Mars Opposition Eve

October 12th, 2020, 11:10 p.m. local time

Preparation, prior session notes, favorable whether, and a little luck all contributed to what I believe is my best Mars capture yet.

Knowing the forecast for the following evening was suspect at best, I decided to try photographing Mars.  It had been cloudy and raining in the afternoon, but almost miraculously cleared by 6 p.m.  The only true issue was the dampness in the air, and I was worried this would impact overall image quality, due to moisture on the primary mirror.  The sky was clear and, importantly, the wind was non-existent.

I leveraged my Mars imaging experience from the weekend, and chose, based on that session and my notes from Mars’s last opposition, to use ISO 800 and exposure 1/200.  Late into my session videos, as I was continually refocusing after sets of three to four videos each, I accidentally changed the exposure for one set to 1/160.  This set, combined with great focus, yielded the best of the lot.  All but one set was very good, but this, I think, turned out excellent.

Summary of my equipment, settings, and software used:

  • Telescope: Dobsonian reflector 254mm / 10″ (homemade)
  • Camera: Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • Barlow: TeleVue Powermate x5 1.25″
  • Filter: Baader Neodymium 1.25″
  • Canon T ring and adapter
  • Relevant camera settings:
    • ISO 800
    • Exposure: 160
    • HD video at 60fps
    • Created from three videos of about 25s each, best 25-35% of frames
  • Software for post-processing:
    • PIPP
    • Autostakkert
    • Registax 6
    • PaintShop Pro for minor touch-ups

First Look at Mars in 2020

October 6th, 2020, 11:50 p.m. local time

Consider this a trial run for Mars’s opposition next week.  I had not imaged everyone’s favorite red planet since its last opposition ~18 months ago.  Fortunately, everything still seemed in order, including the planet itself.  Telescope, camera, and all supporting equipment worked as intended.  I used my documented ISO and exposure settings from 2018.  Judging from the result, they worked well, and should be sufficient for Mars over the next week or so.

Mars is extraordinarily difficult to focus, at least from my Dobsonian.  For comparison, Jupiter is relatively easy, as all I need to do is crank up the ISO and exposure, then fine focus until I have sharp dots for the smallest of the Galilean moons.  Saturn doesn’t have this benefit, though its unique shape, with the gaps between the rings and planet, offer a serviceable guide.

There are no guideposts when focusing on the Martian disc, which is either near circular or oval.  Its two moons are far too small to be picked up by a backyard telescope.  So my focus on Mars is always going to be about as “best guess” as guesses go.  It’s also why I continually refocus and take at least three to four separate sets of videos.

Summary of my equipment, settings, and software used:

  • Telescope: Dobsonian reflector 254mm / 10″ (homemade)
  • Camera: Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • Barlow: TeleVue Powermate x5 1.25″
  • Filter: Baader Neodymium 1.25″
  • Canon T ring and adapter
  • Relevant camera settings:
    • ISO 800
    • Exposure: 200
    • HD video at 60fps
    • Created from three videos of about 25s each, best 25-35% of frames
  • Software for post-processing:
    • PIPP
    • Autostakkert
    • Registax 6
    • PaintShop Pro for minor touch-ups

Still Looking at Saturn

October 6th, 2020, 9:09 p.m. local time

Shortly after my Jupiter imaging on the 6th, I easily turned my attention to Saturn.  A splattering of clouds arrived though, so after my first image set, I took a break (knowing the forecast was clear skies all night).  Thirty minutes later and I was back at the telescope.

The four sets I took of Saturn were not as good as many of my prior sessions, but one set was serviceable enough to post.  Like Jupiter, Saturn is now smaller through the telescope than it was mid-Summer.  But you can still make out the major cloud bands and inner and outer rings.  My favorite part of these Saturn images is always the planet’s shadow on the back of the rings.  For whatever reason, I enjoy that that immense shadow is made from the same Sun that makes all of our terrestrial shadows on Earth.

As with Jupiter, I now rely heavily on my paper log book for all my prior ISO and exposure settings.  Flipping the pages back a few months, sometimes years, helps immensely and saves time at the telescope, so I can focus primarily on, well, focus.

If you have been following along and/or know what’s up in the sky right now, you can guess the subject of my next post. 🙂

Summary of my equipment, settings, and software used:

  • Telescope: Dobsonian reflector 254mm / 10″ (homemade)
  • Camera: Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • Barlow: TeleVue Powermate x5 1.25″
  • Filter: Baader Neodymium 1.25″
  • Canon T ring and adapter
  • Relevant camera settings:
    • ISO 1600
    • Exposure: 30
    • HD video at 60fps
    • Created from three videos of about 25s each, best 25-35% of frames
  • Software for post-processing:
    • PIPP
    • Autostakkert
    • Registax 6
    • PaintShop Pro for minor touch-ups

Final Look at Jupiter in 2020

October 6th, 2020, 8:20 p.m. local time

As the title implies, this was likely my final closeup attempt of Jupiter for the year.  The planet is noticeably smaller than it was at opposition three months ago.  It is also now lower in the sky, making it more difficult for me to photograph.

But I will continue to observe Jupiter, as it remains close to Saturn as they move towards their December conjunction.

Summary of my equipment, settings, and software used:

  • Telescope: Dobsonian reflector 254mm / 10″ (homemade)
  • Camera: Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • Barlow: TeleVue Powermate x5 1.25″
  • Filter: Baader Neodymium 1.25″
  • Canon T ring and adapter
  • Relevant camera settings:
    • ISO 800
    • Exposure: 40
    • HD video at 60fps
    • Created from three videos of about 25s each, best 25-35% of frames
  • Software for post-processing:
    • PIPP
    • Autostakkert
    • Registax 6
    • PaintShop Pro for minor touch-ups

Friday Night with Jupiter and Saturn

Jupiter with its moons (left to right) Callisto, Io, Ganymede, Europa.

July 24th, 2020, 11:00 p.m. local time

Continuing the series of images from this past Friday night were shots taken of Jupiter and Saturn.  Jupiter, above, is shown with its four largest moons.  The image quality is not great, as my objective was to accentuate the moons and their relative positions and brightnesses.  Note that I did some creative editing to bring out the moons, particularly by overlaying a duplicate image, brightening the lower, then masking the moon slots on the top layer.

Here is a closeup of Jupiter, slightly more polished:

And of course following Jupiter right now is Saturn.  I only had to wait about 15 minutes for it to clear the treeline from where I was:

All images taken with my Dobsonian telescope and same setups as recent prior nights.  Only main difference here was using ISO 800 instead of my normal 1600.  Perhaps because the planets are still close to their oppositions, they seemed to turn out slightly better than the sets at 1600.

Second Night of the Comet

Click for full-sized image.

July 16th, 2020, 9:40 p.m. local time

Between my first sighting of C/2020 F3 on the 13th of July to my second sighting on the 16th was a period of unusable cloud cover.  I thought that evening it would be the same for a third night, but fortunately the clouds broke sufficiently.  Having spotted the comet on the 13th so low to the treeline, I was a bit surprised when, three days later, it was significantly higher in the sky.

The image above was taken with my Sigma wide lens, my “go-to” lens for my best possible wide field shots of the sky.  Relevant settings were f/2.8, ISO 3200, 1/4 sec exposure time, and a 33mm focal length.

I then switch to my 300mm Canon “long” lens.  Here is a slightly edited and cropped view from it, f/4, ISO 1600, 1 sec exposure, and 75mm focal length:

Click for full-sized image.

Finally, I zoomed for this photograph, f/5.6, ISO 3200, 1 sec exposure, and 270mm focal length.  I didn’t go the full 300 millimeters, as the comet is relatively large when the full tail is taken into account.

Click for full-sized image.

One last bonus shot: while snapping the zoomed-in images of Neowise, I happened to capture the lights of a plane as it was landing into O’Hare International Airport.  It’s not as fun as some of the other airplane captures I got in the daylight, but this reminds me for some reason of the light cycles from Tron:

Click for full-sized image.

All cropped with minor edits in PaintShop Pro.

Jupiter at Opposition, and Another Planet

July 13th, 2020, 11:50 p.m. local time

My night of the comet also happened to be Jupiter’s 2020 opposition day.  Fortunately, the skies were clear from Dusk to past midnight, so I was able to take in both Neowise by binoculars and then later some planetary imaging at the telescope.

This was the first time since last year that I attempted to photograph Jupiter, and the first time since around March that I attempted a closeup of any planet (that was for Venus).  Fortunately, as I have done for years now, I had all of my notes available from last year on how to best use my camera’s settings.

Given that I had not performed this setup for almost a year, I am pleased with the result.  The above image was actually my first focus attempt of the night, and it came out pretty well, I think.


July 14th, 2020, 12:20 a.m. local time

Oh, and there happened to be another planet in the vicinity of Jupiter, so I decided to take some pictures of it as well:

A comet and two planets, not too bad for one night.  I was very fortunate having a crystal-clear sky.  Unfortunately, as I sit here finishing this post, I look out my window towards the unstable clouds, and at the forecast, showing clouds and rain for the next week.  At least the plants need the water.  Still, I will stay on alert, particularly for opportunity to see the comet again.

Summary of my equipment, settings, and software used:

  • Telescope: Dobsonian reflector 254mm / 10″ (homemade)
  • Camera: Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • Barlow: TeleVue Powermate x5 1.25″
  • Filter: Baader Neodymium 1.25″
  • Canon T ring and adapter
  • Relevant camera settings:
    • ISO 1600
    • Exposure: 60 (Jupiter), 30 (Saturn)
    • HD video at 60fps
    • Created from three videos of about 25s each, best 25-35% of frames
  • Software for post-processing:
    • PIPP
    • Autostakkert
    • Registax 6
    • PaintShop Pro for minor touch-ups

Clouds vs. Early Crescent Moon

Click for full-sized image.

June 24th, 2020, 8:45 p.m. local time

June 24th, 2020, 9:40 p.m. local time

Today’s story begins on the prior night, when the Moon was an even thinner crescent.  I saw the Moon shortly after Dusk and decided to fetch my camera.  By the time I had everything set up and returned outside, a batch of clouds had already covered the West sky.  I thought I had had some time, but the front that later brought showers moved faster than I had anticipated.

On the following night, there were only a few clouds in the West, but with storm clouds visible much farther away to the Northwest.  Around 8:30 p.m. I manage to get a few pictures in (above image).

An hour later, I took a few more of the Moon, now almost fully in dark.  It is worth nothing that, although it’s not visible in the final picture, there was clear atmospheric diffraction along the edges of the Moon’s outline.  This is where red, blue, and green start to separate due to a prism effect, common when trying to photograph, for example, Mercury, since it is always low towards the horizon.

I wanted to keep shooting, but the clouds finally arrived, again.  Below is the best focus from the session.

Click for full-sized image.

Image #1 settings:

  • Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • f/5.6
  • 1/60 sec exposure
  • ISO 200
  • Focal length: 75mm
  • Minor image adjustments in PaintShop Pro

Image #2 settings:

  • Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • f/4
  • 1/125 sec exposure
  • ISO 100
  • Focal length: 300mm
  • Minor image adjustments in PaintShop Pro

Morning Moon, June 2020

Click for full-sized image.

June 12th, 2020, 9:20 a.m. local time

I have been guessing, and I think correctly, that most people do not realize the Moon is visible in morning daylight.  It is easiest to spot in the days/week after a Full Moon.  Each day, the Moon will “wane,” its reflection shrinking, as it moves closer to towards the Sun (from our vantage on Earth).

A sparkling clear late Spring day offered little reason to not get the camera out for some easy lunar photography.

Click for full-sized image.

Image #1 settings:

  • Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • f/5.6
  • 1/500 sec exposure
  • ISO 100
  • Focal length: 300mm
  • Minor image adjustments in PaintShop Pro

Image #2 settings:

  • Canon EOS Rebel SL3
  • f/4
  • 1/500 sec exposure
  • ISO 100
  • Focal length: 75mm
  • Minor image adjustments in PaintShop Pro