Polar Scope Align for iPhone and iPad v2.11 released!

July 6, 2016 // by ecuador

WHAT’S NEW v2.11:

-Telrad reticle added.
-Recent location list added in Location manager. (Pro)
-Iridium flares for your location (satellite icon in Xasteria, switch between ISS & Iridium Flares). (Pro)
-Ability to use the time zones of remote locations instead of being fixed on your device’s time zone (Advanced settings). (Pro)
-Show only future ISS passes. (Pro)
-Make it obvious that table cells in star lists and satellite lists expand when tapped. (Pro)
-Fixed cases where the Apple keyboard popping up was not the dark version (iOS 7+). (Pro)

More info on Polar Scope Align on the dedicated page.

Download on the App Store

Free Version

Download on the App Store

Pro Version

Download on the App Store

Pro Watch Version

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Xasteria 1.7 released! World Astro Weather Report for iOS

July 6, 2016 // by ecuador

What’s New v1.7

-Ability to use the time zones of remote locations instead of being fixed on your device’s zone (select Time Zone: From Location in settings).
-Iridium flares for your location (satellite icon, then button ->Iridium).
-Show only future ISS passes.
-Make it obvious that table cells in satellite lists expand when tapped.

More info on the Xasteria page.

Download on the App Store

 

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2016 Mercury Transit @ Heaton Park

May 13, 2016 // by ecuador

We had an unusually sunny day at Heaton Park on May 9th, so we enjoyed the Mercury Transit along with many friends from the Heaton Park astro group and even more people who where just enjoying their day at the park.

HeatonParkMercury

The only downside was the strong wind, which tended to cover everything with sand and was adding a constant shake to my telescope. However, after stabilizing the video from the start of the Transit is quite pleasant:

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Imaging the sun in white light and Baader Solar Continuum or other color filters

May 7, 2016 // by ecuador

One of the most inexpensive accessories you can get for your telescope is the Baader AstroSolar safety film which you can use to safely observe and photograph the sun. Baader also has the 540nm-pass “Solar Continuum” filter to improve the definition of some solar features, so I thought I’d run a little experiment to see exactly what this filter (which actually costs quite some more than the AstroSolar film) can do for me and also try out some other filters to see whether I can get better results than using the AstroSolar film by itself. Note that the AstroSolar film covering the front aperture of your scope in full is mandatory – a filter alone at the eyepiece side of the telescope is not enough to prevent instant blindness or the destruction of your imaging sensor.

Setup

I used my Skywatcher Evostar 80ED with a full-aperture Baader AstroSolar visual film and a 2x barlow with a full-spectrum Canon 600D. Narrow-band filters like the Solar Continuum would work better with the AstroSolar photo film (allowing shorter exposures), but that seems to be out of stock right now in the UK at least, so if I obtain it in the future I might update the article. In any case, for each filter tested below, I shot a few full frames of the solar disk, of which I stacked 3-4 to reduce noise, and also a short video in 3x Digital Zoom video mode stacking about 250 out of 1000 frames after converting it to grayscale and having the same wavelet sharpening applied to all cases.

UV/IR Filter

Since I was using a full-spectrum modified DSLR, the UV/IR filter is the “no additional filter” equivalent case. So this is what the AstroSolar film can do by itself at the visual part of the spectrum:

Sun_80ED_20160504

UV/IR ISO 200 1/500s

Sun_80EDx2_20160504

UV/IR 30s video stack

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Review: iOptron ZEQ25 (CEM25)

April 12, 2016 // by ecuador

7100-2A couple of years ago I got one of the most popular Equatorial mounts for small to medium OTAs, the Skywatcher HEQ5 (known as the Orion Atlas outside Europe). I got along pretty well with it, it was paired mostly with an 8″ Skywatcher 200PDS newtonian which is near the maximum comfortable load. I stored it in a corner of the living room, although I had to loosen the accessory tray, rotate it so that the legs could be contracted to fit it through doors when taking it in or bringing it out of the house. At around 15kg for mount & tripod it was near the limit of what I would personally call portable. Then, last year, as I was considering upgrading my mount to the pro version, I started reading about the iOptron ZEQ25. Apparently, iOptron are relatively well known and popular in the US, but have only recently started becoming known in Europe. They have some “traditional” German equatorial mounts (the iEQ line), but also the “Z” or “center balanced” equatorial mounts ZEQ25 and CEM60. The latter are supposed to have the advantage of an increased load/weight ratio and a permanently unobstructed polar scope. In fact, the “small” ZEQ25 has a maximum load not far from my HEQ5, while being significantly much lighter. And this is the main reason I got it. I thought that a smaller, lighter mount would allow me to take it out more often and if I wanted to do astrophotography it would be well matched with a small apo refractor, making a very portable package.

While I started writing this review soon after I got the iOptron, for some reason it was left unfinished and unpublished. So I am finishing it up now, a year after getting the iOptron, having had more experience with it. In the meantime, iOptron has upgraded the electronics of the mount and renamed it to CEM25 (although, at least in Europe, it is not easy to get the updated mount yet) and also I got a new HEQ5 Pro for my vacation home (since I found an amazing deal on it), so I can do an even better comparison with it. (more →)

Celestron f/6.3 reducer/corrector with DSLR on C9.25

March 31, 2016 // by ecuador

reducerAlthough I got my C9.25 mainly for planets, the fact that my tiny iOptron ZEQ25 mount seems to handle it for longer exposures made me look into using it for DSOs as well. The problem of course is that it is quite slow at f/10, has a very demanding 2350mm focal length and has quite some coma on an APC-S sensor. Supposedly all these problems can be abated with the Celestron f/6.3 reducer/corrector (1480mm focal length, 2.5x less exposure, less coma), which is also relatively inexpensive as far as reducers go. One issue I found before trying the reducer is that there is not much info on using these photographically. Even the included Celestron manual doesn’t mention anything about proper distance from the sensor, how much correction it does (it vaguely says that it improves but does not eliminate) and what about things like vignetting? So I did some experimenting with my Canon DSLR and wrote down my observations for myself and whoever is planning to use one. (more →)

Starguider 2″ Field Flattener (TSFlat2) on SkyWatcher Equinox 80 ED

March 2, 2016 // by ecuador

I’ve already tried this refractor Field Flattener on a SkyWatcher Evostar 80ED in a previous post. To sum it up, it did perform well on the Evostar and the best value was the Starguider 2″ Field Flattener sold by Sky’s the Limit on ebay.co.uk, which is identical to the TSFlat2 from TS (but the TSFlat2 is more expensive and does not include any adapters/extensions). So, without any delay here is my first test with the flattener at 119mm from the Canon 600D sensor:

EquinoxTSFlat2B

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Celestron, iOptron, Losmandy, Orion, Sky-Watcher, Vixen mount comparison chart.

January 26, 2016 // by ecuador

There was a UK store that had a nice table with the basic specs of Sky-Watcher and iOptron which I had found quite useful especially to see at a glance which mount from a company was at the same category with what mount from the other. That page is no longer online, so I thought I’d compile my own table and try to include more and newer mounts. I’ll only include computerized EQ mounts from comparable/high volume manufacturers (under $5000), so no expensive Astro-Physics, Takahashi etc.

The specs were mainly lifted from the manufacturer page, except the peak to peak Periodic Error which is shown as a range (and before / after correction values) from various reports (this source was helpful also this and numerous CN threads). Note peak-to-peak error is twice the +/- values that are sometimes used and some extreme cases were not included. Also not included are values of 1-2 arcsec reported for some mounts (iEQ45, G11) with TDM. Payload normally means visual and sometimes I had to choose a source (e.g. Skywatcher and Orion give a bit different spec for the exact same mount). Prices are typical US & UK prices with basic tripod (or pier where applicable) included.

Manufacturer / Model Price Mount Head (kg) Payload (kg) Resolution (arcsec) Objects Polar Scope GPS PE/PEC (arcsec)
Celestron AVX $799/£699 7.7 14 N/A 40000 -1 30/8
Celestron CGEM $1499/£1289 19.4 18 N/A 40000 -1 16-30/6-10
Celestron CGEM DX $1999/£1749 19.4 23 N/A 40000 -1 ?/?
iOptron ZEQ25 $848/£849 4.7 12 0.14 150000 Yes2 Yes 12-32/5-6
iOptron CEM25 $899/£849 4.7 12 0.14 150000 Yes2 Yes ?/?
iOptron iEQ30 Pro $1398/£999 6.8 14 0.14 358000 Yes2 Yes 16/5
iOptron iEQ45 Pro $1848/£1299 11.4 20 0.09 358000 Yes2 Yes 15/5
iOptron iEQ45-AZ $1948/£1399 11.4 20 0.09 358000 Yes2 Yes 15/5
iOptron CEM60 $2499/£2299 12.3 27 0.06 359000 Yes2 Yes 8-16/1.5
iOptron CEM60-EC $3999/£3599 12.3 27 0.06 359000 Yes2 Yes 4/0.5
Losmandy GM8 G $2495/£2240 9.5 14 N/A 40000 -3 13-20/8
Losmandy G11 G $3150/£2850 16.3 27 0.14 40000 -3 9-20/?
Skywatcher AZ EQ5-GT (Orion Sirius Pro) $1350/£929 7.7 15 0.25 42000 -4 16-40/?
Skywatcher HEQ5 (Orion Sirius) $1199/£749 10 15 0.144 42000 Yes2 20-50/6-7
Skywatcher AZ EQ6-GT (Orion Atlas Pro) $1999/£1295 15.4 18-25* 0.144 42900 Yes2 25-30/8
Skywatcher NEQ6 (Orion Atlas) $1405/£949 16 18-25* 0.144 42900 Yes2 20-50/6-7
Skywatcher EQ8 (Orion HDX110) $4499/£3099 25.4 50 0.12 42900 -4 6-8/?
Vixen SX2 (SB10) $2199/£1799 7 12** N/A 270000 -3 ?/?
Vixen SXD2 $2699/£2199 9.2 15** N/A 270000 Yes2 27/?
Vixen SXP $3299/£2799 11 16** N/A 270000 Yes2 ?/?

*Orion rates these at 18kg, Sky-Watcher at 18kg imaging / 25kg visual (in the graphs below the average value is used).
**Vixen rates their mounts for imaging, so they are probably more modest values compared to the rest.
Polar Scope Notes:
1. Optional non-illuminated available.
2. Illuminated Polar scope comes standard.
3. Optional illuminated available.
4. Optional non-illuminated available that attaches externally.

Let’s make some charts. We’ll start with the Payload vs Mount weight:

WeightCapA y = x/2 line is drawn and there are actually some mounts that are below it, all from iOptron, meaning they can lift more than twice their weight. The CGEM seems like a disappointing outlier, being the only mount to lift less than its own weight, but it is possible Celestron is being modest about their payload spec.
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28/9/2015 Lunar eclipse photos & time-lapse

December 24, 2015 // by ecuador

I finally had time to process my photos from my “Supermoon” lunar eclipse photo session at Salford Observatory. It was a very cold and humid night, 4 people showed up, 3 stayed until at least after the eclipse maximum, but it was the best lunar eclipse I’ve observed (large moon and very nice red color – due to rayleigh scattering of course). It was my first ever session for both my Skywatcher Equinox 80 ED refractor (on the iOptron ZEQ25) and the Canon 600D which was un-modded at the time. The reason I did not make an eclipse post earlier is because I wanted to make a nice time-lapse video, something that takes a little time. It covers the eclipse from the start to the maximum (2h 50m) later and I hope the result is pleasing (try full screen HD):

For more pics and the how and why of the session and the timelapse, read on.
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Planetary imaging comparison: Webcams vs DSLRs vs Planetary Cams

August 27, 2015 // by ecuador

The not so young amateur astronomers like myself who were aware of how difficult and demanding planetary photography was in the “old days” (i.e. 20th century) are pretty amazed at what you can achieve nowadays with equipment as simple as a webcam. Granted, most of the “magic” lies in the software processing that stacks hundreds of mediocre frames in a video to produce a sharp, detailed image of a planet, however the hardware is still important. So, after experimenting with their webcam, people want to try something better. Specialized planetary/guiding cameras are the obvious choice, however people put in good use less expensive solutions, like putting the LiveView-capable DSLR they already have in planetary use, or re-purposing an Industrial/Machine Vision camera. I happen to have gone through all these categories and thought about putting all my imagers to the test to see what you can expect from each.

From left to right: Canon 450D, Xbox Vision, QHY5L-IIm, Point Grey Firefly MV, Logitech Quickcam Pro 3000, Canon 550D

From left to right: Canon 450D, Xbox Vision, QHY5L-IIm, Point Grey Firefly MV, Logitech Quickcam Pro 3000, Canon 550D. A Canon 600D was obtained last minute, so it is missing from this photo.


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Planetary photography quick tips: IR filters & PIPP

July 5, 2015 // by ecuador

The number one enemy of planetary photography is the atmospheric condition, or “seeing”. Despite modern software being able to select and stack the best frames among thousands, the difference between results with good vs bad seeing can be great. Shooting at high FPS (60 or more) and using shorter exposures with sensitive cameras can help. An even better tool, especially for people who shoot with monochrome cameras, is to get a luminance frame through an IR-pass filter. Here is an example from last night using my C9.25 @ f/25 and a QHY5L-IIm camera, the left photo using for luminance a shot through the usual IR-cut filter, while the right one through an IR-pass (a “generous” one at 630nm), both processed with the same Registax 6 settings:

L+RGB light sharpening

L+RGB light sharpening

IR+RGB light sharpening

IR+RGB light sharpening


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Planetary Photography with a Canon EOS and a Tablet

June 21, 2015 // by ecuador

As you probably know, the best way to capture a good quality video of a planet is to shoot a video and combine the hundreds or thousands of frames using the magic of stacking software. That’s why a simple webcam will give you a better result than a single shot with your fancy Canon EOS DSLR. You also can’t use your DSLR’s regular video mode, as it only captures the large area that a DSLR sensor covers at a low resolution, giving you a low quality planetary image just a few pixels across. What you need is a way to capture in video all the pixels of one part of your large DSLR sensor. If you happen to have a 550D/T2i or a 60D, there is a “video crop mode” that does exactly that (at a nice 60fps). However, even if you have any other Canon EOS with live-view there is a way to get a 1:1 pixel video by capturing your 5x live-view with the help of a connected PC. This will allow you to get better planetary videos than with a simple webcam, so while there are dedicated planetary astro-cameras that are cheaper and much better at this than a DSLR, you can get some good results if you already have a Canon EOS and use the appropriate software:

Jup127

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EOS Camera Movie Record Tablet Tweak

May 8, 2015 // by ecuador

  • Update July 6 2015: Canon SDK update with support for EOS 5DS/760D/750D.

There is a nice little free program called EOS Camera Movie Record that allows you to capture 5x live-view video from your camera, which is the best way to do planetary photography for most Canon DSLRs (with the exception of 550D and 60D which have the superior “video crop mode”). There are better programs like BackyardEOS to do this, but they are not free.

In any case, I sometimes want to use it but don’t want to carry a laptop, so I tried it with my wife’s Windows Tablet. It worked, however the buttons were too tiny to hit without a mouse. Fortunately, the software is open-source, so I build a custom binary with larger buttons. Here it is in case anybody needs it.

Download EOS Camera Movie Record 0.3.3 beta – Tablet Tweak b2
(Changes: Larger buttons, links to the latest Canon SDK with 7D mk II/5DS/760D/750D support)

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Review: Celestron Vibration Suppression Pads

April 30, 2015 // by ecuador

VSPMy first telescope returning to astronomy after many, many years was a Celestron NexStar 127SLT Maksutov-Cassegrain with an alt-azimuth goto mount. I have to admit that I was not  very happy with the mount. The biggest problem was that it would vibrate very easily and the vibration would take 5-6 seconds to subside. It made even focusing hard.

So I saw the Celestron Vibration Supression Pads (VSP) and thought I’d give them a try. They are not very cheap, especially in Europe they cost around £60, while they are a more manageable $40 in the US. There are other much cheaper versions, like “Seben” in Europe, or “Solomark” and various Chinese unbranded ones, which might or might not be similar. But I went ahead with the Celestron VSP, just to make sure that if they don’t work, I won’t have to wonder whether the more expensive ones would have worked.
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