Monday, December 23, 2013

Jupiter and The Orion Nebula

Well, last night started out as a great opportunity to catch Jupiter, but alas, all I got was a picture of the Galilean moons in a great straight line - from Jupiter they are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. I think unless I invest in a decent barlow (for use with prime focus with the camera) I am never gunna get Jupiter "properly". I may get better results taking less saturated images and then staking them?

But now onto the best astro photo I have ever taken to date ....

So, before I got the Jupiter shot it was one of the best nights there has been for a long time, so I set up early in the daylight and got everything spot on. This also gave the scope time to cool down - and boy did it cool down - the deck was like an ice rink when I got out!

Slightly disappointed from the Jupiter shot I swung to an old friend in the South-East, Orion, and to the famous Orion Nebula. (My favourite since I was 10 seen as you can see it with the naked-eye, binoculars or telescope).
I simply set the camera to take a suitable exposure and then looked in expletive surprise at what appeared on the camera review screen.

Canon EOS M 30sec. ISO6400 mounted at prime focus on Vixen VMC110L (4.3in). Single shot processed.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Venus (at last!)

I had my first proper view of Venus ever yesterday evening and it was awesome.
We went to ALs house for the Constellations and Coffee Christmas bash and it was awesome! That aside AL set up his most recent purchase - a SkyWatcher 130PDS, and what a scope it is!
A 5.1in parabolic reflector with 650mm focal length and 2in Crayford focuser. It comes with a 2in 28mm eyepiece - this is superb (giving 23x).
We used this to catch a glimpse of Venus in the South-West about 4:30pm (ish). It was in crescent and what a sight it was. The crescent shape seems much "harsher" than when you see the moon in crescent and looked incredible - sharp and close in the 2in eyepiece.
This will definitely be one for the memoirs.

Thanks AL.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

La Luna

Just wanted to snap the Moon on my way to work this morning about 8:15am GMT looking North West over the Derbyshire Peak District (UK).


Thursday, December 05, 2013

Jupiter Stack

Well, I finally learnt the basics of stacking.

Reading posts on Stargazers Lounge and having a slightly better understanding of what was required I set about loading PIPP;
This is free software that takes movies, separates them in to single shots and centres the image so that when you load them in to Registax you can stack only the best frames into one picture.  Now I have only ever taken videos to show friends how fast thinks move through the eyepiece but no I have a purpose!!

The above is a result of 204 frames stacked together.  The original video was 416 frames so only the best were picked.  As MJ pointed out the other day I'm not sure whether this is the correct orientation of the planet or not however I will check that out later.  I have also not messed with any of the wavelets nor done any processing after the image comes out of Registax.  Once I'm more au fait with it all I will post a tutorial but until then I shall wait for clearer skies so I can try again.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Good Night

Last night, 27th November, was the clearest night in the Sheffield skies for a long time.  Unfortunately clear nights doesn't always equate to good seeing and although it looked clear it was actually quite damp.  Jupiter looked great at about 30% in the North East and I also got my first glimpse of Betelguese in the South East.  There were even wisps and I mean wisps of the Milky Way.  Anyways I decided to try using the camera with the eyepiece projector on.  That is the a 15mm eyepiece in a 3X barlow giving me 129X mag.  Now I know I should stay away from planetary imaging and leave it to the big boys but when something is as bright as Jupiter it's just asking for a photo.

I'd be lying if I said I'd not try to touch these up but the truth is I don't know how.  Registax won't read the video I took and the image is that small that anything done in Lightroom blocks out the whole image.
 Olympus PEN EPL1 1/5 second 250 ISO  (129X mag)

The one thing I did do last night was align my finderscope correctly and this solved a lot of frustrating issues when working at this magnitude, the RA motor also did it's job.  Not the best image but it is 411 million miles away from a slightly damp Sheffield!


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Nightscape redux

I realised that I could do better with the Nightscape once I had no moon to contend with. So here it is. Similar view to last time, but more definition to more stars ....

So we have Jupiter (left), Hyades in Taurus (top right), Orion and Nebula (bottom, right of middle) and if you look closely I have also captured two Open Clusters - The Satellite Cluster (NGC2244) left of Orion and M35 (NGC2168) approx. half way between Jupiter and Aldeberan (in Taurus).

Canon EOS M ISO3200 f/4 18mm 10sec.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Piggy Back Photography

As MJ continues to produce high quality wide field shots I thought I needed to get in on the act.  These are my first forays into this area and I am reasonably pleased with the first time results.  However, there are two things which I am especially pleased; a) I managed to capture Andromeda, my first time in 3 years of trying and b) the possibilities of Lightroom 3 editing suite.

As usual I popped out screwed the camera onto the fixing pin on the top of the telescopes support.  And that was it.  All the rules which MJ has spelt out in an earlier blog went out the window.  All I was interested in was ISO and exposure time (Don't get me started on the dark frames!).  The camera was even on auto focus, a definite no-no in all astrophotography.  Anyways to show you what I got and how Lightroom improved, purely by raising the noise reduction slider and the colour adjustment sliders both to enhance the noise reductions and get rid of the terrible light pollution.  These are still work in progress but given the starting image I was quite chuffed.  Any help would be greatly appreciated.

For me the best thing about these pictures is that I can actually see constellations that I don't normally notice.  This is because the "lighter" stars have been bleached out so only the dominant ones remain.

 This is the original shot from out of the camera; f/8 40 seconds exposure 1600 ISO.  Below is the Lightroom version.  Cygnus and the Northern Cross is visible dominating the majority of the left hand side of the picture and Lyra at the bottom, with Vega at the bottom centre.

The Plough, at a strange angle due to slip of the camera.

Finally, Andromeda in the centre of the of the picture below.  As the galaxy was pointing straight up it was difficult to orientate.  As such I think I've found Cassiopeia on the left hand side of the picture and the Constellation of Andromeda showing just below the galaxy.

I'm in no way stating these are great pictures but both Andromeda and the Plough were both taken at 6o second exposures 1600 ISO (I can go a lot higher but wanted to capture as much natural black a I could) and on auto focus.  Next time I'll try and do them better but until Sheffield gets rid of all it's sodium filled streetlights they'll always show a lot of noise.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

A MOvember Nightscape

Well, what a night it was last night! Sadly it only cleared properly around 21:30 and I hadn't sorted any of my equipment out .... but I did manage a few shots with my new camera purchase.
I ditched the Nikon D40 in favour of a Canon EOS M, which, as far as I can gather, is the mirror-less version of the 650D and what a camera it is.
I quickly set up and took a few shots at different exposure settings and this was my best on the left.
Bearing in mind this was my first time out with this camera for astrophotography, I think the result is pretty good.

Moon, Jupiter, Hyades, Orion and Orion Nebula looking east at approx. 22:00.
Canon EOS M ISO1600 18mm f/4 5sec.


Practice Shots 2

I thought I'd keep updating the blog as knowing that they're may be an audience will keep me on my toes.

Last nights moon came up later and was still quite close to the horizon when I took this shot.
 I tried numerous methods to get rid of the movement in my picture.  The RA motor works a little but in the end I just reduced the exposure time to 1.6".  Unfortunately I still have movement but I think the main stars of the Pleiades are evident.
Finally I tried for Jupiter.  I'm particularly happy with shot because it is only slightly worse than my best shots with my old set up AND the photograph was taken using just the 3X barlow with no eyepiece.  Once I can get my hands on a better ep with a t-thread, which will take the need for a projection kit out of the equation I should get better results.
I would note that all these shots were taken pre 10pm and as such the objects (other than the Pleiades) were quite/very low in the sky.  I'm hoping my patience, or tolerance for staying up longer increases as the month / year progresses and as such the picture quality should improve.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Practice Shots

We've had a couple of clear cold nights so I've been busy practising with the new kit. 

Nothing groundbreaking and the same old moon shots but I wanted to see what I could get using the 3X barlow.

Below are my shots from the 18th and 19th November;

All different exposures and the bottom one, taken on the 18th November slightly touched up in Photoshop. I won't go into detail about ISO's and exposure times as I'm still not happy about them yet.

With reference to deep space I'm still struggling.  Here's my Jupiter with the dotted line beneath it a shaky moon or two.  I currently have a full pot of paint trying to solve the movement problem but no success yet.
Till next time..................


Friday, November 15, 2013

A New Scope

I purchased a Skywatcher 150P DS as it was slightly bigger than my old refractor.  Being a reflector I had no real idea what to expect as I hadn't used one before.

So I set it up and waited for a clear night.

A clear night came and I had the best view of Andromeda I have ever had.  Stars seemed slightly clearer and there was definitely more detail.  But me being me wanted to image all of this.  I won't go into detail but reflectors are renowned for their afocal focussing troubles. Never the less I thought I was up for a challenge.
The resulting nights saw me getting more and more frustrated until last night I found that the eye piece was loose so I checked it and found that the 2" to 1.25" adapter was in two sections.  So I unscrewed them and found I could screw my camera directly on the scope using the T-ring.

So these are my first "real" pictures.  Not much but a starting point.

 The Moon was nearly full and very bright, 91.71% luminosity and 240,393 miles away to be precise.  But it is still a moon picture.
 This is a streaky picture of Mirphak. It was windy, it was the only bright star not obscured by cloud and I wanted to try it out.  You can see the vaning on the star which is produced by the web holding the upper mirror in place.

Anyways, lets call this day one with the new scope and I'll hopefully be able to improve on the above.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Baker Street Irregular Astronomers (BSIA)

Whilst on a course in London last week I was fortunate enough to meet up with the Baker Street Irregular Astronomers ( | They hold regular meetings in Regent's Park (at The Hub) with the aim of promoting astronomy in an urban setting and dispelling the myth that you cannot do any "serious" astronomy in a town/city.

Well, I can say that from my few hours spent with them the myth is certainly dispelled!
It was a lovely clear(ish) night and there was some light pollution evident with a 3/4 moon as well!
Pah!! No problem for these guys. I saw my first view of Uranus through two rather impressive instruments - one Schmidt Cassegrain and the other a large refractor with ease. I helped a couple find M31 (Andromeda Galaxy) in a 4in Mak and took a peek at Mizar and Alcor - the famous "double, double" in a reflector.

The range of instruments (and knowledge) present was very impressive and all brought in by the regular members themselves.

If you are ever in London when these meetings take place (check website) then visit them at all costs.
A thoroughly nice bunch of people.


Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Astrophotography 101

Cassiopeia, showing the double cluster and M31
ISO 1600, f5.6, 18mm, 30secs, Fog filter

The Great Square of Pegasus with M31
ISO 1600, f5.6, 18mm, 25secs, Fog filter
The Plough, clearly showing Alcor and Mizar
ISO 1600, f5.6, 38mm, 30secs, Fog filter
So as we approach Autumn the skies are most certainly getting darker and so I took myself out with the camera to see what I could get.

Over the summer months I have been reading up on and getting to grips with my camera in a more Astrophotography mode. Like most things of this nature it can become a mine field and you soon find yourself over-whelmed with information. But, with a little perseverance, you can get there.

A computer with decent photo processing software is essential in getting some decent results. GIMP is my tool of choice and is free.

My tips so far are:
* Use a tripod
* Take a "dark" frame for later use
* Use highest ISO possible with a wide aperture (low f-number)
* No more than 30 second exposure
* Turn OFF Noise Reduction
* Normal image settings with auto White Balance

When processing the images in GIMP I used the dark frame and the difference layer setting. This will remove any "noise" produced by the camera and any rogue pixels that may look like stars if a dark frame were not used.

Next I adjust each colour channel (Red, Green, Blue - in that order). Move the mid-slider towards the left-hand side (white point) until the image shows the "next" colour. So if adjusting red, this would show green and adjusting green would be blue. Close levels window.

You may wish to adjust the mid-slider (re-open the levels window) to find a better brightness. Make further adjustments with the Curves tool. Adjust the contrast and brightness if required.

One little trick I did pick up is the use of a Fog filter (I use a Foggy A from Kenko). This will make the brighter stars stand out from the background.


Monday, August 26, 2013

National Space Centre

I've not posted for a while but thought I would give you a review on the National Space Centre at Leicester, I visited yesterday.

The entrance has hand prints of astronauts who have visited the centre and the tall tower housing the rockets looms over the main access point.  The building and contents are all showing a bit of wear and it doesn't look like it has been updated since it opened in 2001.

The reception houses one of only 2 Soyuz on display in the West - The other is in the Smithsonian in Washington.  Getting up close you can see how space flight has evolved since it was built.
 The above is a weather satellite - Can't remember the make and model - sorry.
 Above is a mock up a Voyager.  Fantastic in it's simplicity.
A Thor and a Blue Streak rocket on display in the cafeteria.  Both borne out of military weapons and became the blue print of Britain's entry into the space race.

The exhibits are amazing and just to get a feeling of scale is awe inspiring.  From the cramped conditions of the Soyuz to the mock up of the Columbus unit on the ISS a true measure of progress can be seen.

 This is a solar cell from the Hubble telescope showing clear impact craters. Other exhibits showed how much damage a dust particle can cause.
And my favourite, the last piece of moon bought back to Earth.

It is a fine museum with fascinating displays and hands on exhibits.  Aimed at the 8yr old upwards it is a place of wonder for any child with an interest in Space - it just needs sprucing up a little!

We saw a "We are all Aliens" show at the Patrick Moore Planetarium which was breathtaking and almost worth the entrance fee alone.  Almost. 


Sunday, April 21, 2013

It's the Moon....

Yet again an old favourite photographed.

2.5" Semi-Apo 520mm with 2x Barlow at Prime Focus.
Nikon D40 in B&W Mode ISO800 1/60sec.

I like the way the sun is reflecting off the walls of crater Sinus Iridum (on the edge of Mare Imbrium). - top left. Craters Plato and Copernicus are clearly seen.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

It's Saturn!

Just a quick report this time....
Went out last night specifically to view Saturn. Viewable around 21:00 in the South-East, but waited until approx. 22:00 so it was higher and brighter, just left and down of Spica.
The rings looked really splendid and Titan was easily seen.
The half Moon was making the sky really light so I think I will wait until the cycle completes before taking another look - which will also enable Saturn to gain a little height at an earlier time as well.
All-in-all a great warmish night.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Let it snow....

So .... managed to get outside for the first "proper" stargaze this year! The recent snowfall gave the evening an almost Christmasy feel to the air - very crisp, dark and clear. My window of opportunity only lasted about 2 hours, but even so I managed to see some great stuff.
A while ago I viewed (through the binoculars) a row of three clusters in Auriga which was in the west at the time and I wanted to re-visit these when I could. These were my targets for last night.
I found them with not much trouble with the help of Sky At Nights Star Chart (great magazine by the way!).
From Capella in Auriga, move South to Kids (this forms part of a small triangle) then slowly go West. You come across 3 clusters almost in a line of varying magnitudes. These are (in order) M38, M36 and M37.
What a site these were in the binoculars as well as the telescope. Very rich star fields indeed.
I also spotted a naked eye cluster in the West - M44 - this is a great site in binos but a wide-field scope at low power really shows the brightness of these stars.

On my next outing my target is the Leo Triplet.

Happy viewing.