Sunday, January 10, 2021

Hello Darkness, my old friend...

After almost 9 hours of westward travel from Houston we finally turned off the interstate and began the last leg of our trip, now south, toward Big Bend National Park - one of the premiere dark-sky sites in the country.

Finally, another hour, and up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light. My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim - it was time to stop for the night. We'd arrived at our rental cabin in Terlingua, four miles from the western entrance to the park.

We still had two hours of daylight left but my intended target was rising: M42, the Orion Nebula. By nightfall it would be ideally placed for my photographic endeavors...if the clouds will clear.

Clear they did, and the temperature dropped to 35F with a slight wind. The camera/lens had been outside adjusting to ambient for an hour before I began the night's shoot.

This was my first time using the Sky Watcher Star Adventurer but, thanks to helpful YouTube instruction, set-up could not have been easier. The skies here are phenomenal. Pure black with impossibly bright stars by the millions. Aligning the tracker to Polaris was easy but discerning which star was a bit difficult. I'd never seen the North Star surrounded by so many companions.

I finally achieved that task with the help of a green laser held on the star as I sighted it in the finder. A few tweaks of the mount's azimuth and elevation controls brought Polaris to where I needed it to be. I then swung the camera/300mm lens toward Orion's sword - ie, where the nebula lives and set the ISO to 1600.

After few shots to confirm focus and positioning in the camera's frame, I programmed the intervalometer to take a series of 70 one-minute exposures.

I checked the nebula's position on the camera's LCD screen every 15 minutes and was happy to see that it was being tracked perfectly. This verified the accuracy of my polar alignment and the inherent accuracy of the tracker. 

I threw out about a dozen of the 1-minute exposures due to wind movement-induced blurriness. The image shown here consists of 58 of those exposures, and old manual focus Nikon 300mm/f4 and a Nikon Z6. I have a lot to learn about processing stacked images and will work on that - a more experienced astrophotographer could make my image look much better but I'm a happy (and cold!) camper.

I'm quite happy with the result and think it makes a good first image for a newbie. As you can see, I did over-expose the central part in order to capture the nebulosity that exists around it. Next time, I'll make two images of Orion and merge them together in Photoshop so that all parts are exposed properly.

58 one minute-exposures, stacked. M42; 9 Jan 2021


A re-edit of the same 58 RAW images, this time using Sequator rather than DSS (which was used in first image) and following along with Peter Zelinka's YouTube tutorial here.

Full resolution version of image below.



Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Bouvet this year? Possibly...

 If the Rebel DX Group pulls this off it'll be one for the history books. Posted by them 2 days ago:

Some members of the Rebel DX Group have arrived in Cape Town, South Africa. After several Covid protocols we are in the good hands of our ZS friends and local supporters.

Just to remind you, the whole of our expedition equipment from the first Bouvet ''attack'' was secured at the QTH of Andre ZS1AN. What a great guy he is!! We will check again all our expedition gear during the coming days.

We had a very busy day yesterday with Shawn ZS1SBW, working on important paperwork for upcoming projects. More info on that soon.

The Bouvet (3Y0I) trip is on track. Still some budget is missing but we are hoping to get some of the missing $$$. Our last attempt cost us over $250K private money (donations were just 7%) and sadly that went to the ''vessel chimney'' (for fuel). Let's hope, this time we will be more lucky.

Here is a link if you are willing to help.

For your information, we will not apply for financial support to any DX Foundation or big Clubs as their conditions are not acceptable to us for a trip to one of the most wanted DXCC entities; and one of hardest places to go on our planet.



Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Sushi, good-looking women and the QCX-mini

Sometimes, about twice a month, I like to go out on my own and eat sushi. A leftover remnant of my Navy time in Japan. I sit at the bar and have a variety of raw fish, drink a Kirin beer and do a little paperwork.

Usually I'm alone at the bar - it's 12 noon and a weekday. But today was different.

As I was departing my house to go to the place where Chinese chefs pretend to be Japanese (and I pretend to believe them) a Fedex truck stopped and delivered a package from Turkey. It was from my favorite favourite ex-pat, Hans G0UPL and the box contained a QCX-mini.

I accepted the package and resumed my travel for lunch, with the QCX-mini riding shotgun.

Arrived at the sushi bar, sat in my chair at the bar, said hello to the chef, placed my order and began thinking about when I might start the QCX-mini build.

My tall Kirin arrived; shortly thereafter, so did an attractive woman who sat two seats down from me. She was of the Latina persuasion with a friendly smile. Mid-30's or so and pretty as a poem.

Turns out, we had a lot to talk about and we were both in the mood for conversation. She was from Guanajuato Mexico. I was there years ago - it's a lively college town with a lot of cultural attractions. Concerts, plays, the whole bit. It's an awesome colonial city situated in a beautiful, mountainous part of Mexico. I think I could live there.

Maria - that was my lunch partner's name, of course - made lingering eye contact as I told her my impressions, as a tourist, of her hometown. I probably did the same as she updated me in the changes to Guanajuato over the years. She told me she's a legal secretary here in Kingwood.

We spoke in both English and Spanish. She spoke fluent English but I wanted to show off a bit and she was kind enough to indulge me.

But in the back of my mind.....I was thinking "Should I tell her about my QCX kit? (Tu quieres ver mi QCX?)" It's just out in my car. I could do the unboxing right here in front of our Kirins, ikura, and California rolls. I'm joking of course; I really don't eat ikura.

And then it happened - she asked me if we could meet here again, telling me that her friends don't like sushi and that she doesn't like to eat alone. And she gave me her phone number.

Cold temperature AA battery comparison

Once upon a time, my interest in AA batteries was due to QRP applications. With the exception of the KX3, most QRPers have moved on to LiPo's or Li-Ion batteries.

But AA's are the most commonly available batteries - they're available anywhere. More importantly for the point of this posting, they're what my clock drive requires.

With nighttime temperatures right at freezing at my upcoming astrophotography location I wanted to test three AA battery chemistries at similar temperatures to get an idea of how long a set of batteries will last.

I know how each battery type performs relative to the others but I wanted the numbers for a specific current draw at my likely ambient temperature.

Sky Watcher's Star Adventurer, the clock drive I'll be using, is powered by four AA batteries and has a payload capacity of 11 lbs (5 kg).

As shown in the photo - with camera, 300mm/f4 lens and counterweight - my tracker's payload is exactly 8 pounds (3.6 kg). 

With that amount of weight to rotate, what would you guess the current required by the tracker might be? I was guessing 200...maybe 350 mA.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Photographic endeavors in 2021

Total radio or radio with a little photography thrown in? I'm thinking the latter for 2021.

Having just returned from a Christmas trip to Florida, I'm now packing the camera bag for an entirely different (and new-to-me) type of photography. My hopes are high but my knowledge level is purely theoretical with no practical experience.

The new type of photography involves a dark night sky, a telephoto lens and a clock drive to go between tripod and camera.

My teachers have been YouTubers Peter Zelinka in Utah, Nico Carver in Boston and Kamil Pekala in Poland.

In the past few months I've been spending some quality time watching (and even taking notes) these "QRP astrophotographers" - people who use very basic equipment to take photos of the night sky. Amazing photos, in a lot of cases.

Being a total novice at this, I'm not shooting for Amazing just yet. This will be a sea-trials trip to learn the mechanics of polar aligning the mount, determining exposure/ISO and setting up the intervalometer that will keep the camera going while I warm myself in the cabin.