Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Film Developing at Home

I've been busy the last month with my niece staying for several weeks.  There were lots of chances to be tourist and see things that we normally don't have on our list of stuff to do.

I've also been working with Dan Wright to learn how to develop film at home.  We're only using black and white process (no C41 or E6).  He swears by Xtol 1:1 and so we've been using it.  He brings the chemicals over and I've learned how to put the film on the rollers, measure the mix, and work the magic.

Dan's been nice enough to loan his Epson V700 scanner for the extended time as well so that I can scan the film into the computer.  Over the last several weeks, I've learned how to get decent results from the files it generates. Eventually, I'll rescan the Calstar pictures and process them.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Thursday, October 17, 2013

First View of Film from Calstar 2013

I shot film at Calstar 

Yes, it's old technology.  But it works very well for what it can do.

Here are some images from when I got the film back from K&S


Acros filmstrip

Acros single frame

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Continuing work on the Calstar images

I'm tweaking my calibration process with the images from Calstar.  As I've noticed in my final images, because the flexure is so much under control now, hot pixels are being a problem.  Thus, I have to do a better job of calibration to remove them from the source.

Friday, October 11, 2013

More Calibration from Calstar 2013

With the past week, I've been working on calibrating the data from the starparty.  I've run into a few roadblocks.  Either there's not enough data, not enough good data, or bad data was gathered in the first place.

As noted in the earlier post, there are some star flares that appear and make for havoc in subexposures.  Removing these flares requires more good data -- there's just not enough good frames to balance out the bad ones.  For IC59, this means that I'll need to get up to Montebello and image at least 6 frames on the target. 

For other targets, like the horsehead, there's no content other than the flared data.  This means that at least 9 or more frames will be needed to fix it.  I've worked on the HH before, so I might toss this data in with that set for refinement. 

For targets like the Triple Cave, there are hot pixels that have made it past the calibration phase.  This is probably because the bad pixel map isn't robust enough to catch them.  I've tried to boost the strength of the DSS detection to catch them but it sucks out the inside of bright stars instead.  Now that I've fixed flexure to the level where it is now, hot pixels are being reinforced and without dithering it's hard to control them automatically.  I believe that the only way to remove them at this point is with a stronger bad pixel map during calibration.

And then there's focus.  Some pictures are so out of focus that they are unusable.  Temperatures were dropping so quickly during the evening that focus didn't settle.  Not much I can do about that problem!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Calstar 2013 - Calibration and Stacking

I've run through a basic calibration using the data that I currently have in my library of darks.  Some stacks are very thin with only 3 subexposures available.  Others are more robust and are ready to use.

Temperatures for the camera were a comfortable mid-teens C in the early evening, quickly dropping as the night wore on.  The problem I face now is that there were temps in the 5C range that are out of the scope of what I have in the library with the current cooler.  I could reference earlier libraries and may do that when recalibrating.

Also, when I removed the IDAS filter, there was one day where flats made were overexposed by 2 stops.  These flats may be unusable and I may have to use flats from another night.  This error seems to show up as banding across the field.

I have noticed strong star flares on certain images, mostly where the IDAS filter was in place.  I'd like to look in more detail at some stacks where the IDAS filter was removed.

Interestingly, when working with the IC 59 stack, I was playing with Kappa settings and found that the flare caused by Navi would erode based on lower Kappa values.  With Sigma Clipping, one flare would disappear and another would remain strong.  With Sigma Median, both flares would erode but not disappear. 

In the above example, note how the flares are shown differently.  The left side has Median Kappa-Sigma (Kappa = 0.50, Iterations = 20) and the right has Median Kappa-Sigma (Kappa = 1.00, Iterations = 10).  In looking at this again, I like the appearance of the higher Kappa value.

I think that the course of action here - barring getting more data - could be to clone data from the Clipping stack to the Median stack.  The area that has the flare needs more unflared data to balance it.

I've also seen new flare types showing up from stars that are even further from the field of view.  For example, when imaging the Monkey Head nebula, the star Propus causes lines of flare and an odd ring pattern.  The ring pattern will be fairly easy to crop out yet the lines reach nearly to the center of the frame.  I think I'll have to look at the flocking again and see what is causing the glinting effect.

Also, I do see diffraction spikes around the brightest of stars.  These are likely because of edges of the flocking paper entering the light cone.  Will have to trim these offending bits for future work, but can't do much about them with the existing data set.

You can see these spikes appearing in the below example of the Horsehead.  Also in the view are a strange series of circular bands.  These are not visible in the sub exposures before or after calibration.  I've tried stacking with Average, Median, Sigma Clipping, and Sigma Median.  I think there's just too little data to use for the stack with only 3 subframes.  Interesting that I haven't seen the error before with other examples that only had 2 frames (the Pelican image from earlier this summer was an example of this kind of work).

For what it's worth, the IDAS filter was in place for this shot.  I think the strong star flares are bouncing off the IDAS and onto other elements.  When taking other pictures without the filter, the flare disappears.

Calstar 2013 First Report

First report after the event:

Dark Sky Map of the Central Coast

This was my second Calstar star party.  For reference, it is the end-of-season star party held at Lake San Antonio, near Lockwood CA.  The skies are dark and there is little light pollution.

Getting there is not so hard, it's mostly 101 south through the Salinas valley.  Traffic is agriculture support.  Being a coastal region, the road temperatures are not very hot - nothing like driving I5.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Heart and Soul Widefield

Heart and Soul Widefield by S Migol
Heart and Soul Widefield, a photo by S Migol on Flickr.
Via Flickr:
Heart (IC 1805) and Soul (IC1848) nebula as seen from the backyard. Taken with the modified Pentax K10D using the smc P-A* 1:4 300mm lens. I had some challenges during the sessions with flexure and so I was finally able to get most of the flexure under control by adding a ring attached to a ball mount. There's still some movement so I'd like to revisit this challenge eventually. May consider making something out of wood.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Saturday, September 21, 2013

IC 1396

IC 1396 by S Migol
IC 1396, a photo by S Migol on Flickr.
Via Flickr:
IC 1396 including the Elephant Trunk Nebula as seen from the back yard at the end of August into September.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Flattener Alignment

Tweaking the Alignment

In order to better optimize the SSF6 flattener spacing and alignement, I popped the SV4 out of the rings and looked at where the DSLR is binding.  There are some issues with the way the camera lines up in the focuser drawtube.  Not only are there problems with the horizontal axis, but there are also problems with the vertical axis.

I tried to match the movement as much as possible.  By using aluminum shims in different places around the tube, as well as on the baseplate of the camera, I was able to get the tubes to mostly line up.  It's a much tighter fit than it used to be.  I believe that this tightness is because of a fine layer of lubrication has caused an air seal!  I removed the flattener from the camera and tried it freely.  The pressure inside the scope is enough to keep the tubes from connecting.

What I'd like to do yet is try some bigger shims on the rings and see what is needed to get these parts to come together easier.

Considering that I've got the camera mostly centered with minimal bias, I think that there should be little skewing of the field.  Currently, the camera slides together cleanly until it hits a tight spot where the air pressure will keep it from going the rest of the way.  It acts the same in reverse, the scope holds onto the flattener tube via air pressure.

Given the in-progress results seen above and the work done,  I'm glad that the final flatness is shown here:

Still, I think the lesson learned is that I will need to check flatness and refocus as needed at the beginning of each session.  There's just too much chance for flexibility, especially if I change filters.

Another thing done recently which will have little practical value under the stars except during setup.  I noticed that the polar scope in the G11 was getting loose in the holder and it had actually come apart inside the mount.  The reason was that the blue tape used on the tube of the polar scope to stiffen it was gumming up and catching on the inside surfaces.  Thus, when the mount would slew, it was unscrewing the parts of the polar scope.  I put it all back together, refocused on the stars, and then I put the devices back together.  I put a rubber o ring under one of the securing rings and that did a nice job of keeping the slop at bay.  I've since used good polar alignment done via drift method to recenter the reticle.  This should go a long way towards making setup easier.

Targets in mind for Calstar:

A list of astrophoto subjects to try and their times of availability.  Early subjects are in the western sky at sundown.  Middle subjects transit around midnight.  Late subjects transit after 2 am.  Very late subjects are pre-dawn eastern sky (Taurus and Orion, for example).

SV4 single image:
  • Pacman (mid)
  • Cocoon (early)
  • Fireworks (early)
  • IC410 (very late)
  • IC 59 and IC 63 (near Navi in Cass) (early)
  • Comet ISON (late)
Single image targets fit within the frame of the SV4 and Pentax K10D, about 123 arcminutes by 83 arcminutes.  I already have data on the Pacman and Cocoon nebula so these are optional targets. 

  • NoAmerica & pelican (early) (2 frames)
  • IC1396 with the garnet star (early) (4 frames)
  • Heart and Soul (mid) (4 frames)
  • NGC 1333 (late) (Perseus Molecular Cloud) 3 frames
Mosaic targets require more than one frame to show the whole object.  This requires more time for each subject.  It's possible that I may ditch mosaics and switch to using the 300mm or 200mm camera lens.  It depends if I'm done with film.

  • Cygnus region (early)
  • Cassiopeia (mid)
  • Heart and Soul (early)
  • Taurus (late)
  • Orion (very late) 165mm
Yes, I'm planning on bringing film to the event.  I have E200 slide film for nebulosity and will take some rolls of Acros 100 for star fields.  I will be taking my old GM8 mount as well as the G11.  The GM8 will support the Pentax 67 plus a ST80 guidescope.  I'm going to guide using the Nexguide stand alone guider.  So long as the polar alignment is good and balance is good, it should all work.  I do still need to practice in the back yard a bit before I'm comfortable with it.  Will be a challenge because I'm going to do several firsts: film, nexguide, gemini 1.

  • NGC 253 (sculptor galaxy) (mid)
I'm planning to bring the Maksutov Cassegrain to do polar alignment on the GM8 since the weight of the system will be similar to the Pentax 67 and guide scope.  Once I've used the film I plan to bring, I might turn the Mak to bear on a high magnification target for the night.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Pacman Nebula Ha

Pacman Nebula Ha by S Migol
Pacman Nebula Ha, a photo by S Migol on Flickr.
Via Flickr:
Pacman Nebula in Ha as seen on the evening of Sept 15, 2013. The moon was after first quarter, so the sky was pretty bright. Shot with a Baader Ha filter - 35 nm wide so it's not very tight and allows a lot of extra light through.

This is a stack of 6 1200 second exposures at 100 ISO with the converted and cooled Pentax K10D camera shot through the Stellarvue SV4 scope.

Calibrated with Maxim using my standard process. I'd tried calibrating with just the red channel but didn't like how the noise was so prevalant. Plus the reduced size seemed to lose a lot of detail in the stack.

Processed in PI pretty simply: crop, masked stretch, histogram stretch, and masked curves. Didn't need to do anything else.

I'm rather pleased with the outcome.

Here's the platesolve:
Referentiation Matrix (Gnomonic projection = Matrix * Coords[x,y]):
-1.0234e-005 +0.000530248 -0.662942
-0.000530054 -1.02716e-005 +1.03623
+0 +0 +1
Projection origin.. [1930.000003 1287.499936]pix -> [RA:+00 51 46.25 Dec:+56 44 54.92]
Resolution ........ 1.909 arcsec/pix
Rotation .......... -88.903 deg
Focal ............. 648.33 mm
Pixel size ........ 6.00 um
Field of view ..... 2d 2' 48.4" x 1d 21' 55.4"
Image center ...... RA: 00 51 46.249 Dec: +56 44 54.92
Image bounds:
top-left ....... RA: 00 46 47.891 Dec: +57 46 43.03
top-right ...... RA: 00 46 46.880 Dec: +55 43 57.34
bottom-left .... RA: 00 57 02.150 Dec: +57 45 05.18
bottom-right ... RA: 00 56 28.593 Dec: +55 42 24.66

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Preparing for Calstar

Lots to Do!

In the stretch of the moon cycle where I can get some practice and assembly done, I have these goals before the outing.  Nearly all have to be done under the sky where I can test by using stars.  Even with the moon waxing, there are some bright stars to use for all exercises.

1. Align the DSLR with the SV4 so that the flattener is optimally placed.

I have been using the SSF6 flattner for many years.  It's only been in the last year that I've become aware of a standard procedure for testing flatness and star size.  This method requires taking sample pictures and passing them through CCD Inspector for flatness and tilt.  Each time I'll need to tweak the alignment a bit.  It's down to shimming the tube and rings to ensure that the sensor is aligned as much as possible.  Luckily, the alignment is getting closer and closer. 
Interestingly, I backed out of the tilting device I'd made earlier.  It did provide some tilt control but it placed a lot of horizontal strain on the focuser and camera mount.  The flatness of the setup left a lot to be desired.
As an important reference, I have gone back to my earlier subs and checked and I see that the flatness is all over the place.  Either the focuser wobbled or the way that the system flexed was giving horrible results.  The lesson here is that with all the work I've done, this year should give me great results.

Not only am I concerned about the alignment with the optical center of the scope with the flattner, I am also trying to optimize the distance from the flattener to the sensor.  I've been using a 1 mm spacer ring to give the optimal distance as 57 mm.  Now that I'm doing even more testing, I'll get into it and check again.  It's possible that less or even more will need to be added.  I may go so far as adding a 7 mm segment.

2. Fine tune the polar alignment process. 

To this end, I've started using PHD2.  I had also been using the V method of imaging.  While it's a great tool, it can be slow.  I tried the PHD2 polar alignment method and it works very well. 

The trick is to watch the trend lines while having DEC guiding off.  DEC still must be calibrated for this to work.  Once it's off and the scope is pointing to the right part of the sky, the graph trend lines will float to show how any cumulative drift is appearing. 

Last night, AZ was pretty easy.  ALT was more difficult mainly because it was such a hairtrigger adjustment.  Approaching the perfect spot was hard with using just hands on the adjustment knob.  I will try using a wrench on it -- maybe even something as simple as putting a pipe clamp on the outside of it will give a purchase for fingers.  A better lever arm would be nice.

With this polar alignment done, I can estimate that the effort got the scope pointed very well - about 1 arc minute.


3. Tweak Maxim settings for best guiding.  


This effort depends a lot on good guiding.  With the PHD2 effort last night, I was able to fuss about with the SSAG settings and realized that with the smoothen and noise reduction features both turned on, I could run the camera at 100% gain.  This provides a solid boost to the SNR at the expense of details.  Also, when clouds started moving into the area, I watched the star intensity level drop.  This gave me the idea to bump up the exposure.  I was running 2, 3, and then 4 second guide exposures.  I would not have been able to do this without good polar alignment!  Interestingly, even when the skies cleared, the smoothen option kept the stars from saturating.  I guess I never learned how to do that properly.

As a nice bonus to the work I've been doing with fixing the flattener, I was able to remove much of the stress on the guide scope.  This has made the guide stars nice and round again. 

I think that I can safely say that Maxim is properly set for now.

4. Understand the difference of noise floor and sky glow with my camera setup.  


Bias density

Dark density

Suburban density (1200 seconds at 100 ISO)

Montebello density (1200 seconds at 100 ISO)

Calstar density (600 seconds at 400 ISO)

In practice, there is no real value to increasing a sub length once the sky glow exceeds the noise floor.  The noise floor for the K10D is defined by dark current and readout noise.  This readout noise is about .7 in the Bias frames.  In the full testing that I've done, the readout noise is about 2-3 ADU at 100 ISO.  Dark current is based on the temperature.  The full testing I've done says that the dark current at 20C is .077 e/pixel/sec for the green channel. 

If I understand that dark current properly, then Bias is about 3 ADU, plus a dark current of 638 e (.07667 / 10M pixels / 1200 seconds) or 37 ADU, to give about 40 ADU as a total noise floor at 20 C.

The full well capacity is suggested to be 71399 e, so dividing this by the gain gives about 4199 ADU, which is near enough to the 12 bit limit of 4095 ADU.  Subtract the noise floor and we're left with 4095 - 40 ADU = 4055 ADU headroom for skyglow. 

The challenge is that skyglow varies.  In the city, skyglow can be reached quickly.  For example, my recent exposures of the Pacman nebula showed average values of 119 ADU in the gaps between stars.  That's not bad, considering what we're assuming is the noise floor.  At Montebello OSP, I was seeing background numbers of 37 ADU.  That means that I could expose at MB for 3 times longer to reach the same density as I do at home or vice-versa.

The question becomes, are my 1200 second exposures at MB long enough?  Strangely, I can do this test from at home, using my light polluted skies.  The advantage here is that the light pollution registers faster and thus I can do the test quicker.

Here's what needs to be done: create a series of exposures that increment in duration.  Then I look at them later and see at what point the bias signal disappears and then the dark noise profile starts to show.  Increasing further, the skyglow should begin to register. 

I've already done exposures of 10 seconds, 15 seconds, 120 seconds, 180 seconds.  I also have exposures of 1200 seconds.  What I miss are exposures of 600 seconds and 300 seconds.  Once I have these set, I can compare.  What I'm hoping to see is a point where the background skyglow shows up.

Once the skyglow gets bigger than the noise floor, then the subs are just loosing headroom.  The annoying factor is that when this happens, whatever faint objects are also lost in the noise.  It takes many sub exposures to build up the signal to noise ratio to compare with a dark sky site.

What do I expect?  I think that I will see that I could do exposures that are 1/2 to 1/3 as long at home to reach the same level of density as I've seen at MB.  What I would do at this point is see if there's enough signal to be worthwhile.  Does an exposure of 300 to 400 seconds have enough signal?

This would mean having to make a whole new library of darks at different lengths.

As a followup question, if MB gives densities of 37 ADU for 1200 seconds at 100 ISO what does CALSTAR give?  Looking at one of my subs (600 seconds at 400 ISO) I see background values of 65 ADU.  Doing the simple math of comparing duration and ISO, an expected density of 32 ADU for 1200 seconds at 100 ISO should be what I'd expect at CALSTAR. 

Will that be enough to get above the noise floor?  Yes, just barely.  It also says that on a good night, MB skies are nearly as dark as CALSTAR.

5. Set up and trial the GM8 for use as a wide field platform for film.

The GM8 currently has a Gemini 1 on it.  I've never learned how to use the Gemini 1 in practice, so this would be a big step for my understanding.  Luckily, Marek and a few others are using this version, so I can ask for help.  The real challenges I see are: learning to do alignments on both sides of the meridian so that a flip can be done with some accuracy, and getting good guiding from the Nexstar device.  I feel fairly confident about the first point, not so confident about the second.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Major Reconfiguration of the Telescopes

More chasing flexure

I have been going after this challenge for nearly all of 2013, starting back at the beginning of the year.  There has been evidence of a slow drift in RA in the main images that has been difficult to remove.

My recent efforts were centered on firming up the camera mount by pre-stressing the flange springs.  This has worked pretty well, the camera now exhibits a flatness that is good.  It is a little artificial compared to the older, unstressed configuration, I'd like to make it less affected.

Still, I was seeing a shift in the camera position over the range of motion of the mount.  I have started taking reference images from the guide camera at the beginning and end of a session, including before a meridian flip.  The advantage of doing this is that it gives a baseline of what the guide camera sees.  In doing this exercise, I can tell that the guide camera does not shift as the mount rotates.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Chasing Flexure Again

Twists and Turns

While I was pulling the scope on and off the mount recently for the purposes of flocking, I noticed that even with the body of the camera secured with the tripod socket, it still moved when handled.  This is not good!

Obviously a source of flexure, I was wondering how this could still be the case given all the work I'd put into securing things.

Thinking about the mechanics, all that is secured by the tripod mount is the Roll of the camera.  Pitch is only slightly controlled and Yaw is also slightly controlled.  Looking at the way the image stacks add up over time, I can say that since nearly all movement is in RA, the Pitch is a major culprit.

Continuing thinking of the way the camera is constructed, I considered what could further reduce the potential flex.  I know that the kmount and flange and mirror box all are one unit that connects to the metal chassis of the camera.  Since I haven't had the camera apart myself, I don't know how much is metal.  Still, there's a fair amount of rigidity in the body due to this skeleton.

I'd seen a product online that was a Tmount for a Canon camera that had Pitch and Yaw screws that would press against the surface of the camera.  The idea was that they would take up the slack in the mount flange springs, holding the camera body tightly to the lens.  Of course, no one makes a Pentax version.

So I figured I'd make one on my own.  

I got 1mm thick aluminum stock.  Would have preferred brass, but Al was cheap and easy to work.  Drilled a 1.75 inch hole in the metal and deburred it.  This fits perfectly over the 42mm T thread of the flattener.  Allowing a little bit of flange for putting some machine screws through the metal, I then bent the edges of the metal to give a little stiffness.  I would have put the screws on equal thirds around the mount, but there's not enough of a shoulder to allow this position.  Also, the lens release button is in the way!

Everything all put together makes for a slick device.

I did have some challenges with mounting it on the telescope.  The tripod socket configuration I had in place before wouldn't work anymore.  The spacing wasn't enough and the parts wouldn't clear each other.  Also, with the machine screws tightened up, the focuser, flattener, and camera wouldn't line up with the dovetail bar.

In the pictures above, you can see how the holes clear the space around the Tmount.  In this case, the Antares 2 inch adapter is pretty wide, but it still clears underneath.  The self-tapping machine screws press on the edge of the metal flange of the lens mount when they are screwed down.  I could measure how much gap is appearing along the edge for the purposes of centering or leveling.  That may be an exercise I'll have to do before going to CalStar.

That was annoying to have to ditch one method of securing the camera over another.  I can always undo this effort if it seems to not work.

Another thing I noticed was that the Feathertouch focuser was loose on the body of the scope!  Just a quick snug of the grub screws was needed.  I think the heat cycle of being outside in the sun probably worked them loose.  This would likely explain why focus was lost over the course of one session a few days ago.