Lonavala and Tung Fort — March 2017, Part 1

On my visit to India in March, 2017, I had the opportunity to stay overnight in Lonavla, a town just more than half way to Pune from Mumbai on the Mumbai / Pune Expressway. First a note on spelling and pronunciation. On many maps, including Google Maps, Lonavla shows as Lonavala. In other places, notably Wikipedia, looking for Lonavala immediately redirects you to the page for Lonavla. This had always confused me. This confusion was solved on this trip when I noticed that the Roman character rendering of the town name included both Lonavala and Lonavla. They are both correct and reflect a nuance in the pronunciation (at least as far as I can tell from the Wikipedia article). The town name is pronounced with a slight pause between the V and the second L, hence the longer phonetic spelling of Lonavala. I will use Lonavla in this post, the first of two posts on the weekend trip to Lonavla and Tung Fort.

Lonavla is on the edge of the Western Ghats, where the higher Deccan Plateau gives way to the coastal plain also known as the Konkan. In my post from a few months back on a trip to Bhandardara, there was a location called KonkanKada, which is an overlook to the Konkan. Lonavla is another such place. Being on the road between Mumbai and Pune, it is a quick drive for a pleasant weekend out of the city. There are many natural and historic sites to visit in the area.

Here is a two teaser image to get you to continue through the whole post, a sunset from Della Resort in Lonavla.

The Sun sets behind a fountain

We headed off from the TCS offices in Powai, in the Hiranandani Gardens development. The fancy tops of the buildings are an Hiranandani trademark style.

Our usual starting point, Powai

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Deception Pass Washington — April 2017

We visited beautiful Anacortes, Washington over Easter break and took a nice day trip to the north end of Whidbey Island, to Deception Pass State Park.

Here is a beautiful view of the Deception Pass Bridge from North Beach. Just to keep you interested.

Deception Pass Bridge from North Beach

Deception Pass was named by George Vancouver in 1792 when he learned that his officer Joseph Whidbey had missed seeing the strait from the east side of Whidbey Island during a sortie several months earlier. The hidden pass “deceived” the explorers, hence its name. The Wikipedia write-up is quite good.

Once enters Deception Pass State Park from the Whidbey Island or south side of the strait. There is a large parking lot next to Strawberry Lake near West Point on the west coast of the island at its north end. West Beach, along Puget Sound, is rocky. This view looks south. The mountains in the distance on the left are the Olympic Range.

West Beach looking south toward the rest of Whidbey Island

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Bhandardara October 2016, Part 2

This is the second of two posts describing a lovely weekend in the hill country of Maharashtra outside of Mumbai. The first post covered our trip from Mumbai to Bhandardara, a small resort village about 115 miles north-east of Mumbai. After a nice trip to Rhanda Falls and a good meal and conversation, we awoke the next day to a beautiful morning.

Bur first, the teaser photo of one of the places we visited later that day. This is looking southwest from Lake Ghatghar from the KokanKada1 overlook. There is a lake behind us that is used to create electricity as the water flows to the lake seen in the picture. Apparently, this water is pumped back up during electricity surpluses so it can be re-used to supply peak demand. In any case, the view is wonderful.

This is the view looking southwest from near Lake Ghatghar

But the day started at the Andavan Resort in Bhandardara, with the morning Sun shining in the window.

A pretty view out the window of my bungalow

We had a nice breakfast and a great view of Lake Arthur.

A view from the resort of Lake Arthur

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Bhandardara October 2016, Part 1

During my trip to India in October, 2016, I had the opportunity to spend the weekend in Bhandardara, a small resort village about 115 miles north-east of Mumbai. This post documents the first day of the trip, to Bhandardara and Rhanda Falls. There will be another post that chronicles our second day.

We left early Saturday from Powai, next to the office in Hiranandani Gardens. Hiranandani is a major developer in India, who has a distinct architectural style that includes fancy tops to the buildings in his developments.

Powai Hiranandani towers at our starting point

We were headed to a much more rural location. The monsoon had ended just a few weeks before our trip, so everything was green and lush. I’ll step outside the narrative to show a view from the Andavan Resort in Bhandardara. A very pretty location.

A view of Lake Arthur from the resort

There was a bit of driving involved. It took us about four and half hours to get to Bhandardara, with a stop for refreshments at the Manas resort, which is located on the highway to Nasik, just as you reach the plateau above Mumbai. The view below is on the highway just north of Thane.

Heading on toward Nasik

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Shravanabelagola October 2016

Last October, I had the opportunity to visit a famous Jain temple in Karnataka state in India. The temple is in the town of Shravanabelagola, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from where I was staying in Bangalore. Heading off at 7am on a Sunday, it was a pleasant three-hour drive to reach Shravanabelagola. There are two hills in Shravanabelagola, Chandragiri Hill and Vindhyagiri Hill. We were there to see the great statue of Bahubali also called Gommateshwara.

This is a very impressive statue. From Wikipedia:

Bahubali is also called Gommateshwara because of the Gommateshwara statue dedicated to him. The statue was built by the Ganga dynasty minister and commander Chavundaraya; it is a 57-foot (17 m) monolith (statue carved from a single piece of rock) situated above a hill in Shravanabelagola in the Hassan district, Karnataka state, India. It was built in around 981 A.D. and is one of the largest free-standing statues in the world.

The monolthic statue of Gommateshwara

One has to go up a long staircase, at least a half mile, to get up to the temple where the statue is located.

The bottom of the long entryway to the temple

The steps up Vindhyagiri Hill

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Image Processing Overview: Data Reduction

This post describes how one creates an astro-image like the one below. This will be a bit of a dry post. Let’s start start with the finished product, an image I took of Messier 81 in the constellation of Ursa Major, also known as Bode’s Galaxy.

Messier 81

I use the term “image” intentionally to contrast with “photo.” These images are the result of capturing data on a CCD through a telescope in multiple long exposures. They are not photos. These data need to be processed to become the pretty images we see. The image of M81 above used 3 hours 25 minutes of exposure time, taken in multiple 5-minute exposures with white light, red, green, and blue taken separately and processed as described below to create the final image.

The data are noisy. There are anomalies in the optical system like dust or uneven illumination though the telescope. Heat causes random charges to accumulate on a CCD during long exposures, even with the CCD chilled to -25°C. The CCD chip itself may have minor defects that generate differences in how photons are collected. The electronics introduce noise when data are read off the CCD and passed to the computer controlling the camera. Finally, the objects being imaged are very dim, so the signal we are trying to capture is small, just barely above the background glow of the sky.

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ASCOM Platform Installation Error on Windows 10

I am in the process of installing a new computer in my observatory. It is never fun going through the mass of software installations, etc. that accompany replacing what was a smoothly operating system. I’m replacing the old PC, which I built from parts from an even older PC I used at home, because the BIOS stopped saving its settings. It is probably the battery on the motherboard, but after 7 or so years it is time for an upgrade.

I bought a new HP Envy Windows 10 64-bit machine at Costco. All the installations (The Sky, Maxim DL, PinPoint, ASCOM, etc.) seemed to go fine at home. But I ran into problems with ASCOM when I was setting up the PC in the observatory and checking connectivity. When I tried to connect to the mount from Maxim DL, ASCOM brought up an error window and then did not have an mounts to select. The Astro-Physics setup program worked fine and connected to the mount. I ran the ASCOM diagnostics program, which reported that it had “Completed function testing run: 1559 matches, 2 fail(s), 5 exception(s).” It was not at all clear what the issues were.

So I ran the installer and repaired the installation. That did not change anything, I was still getting the same errors. The ASCOM Profile Explorer also brought up error messages and then didn’t work. I then ran the Profile Explorer as an administrator. And it worked. Running Maxim as an administrator also worked. Running as administrator, however, is not a good long-term solution.

So I went to the ASCOM Yahoo! Group (it is linked from the ASCOM Support page) and searched there. Success! I found a thread with my exact problem and, after figuring out Yahoo! Groups navigation, found a solution. Apparently the installer did not set permissions properly on a certain registry key. Here is what to do, taken from the wonderful people on that Yahoo! thread. But be careful, editing the registry can kill your computer.

  1. Run Regedit (hit the Window key, type “run”, hit enter, enter “regedit”, hit enter, agree to changes)
  2. Back up the registry (File > Export, select a place to save and a name)
  3. Open HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE then SOFTWARE\WOW6432Node (Note these instructions are for 64-bit Windows)
  4. Right click on ASCOM and select “Permissions” You may be prompted to allow Regedit to reorder the permissions, that is OK
  5. Scroll to the bottom of the list of groups and select “Users”
  6. Make sure the box next to “Full Control” is checked and click OK
  7. Close Regedit and you should be good to go

In looking back, there are a couple of places where I could have found the error in the diagnostic and installation logs.

At the bottom of the installation logs, there is a section that starts with “Error List.” Two lines below it is this message, which points directly to the error:

Error RegistrySecurity - Subkey SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\ASCOM does not have full access rights for BUILTIN\Users!

There is also this section in the diagnostic log that points out the problem:

12:01:08.912 ScanEventLog 12/29/2016 11:43:45 AM ASCOM Platform Error 24 FinaliseInstall - Exception HKCR\ does not have CreatorOwnerGenericAccess!
12:01:08.912 ScanEventLog 12/29/2016 11:43:45 AM ASCOM Platform Error 24 FinaliseInstall - Exception HKCR\ does not have SystemGenericAccess!
12:01:08.912 ScanEventLog 12/29/2016 11:43:45 AM ASCOM Platform Error 24 FinaliseInstall - Exception HKCR\ does not have SystemSpecificAccess!
12:01:08.912 ScanEventLog 12/29/2016 11:43:45 AM ASCOM Platform Error 24 FinaliseInstall - Exception HKCR\ does not have AdministratorGenericAccess!
12:01:08.912 ScanEventLog 12/29/2016 11:43:45 AM ASCOM Platform Error 24 FinaliseInstall - Exception HKCR\ does not have AdministratorSpecificAccess!
12:01:08.912 ScanEventLog 12/29/2016 11:43:45 AM ASCOM Platform Error 24 FinaliseInstall - Exception HKCR\ does not have UserGenericAccess!
12:01:08.912 ScanEventLog 12/29/2016 11:43:45 AM ASCOM Platform Error 24 FinaliseInstall - Exception HKCR\ does not have UserSpecificAccess!

The Finalize Install log has these entries, which also point to the problem.

11:43:45.810 CheckHKCRPermissions HKCR\ does not have CreatorOwnerGenericAccess!
11:43:45.811 CheckHKCRPermissions HKCR\ does not have SystemGenericAccess!
11:43:45.812 CheckHKCRPermissions HKCR\ does not have SystemSpecificAccess!
11:43:45.812 CheckHKCRPermissions HKCR\ does not have AdministratorGenericAccess!
11:43:45.813 CheckHKCRPermissions HKCR\ does not have AdministratorSpecificAccess!
11:43:45.814 CheckHKCRPermissions HKCR\ does not have UserGenericAccess!
11:43:45.814 CheckHKCRPermissions HKCR\ does not have UserSpecificAccess!

My sincere thanks to the ASCOM Yahoo! Group contributors. I have memorialized their advice here so that it might be helpful to someone else.

Andromeda Galaxy, Orion, the Pleiades, and the Double Cluster

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I was able to get the iOptron Sky Tracker Pro out again and try some more wide field astrophotography. I learned (and should have known) that level is as important as polar alignment for good tracking. Having done most of my imaging with autoguiding which corrects for leveling and other mechanical errors, I did not level properly back in October and had a number of disappointing images. This night, however, turned out better.

I used my Sony RX-100 M4 camera to take the images, controlling the camera over WiFi using Sony’s PlayMemories Mobile software. This software allows complete control of the camera’s function from any iOS or Android device and is available from the respective app stores. [Please note that I am currently an employee of Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Sony is the parent company of my employer.] This night, I used my iPad. I selected three targets: The Pleiades and the Double Cluster in Perseus, M31 — the galaxy in Andromeda, and the constellation Orion.

For each image, I used 15 second framing exposures. Focus was set to manual and at infinity. Once framed, I took longer images, settling on three minutes for my target exposure time. The camera performs a long-exposure noise reduction that lasts as long as the exposure. So a three minute exposure is six minutes of imaging time. I tried turning that off in my failed October attempt, but the remnant noise was not easily removed (I admit I have not experimented extensively with this, but I did get good results with camera long-exposure noise reduction turned on).

I captured all the images in Sony raw (.arw) format and imported them into Adobe Lightroom. I exported them in TIFF format and then processed them in PixInsight. In PixInsight, I performed background neutralization, color correction and balance, and some contrast adjustment. I imported the result back into Lightroom, did light touch-up and noise reduction to produce the final results.

The first image I took was of the Pleiades and the Double Cluster in Perseus. Two beautiful objects in a small telescope or with binoculars. This was a simple, three minute exposure. The Pleiades are on the right in the middle of the image, the Double Cluster is in the upper left, and the bright star in the lower left is Capella.

Please click on any of the images to be taken to the gallery and see a higher resolution image.

The Pleiades and the Double Cluster

For my image of the Andromeda Galaxy, I did a bit more processing. I took one two minute exposure and a one minute exposure, combining them in PixInsight. I would have taken a three minute single exposure but it was cold and I wanted to get on to Orion. This image had the most processing in PixInsight. The galaxy is the fuzzy spot in the middle of the image.

The Galaxy in Andromeda

The final image I took was of Orion, which was fairly low in the sky, not more than 40° above the horizon. I also zoomed the camera which reduced the f-ratio by one stop, from 1.4 to 2.4. Because of this, I took a four minute exposure. My only comment on the processing is that I think I may have clipped the blacks too much. I’ll try again when it is higher in the sky.

You can see the Nebula in Orion in the center right. Note that the two brightest stars are Betelgeuse and Rigel. Rigel is on the left, for you should always remember that Rigel is not red. If you zoom in to the lowest star in Orion’s belt (Alnitak) you can see a little red which is the Flame Nebula. I have an image of it in the gallery.

The Constellation Orion

Comments are welcome and I hope you enjoy the images.

Udayagiri Jain Caves, Bhubaneswar

Back in October 2015, I had the opportunity to visit Bhubaneswar, India for business. After our work day, we had the opportunity to visit the Udayagiri Jain Caves. Located on the northwest side of town, these caves were carved into the sandstone hill starting in the first century B.C. as dwelling retreats for devotees of the Jain religion.

Jains practice extreme asceticism so the dwellings are sparse on the interior. Not so the exterior which has many detailed carvings and reliefs. Rani Gumpha or the Queen’s Cave is perhaps the most impressive.

Rani Gumpha or Queen's Cave, cave #1 at Udayagiri caves

Rani Gumpha or Queen’s Cave, cave #1 at Udayagiri caves

There is a delightful carving of a tiger known as Bagh Gumpha. Yes, the “Tiger Cave.”

Bagh Gumpha or Tiger cave

Bagh Gumpha or Tiger cave

Udayagiri is part of a larger complex of caves and temples that includes caves and temples on Khandagiri hill. This is a view looking across to Khandagiri temple.

The Sun setting behind Khandagiri temple

The Sun setting behind Khandagiri temple

Small Elephant Cave has beautiful carved elephants.

Chota Hathi Gumpha or Small Elephant Cave

Chota Hathi Gumpha or Small Elephant Cave

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Wide Field Astrophotos

Since I haven’t taken the time to get the observatory up and running for quite a while, I have instead done some night photography with my Sony RX100. To that end, I acquired an iOptron Sky Tracker Pro tracking camera mount. It is a great device, complete with polar alignment scope and internal battery.

I took two nice Milky Way shots on my first night imaging on September 4th. The first shot is looking directly overhead. The bright star toward the top of the image is Vega, Deneb is near the mid point on the left, and Altair on the right. This is one three-minute exposure processed in Adobe Lightroom. (Lightroom is an absolutely amazing product.)

The Milky Way

The second shot is in the south, with the galactic center in the middle of the frame. The three bright stars on the mid-right of the image are actually two planets and a star. Saturn is on the top, Mars on the left, and Antares under Saturn. This is also one three-minute exposure processed in Lightroom, with some obstruction removal in Photoshop.

The Central Milky Way

Click on the images to be taken to the detail page in my photo gallery.