thewayne: (Default)
My wife's work shift a few weeks ago was rough, and turned out worse. Normally Russet works every other Saturday/Sunday, this time she scheduled herself Tuesday through Friday as she had a team of three visiting Chinese astronomers with their own instrument. They had booked the entire night, at considerable expense. Their instrument is an infrared imager (camera) that can capture a THOUSAND frames a second! Pretty spiff! (Broadly speaking, there's only two types of astronomy instruments: imagers for infrared (and other bandwidths) photography and spectragraphs that measure the chemical composition of objects.)

Being able to wander around an observatory equipped with two big telescopes with whatever non-flash camera equipment that I can dig up is such a wonderful perk of being married to an astrophysicist!

This photo was hand-held, f1.4 at 1/5th of a second, ISO 800. Very minimal manipulation. The bright light to the right of the top monitor was the Chinese scientists working with/on their instrument.



Normally operations are conducted from a lit and comfortable control room, but this instrument was being continuously, and I mean CONTINUOUSLY, tweaked. So all four of them were spending most of the night in the dome. Frequently they'll use the in-dome computer for instrument set-up at the beginning of the night then put it it to sleep and go down stairs for most of the shift.

She had chosen to work the entire time the Chinese scientists were going to be there because she understood them better. It's not that she speaks Chinese, it's just that she's worked with them before and understood their broken English pronunciation better. Plus, astronomy has a limited vocabulary of key terms (azimuth, seeing, magnitude, etc.) A second telescope operator, Ted, was supposed to take the second half of the night Weds/Thurs, he was then going to be working Saturday/Sunday. Tuesday night Russet gets an email from Ted's girlfriend: he's in the hospital with food poisoning. Felled by a Taco Bell in El Paso. There's only four people who are qualified and allowed to work on the 3.5 meter telescope. Of the other two, one just came off-shift, so it's not fair to ask him to come back, and the other is up in Albuquerque doing out-reach. So not only does Russet have to work four solid shifts in a row, she also has to pick up Ted's weekend.

Not much fun. Fortunately weather was not good, so the dome was closed a lot of the time.
thewayne: (Default)
We had a monsoon storm system parked over the mountain for the last two weeks, and yesterday it finally broke! I was at the observatory until about 1:30am and am very happy with the results.


This first photo contains something interesting: the International Space Station! It was pure luck. I was testing everything before I told it to start shooting 30 second exposures forever (299 was the final image count) and it just so happened to catch the ISS! My wife pulled up a web site that maps your location over what satellites will be overhead on a specific date and time and we matched the time of the exposure and BINGO! I couldn't have caught that if I had tried.



This is a composition of 299 images. The little jag that you see at the beginning or end of a trace is the first two images of the ISS track. They were taken before I told the timer to have at it.

I was pleased to find that Photoshop CS6 had no problem accepting 299 layers in one PSD file, but it didn't like a file size greater than 2 gig. Once I flattened them, the file size dropped to 41 meg or so, well within Photoshop's capacity.



And finally, a video that I composed from the 299 still images. It's fun watching the dome of the 3.5 meter spin like a dervish. I showed it to my wife this afternoon and she said that she knew which slews those were. She was working with a group of on-site Chinese astronomers on a visiting instrument, so she was the one choosing targets for them in an attempt to keep the dome slit out of the wind: their instrument was very sensitive to the slightest breeze.


And I'll tell you, I LOVE MY NEW IMAC! It's not the utmost latest which just came out this week, it's a Late 2015 with a 4 GHz i7, and this thing handled sucking those 299 images and turning them in to a movie or making them in to Photoshop layers or flatening them with absolute zero difficulty.
thewayne: (Default)
I was doing OK on the photography side, my main problem was not assembling the pile of photos correctly in Photoshop. Now I know how! Now I also know that I REALLY need to get an intervalometer! I shot these using an infrared remote release to trip the camera to do 30 second exposures (Canon 6D, full-frame 20ish megapixel, 17-40 zoom at 17mm, f4.5 at 30 seconds, ISO 800), but was inconsistent with firing at precise 30 second intervals and that's what causes the little 'dot breaks' in the streaks. Theoretically I can use my laptop as an intervalometer, so that's something that I'll experiment with tomorrow and I'll (maybe) come back to the observatory tomorrow night and try again.

This is my wife's telescope, the 3.5 meter. The structure to the right is the 'arcade' that connects the operations/administrative building to the telescope.


The telescope on the left is the Sloan 2.5 meter, in front you again see the 3.5 meter, the two smaller domes are the NMSU 1 meter and the ARCSAT 0.5. The rightmost building is the dome/barn for the Sloan 2.5: it's on railroad ties and is moved away from the telescope when the telescope is opened.


Getting Polaris almost centered in that shot was sheerest luck.

Another view of the Sloan 2.5.


Unfortunately for the last set I only got 7 images for 3.5 minutes duration before they had to temporarily shut the telescope down for a cartridge swap. The slight blur was because they were slewing the telescope to point to where I was, prior to pointing the telescope straight up for the cartridge change. But all telescopes are always constantly moving, albeit ever so slowly, so getting a perfectly crisp shot of one probably means that it's not tracking and it's a totally staged shot.

Since this was just a test-run, I wanted to go inside and do the post-processing to see how things worked out.

And I was pleased.
thewayne: (Cyranose)
I took a class this semester in video editing using Adobe Premiere. I've never seriously shot video or film before, just some casual stuff with my iPhone. This was A LOT of fun! The cameras we used shut full 1080p and produced great results. We had to make a final project that was a 2-4 minute long video, and I've always subscribed to the 'write aboutshoot what you know' school, so I made a documentation about an astronomy program that my wife runs.

This is the final cut for school, it's 10 minutes long. I'm working on a slightly longer cut to submit to the White Sands Film Festival.



And what would a movie be without a blooper reel?



I really hate the fact that YouTube doesn't let you choose your thumbnail.
thewayne: (Default)
We did an Apollo run tonight at sunset (lunar laser ranging) and my wife told me that the ISS would be passing overhead, and we saw it! It was nothing more than a very bright light moving very fast, but still.
thewayne: (Default)
Well, sorta. Time-lapse films of two observatories showing some gorgeous skies and really neat telescope movement.

Australia:


Chile:


http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2011-05/time-lapse-video-very-large-telescope-work-coolest-thing-youll-see-today
thewayne: (Default)
Watching the Nat'l Geo special that my wife is on. She's on at the 3 minute mark, I doubt she'll be on again. Her boss, Tom Murphy, is on at about 11 minutes. They mistakenly identify him as an astronomer, he's a physicist.

There's an awful lot of hype in this program. They show these clips of the Eiffel Tower in a desert, they show NY flooding. THEY WON'T EXIST BY THE TIME THE VIDEOS DEPICT!

I do have to say, though. The animation is awesome. Just saw the segment of the Mars probe landing and it looked like video footage rather than animation.

(it's funny listening to Russet quibble about the oversimplification the scientists are making)
thewayne: (Madness Takes Its Toll)
I designed one for my wife, we're playing in a new Champions game in a couple of weeks and she's playing an astronomy student, so I made a t-shirt for her through Zazzle. It's mildly amusing. It actually might make a decent gift if you know an astronomer.

Anyway, it's at http://www.zazzle.com/astronomers_t_shirt-235788989565885488, and even though the design is for a women's T, it can be redesigned for a man or for any number of t-shirt styles.
thewayne: (Default)
One of the telescopes at the observatory where my wife works is the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. (wiki entry) It has collected a HUGE amount of data in the years that it has been operating, and they've started a "@home" project to help identify characteristics of galaxies.

"They are asking volunteers on the Internet to help classify the galaxies as either elliptical or spiral and note, where possible, in which direction they rotate."

You go through a tutorial to train you to help identify galaxy characteristics and what direction it is rotating, then you go off identifying from photos. Lots of other people are doing the same thing on the same images that you're looking at, so it's a preponderance of votes that gets the galaxy classified, this also dampens the effect of someone going in and classifying everything as counterclockwise to try and throw everything off.

Anyway, I thought that there's enough science geeks who read my blog that might find this interesting to do.

http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/space/07/12/galaxy.internet.ap/index.html
thewayne: (Default)
This is a very cool project. If I won a lottery I'd gladly give them money for this!

For most of the history of astronomy from when photography came around up to and including today, glass plates and film have been used to record observations. Pluto was discovered by using a device called a blink comparator where you mount two glass plates taken of the same star field a few months (or years) apart, look through one eyepiece, and press a button. Every time you press it, it flips a mirror between the plates. If you see any movemement, it might be a planet. Black & white photography is a great way to do this: you develop the film, and the bright things that you shot are black, so it's quite easy to see what represents stars and what is just empty space.

(the blink comparator, the Pluto plates, and the telescope used by Clyde Tombaugh are on display at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ)

This project is especially cool because it includes sky surveys from both the northern and southern hemispheres for over a century!

The collection weighs 165 TONS and contains more than a petabyte of data (a petabyte is the next increment above terabyte which is the increment above gigabyte). And it's an original with no backups. I hope they get fundage soon!

http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/07/11/217218 It's really amazing how they're going about doing this, I would love to see the camera and software that they're using! And I think Russet worked at the observatory mentioned in the article, but I'm not sure.

(try http:/www.bugmenot.com for an already registered free NYT login)
thewayne: (Default)
There is a type of telescope called an LMT -- Liquid Mirror Telescope. It has a giant dish with a reflective fluid, mercury has been used in the past, that rotates. The motion causes the liquid to form a parabola, thus you have a telescope mirror. There's all sorts of technical problems regarding smoothness of motion, lack of vibration, etc, but it works. The biggest hitch is that it can pretty much only point in one direction -- straight up.

Well, a scientist at University of Arizona is proposing building a 100 meter LMT on the moon! No atmospheric interference, low gravity simplifies all sorts of things. Of course, your shipping costs are kinda steep. The proposal is to make two prototypes on the moon, scaling up to the 100 meter model.

I think this would be tremendously cool if it ever gets built, but I'm not holding my breath.

I've read about this before as there is/was a LMT installation about three miles from Cloudcroft. It was used by NASA to catalog orbital debris and was de-commissioned and the telescope shipped off to other parts, theoretically the facility has been re-opened and houses a new spiffy one-meter, but I haven't seen it yet.

http://www.wired.com/science/space/news/2007/05/liquid_telescope

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