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:

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: