Microscopes do not care about clouds

Except for 2 evenings, my motorized telescope has been collecting dust now for about 2 months. And on those 2 evenings, seeing became poor around midnight. I really can’t remember another period this worse for amateur astronomers. Luckily though, I don’t need clear skies to use my microscope.

I have a few (microscope) images from last month that I haven’t shown you yet and also some more recent photos.

Starting with a few microscopic images of elemental gallium. Gallium is fun to play with because it melts at 30 degrees Celcius (i.e. in your hand) and it isn’t as dangerous as mercury. Actually, it’s not harmful at all as long as you don’t eat it. And the best thing is, I just happen to have some at home for entertainment purposes.

For the images I deposited some droplets of liquid gallium on my glass slide and allowed it to crystallize slowly. The resulting lumbs of solid gallium were somewhat edgy but also contained plenty of rounded corners as you can see in the image below.

Small crystallized droplet of pure gallium.

Small crystallized droplet of elemental gallium at 40x.

I was really fascinated by this image. It seems to be bell-shaped and contains razor sharp cornered edges around curved bodies. This image was taken at 40x magnification. Someone suggested that the straight edges may be due to expansion of the material after the outer shell had solidified.

The next image also shows some very interesting feautures. Very apparent are the colors in the top left. I believe this is due to the use of both achromatic objectives and poor lighting. The microscope I have is fitted with a bulb underneath the sample and as you may expect, light isn’t really visible through lumbs of metal. So I had to use a lamp that I positioned so that it illuminates the sample from the side.

On the right side of the image, the flat surface isn’t very flat. It shows a funny structure that may be due to the fact that the gallium crystallized under water and didn’t have the chance to dry properly.

Another crystallized gallium droplet

Another crystallized gallium droplet

I shot the following two images during a beautiful november sunset. On the first you can se a very faint second rainbow above the brighter one. The second image shows how magnificently golden the sky was. Normally I like to use some photoshop to subtly enhance the best features of an image, but I didn’t really edit this one. The photo was just perfect.

A quite faint double rainbow

A quite faint double rainbow

Golden evening skies over Enschede

Golden evening skies over Enschede

Do you remember this image I shot of a begonia? I used a telescope to take it.

Begonia through a 900mm telescope

Begonia through a 900mm telescope

Well, here is the same begonia through a microscope:

Red leaf of a begonia through the microscope

Red leaf of a begonia through the microscope at 40x

I really love it’s brilliant red color. The image below shows the same area but at higher magnification. Stacking the differently focused images was quite a hastle, but it worked out okay for these images. I had one at even higher magnification (400x), but stacking this produced a blur.

The same red leaf at higher magnification

The same red leaf at 100x magnification

Nylon festival wrist band trough the microscope

Nylon festival wrist band trough the microscope

The image above shows a close up at 100x of a nylon wrist band I got from a music festival. Purely synthetic. Absolutely not synthetic, is the waterweed in the image below. It shows all the little green chloroplasts that give the plant its green color. The way you see it here is somewhat different from what I saw through the microscope. I could see a lot of cytoplasmic (the liquid that fills the volume of the cell) streams, which is highlighted by lots of chloroplasts that travel through the leaf. Maybe I will make a video of that some day 🙂 .

Waterweeds trough the microscope

Waterweeds trough the microscope at 100x

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Beautiful sunset and different types of nebulosity

After I finished my exams, I grabbed the first opportunity to get my camera out and shoot some pretty pictures. The icy sky in combination with the low sun friday evening, provided beautiful views. I tried to photograph them as best as I could:

Sun dog due to icy skies

Sun dog due to icy skies

Sunset over Enschede

Sunset over Enschede

The Enschede sky, shortly after sunset

The Enschede sky, shortly after sunset

Later that evening, I took my telescope out, including new mount, motors and feedback-loop guiding system. I never had the chance to use it before and I couldn’t wait to give it a try. The skies were definately not clear (a thin layer of clouds was still blocking light from the lower magnitude stars), but nontheless my guidecamera (my DIY xbox camera) managed to pick up some stars after playing with the settings for a while.

Modded xbox cam from side

Modded xbox cam from side

The idea is, to have two telescope tubes aligned and both fitted with cameras. One camera functions as a guide camera and has the sole purpose of showing stars on the computer screen. The computer then sends signals to the motorized telescope to keep a selected star exactly at the same place on the computer screen. Since the two tubes are aligned, the second telescope – fitted with a proper imaging camera – has a perfectly steady image to photograph at long exposure times.

As a first star to try the system on, I chose Betelgeuse, a very bright, red supergiant. The system picked up the star and kept it in place for about 15 seconds. After that, it seemed to make one misstep and then lose the star. I will have a look at the settings and lower the step size to prevent overshooting while making corrections.

Luckily, I seemed to have aligned the telescope pretty well, so that the error was small enough for 10-15 second exposures without trailing. So without the feedback system, I could still make some reasonable photos. The first image is a single 10 second exposure of Betelgeuse and the stars around it.

First long exposure telescope image. The bright red supergiant Betelgeuse was my first target.

First long exposure telescope image. The bright red supergiant Betelgeuse was my first target.

After that, I spend some time trying to find the Orion Nebula. This was quite a hastle since I couldn’t really see it, or the surrounding stars and I had to guess its exact location. Yes it was that clouded. Eventually, I found it and took a large amount of 10 second photos which looked like this:

Jpeg of raw 10 second image

Jpeg of raw 10 second image

Using 16 of those frames and stacking them together with 8 dark frames (photos with the lens cap on, to measure the noise induced by the camera temperature), I got the following result, which I’m quite pleased with 🙂

M42; Great Nebula in Orion. A stack of 16 10sec frames at iso 6400

M42; Great Nebula in Orion. A stack of 16 10sec frames at iso 6400

I sure have seen much better images, but considering that my guiding wasn’t working yet, the orion nebula being very low above the horizon and the layer of clouds present, this image is very acceptable. Because by then, it was already late and the skies weren’t that clear anyway, I decided to try one last target and call it a night. The target I chose was M45; the Pleiades open cluster with its blue glowing stars. The image below is a single 20 second frame which I processed a little. The glow if visible due the the gas that surrounds the stars and reflects the blue light. This type of ‘nebulosity’ is called a reflextion nebula. In contrast, the Orion nebula is an emission nebula, that gets its glow from very hot gas that actually emits light.

M45; Pleiades open cluster. A single 10 second frame at iso 6400

M45; Pleiades open cluster. A single 20 second frame at iso 6400

All in all, this was a rather large post. I do intend to post more frequently the upcoming months, but as always, it really depends on the weather 🙂