Short Animation of Io, Jupiter, and Europa, May 16th

On the night of May 16th, despite high winds I attempted to put together a sequence of Jupiter images to make an animation.  I took video approximately every 20 minutes for six capture sessions in total.

The above animation is only showing two of those six final images.  Problems with the others were different light intensities and increasing cloud cover.  For reference, here are the first five images so you an see what they look like.  The above animated GIF was taken from the second and third images.  The sixth image is not shown because it was simply garbage due to the clouds by that time.

Session #1

The sky was by far the clearest during the first capture session.

Session #2

Session #3

Session #4

Oh look above, there is Ganymede!  It just popped out from behind Jupiter!

Session #5

You can see the quality of this final image is noticeably degraded from the prior four, due to the encroaching clouds, which made the sixth session unusable.  Also observe that Ganymede moved a little to the left across the 20 minutes from the fourth image.

(And in case you are wondering, at this time Callisto was way to the right of Jupiter.)

A Montage of Jupiters from the Past Week

My best Jupiter yet?

Astrophotography results depend on many variables.  The stability and visibility of the Earth’s atmosphere.  The telescope used, along with its mount.  The camera.  The focus at the eyepiece.  Exposure, ISO, and other digital camera settings.  Post-processing setup and techniques.  The skill of the astrophotographer.

This past week I was out each night with my telescope thanks to the benefit of clear or at least decent skies for planetary imaging.  It is still Jupiter’s time for 2017 and I am trying to take advantage of every night possible.  My main telescope (10″ homemade Newtonian reflector on a homemade Dobsonian mount) is not an imaging scope.  My camera, a Canon EOS Rebel SL1, is intended mostly for Auto mode pictures at kids’ birthday parties (but it is super light – a prime consideration for balance on my Dob).  With no mount tracking beyond my own steady hand, I can only get about 25 seconds of video before Jupiter moves out of a stationary field of view.

Post-processing is another matter entirely.  It is more art form to properly stack and extract image detail from PIPP, AutoStakkert, RegiStax, and Photoshop.  It is great that these computer tools exist, but the only way to fully appreciate their capabilities is through trial and error.

The above image, taken this past Saturday, may be my best attempt at Jupiter so far.  Of note is that detail, a little, is visible within the Great Red Spot.  Also, this is my first image that left me confident in using AutoStakkert’s Drizzle (enlarging) function.

As I processed my Jupiters this week I posted what I thought were the best of each batch to Twitter.  Here are the several I have not posted about previously on this blog:

This one is neat with Io’s shadow:

Last is a smaller scale version, with slightly different editing, of the image posted at the top:

Merging the Telescope World with the Real World

From left to right: Moon, Callisto, Io, Europa, Jupiter, Ganymede. Click to see the full-sized image.

As mentioned previously, I took several different types of photographs the night of Sunday, May 7th, when the Moon and Jupiter were close.  One of these perspectives was by mounting my digital camera on a tripod to get a wide-field view of the Moon and Jupiter together.  I took many images with different exposures and ISO settings.  Here is one such raw image:

Click to enlarge.

Here, you see an overexposed Moon along with Jupiter.  This shows the distance between the two at 05/07/2017 21:20 Central Time, approximately.

The important aspect of this picture is that it captures all of Jupiter’s Galilean moons.  If you click on the image, you will easily see three of them – Io, Europa, and Ganymede.  Callisto is there, or at least, is there in the raw TIFF image.  You will have to take my word for it that Callisto is there, just very faint.

How do I know which moons are which?  The easy way I follow is to use this Jupiter moon tracker, plugging in times and dates when I take my pictures.  If you enter the time stamp I wrote above, you will get this:

Now while my original source image is nice, I knew I could improve upon it with other images taken that same night at my telescope.  After accentuating Callisto’s brightness a little so we can see it, I used Photoshop Elements to carefully cut out Jupiter and its four moons.  I then overlayed these into a properly-exposed wide-field Moon image.

Next, I wanted to get a good Jupiter into the picture, since the planet itself is overexposed in all my tripod images.  I created the following image from stacked video at my 10″ Dobsonian:

I will shrink this good Jupiter to overlay into the main picture were the bright overexposed Jupiter resides.  But I also wanted to get the planet’s angle right relative to the moons.  So I imported as a temporary layer this other picture I took on Sunday that I previously wrote about:

This “moon” image is the perfect gauge, first to align with the native orientation of Io and Europa in the main image, and then to align the good Jupiter with the moon image Jupiter.  With the proper angle, I then overlayed this good Jupiter on top of the overexposed Jupiter, shrinking it a bit to compensate for the over-brightness of the original.

The final result is the image at the top of this post.

As a final perspective, I used the telescope Moon image I posted earlier and overlayed it in, and then moved the Jupiter system next to the Moon.  This gives you an idea of how wide an area Jupiter and the Galilean moons take up in reference to our Moon:

Click to enlarge.

That’s all for now. I am hoping with the Moon waning over the next week that I will be able to take more constellation pictures, and possibly a few deep sky objects.

Jupiter and Two Moons

Io (left), Europa (middle), Jupiter (right). Taken on May 7th, 2017.

May 7th, 2017, 10:25 p.m. local time

Apparently it is possible to get Jupiter and its moons into the same picture.  You just have to increase the ISO setting.  For the above picture of Io, Europa, and Jupiter, I cranked up my digital camera’s ISO to 1600.  Normally I have it at 400 or 800 for Jupiter.  It leaves Jupiter slightly overexposed, but I think it is a good trade-off given the objective.

In case you are wondering, Callisto and Ganymede were much further out from Jupiter at this time, one on either side.  I have a special treat for later on to show this from another perspective.

Great Red Spot Makes a Cameo

May 6th, 2017, 9:30 p.m. local time

Using my 10″ Dobsonian with DSLR camera and x5 Barlow, I clearly saw Jupiter’s Great Red Spot on the camera’s view screen.  The end image seems pretty good.  This was a “quick” session with only ~23 seconds of video.  With a manual Dobsonian and x5 Barlow, the image moves through the field of view very fast.

I am learning techniques to compensate for these quick windows.  First, I need to align the camera’s orientation such that Jupiter moves through the field view at a plane horizontal to the camera.  Not easy to do when you only have seconds to finagle the camera before the planet moves too far out of sight.  My second learning experience is how to quickly stop the video, slide the telescope just a enough, and continue shooting with a refreshed view (PIPP easily joins multiple videos).

The real challenge with Jupiter is caused by its fast rotation.  A continuous video cannot go past 90-120 seconds before you have to too much motion blur.  Having to stop, adjust, and restart the video manually means I am lucky to get 60 seconds.  I read about astrophotographers taking five or more minutes of video, but I think they chop off the sphere’s edges to some degree.

First Attempt at Jupiter Animated GIF, with Io

Putting together this animated GIF was mostly an accident turned prototype.  I had planned to try making Jupiter animations once I felt reasonably confident with my digital camera.  But I noticed after Monday night’s session, which happened to capture Io as it was about to pass behind Jupiter, that I had roughly 12 minutes of video on Jupiter, somewhat evenly spaced.  So here is the end result.

I used different gammas, which causes a couple of the frames to be brighter.  If I wanted to make a clean GIF I would have uniformly set the gamma.  Also, I discovered that centering the image is very tricky, and will likely be the hardest part of the process when I try to string together an hour or two of footage.  Maybe I will figure out a shortcut on these cloudy and rainy nights.

Jupiter in Prime Focus, Testing My New x5 Barlow

Click to enlarge.

April 17th, 2017, 12:15 a.m. local time

After my first attempt at Jupiter in prime focus, I decided to splurge and get a Tele Vue Powermate x5.  Finally on Easter Sunday evening with a nice break in the neverending clouds, I took my 127mm Mak-Cass outside, set up the camera, and went to work.

I should note before proceeding that my first 2017 Jupiter was done with my homemade 10″ Dobsonian and a standard x2 Barlow lens.  The above picture was with my 5″ Orion StarSeeker IV and the new Tele Vue Powermate x5.  In both sessions I used my Baader Neodymium filter and Canon EOS Rebel SL1.  So today’s picture was done with a lot less aperture but a much better Barlow lens, both in magnification and grade.  I used the smaller scope tonight only because it was a bit quicker to set up and has GoTo tracking, though the tracking did not help much.

I still have about a dozen videos to process, but this is my first post-processed image from stacked video (x1.5 Drizzle).  I am pleased with this first result, and a bit surprised the small 127mm scope worked so well.  It was an added bonus to have the Great Red Spot framed nicely.

In hindsight, as I am still learning to use both my DSLR camera for telescope astrophotography as well as this new magnifying lens, there is much room for improvement.  I hope the skies are clear again tonight to give it around go!

If any of my other Jupiters from tonight turn out good, I will post them later.

Moon, Jupiter, and Spica – April 2017

ISO 1600, f/4, 4s exposure, 55mm

April 11th, 2017, 11:30 p.m. local time

Tonight’s session was mostly about me fighting with my tripod and my manual lens focusing.  I think this came out Ok, though.

First Jupiter of 2017

April 6th, 2017, 10:30 p.m. local time

My telescope session tonight was a bit impromptu all around.  After a week of rain and more rain, a partly cloudy sky offered a great chance to get one of my telescopes out.  As the big 10″ Dobsonian had been idle for too many weeks, I lugged it outside, first to look at the Moon and then to see Jupiter.

I also have a new DSLR camera that I wanted to try.  I am still learning how to operate it, but I felt this was as good a time as any to try out prime focus astrophotography.

So I connect my newly-acquired T-ring to my new Canon EOS, then attached the T-ring to another adapter and then that to my Barlow.  After post-processing about a half dozen images, the above is my best result.

I know I can do better, but I am glad I made this first attempt.  Once I learn how to use the camera for real, I am sure the results will improve.