Thursday, February 7, 2013

Suburban Astronomy

The winter in Edmonton has not really been kind.  Its not even the cold weather I mind, but the cloudy, snowy weather.  And that's mostly what we've had for the past 3 months.  I've waited patiently and it looks like the next little while will be a bit better. To illustrate that fact, on Monday night the sky was incredibly clear so I set my telescope up in my drive way to test a couple things like polar alignment, light pollution and my new Kendrick's Dew Heaters.  On all scores it was a great night.

The Dew Heaters work great and serve a dual purpose because in the winter its not actually Dew I'm fighting against, its frost.  Although it uses up more power, my 125 hA battery is more than up to the task. 

I've gotten pretty proficient using EQMOD and Stellarium together and on Monday night I added EqAlign to my list of software tools. 

EQ Align works with pretty much any webcam.  Using the program you pick a star on (or close to) the meridian.  Connect your webcam to EQ Align and select a star.  The star has to be fairly bright; I have a Lumunera 135m and I can usually only use magnitude 1 or 2 stars.  Once you select a star you can star the alignment procedure.  The program analyzes the star's drift (I find about 30 s is enough to get an accurate result) and tells exactly how far you need to move your scope in RA.  Once you're satisfied with the RA alignment you move to the east or west and repeat for DEC. 

For anyone who's ever done drift alignment this should sound pretty familiar; and that's because it is.  Its really just a computer assisted drift alignment.  There is nothing overly special about this aside from the fact that it speeds it up.  Using the webcam the computer can pick up drift pretty accurately after only a few seconds.  When I did drift alignment manually I usually had to wait 3 or 4 or more minutes before I could conclusively determine the correct drift. 

Anyway, after about 30 minutes of tinkering with the alignment I couldn't resist testing the fruits of my labour. Since I'm in a suburban area with fairly significant light pollution I chose M42 as a nice bright target.  It was also the first time I imaged it with my 11".  I took nearly a hour's worth of pictures and this is what I got.

I've really pleased with this result.  I can pick out the trapezium stars and there are hints of the much larger nebula cloud that surrounds it.  I can't wait to try this from a dark sky site.

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