23 March 2011 (Wednesday) - Stuff

On Monday night a gaggle of us went out telescoping and following on from my success with the telescope two weeks ago I thought I’d try some astro-photography. In theory it’s quite simple – stick a webcam in the telescope eyepiece, video something astronomical for a few minutes, use the software to sort the video into a picture. Bish-Bosh-Sorted!
In practice it’s not so simple. Getting the telescope’s tripod to be level takes some doing. Getting the spotter scope lined up isn’t easy. Puzzling out the “Go-To” computer is a mission in itself, and then finding a suitable target which is relatively high in the sky and not subject to light pollution takes a knowledge of stellar cartography which (frankly) I don’t have (yet). And it’s only after you’ve mastered all of these not inconsiderable problems that you can actually stick your webcam in place and start videoing.
And then you’ll find a myriad of other obstacles. What gain settings should you use for the camera? What light intensity should you use? And bear in mind that all of this is being done in a field in the dark with limited battery power.
After a couple of hours of what I can only describe as “farting about in the dark” on Monday night I eventually got an image of the moon on the laptop screen. And in retrospect, that’s where I went wrong. Having got an image I started the videoing program going, then I messed about to improve the focus and then I fiddled about centring the image. Flushed with success I saved the file, then put all the imaging technology away and just enjoyed looking down the telescope for the rest of the evening with the plan to do something with the video image later. “Later” being this morning.

But this morning when I tried to make something from my video stream of the moon, the poor software had a hissy fit. Because during the video stream I’d been messing about with the focus and moving the camera, the software didn’t have a decent stable image to have a go at.
But it’s all a learning experience. Next time I’ll get all the fiddling about done first and then do the videoing afterwards. To be fair, I’ve been warned that I won’t get immediate success and that it’s going to take some time to develop some expertise at astro-photography. Patience, patience….

Another task requiring patience is getting my pond water to clear. On Saturday I said that if the pond wasn’t clear by mid-week I’d again muck out the filter. I had no choice about the mucking out – the filter has cleared so much gunge from the pond that this morning the poor thing was blocked and was leaking. Whilst I was mucking it out I saw the bag containing all the old filter gubbins I’d replaced last Saturday. I’d forgotten about that lot – the plan was that I would have taken them to the tip last Sunday. I took them this morning instead: I’ve never seen the tip so busy. It was heaving and people were queuing to get in.
It was also heaving with people in Sainsburys. Loads of people, none of whom seemed to have any urgency with getting a move on, quite content to be bumbling about. I could do that, and will do in years to come. When I am retired I will make a point of getting in the way of everyone and anyone who seems to be in a hurry. It will be good for their blood pressure.

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