CCD Mars Images taken with ToUcam Webcam

Latest Image:

Updated on 8 September 2003
with additional frames from my back yard subsequent to the frames obtained on an expedition to the Flagstaff area.  (See "Star-Crossed Mars Expedition" for a description the trials and tribulations associated with this expedition...)  The Mars movie is derived from frames taken 10, 16, 17, from my back yard, 29, and 30 August from the Flagstaff area, and 7 September from my back yard.   I have finally succeeded in my goal to obtain one complete rotation.   Note that the above is essentially a time-lapse movie where a half hour (approximately) elapses between each frame.  The quality of the image varies greatly with the "seeing" or atmospheric distortion conditions.  The 7 September frames are not as good as the ones obtained from the Flagstaff area in part due to the difference in elevation between the two sites - 1100 feet here in Tempe versus 7000 feet at the Flagstaff area site (- less atmosphere between the telescope and Mars in Flagstaff thus yielding better images).

Note that some of the frames (particularly frames 25 and 30) show morning haze and or clouds on the left edge of Mars and some of the frames (25 and 26) show a cloud near the right edge of Mars.  As time permits, I will reprocess some of these frames to bring out more of the detail.  This movie was a multi-day job due to the processing involved so refinements will have to wait...  Lots of additional work to extend the movie after the Flagstaff trip and the 7 September back yard work.  In addition, I modified my image processing software to solve the problem of the blue and red artifacts produced by the ToUcam webcam.  It took many hours for Registax to process the images.  Each frame above is the result of aligning and averaging 1000 webcam images.  So in all, 49,000 ToUcam frames were processed to produce the movie.

Anyway, the above, when compared with the below, indicates increased understanding on my part but also the fact that Mars is closer now and imaging is much easier.  We are able to resolve some real surface detail now with a 10" telescope.

Earlier images - When Mars was farther away:

Mars 7 Jun 03 ~ 0400 Local - 2x Barlow

7 Jun 03 gif movie of source frames for previous image. The movie illustrates the seeing conditions from my back yard on 7 Jun 03.
About the ToUcam

Mars 8 Jun 03 ~ 0400 Local - 2x Barlow Note what appear to be two clouds near the terminator.  They are in the vicinity of the Tharsis Mons volcanos.  I am also wondering if there is a dust storm since dark areas seen in yesterday's photo have diminished.

Mars 11 Jun 03 ~ 0400 Local - 2x Barlow

Note three clouds over the Tharsis region.
Mars 17 Jun 03 ~ 0400 Local - 2x Barlow
Mars 27 Jun 03 ~ 0400 Local - 2x Barlow

Mars 03 July 03 ~ 0400 Local - 2x Barlow

Mars 12 July 02 ~ 0400 Local - 5x Barlow

Mars 31 July ~ 0230 Local - 2x Barlow - Magnified for display here.

Notes on Mars Images

The Mars Movie shown in the first cell above was done by capturing 1000 frames with the ToUcam webcam at half-hour intervals.  Frames were taken at 10 frames per second.  100 seconds of capture gives 1000 frames.  "Avid", a program I wrote over the last couple of weeks was then used to crop the AVI frames automatically to 250 by 250 pixels so as to reduce the lengthy run-time of Registax which centers, averages, "stacks" the frames to yield an "averaged" image which is far, far, better than any one of the original frames.  Registax was used to create each of the 19 frames of the movie.  The movie was created using JASC's Animation Shop 3 which is part of the Paint Shop Pro package.   For me, one of the good things about the movie is that it pretty much verifies that the detail being imaged is pretty much "true".  With a still frame, one wonders if the image is all "real" or whether some things might be accidentally introduced artifacts.  Along that line, there are some artifacts in the movie that should not be there.  The blue area above Mars is somehow artifically induced I believe but I did not eliminate it because I wanted to show exactly what the camera captured insofar as that is possible.

I started using the ToUcam because of a wonderful Article by Michael Davis and David Staup entitled "Shooting the Planets with Webcams" appeared in the June 2003 issue of Sky & Telescope.  The article described the Philips ToUcam Pro camera, where to get an eyepiece adapter, and where to get free software for stacking and processing the images contained in the ".avi" movie files produced by the camera.  I ordered the camera and the adapter on-line.  Was finally able to use them this week (7 Jun 03).  

I used a flip mirror system to initially center the image then used my advanced Meade telescope controls in ImCap (the program I wrote originally for doing ST-4 Image Capture)  to further center the image and remotely focus using the stepper motor focuser I designed and built recently.  

I then adjusted the image contrast, frames per second, shutter speed, etc., using the ToUcam control software then captured a movie.  Several movies actually of about 500 to 1000 frames each.  Turns into LOTS of megabytes in a hurry so that is something to take into account.  The cool thing is I can actually watch the camera images in real-time at 25 frames per second even while capturing the images.

I then used Registax, freeware mentioned in the article, to stack the frames from the best movie to produce the still image of Mars.  

To produce the GIF movies, I used the JASC Animation Workshop which is part of the Paint Shop Pro series of image processing tools.  I cropped the images to reduce the size of the movie and show just Mars without a lot of "dead space" around it.  Then I saved the result as a GIF image which plays as if it were a movie.

The 7 Jun 03 Mars movie that you see looks exactly like what I was seeing during capture.  Mars is dancing all about and even "shape-shifting".

Registax was able to pull a pretty decent image out of that mess I think.  

All-in-all, this was a lot of fun and produced better planetary images than I have been able to get so far with my ST-7E camera.

Mars' closest approach was on 27 August 2003.

Copyright 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 Howard C. Anderson