Keck in Motion Hits the Web

I expected the video to be popular, maybe not this popular. So far several major websites have picked up the video. First is was and Universe Today, then Phil at Bad Astronomy was nice enough to post the vid. Now it is Wired Magazine that has posted the video along with an article. I expect the video will pass 10k views sometime in the next hour.

For those readers that might be stopping by Darker View for the first time… Welcome!

A video like this takes a surprising amount of work to assemble. It is rewarding to see that the results of that effort are not in vain. Sharing my experience on the mountain, celebrating the efforts of the great guys of our summit daycrew, it is very satisfying to see that so many folks are interested in what we do.

If you like what you see, why not stick around, we have more to share!


Every astronomer has a first telescope, mine is a 6″ f/5.1 Newtonian I first built as a teenager. As life progressed I was forced to dismantle the telescope and it dwelt for a time as a pile of parts in a box. Eventually I had an opportunity to rebuild the telescope, but as both my technical capability and my financial means had increased I was able to do a substantially better job.

Primero setup at TIMPA outside of Tucson
The result is the instrument you see to the right, Primero, or simply ‘first’ in Spanish. The original mirror was used but little else from that first telescope was reused. A completely new mount, a new tube and all new fittings. The only purchased parts are the focuser, the Telrad and the secondary mirror. Several parts of the mount were removed and reworked from a previous mount, this includes both the bearings, shafts, counterweight and saddle. The entire tripod, tube, mirror cell, spider and secondary holder were produced by hand for this scope.

The optical design of the telescope is standard Newtonian with a f/5.1 primary mirror of 6.0 inches giving a focal length of 777mm. The mirror was hand ground when I was a teenager and thanks to expert help during figuring is an excellent mirror.

The RFT design is deliberate and has proven to be a good choice, particularly with modern eyepieces that perform so well in short focal length scopes. With a 35mm Tele-Vue Panoptic eyepiece the scope provides a 22x image with just over a three degree field.

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1940 Mauna Loa Eruption Film

Vintage film of Mauna Loa eruption during 1940 by Harold T. Stearns, a USGS Hydrologist-Volcanologist.

An eruption of Mauna Loa is something everyone fears and hopes for. This enormous volcano will erupt again, almost certainly within our lifetimes, possibly even the next decade. The last eruption was in 1984, the mountain has been quiet for well over two decades now, an uncharacteristically long period of quiescence. When it does erupt this volcano is capable of emitting huge volumes of lava, that reach the sea quite quickly down the steep slopes A dangerous mountain to be wary of.

Damon posted this some time ago, definitely worth re-posting here.

Afocal Photography

When doing any sort of public astronomy, showing folks the beautiful sights available to a telescope, I often hear the question “Can I take a photo of that?” The person asking the question is usually holding the ubiquitous compact digital camera. They are often surprised when my answer is “Yes”. It is indeed possible to manage hand held shots of bright astronomical objects by simply holding the camera up to the eyepiece. There are a few tricks to making it work, but nothing that can not be demonstrated in a minute or two. The resulting photographs can be quite pleasing, definitely worth showing to friends and family along with the rest of the Hawai’i vacation shots.

The method of positioning a camera with a lens in front of an eyepiece is called afocal photography, or sometimes digiscoping. Afocal has been around for a while, but was not considered a practical photographic method by most. The advent of common digital cameras without removable lenses has changed this. Using the LCD display it is possible to get an easy look at the image before shooting and developing a roll of film. Getting a decent image is often a trial and error process with many wasted frames, not a problem with a digital camera where there is no cost involved in a bad photo beyond pressing the delete button.

Afocal PhotographyTaking a photograph of the Moon using afocal photography

Sometimes I have to explain the shot is not really possible, the object is just too dim to take the photograph without very long exposures and all of the technical complications such exposures entail. This is true of the many star clusters and nebula that we look at. Hand held afocal photography limits exposures to what the human hand can hold steadily enough to manage an unblurred exposure, about 1/8 second or shorter. It is only a few targets that are accessible to this technique, the Moon, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn, possibly a few bright stars. Of these the only one I find truly satisfying to photograph is the Moon. I have seen a few decent attempts at Saturn and Jupiter, but these are pressing the limits of what can be achieved without additional techniques that are beyond a simple handheld point and shoot attempt.

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WP Plugin Confusion

The world of WordPress plugins is a stew of confusion to a new WordPress user. Thousands of options are available for use with your blog, an amazing array of interesting features to add useful capabilities. From this, you are trying to choose what works for you. You really do need a few plugins to add key features.

For Darker View there a number of things I have determined I need to get working… Spam comment filtering, backup capability, statistics, social site support, threaded comments, and a decent photo gallery. I have the backup utility working now using the very nice WordPress Database Backup by Austin Matzko. Social site functions and statistics from Jetpack work smoothly.

The latest experiments center around getting a decent gallery function integrated. Two options appear to be worth considering… NextGEN Gallery seems to be the standard, but I had read that it was flash based, and I want things to work on an iOS device. In a later experiment I found that it does work on my iPad, so it is back on the list.

In the meantime I have experimented with DM Albums. This is a straightforward plugin with a decent interface. Just load the photos and put a single tag into the post. I like the effect, it seems to play well with my theme. The result is a nicely functional gallery.

DM Albums does have some sizing issues in the full screen mode, pretty annoying issues. The package has seen very active development lately, with two major releases already this year as they clean up the bugs and get everything working. Thus I am not giving up on this package just yet.

This issue is not done yet, I am just out of time to play with it for now.

[dmalbum path=”/wp-content/uploads/dm-albums/Hawaii 100/”/]

Postcard from the Summit – Daytime Shutters

Normally we do not open the shutters during the day. As any kid who has used a magnifying glass in the sun knows, direct sunlight and optics are a powerful combination. The amount of sunlight a 10 meter mirror could gather would result in something a bit more powerful than a child’s toy.

Occasionally it is necessary to do maintenance on the shutters, in the process opening the shutters during the day. It is a careful operation, turning the dome away from the Sun and positioning the telescope away from the opening. Still, it is an odd situation, daylight streaming into the dome, a place normally only lit by starlight or the dome florescents. Then there is the view…

Daytime Shutters
Looking out at North Kohala with the Keck 1 Shutters open during the day

Keck in Motion Scene Guide

I have been getting a few questions about the video. To answer a few of them I have compiled a guide to the scenes. Some quick explanations to what you are seeing, information on the camera used as well as the exposure information.

The video is a combination of two techniques. Many scenes were filmed as standard video then accelerated during editing to allow the motion to become clear. Examples of this are scenes of telescopes slewing and the interferometer delay lines moving.

Slower subjects, such as clouds or the stars moving across the sky, were photographed as time lapse. Here a large number of still images were taken. These are then processed and converted to video using Photoshop CS5 before loading into the video editing software, Adobe Premiere Elements. To construct the time lapse sequences sometimes required thousands of separate images, quickly filling memory cards and exhausting batteries. After dark it is long exposure time lapse that is used, with individual exposures often 15 seconds to one minute long.

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