Observing report 03/05/15

Finally, a brief moment of clarity. It’s been snowing or raining for weeks. The wife and I went out to eat and on the ride home I noticed the stars were out. I rushed home and invited the wife to join me in the back yard. I lit the fire pit to keep her warm, it didn’t work and she shortly went back inside. Obviously the light of the fire is not great for dark viewing. But I thought it’d be nice.
I was excited because not only has it been awhile since I had my telescope out, I got to pull out my new book. Turn Left at Orion. I can’t recommend this book enough!
First up was the Moon! A full Moon was out and used the book’s lunar map to find some of the bigger landmarks. I took a peak at Jupiter. Seeing wasn’t great. I tried the 6mm eyepiece, no luck. It was too blurry. I tried the 9mm and it was a much better view. I hopped over to Orion, my first DSO. I still love looking at that. It looked pretty great through the 9mm. I LOVE my 40mm eyepiece. Orion was stunning through that. The stars of the trapezium were pretty close and hard to decipher in the 40mm.
I went through the book page by page. Of course I started with the Orion Nebula as mentioned above. I took a look for the Horsehead and Flame Nebula. No luck. As I understand from imaging, those are pretty faint. I went on to a couple of double (or greater) stars. Sigma Ori, Σ761, Alnitak, Mintaka, and Rigel. The companion star to Rigel was so close it was almost obscured by the diffraction spike. I was going to continue on to the next page, and as I was looking for the star to hope to, the clouds rolled in. My night was over. It’s going to be raining for a couple of days it looks like. It was really great to spend some time with a simple set up just star hopping. I love this book and can’t wait to go out again.

SkyWatch Observing & Imaging report 1/10/15

With Skywatch day upon us, I waited and watched the sky until early afternoon. I set up the two telescopes I planned to bring, my XT8 dobsonian and my 6 inch newtonian on AVX mount. I did a collimation on both telescopes and gathered all my equipment and made sure all my batteries were charged. It’s always a little stressful gathering all my gear. It would be a bad night if I drove 45 minutes to find I don’t have a power source or a missing cable. The skies had been clear all day and the forecast said it would remain clear. The ride to the site was clear as a bell. It was set to be pretty cold, low 20’s with single digit chills. I put a few hand warmers in my pockets and used a foot warmer in my boots. I activated them before I left so they’d be plenty warm by time I got to the site. My feet got so hot I had to take my boots off. It helped a little bit then I had to take the foot warmers off my sock!
My car weighed down with two telescopes, cameras, mounts, chairs, and computers filled with the sound of Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire album. I was getting pretty amped and ended up driving right by my turn! I crossed the state line and realized I had gone to far. I was already running a little behind so I was pretty mad. Fortunately I was only a little off course and only a mile and a half away from the site. I backed into a cozy spot between a new telescope owner and a vet. Not a bad spot to be.

I quickly set up my dobsonian then started assembling my AVX mount. I was in a rush to get a good spot, because I wanted to be pointed more or less to Polaris to speed up my alignment process. Thankfully that cozy spot was exactly where I wanted to be. From what I remember Polaris was right above these two trees. So I pointed my mount in that direction, mounted my OTA, tossed on the camera and balanced the rig. I shook some hands and met some of the folks close by and attempted to help the newbies with their set up. It was my first time messing with a manual and low end EQ mount. I think I made things worse. Fortunately another club member who has helped me several times saw my ruining the work he had done earlier and came over to stop me. As the Sun started to set some of the brighter stars became visible. What I thought was Polaris appeared. It was over another pair of trees than I had originally thought. So I picked up my mount and scope and rotated towards the star. It was higher than I remember too. So I changed the Alt to get it in my polar scope. As the sky darkened and more stars became visible I discovered what I was pointing at was NOT Polaris. Polaris was exactly where I originally thought it was. D’OH! I picked up the rig and rotated back. I started my 2 star alignment. First up was Vega. The scope is normally pretty close after I punch in the Lat Long into the hand controller, but this time it was quite a bit off. So I returned the mount to it’s center marks and started over. Again Vega was far from where the scope stopped. I lined it up in my finder scope, centered it in the 20mm eyepiece and moved on. As I get to the end of the 4 calibration stars, I go down to a 12mm eyepiece. I did my polar align and it was WAY off. 5 and 7 degrees RA and Dec. I thought I was going to have to pick the whole rig up again. Fortunately the knobs had enough play in them that I was able to polar align without moving the whole rig. I checked the alignment with a couple of bright stars and decided I was on point. I put the camera on the scope, got focus on Rigel.
In between some of these steps I would go and try and help the newbies, not that I am a vet in any of this. The inexpensive, ok, the cheap reflector has a permanently attached red dot finder. It actually has two dots that you have to line up with each other, then line up with the object. It’s very close to the OTA so you have to press your face against the scope to see through it, or get behind the scope. It was practically useless. As much as I tried, I couldn’t get M42 or even Rigel in the eyepiece.
I went back to my rig and slewed over to The Horsehead Nebula. This was my main target for the night. I had high hopes for 90 second subs. I even tried another polar alignment when the 90 second subs were giving me inconsistent stars. Some subs looked good, others had trails. I decided not to push it and settled for 60 second subs. After deciding on my ISO and exposure length I set Nebulosity to capture 80 frames and went to my XT8 for some visual work. I keep saying I am going to do more of this, but I never do. AP has me addicted. I went over to one of the members who has helped me before to see what he was shooting. Comet Lovejoy was his target and I had yet to be able to find it this outing so I peeked through his finder scope to see where to start my search. I lined up my red dot finder in the general area and pushed the tube around until I found it. It wasn’t too hard to find. A fairly bright green blob with a fairly bright center. I could faintly see some trailing from the tail. I was planning to take a few shots of the comet from the dark sky spot. I have tried a few times from the backyard with minimal success. It seems from my light polluted backyard a single exposure is better than stacked. I guess from the backyard I just end up stacking the light pollution. As my camera fired away a few people left which can be seen in some of my frames from the bright red tail lights flooding my frames with a blinding red.
Since I was unable to do much to help the newbies with their telescope I made it a point to let them look through my dob when I found something interesting. The kid, 13 or so I think, seemed moderately interested in what I had to offer.
As the night went on my batteries began to run down and frost began collecting on the gear. It was actually so cold that my computer was running VERY slow. I ended up putting my hand warmers under the computer. It seemed to work. I got 75 of my 80 intended frames, I decided I wanted another go at the comet. A fellow AP-er who also has an AVX was close by. He was shooting the comet so I asked him for his RA and DEC and slewed to Lovejoy C2014 Q2. I took 25 or so 60 second frames. By this point my computer battery was done, and some how my mount power cable got bumped and came unplugged enough that I lost power. That was my cue to pack up. Before that I spent some time doing a little visual work. As stated I saw the comet. I found M79, it was much smaller than I was expecting. NOTHING like M13. I spent a while looking at the double cluster in Casopia. It’s so pretty. I found M31 and failed at M33. By that time my hands were going numb and the frosty tube wasn’t helping. I know I say this all the time but I really need to do more visual work. Maybe it’ll get better when it’s warm again.

With batteries dead and frost over the gear I decided it was time to go. Also, my poor dogs were home alone and I hate to leave them when I don’t have to. I said a few good byes and on my way out I talked to one of the other club members. She is one of the ones I have talked to the most. She is fairly new too but has a much wider knowledge base than I do. I asked her if she was looking at anything cool and she was looking at the comet I think. I talked about some of the things I saw and talked about how pretty the double cluster is. She said she hadn’t seen that tonight and wanted to look at it with her scope. She had a 25mm eyepiece in her 12.5 scope. There wasn’t much FOV I asked if she wanted to use my 40mm eyepiece and we looked at that with it. Then M31. I REALLY want a big dobsonian. Things look so much prettier in a big huge dobsonian than anything else. Oh, another member had is 14 inch GOTO dob. I looked at the comet and Jupiter with his telescope. That planet was HUGE in his 14in dob and 2 inch eyepiece! I got to step up my visual game!

A summery of the imaging, a few subs on both objects had to be tossed from jets, tail lights, and people walking in front of my scope. But overall things turned out fairly well. I took darks when I got home, leaving the camera outside of course. I took some flats by pointing the OTA to a white computer screen. The images came out ok, but I was thinking my flats didn’t turnout well. I reshot them the next morning using the clear blue sky. The histogram looked much better and I was able to get the vignetting to match what I had in my finished stack. So I totally reprocessed them. The first time around I only used 10 or so darks with the comet because I didn’t have a ton of lights. The next time around I used all 40 or so darks. It really cleaned up the comet’s final stack. The Horsehead nebula turned out fairly well too. The framing wasn’t great but it’s growing on me. The Horsehead and flame nebula are on the left and on the right it’s mostly dark. So it’s a kind of cool contrast. I didn’t think I would get much data because it seems this object does better with modified camera as there is a lot of H alpha data. I was pleasantly surprised. Below is the finished, low res (as wordpress only supports 10mb uploads.) finished, for now, images. Links with higher res astobin below.
Horsehead Nebula 


Comet Lovejoy

Imaging Report 12/11/14

I have been using my T3i DSLR camera and my Celestron C6-N Newtonian telescope for imaging. I have received a 75mm-300mm lens for my camera. I have seen some people do some imaging with just a camera and a lens with great results. Granted many of these have been done with very high end lenses. I was only able to afford the lowest end Canon lens. I was able to score it refurbished on a black Friday sale for $65! I took a few shots of the moon and attempted a timelapse the other day too.
I began to load my car to head out for a night of shooting DSOs with my DSLR piggy backed off the telescope. I was taking the mount off the tripod and forgot to take the counter weight…. CRASH! The DEC housing, made of plastic, took the brunt of the impact. It cracked in 3 places. I was SCREAMING a string of cuss words. Words not uncommon for me as I cuss a lot anyways. I thought I had just ruined my brand new mount. The AVX is $800 or so. Not very expensive by motorized GEM mount standards, but very expensive for my meeger bank account. I sold a lot of stuff to fund this. I nervously plugged it in and tested the motors. It seemed to move fine in RA and DEC. I thought about staying in and sulking and kicking holes in the walls. I decided what better way to deal with this than head out and put it through it’s paces. I secured the housing with duct tape and rolled out. Setup was pretty painless. It was cold with a steady strong breeze. I did my 2 star align, then 4 calibration stars, then polar align on Fomalhaut. Before I got to my site I went back and forth about what to shoot. I was thinking about the Heart and Soul nebula, but I have gathered it is hard to image without a modified camera. I decided on M31. It’s big and bright, comparatively. I slewed over to it, frame and focus. I tried 2 minute subs and got decent stars with just a hint of trailing. I decided to stick with 90 second subs. 120 was just pushing it and I figured I would have to toss out less subs if I stuck at 90. I got 42 usable subs. While I was imagining there was a huge meteor that flew overhead. It was a stunning sight. I had to toss a few out because a few cars came by. I think they were looking for a place to race. I dabbled with M42 for a moment, then called it a night. It was very very cold and I couldn’t feel my hands. All in all I would say it was a successful night. I took a look through the eyepiece before I took the scope off of the mount to see M42 again. M42 is special to me. It was the first DSO I ever saw. My Dad showed it to me when I got my telescope in April. I was thrilled at seeing this dust cloud. It was really cool. I hadn’t seen any of the pictures of it so my standards were low. Visual astronomy is a lot of fun, and I do enjoy it, but to be honest, through the eyepiece these objects are not very inspiring. Once the images are captured and processed, they can be stunning. It’s still enjoyable to put your eye to the eyepiece, and let those photons that have been traveling for hundreds of thousands, or millions of years bounce off your mirrors and into your eyes. It’s remarkable to think about it. Particles that have traveled for millions of years through the vacuum of space hitting your eye. M42 was a pretty glob of dust with bright stars in and around it. I remembered it being a little more impressive, though that was in my XT8 dobsonian vs a 6in. I’ll have to look again on Friday when I have the big scope out.
Here is a link to the image. WordPress isn’t letting me upload anything for some reason.

Imaging report 11-18-14

I am way way late. I am going to write about this session though I don’t recall if I remember all of it. I had to go back infact and look up the date I posted the images to know when I took the pictures!
Anyways, it was a very cold and clear night. I drove out to my dark sky spot. I set up on the dead end street and set up my new Advanced VX mount and 6in newtonian telescope. I did my 2 star align, + 4 calibration stars, then my polar align. My main goal for tonight? The Great Orion Nebula. I was pretty intimidated as this and M31 are probably the most photographed deep sky objects. M42 wouldn’t be up for awhile so I had to find something to image while I waited. What to choose? M33 or M31 again? I feel like I just did those. A fellow amerature astronomer/astrophotographer in my group had recently done NGC 891. A pretty, but far away edge on galaxy. He uses an 8in RC and CGEM mount, he also recently made the jump from DSLR to CCD. I think I prefer DSLR. At least for now. Anyways, NGC 891 in my 6in was a little smaller than I had hoped. But I was excited to try and image something lesser known and so far away. So I slewed to it, took a few shots to get it near centered and shot away. 60×60 second exposures. It turned out fairly well. Again, the galaxy itself was a little small in the shot, but the large FOV showed a hand full of very distant faint galaxies. Including NGC 914. A face on galaxy with an apparent magnitude of 13. I was very thrilled to see a few of these very faint galaxies in my shot. This is the first one of the group that I found. In addition to NGC 914 I found the Abell 347 group. What was kind of a throw away object to kill time turned out to be a wonderful and exciting discovery. This of course wasn’t known to me while I was in the field. This discovery was the next morning while processing the data.
I was very excited to get to M42 to see what I was able to capture so I processed NGC 891 first and I am glad I did. Writing this in fact has reminded me not to focus on the big targets all the time. The last couple of nights I was trying to find big pretty objects, when there are plenty of exciting and challenging targets that fill the sky. Below is my NGC 891.
A higher res can be found here: http://cdn.astrobin.com/images/thumbs/6c22f08059cfae44c8b22c674fc850a0.1824x0_q100_watermark.jpg

On to M42. After my hour of shooting NGC 891 came to a close I slewed over to M42. I used the LCD screen on the camera to frame and focus M42. As I started experimenting with exposure time and ISO I was thrilled with how much data I could get on a single frame. M42 is big and close and bright, so it’s a favorite for most imagers. I collected 60×60 second subs. I think I did 20-40 darks. I can’t remember at the moment. I think this was also my first session using flats. I need to keep better notes while I image so I can better track what works and what doesn’t. M42 filled every frame I took as I watched image after image pop up on my screen via Nebulosity. I was troubled that many of the frames had meteors streaking through. I had forgotten there was a meteor shower this night. I was starting to worry that all my data would be useless because of these flying rocks! My session wrapped up and I thought about trying to do another short session before going home, but I dropped the hand controller and it swung into the power cable briefly moving it enough to lose the connection to my power block. I tried to use the last alignment feature, it got me in the ballpark of M45, but I decided it was cold enough, my face, hands and feet were numb and I had gotten a fair amount of data. I took the camera off the telescope and put the caps on and started taking some darks as I packed up. I got a few of them done, and then raced home. I put my camera in the backyard and took more darks. The camera still felt ice cold to the touch so the temperature didn’t have a chance to rise much during the drive home.
The next morning I processed my images. As I stated before NGC 891 was first with the exciting discovery of the faint galaxies mentioned. Next I stacked all my M42 files. As I was picking my alignment stars I was growing more concerned that these streaks were going to ruin my image. After all was said and done, the unprocessed stack popped up and I was thrilled. I felt like that alone was enough to post. But I went through and did what I could to enhance the data. I was able to bring out a lot of the faint clouds and nebulosity. I got a lot done in the program Nebulosity, then I dropped it in to pixelmator. I was able to get some great contrast and detail. I pushed the image until it looked good to me, then I noticed, even before I was done in nebulosity that my histogram was clipped. This was frustrating because it looked soo good. I decided try one more time and ended up at nearly the same point. So I went with the “Over processed” image because it was the most aesthetically pleasing to me. Sadly once in pixelmator every time I applied a process it would crash. I was getting so mad. I found that if I exported the TIF. file to a JPEG it wouldn’t crash as much. I was annoyed that I couldn’t edit the lossless file. Come to find out according to their customer service the program is not made to work on files that big. I am in the process of trialing lightroom and photoshop. GIMP was my goto but they don’t even use 16 bit, and the program is very slow.
All in all this was a very successful session. M42 has some faint lines from the shower. Also the middle is over processed. But this just means I get to try again. I am anxious to do an HDR of this wonderful target. This one is by far my best image to date and has gotten a lot of praise among my friends and family. Sadly, many of them don’t see the beauty in some of the other fainter objects. But I suppose that is their loss. Below is my M42:
A higher res can be found here: http://cdn.astrobin.com/images/thumbs/421fba26e8d5e0a5b05726cef9081861.1824x0_q100_watermark.jpg

10/23/14 East Coast Star Party

I am late writing this, oh well.
I wanted to go to this star party for the whole weekend, but the vacation calendar was full, so it just wasn’t in the cards. I was only going to be there from the afternoon of the 23rd through the morning of the of the 24th. I had to borrow a tent from a friend at the gym. My plan was to pack two telescopes. My new imaging setup, a Celestron 6in Newtonian and the Advanced VX goto GEM, and my trusty Orion XT8 Newtonian on a Dobsonian mount. The plan is to image as much as I can, and while the mount and camera are doing all the work, I would do some visual astronomy. I have been neglecting that for photography lately. Well, spoiler alert, I didn’t do much visual work at all. My plan to bring two scopes was almost ruined when I realized my small car was, well, a small car. Somehow I was able to pack both scopes, my camera, my laptop, tent, sleeping bag, two chairs, a table, and a kitchen sink! I left for Coinjock, NC and made a stop to eat lunch with my wife. I had heard check in started at 2pm and I wanted to get there around that time to get a good spot.
Lunch was good and off I went to the campsite. At first I parked next to a HUGE 25 inch dob! The trees surrounded my area and I realized I wasn’t going to see much at this location, so I walked down a bit and found an area with a clear shot to the south and a little less in the way of tree obstruction. It seemed this was the spot most of the AP folks were, and the visual folks were at the other end. My main mission was to try out the new imaging set up so I set up across from the row of really high end telescopes and cameras, set ups that probably rival the cost of my house!
I set up my tent first, something I haven’t done since boy scouts some 20 years ago, wow that makes me sound really old! The tent went up with minimal profanities and I started bringing out the telescopes. A fellow club member came by and heeded my request for help collimating my scopes that I had posted on facebook. I had done this before with the supplied equipment, but I had just gotten a fancy laser collimation tool, that apparently are more of a gimmick than anything according to the more experienced folks in the club. I wish someone told me that before I spend the $70. The scopes were close from my laser attempt, so I might use it anyways, after all I did drive an hour on some bumpy roads including a bit of a drive offroad in a small car, so I am sure that bounced the alignment off a tad. It wasn’t long before the Solar Eclipse was set to start. Our campsite was a very poor spot to observe this as it would take place just a couple of degrees above the horizon as the Sun set. The same nice man who helped me collimate my scopes offered myself and another club member a ride a few miles down the road to a flat marsh land where we could watch. My plan initially was to try and photograph this, but my solar filter is an 8 inch and my imaging scope today is a 6 inch, so this was out of the question. I did however bring the filter so I could visually observe the event. It worked fairly well, though anyone who has had a glass solar filter knows it’s kind of like a mirror, so I had to look at myself while watching the Sun. This was elevated to a point by keeping my dark colored sunglasses on and using the lower edge of the filter. The dark glasses prevented the reflection from being so apparent. All in all it was cool to watch, the estimates were about 10% of the Sun would be obscured by the moon, I’d say it was a bit less than that. Sadly I didn’t get to capture any shots.
We went back to camp and I put the finishing touches on my GEM. I was so excited and full of hope with my new set up and skipped a few steps. I hadn’t properly balanced the scope on the mount, I pointed the mount roughly north, and who knows what else I messed up. This all became very apparent as I attempted to align the scope using the 2 star method with calibration stars. No matter how many calibration stars I added, the goto was still a degree or so off. This of course was my first real night with the mount, so I had the pressure of new equipment plus the limited time at a nice dark sky location. The pressure was on!
I had read the manual a few times, watched youtube and solicited advice from message boards. I had a pretty strong idea of what needed to be done and a rough idea on how to do it. I really wanted to get a chance to shoot M20 again, but M20 was quickly falling behind a row of trees and my alignment wasn’t working very well. I managed to find M8 and I was getting ready to search for M20 when the clouds rolled in. Clouds?! The forecast showed clear skies all night!! The whole camp was cussing the weather man! It was about this time I realized my poor alignment was probably due to the lack of pointing the mount/scope to the north, and poor balance. The clouds started to clear, and then quickly rolled back in even thicker than before. This was my chance. I could start from scratch. Part of me wanted to attempt to save this alignment attempt, but I knew I would be best served to start over, so I did. I balanced RA and DEC, which with the advanced VX can be hard as the gears are not very lose. There are probably benefits to this, but the mount hardly acts as a fulcrum. I obviously got it close enough, I didn’t spring for the $50 polar scope, but I set Polaris through the bore hole about center. This worked pretty well. From what I recall, I did the 2 star, plus 4 calibration stars, then I did the all star polar align, then I slewed to a few stars, aligned and set as calibration stars, then I THINK I might have even redone all star polar align. I tested with a 30 second exposure, mind you with my nexstar I could do 10 seconds at best. 30 seconds showed clear, round pretty stars. I was pretty happy. I have heard people say they can do 60 seconds unguided with this mount so I went for it. Well, they obviously have better polar alignment than I did because the stars, while not totally deformed were obviously not perfect round stars. Back to 30 I went. My first target was the Ring Nebula. I managed to shoot a few frames with my camera. Then I decided to hook the camera to my macbook and fire up Nebulosity. Nebulosity is a pretty neat program. It can capture, stack, and process images all in one program. They also a guiding program called PHD that seems to be what most people use to guide with. Nebulosity seemed to take better quality images than the camera did. My Canon T3i saves things as a raw file, while Nebulosity saved things in a different format that seemed to show more data per frame. I think from now on I will image only with Nebulosity doing the capturing. After the ring nebula I went after M33, M31 and M45. With M33 I tried 60 second exposures x 30, M31 I did 30 second exposures x 60 and M45, I don’t recall at the moment. Because of the bright stars I think it was shorter and less frames. Also I shot with just the camera. I wonder how much better M45 would have come out if I shot with Nebulosity.
I really wanted to try my hand at M42, but by this time it was almost 3am, I was beat, I had been up from the shift before last and I was hardly on my feet. M42 was behind the trees, I used my trusty iPhone w/ skyguide and saw that it was going to be about another hour before M42 would come from behind the trees. I decided I would call it a night and head in to my tent. It had gotten pretty cold by this point, but there was a steady breeze and the humidity was low, so thankfully there was no dew. I shut down, covered up the scopes and got in to my sleeping bag. WOW it was cold. I do not miss this camping stuff! Worse yet, because of all the monster energy drinks I had drank over the last 24 hours I had to pee every 30 minutes. I had made a deal with myself, if I got up and m42 was out, I would fire up the scope and capture it. Well, it was cold, the whole camp was asleep, and I was beat, deals off! I watered the trees and went back to bed.
I woke to the sound of someone closing a car door, it was daylight, how did that happen? After maybe 2 hours of sleep I was up and decided to go ahead and take everything down and hit the road. A few of the club members and I chatted a bit as I packed, they went off to get some coffee and I finished loading the car. All in all it was a total blast. Even Though it was cold and camping kind of sucks. From what I heard, the rest of the party was cloud free day and night. The sky was soo pretty when the clouds were away. I could see so many more stars, more even than the semi-dark spot I usually set up at. I can’t wait to set up at another dark spot like this again. I got some pretty solid images that are quite a bit better than anything I have done before. I still have a lot to learn, but having a solid mount really helps.


The Ring Nebula


M33 Triangulum Galaxy


M31 Andromeda Galaxy


M45 Pleiades

Lunar Eclipse 10/8/14

So this is late. But oh well.

The lunar eclipse was looming and my normal set up spots are both heavily obscured to the west. This is going to be problematic as the eclipse will be taking place as the moon sets and the sun rises. There was a little discussion among fellow amerature astronomers on where to set up. I went on google earth to find a flat area with a clear western view. I found a boat landing in a very light polluted area. But since the moon is bright and big, the light pollution wouldn’t be an issue. I shared my finding on our facebook page and a fellow amerature astronomer and astrophotographer agreed this would be a suitable spot to view and image. We plotted to be there and set up by 4am. I set my alarm for 330am. I woke up, made it the my living room and sat on the couch for a moment. I sighed and debated going back to bed. I decided since there was probably a fellow club member who would be there, it would be rude to stand him up. There were quite a few clouds still out. I have a bad habit of seeing a few clouds, not setting up only to find out things cleared and I missed a great night. So I quietly packed up as to not wake the dogs and headed out. I scanned through my iTunes to find some good jams to wake up to and decided on Weezer, the blue record. Man, that was a good call. On my drive I drank a monster and did my best Rivers Cuomo. Before I knew it, the 30 or so minute drive was over and I was navigating the confusing parking lot. I could see the SUV of one of the fellow members and finally made my way over there. We set up on the sidewalk right at the boat ramps. It was just us two. The clouds had cleared nicely and the moon was visible the whole ride in. Of course as I put my OTA on the tripod and got ready to do my 2 star align, the clouds rolled in covering the moon and all identifiable stars. A huge cloud system was over the moon. I could see the direction the clouds were moving and could tell the moon would be clear in a few minutes. Right as the eclipse started the moon became visible from behind the wall of clouds. The stars behind us were still obscured so I would have to image with no tracking. We experimented with different ISO and shutter speeds through the morning. About 30 minutes in to the event cars started arriving and leaving. People on their way to work were stopping by to get a view. Another photographer without a telescope showed up and imaged on the beach. There were passing clouds that blocked the moon from time to time but overall the morning was fairly successful. A group of bridge repairmen and others came by and asked us a few questions. As the sky became brighter, the Moon became washed out and capturing the red color was very difficult. All in all, it was a good outing. I am glad I made it out. I ended up with between 150-200 shots. I didn’t use but a couple of them. I did most of the processing work that day with only a couple of hours of sleep and a ton of caffeine. This makes for poor focus and rushed work.


Imaging Report 9/27/14

After another streak of rain and clouds I finally peaked outside as the sun was going down to find partly cloudy skies. Good enough I thought. I was hesitant but half the sky (the half I WASN”T interested in) was clear. I decided I’d do some exploring. As I set up the clouds started clearing up. Initially my plan was to stay to the north and maybe hit the double cluster, or take a shot an M31. As clouds were still hanging around my area of interest I found the double cluster, and tried to gussy up the alignment. With this old NexStar 8, it’s rare I get anything in the eyepiece, even a 40mm eyepiece. It’s almost 15 years old!
After looking around the northern sky I noticed the south had cleared and Sagittarius was becoming visible. I wanted M20. It has alluded me time and time again. Truthfully I am getting really mad! I found it visually a couple of months ago, and once while imaging, but I keep missing it. I poked around and still couldn’t find it. However, M8 was clearly visible in the general area so I decided I would experiment with that again. I found it in the eyepiece, hooked up my DSLR, spent several minutes focusing to get the stars on the live view. Finally I was able to see stars, moved the scope around a bit to center M8 and began exposing. If I recall these were 13 second exposures at 3200 ISO. After several frames I took a few dark frames. Everytime I use dark frames in Nebulosity the image comes out way too dark and all the data is lost, or at least buried deeper than I know how to pull it out. I took some shots of M13 again too. This time because of the nature of M13, you know 300,000 pin point stars, I decided to do shorter exposures to prevent any star distortion. Again I took the darks. After taking the darks it was getting to be a little late and the dew was getting out of hand. I packed up and went inside.
The next day I started up my trial version of Nebulosity and began stacking and stretching the images. I got similar results as before, not surprising seeing as I did pretty much the same thing with only a slightly different exposure and ISO. However, the wife OK’ed the $80 license for Nebulosity and I upgraded. This time around I decided to get as much data as I could.
I took both sets of M8 light frames I took. Different exposure and ISO lengths and no darks. I stacked nearly 60 frames of 10-15 second exposures. This time there was a little more data and no annoying lines! I did the same with M13, slightly improved images. I wanted to do the same with M20 but I haven’t had a second chance to image it yet. Then I remembered I took two sets the other night. One as it was kind of out of center, then another set while it was more centered. I’d have to cut off a ton of data once stacked, but the outer bit of the image is just random stars, the nebula is the interesting part. So I gave it a shot. Overall I am pretty pleased with the images. This is done with a 15 year old, mid range goto alt az telescope/mount, a mid range DSLR and only a few months of astronomy knowledge. I have began selling old toys of mine, mostly drum gear I no longer use, to fund a mid level GOTO GEM. Hopefully that combined with the later addition of autoguiding will allow me to up my capturing abilities, and further experiments will allow me to understand and improve my processing abilities, including learning how to use dark and bias frames. Below are M8, M13 and M20.






These were all taken with an original NexStar 8, Canon T3i w/ Celestron f6.3 focal reducer processed with Nebulosity and GIMP 2.8 from my redzone backyard in Chesapeake, VA after being told over and over by other APs that my set up wouldn’t work and I wouldn’t be able to get anything worthwhile. It ain’t Hubble, but it’s pretty good considering.

Observation Report Skywatch /19/14

Wow! Great night.
First off, I got the iPhone 6, I love it. I am stoked.
The sky had been clear most of the day and the night looked promising. I arrived right at 7pm and set up my XT8 and my tripod/T3i. I dragged the wife with me who, to say has no interest in astronomy is an understatement. I know that the Milky Way is visible to the naked eye and I figured if she saw that, then saw what a long exposure image could capture she would be called to the universe. Well it didn’t. I also noticed my red dot finder battery seemed to be going.

As night fell and the stars began coming out people stopped walking around and the scopes began scanning the sky. My search for the elusive M20 began. I couldn’t find it the last time I set up for imaging. I was set on finding it tonight. While looking for M20 I found M22, M26, M8 and NGC 6530. I kept finding M8 while looking for M20. M8 was visible with the unaided eye. That was pretty cool. This was the first time I was able to correlate a smudge in the sky with a celestial object. I bounced around in this general area looking for M20 and then went to M13. I was disappointed in M13. Partly because my eyepieces were fogging up and the detail was being obscured. I know M13 has more to give than what I could see. But with patience and trying new ways to look through the eyepiece I was able to separate many of the outer stars and the “arms.” After a little work I was able to see quite a bit more than the faint smudge I initially saw. I returned around the Sagittarius area for another run at M20. I quickly found more frustration so I turned my back on Sagittarius and went to Cassiopeia and found the double cluster NGC 884. I found this once from my backyard and was pretty excited by it. This was quite a bit nicer than the view from my backyard. Now, it was time to find, unassisted THE ONE, THE ONLY! M31! After a few minutes I found it. There it was, M31 and M32. M110 was really faint, I am not even sure I actually saw it.

Around this time I was moving back to Sagittarius and made a stop at M13 again. A young man and his girlfriend came near and we began looking at some of the sights. We took a glance at M13. I began telling him some of the stats about it including it’s distance and number of stars. He witnessed me searching for M20 and my continuing frustration. He was made aware of our event in his astronomy class at TCC. We looked at M13, M22, M8 and discussed some things about each. I pointed out the Milky Way, he and his girlfriend were very impressed that it could be seen. Well, the girlfriend said she lived in the sticks and she has seen this before. The young man was pretty thrilled when I showed him an image captured from my camera (right off the LCD). I showed him a picture of M20 I took and posted earlier. He was impressed when he learned I was able to image all of this with consumer, mid-level equipment.
There was a group of a young ladies youth group that came right as I was taking down. M13 and M22 were my goto targets for them. I packed up shortly after as there was a ton of dew on everything including my camera! All in all a good night. M20 eluded me again, but that’s part of the run right?

Astrophotography Report 9/17/14

So after days and days of nothing but rain and clouds we had a partly cloudy night. There was still a fair amount of cloud cover but it has been far too long, so I ventured out. I am glad I did because the area of interest was fairly free of clouds. At least at first. After I set up, aligned and verified I was pointing at what I wanted to be pointing at a HUGE thick cloud band rolled over. Just my luck. I sat on my hands for a little while until the cloud left. My plan was to give M20 another shot. Well, from my backyard there is a school and a rec center maybe 200,300 yards away. Tonight they have a football game and thus have the area very well lighted. I was unable to find M20. Maybe my alignment was off, maybe I have no idea what I am doing, but I couldn’t see the nebula at all. I scanned around and still couldn’t find it. I looked to see what else was close by and remembered M8 is right there. So I punched in M008 to the Nexstar and there at the bottom of the FOV with my 40mm eyepiece was the faint nebula. I put it in the center of the eyepiece, removed the visual backing, attached the focal reducer, the 2 ring adapter and my T3i. A few test shots and minor adjustments to center everything. Tonight I was attempting to run the camera with my MacBook. Being a Mac guy means I have fewer options with astronomy programs. Apparently being an astronomy nerd lends itself quite well to being a PC geek as well. There are some great programs for PC for astronomy and astrophotography. But I have no interest in buying a PC, and I am reluctant to run windows on my Mac. A program I talked about before called Nebulosity has the ability to capture frames in addition to stacking and processing the frames. I did a quick test of the capturing feature. It worked well and was easier than the stock EOS program that came with my camera. Sadly, as I haven’t paid for the program yet it put lines through each frame as it does with the finished picture. I opted to avoid this incase I use another stacking program, at least my frames will be unmarked.
After the frustration of not finding M20 and the cloud, I finally started capturing frames. I started with M8. After 30 light frames I decided to try for a globular cluster. But which one? Well, what better than the first one I ever saw? M13! I took the T adapter and camera off because I wasn’t sure if they would clear the mount as M13 is fairly high in the sky. I punched it in and the telescope slewed over to M13. I tossed in an eyepiece, centered it and reattached the camera. A few test shots and it was clear that with the lousy tracking with the Nexstar wasn’t going to allow long exposures. I experimented with exposure time and ISO and ended up with moderately decent image. So I captured 20 light frames, 5 dark frames. As before I had poor outcome with the dark frames. I am thinking the main problem is the low amount of data I am getting. With longer exposures and more frames I suspect I will have a higher level of data and then the dark frames will be less likely to darken down the image beyond the point of being able to see any of the detail.
I didn’t spend much time processing these images. But here is M8 and M13.