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Solar Eclipse with iPhone!

24 Aug

We had fantastic weather here in Ottawa on August 21, 2017, and I was able to photograph my first solar eclipse! We saw 71% of the sun covered here in Ottawa and I took a boatload of photos and video.

The View Through the Telescope

Here are some of my best shots. All images and video were taken through my Celestron NexStar 8SE telescope (filtered with an Eclipsmart solar filter) with my iPhone 7.

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Approaching peak eclipse in Ottawa. Stack of 10 iPhone photos through 8″ telescope.

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The classic PAC-MAN shot. Stack of 10 iPhone photos through 8″ telescope.

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Almost done! Stack of 10 iPhone photos through 8″ telescope.

Raw Timelapse

I also put together a rough timelapse built from unedited iPhone images taken through my telescope. Note: I changed the orientation of the phone/eyepiece and the degree of zoom used during the eclipse, which is why the orientation and size of the sun changes throughout the timelapse.

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Videos

Here’s a short video of the view through my iPhone as the wind picked up a bit early in the eclipse:

Solar Eclipse through 8″ telescope with iPhone 7. from Andrew Symes on Vimeo.

And this is an iPhone video (sped up 4x) that shows the moon crossing in front of a sunspot at right.

Moon swallows a sunspot! from Andrew Symes on Vimeo.

Non-Telescopic Shots

I also took some non-telescopic photos using a homemade solar eclipse “projectinator,” eclipse glasses, and a colander!

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Pinhole projection in a poster tube.

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Solar eclipse with iPhone through eclipse glasses.

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Crescent suns through a kitchen colander!

Now to chase totality in 2024!

My first photo of Neptune!

5 Jan

On Monday night, I captured my first-ever photo of Neptune using my iPhone and 8″ telescope. This is a single, unedited 6 second exposure using the NightCap Pro app for iPhone.  It may not look like much, but Neptune was 4.5 BILLION kilometres away when I took this!

neptune

Now, the only planet I haven’t photographed is Uranus, so I’ll need to get on that and complete a full solar system collage in 2017.

Six Years of Saturn

8 Nov

Here’s a snapshot of how Saturn’s tilt has changed (from Earth’s perspective) through its long (29-year) orbit around the sun over the past few years as seen through my telescope.

saturncollage

Photo details: 
April 30, 2011: Single image, handheld digital camera through 5″ telescope.
June 23, 2012: Saturn, June 23, 2012. Stack of 70 frames in Registax from iPhone 4S video taken through NexStar 8SE telescope.
May 3, 2013: Stack of 10 frames from iPhone 4s video through NexStar 8SE telescope.
June 1, 2014: Stack of 200 frames from iPhone 4s video through NexStar 8SE telescope.
May 28, 2015: Stack of 300+ frames from iPhone 6 video through NexStar 8SE telescope.
June 6, 2016: Stack of ~1000 frames taken with iPhone 6 through Celestron NexStar 8SE telescope.

Jupiter & Moons with iPhone

2 May

Here is a GIF of two images (each a stack of 300+ frames) taken with my iPhone attached to a Celestron NexStar8SE telescope on the night of April 29, 2016.

JupiterGIFoutput_rlnTHt

These images were taken about 20 minutes apart and show the movement of Europa (left), Io’s shadow, and Io (right) along with the Great Red Spot.

For information on how I take these images with my iPhone, please see my post on Smartphone Astrophotography.

Astrophotography: Saturn Over Five Years

20 May

On May 22, Saturn will be at its biggest and brightest for 2015. I’ve been photographing the ringed planet through my telescope since 2011, and its appearance has changed substantially since then!

You can see that the quality of the images has improved over the years as my equipment and technique has evolved. You can also see how the rings are more “open” now than they were in 2011.

Saturn GIF

Animated GIF of my Saturn photos, each frame taken one year apart. Saturn with a handheld video camera (2011), a DSLR (2012), and an iPhone (2013, 2014, 2015) through a 5″ telescope (2011) and an 8″ telescope (2012-2015.)

The Tilt of Saturn

Like Earth, Saturn’s axis is tipped. This allows us to catch a different view of the planet’s ring system as Saturn moves around the Sun. In 2009, the rings appeared extremely thin (and seemed to disappear altogether in small telescopes) because we were looking at them “edge-on” from Earth. In 2017, the rings will be very “open” to us.

Saturn-Rings-Tilt-Opposition

Saturn’s axis is “tipped” 27 degrees relative to its orbit. This gives us ever-changing views of Saturn’s rings (from “edge-on” to “above” or “below”) as it moves around the Sun. Photo Credit: Tom Ruen

If you want to have a look at Saturn for yourself in May, it’s visible to the naked eye. Look for a moderately bright, non-twinkling star in the Southeast after sunset. You can also read an in-depth guide to Saturn’s 2015 appearance by David Dickinson over at Universe Today.

If you want to see more of my Saturn (and other astronomy) photos, please visit my Flickr page!

 

 

Saturn: Four Years of Photos

8 May

On May 10,  Saturn was biggest and brightest for 2014. I’ve been photographing the ringed planet through my telescope since 2011, and its appearance has changed substantially since then!

Saturn with a handheld video camera (2011), a DSLR (2012), and an iPhone (2013, 2014) through a 5" telescope (2011) and an 8" telescope (2012-2014.)

Saturn with a handheld video camera (2011), a DSLR (2012), and an iPhone (2013, 2014) through a 5″ telescope (2011) and an 8″ telescope (2012-2014.)

You can see that the quality of the images has improved over the years as my equipment and technique has evolved. You can also see how the rings are more “open” now than they were in 2011.

Animated GIF of my Saturn photos, each frame taken one year apart.

Animated GIF of my Saturn photos, each frame taken one year apart.

The Tilt of Saturn

Like Earth, Saturn’s axis is tipped. This allows us to catch a different view of the planet’s ring system as Saturn moves around the Sun. In 2009, the rings appeared extremely thin (and seemed to disappear altogether in small telescopes) because we were looking at them “edge-on” from Earth. In 2017, the rings will be very “open” to us.

Saturn-Rings-Tilt-Opposition

Saturn’s axis is “tipped” 27 degrees relative to its orbit. This gives us ever-changing views of Saturn’s rings (from “edge-on” to “above” or “below”) as it moves around the Sun. Photo Credit: Tom Ruen

If you want to have a look at Saturn for yourself in May, it’s visible to the naked eye. Look for a moderately bright, non-twinkling star in the Southeast after sunset. You can also read an in-depth guide to Saturn’s 2014 appearance by David Dickinson over at Universe Today.

Photo Credit: Roen Kelly, Astronomy Magazine.

Photo Credit: Roen Kelly, Astronomy Magazine.

If you want to see more of my Saturn (and other astronomy) photos, please visit my Flickr page!

 

 

Asteroids Ceres and Vesta over Ottawa (GIF)

25 Apr

Asteroids Ceres & Vesta (GIF) over Ottawa

Taken with a Nikon D7000 camera mounted on a tripod over two consecutive nights, this GIF shows the movement of the asteroid Vesta (525 km across) and dwarf planet Ceres (950 km across) over a 24 hour period.

Cosmic Perspective: Ganymede is HUGE & Enceladus is TINY

17 Mar

I’ve been looking at photos of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede and Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus for years. Still, this collage posted by Emily Lakdawalla shocked me (click to enlarge.)

Ganymede and Enceladus

Montage by Emily Lakdawalla. Data from NASA / JPL and SSI, processed by Gordan Ugarkovic, Ted Stryk, Bjorn Jonsson, and Emily Lakdawalla.

Look at the size of Ganymede (top row, second from left) compared to Mars (top row, first at left)! Maybe it’s because I’m used to seeing Ganymede as a tiny dot through my telescope beside Jupiter, but I’d never truly grasped the moon’s size until I saw it “beside” Mars.

This image also reminds us that both Ganymede and Titan (which appears larger than Ganymede due to its atmosphere) are bigger than the planet Mercury!

Tiny Enceladus

Once I’d wrapped my head around Ganymede’s girth, I was shocked again when I spotted TINY Enceladus in the bottom row, fourth from right.  Enceladus has been in the news since the Cassini space probe detected jets of water ice erupting from its south pole in 2005.

Without seeing the moon beside its kin, I’d always pictured Enceladus as being similar in size to Europa. It’s not even close! At just 500 kms across, its diameter is less than the width of Lake Superior!

Lake Superior Enceladus

At just 500 km across, Enceladus would fit “inside” this green circle.

The small size of Enceladus makes it hard to believe that it was discovered so long ago — in 1789 by William Herschel, to be exact. How could such a small moon have been noticed when Saturn is always more than a billion kilometers away? 

Enceladus Geysers

30-frame sequence of the icy plumes of Enceladus taken August 13th, 2010. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

The answer is that the surface of Enceladus is *extremely* reflective. It bounces back almost all of the sunlight that hits it, making it visible in moderate-sized telescopes when Saturn’s rings are edge-on as seen from Earth.

The Problem with Nomenclature  

In addition to showing the relative sizes of our solar system’s moons, the collage reinforces the idea that moons are “worlds”, too. In her fantastic blog post “2015 will be the Year of the Dwarf Planet, and you need to tell people about it!“, Lakdawalla points out that everyone has heard of Mercury, but few people would recognize the names Ganymede or Enceladus.

Lakdawalla writes: “Europa, Ganymede, Titan, Enceladus, and Triton: how important can they be, if they’re not on that list of eight planets? You want how much money? To fly a spacecraft to where, exactly? Enchiladas?”

The solar system is an amazing place, and it’s home to more than just planets. Let’s make sure that our arguments about what is a planet — and what isn’t — don’t cause us to overlook some of the lesser-known, but no less spectacular, planet-like places in our neighbourhood.

Comet ISON News Fail

30 Apr

The good news is that Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) got coverage on ABC World News last night. The bad news is that they made a few mistakes. And by “a few” I mean eight.

Some of the words are right – but in completely the wrong context. Other remarks are just bizarre and/or totally inaccurate.

Play the video and then read my take on the madness, below.

Here are the problems, which get worse as you go down:

1. “Comet of the Century” : While this isn’t technically inaccurate (many online & print articles have used this name) it’s MUCH to early to predict whether the comet will dazzle or fizzle. Names like this just set people up for disappointment.

2. “Brighter than the Full Moon” : Since this is said at the beginning of the report, it implies that the comet is ALREADY brighter than the Full Moon. This is obviously not right. Estimates state that the comet *could* reach that brightness as it makes its closest approach to the Sun at the end of November. At that time, though, it will be so close to the Sun from Earth’s perspective that it will likely be impossible to see against the Sun’s glare.

3. “Jupiter’s Rings” : While Jupiter *does* have rings, I think that the writer must have been thinking of Saturn, as Jupiter’s rings are very faint and were only discovered by the Voyager 1 space probe in 1979. Mentioning them here does not make sense.

4. “Sailing near the Earth around Thanksgiving” : ISON will be close to the *Sun* around American Thanksgiving (Nov. 28) and make its closest approach to Earth on December 26th so the report really should have said “around Christmas.”

5. “Experts say it’s too big to burn up…” : I don’t even know where to start with this one. What does “too big to burn up” mean? Too big to “burn up” if it hits the Sun? Too big to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere? I assume they mean that it will survive its close pass around the Sun (which actually isn’t certain) but if so, that’s a weird way to say it.

6. “Instead, an invisible rain of comet dust will drift down to Earth…” : OK. This is a possibility,  but it’s worded badly. It’s also not a sure thing. The Earth regularly passes through tiny particles left behind by comets and this process causes meteor showers. One computer model has suggested that as the Earth passes through the dust ejected by this comet, the particles will not burn up as a meteors but instead “…drift gently down to the Earth below.” Also, it won’t rain this material “instead” of “burning up”… Those two things are completely unrelated. See this article for more: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2013/19apr_isonids/

7. “Stargazers will see electric blue clouds over the North and South poles.” : Hoo boy. This could be a *possible* result of the fine-grained dust entering the atmosphere, but as this NASA article states: “This is still speculative, but Comet ISON could provide the seeds for a noctilucent display. Electric-blue ripples over Earth’s polar regions might be the only visible sign that a shower is underway.” Again, the timing and wording of the statement in the report indicated that the comet would be causing this effect directly (which is misleading), and around Thanksgiving (which is wrong!)

8. The report NEVER NAMES THE COMET! : In an odd omission, the report never refers to the comet by its colloquial name, Comet ISON. I suppose viewers may not remember it even if they heard it, but it wouldn’t have hurt to mention it.

Does This Matter?

While I laughed at the report, anyone unfamiliar with astronomy or this particular comet would assume that this information could be trusted. If the “Comet of the Century that produces blue clouds” doesn’t materialize, astronomers will no doubt get some of the blame.

Plus, call me naive, but I think we should expect “the news” to inform – not disinform. (Hey, stop laughing…)

Smartphone Astrophotography: How I photograph the Moon & planets with my phone

4 Mar
iphone Moon

Moon photographed with an iPhone 4s through an 8” telescope.

I’m often asked how I am able to take high-quality images of the solar system using my iPhone. In short, the quality of today’s smartphone cameras makes it possible to take very respectable images of the Moon and planets through a telescope with your phone – but it takes some work.

While the end results may not match those taken with dedicated astronomical CMOS or CCD cameras, smartphone astrophotography can be a good starting point for budding astrophotographers. It can also be a useful alternative for experienced astronomers who wish to capture an image quickly with little equipment.

What You Need

1)      A Smartphone Adapter

Orion iPhone Adapter

A smartphone adapter will hold your phone in place above the eyepiece.

The simplest way to take a photo at the telescope is to simply hold your phone’s camera up to the eyepiece, but this approach rarely produces good results. Not only is it very difficult to centre the object properly, it can be tricky to ensure that the object is well exposed.

A simple adapter will improve your smartphone astrophotography immensely. An adapter will help you centre an object in the phone’s viewscreen, steady the camera, and ensure proper focus and exposure. A handful of companies are now producing adapters, including Orion whose adapter for iPhone 4s (no longer available) is pictured here. Orion also produces a Universal Smartphone Adapter (mobile-friendly link here) that is said to fit most phone brands and which is what I now use.

Here’s a video of the Orion Steadypix in action to give you a sense of how an adapter is used: http://youtu.be/ej9uj5fsbDo?t=5m

2)      A Way to Dim the Object

Smartphone cameras have excellent resolution and many now have the manual exposure control settings needed to evenly expose the entire lunar disc or to capture subtle planetary features. On some phones, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, Mars, and the Moon will be too bright on the camera screen by default. Luckily, the newest iPhones have good exposure controls that will normally do the trick to dim the image and bring out the right amount of detail.

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Use your phone’s exposure controls to dim the object. Click this photo to see a quick and helpful video from Apple: “How to Shoot the Moon on iPhone 7

If you find that your smartphone doesn’t have powerful enough exposure control on its own, you may want to try using eyepiece filters (mobile-friendly link here) such as an a variable polarizing Moon filter (mobile-friendly link here) and/or a coloured filter to reduce the object’s brightness in the eyepiece.

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Jupiter and moon with iPhone 6, default brightness.

 

JupiterDimmed

Jupiter with iPhone 6, with brightness dimmed. Now you can see the moon’s shadow on the planet!

3)      Stacking & Editing Software

While it’s possible to take high-quality snapshots of the Moon with a smartphone, it’s difficult to take an individual planetary image that matches the view through the eyepiece. To tease the most detail out of a planet, it’s best to record a short video clip of the object using the camera’s video function or an app (I use FilMic Pro with my iPhone). You can then use freely available image stacking software to select and combine (stack) the best individual frames from the video.

The photos above show the difference between single images (L) vs. stacked images (R) that combined hundreds of the best individual video frames I took of Mars and Saturn.

The Stargazers Lounge tutorial on Stacking Planetary Images offers an excellent introduction to image stacking and editing.  AutoStakkertRegistax and AviStack are popular, free stacking software tools, and Apple users can also import iPhone video directly into a shareware program called Keith’s Image Stacker to accomplish similar results.

4)      Practice

Tycho Clavius Moon iPhone

Lunar closeup captured with an iPhone 4s through an 8” telescope.

As with most astronomical pursuits, your skills will improve with practice. Don’t be disappointed if your first images don’t match those you see online. Experiment with different eyepieces, filters, and software and understand that the image quality is only partially in your hands. Your success will also depend on the degree of atmospheric turbulence or “seeing” at the time you’re taking your images. The same techniques might produce dramatically better (or worse!) results from one night to the next.

Once you’ve obtained some images you’re happy with, be sure to Tweet them to me www.twitter.com/failedprotostar  so that I can see your hard work! 

UPDATE I

It’s also possible to take photos of the brightest deep sky objects with a smartphone. Using the NightCap app, which mimics the long exposures of DSLR cameras, I was able to obtain a high-quality image of the Orion Nebula that was recently featured on the website io9!

Orion Nebula iPhone Andrew Symes

Single frame of the Orion Nebula taken with the NightCap app and brightened using the Camera+ app.

No stacking was required to record the colour and detail found in this nebula. I simply brightened the original image with the Camera+ app.

Lastly, I’ve created a Flickr gallery that contains my most recent iPhone astrophotos.

UPDATE II

In 2016 I took some of my best iPhone photos of Saturn and Mars using the techniques described above:

SaturnWatermark

MarsWatermark

UPDATE III

Here is a new image I created of the Orion Nebula using the NightCap app in February, 2015. It’s a stack of 30 iPhone 6 images taken through my 8″ telescope.

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