure images, which I could not do using my CCD imager. With that feature, I have the ability to obtain different kinds of pictures of the different bodies of the solar system. I quickly went about taking the photo.

I experimented with the exposure setting, and tried to figure out how to eliminate the wobble that I created by pressing the shutter button. Eventually, I found the right setting for the image and captured a fair number of images of the moon. The moon captured in my images were two second exposure photos with the other settings set to auto. It showed the lit portion of the moon completely white due to the collection of light from the moon, and the dark portion dimly lit. The reason that happened is because the Earth also reflects the sunlight that it receives from the Sun. The reflected sunlight travels to all different directions, and a certain amount of the sunlight hits the moon. This phenomenon is called Planetshine, and it creates this photographic phenomenon called, “The Old Moon in the New Moon’s Cradle.” It is a unique sight for those who know how to find and capture it.

Below is a comparison of the crescent moon and the Old Moon in the New Moon’s Cradle.

Image

The Crescent Moon

Image

The Old Moon in the New Moon’s Cradle

After the Moon set below a row of houses, out of my sight, I decided to focus my attention on Jupiter. It would be reaching opposition the next day, which means it would begin moving backwards relative to the Celestial Sphere, it orbits closest to the Earth, which makes it seem closer than it actually is, and it is visible all night, much like a Full Moon. Since the next day was predicted to be cloudy, I decided to look at it now.

Looking at Jupiter through the DSLR camera was a different (no, difficult!) experience than through the eye piece. Jupiter looked quite over-exposed. Any attempt to take a long exposure image of Jupiter failed as the camera wobbled too much and my telescope tracking feature was not doing a good job at keeping the image still. I didn’t have enough technique to take a good image at that time.

As a result, I decided to pack it in for the night. I took all my equipment inside and got warm by the fire. It would usually be over for the night, but the sky was still clear, and I felt the need to take my telescope out once more. Therefore, I did just that.

Stay tuned for the rest of this blog post.

WORKS CONSULTED

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opposition_%28planets%29

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetshine