Since I've never blogged about this project, there's quite a lot to catch up, so I'm gonna make a first summary with all (or a good part of) the content I've captured so far.

Let's start by videos: here's a youtube playlist with all the videos captured so far

Open in Youtube

The playlist is ordered starting from the most recent going backwards in time, so the first videos are actually the last.

In addition to the equipment described in the previous post I occasionally am also able to take zoomed pictures with my DSLR cameras, a Canon EOS 700D at first, an EOS 80D more recently, and a Sigma 150-600 zoom lens.

These are the best albums so far

First encounter

A few pictures taken before I started feeding them (back in January 2018), with an old telelens. The quality is pretty bad, actually, but I put it here anyway, as it's a nice memory.

🔗open in Google Photos to view the full album
First Encounter (02/01/2019)

Odin, the red fox

We didn't know she was a female initially (hence the name). She's a bit older than the other female shown in later pictures, and she hasn't shown up lately, hopefully just because she moved, or because she's pregnant.

🔗open in Google Photos to view the full album
Odin, the red fox - 07/2018
🔗open in Google Photos to view the full album
Odin, 03/09/2018
🔗open in Google Photos to view the full album
Odin, 14/09/2018

Spelacchio and the snow

The only male fox visiting us (at the moment). The name is a joke about the bad fur on his tail in the most recent pictures.

He's easly recogniseable because of his bigger size, and the tail being all black.

🔗open in Google Photos to view the full album
Fox and the snow - 01/02/2019

Biscotta & Spelacchio

The first pictures show Spelacchio, with his all black tail with some bad fur patches on it.

The white pointed tail fox is Biscotta, a little and lively female.

🔗open in Google Photos to view the full album
Biscotta and Spelacchio - 02/04/2019

Roughly more than a year ago I started this little project: feeding local foxes, that were already visiting very often our garden, mainly to try and get as many pics as possible.

When I started I just took occasional pics with a DSLR and telephoto lens, I then installed a first Raspberry Pi with an Infrared sensible camera and a single IR light to monitor the garden during the night, studying their habits and how to best interact with them. IR lights are essential to get a light source without disturbing the foxes (and the environment) with too much visible light.

As I started getting results, I started improving my setup times and times. Firstly I added more IR lights This is my current setup as it stands.

Whole setup

There are two raspberry pi cameras: one inside a waterproof box, getting closeups, the other indoors, with just the camera and its cable getting out of the window. There's a set of three infrared floodlights: the smallest two are visible in the picture, and they illuminate the balcony. There's a third one, much bigger, not visible in this picture, that floods the whole garden.

Raspberry Pi closeup camera This is a 3D Printed waterproof box containing a Raspberry Pi and a Raspberry Pi Camera Noir (IR sensitive). Using MotionEye the raspberry can detect motion in video stream, and subsequently start recording.

Raspberry Pi wide field camera

Wide field camera case for another Raspberry Pi Noir camera. In this case only the camera is outdoors, the Raspberry Pi is indoors with only the camera cable passing through the window.

I call this the "Wide Field" camera, although technically the field of view is exactly the same (since the camera itself is the same), but the camera points to the whole garden instead of just the balcony.

Raspberry Pi

The second Raspberry Pi

Wildlife camera

A wildlife camera, perfect for producing videos with sound. Although this camera gives much better results for videos, I still keep the two raspberries as they produce better still pictures.

This august I was able to go with our astronomical group to our usual appointment at Colle dell'Agnello in Italy, very close to France border.

The place is very dark, but the weather can often be a problem. Sometimes too windy, clouds covering the sky pretty quickly, sometimes even surrounding us (massive humidity, lens and mirrors getting wet).

During one of these nights I tried to get NGC7000, only to get inside a cloud right 5 minutes after finishing setting up everything and starting exposures.

It lasted a while, and I didn't have much time left, so I decided to get a quick shot at an old classic, M31.

Here's the result:

M31 from Colle dell'Agnello

Roughly 2 hours of exposure (discarding a good portion of frames, so I stacked slightly more than 1 hour).

Setup:

ASI1600mm (non cool) TS Photoline 60mm F/5.5 (with reducer, fl=260mm) Star Adventurer Processed using Pixinsight I'm not 100% happy about both the shooting and the processing, stars don't look very good when zooming in, but I quite like the fact that the core is not saturated, and some nice details can be spotted too.

Instead, the best result of this holiday was probably the timelapse of our days (and nights) at the shelter:

A classic astrophotography subject, startrails can show how much the celestial sphere rotates in just a few hours (in this case, 4).

This one in particular also highlights how many airplanes wander above our heads, you can see lots of them quite clearly, straight intermittent lines striking the perfect circles drawn by the stars.

City star trails

This simple yet effective tecnique also has the side effect of allowing to build a timelapse using the very same set of images.

Technical data: Canon EOS 700d, Tokina 11m-16mm (at 11mm, F/3.2). ISO 1600, exposure 3 seconds, I also used a star adventurer mini to get pinpoint stars, although with this focal length it might have been a bit of an overkill.

I recently needed a cheap 2 in 1 laptop, both for having a smaller lightweight astrophotography laptop, and for general usage. I chose the iOTA 360, currently on Amazon for less than 200£.

It was a bet, since looking around I couldn't find anyone claiming a successful GNU/Linux installation on it, but with some work I managed to get pretty much everything working.

The following guide should help you installing any recent version of Ubuntu on the iOTA 360.

A lot of these instructions/tools (including EFI 32bit bootloader, and Screen Rotator) can apply to other 2in1 laptops as well

Continua a leggere...

This is the first of a series of articles. As I'm always experimenting and tuning my setup, I'm not sure how many more articles I'll be writing.

A few years ago I began to introduce myself to astrophotography. I had some fairly nice equipment back then: a SkyWatcher HEQ5 mount, a Meade ACF 8", guide scope and camera, a borrowed reflex, laptop, 12v car battery.

Although this is pretty much entry level equipment, barely sufficient to getting started, it had been already quite expensive (almost 2000€ just for scope and mount, even though the scope was second hand), bulky and heavy. I ended up barely using it, both because of a relatively steep learning curve and because I honestly was getting tired of carrying around 20/30KG of equipment with barely any tangible result.

Then a few things happened: the mount was stolen, I sold the optical tube, and ended up moving to London, where I embraced a new "astronomical philosophy": the lighter, the better.

Continua a leggere...

Last saturday, after lots of garden testing and software checks, I've finally been able to drive to a dark place for a few deep sky shots.

The driving part itself was the most "scary", as I'm still new to driving in the "wrong side" of the road... Getting the hang of it, though..

I chose to go observing with the HantsAstro stargazing group.. they met in a quite dark site (at least for being not too far from London), and their website and facebook pages really did inspire me. I'm really glad I joined them, as it was a really pleasant evening, with lots of nice people.

My target for the evening was the center of the Cygnus constellation, between Deneb and Sadr. It's an area full of nebulae, perfect for a wide field lens. Technical data, together with stars and object names, can be found in the astrobin technical page.

Cygnus' heart

Last week, a CalSky alert email reminded me about a close passage of the International Space Station to the bright Arcturus, in the Bootes constellation.

Alessia was here, so we catched this opportunity to do some "garden astronomy" together, watching the passage while also trying to record it on camera.

My assistant

Setup ready

Jupiter, Spica, and Arcturus

Work in progress

The idea was to do two shots: a wide field, with my large sensor ASI1600mm and an 85mm lens, and a narrow field with the telescope.

It was a beautiful, almost hot evening. Unfortunately, not everything went as planned: the ISS was passing a bit further then expected, since I forgot to update my location coordinates in CalSky, so the telecope shooting was missed, and a few technical issues, plus me choosing the wrong recording duration on the shooting program, almost made me miss the passage itself even on the wide field.

But after a few minutes, without even knowing if the recording was actually successful, looking the frames I was able to spot this bright strip moving through the stars. Although this was meant to be just a "backout shooting", it's still a good catch. We also recorded a hint of a plane passing through the field, at the end of the passage.

IIS passing by Arcturus

As I wrote on my previous post, an exceptionally good weather kept me outside pretty much every night just when Jupiter was at its best.

On April the 7th, during its opposition, I was able to capture a sequence of 4 sets of video captures, each one in RGB. I tried to optimize as much as possible my timings, in order to keep rotational differences between frames under control. This will probably be even easier on a future Planetary Imager release, when I'll implement a scripting interface.

The results are even better than the previous evening.

I was able to take 4 images, and create an animation displaying Jupiter's rotation and its satellites.

Jupiter mini animation, 07/04/2017

Click here for a webp animation: much higher quality, but right now working only on Google Chrome.

These are the best two frames of the animation, so you can better view the features:

During the following night I optimized even further my capture speed, so I could take much more frames (up to 15). Unfortunately I couldn't use all of them due to the usual tree in front of my garden, but the result is still pretty good. The resolution is possibly a little bit worse, maybe for worse seeing or focusing issues, but the animation is much more smooth now.

Jupiter animation - 09/04/2017

Click here for a webp animation: much higher quality, but right now working only on Google Chrome.

And here again a few interesting frames of the sequence

And finally, a little treat for Alessia, who wasn't with me, but she would have liked to, particularly given this little incursion by a curious fox

A few more summerlike days, and a few more astronomical shots.

It was sunny, and with a very good seeing from Thursday to Saturday night, just in time for Jupiter's opposition, when it's closer to Earth, and then bigger and easier to capture.

But since I wasn't very happy with my previous Jupiter shots, the first of these three nights I mainly took pictures of the moon.

I began by using my newest camera, an ASI 1600mm: it's more of a deep sky camera, not very suitable for planets and moon: 3.8 µm pixel size instead of 2.4µm of my other camera, an ASI 178mm, and bigger pixels means lower resolution. It also has a much wider sensor, which slows down capturing (and fast framerates is a key element to get high resolution images), but this is also an advantage from another point of view: I was able to capture the whole moon disk in just a single shot, instead of the usual mosaic.

This is the result, in my opinion one of my best looking images ever:

Moon, 06/04/2017

Please click the "Original version" button to get the high resolution image.

But after a couple of full moon shots, I also wanted to see the difference in resolution with my ASI 178mm, so I swapped camera, and started capturing frames near the terminator.

After stacking and stitching everything, this is the result:

Moon - HD Mosaic, 06/04/2017

Of course, the previous image looks a bit better aestetically: having the full disk is surely more eye pleasing, and it's also a bit less grainy, due to the lower resolution.

But if you look at both at them at full size (again, open the "Original version", and zoom at 100%) this second image mosaic is clearly showing a lot more details.

Again, I am quite happy about the result. It surely might have been better if I had taken more images to cover the full disk, and there are some stiching issues here and there in the image (I'll try reprocessing it soon), but for such a small telescope (a 5" maksutov) I couldn't have hoped for better images.

Finally, when Jupiter raised a bit more, I decided to stay outside a little longer, despite having work the following day, and tried an RGB shooting, although it was still very low on the horizon (only 25°). While shooting the images didn't look bad at all, but I wasn't quite ready to the result I was gonna have after processing the RGB set:

Jupiter, 06/04/2017

Again, for such a small scope, and such a low object, the amout of details is impressive, particularly compared to my previous jupiter shot. It's almost as good as the images taken with my 8" telescope back in Milan, but with colour this time!

During the evening I also asked my neighbours, a pleasant young couple from New Zealand, to have a quick look through the eyepiece... It's always nice to see reactions of someone watching for the first time the moon through a telescope, sometimes you're able to feel their wonder and awe.

Happy about the results, I then decided to try a full weekend of imaging, weather permitting. And I was lucky. I took lots more pictures during Friday and Saturday nights.

But I still have to finish processing them, so stay tuned until the next post... :)