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!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year and Anniversaries!

My Lost Pleiad
2015 is here and with it comes the 5th anniversary of this blog.  I began on January 1st, 2010 (inspired by my friend Dean Ketelesen) with two posts, including this one detailing the inspiration and story of the Lost Pleiad Observatory.  While 2014 saw the least amount of blogging, I do hope to bear down and do more writing this year-  Life certainly has no shortage of material for the blog.

In addition to the blog anniversary, it is also our 19th wedding anniversary!  I am reaching that point in life where despite how long 19 years seems looking forward, it feels like an instant looking in retrospect.  Hairs are graying, my dear son is about to turn 16 and there is an increasing realization that every moment matters.  I look at my lovely and wife and (increasingly GQ) son and know that I am amazingly fortunate.

In addition to being the first day of 2015, I believe that in all my years in Tucson, Arizona this is the first time I recall snow on New Years day!  Yes, you read that right, we awoke to a dusting of snow this morning.  True to most snowfalls in Tucson, it only takes 2-3 hours of sunshine to erase all traces of this beautiful event, but nonetheless it was an awesome anniversary and New Year's present.

Cosmo, our dog (he had that name when we adopted him 11 years ago), let me know at sunrise that it was time for him to go play in the snow.  He has seen snow before, traveling with me to Mount Lemmon and something about it gets him riled up to play like a puppy.  He also let me know that I do not give him enough attention on the blog, so without further ado, here he is enjoying himself in the white stuff.

Finally, here is a picture I had taken a few weeks back from the 7 Cataracts Vista on the Catalina Highway.  It is looking over Thimble Peak towards sunset and just to the left of Thimble Peak you can just make out the dome of the  Mayall 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory on the most distant ridge.

Happy New Year!