clear sky chart

Job 9:9

Job 9:9-10
9 He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the constellations of the south.
10 He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,
miracles that cannot be counted.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Messier Catalog Collection

Among the easier objects to photograph are the objects in the Messier catalog.  Although I have been imaging Messier objects all along, I've been pretty selective in the past as to which ones I wanted to image.  Up until a couple of nights ago, I've imaged 8 nebulae, 12 galaxies, 7 globular clusters and one open cluster.

As you can see, I was lacking open clusters.  It's too bad that I havent discovered open clusters until now.  Some of them are very nice imaging candidates.  I've also applied a little creative licensing and synthesized spikes on some of the star images, and  it seems it really makes a semi-dull starfield come alive.  Over the last 2 days, I imaged 9 open cluster Messier's and 2 more globular clusters.  I'll post the open clusters first:








Then there are the 2 globular clusters, M2 and M15.


These objects were imaged with a bright gibbous moon high in the sky.  Being these are stars, the moon does not seem to affect them too much.  The globulars might be a different story, if one wants to get the faintest of stars near the outside of the glob, but the open clusters seem to fare pretty well.  This will show that these clusters would also be good targets for urban astronomers as well, being the light pollution should have little effect on the quality of these objects.

I have created a link to my catalog collection.  The link is at the top of the page, which will take you off-site to my album on a server operated by one of our local astronomy club members.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Messier 1, the Crab Nebula

My Second attempt at imaging the Crab Nebula was much more successful than the first.  This version consists of  20 5-minute subs at ISO-800.  I processed the 32 bit TIFF that Deep Sky Stacker autosaved.  This seemed to produce the best image.  It took several attempts to create this image, but once I discovered the 32 bit processing had a little more control over the beginning steps in the processing, I decided to use it for this image.

An excerpt describing the Crab from Wikipedia:

"The Crab Nebula (catalogue designations M1, NGC 1952, Taurus A) is a supernova remnant and pulsar wind nebula in the constellation of Taurus. The nebula was observed by John Bevis in 1731; it corresponds to a bright supernova recorded by Arab, Chinese and Japanese astronomers in 1054. At X-ray and gamma-ray energies above 30 keV, the Crab is generally the strongest persistent source in the sky, with measured flux extending to above 1012 eV. Located at a distance of about 6,500 light-years (2 kpc) from Earth, the nebula has a diameter of 11 light years (3.4 pc) and expands at a rate of about 1,500 kilometers per second. It is part of the Perseus Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy."

"At the center of the nebula lies the Crab Pulsar, a neutron star (or spinning ball of neutrons), 28–30 km across,[5] which emits pulses of radiation from gamma rays to radio waves with a spin rate of 30.2 times per second. The nebula was the first astronomical object identified with a historical supernova explosion."

I successfully imaged the Crab Nebula pulsar.  It is extremely faint, but according to what I've read, this next image points to it...

The pulsar is hard to see, but it is there in both images.  It is the extremely small star to the right and below a brighter star.
These images were taken with a 6" Newtonian Reflector and a Canon 300D DSLR.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Rosette Nebula (Caldwell 49)

After imaging Jupiter on 11/21, I waited until around midnight to start imaging the Rosette.  This is one object that I imaged back in January when I first got my T3.  I didnt have the C6 yet, nor did I have the 300D.  This time, I imaged it with a modified camera at f/5.  The autoguider was a little unstable, and that might have been because my polar alignment might not have been perfect.  I had plenty of stars in the field.  It tracked good enough, however to do a set of 5 minute exposures at iso-800.

One thing that I've not done yet is post a single frame as taken from the camera.  This picture was converted to jpg from the raw.  I stacked 20 frames that look identical to this one to create the finished image.  I figured it would be interesting to see what a single unprocessed frame looked like in comparison to the finished product.

Here is the raw frame.

Can you see the Rosette in this image?  Its there, but it is really faint.  This is what I had to work with starting out.

Now, after stacking 20 frames, using a set of flats, darks and bias frames, and some heavy duty histogram stretching and some color balancing, this is what I finally ended up with.

Pretty crazy, huh.  As you can see, there is very little noise in this image, even in the dim areas.  There was a small amount of noise in the stack, but the software can get rid of small amounts of noise.  A single frame wouldnt have been near this detailed and smooth.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Worked on the collimation again, I was not happy with my planetary images.  I found the secondary inward too far, which I remedied.  Star testing using a 9mm eyepiece with a 3X barlow showed near perfect alignment, so I ran a couple of avi's of Jupiter.  These are a few of what I got.

 Notice on the last image, the moon, Ganymede, and the dark area going from the top right, down to about the center of the moon.  Yes, its pretty small, but it is definitely there.  This is the first time I've ever had the resolution to capture detail on one of the moons.

Equipment used:  C6NGT (6", f/5), cascaded, Celestron 2X barlow, then a Meade 3X barlow feeding into the QC Pro 4000.
Stacked in Registax, wavelet sharpened, increased color saturation, adjusted brightness and contrast.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Orion Awesome Autoguider First Light

Received my Orion Awesome Autoguider a week ago, but last night was the first clear night to try it out.  I must say, the name lives up to its performance.  Although the mini guider probably would have been adequate for my small setup, for the small amount more money, I figured I would just get the full size scope, in case I would ever upgrade the imaging scope.

My first image taken using the guide scope was of M33.  The guider was able to lock on some pretty dim stars, I believe to be dimmer than 7th magnitude.I had 3 to pick from in the field of the guide scope.  I did not have to re-aim the guidescope whatsoever, on 4 different objects. 

This is an image of the complete setup in operation.  As you can see, the wiring setup has doubled, but the guidescope is permanently connected to the main scope, so the scope assembly is torn down and set up as one piece.  The only additional steps I have to do is hook up the usb to the camera and the cable going to the guide port on the mount.

Now for a couple images taken with the guidescope and 5 minute exposures.  The first thing I learned after the imaging session was over was that 5 minutes at iso 1600 was too much for the brightness of my sky.  The next set of images that I take will be at iso 800, but of the same duration, hopefully that will bring the background brightness down enough for the stacker to handle the images better.  Using some careful processing, and by also using a bicubic stacking method in deep sky stacker, I was able to generate this quite acceptable version of M33.

I'm not sure if this is my best yet image of this object, but it's got to be close.  I was able to resolve the major emission nebulosity in the galaxy.  This image consists of 19 frames.

The next object I chose to photograph was M77 in Cetus.  This is a composite of only 4 frames.

M77 is in the center. the galaxy at the top is NGC 1055.  NGC 1072 is also in the frame, but it is too small to resolve.  M77 is 7 arc seconds across.  M77 has a really bright core, but if you look closely there is darker nebulosity around the core.  The stars near this object are dim, and are tiny pinpoints which is showing that the guiding worked very nicely.

The next object I imaged was the Pacman Nebula, but I only shot 3 frames.  It does not measure up to the last Pacman I took, but it is an acceptable image.

I believe if I had taken 10 - 15 frames of this, it would have been a VERY good image.

The final image I took was of the Crab Nebula, M1.  This would have been a good image, but somehow, the camera focus got disturbed.  I must have bumped the focuser or something like that.  I was able to enhance it and I got some detail, but it could have been better.

The 2 bright stars in this image, especially the red one above and to the left has a tiny dark hole in the center, indicating the focus was out a bit.  This object might have been better had that star had been a pinpoint.

All of these images were shot using 5 minute subs.  I believe this guider will let me get much more detailed images, and will really shine the next time I get to darker sites.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Time Lapse video of comet 168P/Hergenrother

A few days ago, I imaged 168P/Hergenrother and today I created a time lapse video using the frames I had stacked to produce the image I created a still with.  Deep Sky Stacker for some reason didnt like the comet too much, as it still tried to leep the stars round.  I therefore attempted a time lapse video using the 21 frames I had taken.

It really wasnt as difficult as I thought.  I'll explain what I did to create the video.

First, I opened the frames in Deep Sky Stacker.  I used no darks or flats, although one could use calibration frames.  I just chose not to use any.  There is a setting in DSS to "Create a registered / calibrated file for each light frame.  Its located in Settings > Stacking Parameters > Intermediate Files.
I let DSS stack, and it added a tiff of each light frame in the source folder.  When DSS was done, i discarded the stacked image and closed DSS.

I then opened photoshop and loaded the first frame in it.  Created a new action.  I ran some simple processing - curves and levels, some sharpening - nothing too complex, cropped, and finished by saving as a jpg.  The cropping works because the frames are all aligned.

I then ran a batch process on all of the frames using the action I created.  It created a numbered sequence of jpg's, all cropped and nicely enhanced.

I moved all the finished jpg's to a different folder.  Then I loaded the first jpg in Virtual Dub. It made a video out of all the files in the folder.  I copied the frames several times back to back, appending to the original video, so the sequence repeats 6 times in this video.  Set the frame rate for 10FPS, so it will run slow enough to see it move, but not so slow for it to chop.

After it finished, I uploaded the video to youtube and ended up with this:

Now you know how to create an aligned video of a small celestial object.  This method should work for small objects, such as a distant comet, the outer planets, or possibly an asteroid as it moves thru space among the stars.  The longer the imaging session, the farther the object will move.  Being this video was experimental, the number and duration of the imaging was really too short to do a project such as this.  I didnt even think of doing a video until someone from my local club did the same thing with a 3 hour duration.  Theirs came out really cool, so I thought I would see if I could figure out how to do it, and I'm pleased with the results.  I want to do more of these using images of other objects.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Recent Images

We've had a few clear nights in the past couple of weeks and when conditions are good, I'm outside with the telescope and cameras.  I'm going to share a few here, as my facebook friends all seem to like what I've taken.

This image of Jupiter was taken on October 1 at 0926Z.  Seeing appeared to be pretty decent, but a little bit of coma was detected still during a star test around the time this was taken.    I had just had the optics adjusted with a laser collimator, but I have yet to fine tune on a star before this was taken.  I have since tuned out the remaining coma, but I have not has the chance to image Jupiter again after this was taken.

One week later, on 10/8, I imaged the Iris Nebula.  It seems that everytime I've imaged this object in the past, its always been done during a bright moon.  This time I imaged it on a moonless night.  It seems there is a bit more nebulosity than I've captured previously.

After imaging the Iris, I thought I'd take a crack at Andromeda.  I did not spend a lot of time on this, but it seemed to come out pretty decent.

 On 10/9 I imaged 2 emission nebulae.  The first is the Wizard Nebula, NGC 7380 in Cepheus.  NGC 7380 is actually an open cluster, but it is surrounded by nebulosity.
This is a very dim object.  I am surprised to have gotten anything at all from my light polluted sky.  I used 3 minute exposures at iso 1600 with the Digital Rebel on this one.

Just after imaging the Wizard, I thought I'd try the Pacman Nebula in Cassiopeia.  This image fared a bit better.
Although not as deep as I probably could have gotten with 3 minute shutter, I switched back to 2 minutes after imaging the Wizard.  I just wasnt sure what kind of quality I was getting with the 3 minute exposures.  I will have to attempt 3 minute exposures on this one sometime.

Then on 10/11, at 5AM I imaged the Horsehead again.  I wanted to see the difference between what I could get at home versus what I got from Cherry Springs.  I was surprised actually when I processed this one, as there really wasnt that much difference.  I just wonder how much better my Cherry Springs image would have been had my mount been working properly.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Triangulum Galaxy (Messier 33)

Among some of the images that I took from Cherry Springs was an under exposed image of M33.  There were a number of images I wasnt happy with, but after working on the image some, and using calibration frames that I made after the fact, I was able to produce this image of M33.

I spent several hours processing this image, and I think it paid off.  Most of the frames (30 or so) were only 1 minute frames.  The only things I had going in my favor is that for a galaxy, this one is on the bright side, and I had the dark skies at Cherry Springs.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Reporcessed Cherry Springs Photos

OK, the past week, I reprocessed some of my photos I took the week before at Cherry Springs.  I knew I could get a little more out of the Horsehead, and also got rid of most of the nasty gradient along the top.

I also reprocessed M42, and did MUCH better with it.  The one I posted earlier was way over exposed.  This one used about 15 - 1 minute frames, and some 8 second frames of the core.

And last but not least, I re-did the Andromeda Galaxy.  Think I got the colors better this time.

Think I improved on all 3.  Seems I've had more detail on Andromeda in the past, so I'm not certain whats up with this one.  I think it was also over exposed.  Overall, the images are better this time.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Cherry Springs

Spent a week at Cherry Springs to image the sky under pristine conditions and I've learned a lot due to my own inexperience.  Let me give you some tips before you start imaging from a site 4 hours away...

1.  Make sure your camera settings are right.  Mine was set to iso 400, and the first 2 days were almost spoiled because of it.

2.  Image deep.  Keep the shutter open a long time.  This requires an autoguider, which I dont have.  I'm not going back there again until I have one.

3.  Use a high iso.  I found that iso 1600 on my digital rebel did a fine job.  I've never imaged at 1600 with that camera before because it was maxxed out at that setting.

4. Darks, Flats and Bias frames matter even more under dark skies.  Take a good set and use them!

Now I imaged about 15 or so objects, and because of stupid mistakes, some didnt come out too good.  I did have some good pictures though, and I'll post the best ones here.

Although I've seen wide field images of the Milky way that are far superior to mine, I thought mine came out pretty decent, as I've never been able to really image it before.  Here's mine, looking at the core of the galaxy.

Next is the Deer Lick Galaxy Cluster.  I used the 1100D on both this and the Milky Way above.

I also imaged the core of the Andromeda Galaxy, which I'm not sure if I like or not, but I'll post it anyway...

The color isnt right on the edges, which I'll take care of one of these days.

This is the Triangulum Galaxy, and it didnt come out as good as I expected.  I can probably do better from home.

Here's the bubble, taken at iso 1600.  Not great, but its ok....

M42, and I'm not sure what went wrong with this one, I've done so much better last year.

Now the next 3 images made the trip worth while.  First is the Helix Nebula, which I doubt I'd be able to get nearly this good from home as it is so low in the sky.

The Pleiades is incredible from Cherry Springs!

And then, theres the Horse Head and Flame Nebula, which I've tried to get last year, but this one rocks in comparison...

Last but not least, I also imaged the Trifid.  It is about the same as the one I took a couple months ago...

So, did I waste my time?  I dont think so.  After fixing some stupid mistakes, I got some decent images.  Next time however, I'll be guiding, and I'll also get deeper and more numerous frames of each object.  Trouble with going to a site like that is that you want to get as much as you can, trouble is, one can easily get ahead of himself and try to do too much.  I believe if I had gotten say 50 frames of each object, my images would have been far better.

Also, I have to mention, they had a star party there the weekend we left.  Participants came early, and was kinda crazy.  I didnt know about the star party or I would have registered, therefore, I didnt attend the event.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Jupiter & the Great Red Spot

Recollimated the scope in anticipation of my trip to Cherry Springs next week, and thought I'd test it by imaging Jupiter.  The Great Red Spot would be visible on 9/6, so I got up at 5AM and shot some AVI's.

The little black dot below and to the left of the redspot is the Oval BA.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

This morning's Jupiter

Seeing was EXCELLENT this morning.  Got some fine detail, and I had time to experiment with the camera settings.

My best image of the evening, in my opinion:
This one was resized in Registax 150%.  I was using the 6: f/5 C6NGT and a Logitech Quickcam 4000.  Consists of 1200 frames at 10 fps stacked in Registax 6.

This next frame was taken at 320X240 using the same equipment, except the frame rate was set to 30 fps.  This one has about 3000 frames.

One more 10 fps 640X480

One thing I was experimenting with was the brightness of the images in the camera.  Being most webcams are 8 bit, I found that if the brightness is set so the histogram is set to 250 - 255 (as bright as you can get without over exposing), the better the image will be.  The last image, the histogram only was around 200, and you can see the eggshell effect.

The black spot is the shadow of the moon Io, which is the closest moon on the left.  The other moon is Europa.  I actually just missed a double shadow transit that began about 10 minutes after I finished imaging.  It was starting to get light out, and the seeing started to deteriorate, so I packed it in.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Marathon Imaging Session 8/25 -8/26

Nice clear nights with slightly more than a first quarter moon, and its a Saturday night and I was feeling pretty good, so I thought I'd image a few things that I havent yet.

The evening started out with the moon.  Using the webcam and a 3X barlow on the 6", I managed to capture these:

Not a bad night, seeing wise.  Very little turbulence and the moon, this time of year is not very high in the sky.

After capturing these, I went over to the Iris Nebula inCepheus.  Although I was able to capture enough subs, the finished product is not great, partly because the moon was still above the horizon.  This is what I ended up with

From there, I recharged the laptop and went to the Bubble Nebula in Casseopia.  This one came out pretty good actually, especially for my light polluted sky.  By now, the moon had set.

I let this run for 50 2 min frames and went to bed.  Set the alarm for 2 hours, got up and imaged Jupiter.  It came out so bad, that I'd be embarassed to post it.  From there, I took in a couple big galaxies.  The first being M33.  Trouble is, the battery in my mount was dying, so it didnt track well.  I shot 30 subs, but only 5 were useable.  This is what it looked like
Then I thought I'd shoot the granddaddy of them all - Andromeda.  Of course, its so big I cant fit it in the field of view of the telescope.  I got the central part.

>Total imaging time for everything you see here? About 9 hours.