Moon near Aldebaran – December 30, 2017

Posted in ASTRO on December 31, 2017 by maxpho

Just a fast shot with the nice pair at -6 degrees Celsius. I could not wait for the actual occultation to occur, so this is about three hours before it actually happened.

I’ve used the 65mm APO refractor and ASI 1600MM with a Baader H-alpha 7nm filter (I was doing some deep sky at that moment…). 200 frames stack.

Aldebaran is at the right hand margin, and the shot is with South up.




Bubble Nebula – December 25, 2017

Posted in ASTRO on December 27, 2017 by maxpho

And another H-alpha image, this time acquired with the 115mm APO Refractor. This object requires much deeper shots and a lot more integration time in order to reveal its true nature…


Heart and Soul Nebulae – December 26, 2017

Posted in Uncategorized on December 27, 2017 by maxpho

One more test of a deep-sky imaging setup to be used in H-alpha light. This time it was the 100mm Canon Macro lens that I’ve decided to use. Too bad that at f/4.5 it is still pretty bad, with comet-like stars visible in 1/3 of the frame. But somehow, the final image looks nice in my eyes due to the very similar results I’ve got early in this hobby, back in 1997-1997 with Zenit cameras on film. Memories…


Canon 100mm lens at F/4.5, ZWO ASI 1600MM, Baader 7nm H-alpha filter, NEQ 6 mount, guiding with 200mm lens and Meade DSI I using PHD2 software. Sensor temperature +7 C.

6×600 sec exposures, with 50% gamma and Gain 100. Only one dark acquired. Sky conditions: some fog, cirrus clouds, Moon one day after First Quarter, -2 degrees Celsius.

First, the colorized version:

heart and soul nebulas color.jpg

And the Black-n-White version:

heart and soul nebulas BW.jpg


California Nebula – December 23, 2017

Posted in ASTRO on December 24, 2017 by maxpho

The following shot is a “double-first” for me: it is my first H-alpha deep sky image of a nebula, and also the first time I image this object.

The tricky part for this two hours session was to learn again how to guide using the PHD software using this specific setup (a 65mm APO refractor and ASI 1600MM camera).

Of course some issues were noticed (excluding here the -6 degrees Celsius and some fog): my laptop batteries just couldn’t supply the power for too long (they are getting rather old), so the entire session was cut short. Another issue, this time with the Firecapture software (control of ASI camera) made me lose 5 or 6 frames. This is why only 12 frames were acquired. I think at least 30-40 frames are required with my setup for this object.

Next time…

And the image, Black/White:


And a colorized version, using my own “artistic feeling”:


This object resembles a little the “Nexus ribbon” from one of the Star Trek movies 🙂


Posted in Canaraua Fetii, Concedii, Plimbari, Specii rare on December 1, 2017 by maxpho

For some time now I’ve been waiting for the right moment to write a post about some of the reptiles I’ve met during my field trips in Romania.

I believe that the “right moment” is close, so I’m slowly starting to post a few shots of some of the vipers and other snakes.

The first one, showing perhaps the smallest of the viper individuals I’ve ever, a young Vipera berus, with an interesting “scale bar” near-by:)

It was found in the Retezat Mountains, near the “Pietrele” cabin.


And another Vipera berus individual, also from the Retezat Mountains, this time a fully-grown adult, of a very interesting coloration:


One of the first Vipera berus found in the Retezat Mountains, back in 2011. This specimen was again found in 2012 and 2013 at the same location.


A shot of my very first viper species ever found in Nature, back in 2010. This individual is of the species Vipera ammodytes mondandoni. It is found only in Bulgaria and South-Western Romania. I think that after meting this guy, handling it and take a few photographs, I was totally devoted to finding vipers and snakes in general wherever I went. “Thank you little one!”. It is also quite sad to find this shot, since, after 2011, I was not able to find any other vipers at the same location…I do suspect human activities were the main reason.


A few shots of a young Vipera ammodytes ammodytes, a species found in south-western Romania, and one of the most recognizable vipers in Europe due to that little horn on its nose. This individual was found in 2013 while basking in the Sun; when approached it remained perfectly still, playing dead. It took some time to have it move and be friendly enough for some closeups.



And another young of the same species, at almost the same location, but this time in 2016.


And this time a large, actually very large, individual of Vipera ammodytes ammodytes. This guy was found hiding under a large boulder; after persuading him to come out, I’ve noticed that it was badly injured. Apparently it did recover, at least partially, and now was preparing to molt.  This is the reason for its blue eyes:



Another viper species, one that made me travel a few hundreds of miles from home in order to find it. Rather difficult to observe due to its small size and perfect camouflage, so after two years only two individuals were found. One of them was spotted as it was rushing towards me in the grass. Its name: Vipera ursinii moldavica.



Insect numbers decline

Posted in Specii rare on November 29, 2017 by maxpho

For some time now (20 years), I am surprised just how fast the number of insects (especially butterflies) observable each year is rapidly declining. It seems that year after year less and less individuals from each species are observable at the same locations I visit for decades. And it is not just me; many others see this phenomenon, despite not being in the field of studying or photographing the butterflies.

I do know of a few species that are now almost completely extinct in some locations, and as far as I can see, the main reason for this is the rapidly intensifying agriculture, which translates into more and more use of chemicals and loss of habitat. This is true at he moment for at least 4 locations in Romania that I often visit. I am sure this occurs at a much larger scale. And the problem is that most of the affected areas are actually protected ones, in which the logic of the entities managing them is to let intense agriculture to be maintained over ever larger areas inside this protected regions. The loss of habitat inside the areas (which by itself is illogical) is amplifying the effect of the very strong and widespread chemicals used for repealing or the destruction of pests.

One such “protected area” that I’ve visited year by year starting with 2011 is located near the village of Nucsoara in the Retezat Mountains. Here, the main reason for habitat loss is a combination of intense grazing and new “modern” roads that are being constructed on top of the old ones. The new roads are of course made of materials that have to endure the weather, but in return they destroy some of the most important habitat for butterflies: most of this insects fly at low altitude (30-100cm) above the ground and over the mud roads in order to get a good location for drinking water and basking in the Sun, two extremely important parts of their behavior in order to survive and find a mate. Now, in order to have good driving roads to get high in the mountains with no problems (to different huts or restaurants), those stone/mud/water-made old roads (with naturally imposed speed limits of around 10 kph) are, year after year, being transformed in highway-speed roads; each summer I see tens of butterfly individuals being killed by  cars. The roadkills are only intensifying. Some of these  species are already on the verge of extinction due to global warming (which by the way- IT IS REAL!!!) so the ever faster large sized objects (cars) moving at 60mph or 100mph, offer no chance for some of the most important behavioral activities of these beings…

I can only hope that there will still be a few spots in these areas for such beautiful insects to survive. The Retezat mountains have some of the most striking butterfly species of Europe, which can be still found on the continent, but ever more rarely.

I’ve created the following poster some time ago, for one of the mountain huts in the area of Nucoasara, in order to have the tourists informed about the great diversity of these creatures in the Retezat Mountains. Some of the most threatened species are also present on this poster, as I was doing some intense insect photography in the area.

Hope to still be able to see them the following years…

And some links about declining insects in Germany. Unfortunately this occurs in most of Europe.  Link one. Link two.

Poster Retezat M.jpg

The Moon is spherical

Posted in 3D, ASTRO on November 13, 2017 by maxpho

On November 2nd, I was out with my scope for a lunar imaging session, at my usual observing location just south of Bucharest, Romania. At almost the same moment, another lunar imager was doing the same thing, but 2200km away. His name is Pete Lawrence, award winning astrophotographer, who does his lunar work from Selsey, UK.

Just by chance, posting my own images on the same Facebook Group as Pete, I’ve noticed that his images show the same lunar areas, at the same observing time and with similar resolution. So an idea came to my mind: would it be possible to combine my data with Pete’s and process the images in such a way that a true tridimensional lunar image could result?

The core of the idea was that the Moon, being so close to Earth, exhibits a rather strong parallax effect.

The parallax effect can be easily noticed on images depicting the whole Moon against the background stars, but no such effect was observed, until now, on amateur high magnification images. To accomplish this, the observers must have similar seeing conditions and equipment, and also to observe at the same time. This is, just by chance, what Pete and I did on November 2nd.

So, after some talks with Pete, who offered his images and encouraged me to try and see if any effect is noticeble, I’ve started the work. A bit of processing, resizing, aligning and…WOW:


The parallax effect is more than obvious! Craters Struve, Russel and Edington show different viewing angles!

Combining the two shots in a 3D analigraph, the result is a bit more interesting.

The following image requires Red/Blue glasses.

HINT: use your mouse and move on the image, this way you will feel the depth of field much more easily 😉


And another area which we’ve both imaged at the same time: crater Pythagoras.


And the 3d analigraph (don’t forget to move the mouse on the image to accommodate your eyes/brain):


As far as I now, this is the first time amateurs succeeded in this kind of imaging (parallax lunar imaging in High Resolution).

Our results show that, indeed, the Moon is spherical 🙂

Next project is to prove that the Earth is not flat :))), but this requires two lunar imagers to go to the Moon, and image our planet from two different lunar locations.  It may take some time to finish the project…