No, not a new scifi movie, but an honest to goodness observing and imaging session from my driveway. It has been a while.....since mid December that the weather has permitted anything but a quick peak at the sky. I tried imaging a couple of nights before, but gave up due to terrible seeing conditions.
Last night, the views were variable.....from light clouds to fog to crystal clear. A small mishap with a broken power cord delayed me until about 10:30pm. A screw driver, sissors, kitchen knife, and some duct tape solved that problem.
Mars is a tiny target.....the disk being less than 14 arcseconds in apparent size. Not expecting much, I set up my son's 6" Dob. At 44x, Mars is a tiny featureless dot. At 120x, after the scope cooled down, the disk was large enough to see some detail.....dark markings in the northern and southern hemispheres as well as the south polar cap. About this time, my friend Neil Heacock came by.......while I got my webcam imaging gear up and running, Neil got some great intermittent views at 200x. The seeing would come and go, but the clear periods were really quite amazing. They were the best views of Mars in my memory.
The imaging session wasn't quite as successful. To get any scale on the planet with my little 4" Maksutov-Cassegrain scope, I need to shoot at magnifications well past the scope's limits. Tonight I imaged at 795x! The webcam is the approximate equivalent of a 5mm eyepiece,
1325mm focal length x 3x barlow / 5mm = 795x
The attached photo is 1466 frames at 33 frames per second at 1/25th of a second exposure time. 11:30pm PST 2/9/10
Celestron NexStar 4se
Celestron CG5 GT mount
Philips ToUcam Pro II
cheapo 3x barlow
* Boy, would I love more aperture and a high quality barlow. I think this image would better reflect the seeing conditions.
This is the result of a rather fast trip through Registax 5, and a little cleaning up in Paint Shop Pro Photo.
* oops.....Mars was incorrectly labeled. corrected now.
The last image added (Mars_E_2b label) is a re-processing of the above video clip. I don't think the extra care improved the image much, if at all. The raw video is what it is. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say.