Saturday, April 21, 2012

Messier Hunting 2012-04-20

It was a Friday night and the sky was exceptionally clear. With this kind of rare condition and timing, I surely won't waste the opportunity to image something. I took out my 80mm f/5 short tube scope on a CG-4 mount and did a quick polar alignment.As I didn't have a polar scope, my polar alignment definitely needs some fine tuning, Then I started hunting some good deep sky jewels. My first target was the Whirlpool galaxy in Canes Venatici. I usually associate this target with the constellation Ursa major and the Big dipper asterism because I always use the dipper handle to find this target.

After a bunch of 25 seconds shots, I switched to my next Messier target, the globular cluster M5 in Serpens.

Then the easy to find M4 and finally M8 and M17.

M4, the Cat's eye globular cluster

M8, the Lagoon Nebula in Sagittarius

M17, the Swan or Omega Nebula

While imaging, I was also scanning the sky with my 15x70 binoculars. The summer sky is littered with good astro targets for binoculars. You'll almost never run out of targets to observe with a simple binocular even in a not-so-dark location. The imaging session was long and tiring. My session ended at half-past-two in the morning.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Deepsky and Planetary Imaging 2012-04-14

It's Saturday evening and the sky is clear. I decided to capture some targets to satisfy the urge. My initial target was the ringed planet. The seeing was about average, there were times when the planet would become blurred for a second or more then came up sharp again. Nevertheless, I captured it and result can be seen below.

After I captured several clips of the planet, I decided to do some deep-sky astronomy when I saw the clarity of the sky. I switched to my widefield scope, the ST-80. My initial target was the M4 globular cluster using a piggy-backed Powershot SX120.

Then I captured the M51 galaxy using afocal setup. I wanted this target long ago, but I just didn't have the chance to image it again after an initial lousy image. Visually, I couldn't see M51. I just followed the star map and point the scope to the exact spot and fired my camera. Even a single 25 seconds exposure frame at ISO800 was enough to reveal the galaxy pair. The image below is a stack of 8x25sec exposure at ISO800.

M51, the Whirlpool galaxy

I expected the Milky way to be visible from Cainta, because I have seen it from a place with even worse light pollution like Manila during a rare evening with less light pollution, but I never expected it to be easy. The central bar was evident when I saw it. I guess if there's a light post in my field of view, I won't be able to see it, but to my dark adapted vision, it was relatively easy.  I took several widefield shots of our home end my observation. The images can be seen below.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Quick Deep Sky Imaging 2012-04-11

When I arrived home from work, I saw a clear sky waiting for me. I wasted no time and carried my imaging stuffs to my observing spot. In the recent months, I haven't imaged any deep sky target and concentrate my imaging on the 2 planetary targets namely Mars and Saturn. Now, I wanted another deep sky shot. I replaced the 127mm maksutov installed on the mount with a short tube 80mm refractor.

I did a rough polar alignment, then started searching for the target I have in mind: the Carina Nebula. I know that the nebula is somewhere between the southern cross and the tail of Canis major, so I started the search there. I was surprised that I couldn't find this relatively easy target with the short tube. I went back to my room, picked up my 10x50 binocular and scanned the sky with it. Still I couldn't find it. Then I tried to scan the sky without any optical aid. There I noticed that I was fooled by the "False cross". The real southern cross is a short hop to the left. With the real cross in sight, I found the nebula easily with my bins.

After finding my target, I aimed my scope at the target and started imaging. After around 20 shots, the target was covered by a raised section of the roof. So I moved my scope, did a rough polar alignment again and captured another target just beside the nebula, the rich open cluster NGC3532.

 Eta Carinae Nebula with the Keyhole nebula in the middle


After capturing these 2 targets, I went back to my room and performed the usual process of aligning, stacking and post processing the frames.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Tanay Adventure 2012-04-09

I wanted to visit several places in Tanay with the Calinawan cave on top of the itinerary. I allocated a day for it during the after Easter holiday. The Monday after Easter was declared a public holiday in the Philippines.

After more than an hour and a half travel from my place, I arrived at the center of Tanay. I decided not to hire a trike, which is the usual thing travellers do, and do some exploring on my own. From there I took another ride to the road leading to the Calinawan cave. From there, I started my travel on foot. At the main intersection, there were no signs leading to the cave. The only signs I saw were signs to Daranak and Batlag falls. After asking some passersby the correct way, I started my solo hike. When I reached another intersection separating the road to Daranak and the cave, I didn't see any sign to the right path. The only sign I saw was one pointing the way to "ALICE". I do not know where ALICE leads to so I waited until someone can show me the right way. The path was a rough road with a few structures every few tens of meters.


The hike was not difficult, but uncomfortable due to the hot sun. I arrived at the cave entrance after about 30 minutes. An old lady told me that I have to get a guide to avoid getting lost in the cave. It makes sense to me because I am not familiar with the cave and any accident can lead to a serious problem.

The cave was deep and has several caverns and exits. So far, the guide took me to 3 exits and about 4 or 5 caverns. Here are some images I took.

Bats on the ceiling

After exploring the cave, I decided to visit Daranak falls and started my hike back to the intersection. When I reached the intersection, I took a short break and waited  for a trike to Daranak to avoid getting sunburned. After around 10 minutes, I was able to get a ride until I reached the path to the Grotto. The side road was already littered with vehicles visiting the 2 falls. Upon seeing the number of visitors, I decided it's not a good time to visit the falls because I have been to the falls before and I know the camping area is not that big to accomodate all the visitors. I decided to just hike to the Grotto which I haven't visited because when I came before, the entrance gate was locked. The Grotto was contructed on the side of the mountain, about 100m above the main road. It took me about 10 to 15 minutes to cross a stream and climb the steps to reach the top.
 There's the road

After a short break, some snack and a few pictures, I hiked back down to the road. Initially I found not a single trike was waiting along the road, so after a short wait, I decided to start walking towards the main road. After 15 minutes, I reached an area with a small store. I bought a bottle of water to replenish my already depleted supply. It took me less than a minute to consume all of it. :) At about the same time I emptied the bottle, a trike arrived carrying some passengers. I got on and travelled the easy way back to the town center.

At the Tanay town center, I had lunch at the local fake Chinese food chain - Chowking. After eating, I managed to regain my energy to continue my Tanay exploration. I did a short walk around the town, then took a trike to the Parola. The Parola is an old lighthouse on one side of Laguna lake. I took some pictures of it and also some water birds, particularly some black headed gulls and a yellow bittern around the area.

Yellow bittern

Black headed gull

After a visit to the lighthouse, I decided it's time to head back home. I took a trike to the terminal, where a vehicle to EDSA crossing was waiting for passengers. I got on and waited until I arrived home.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Birding and Optics Testing

Yesterday, I joined the migratory raptor counting activity along with the other members of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines. When there were no raptors in sight to count, I tried to compare 3 scopes with a friend. The scopes tested are: a 70mm generic scope (+venture achromat), an Orion ST-80 (80mm achromat), and an 80mm Columbia spotting scope. With all three scopes pointed to a common target, a PAGASA wind vane about 20 meters away, we tried to read the small marks (2mm white on black text) stamped on the device. Since all three are achromats, all show a bit of false color at higher magnification. The 70mm shows the least amount of details, the texts are almost unreadable, but it has the best color correction - least amount of purple fringing. Both the ST-80 and the spotting scope showed a generous amount of purple, but it seems the spotting scope has the most amount of red and purple. The texts are barely readable on both 80mm scopes, but it seems the ST-80 is a little bit sharper. My verdict for each category (best to worst):

Color correction: 70mm, ST-80, Spotting scope
Sharpness: ST-80, Spotting scope, 70mm
Ruggedness: Spotting scope, ST-80, 70mm
Portability (lightest to heaviest): 70mm, spotting scope, ST-80
Aesthetic appeal: Spotting scope, ST-80, 70mm 

We ended the day with a total of 1900+ raptors on the list. I learned to identify a Chinese goshawk by looking at the dark wing tip and light colored mid-section, thanks to raptor master Jon Villasper.

White throated kingfisher

The next day, I got up early as well and waited for Dennis to arrive before we proceed to hike together. Both of us needs to shed some weight and hiking to the Petroglyph seems to be a way to do it. ;) Along the way, we managed to see some good birds and some blue tailed bee-eater, the first time I saw them in that place.

Some of the images I took:

 The owl

Grey wagtail with a full yellow belly.

When I got home from the hike and some rest, I decided to do some optics test again. This time using 3 achromats and a mak. The scopes are: 70mm +venture scope, 80mm Aquila optics, Skywatcher ST-80 and a Skywatcher 102mm mak. The candidates are shown below.

I taped a 20 peso bill on a wall 23 meters away from the scopes as a target and proceeded to do the test. The 3 achromats again showed a bit of color at high magnification, with the 70mm showed the least and the Aquila showed the most. As expected, the mak didn't show any trace of the undesirable purple fringe. For sharpness test, the 70mm could not resolve the name of the president on the bill. The ST-80 barely resolves it, the 80mm Aquila scope performed a little bit better than the ST-80 probably due to a finer focus thanks to its' Crayford type focuser instead of the usual rack and pinion one of the ST-80. All 3 achromats cannot resolve the smaller text below clearly. The mak proves it is far superior to the other candidates and shows a very sharp and well defined "BENIGNO S. AQUINO III" and the text below it "Pangulo ng Pilipinas". My final verdict for each category (arranged from best to worst):

Color correction: Mak, 70mm, ST-80, Aquila 80
Sharpness: Mak, Aquila 80, ST-80, 70mm
Ruggedness: Mak, Aquila 80, ST-80, 70mm
Portability (lightest to heaviest): 70mm, ST-80, Mak, Aquila 80
Aesthetic appeal: Aquila 80, ST-80, Mak, 70mm

 The target

 The scopes, 2 at a time

The following day, I tried to check the optics of another achromat, a Celestron Powerseeker 80 f/11 scope. It was able to resolve both texts, but still cannot compare to the sharpness the mak provides. It's a long and bulky instrument as well. The color correction, as expected from a long focus achromat, is superior to the 3 short focus achros but cannot beat good ol' mak. :)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Astro and Mt. Palay-palay Birding Weekend 2012-04-01

Sunday morning will be my first time birding at Mt. Palay-palay of southern Luzon. A few days ago, I took some time to clean my favorite birding scope to make sure it performs well. This scope became my favorite due to its' lightness and good light grasp even though the mechanical parts are not good - plastic everywhere. But optically, this scope can perform very well.

I was given a chance to image the planets and the moon again on Saturday night. Even though the sky condition seems crappy at best, it's enough to satisfy the itchy fingers. Here are some of the images.

 Rupes recta, the straight wall on the moon

Alpine valley

At half past 2 in the morning, I got up, do my morning routine and went to the meeting place at Blue Wave in Pasay. I miscalculated my travel time and arrived an hour before the scheduled time but still I was the 2nd one to arrive. It just proves that people who joined are really excited.

When all the members arrived, we set out and head to the destination with a short stopover at Jollibee in Tanza. Our first birding site is along the road after the DENR compound. After seeing the magnificent Luzon Hornbill in flight and other birds in the region, we moved to another site before a road that is under construction. After another wonderful birding session, we moved again to another location outside the Caylabne resort. The view outside was magnificent. When we arrived, some of us, including myself, never even bothered looking for birds. Instead of birding, we just admired the great view. Here are some images.


 Grey streaked flycatcher

 Philippine falconet

Chinese Goshawk

After the landscape photography session, we head to another place for lunch and then called it a day. Here are some of the images I took.

Spiders and other creatures:

Giant wood spider (Nephila sp) - female
Giant wood spider - male

A few hours later, I took a Venus and Jupiter conjunction image to seal the day's event.