Monday, February 27, 2012

My New Mount 2012-02-25

After a few years of using my EQ-1 for my astro work, I decided to finally buy something better. Part of the reason is due to a heavier 8 lbs scope I bought from a friend(thanks Henry), which my EQ-1 can't carry. I didn't want to sacrifice grab-and-go, so I decided to settle for a light-medium capacity mount, a Synta EQ-3/CG4. Although this mount is not a fine mount for astrophotography, I'm betting that it can do at least a 30-seconds unguided exposure.

After a few months' wait, I finally got my used CG4 mount. I went to Fairview to pick it up from Alex. Boy! It was heavy.

After unpacking, I attached some ropes to act as the tripod spreader. The tripod is already a battered one with cracked plastic lock and the spreader missing. These problems can be remedied with simple mechanical skills. Maybe I'll replace it with wooden tripod in the future.

I decided to make some plate to allow me to attach cameras and other scopes to the mount.

I whipped out my Apex 127 to try and do a simple test. Instead of using big and expensive D size cell, I used some "battery fat suit" to allow an AA size cell to fit the container.

During initial test, the mount showed a bit of play on the declination axis. While I was surprised that the Apex  showed a near perfect airy disk, because as far as I can remember my old test have shown that the Apex had a little bit of collimation error.

The following day, I bought a 6-ft long chain to act as spreader instead of the plastic ropes for added security. As an added bonus, the chain will allow me to compress or spread the legs at will. I disassembled the mount and fixed the declination axis problem as well. Fixing the dec axis wasn't hard, but I had to check several sections at first in order to know which screw will fix the issue.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

4 Birders in Action 2012-02-26

Last Saturday, Jun, a WBCP friend, asked me if he could come with me when I return to the Angono Petroglyph. I informed him that I will be going back on Sunday. After some conversation, we decided to meet at Antipolo together with Riana, his daughter, and Mailyn, another WBCP friend.

On that day, we meet as planned and proceeded to the Petroglyph. As we approached the tunnel leading to the site, we saw another vehicle parked outside. We immediately thought that there must be other birder present. Indeed when we walked to the site, we saw a bird photographer. Those Philippine Eagle-owl has been attracting a lot of attentions! He was there earlier than the 4 of us, so after a few minutes he's ready to pack and leave.

Some very annoying mosquitoes are enjoying themselves with our blood as we're enjoying ourselves looking at the birds. Here's one dead bugger.

After a short look at 2 of the owls, I stayed outside the National Museum bldg. and chat with Roden, the guy in-charge. A few minutes later, some people arrived: a large group of students and a small group of foreign tourists.

Upon seeing the group, my friends told me to set-up my scope for those visitor to have a look at the birds. As they took turns looking at the bird, we heard some comments like "look at that eagle" (it's an eagle-owl, not an eagle) or the students teasing each other.

After they left, we switched from birdwatching to lizard watching as we observed and photographed several flying lizards on a tree.

Mai, Jun and Yana stayed at the observation deck to look the look at the owl and look for the third one while I went back and chat with Roden for I've seen the owls several times already.

Later another group arrived. They're the bikers who frequent the place. They just went there to take a short break before they continue. They're really noisy! I wanted to tell them to turn off their noisy radios which are somehow scaring the birds away, but decided not to, to avoid offending them. After they left, I was relieved and started observing nature again.

When the 3 came down from the platform, we stayed a little bit and left.

Here are some images I took.
 Pregnant dragonfly, the bulge at the end of the tail holds the eggs.

 The 3 birders just came down from the platform.

Leaf fungus

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cloudy Mars 2012-02-24

Another day of clear sky, means another evening to enjoy astronomy. Mars was shining like a bright orange star as seen on my way home. After a little R&R, I set up my light bucket and imaged the red planet. Here are the results.

Fortunately the seeing has been pretty good. I was able to observe the cloudy right side of the planet After Mars, I scan around to check if there's anything interesting. I then tried to image the Orion nebula using medium magnification to capture specifically the star forming region.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mars 2012-02-24

I tried to image Mars once again. Since I got up a bit late, the planet is already near the lower horizon where the seeing is terrible. With a shaky planet at high magnification, I decided to go against it and capture in a less magnified state.

The prominent dark feature, Syrtis major, can be seen properly defined in this image.

I also took a few minutes to process some of the remaining clips of Saturn I captured yesterday.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Planetary Observation 2012-02-23

From a post given by a member of the local astronomy e-group, I was notified of the good seeing condition. Given that the seeing condition has improved for planetary observation and to avoid my past mistakes of letting good seeing pass, I decided to image immediately. When I got home, I immediately setup my scope, a Skywatcher 102mm maksutov cassegrain, for planetary imaging. The initial image I got was of average result, but some martian clouds and haze were evident. Seeing was not as good as I expected. I then decided to try imaging in the morning instead. Here is my initial Mars image.

As planned, I got up early and took some shots again. This time the seeing has improved, still not perfect, but much better. Mars was already near the dreaded zone of turbulent low horizon, but it's still high enough for some good images.

Saturn also showed some good details for a small 4 inch catadioptic scope.

Overall the early morning results were good.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lagoon and Trifid 2012-02-22

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I was wide awake by 4 in the morning. I decided to just try and image something. A quick setup is all I need: a camera on an equatorial mount. After doing a rough polar alignment, I started my CHDK powered Canon Powershot SX120 and began imaging. After shooting 12 images, I ended my imaging session. When I tried to process my images, I have to discard 4 of them due to obvious star trailing. Here is the result:

This image is a stack of 8 25seconds exposure at ISO1600. At the right is the Lagoon nebula or Messier's 8th object. The smaller nebulous object to the left is the Trifid nebula (M20) and just below it is the open cluster M21.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

3 Birders Went Owling 2012-02-19

I hiked back to the Angono Cave and Petroglyph, as part of my weekly exercise routine. This time 2 additional birders are with me (Tommy and Rose). We started the hike late, so less birds for us to see under the hot sun. However along the way, we still saw several long tailed shrikes, black-naped orioles, tawny grassbirds, yellow vented bulbuls and white-breasted wood swallows.

When we arrived, the first thing we saw was a gray wagtail which landed in front of us. After we took some shots, we approached the Petroglyph and the guys there knew at once what we're after. They quickly showed us the Philippine Eagle-Owl. They also mentioned that a day earlier, several birders came to visit the place as well.

We saw 2 owls,  one on the tree (Did he just winked at me? hehehe) and another on the rock face. We made an assumption that the one on the rock is probably the female with her nest. While the male is on guard duty.

A family also visited the place when we're there. Then they took turns looking at the owl through my scope.

Later they also showed me an arachnid with pincers for grasping, a tiny scorpion, some small snakes and my name in ancient writing. :)

Tailless whip scorpion (Amblypigids)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Birding 2012-02-11

I went up the hill to Angono cave again. This time I brought with me a light 70mm scope for bird watching. Along the way, I saw some usual birds in the area and a lifer: a Golden headed cisticola.

White breasted wood swallow

White collared kingfisher at the Eastridge golf course

At the Angono Petroglyph site, I asked Roden, the guy in-charge, if the owl he mentioned during my previous visit was there and he pointed to me the location where it's usually seen. It's there and in a good spot - easy to see and photograph. The good thing about this Philippine eagle owl is it isn't alarmed by a small group of people (me, Roden , Dave the guard, and the janitor). It even stared at me as if tempting me to capture him, well at least on my camera. Hehe. One of them pointed another owl in a slightly hidden location.The trees there also have some very active small yellow birds which, at first, I thought to be Golden bellied gerygone. After seeing them on the scope, I changed my mind. The birds are yellow with black markings on the nape. I'm not sure what species they are. I could not capture them on my camera either - they're too active. When I arrived home, I searched my bird book and saw the closest match: Elegant tit. However, I'm still uncertain about this, my evil mind still thinks it is different from what I saw earlier. Maybe confirmation from other birders will help. :)

The list of birds I've seen and counted:

*Golden headed cisticola - 1
Yellow vented bulbul - 4
Pied Thriller - 1
Long tailed shrike - 6
White collared kingfisher - 1
White breasted wood swallow - 5
Scaly breasted munia - 1
Black naped oriole - 2 (1 seen, 1 heard)
Philippine eagle owl - 2
Brown shrike - 1
Zebra dove - 2
*Elegant tit (not sure) - >4
+ Some unique calls heard but didn't see the bird

* means life birds

Here are a few images of the Angono cave, the Petroglyphs and tunnel taken during my previous visit there.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Moon and Jupiter 2012-02-07

When I got home, I decided to check my reflector's collimation. It was a bit off from perfect, but I find it hard to achieve perfect collimation so I just leave it the way it is.

Since the moon is shining brightly, I took some shots as well.

After the moon, I tried to look at Jupiter and found that I could see some details on the surface. Not wanting to miss the somewhat "okay" seeing, I took out my favorite planetary scope, a 102mm mak-cass, and observed a bit. At high magnification, the disk was boiling at the edge, but not too bad. I then took my camera and captured some clips. After processing the best clip, the result is shown below.