Capturing the UK Partial Eclipse with the Canon SX20

On the 20th of March the UK experienced a partial eclipse of the sun. From where I was in the UK it was about 85-90% partial and because the weather forecast offered a good chance to observe it, I decided to have some equipment ready to capture some images.

Because I wasn’t sure what would happen to my camera, I decided to use my Canon SX20 instead of my SX50 in case there was a risk of damaging the cameras CCD. I also had some grade 10 welders glass borrowed from my dad which I intended to fix in front of my camera to reduce the glare from the sun. 

  

The best way I found was to tape the glass to the rear of my Skywatcher 130 telescope and mount the camera on top using the camera adapter on the telescope mounting rings. It’s a bit Heath-Robinson but the cardboard and tape fixing worked well on the day!

On the morning of the eclipse, which was due to start at 8.30am UK time, there was low cloud and mist but the weather report promised that this would clear in time for the start of the eclipse. I set up early, picking a spot where the rising sun should clear the trees at the front of my garden. I had to set the camera up in such a way that it would see through the welders glass as, at a certain distance it would only see it’s own lens reflection. 

  

I also read in Sky at Night magazine some suggested settings for photographing the eclipse, such as a shutter speed of 1/500 and an ISO of 100. Using the full zoom of the SX20 (20x optical) I focused in on the sun in time to see the moon just starting to transit the sun. The weather at this stage was cold but the mist and cloud was rapidly clearing and was becoming sunny. 

Over the next few minutes I took some shots but adjusted the shutter speed down to 1/1600 (the lowest on the SX20) as the sun still appeared a bit too bright in the images. I also used the self-timer function set to a custom trigger of 4 seconds as my remote shutter attachment wasn’t supported on the SX20. A good thing about using a camera in this way is that you don’t have to look directly at the sun, I had special eclipse viewing glasses for this purpose – thanks to the Society for Popular Astronomy and Sky at Night magazines for those! 

  

What was also apparent in the images was a sun spot transiting the left-hand side of the suns face which was quite pleased at capturing!

  

Still sunny, the strength in the output of the sun was becoming noticeably weaker though the light wasn’t the same as the setting sun, it was quite strange and it was becoming noticeably colder. I had to pop inside the house and noticed the sun catching a glass ornament in the living room, which produced an interesting effect where the sun reflected also had the moon transiting. This is best illustrated in the images below. 

  

  

  

Because I had to move back up the garden, by about 9.10am the sun became blocked by a small bush and I had to perform some quick trimming of the top branches to stop my view behind spoilt!

At 9.30am, the sun reached its maximum totality, so I’ve combined a number of images into the image below illustrating the progress of the transit.

  

There had been reports of an ‘eclipse wind’ to watch out for and though I didn’t notice any change at the time, the birds had become noticeably quieter as the eclipse progressed to its maximum totality.

At 10.30am it was all over – considering how poor the weather was in the rest of the UK, I was quite lucky to be able to capture the images I have done.

Now I know that the welders glass works fine with the camera, I think I may try the SX50 with a piece when there is a larger number of sun spots to photograph. With the SX50’s better photographic capability (RAW image output, 50x optical zoom) it should help to produce some interesting solar images – something I’d never expected to be able to do with a point-and-shoot camera!

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Chasing the ISS with a Canon SX20IS

The International Space Station passed over my house this evening, about to dock with the STS-133 Discovery space shuttle. Though I wasn’t able to see the shuttle (I understand from tweets that it was very close), the ISS pass was pretty bright and lasted for a good few minutes. Fast moving cloud spoilt the first image where the ISS approached from the SSE. However the following three images I hope you’ll agree aren’t too bad despite the weather doing its best to spoil the view.


ISS Pass 1


Here the ISS (the long line, a 32 second exposure), left hand part of the line is passing over Betelgeuse and Bellatrix in Orion. Aldeberan can be seen up to the right and faintly, the Pleiades can be seen.


ISS Pass 2


In this second inage the ISS has passed Orion (whose distinctive outline can be seen on the right of the image) and is approaching Castor and Pollux in Gemini to the upper left.


ISS Pass 3


This final image shoes the ISS track partially obscured by cloud, just before it disappears from view.

I used my Canon SX20IS mounted on a Jessops photographic tripod, taken at ISO100, using CHDK to set a 32 second exposure, at f7.1. I used a two second delay to allow the camera shake to settle down before the shutter engaged. The images have had a small amount of post-processing applied to brighten the scenes slightly.

UK Star Count 2011

Though this post is aimed at UK visitors, I hope it may be of use to other people from outside the UK highlighting the problem of light pollution.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and Campaign for Dark Skies (CfDS) are asking people to join in a ‘Star Count’ to help highlight the problem of light pollution. Light pollution is an ever-growing problem due to inconsiderate use of lighting at night, which takes away the fantastic views of the night sky, not just for astronomers, but for everyone.

The CPRE event, which is taking place this week (31st January to Sunday 6th of February), is a simple survey where people are asked to count the number of stars within a rectangle of Orion’s four main corner stars on a clear night. The less number of stars you can count, the greater the chance that light pollution is the cause.

I’d encourage everyone to take part in this survey, which will also help to find out which parts of the country have the darkest skies.

The event details can be found at:-

http://www.cpre.org.uk/campaigns/landscape/light-pollution/start-count-week-2011

Posted by Wordmobi

BBC Stargazing Live – 3/4/5th of January

The BBC are broadcasting over three nights in the UK (8pm each evening, BBC2), a live astronomy programme presented by Prof Brian Cox (Wonders of the Solar System) and comedian Dara O’Briain (Mock the Week). It is aimed at getting people interested in looking up at the night sky, astronomy and probably benefitting the people who have received telescopes over Christmas.

It happens to co-incide with a few astronomical events that are taking place over the next week, namely a partial solar eclipse on Tuesday morning (7am – 9.30am UK time) and the Quadrantids meteor shower, peaking on the 4th of January. There is the close alignment of Jupiter and Uranus as well, which should be viewable in a reasonable field of view.

The shows are intended to cover a number of things during the one hour-per night shows, including getting TV-person Jonathan Ross (Film 2009, Radio 2 presenter, Tonight with Jonathan Ross) to set up a telescope and start using it (episode 1). Apparently Mr Ross is a budding astronomer and has had a telescope for some time, but never used it.

The show will also be broadcast from the Jodrell Bank radio telescope, which will provide a fantastic background to the shows. The ‘One Show’s astronomer Mark Thompson will also share useful tips.

Dara O’Briain also has a keen interest in astronomy so I’m hoping that through these three well-known faces, they will help to promote astronomy – weather allowing!

The show appears to be covering a number of things, including what people can do themselves to get to know the night sky along with visits to site sof astronomical and scientific research.

What I hope these programmes will do is help get people to look up at the night sky (and know that there are wonderful sights they can see in their own back garden). Hopefully it can be done without too much ‘techie’ talk, so that people get turned off the programme. However, Prof Brian Cox has a good track record in this area and is well known to the general public. If ‘seeds of inspiration’ can be planted amongst the general public, hopefully it will raise the general ‘appreciation’ of astronomy as a scientific subject.

A possible side benefit is that it may raise the profile of the astronomer’s enemy – light pollution and what can be done by everyone to reduce it.

Some public outreach events have been announced on Twitter and some astronomy club webpages, along with a list of events on the Stargazing website. I would also recommend checking the ‘Society for Popular Astronomy’ for other useful information on the the partial eclipse and meteor shower ( http://www.popastro.com ).

More information can be found on the BBC Stargazing website:-

http://www.bbc.co.uk/stargazing

… and can also be followed on Twitter using the #BBCStargazing hashtag, along with the following Twitter handles:-

@jodrellbank
@daraobriain
@profbriancox

Jodrell bank can be found at:-

http://www.jb.man.ac.uk/

I’d expect that the programme will be available to view via BBC iPlayer (in the UK) for the next seven days as well.

Website Update

Just a quick update as to what is going on, as there hasn’t been a posting to my blog for a (unbelieveably) couple of months. I’m working on a substantial update to my website http://www.digitalwaterfalls.co.uk which will consist of a number of tutorials, based on what I have learnt in astronomy and astrophotography.

Watch this this space for announcements before the end of the year…!

Posted by Wordmobi

Comet 103/P Hartley

Astronomers have been trying to track down the periodic comet 103/P Hartley since September, as it makes its way across the sky. Unfortunately it seems as though it is not going to be as bright as people were hoping and is proving to be a difficult object to track down.

I personally haven’t been able to locate it yet in my local light-polluted skies. However I’m waiting for a clear night and hope to try out my new Baader UHC-S light-pollution filter. Hopefully it may be tomorrow night as the comet passes the double-cluster near Cassiopeia.

I’ve found a couple of links that may prove to be useful for people who want to try and track down the comet:-

Sky and Telescope’s excellent map

…or a more detailed map on the Society for Popular Astronomy’s website:

www.popastro.com

… which is being updated with reports and close up map views throughout October. Note though towards the 21st, when the comet will potentially be at its best, the Moon will be full and spoil the chances of viewing the comet. Therefore if you can, try and catch the comet now whilst there is no moonlight.

Beginners Portable Astronomy

Though I’d planned to take my Skywatcher 130 telescope with me on holiday to the highlands of Scotland, unfortunately it turned out too impractical to transport everything we needed for a weeks stay (plus one Greyhound!) so I started looking at alternative options.

Armed with a budget of £100, I started looking into the options. Another smaller telescope seemed the wrong solution, if I was intending to do astrophotography with the smaller ‘scope then I’d have to transport extra bits ‘n pieces. I needed true portability to view the skies, but with the compromise of not being able to attach a camera. So I resolved to achieve two things:-

1. Buy a pair of binoculars to get good views of the skies.
2. Take the digital camera with tripod, but try to get an adapter/bracket to help me utilise both the binoculars and camera on the same tripod.

After looking around, I settled on the ‘Helios Nature Sport Plus’ pair of binoculars, 10×50 wide angle. They came recommended by ‘Sky at Night’ magazine and at £84 with case/neck strap, they fitted nicely into my budget. A suitable camera tripod adapter came in at £9 and I picked up the items from a local dealer, Sherwoods Photographic www.sherwoods-photo.co.uk

Helios Main View.jpg

Out in the field, I’ve found that using the binoculars in daylight, they offer a very high quality view, objects are clear and crisp. The only issue I found with them is the line of the horizon was tinged with a faint reddish/yellow line. However once I fine-adjusted the focus wheel, this disappeared almost completely.

The binoculars have eye-relief caps that twist to extend so that they can be used by glasses-wearers, though I usually take my glasses off any to look through the eye-pieces. Having a rubber coating, the binoculars are easy to handle.

Helios Eye Piece View

For stargazing, I have found the binoculars a very useful pair to use. Jupiter and its four main moons can be seen easily, stars with distinct colouration such as red giants are clear and the field of view is excellent (being 6.5 degrees). Even through light pollution, the arc of stars that form the Milky Way can be distinguished. Satellites have regulary crossed my field of view and even M31 the Andromeda Galaxy can easily be seen.

What I find useful is the ability to grab the binoculars and scan the night sky for five minutes, rather than having to haul the telescope outside and hence feel frustrated that I can’t view the night sky as I would like. It has also proved its worth on holiday to look at scenes and objects in the daytime.

The binoculars come with a useful padded carry case, a short guide how to use the binoculars and a cleaning cloth.

The bracket that allows me to attach the binoculars to a camera tripod has proven useful in two ways, not just whilst attached to the tripod, but has an additional way of holding the binoculars as the bracket attaches via a thumbscrew to the centre screw hole at the front of the binoculars.

In addition to to the binoculars, I also found taking a small field compass, notepad, red LED light and of course several magazines and books with star maps essential for finding my way around the night sky. Useful (for the sake of ease) having a GPS enabled mobile phone to give me my current position also helped star-finding.

I must admit that I was skeptical when I first seriously took up astronomy of the value and usefulness of a pair of binoculars. However after reading a lot of amateur astronomers experiences, magazines and tried it out myself, having a decent pair of ‘bins’ is a worthwhile piece of equipment in the astronomer’s tool kit.

Posted by Wordmobi