Monday, July 28, 2008

Total solar eclipse trip 2008

I will leave by the early morning of 29th of July 2008.

I will join two friends to take bus to Shen Zhen, and then we will switch to taxi to reach Shen Zhen airport. And in there, we will meet most of our friends for this trip, like over 50 people. After around 8 hours, we will be meeting most of our friends from Hong Kong at Ürümchi.

We will then travel by train to Yiwu, and eventually by bus to Weizixia where we will spend two nights there, as well as to observe the total solar eclipse.

If there's internet access, I will try to report daily. I know blogger can be written from mainland, but not viewed. So, maybe I can write, let's see.

But anyway, I will report when I back home. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

20080726 Sun

I measured the time required from setup to finish, it's just 14 minutes.

My LXD55 is left on the window platform. And on pushing the legs of the tripod to the windows, the polar alignment accurate enough for solar imaging. Plug in the power supply, plug in the Autostar controller and it's ready to go.

Next is to open the window security cage, attach the dovetail with the Borg 45ED II to the mount, yes, I usually screwed the Solarmax 40 on the Borg before attaching it to the mount. Next is to find the sun by minimizing the shadow. Insert the blocking filter, make sure the sun is inside the field of view. Then plug in the DMK and it's ready to go.

I will first overexpose the solar disc a little bit to tune the Tmax, to remove the uneven illumination in particular. Then I will adjust the exposure back to the normal level and it's ready to go. After the surface detail exposure, I will do a prominence only exposure by pushing the exposure up. Then it's done.

Seeing is like 3/10, transparency is something like 5/10.

1410 (GMT+8):-

1411 (GMT+8):-

The sun is very similar with yesterday, that filament/prominence is still there.

Friday, July 25, 2008

20080725 Sun

I'm on leave today, and so can enjoy some sunshine. Seeing like 5/10, transparency like 7/10. Sun remained inactive.

Taken with Borg 45ED II, SM40/BF10, DMK 31AF03, tracked by LXD55.

1428 (GMT+8), surface detail exposure, prominence pushed during post processing. Noticed that there's a small subtle filament on the top of this image which extends beyond the limb to form that prominence:-

1429 (GMT+8), prominence exposure:-

Also got some shots taken with a DSLR:-

1436 (GMT+8), focus way off:-

1521 (GMT+8), focus way off:-

1523 (GMT+8), white light, Canon 200mm f2.8 with Kenko 2x, Thousand Oaks 2+:-

DIY USB battery box

This is the second version, the first version can be found here:

This time, I found some more suitable parts. First of all, you need to make sure the pin layout are correct:-

The USB sockets for those computer back panel is superb for this purpose. Better than last time the USB->PS/2 adapters.

So, I go and buy a small plastic box, it costs only two dollars. And to host the batteries, a $5 box is used. I'm talking about HKD.

Since this USB back panel socket has threaded screw holes there, attaching them to the box is so easy and elegant:-

To avoid the battery container from moving around inside the box, you can add some foam inside to eat up the empty spaces.

20080724 Jupiter

C5 at f/30 (Tele Vue 3x), DBK 21AF04.AS, seeing 6/10, transparency 5/10.
GRS is always nice and feature rich.

2252 (GMT+8):-

2256 (GMT+8), i.e. 4 minutes later:-

2259 (GMT+8), i.e. another 3 minutes:-

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lunt's product finally reach some customers

Here is probably the first user report:

The author is an experienced solar observer who owned a PST as well as a Solarmax 90. And at the time of the review, he has them for comparison as well.

For me, the bright solar disc and the poor contrast means internal reflection. Of course, the weather played a role.

And the prominence in the small region of etalon tuning is a result of small sweet spot, and this is unlikely a result of the weather. Poor weather will kill detail, but it will not be affected by etalon tilting.

A report which indicates that the product is less than desirable. Of course, we can wait for further reports, but at least I won't go for a product like this.

Some people said that the report is no good or unfair, due to the weather condition, as well as some of the comment from the author like the objective might not serve any real function, but then I would say it's not a major issue for a reviewer to know much about the product design. I mean you don't have to know all the design detail to appreciate the view. I doubt anyone will need to understand a Nagler eyepiece design well to appreciate the beautiful view. But I am sure that the author knows what is a wonderful view for he has a Solarmax 90. And since he has been in solar observation for two years, he knows how the weather will give a discount on the view.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Standard to medium prime lens

During these days, I found my usage pattern. I'll try my prime lenses first in most of the time. And I know that I don't mind to switch between lenses. When the prime lens does not fit the purpose, I will then switch to zoom lens.

I know one day I will be getting a few more prime lenses, and so I begin to look at the reviews and more importantly, the real star images from other people. I know that I will not go over 200mm and therefore, I will be looking at the standard to medium range first. For ultra-wide to wide field, I believe that going to full frame is probably the long term solution. Manufacturers are still pushing the number of pixels, but then to keep in APS-C size, there is not much room left before there is a big loss in image quality. And at the same time, the available options for ultra-wide to wide field is very limited, and maybe I can name the only one, i.e. the EF-S 10-22mm.

So, let's go back to standard to medium focal length, and there're some good candidates after some searching:-

1. Canon 85mm f1.8: this lens is inexpensive and the quality is still nice as I can see from others work, stopping it down to f/4 and it will work for astrophotography. The fast f1.8 is great for daily purpose.

2. Canon 100mm f2: this lens is simply superb! I would say it's a L lens without L (and also the price tag), but I guess with the superb Canon 100mm f2.8 macro, this lens is being over-shadowed. I believe that this lens is going to be very hard to find, even if I decided to get one.

3. Canon 135mm f2L: this one is again superb! Maybe with my mount, I should go for this one instead of my Canon 200mm f2.8L due to the shorter focal length and faster focal ratio. However, the 200mm can offer something with the Kenko 2x for me to the total solar eclipse trip and that's what this lens cannot provide. Therefore, I know that I ain't going to consider this lens in the future.

4. Canon 100mm f2.8 macro: this one is again superb! The macro performance is superb, and it can be used for daily purpose, and I even saw some great milkway shots with this lens! Maybe with the versatility, that's why the Canon 100mm f2 is so much neglected by the market entirely.

I don't know if you can smell that which one of the above will be my next target after reading all these. But I won't hide, it's most likely the last one in the above list.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Several lists of items

To do before the total solar eclipse trip:-

  1. Get some more RMB - done
  2. Traveling insurance - done
  3. China mobile phone card add value - done (valid until 2009 March, ~ RMB 240 remains)
  4. Fill in the useful phone numbers, air-ticket copy, traveling insurance copy in the observation trip hand book - done
  5. Check and tidy up the screw box - done
  6. Replace the 9V battery inside the JMI controller - done
  7. Sun lotion and mosquito repellent - done
  8. Enhance the DIY USB battery box - done
  9. 地蓆 - done
  10. Snack, 即沖麥皮, Chewing Gum, and Eclipse! - pending
  11. lipstick
To pack list (backpack):-

  1. Traveling documents (make copies)
  2. Air tickets
  3. mp3 player
  4. Keys
  5. Mobile phone
  6. Observation hand book, magazine
  7. Light jacket (rain resistant)
  8. Rain coat for the backpack
  9. A small ball pen
  10. Canon 450D, 50mm f/1.8 II, 200mm f2.8L, Kenko 2x, Kit lens, mount ring
  11. Borg 45ED II, NGF-S hand controller
  12. One pack of tissue
  13. 棉花棒, 牙簽, 小毛巾
  14. Blower blub, lens pen
  15. Memory card (2G + 8G)
  16. Notebook
  17. Solar filter
  18. Illuminated reticle, 2x barlows, 20mm widescan, 1.25" diagonal
  19. 黑色團衫
To pack list (brief case):-

  1. TG-SP II with power cable, hand controller, polar scope with mounting plate, USB power cable, dovetail plate, counter weight and the shaft
  2. Gitzo G106 with Manfrotto 410 head
  3. Screw box with only suitable screws
  4. A big roll of tissue
  5. 地蓆
  6. Pocket Sky Atlas
  7. Mobile phone charging/hot sync cable
  8. MP3 charging cable
  9. Notebook charger
  10. 涼鞋
  11. Plastic bags * 3
  12. 長褲
  13. Chinese socket adapter * 2
  14. Small torch
  15. Compass
  16. Empty water bottles
  17. Card reader
  18. 3 small packs of tissue
  19. Personal medicine
  20. 板藍根 and 即沖麥皮
  21. Some snacks (packed bread, candies)
  22. AA battery charger
  23. Under-wears * 4, 短褲 (sleep and daily), T-shirts (2 sets + 團衫), socks * 3
  24. Shampoo, bathing lotions, bigger towel for bathing
  25. Shaver
  26. 牙刷, 小杯, 牙膏
  27. Sun lotion, mosquito repellant
  28. Comb

Additional remarks:-

27 July afternoon: bolded items are packed and ready, but the suitcase and the backpack is over 90% occupied. The items have to be very carefully arranged so that the suitcase can close. Very crowdy indeed. For the current situation, I guess that I'll not have any space to bring any more items.

I'm feeling hesistated to take the bigger suitcase, for "hard bed" train has very limited space for lugguages.

27 July late afternoon: Finally moved to the bigger suitcase, now I can pack a few more stuff but still have plenty of space left (40%+). Not bad indeed, just expect some problem for the taxi trip from Shen Zhen border to airport, as well as the overnight train trip.

27 July night: suddenly got an idea about borrowing a suitcase, I went to my parents' home to look for suitable candidate, found it, too it back home. It's a perfect fit I would say!!! The big one left too much empty space so that the items inside can shake around like a blender! But this one fits my items in very nice, it left around 15% space so that I can stuck the rest of the items inside and still leave some rooms to put something which I might buy during the trip. Very nice indeed, this is a perfect solution!

Better yet, this one is also rain proof, unlike my big one which is not.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

20080720 Jupiter

Seeing no good, I would say it's like 3-4/10. I can hear the sound of nearby air-conditioners. Transparency is like 5/10 and sometimes dropped to 3/10 with thin cloud. The collimation of the C5 is not very good, but it's acceptable and since it's a quick session, I didn't fine tune it. I shall make it better next time when I've time.

Telescope: Celestron C5
Camera: DBK 21AF04 for color, DMK 31AF03 for monochromatic
Barlows: Tele Vue 3x

2316 (GMT+8), the family of Jupiter at f/10:-

2320 (GMT+8), at f/30 by DBK:-

2328 (GMT+8), at f/30 by DMK:-

After the imaging session, my wife arrived home after work. I invited her to have a view and she's amazed by the view. I love the same view for sure, I always say visual observation is always more attractive for me.

YongNuo Timer Remote

I bought one finally today. I visited one shop but then I was told that the last one was sold just before I arrived. Anyway, I walked around and found another shop selling it, and even slightly cheaper.

The user interface is quite nice and easy to use. It requires two AAA batteries and I guess they will last very long since monochromatic LCD is very energy efficient and the old fashion back light should consume quite less power as well.

Basically, this timer remote has essentially the same function as the EOS Utility of 450D. Of course, it's far easier to use this one instead of a notebook. Yes, the notebook does provide Live View but then the LCD of the 450D is big enough for focusing purpose. Therefore, a timer remote is very nice to simplify the whole setup and make it far more portable.

One of the big draw back of this simple timer remote is that it lacks a power button. It's forever power on, and to switch it off, you need to pull out the batteries. I guess the addition of a simple on/off switch is going to make it even better.

There's a big shutter button on this remote, and this button can function without power. You can even lock it in bulb mode. Half press also work flawlessly for focusing.

I've also tried to do exposure bracketing with this time remote. It works. With the AEB mode enabled, each time when you trigger the shutter, it will do bracketing automatically. Thus, it's not exactly a function of the timer remote, but it's just do-able with this timer remote. The same case applies for the EOS Utility.

With this timer remote on hand, as well as the Lowepro Fastpack 350, my total solar eclipse setup is ready and now I need some integration testing before the trip.

20080720 Sun

Just a record, the sky is muddy and the sun is featureless.

Canon 450D, Thousand Oaks 2+ solar filter, Canon 200mm f2.8L with Kenko 2x, image resized:-

I think the sun will remain very inactive during the upcoming total solar eclipse.

2008-07-18 The Moon and the tiny Jupiter

Took a few snapshots with my Canon 200mm f2.8L at prime focus with my Canon 450D. The view was much better than this photograph:

Just resized and adjust level slightly. You can see a thin layer of cloud. Click for full size.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Lowepro Fastpack 350

I went to buy a Lowepro Fastpack 350 last night. I bought this one instead of a CompuTrekker for it has another compartment for other stuff. It also features a mesh pocket for water bottle.

Today, I tried to fit things in, and here's a shot:

On the left hand side, you can see the Borg 45ED II with the JMI NGF-S. The lens cell as well as the extension tube are removed to make it short enough for this slot. Under the Borg, there's a Canon 200mm f2.8L. They are separated by those customizable padding.

In the middle, you can see my Canon 450D with the kit lens attached. It can be removed from the bag without fully remove the whole bag from my back, and this is what Fastpack mean. Separated by the padding, we have a pair of Canon 10x30 IS binoculars.

On the right hand side starting from the top compartment, we have a Borg 45ED II lens cell, as well as the extension tube. Finally, the lower compartment on the right, we have a Kenko Teleplus 2x and a Canon 50mm f1.8 II.

This is about what I will take for the solar eclipse trip. On the top compartment, I can put the solar filters, and other small accessories. Bringing the Coronado Solarmax is no problem as well, but I would rather leave it at home this time.

I would reserve the top compartment for my personal stuff for this trip, like a light jacket, mp3 player, mobile phone, etc.


The top compartment of this bag is fairly big. I can put the whole Takahashi TG-SP II inside without problem, including the battery pack, the counter weight, the hand controller, the V-bracket. And there's still plenty of room for other stuff!!!

I can also put my Gitzo G106 tripod inside without problem, but of course, it couldn't stay inside with the TG-SP II at the same time.

The notebook compartment is definitely great for computer. And maybe one or two star atlases.


Overall, this bag is not too big. Maybe I've used to take a 55l comping backpack. This one is definitely rather compact and very nicely designed. And better yet, it's easy to wear. Even when filled with many stuff, I know that I can still run with it.

Since this bag does not come with a rain cover, I took out my old rain cover for another backpack which I have, and it fits very nicely. So, it's not an issue for me.

I'm very pleased with the purchase. And I'm sure it will be good for daily hiking trip, even to work or to school.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Canon 50mm f1.8 II

I bought this lens a couple of days ago.

This is not a lens originally intended for astronomy purpose, but instead, it's more like for daily snapshots. It's cheap but with great quality. I have no problem with the plastic mount, the rather simple built quality, as well as the barely usable focusing ring. It's fast and so it's perfect for indoor purpose as well.

Last night, I tried it with my Kenko 2x but it seems like auto-focusing does not work. The lens will try to find the focus point, but it never settles on the correct place. Using it in manual mode work, however. The focal ratio was not detected correctly. This is not the case for my Canon 200mm f2.8L, and so it seems like this lens is not working very peacefully.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Pending items for the solar eclipse trip

1. There will be another short talk this Sunday, we will fetch a document from China Travel to help passing the custom

2. I still want to buy a timer remote for my Canon 450D, my notebook is not so reliable for this purpose

3. Camera backpack: I guess I will settle for something slightly smaller, since I won't be bringing out so many lenses for this trip or even later stargazing trips. I want something more compact and useful for daily purpose during the trip, like to store a bottle of water and some personal stuff.

Sounds like a Fastpack 350 is a nice idea.

4. Mobile phone card (add value)

5. RMB

Monday, July 07, 2008

Finalized equipment line up

1. Borg 45ED II + JMI NGF-S focuser

- Tele Vue 2x barlows
- Tele Vue Nagler 13mm Type 6
- Meade 9mm illuminated reticle
- Tele Vue 1.25" star diagonal

=> For guiding at night, drift alignment, and high power visual observation during totality

2. Canon 450D

- Canon 200mm f2.8L
- Canon 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 IS
- Canon 50mm f1.8
- Kenko Teleplus 2x

=> For wide field imaging at night, scenery, snapshots, as well as during partial eclipse and totality

3. Konica Minolta Z5

=> For taking video clips as record

4. Canon 10x30 IS

=> For visual observation during night time, as well as during totality

5. Gitzo G106 tripod + Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head

=> General photography, night photography and totality

6. Takahashi TG-SP II

=> Wide field night sky and totality

7. Thousand Oaks Solar Filter Type 2+

=> Partial eclipse observation and imaging

8. Sony Vaio PCG-U3

=> DSLR control as well as general purpose

I left out the Coronado Solarmax 40 / BF10 since the project which I intended to do can be done for partial solar eclipse, and therefore, I also left the DMK as well.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

20080705 Shooting Star

Captured accidentally, it's on top of the teapot, taken with my Canon 450D and the kit lens at 25mm f/4 wide open, exposure is 20s:

I was wonder what it is, since it's so short at 20s, it must be travelling very slowly, but then a local friend reminded me that it actually appeared rather short, instead of all the 20s.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

4-5 July 2008 Night Sky!

It's a great night at home. Transpareny is like 7/10, seeing rather poor at 3-4/10. I spend the first few minutes to scan around with my Canon 10x30 IS, M7 is very beautiful there, and I can detect a hint of M4 as well. Jupiter is hanging around with its satellites, but it's not yet in good position for imaging from inside my home.

I used my Canon 450D with the 200mm f2.8L to shoot a few M7, then I switched to the kit lens at 17mm for a few wide field shots. Finally, I dig out my C5 for Jupiter with my DBK. My barlows and the DBK are dusty. I'm dusty too, for I spent over 10 minutes just to locate Jupiter in my C5! It shouldn't be that hard. I took a few clips at 2x, and then at 3x.

First are the C5 shots, here are two taken at f/20:-

0045 (GMT+8):-

0046 (GMT+8):-

And then those taken at f/30:-

0052 (GMT+8):-

0053 (GMT+8):-

My barlows were very dusty, I was too sleepy to clean them so I just move the Jupiter around the CCD by using guide speed "slewing" and so the dust were averaged out like noise.

Most of the images taken with the 200mm f2.8 is not tracked nicely, anyway, here I include one which has 15s exposure time, processed, cropped and scaled:

It's M7.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Jupiter is hanging outside

This morning around 4:30am, I looked out from the window, I saw Jupiter hanging outside.

It was sinking rather low in the sky, and it was quite misty there. I pulled out my Canon 10x30 IS to confirm, and I couldn't see the satellites quite clearly, but then I moved my head a little bit, they were there. I guess the window frame was killing the resolution, so moving slightly off to avoid the thickest part helped.

It reminded me the planet season comes again! I guess the observation time would be like 2:00am to 3:00am these days. Time to give up some sleep.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Minimalist Solar Eclipse Setup

I think I shall still cut down the total setup again.

First of all, the H-alpha and the DMK will be left at home, the project in my mind could be accomplished even for partial eclipse, so I should better leave it for later local opportunities. The DMK won't work very well with my slow notebook indeed.

I'm wondering if I can also leave the Borg at home. For visual observation, I have the Canon 10x30 IS which should be great enough for the short eclipse. Switching between equipments could be wasting time especially when the totality has only less than 2 minutes! The Borg could also be useful for drift alignment, but again, I don't think I need that much accuracy.

Finally, the notebook could be left at home as well. To control the DSLR, I can always buy a timer remote which should be far more compact. Of course, a small notebook computer is always a nice item for other purpose especially if there's internet connection (unsure about that).

After some thoughts, I don't think that I will spend too much time during the nights there as well, for the weather is very hot there in the day, so I must catch time to sleep at night, so the potential wide field imaging time is greatly reduced to around 2-3 hours at most.

So it seems like now the equipment line up will become:-

1. Gitzo G106 + TG-SP II as the mount
2. Canon 10x30 IS for visual observation
3. Canon 450D + 200mm f2.8 for night usage, and with Kenko 2x for total solar eclipse shot
4. A timer remote or the Sony Vaio U3 to automate the eclipse capture

Nothing else?

Additional remarks on 5th of July:-

I've submitted the form, I will bring the Borg but not the Solarmax and the DMK. The Borg will be used for guiding, or drift alignment at night, and also be used for high power visual observation if I dare to, during the totality.

I will probably also buy a timer remote to save the trouble about potential notebook issue, or battery problem. The timer remote will also help in future portable trip where a notebook could be troublesome.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

20080701 Sun

It has been pretty long since the last solar session, probably more than two weeks. I got some limited sunshine today, and it's a public holiday today, so I can take a few shots again. Seeing is like 3-4/10, not bad indeed and transparency is superb like 7/10 to 9/10.

The sun is moving to better position again slowly, so I don't have to extend the dovetail too much out from the window, and I hope that I can soon use the setup without that L-bracket and then I shall be able to test the setup with my 450D. If it's not too bad, it's going to be useful even for daily record during office days lunch break.

Telescope: Borg 45ED II
Filter: Coronado Solarmax 40 with BF10
Camera: DMK 31AF03

1603 (GMT+8), prominence shot:-

1604 (GMT+8), surface detail shot, selectively pushed to show also the prominences:-