I spent the better part of this weekend in Denver, Colorado and it seems that while I was gone Tucson went from the humidity of monsoon season to hot and dry. While the weather in Colorado was perfect (to this Arizonan) with daytime temperatures in the low 80's and early afternoon showers, the weather back home is reminding us that our rainy season is all too fleeting. It is hot and dry again, with the hope of some last gasp monsoon activity late in the week. Before long, the sights and sounds of thunderstorms will be gone for another year.
Of course the upside to drying out is the return of the clear skies that make Southern Arizona a mecca for amateur astronomers. As the coffee was brewing this morning I stepped outside and was immediately moved to set up my solar telescope and do some observing of the Sun for the first time in months. The skies were bright blue with no breeze and observing the Sun with my hydrogen alpha telescope confirmed that the atmosphere was fairly steady as well. After a few minutes observing I finished a cup of java and decided to try and image through the telescope. It has been some time since I last attempted this and immediately recognized how out of practice I was. Focusing was difficult, tuning the etalon filter to achieve detail on the laptop screen was challenging, and getting the gain, gamma and exposure times to balance out nicely was nearly a chore. Looking in the mirror I do not see an astrophotographer.
Even my post-processing routine was something of a distant memory. I had taken 30-second videos of the Sun at the full resolution of the ASI120MC sensor (my astronomical video camera) as well as binned 2x2. The best 300 frames (out of about 900) were aligned and stacked in registax with some sharpening and denoising applied as well. First up, the binned image:
Next is the full resolution image and you can see that the atmosphere was impacting the final image more than when binning during capture. The active region left of center was, I think, flaring subtly during the exposure as it seemed to brighten slightly more even after I pulled the camera and put the eyepiece back in. Click the image to enlarge it to full size
So what is the endgame of this sweaty exercise this morning? Well, I am motivated for the first time since June to spend several hours after dark looking through my telescope!