<most recent posts at top>
|Event Horizon Telescope- Images and Astrophotography - April 19, 2019|
With the press release of the first ever image of a black hole (silhouette), the case for the power of astrophotography reached a penultimate success. Images of M87 itself serve to put the discovery into context as to the special place M87 is and our place in the Universe. Please see this interview:
|Lunar Eclipse! - January 17, 2019|
Just a quick reminder there is a Total Lunar Eclipse coming up this Sunday evening (January 20th for the part of the world that can see the event).
The video below shows a similar eclipse. The hard part is finding the proper exposure times to naturally maintain a good brightness during the transition from partial phases to the eclipsed moon. There are some software algorithms that will interpolate brightness values between frames- this might actually be the best solution. I hope you enjoy the eclipse and if you are photographing it... good luck!
|The Largest and the Least - November 18, 2018|
So first... here is a typical "release" of an image when I show off my hard work:
One of the Largest and the Least
NGC 5084 is one of the most massive galaxies in our neighborhood- but likely isn't well known:
Different sources (using different models) calculate it could be 3-6 times the mass of our own Milky Way (which isn't too small!). Its warped disk and mostly smooth appearance seem to indicate it has undergone many galactic interactions. At a distance of 80 million light years away the remaining details are difficult to see- but what makes the galaxy interesting are the delicate tendrils of dust seen throughout the disk.
At first glance this might look like a pretty reasonable image. However the reality is that it isn't. There is something of a ratio of acquired data and processed result that is kind of like the image rendering equivalent of signal-to-noise. The end result here is really a salvage job that is made possible by the fact that 10 hours were invested in the luminance- but only a fraction of it is shown here. Most of the information is black clipped literally out of necessity.
I think there are two lessons to consider. The first is that not all data is of equal quality. This means that unless you are a magician, there will certainly be variations in final image quality no matter what your skill level. So a collection of images you process will have a range of qualities and this should be accepted at some level (reluctantly). The funny thing is that for all the laudable merits of artistic choices in processing an image, the most creative choices usually come about due to trying to correct for poor or unweildy data. Below is what is hidden in the above image:
The bright star at the left edge plus another bright star just outside of the field of view scattered light everywhere in this image. These images are *after* DBE in PI. The glow is so bright at the bottom right that in the luminance you can see dark spots where things on the CCD window are being illuminated and shadowed. A flat field doesn't illuminate the field in the same way so these things will not (did not) go away either. Do not spend any energy thinking of ways *you* could solve this problem. Perhaps you could (good luck!). The point is that there will be data that, for whatever reason, has an intractable issue for which the solution does more harm than good. In the specific example above I attempt to find the approximate range of brightnesses at the smallest pixel scales and subtract the values- which worked- but had the consequence of still leaving a little bit and black clipping other small regions.
So at the end of the day, I simply chose a threshold to hide things up to the level of the brightest bits of scattered light. Basically I broke the first law of astronomical image processing by hiding poor data through black clipping it. Typically this happens by beginning imagers that wish to have a dark (high contrast) sky with respect to the object. It is quickly learned that a combination of long exposures and good processing choices go a long way to reaching that goal.
Which brings me to the second lesson for this image. The long exposure really is the only thing that made the option of committing clipping concealment possible. Sometimes image processors will side with throwing away many frames due to resolution, non-round stars and other often less important parameters. Here the signal was important because although the scattered light was ever present, it did vary between frames (and nights). So that light from the galaxy was winning over the scattered light just a little.
Perhaps I am just looking for absolution. The data was really a mess- but thowing it all away seemed too drastic. I just accepted this was going to be an image with a lower quality/data ratio and let it be. :)
|Read Noise and Gain - August 8, 2018|
Recently I have taken it upon myself to learn (try to learn) Python and start to manipulate FITs images. My first "goal" was to write a program to calculate the read noise and gain of a detector using two biases and two flats. This is a standard method based on the relations below.
Gain = ((mean(Flat1) + mean(Flat2) - (mean(Bias1) + mean(Bias2)) / (STD(Flat1-Flat2)^2 - STD(Bias1-Bias2)^2)
ReadNoise = Gain *STD(Bias1-Bias2)/sqrt(2)
So in addition to the 4 files of bias1.fit, bias2.fit,flat1.fit, and flat2.fit - you need to create a difference image (subtract from each other) for both the bias pair and the flat pair. This can all by done manually (I demonstrate this in a CCDStack tutorial I made long ago)- but with a little piece of code it is all quick and easy. The Gain and readnoise of your camera can be useful to know for a number of calculations. Here are the requirements:
1. Name the files exactly as I show above. Bias1.fit, Bias2.fit, Flat1.fit, Flat2.fit
2. Put files in the same directory you run the python program from.
3. Run the code below. Note, you will need to have astropy installed in your python environment. It is what reads the FITs data into a numpy array... which makes life easy.
This kind of thing might not be useful to non-programmers- but it is somewhat interesting to see the different ways problems are handled. Perhaps there are some Python people out there- if so, please let me know if I made an error! (I am a total newbie!) The code is below.
import numpy as np
# This is the standard boilerplate that calls the main() function.
|Processing Relevations - March 19, 2018|
Recently I completed processing an image of the small and famous planetary nebula NGC 2440. I worked on this object long ago (2003) using a 0.5m RCOS telescope at Kitt Peak. By today's standards the "normal" total exposure back then was easily 1/10th of what is typically done today. In addition new processing algorithms and techniques permit dramatically different kinds of presentations than what was done 10-15 years ago. These two things taken together- longer exposure times and effective non-linear treatment of bright objects (like NGC 2440) *strikingly revealed* something about this object that never "popped out" visually to me before.
Specifically in this case I did a number of processing things for this data. First I upsampled the image by 2 in order to better see the small structures and deconvolve them with a bit more control. It is better to upsample, deconvolve, and then downsample if necessary- than it is to deconvolve and then upsample to make a larger picture. Keep in mind- this isn't drizzling the data. The data I was working with was already oversampled.
In addition I applied strong non-linear adjustments in Pixinsight including HDRMT on the (synthetic) luminance of the image and ArcSinhStretch and Masked Stretch on the RGB components. This resulted in the image below. After staring at it for a few moments I noticed the faint circular halo (which I had not seen before). This was simply the result of the long exposure time. In addition the inner structure clearly took the form of a bi-polar outflow! When this nebula is displayed with its natural brightness profile this structure is very hard to see- but by applying the non-linear adjustments the pattern recognition part of my mind was instantly struck by the shape. I thought this has to be something interesting.
Sure enough in a few moments I found papers by professional astronomers who noted the same thing and quantified the structures by measuring (spectroscopically) the velocities of the gas in different parts of the nebula and modeled the result. The image below notes three outflows as can be seen by my ouline on the left. It is the hour-glass shape in yellow-orange that first captured my attention. I just had never noticed it- not even in HST images. But it is very clear in this kind of representation! The paper from 1998 appears to be the first reference to these outflows. It is likely these bi-polar flows are caused by a system of binary stars and the episodic events change in their axial orientation as the pair rotates. Later in 2014 other astronomers wrote a paper that models the likely 3-dimensional shape of NGC 2440.
The delightful aside I had when working on this image all came about with new tools and techniques. So next time you are working on your own data- be certain to have a critical eye for what is there and perhaps revealed by different processing choices- the discovery is great fun.
|Blood Moon Jan 31 2018 - January 31, 2018|
Taken by: Linda Sinkay and Jim Goodenough in Freestone CA
Canon 6D MKII DSLR
|Star Removal (Fabian Neyer Method) - January 20, 2018|
This is something of a follow-up to Fabian's excellent presentation of his technique of star removal. This method attempts to remove not only the stars from images- but also scattered starlight from their halos. Although somewhat involved/complex- it is a fascinating look into the kind of thing professional astronomers do as well as the cleverness of AIC star presenters such as Fabian.
A two part video goes through the basic steps. There are a few errors... but the overall technique is demonstrated. A future video (perhaps) will show what to do with challenging data and stars.
PixInsight is used for this tutorial.
Happy New Year to all!
|Final AIC 2017 Workshop Videos Now Online - January 17, 2018|
The final workshop recordings from AIC 2017 are now online at the AIC Digital Library.
These videos add over 3 more hours of recorded instruction from the 2017 meeting.
|6 More AIC 2017 Workshop Recordings now online - January 12, 2018|
Six new workshop videos recorded live at AIC 2017 are now available from the AIC Digital Library. Combined, these latest recordings add over 6 additional hours of expert astrophotography advice.
Included in this update are:
|3 Hours of New AIC 2017 Video Now Available - December 12, 2017|
Over three additional hours of AIC 2017 Workshop videos are now available in the AIC Digital Library.
This new content includes:
Every week we will continue adding two new AIC 2017 Workshop recordings until all are available.
|More AIC 2017 Videos are available - December 5, 2017|
Two more AIC 2017 Workshop recordings were added to the AIC Digital Library this week:
Now, 6 AIC 2017 workshop videos with almost 10 hours of content are available for you to view at your convenience!
More will be added each week.
|4 AIC 2017 Workshop Videos Now Available - November 29, 2017|
The first four AIC 2017 Workshop videos are now available in the AIC Digital Library!
Every week, additional videos will be added until recordings of each AIC 2017 Workshop is accessible.
The first videos include:
These recordings total almost 7 hours of instruction from some of the world's finest astrophotography enthusiasts!
These videos are only available to AIC 2017 attendees and AIC Digital Library subscribers.
|AIC 2017 Image Gallery Is Open - October 22, 2017|
AIC 2017 Image Gallery is Open!
Prior to AIC 2017, attendees were invited to submit their best images so they could be viewed throughout the conference and, following that, on the AIC web site. Now, over 150 of the most remarkable deep space, planetary, cometary, solar, lunar and TWAN-Syle images are available for your review at the permanent AIC 2017 Image Gallery
|Exciting and Fullfilling - AIC 2017 - October 7, 2017|
I enjoyed every minute of my second AIC Conference. As a newcomer in 2015, I was amazed at all the resources and chances to learn new techniques.
In the space of 2 years, I realized now how many friends and contacts I'd acquired.
The 2017 Conference gave me more perspective as to the possibilities and some limitations on my astrophotography expectations. As you listen in the sessions and learn, it is clear that ALL of the conditions, equipment and techniques matter when one strives for the ultimate astrophoto.
In my coastal location for example, I've learned that seeing is a limiting factor. Also, my equipment needs upgrading here and there. So, OF COURSE, I am looking forward to buying new equipment!
|Old Friends: Heaven and Earth - October 2, 2017|
It was fantastic to catch up with old friends during AIC 2017 this past weekend! After completing a few times around the Sun this conference offers some rare opportunities to connect with colleagues and company representatives from all over the world. New faces of imagers and vendors were also great to see and hint at the continued excitment for this hobby of astrophotography.
Just as revisting old friends is enjoyable here on Earth, each year offers the opportunity to revisit the constellations and star waypoints that mark the observing seasons in astrophotography. Objects in the sky that are available for a good fraction of the night, or are at their best, have cyclic seasons to observe them in. With respect to deep sky objects these windows of opportunity can be taken advantage of with a little planning. It is useful to recognize certain patterns in the sky. For example both Right Ascension and the catalog numbers of NGC objects increase in value towards the East. Knowing the Local Sidereal Time at sunset and/or when an object rises can quickly tell you if it is a good time to try to capture images of it. (Indeed, during the Fall near the equinox LST and local civil time are nearly equal.)
And perhaps this is precisely what you are thinking right now! having just attended AIC your head may be filled with many new and creative ideas concerning astrophotography and image processing. So setting up your system to capture some deep space wonder is high on the list and at this time of year there are some wonderful things to capture.
During the fall the south galactic pole is rising at sunset. This means that for most of the night from overhead to the south (from Northern Latitudes) far away galaxies reign supreme. At northern declinations, however, the plane of the galaxy glistens with star clusters and nebulae. So let us start there, closer to home and work our way out. The Bubble Nebula is probably one showiest and unique objects of its kind during this season. It rewards both wide field imagery with nearby star cluster M52 as well as the detail that can be garnered from long focal length systems. Short exposures and deep ones both again reward the imager- and even narrowband imagery is good for this object as well.
Nearing the end of the season another nebula, perhaps slightly less captured- but no less rewarding- is NGC 1579. This beautiful multicolored menagerie of gas and dust might also be a good one to consider.
In terms of galaxies the Andromeda Galaxy is of course visible nearly all night long. However when diving south this is also the season to look directly below our home galaxy and find NGC 253 (and faint globular cluster NGC 288). Like the nebulae above, this galaxy is superlative for all focal lengths and it is a great object to test our your new found AIC skills on.
-Adam Block (new blog dude)
|Mark your calendars for AIC 2019! - October 2, 2017|
AIC 2019 will take place November 15-17, 2019 at the San Jose Convention Center.
Registration will open Spring 2019.
|AIC Digital Library Update - October 2, 2017|
Thank you for attending AIC 2017! Now that the conference is over, we will begin adding presentations and videos from the event to the AIC Digital Library. If you attended AIC 2017, you will receive a free AIC Digital Library Card that will enable you to review all of the presentations and workshop videos we recorded during the meeting. You will also have access to every presentation since the first AIC, in 2004! You will also be able to review the workshop videos from AIC 2015!
This digital library card will be effective until shortly after AIC 2019, which takes place November 15-17 at the San Jose Convention Center. The new AIC Digital Library Cards will be sent, via email, on or around the middle of October 2017.
If you currently have access to the AIC Digital Library but did not attend AIC 2017, your Digital Library Card will be ended when we release the 2017 Library Cards.
We will be providing a way for people who did not or could attend AIC 2017 to purchase a Digital Library Card shortly. Look for more information in the AIC Scintillion Newsletter, on the AIC Website and on the AIC Blog.
|Room Rates - September 12, 2017|
|Accelerate your imaging! Register for AIC 2017 Now! - May 10, 2017|
Although the name suggests the annual AIC meeting is only meant for astrophotography experts, don't let the conference name mislead you. Each year the AIC agenda includes workshops targeted for novices, too.
On top of that, astrophotography is a self-taught exercise that does not garner a great deal of support from friends or family members. Sometimes family, neighbors or friends may ask, "Why do you invest so much time and treasure?" Of course, this is just a kind way of saying, "Are you nuts?"
Each Advanced Imaging Conference is attended by enthusiasts who share your zeal and more than a few of your experiences. You'll quickly discover your excitement and frustrations have been felt by other meeting attendees. But, more importantly, you will receive an important ingredient needed to be a successful astrophotographer called encouragement. You will also be able to learn more in one long weekend than you will figure-out in over a year! AIC will help make the puzzle pieces fit together.
So, regardless of your imaging experience, if you want to improve the quality of your pictures, don't hesitate.
Click here and register for AIC 2017 now!
|2017 Golden State Star Party - March 2, 2017|
Visit the GSSP website here.
For those of you who might not have their own observatory or access to dark skies, this event is a great opportunity. GSSP runs from Wednesday June 21 to Sunday June 25 2017.
If you are interested in going to GSSP, let's consider camping as a group. Leave a comment to this message if you are interested and I will get in touch.
Jim Goodenough, AIC Board Member
|Plan to Attend AIC 2017 - January 31, 2017|
Mark your calendars, set aside Friday, September 29 through Sunday, October 1, 2017 and plan to attend the next Advanced Imaging Conference! Next year's meeting will convene at the San Jose Convention Center in downtown San Jose, California.
Friday morning and afternoon will be dedicated to workshops brimming with expert instructional advice covering image processing, data acquisition and the use of popular processing software applications. Then, the Friday night general session will feature presentations by the community's best and brightest stars!
Saturday and Sunday will also be packed with workshops from the hobby's best practitioners and, throughout the long weekend, AIC 2017 will showcase the latest technology from our community's leading vendors, manufacturers and service providers.
Saturday night will also include a special cocktail party, included in your registration fee, for the attendees.
Remember, AIC isn't just for experts or deep space imaging enthusiasts. AIC 2017 will cover the entire gamut of astrophotography: deep space, planetary, solar, cometary and both photo and video TWAN-style imaging.
But, don't come alone! Bring your spouse, companion or your entire family and, for a small additional per person fee, they can join our all day Saturday tour while you're at the meeting.
Registration will open in in just a few weeks.
Username / Nickname: Jim Goodenough
I am looking forward to AIC 2017. I have only been to one previous conference. Just like my experience with astrophotography, I hope to learn more at a second event. It seems like this passion requires patience and repetition.
|Do you display your Astrophotography? - January 14, 2017|
I am curious if after all the imaging, stacking, and processing if you display your images. I am thinking either online or framed in your home or office.
For me, I do both. I have several sites including social media where I post my photos, and I have a wall in my bedroom and also in my living room where I have framed the work.
I've purchased large format images either from the camera store or Costco (polished aluminum surface) that are reserved for my best of the best.
How about you?
Jim Goodenough, AIC Board Member
|- December 12, 2016|
Whilst this won't be as poignant as our AIC President Esq. Jay GaBany's holiday greeting is, I'd like to send out my personal wishes to my hundreds of friends in astrophotography, for a merry happy holiday season, and a safe, healthy, positive, and productive new year! We on the board of the AIC, are gearing up to make the 2017 meeting a highly substantive and enjoyable one for you. Keep in touch, clear skies, and here's sending lots of ancient photons your way!
Best, Warren Keller- AIC board member
Username / Nickname: Lis
Wonderful! Thank you all for starting this blog with such great description! Looking forward to read more of your words! Happy Holidays, Lis
|Being the Ghost of Christmas - December 12, 2016|
Since Gutenberg's invention, millions of books have been published. Most are luxuries that add to a library already filled with good reading material but only a handful can be regarded as essential, compelling, necessary or must-reads. There are scores of favorites which enlarge our world view, deepen our understanding of the human heart, entertain through clever plots or intrigue with thoughtful prose. But there are scant few that universally embody the truth and when considering the truth, cause us to immediately recall the story. King Midas, the Grasshopper and the Ant represent two while others, like the Prodigal Son and Cain and Able, occupy the pages of scripture or, Prometheus, for example, lives in the lore of myth.
Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is one of these stories, too.
Self published by the author on December 18, 1843, within six days it has sold over 6,000 copies (which were subsequently pirated so that its initial distribution extended far beyond this number). It's a wildly imaginative narrative that celebrates Christmas in a most un-Christmas-like manner by summoning three ghosts who advocate for universal charity. Within its pages we watch as the main protagonist, a man of wealth who does not know how to enjoy the benefits of his accumulated treasure, learns to shed his avarice, share his good fortune and to have fun while doing it.
More than just a morality lesson, A Christmas Carol celebrates the joys of merriment, of bringing happiness to others and making otherwise common moments memorable. Scrooge's final triumph unfolds when he stares into his own grave and, instead of despairing, vows to live the remainder of his life to the fullest. By watching his transformation, we recognize our heart is likewise cold and thus, the three spirits of this timeless tale help emancipate us, too.
I have found that compassion, generosity and selfless giving, entreated so effectively by Dickens' short novella, thrives within the ever growing global community of astrophotographers, not just during the year-end Holiday Season, but all year-round! They are an all-volunteer group of explorers who pluck stars from the heavens with cameras and telescopes, coax the truth out of shadows and offer encouragement to others without expectation of reciprocation. This is the heart of A Christmas Carol's message and this great gathering knows how to keep the spirit of Christmas well, if any group or assembly ever possessed the knowledge!
To this throng I and the AIC board of directors wish Good Cheer and hope that you have a Dickens' of a Christmas both this Holiday Season and throughout the year!
|Welcome - November 29, 2016|
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