Last spring is when I began taking acceptable deep sky images, and of course I've progressed throughout the year. My imaging continues to improve with every object I target. I think I'm beginning to realize what has drawn me to astro imaging. Dont get me wrong, I also like looking thru the eyepiece, seeing live images through the many light years of space that my telescope takes me. Some nights, however mostly during warmer weather, I may not even hook up a camera. Visual astronomy has other challenges, other skillsets. Objects are VERY dim, sometimes barely perceptible but yet are still seen by visual astronomers. The bright objects are impressive to newcomers - the Moon, Planets, a few deep sky objects such as M42 or maybe M13, Andromeda that bring excitement to a newcomer. Those objects in my opinion, bring newcomers to the hobby. I know thats what got me hooked initially when I was a teenager. The problem is, if one does not advance their observing skills, astronomy gets boring, because there arent many bright objects to view that impresses. It takes more. More skills, bigger equipment, and a lot of time searching for a very elusive object that you might or might not see.
Being a ham radio operator has the same pitfalls, I've pretty much done everything the hobby has to offer, and I let it go by the wayside for the past year or two. I do have the itch to get back into it this summer, so most likely I'll be up on Lake Erie, or some mountaintop on some clear days shooting microwave energy to other operators hundreds of kilometers away.
I have been concentrating solely on photographic astronomy the past 6 months or so. In doing so, I havent even brought out an eyepiece. I'd even align the scope using the T3's live view, because I can get a more accurate alignment that way - center the alignment stars in the little square in the center of the screen. Same with polar alignment.
Last night was no exception, except I aligned with my 20 mm eyepiece instead of the camera. After I aligned, i slewed over to M42 and took a look. Although it lacked all the colors of the photos, I was able to see quite a bit of detail. One regret I have is that I didnt try higher power to see if I could resolve the Trapezium by eye. There is still time to try. We have another clear night forecast this coming Wednesday. I looked at M42, Jupiter and a couple easy open clusters thru the wide field eyepiece. Basically, I had forgotten what I was missing. I spent about an hour in freezing cold weather (it was warmer than its been, but it was still cold).
When I came inside, I went on Stellarium and made a list of imaging targets and I proceeded on setting up the camera. It so happens that I needed some clusters for my Messier collection. I imaged M41, M46, M47, M48, M50 and M67. These are all in the Canis Major and Monoceros constellations, or in that part of the sky. Nevertheless, they were relatively low to the South, and I have a high treeline except for a tiny window where I can go down to maybe 20 degrees. Anyway, I proceeded to image those 6 clusters mentioned. Clusters are easy, being stars, they dont (for the most part) have any faint nebulosity associated with them, so 10 - 1 minute frames were plenty sufficient to capture them. One exception was M46. For this cluster, I held the shutter open for 2 minutes, and probably should have left it open for 5, but had I done that, I would have probably missed the rest of my targets. The reason I went longer on M46 is that, embedded on the edge of the cluster is a small little planetary nebula, NGC2438. It is magnitude 17.5, so I knew 1 minute would not really bring it out. I wasnt sure if 2 would or not, but I knew I had a better chance. It is little, but it looks like a mini version of M57. It is captured in this image, although you will have to look close, as I did not crop the image to make it appear bigger.
After I imaged the clusters, I then went to image the Leo Trio. I took this last year, but I do believe this one is better than all previous attempts. I used the modded 300D which I didnt have when I imaged last spring, so the reds came out a bit better.
The next image is interesting, in the fact that I didnt know when I had shot it, that I imaged it last year too. M106 is a rather bright barred spiral in Ursa Major. I used the autoguider and opened the shutter for 5 minutes, but only took 9 exposures of this one.
Whats cool about this image are the 2 little galaxies that share the frame. The edge on spiral on the extreme right resolved well, including the band of dust along the center of this little galaxy. Trouble is, its actually a little overexposed - something I'm going to have to work with on these long exposures.
Okay, now that you have seen my work last night, I'm going to continue my rant that I began at the beginning of this post. I was speaking of visual vs imaging, and that I miss the visual aspect. The idea of this post didnt hit me until this evening while looking at some of the images that I posted on Facebook. I realized I missed viewing some of my old friends in the sky with my own eyes, not an electronic eye. You can bet I'll be doing more of that, and I will try to report what I see on here. However, this does not mean I'm giving up imaging. I've spent my early years wanting so badly to image what I see, but the technology just didnt exist back then. Sure, some very advanced imagers used film and sat for hours looking thru a reticle, guiding manually. I didnt have the patience or the money to purchase what was needed to do this. With digital, it got easier, and probably a little less expensive too.
Although I miss the visual aspect, the imaging will still be my main focus, for this one reason - I can SHARE what I can see with all of you who are reading this. That is the purpose of doing photography of any kind be it terrestrial or astronomical. You want to share what you see. Astrophotography has a little bit of "art" in it too, and what you see here is not actually comes out of the camera precisely. Sure, the shapes and detail is an accurate representation, but the color is not. The colors are usually more subdued, and sometimes totally off from what they should be. For instance, when I shoot long exposures with the CLS filter, the images tend to come out all cyan. I do my best to balance that all out so the background is gray. The targets then begin to form their own colors, and I do a fair amount of color enhancement. I try to use other astronomer's images as a guide, including NASA's Hubble images so I know when I get the color somewhere close. Overall though, I try to present a pleasing appearance and try to give them a little bit of a "wow factor". You see, this to me is what astro imaging is to me. Generally of no real scientific value, just to produce an eye pleasing photograph of objects that are light years away. I really do hope you enjoy what you see, and continue to follow me as I improve.