Monday, October 21, 2013


On Friday night (10/18/13) at approx 7:50pm EST, the outer blurry edge of Earth's shadow briefly (and very slightly) darkened the lower limb (visible edge) of the Moon.  I tried to explain to folks that this is probably not an event worthy of excitement unless you are an uber-astro nerd but there seemed to be a lot of disappointed outcry out there afterward.

To explain, this was a Partial Penumbral Eclipse.  A Total Penumbral Eclipse would only dim the entire surface of the Moon because only the fuzzy outer edge of the Earth's shadow (the penumbra) is blocking the Sun.   You don't get that eerie dark red appearance that a total lunar eclipse gives.

So this Partial Penumbral Eclipse was so slight that only folks that stare at the Moon on a regular basis could even notice and only cameras and telescopes would really be able to see a noticeable difference from the normal full Moon.

Here's a photo I took during the peak eclipse coverage.  This is a stacked image of 105 frames, processed in RegiStax6.  Notice the light shadow on the lower right limb? Yup, that would be the full extent of the action.

Definitely mark your calendars for the next FULL lunar eclipse on April 15, 2014.
105 frames, 1/80 sec, f8, ISO100

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Barn Door Bliss

It's been quite a while folks.
I've moved to a great (although bright) city just south of Pittsburgh and have settled into full time dad/homemaker, which is kind of awesome honestly.  I've made tons of great new friends one of whom is a super tech savvy dude who has taken hours of his own time to help my engineering challenged self tune up my near fatally flawed home built Barn Door sky tracking mount. (More info here: Gary Seronik Tracking Mount).  His own blog is here: OnShoulders, so take some time to brows the videos about 3D printers, remote controlled airplanes and helicopters, among many other DIY techie goodness.

First some pictures of the homemade beauty then I'll explain a bit.

We (well, really HE) had to modify the circuitry a tad.  There's now two potentiometers and an attached multimeter.  The two potentiometers (which are beautifully encased with knobs and box 3D printed in my friend's basement) give very fine control over the voltage going to the motor, which is displayed on the multimeter.  As long as we keep the 3V motor running guessed it, 3V it will rotate the large gear at (nearly enough) 1 RPM, which in turn moves the platform in sync with the sky.  We may have a few kinks but I think it is working as well as my construction will allow.  We are thinking of other options for our own design taking from the newer line of tracking mounts (See iOptron SkyTracker).

So, basically, you line up the hinge with Polaris (I use a green out for planes), then point the camera at an object, set your intervalometer to take continuous shots, engage the gears, and sit back and enjoy the sky for a few hours letting the mount do the work.

Here's a couple shots from 10/8/13.  Remember, these were taken under very light polluted skies, more definition will improve when we take her to a darker sky site such as nearby Mingo Creek Park.  The star bursts in the Pleiades image are due to my low quality 300mm lens, you work with what you have. I'll try a wider f-stop next time to see if it improves.
Andromeda Galaxy (M31)
230 frames stacked in DeepSkyStacker
300mm, f8, 34sec ISO800

Pleiades (M45)
105 frames stacked in DeepSkyStacker
300mm, f8, 34sec ISO800

Hopefully it won't be so long before you hear from me again.  Looking forward to seeing Orion again (at a resonable hour).