Going Forward in 2012

The current Pa’adhe story may be the last one for this year. It’s about 75% to 80% complete now. I had intended to do at least 12 Pa’adhe short stories before doing anything else. Unfortunately, I’m getting into a situation where I really need to work on a non-fiction ebook that I had set aside a couple years ago. I want to finish that how-to ebook and get it out for people to use. In part, this is driven by some recent questions and activities around the topic of astrophotography.

I am not done with the Pa’adhe stories, by any means. I have ideas for at least three more stories, and yes I’ve detailed them somewhat in my notes file so I won’t lose them. Also, I’ve just mentioned in my previous post that a new recurring character has come on the scene, or will be. Like you, I’m curious to see what happens with this character. So, on that score, the continuation of Tales of Pa’adhe will happen. I just need to take a break and get this other ebook off my back.

The rest of this posting deals with astrophotography.

My attempts to do an astrophotography shoot last weekend were foiled. Among other things, I had forgotten about a surprise birthday party for my daughter-in-law. Given where it was held, I wasn’t expecting to have as much fun as I did or stay as long as I did. It was fun, even for me who doesn’t much care for these parties and big family get-togethers.

At any rate, I’ve pushed the astro shoot to this coming weekend. I’m also not going after Blue Lake this time, but rather going up in the Owyhees. Since I go to this particular site a lot, I’m planning to get a 360 shot of the area with the goal of creating a landscape to use in Stellarium. If it works, I’ll be submitting it to Stellarium for their collection of landscapes you can load into the program to use as your horizon. I really love that program and have been using it for years, both for astronomy and astrophotography. It’s about time I gave something back to it besides a couple of city locations.

Stellarium’s free, highly detailed, very customizable, and has worked on every OS I’ve put it on: Windows XP through 7 and a couple Linux boxes, including several iterations of Ubuntu. If you’re interested in either astronomy or astrophotography, I strongly recommend checking out Stellarium if you’ve not yet used it.

Of course I have it on the laptop I take into the field with me on my astrophotography shoots. It’s easy enough to configure, either ahead of time or in the field from a GPS, so that you get the view of the sky from where you are. Then you can “fast forward” to see where things will be at a certain time or when they will come into view for you to see or photograph. Or if they’re even going to be in view at all that night.

This picture shows my typical astrophotographic setup, in this case for a time lapse.

Pentax K10D on a heavy tripod connected to a laptop on top of a camera case on a small table with the moon in the background.

My typical astrophotography setup when I want tight control of the exposure.

The camera shown is my main one, the Pentax K10D that I mentioned in the previous post. The lens is my Pentax SMCP-DA 10mm – 17mm f/3.5-4.5 (IF) Fisheye Zoom. The tripod is my favorite, a heavy one I got for Christmas from my son. Set up like that I don’t even have to bend over to look through the viewfinder when shooting horizontally. I’ve mentioned the program PK Tether before, that’s what’s showing on the computer screen in the picture. The beauty of PK Tether is that it runs in the background without any problems. I can easily pull up Stellarium full screen and use it to enjoy the night sky while my camera continues to be controlled by PK Tether. The more I go out with this setup, the more I appreciate it and seek to find out what my limits are.

When I’m not doing time lapses, the setup is the same, I just don’t have the laptop attached to the camera or sitting there right by the tripod unless I’m using it to closely control exposure duration. For the majority of my astrophotography, I simply count seconds while holding the shutter open with a remote cable. Having the laptop along also allows me to do a quick check of a picture to see if the settings are good or not. The picture on the camera’s small LCD almost always looks better than the picture full screen on a computer monitor. Having this ability to do a quick check of the settings in the field is extremely useful feedback for tweaking the settings.

This coming weekend, though, I’m thinking of using my 50mm instead the fisheye like I usually do. Like a couple weekends ago, I expect to still have issues with dust and smoke in the air contributing to “noise” in the pictures. That’s especially likely since the moon is forecast to be 94% full with moonrise at 9:02 pm that night and moonset at 10:34 am the next day. So, I’ll be dealing with the moon all night. I don’t know if I will actually work on any time lapses other than perhaps the landscape to the south as the sun sets. Instead I’ll most likely focus on the Milky Way, constellations, and some moon work for my ebook. It’ll be tricky to shoot around the moon and still get the Milky Way to the south. I may also play with the 400mm lens “just because”. I might even have a chance to get a new photo of Saturn and Mars, though it’ll be close to the horizon. And this time out, Andromeda will be up from the get-go, giving me a shot at shooting M31, the Great Nebula in Andromeda. I’ve never gotten a photo of that yet and will be making it a prime target this weekend. I really want to see how that comes out with the 200mm and, dare I say it, the 400mm. It’ll make a good companion photo to go with my photo of M42, the Orion Nebula.

Naturally, I’ll also have along my binoculars and be doing some plain, ol’ observing. I’m thinking of trying to see all the Messier Objects visible from my home area as a year long project so I might start that this weekend. Some of these I can get from my driveway, but quite a few will be a good excuse to go to a dark sky site whenever I get the urge. I might even dust off the telescope later and try to do some afocal shots of Messier Objects.

My dad will be going with me so this will be a great time for both of us to just get some sights in. Even though I’ve seen it before, I’ve never really pinned down M31 reliably. I’ll be able to do that, and hunt some other Messier objects. Having Stellarium there with us will really help, especially taking advantage of its night mode to preserve our night vision. Where I’m going, we’ll have very much a flat horizon in virtually every direction. To the west will be a slight rise, but we’ll have at least a 160-plus degree dome of sky at a nice dark sky site to look around in. To the south, far away, will be the glow of a distant town. To the northeast the far-away glow of Treasure Valley will backlight the mountain edges.

It’s going to be fun!

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