Saturday, July 25, 2015

Hawkish behavior

No, this is not a post about politics or the Presidential campaigning shenanigans that we are already suffering on a daily basis here in the U.S.A.  Rather, it is a post to share some pictures of juvenile Red-Tailed hawks that I took yesterday on the summit of Mount Lemmon at Steward Observatory's field station.  I had spent the better part of the day on the mountain working as we had a group of students from Catalina Foothills School District visiting us at the UA Sky School (you can see pictures here).  Following the students departure there was a group of three hawks that were playing near the summit.

The hawks often circle overhead, floating on the laminar airflow that rises over the western summit ridge line and flows to the east.  Sometimes they can 'surf' the air current and appear nearly motionless overhead for 10-20 seconds, or longer.  (It is this same laminar airflow that is a factor in our frequently excellent astronomical seeing conditions).  Below is an image of one of these hawks 'surfing' taken with my Canon 6d and a 70-200 mm lens at the 200 mm setting.  The exposure was 1/1600 of second at ISO 100, with an aperture of f/4.5.  Click on it for the full size image.

The picture below shows two of the hawks playing- the one on the left had landed in the tree and was then dive bombed by the one on the right.  I took the image a fraction of a second too late as I was hoping to get the hawk on the left still in the tree looking at the incoming hawk.  Both of these pictures are crops from the center of the original image but have not been reduced in size. (EDIT: Apparently, however, Blogger does compress them...)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Zodiacal light

As I catch up at work and attempt to at least get my desktop organized (the Windows desktop on my laptop that is...) I found this image of the Zodiacal light that I took out in Portal Arizona this past winter.  I had just acquired a new Canon 6D and a small German Equatorial tracking mount to take long exposures of the sky...It is a fun image with the Milky way on the right running parallel to the Zodiacal light on the left.  Brian Koberlein published a nice explanation of the Zodiacal light on his blog, check it out.

I actually did not set out to take pictures of the Zodialcal light, but was just trying to practice using the camera-mount system as it darkened, in preparation to take pictures of Comet Lovejoy.  I do not remember the details of this capture at all, other than it was 90 seconds at ISO 1600, and I suspect I was using my 14mm Rokinon wide angle lens.  If you look at the upper part of the image, just to the leftt of the Milky Way, you can see the Andromeda Galaxy.  The light dome above the horizon is likely Sierra Vista, and is invisible to the naked eye.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Here Kitty, Kitty

A quick post to share another of the local denizens...this bobcat was wondering through the yard on the 4th of July, and by the time I grabbed my camera the cat had headed across the street...Having no time to change lenses either, this was shot with the Canon 24-105L, at the 105mm setting.  Below is a crop from the center 20 percent or so of the original image.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Beep Beep!!

Wow...I avoided going 4 months between posts by two days!  I really need to prioritize posting more frequently but between an amazing job that has me working nearly every day between March 15 and May 30, spending my few free days with the family, and trying to learn to play guitar in between...well, the blog has just fallen off my radar.

I am working today so will keep this short and sweet.  This morning, I awoke to the noisy fellow below making a racket as s/he used our backyard as his (her?) personal hunting grounds and dining facility.  A quick search online and I learned that there is no easy way to identify the gender of the Greater Roadrunner from looks alone.  This particular noise monger is likely a juvenile, given the gray color of his facial skin.  When the roadrunner matures its facial skin becomes colored red and blue.  In any event, despite the cacophony, this young bird (in the cuckoo family) was obviously happy and satiated (shout out to the memory of the fence lizard) and did not at all mind me coming within about 10 feet for a picture.  He did not, however, agree to a selfie with me.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy

Comet C/2104 Q2 Lovejoy has been putting on quite a show for observers in the northern hemisphere for the last month, and as the moon begins to wane there are again a few hours after sunset to observe this beautiful comet.  I had not taken a good look at Lovejoy since the last new moon weekend when I was camping with friends in Portal, AZ and the comet was very near the Pleiades in Taurus.  Tonight it was very near the bright star Almach in the constellation Andromeda and made for a very pretty sight in both binoculars and in my TEC 140mm refractor.

I recently acquired my first full frame DSLR, a Canon 6D, and below is a 120 second exposure of the comet at ISO 800 taken through the telescope.  I had to stretch the image a bit to bring out the tail, but it was visible with averted vision in the eyepiece.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

16 Candles

This was an exciting week on the home front, as Thursday marked Ian's 16th birthday!  The years are definitely flowing by quickly and I am thankful that we have so many great memories, from what feels like such a short period of time.  Over the past 16 years, we have been very fortunate to be able to take trips nearly every year.  Just thinking of the trips we have taken, we have visited: Arizona, the Navajo Nation, California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington (and the San Juan Islands), Colorado, Utah, North Carolina, New York, Maryland, Virginia, Washington DC and well as Mexico, Puerto Rico, and St. Kitts...I am sure I am missing some.  I can't imagine where our adventures together over the next 16 years will take us, but I am looking forward to them tremendously.

Just a couple pictures from one of the celebrations we have had this week are below (hey, when you are 16 you get to celebrate a few times!)...with the disclaimer that I just purchased a new camera and I do not have a flash...and as I did not prepare to take the pictures they are also handheld which is a challenge in low light.

Now, if someone could help me figure out, how I have a 16 year old son, when I am only 29 years old myself...

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Solar flashback and why I am not an astrophotographer

One reason I am not a serious astrophotographer: Patience.

I enjoy taking some casual images of bright targets such as the Sun, moon, or a planet but I rely heavily on being able to process these images in a quick and efficient fashion.  I do not have the motivation or desire to spend a lot of time learning the ins and outs of varied software packages to create astronomical images of the highest quality.  Many call my approach to obtaining a nice image "lucky imaging."  At left is a single shot of the Sun taken back on October 23rd when we had the largest sunspot in 24 years near the center of the Solar disc.  On the same day I made a video (AVI) recording of the Sun using my ASI120MC astronomical video camera in the hopes of stacking multiple frames to achieve a sharp, high resolution image.  Below is the AVI file as captured.

This is where the story takes a long break.  Back in the fall I broke down (and nearly went broke...emotionally and economically...) and purchased a new laptop.  I had a very nice 5 year old laptop that was still humming along quite well, yet technology has improved dramatically and doing a lot more work on the go I wanted something a bit lighter than the old 5+ pound beast.  I did my research, moved through periods of analysis-paralysis, wavered on what features I was looking for, and ended up with a Samsung Ativ Book 9 plus.  It is a very nice laptop and I only have two issues that remain.  One is Windows 8.1 which I can't do anything about, and the other is that the display has a resolution of  3200 x 1800 pixels, in a 13-inch class screen.  While this produces stunningly sharp images and can be useful in processing photos, it is somewhat of an annoyance in that several software programs do not always display properly and one can end up with text that is so small as to render it unreadable even with reading (magnifiers) glasses!  There are work arounds and settings that can be tweaked and for the most part things can be set effectively.

Two specific examples that are driving me nuts are Registax 6 and Adobe Camera Raw, both of which I use in the image processing I do.  Registax is used to align and stack multiple frames from AVI recordings (of say the Sun) and is just not displaying properly or working properly on the new laptop.  I have been fighting it since the fall and as a result have not been able to process a single AVI file.  I have known this day was coming but I finally decided to try another program and this morning downloaded and made a first attempt using a freeware program called Autostakkert2!  It seems to work fine, but does not contain the wavelet sharpening tools that Registax does.  Fortunately that functionality of Registax is still usable.  I Also will try a program called Avistack to see which I like better.

Adobe is particularly frustrating in that I was able to get Photoshop to display in a small but reasonable fashion, yet when opening a raw file the window does not display at the proper settings. See the image below and compare the text (not the title bar, but the controls) in the raw window to the application window in the background.

In any event, back to the AVI file I captured back on October 23rd.  Using Autostakkert2! this morning, I did stack and align the best 50% of the frames (out of about 1000) and then use the wavelet filters in Registax to create an image.  While not perfect, you can immediately see it is sharper than the single shot at the top of the post.  I think I can do better as I learn to use AutoStakkert2! (or Avistack) but at least I am back in business with AVI files.  Jupiter season is here, we have a bright comet in the sky, and stacking images is a must to capture these sights!