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.



Astrophotography Report 9/06/14

Well it’s been a little while. It has been very cloudy and rainy. I recently got the camera, and even more recently I got a focal reducer. This allows my F10 SCT to be useful for astrophotography. Everyone in every forum has told me AP with an SCT is hard or impossible. Well, I decided to give it a shot. The Nexstar is far from ideal. The Alt-az mount only allows short exposures as the tracking is poor, and the image rotates as it goes through the sky.
Enough about how it can’t be done. Let’s see what can be done.

This is M20, my first ever DSLR telescope AP. M20 is fairly new to me. I recently wrote about the star party where I sat it for the first time. I was very pleased with this. It’s far from perfect, it’s not as good as most you can see on astrobin and is laughable when you look at a Hubble image of M20. But I was thrilled that I was able to get what I did.
I think I have written about this before, I remember as a very small boy, my Dad taking me out a few times when he was setting up his telescope. I remember trying to look through the eyepiece but not seeing much. But I remember the night sky and how pretty all the stars were. I have always had an interest in space, and science. Sadly I didn’t pursue it other than very recently as a small hobby. But the love has always been there. I have always had backgrounds and screensavers of hubble images, pictures of galaxies, nebulas and so on. Even if I didn’t really know what they were. To be able this with my own equipment, in my backyard, and process it with my own hands and consumer grade computer, is very gratifying.

This is about 20 frames, 10 second exposures stacked and processed in Nebulosity. I haven’t paid the $80 so there are lines that can be seen in the image. I have tried using bias and dark frames, but it seemed to darken the image too much. The biggest issue is my need to get a GEM. This will allow longer exposures for more detail, and more exact tracking for more pinpoint stars.

While I was out I took a few frames of other objects, including the double cluster and M31. But it was getting late and I needed to get in, I only took a couple of frames of each so no worthwhile image couple be had.