Skyway to the Moon (& Jupiter)

The conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter is currently happening as I write this. Here's the moonrise (and...Jupiter-rise?) above the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa Bay. The photo below was taken at around the closest part of the conjunction. I also took some photos through my telescope but the conjunction really needs to be closer to make it a really cool pic.

Unfortunately I missed the shot I was after...I really wanted the show the moon as it was still glowing orange along the horizon. I got a few shots of it BUT camera shake ruined those shots as they aren't sharp at all. Oh well...maybe next month.

The Honeymooners

Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin, FL is one of my favorite spots in Tampa Bay. It has some pretty amazing beaches and you're guaranteed to see some Florida wildlife if you walk around the park. I mainly kept away from the beaches today so I could get tore up from the mosquitos. Well, not really but I forgot my DEET...thankfully one of the visitors gave me some of their bug spray while I was watching the owls.

Today I spotted some ospreys, pelicans, kestrels, armadillos, shorebirds and a couple of great horned owls. If you've never been there and live in or are visiting Tampa Bay, you owe it to yourself to plan a trip.

Unfortunately, I did notice that my Nikkor 300mm f/4 AF-S PF lens is displaying the VR issue that it's known to have when you shoot with VR on between 1/80 - 1/160sec. I originally thought it was only for the D8XX series of cameras but it's definitely noticeable on my D750. Gonna need to find a place to get the firmware upgraded before my next race in March.

That's no Moon...

Tampa Bay had a direct flyover of the International Space Station tonight. If the weather cooperates, I always try to take pics of it. I used my 10" Orion Dobsonian telescope with a camera adapter for my Nikon D7100. This combination is good enough to pick out details on the ISS like the main living quarters, solar arrays and even docking Soyuz spacecraft if they're attached. I manually track the the scope through my telescope's viewfinder - there are crosshairs that I line up with the ISS then snap away with a remote shutter trigger. About half the shots come up out of frame and only a few are in focus enough to use.

A flyover from 2014 with a few extra minutes of star trails included.

Processing Andromeda

Last week I took some photos of the Andromeda Galaxy, which is visible during the evening hours this month. The photos were taken at the Dunedin Causeway leading out to the Gulf of Mexico, and isn't a very dark area - still within the light pollution red zone using the Dark Site Finder map (see image below). About an hour's worth of exposures were used for the final image - taken with my Nikon D750, Nikkor 300mm f/4 ED PF VR lens, TC-20e III Teleconverter and Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer motorized mount. The mount is probably the most vital step for this type of photography as the Earth is constantly rotating. The mount combats this rotation by moving at the same speed as the sky's apparent movement throughout the night. This is the only way to get a sharp exposure of an object in the sky with an exposure over 1-2 seconds.

The areas highlighted in white are the most light-polluted sections of Tampa Bay. The blue X is where I took the images.  Source:  Dark Site Finder

The areas highlighted in white are the most light-polluted sections of Tampa Bay. The blue X is where I took the images. Source: Dark Site Finder

In order to get this amount of detail I'm using PixInsight, which is a pretty complicated astrophotography program used for processing images (it's also pretty expensive, so I'm currently using the trial version). If it wasn't for the YouTube tutorials, I would've been completely lost. PixInsight, Photoshop and other programs like it are used by both amateur & professional astronomers to help bring out the details in nebula & galaxy images you've probably seen online.

Just to give you an idea of what each individual exposure looks like, here's a single rejected frame from that evening.

As you can see, there doesn't appear to be much there. No real colors in the image other than the slight red hue from light pollution and over-exposure. What PixInsight does is combine the 60+ images into a stack to maximize the data and photons captured in an hour's time. It also allows me to "stretch" the histogram in order to bring out contrast and colors that are in the image. The program itself is pretty incredible and is used by professional and amateur astrophotographers.

Now I just need to save up the $300+ for the asking price of the software as the trial version will only be good for the next 40 days.

Cat Party

On Thanksgiving, a grey cat decided to adopt me by walking into my house. I figured that it was a neighbor's cat as it had a collar, was super-friendly and was house-trained. Unfortunately, it seems the cat was abandoned in my neighborhood after getting pregnant and it didn't have a microchip.

So I kept the cat (still don't have a name for her) and she gave birth to five kittens on January 2. Unfortunately, the runt of the litter passed away a few days after her birth but I now have four very healthy and active kittens running around my place. Although I'm allergic to cats, I'm probably going to keep one or two of the kittens along with momma kitty. Time to name them, I guess.