Category Archives: Space

The final frontier.


Tonight’s sky offered a total lunar eclipse, and I thought I’d go out and shoot it. This was the first total lunar eclipse I’d watched like this since I was a kid. I can remember sitting outside with Mom and Dad, sometime in the ’70s, watching a total lunar eclipse on a nice summer night.

Tonight was not summer-like! The temperature was 15°, with a windchill easily down near zero. It was coooold. I braved it through to totality, and enjoyed watching the show.

For shooting, I set up two cameras. I set the 20D up for a timelapse shot. I expected I would take a frame every five minutes, and then stitch ’em all together at the end, and make this great image. Well…… I sorta shot myself in the foot on that one. Midway through the shoot, I thought I had the lens on autofocus, and changed it to what I thought was manual focus. Bad move, as I had it exactly backwards, and once the lens was on autofocus, the camera wouldn’t shoot because it could get a focus lock on the very dark sky. Bummer.

The second camera was the 40D, and I put the Celestron 750mm/f6 lens on it for shooting near-fullframe images of the moon as it descended into darkness. I’d say that the biggest majority of those images were not very good. I had this set up on my Bogen trike, but even that didn’t appear to be stable enough for this big combination of lens and camera, especially in the light wind. Essentially, I got a log of blurring. I also shot some exposures, especially during totality, that were too long, causing the moon to drift in the frame…. blurring again.

So what are the lessons? Well, the first is to set manual focus on the lens while still in the house! 🙂 I’d also recommend a heavier tripod, and frankly, a motor drive would’ve been peachy. Having a drive would’ve eliminated some of the drift problems, and would’ve make the shoot much easier. I have that kind of mount on my Celestron C8, but I didn’t pull it out. That was a big mistake.

The last thing would be practice. I need to work with my equipment more for this kind of shoot, perhaps shooting the moon through its phases. That’d be a good training ground, since the shooting conditions are similar, at least up until totality. Since the next total lunar eclipse visible from North America isn’t until late 2010, I think I have some time to hone my skills!

There May Be No Contact

Found here, the Planetary Society is lobbying to save the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. You can read their statement here.

To me, this is bigger than big. We, as humankind, owe it to the rest of the life on this planet to do this one thing to try to protect it from objects in space. Cats and dogs may be great pets, but they can’t track a near-Earth orbit rock. Right now, we’re the last stand in the protection of the Earth from these denizens of deep space. I’ve stood at the edge of Meteor Crater in Arizona, and the devastation caused by that impact is more than my mind can comprehend. That wasn’t even all that big a rock. Imagine the devastation if an object like that were to strike in a populated center. Now imagine it’s even larger. It’s staggering.

Follow the links on the statement page, and send your Congressional representatives a message about preserving Arecibo. Let them know that you’re interested in improving mankind’s chances of surviving longer on this planet. I did.

Comet Holmes

Although it’s not getting any media play, there’s a bright wanderer in the sky that has literally cropped up out of nowhere.

Comet Holmes (officially Comet 17P/Holmes) has been known for a while, and until a few nights ago, it was quiet, extremely faint, and of no real note. However, late last week, it jumped in magnitude from about mag 17 to about 2.5 — naked eye territory. And in fact, you can find it easily in Perseus as of this writing. Even the bright moon is not hindering it.

It’s a weird one though. My understanding is that it is on the far side of the sun from us, and since a comet’s tail grows away from the sun, we get our view of the comet as a “head on” perspective. So, no real tail as viewed from Earth, but instead, it looks a gigantic fuzzball. It’s been very cool to watch, so last night I figured I’d take my 40D and my seldom-used Celestron 750mm f/6 lens out.

It was a cold night, and that seemed to help with the shooting. It’s obvious that I didn’t have the focus quite right, but this stack of fifteen shots, each 2 seconds in length, ain’t a bad capture of what the little snowball looked like. You can clearly see the nucleus, and plenty of shiny stuff around it.


Geeks… In… Spaaaaaaace!

So this morning Slashdot posted a blip about a Microsoftie buying his way into space. (Which, for $20M may be one of the best bargains on the planet — just not very attainable for the masses.)

Of course, there were loads of comments about this, but one really seemed to capture it for me:

Can we take up a collection to send a civilian into space with the ability to translate the experience into art? Somebody like Spider Robinson, or Tom Wolfe, perhaps? How long will the most liminal and mind-expanding human experience only be the province of those who lack the passion and subtlety to appreciate it, and who cannot, therefore, sublimate it for the rest of us? “Space. Wow. It was so damn empty. Man, you can see the whole earth! Even the dark bits, without people!” If we send somebody up who has the craft to record their experience in an engaging and creative way, then it is like sending ALL of us into space. I can think of no quicker way to give the space program the cultural boost it needs to survive increasing (understandable) voter apathy. Sure, Veruca Salt and Augustus Gloop like chocolate, but they don’t deserve the factory…

I volunteer to be that artist. Give me my iPod, my camera, a MacBook Pro, and rocket me into space on a Soyuz. I’d capture your art, and make space accessible to the common brain — darn tootin’ I would!!!!

New Gear: Yakima Bike Rack and Garmin GPS Mount


Today, Beck went to REI, and brought home a Garmin handlebar mount for my GPS-60CS — sweet!  This is way better than a speedometer (which nowadays is called a bike computer), and will give me speed, distance and my track, as well as letting me know when I get near stuff I care to see.  Very cool!  And to sweeten the deal, Beck used my REI dividend to cut the price almost in half!

And last week, I went to Ghisallo and picked up a Yakima two-bike rack for the truck, along with all the locking hardware.  The price was right, and man was the service good.  The guy that helped me installed it, took me through using it and locking it, and made sure I was happy with it.  That was a great experience!

So now, Wednesday when I hit the trail, I won’t have to worry about getting trail mud all over the inside of the TrailBlazer — the bike can ride on the outside, and I can travel in the comfort of the clean cabin!  🙂

Through the Atmosphere

Today, we got back on the path. We returned to space.

After better than two years, the shuttle program rose from the ashes of another disaster, and has shown off the triumphant launch that still sets my heart to pounding. With every launch, I feel we’re closer to grabbing the future that I was promised as a boy, and that’s a future I wanna see.

When I was growing up, I felt I was in just the right generation to hit the cosmos. Now, I think I’m one or two too early, but days like today just make me believe that we’ll actually do it. I just pray that all stays well, and that these brave souls return to the Earth that launched them, and that they return safe.

Saturn and the Moon


Once again, I went out tonight to try shooting Saturn and the rising Moon.

Tonight, I used the Celestron C8, a camera adapter and a 24mm ocular, along with the 20D (of course!) and Angle Finder C. By far, these were the best images I’ve shot of Saturn and craters on the moon. I need to get a lunar map, and orient my photos appropriately, but that’s a task for another day. 🙂

Focusing was still a bear, and only one of the Saturn shots had good focus — others weren’t too bad, though. I still don’t focus as sharp as I would like, but I need to do some looking around to make sure that my expectations aren’t too high!



Last night and tonight, I shot Saturn with gear on hand, all without the aid of a telescope or tracking gear.

Firstly, one thing that didn’t work. I saw on a website somewhere that you could take a scope or other T-mounted long lens and use a teleconverter (like my Canon TC’s) and use that multiplier with the lens. So, my Celestron 750mm f/6 suddenly becomes a 1050mm f/8+ with the 1.4 TC attached.

Well, the 20D didn’t like that combination, and kept throwing Err 01 messages. Guess that’s not such a good combination, eh!

So last night, I shot with the Celestron 750mm f/6 on the Hakuba tripod (using its default head — more on that below) and tonight I shot with my Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 and the Canon 2x Teleconverter, the combination delivering 800mm f/11, mounted on my trusty Bogen tripod with my Bogen 3030 head. Both times, I shot in RAW mode, and used mirror lockup (custom function 14). Skies were hazier tonight, and both nights there was a garish bright moon to wash things out. 😉

First impressions? Well, just from a shooting perspective, the Bogen is built like a tank — it doesn’t move. I noticed the Hakuba doesn’t seem to handle the vibration quite as well. Now, it’d probably be worth swapping lens and legs, and seeing if that’s a function of the huge Celestron lens being on the head, or if it’s something more specific to the tripod.

The other usability item I noticed was how solid the Bogen head is. You turn the knobs, and it’s in place…. for good. The default Hakuba head just doesn’t handle the weight of the Celestron as well, especially tipped straight up to shoot astronomical fields. I’ve also noticed that with the 100-400 attached, so I think that’s just the way that head works.

Now, I love the Hakuba. It’s easier to set up and is much, much lighter than my Bogen, but this smacks of “the right tool for the right job”. The Bogen just seemed to excel when shooting astronomical subjects.

So, how’d the lens compare? The Celestron should’ve produced brighter images, and it seemed to, so no surprise there. However, focusing that thing is a bear, even with the Canon Angle Finder C attached to the body. So, the Celestron gets a nod for brighter images, but the Canon gets a big ol’ check mark for ease of use.

Image quality-wise, they both looked pretty similar, although I still need to practice astrophotography with both of them — I have a lot of room for improvement. Adding the Angle Finder C was a huge improvement though. It is really helping me with my focusing.