Saturday, October 26, 2013

solar imaging with the ASI120MC

I can not believe over a month has gone by since my last blog post...while not good blog form, I have been working almost 7 days a week for the last 6 weeks and having a ball.  As I continue to work alongside some remarkable staff and graduate students in the development of the UA Science: Sky School I am reminded every day why I love my job.  As satisfying as work can be, one still needs time to pursue one's hobbies and I have not had nearly enough time to observe through my telescopes.  Last night I stayed up until nearly 2 AM observing some departing summer objects as well as taking my first glimpses of the year at winter objects such as the Orion Nebula and also at Jupiter.  It was a beautiful night and so satisfying that I still pulled myself out of bed by 8:30 AM to play further....

(Note to self: I am not an astrophotographer...But, apparently I am attempting to play one on TV.)  On a lark last week I decided to purchase my first dedicated planetary/solar imaging camera and try my hand at taking images of the Sun through my Lunt 60mm Hydrogen Alpha telescope.  This morning I captured and processed my first 'reasonable' solar image using my new ASI120MC camera from ZWO Optical.  This little camera has been receiving more than its share of accolades in the amateur community as an incredible value for the money.  At left is an image of the key pieces that come with the camera.  In addition to the camera itself, it comes with a 1.25 inch nose-piece, a USB cable, and a 150 degree lens that allows the camera to be used as an "all-sky" camera. (It also comes with a pre-installed IR cut filter (which is removable), a cable for auto-guiding, and a CD with drivers).  I decided to purchase the color camera to get my feet wet in this imaging business, and the camera also comes in a monochrome version with the only difference being that instead of an IR filter, there is a clear filter installed.

So after downloading the freeware programs Firecapture and Registax, I set things up this morning and began to play with settings and features of the software to try and record a reasonable avi file of the Sun.  In addition to my own issues (which are far too numerous to list), the seeing was just average and there were passing cirrus clouds that kept interrupting my process.  Regardless, the little camera delivered in the sense that there is far more detail present in the captures than my processing skills are currently able to take advantage of.  Further, I really have no idea what the ideal settings are for this kind of imaging in terms of shutter speed, gain, gamma, etc.  The image below is the result of a trial and error process and represents 150 frames aligned and stacked in Registax...Fooling around with the wavelet functions (I do not even know what a wavelet is) resulted in some over sharpening.

Hopefully I'll have some time to research settings and learn from many of the fantastic solar imagers out there that have traveled this path ahead of me.  I do enjoy a modest amount of learning by figuring things out, however, if I can at least know that I am capturing the data in an optimal fashion then I can focus my time on learning to bring out the details from the data.