Friday, November 11, 2011

First light of my WATEC camera - footage of Lacrosse 5 and the NOSS 3-4 duo

For quite a while, I have had a wish to add video to my observing techniques. That moment is now there.

During last October's Draconid meteor campaign, I was introduced to working with WATEC 902H camera's (see my previous post here), and discovered it was not that technically complicated after all. So when I saw one offered for a very good price in a clearance sale in October, I bought one.

The WATEC 902H is a sensitive surveillance camera, which is able to film stars - and satellites- in the night sky. It is small (fits in the palm of a hand).

I still need to add a GPS time inserter (it has been ordered already) for adding precision timing to the video frames. Once that is done, the system is complete.

Meanwhile, I did some test imaging when it briefly cleared last Wednesday evening. Conditions were not optimal: moonlight and a bit of haze. Below are two results, both movies made using a Canon EF 2.0/35mm lens attached to the camera and in both cases the opening shot shows the "dipper" of Ursa minor, with the brightest stars being beta and gamma Umi.

The first movie shows Lacrosse 5 (2005-016A), at one point doing its "disappearance trick":



The next movie shows the NOSS 3-4 duo (2007-027A & C):




The first experiments were a bit more problematic than anticipated. Initially, I tried to feed the video signal from the camera directly into the laptop (and record using the laptop) using an EasyCap capturing device. That turned out to not work that well. My laptop is old and apparently too slow, and too many frames were dropped resulting in movies that did not flow well.

On the advice of Scott Campbell, Kevin Fetter and Greg Roberts, I then added a HDD recorder to the equipment, recording with this device rather than with the laptop. That turns out to work fine, and resulted in the footage above (note: the original movie files are a bit better in quality than these YouTube versions).

I do not intend for video to replace photography at my observatory: I intend it as an augmentation to the photography. Every once in a while, it is nice to have actual moving footage.

Both techniques have their pro's and con's. Video has accurate timing but low astrometric accuracy (due to the low resolution of the imagery). Photography has a high astrometric accuracy, but less timing accuracy (although by now, after much practise my time residuals are usually well below 0.1s). I think the pro's and con's of both techniques largely even out. One pro point of photography, is that it doesn't need a power supply - meaning you can be more mobile.

Apart from using it on satellites, I also intend to employ the WATEC for meteor surveillance (Peter Jenniskens' CAMS system, if I can get the software to work here, which so far turned out to be problematic) and for observing asteroid occultations.

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