Strongly Celestial

Looking outward; looking backward in time...


About | Launchpad | Gallery | Contact

8/23/13 - I am still here...

No, I have not been gone for a year. And no, I have not been idle in my astronomy work. But I will confess to some very busy times in all areas of life, so maintenance of this website has taken a lower priority. And I am in the middle of a lengthy and somewhat complex process of migrating my images to a Google drive to allow me to edit from anywhere.... but it means some significant rebuilding. Stay tuned for some exciting news soon with respect to a remote telescope...

8/28/12 - My newest video: "Neptune the Wanderer"

Almost three months in making, I have just finished my newest time lapse video! Most of my video work to date has been solar, but this one is a departure into the night sky. Specifically, I decided to use one of the wide field telescopes on the iTelescope network in Mayhill, New Mexico to follow Neptune as it wandered across a small patch of sky from June to August.

A description of how I did it and the hhhh result can be seen in my Video Gallery!

6/5/12 - The Making of a Solar Time Lapse Video

Producing time lapse videos of the sun is not quite as easy as it looks. It begins with taking lots of individual pictures (I have found that one every 30 seconds works well). If you are lucky...and the clouds don't ruin your can get hours and hours of images fairly easily. But then you have literally 100's of pictures to process into a video! So I decided to make a video that covers the basic steps I follow in order to create a solar time lapse. It does not go into lots of technical detail, but it does outline the steps used and shows short clips of the results along the way.

Eventually, I will write up a more detailed "Project Report" with the nitty gritty stuff that some may want to see in order to do it themselves.

The video ends with a time lapse of the sun covering a 5 hour period using 600 individual pictures taken on May 11, 2012. Look closely and you can actually detect the rotation of the sun itself! And there is an interesting patch of surface activity we get a close look at. The final result can be seen in my Video Gallery!

5/8/12 - I'm trying out iTelescope

I have confessed elsewhere and will repeat here that I have one significant handicap relative to observational astronomy: I am a morning person, not a night owl! This works out fine in the winter when early sunsets lead to substantial viewing opportunities before diving into the midnight oil. But with spring here and summer approaching, I either have to accept less sleep or try a different approach. I tend to shift toward solar photography during the long days, but in the interest of expanding my options at night, I have decided to give iTelescope a try. This company has set up a network of telescopes in Australia, New Mexico, and Spain, and members can rent time on those telescopes for imaging and research. You can find out more about them at the homepage. I have set up a separate image gallery for my results in this venture.

I have seen a number of different Forum posts on amateur astronomy sites expressing their opinions about internet-based rental telescopes. Some are not very flattering, essentially calling it "cheating" the hobby. Let me offer my point of view at the outset:

In the area of astrophotography, I see the hobby consisting of three relatively equal elements: (1) putting a detailed plan in place for what you want to image and how, (2) setting up the equipment to execute that plan, and (3) processing the images to create the (hopefully) pretty pictures resulting from a well executed plan. Given the coming short nights and the fact I cannot install a fixed telescope where I live, the equipment set-up becomes a significant portion of available observation time. I can and will do it, but for long imaging plans, I need to find a way to streamline somewhere. In my early experience with them, iTelescope offers me the opportunity to do two of the three major steps in astrophotography, just as if the equipment were in my back yard (in fact they use much of the same software I use), and they save me the equipment set-up a lot of lost sleep! I plan to try them for the next few months to see how well this system works for me. Stay tuned!

4/27/12 - I'm back!!!

For various reasons (spring vacation, work, other priorities, etc.), I've been away from my website project for much longer than I would have liked! But I'm back now, and I'm going to try to stay closer.

To celebrate, I am posting my second video: a time lapse movie of the sun that I took about a month ago (and processed over the last few weeks). Check it out on my Video page. Soon I will write up an interesting "Project Report" associated with the making of this video. Taking the pictures (one every 30 seconds for several hours) was the easy part. It turns out the challenge was aligning the individual sun pictures so that the movie, when played, didn't result in a "wobbly" looking sun as it danced across the screen, partly from tracking inaccuracies but largely because of atmospheric distortions. I ended up writing a little image processing program in Python that automatically found the center of the sun in all 300+ individual frames and cropped the images so that the centers all aligned. The result is what you see in the video. I will use a Project write-up to describe the program and show "before" and "after" examples illustrating the importance of this processing step!

3/6/12 - Orion Nebula captured!

This evening was a frustrating, horrible viewing night! I tried to get a shot of Jupiter (it won't be long before it's not visible in the early evening sky for a while), but the atmospheric turbulence was very bad. The image simply "danced" around the view through my imager, so I knew it was a waste of time. I then tried my first look at Mars, which is now rising high enough in the early evening to see, but the viewing was of course no better. Even the massive moon, almost full this evening, looked like it was under 6' of flowing water, and imaging was pointless. To my great surprise, Orion saved the night! On a whim, I trained my telescope on the sword of Orion which I had recently read is the home of the famous Orion Nebula. I set my Canon T2i for a 30 second exposure, expecting to see - at best - a blurry mess...and I was stunned by the gorgeous image that emerged! I set up to do a "proper" imaging, with 20 short (10 sec) exposures (I purposely went short because of the turbulence) and snapped a bunch of shots. These I stacked and (minorly) cleaned up with my software, and the final result can be seen in my Deep Space Gallery!

2/20/12 - My first video!

After watching a number of episodes of the Cosmology video course (see my Education page), I started thinking about how I might be able to model gravitational effects between large celestial bodies. After all, the equations (Newton's) are fairly simple in space (no friction effects) if you keep the number of bodies interacting down to a few. I created an Excel spreadsheet to model the gravitational attraction between two stars, which produced tables of data showing force, velocity, and relative position over time. I then used Python programming language and a module called pygame to create an animation of all that data. And it worked! After a bit of video editing and a musical overlay, I had my first astronomy video. I have expanded my website's content to include a Gallery for Videos, and this is the first entry. Enjoy (and be sure to turn on the adds a lot to the mood and tension of the video!).

1/22/12 - The Moon Gallery is live!

My first astrophoto gallery (The Moon Gallery) is now live on the website! I started with the moon (though less exciting than some of my other images) because that was where I started when taking up this hobby in the first place. Like many amateurs, I have many, many pictures of the moon, since it is relatively easy to shoot and a great training ground for the equipment and photographic techniques. This gallery contains just a few of the more interesting ones taken since my "modern telescope" arrived in March of 2011.

1/21/12 - The Launchpad is operational

I realized that before uploading pictures, I really needed to make the Launchpad (where you land when visiting the website) operational. I elected to go with a "countdown" motif and tried to emulate some old style, lighted control panel buttons. Lots of content to be added, but at least the primary navigation mechanism is up and running!

1/20/12 - Placeholder images in Gallery

Most people want to see pretty pictures...I know I do! So one of the next big tasks for me is to get my (fledgling) astrophotos organized into the web Gallery area. That will take a bit of time, but in the meantime, I have uploaded a couple as placeholders. Enjoy!

1/19/12 - The website is up and running!

After much searching and hand wringing over choices, my new website is finally up and running. Selecting a host was an interesting process of searching through reviews (most of which are probably sponsored by the hosts themselves and get paid for referrals). In the end, I settled on iPage...let's just say they are...ah...inexpensive. Then the trick was finding decent web design software. I quickly realized that iPage itself was not very useful...the "free drag and drop" designer that comes with it is limited to 6 (!?) total pages unless you pay $9.95/mo extra in fees. thanks! I have a Mac, so iWeb looked possible, but it is rumored to be discontinued. I tried Joomla, but I confess I am a novice at web design and quickly got lost. At last I found Freeway...and I am extremely impressed! I am still in the trial period, but barring any major surprises in the initial free 30 days, I will certainly be buying this software! For those like me who are very new to web design and want to check out Freeway, head over to Softpress for demos, a trial, and some truly excellent tutorials!

Now all I need to do is fill up this website with some content! Stay tuned for more....