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  • Posts Tagged ‘little mind-blowing things’

    To Catch Some Photons From Across Our Cosmos


    2011 - 12.06

    So I’ve been researching telescopes with the goal of getting into astrophotography.  So far I’ve learned that I have A LOT to learn.  As in, seriously, A LOT.  This remains a distant goal.

    A good part of this research is simply gawking at awesome pictures that people have taken and seeing what equipment they used to do it.  This has also been a learning experience about objects in the sky and a good calibration of expectations towards what I might achieve on my own someday assuming I put in the time to learn the tricks of the trade, the money to get a capable setup, and practice enough to become talented with it.  Just tonight I saw the first amateur image of an object I really love, 47 Tucanae.  This picture was taken in the Andes mountains, with a mind-mindbogglingly expensive telescope setup, but still… it gives a glimpse of what is possible.  Even a fraction of this is mind-gasmly sweet:

    NYC Timelapse


    2011 - 11.29

    Caught under a mountain of Bear Creek photos and video, is this timelapse video, fulfilling a couple goals of mine: to do timelapse of a big crowd of people and to do some cityscape timelapse at night.  I captured all the still images that make up this footage using my T3i mounted to a gorillapod, as previewed before!  Overall I’m pretty happy with how it came out.  Timelapse is so neat.  I want to keep getting better and more ambitious with it.

    Thought that the visuals would go well with drum and bass, so I cut up an old reason track I had laying around.  Now that youtube is super-duper-not-cool with overlaying someone else’s music, this is forcing me to include more original audio as well.  I guess this is a good thing.

    Also, this happened yesterday


    2011 - 11.27

    The latest and greatest Mars rover, Curiosity,  lifted off successfully for the red planet.  I’m guessing all my fellow space geeks were abundantly aware of this already, and knew that this puppy has a footprint the size of a humvee, carries 10 times the scientific payload of any previous rover, and has more sophisticated analysis tools than any previous mission to mars.  This baby is the biggest, baddest, and sexiest rover ever to depart for another world.  It’ll be landing in August of next year.  That’s pretty friggin exciting.

     

    Star Party Timelapse


    2011 - 10.24

    This weekend I attended a Star Party (aka an astronomer hangout session) with the North Houston Astronomy Club and took along my timelapse setup.  I got to meet some cool people who are way into the stars, and got in some solid time staring at the heavens during the Orionid Meteor Shower.  I’m pretty psyched about the resultant video below because it combines a whole bunch of techniques and tricks that I have never tried before.

    Public service reminder: hit the 1080p and fullscreen it.  We’re looking at stars.  They’re small!

    For anyone who’s wondering, those 4 tall poles in the timelapse where the sun is still going down are actually a radio telescope, set up to listen to the sounds of Jupiter as it passes southernly-overhead in the middle of the night.  Bonus points for exotic telescopes!

    I had done “star trails” images before by using this simple, free program called StarStaX, but I hadn’t realized that the same program can save a picture at every step during the composite-making process, which gives these really neat star trails videos.  I also found a photoshop actions file as blogged about on Owen Scharlotte’s site that let me do the fading-startrails effect. This is my first time using either of those techniques. (UPDATED…TWICE!: Owen had a broken link, which is now fixed! His actions are now more sophisticated as well, so click here to download the version I used, which I’ll leave posted as it was requested of me via email from a reader. Please note: I can’t provide technical assistance with this actions file. You’ll have to read Owen’s website and figure out on your own how it works. You should check out his site anyway, as it’s good.)

    As with my last attempt, I did a batch process on all 1,145 photos before compiling them into the video.  I figured out how to remove hot pixels from the dark parts of the sky (using a subtraction layer on a noise reference image), but I still haven’t mastered removing them from lighter regions near the horizon.  There’s definite room for improvement.  Another very cool thing: I learned a few neat, new tricks with Shadow/Highlights in Photoshop as well as Curves; two functions I use all the time.  Hah!  And I arrogantly had assumed I knew all there was to know about these functions!  Enlightening and humbling in the same moment.  This whole deal was certainly a beneficial learning experience.

    But stepping back from the technical aspect of all this, and speaking of humbling, have a look at those stars.  Wowzers.

    Something that really knocked me out that night was seeing “the great nebula in Andromeda”, aka M31, aka the Andromeda Galaxy.  Maaan.  I mean… every star you see in the sky is an incomprehensible distance away from us.  Jeez, really I can’t even genuinely comprehend the distance from Earth to Venus, let alone the distance from Earth to Proxima Centauri…  But holy %*#^ Andromeda, that’s 2.5 million light years from Earth.  And you can see it with your naked eye if the sky has clear “seeing”.   Hanging out with a bunch of astronomers and having them point out all these fascinating things in the sky was really inspiring.  There’s certainly more sensational things to be seen in the sky (Jupiter and it’s four Galilean moons was truly a sight to behold) but looking up and spotting another galaxy, well that blew my mind.  I checked it out through both binoculars and a pretty excellent telescope as well.  No matter how you see it, it’s dim.  But it’s there, and one of the top mind-boggling sights of  my year.

    You can see it, as my camera saw it on the left.  I drew in purple dashed lines connecting some of the nearby stars in the Andromeda constellation that make it easier to spot.  The galaxy itself is circled in green.  As you can see it’s not much more than a faint blur.  But man oh man, did those photons ever come a long way before, by sheer random chance, happening to land upon the image sensor of my camera.  At the time that those photons left the Andromeda Galaxy, the genus Homo had literally just begun.  Homo Habilis was the species.  Definitely still very very ape-like.  By contrast, Homo Sapiens emerged 250,000 years ago; an order of magnitude more recently.  Wow.

    Even though there are fantastic pictures out there of such objects as Andromeda, it’s still so very powerful to see it with your own eyes–to have your own retinas collect some photons that traveled 2.5 million years to reach them.  Seeing that is ….. well it’s breathtaking.

    —-

    Meeting other people who are jazzed about the sky was a highlight of the evening as well.  One thing I had hoped to do was learn a bit about telescopes since it’s somewhat of a long-term goal of mine to acquire one.  I met a guy named Rusty who had just gotten a brand new Orion model off eBay.  It was his first real night out with it, so he was still getting things dialed in, but overall he had it in pretty great form.  Seeing his excitement over the new instrument was infectious and definitely made me want to go do some further research.  But talking to him at length also made me realize that I have 100% no idea what I’m talking about when it comes to ‘scopes.  It’s going to be quite some time before I know enough to even consider a purchase.  In the meantime, I think I might invest in a good, lightweight, comfortable pair of binoculars.  I had read people saying that this was a great first step into astronomy online, but I sort of scoffed at the idea, thinking, naahh, what I want is a badass telescope!  And yes, that IS what I want, but still, a good pair of binoculars is certainly a fun, portable, and instantly-maneuverable way to check out the sky.  I think I will be getting a pair.

    That, and a 75mW laser pointer! ;)

    3 hours of night sky in under 30 seconds


    2011 - 10.09

    A short timelapse video I made, showing the night sky from 12:30am-3:30am.  I used 830 images to make this, and you can see the corresponding startrails images in the previous post!  Don’t forget to hit fullscreen and 1080p on the video.  A tiny preview doesn’t do the stars justice!

    I’ve wanted to get into making timelapse like this for a long time, so it’s rewarding to put one of these together.  I did a batch process on all photos in Photoshop before compiling into a video, which was an awesome idea; definitely want to do more and get better at all of this.  Check out that SKY!

    This JUST happened. 3 hours of starlight


    2011 - 10.08

    I’ve been up to my usual shenanigans tonight, which involve staying up till all unreasonable hours of the morning.  While doing so, I set out the camera and captured this sweet startrails image from 12:30-3:30am.  Saaweeeeet!

    Since the above image is actually composed of 800+ individual 10 second exposures, I also made this version which is only a short part of it; a good stretch without any clouds.  And just to keep things fresh, I flipped the canvas horizontally.  Because, ya know, why not?

    Note that clicking on either of these will unleash the 1920 x 1280 sized versions.

    This is truly inspiring: masterful timelapse


    2011 - 09.30

    Today I was derpin’ around on the timelapse subreddit, and I found a link to this video.  There’s a lot of badass timelapse out there, but wow, this compilation really has it all. I wanna do stuff like this…
     

    So I didn’t get a timelapse video during the Perseid meteor shower, but I DID get this:


    2011 - 09.24

    Enough clear photographs to make a startrails image!

    I just now realized I could do this, using a program called StarStaX.  This is badass, and I am going to be doing more of it.  YES!

    Originally I had intended to use my intervalometer to shoot exposures all night (which worked) but something I didn’t anticipate ruined the fun: DEW on the lens!  Who knew.  In any event, a totally full moon also blew out the sky and prevented me from getting many stars.  The images used to build the star trails picture you see above were captured before the moon rose above the tree line behind me.

    There’s always next time.

    The Sky’s Not The Limit–It’s A Boundary To The Endless & The Timeless


    2011 - 09.08

    So right now there’s a supernova named SN 2011fe going on, one that’s visible with a set of binoculars, if you know where to look. That’s pretty awesome. I have to admit, I totally feel like I’m missing out on some rare, limited offer by not being in possession of a telescope.

    Let’s talk about that–how awesome it would be to have your own telescope. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time now, and I feel a steady itch building. Something tells me I might have one within the next year or so. My chief interest is of course, simply checking out the stars, but a close second priority would be using it to make pictures. I’ve read many articles about neat things discovered by amateur astronomers who just sort of happened to be looking at the right thing at the right time, and think, man, it would be so badass to join those ranks.

    Indeed, the picture on the wikipedia page for supernova SN 2011fe was generated by this guy, using a Canon 60D (which has the exact same sensor/guts as my very own Canon T3i). JEALOUS! SO COOL. TOTALLY JEALOUS! It’s my turn to exclaim, with no dignity, oh that should so be me taking that picture! Maybe someday. Maybe someday you too could get a wikipedia-worthy photo of a rare astro-event. Keep on dreamin’ kid.

    So I did some searching to see what people out there are already doing and get an idea of what kind of images I could potentially attempt to make on my own, and I happened upon a few websites that well, jeez, just about exploded my eyeballs with pictures you’d swear came from a hundred-million dollar Hawaiian telescope or something. The picture above is one such example, taken by Mr. Georgiy Suturin. I mean, I have no illusions that these guys are way beyond anything I could achieve, but STILL, the fact remains that they are doing this in their own backyards with cobbled-together setups. That blows my mind. Spend a little time checking out the galleries on the sites below, I promise you will not be disappointed:

    Steve’s Astro

    Igor Chekalin

    Georgiy Suturin

    So yeah, wish I had a telescope. I’d check out that supernova. Maybe it’s time to start researching and figuring out what hardware I’d need…

    Riding In An Ultralight Seaplane — WOW!


    2011 - 09.01

    So there we were, chillin on the SS Advanced Manoeuvres, drinking High Lifes and getting down with some funky jams, when off on the horizon this weird plane appears. I say to my buddies, Q: “is that a seaplane?” A: “why yes, it appears that it is.” The mystery plane comes in for a closer approach and yep, it’s a bright red seaplane with yella pontoons. Awesome! Then he comes in for yet another pass, this time REALLY close. After buzzing the boat, we watch this guy circle around the lake and ask “is he about to land that thing?” Spoiler alert: yes.

    We’re anchored in a shallow part of the lake where most pleasurecraft tend to congregate due to the nice sandy lakebottom, along with maybe 5 or 6 other boats. The red seaplane touches down not too far away and pulls up alongside another vessel not far from ours. After debating it for a little while, we decide to go over and talk to the guy.

    His name is Donny and we chat it up for maybe a good 10-20 minutes or so. He says the plane runs off of normal gasoline just like you’d get in any gas station, and tells a story about how he flew it all the way home from Florida once. That’s sort of extreme, considering that it probably qualifies as an ultralight aircraft, and I doubt the top speed is really all that fast. After a while, I can’t resist asking any longer; “so uhh… what would it take to get you to take me for a little spin on this baby? I can toss some gas money your way and I’ve got a sweet camera that can capture a video for youtube.”

    Answer: yeah sure, go grab your camera. I could always use some extra gas money.

    My buddy Cody rolls his eyes in some combination of astonishment and admonishment; “John… I can’t believe you.” All I can say is “aww man!”

    So I hustle back to home base and retrieve the gear, hop on this seaplane and shoot this video (be sure to hit the 1080p HD!:)

    Aww man is RIGHT.

    Earlier this year I flew in a single engine Cessna and it was definitely way cooler than a commercial jet. Being able to see forward really changes the experience. Single engine planes are really a whole different world compared to airline travel. Flying in this ultralight seaplane was like the next level of coolness beyond that–you can easily look down on either side of you. For someone afraid of heights, this thing would probably be terrifying. Me, I do have somewhat of a fear of heights, but when I’m strapped in tight, as on an amusement ride, it doesn’t bother me. The whole thing was over before I knew it, finishing with an exceedingly smooth landing. I thought that touching down on the lake would feel rough, but no, it was actually softer than a large jet landing.

    So yeah. That was really something else. I wasn’t paying too much attention to where the camera was pointed; pretty much just gawking at the world below and trying to take it all in. Donny and I both had headsets on, so we could chat while we were up there. Right after we took off, he’s like, “hey, do you mind if I put on some reggae while we fly?” And I was all, “oh man, this is the life.”

    A day to remember.