The plan is simple, a vacation combining a visit to my family and a run to Oregon Star Party. I miss doing the larger regional star parties, six telescopes is a big star party on the island. OSP would feature hundreds of telescopes, speakers, and hopefully dark skies. I also volunteered as a speaker, may as well bring and share little Keck experience.Heading to a major star party takes some planning. Worse, I would be doing this with what could be packed for airline travel. The answer would be to implement my usual star party plan… Set up for astrophotography, this would allow vising other telescopes while my camera ran under computer control. Good astrophotography can also be done with relatively small equipment.
The site is quite remote, no nearby hardware store to replace a missing bolt, no internet connection to allow download of a missing driver. The setup would have to work with what was packed to start with. Several iterations of packing showed that two cases would be required to carry the setup. An ancient hard suitcase I have had since my Air Force days, and a hard equipment case purchased years ago for a portable telescope I have yet to build. At least both had wheels and could be hauled by one person through an airport terminal.
After a few very nice days visiting with my parents I steal away in the camper for the drive to OSP. Four hours sees me over the Cascades, into the Ochoco Mountains east of Prineville. It is a very pleasant drive, a beautiful day, open roads, Mt. Hood soaring over the trees that line the highway. The sort of driving you just can not do on the island, the sort of vacation I grew up with.
I had been looking to acquire another astrophoto toy. The desire is for a small, portable astrophoto setup. Yes, I am aware that the words “portable” and “astrophoto” do not really belong in the same sentence, all things are relative.
Thus I have decided on the new iOptron ZEQ25. It is a new design, with some radical differences from the more traditional German equatorial mounts.
The mount is pretty small, a mere 10 pounds of steel and aluminum. Compact enough to be packed into a suitcase for air travel. Performance sufficient to do wide field astrophotography with focal lengths up to 1000mm and a DLSR camera. Perfect for use with either my TV-76 or AT6RC. Unlike my old Losmady G-11 it features a modern GOTO system and can be run from the computer.The chatter over at Cloudy Nights was promising. A few early production mounts were in the hands of some stateside amateurs, and they have been posting their impressions and images. I was particularly impressed by the measurements of periodic error with results around two arc seconds. This was a small mount that could very easily be a good astrophoto option.
I ordered the mount from the good folks at OPT. It was not yet listed in the website catalog, but a phone call confirmed they were expecting delivery of three mounts shortly. I put down my deposit. A week later I had confirmation that the mount had been received and was ready for shipment to Hawaiʻi as promised.
It looks like it may clear. There should be a few dark hours before moonrise. Maybe I can get the new astrophoto rig out and get everything working properly.
<Commence tropical downpour>
Nothing like two tenths of an inch of rain in half an hour to put a damper on astronomical plans.
Maybe it will clear later.
The trade-winds have returned for the evening. And while they are welcome for the comfortable temperatures they bring, the winds are unwelcome for the problems they create at the telescope. I am trying to get in one last exposure sequence for the evening, but the guider graph shows trouble. There are constant errors, not small errors either. The Right Ascension axis seems to be the issue, with errors of +/-3 pixels on the guider. This is just not going to work.
I watch the graph for a while, trying to figure out what I can do. I have had an issue where the guide star was the source of the problem, two stars to close together, a double star I did not notice when selecting my guide star. I stop the guider and select another star… The problem continues.
As I feared, my problem is most likely the wind this evening, a continual issue on this rock I live on. A speck in the middle of a very large ocean, the winds are a fact of life here. I only shoot with small telescopes, less sail area to catch the wind with a short tube. A TeleVue 76mm, an AT6RC, or simply a wide angle camera lens. The smaller scopes provide less loading for the old Losmandy G11 I mount them on.
I decide to try something else, shifting the balance to load the RA gear down. I gently slide the counterweight down the shaft about an inch. There is barely a blip on the guider as I make the adjustment. Better yet the guide error graph settles down! Looks like I will be able to get in a few more exposures before putting the ‘scope away.
In the few days I had the camera I was determined to acquire some astrophotography test shots with the EOS-M camera. Even if it meant getting up at 3am to have some dark sky after moonset. It would have been easier a few days before, but a Pacific storm system had provided several days of overcast with occasional rain. This particular morning was just about perfect, clear skies, decent seeing and no wind to bounce the telescope around.For testing I used the same setup I often use with my Canon 20Da or 60D. An Astro-Tech 6″ (150mm) Ritchey–Chrétien telescope riding atop a Losmandy G11 mount. A 0.8x focal reducer has T-thread at the rear allowing a Canon EOS lens adapter. To attach the EOS-M I used the Canon M Mount to EOS Mount adapter. An SBIG STi autoguider completes the setup.
The result is an f/7 optical system with 1080mm focal length. This gives a field of view of about 72×48 arc-minutes (1.2 x 0.8 degrees) on the sky when using a camera with an APS-C sensor.
Another product of this last new Moon star party at the MKVIS. An easy target, suited to checking the performance of the new setup. As usual, click on the image to view the larger size…
As we approach the Transit of Venus I decided to attempt to photograph Venus as a very thin crescent. I do not normally pay much attention to the planet, it is pretty when seen in the sunset. But when you turn a telescope to Venus it is quite boring, a white ball with no detail to be seen. I find I have been paying a bit more attention with the transit looming close on the calendar.
I could photograph the planet after sunset, but as Venus is quite near the Sun it would be very low in the sky and I would be shooting through a lot of air to get the imagery. Atmospheric distortion would be a major problem. The other method is to try something I had not done before, photograph the planet in the daytime, high in the sky and quite near the Sun.Don’t try this at home?
Yeah, This will be a tricky operation. Venus will be only 12°44′ from the Sun, meaning I will have to be quite careful to avoid roasting my equipment, or my eyes.
I chose to use the 90mm APO refractor. With the optics at the front there will be some sunlight splashed down the interior of the tube. It should not be a focused image as it will hit the tube not even halfway down. There the heavy aluminum tube walls should dissipate the heat efficiently. The fully baffled tube should also stop much of this light before it reaches the camera. I may not have designed and built the optical tube with this sort of abuse in mind, but I did build it heavy, it will take it.I located Venus by centering the Sun with the solar filter on the ‘scope. I then adjusted the setting circles and offset to the correct coordinates for Venus. After a visual safety check I removed the solar filter for a look. And there it was, a graceful and very thin crescent shining brightly against the blue sky. Replacing the eyepiece with a camera I focused and shot several video sequences.
The results? The final image can bee seen to the left. Not horrible, but it could have been better. The seeing at 11am was already starting to degrade, I am always amazed at how well the software can extract a half decent image from such distorted original material. The magic of sorting through and averaging a thousand frames. I wonder what I could do with better seeing.
Another try? Probably not, Venus is quickly getting closer to the Sun as we approach transit in nine days. The next time I photograph Venus it will most likely be silhouetted against the solar disk. Maybe an attempt after transit? I could shoot earlier in the morning with possibly better seeing.