Monday, November 24, 2014

My old friend M42 - The Orion Nebula

I always said that I would jump at the first chance I had to take a decent image of the Orion Nebula.
Here it is.

Canon EOS 300D at prime focus on Orion ST80.
Total of 24min. ISO 800.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

M13 Reprocessed

On these long cloudy nights I have decided to use the time wisely and really get into the image processing side of things.
Below is a (GIMP) reprocessed image of M13 which I originally posted on September 24th. You can now see quite clearly the feature known as the "propeller" at the heart of the cluster.
In fact, if you look very closely it is also seen in the original image.

Clear skies (hopefully some time soon...)


Sunday, October 19, 2014

A New Season

It's  plain to see that my esteemed partner and fellow blogger has hit the ground running with his goto motors and has taken some incredible pictures which have been posted below.This blog clearly demonstrates the huge improvement we've made in the last 5 years and the kit needed to do it.

Well at the start of my new astronomy season I decided to improve my equipment with the purchase of a Skywatcher EQ5 and Polar alignment scope.  I needed something to ensure I wasn't getting movement in my images due to terrestrial issues IE wind, a gentle nudge here and there so a larger mount seems to be the next step.

Unless you have a big, fat wad of cash listed "Astronomy Spendo" equipment has to be bought in increments, such as you buy a new mount first (bigger than you need) so that a new telescope can be bought at a later date without it being too shonky on your existing tripod.  In other words I have a mount far and away bigger than I need for purely visual work but for serious astrophotography this is almost entry level.  I'm not expecting vast improvements as the Goto / Syncscan motors needed are another £300 but it should make a difference.

Here you can see the difference in size between an EQ2 and an EQ 5 mount.  Bigger than I thought!!

As always, watch this space.


Saturday, October 04, 2014

Coming in thick and fast

I'm now taking every opportunity to get outside and get used to my astro photography rig so I am comfortable with it for when the dark nights of winter are upon us (although autumn is probably my favourite viewing season).
Here I visited some objects again and some are new.
Again all images taken with Canon EOS 300D mounted at prime focus on Orion ST80. Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker and processed in GIMP.

I don't think I should push past ISO800 and preferably take longer sub-exposures at ISO400 to reduce noise....

Caldwell 14 Double Cluster in Perseus.
ISO800 120sec.

M57 Planetary Nebula in Lyra,
ISO800 120sec.

M81 (bottom) and M82.
ISO800 total of 16min.
Some light on this one due to the Moon but even so the spiral arms of M81 are clearly seen.

Edit 08-Oct: Not light from the Moon, but my neighbours security light!!

M92 Cluster in Hercules.
ISO800 total of 6min.


Friday, October 03, 2014

Caldwell 14

Not the best of nights last night, but I just need to get out now and refine my craft.
Here is Caldwell 14 - the double cluster near Perseus. They are also designated NGC869 and NGC884.

Canon EOS 300D mounted at prime focus on Orion ST80.
ISO 800 total of 8min. Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker, processed in GIMP.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

A bit more detail

After the last post it occured to me that M45 should be showing a little more detail at least. So armed with GIMP I set to work....


Oh Mr. Messier....

To keep the ball rolling so to speak, I have been out again this weekend and got these images. I am still getting to grips with the processing.
All taken at prime focus with Orion ST80 and Canon EOS 300D and processed with Deep Sky Stacker and GIMP.


M13 The Great Globular Cluster (ISO 400 total 6 min.)

M31 The Andromeda Galaxy (ISO 800 total 14min.)

M45 The Pleiades (ISO 400 total 4 min.)

M51 The Whirlpool Galaxy (ISO 400 total 7min30sec.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Getting to grips with it

So, just a quick post to update you with my recent Astro Photography shots.
After the previous post it was clear that no decent images could be taken with a moon in the sky at the same time. Fortunately this week brought such a night. I spent a good half-hour or so making sure the tripod and mount were setup correctly and that the SynScan was slewing the scope to targets properly. All good here.
As this was only my second proper try, I needed a target or two that would be bright enough so that I knew what to expect (i) on the camera preview screen and (ii) once I came to process the images.
I decided on M13 (Globular Cluster in Hercules) and M31 (The Andromeda Galaxy).

And here they are:

Canon EOS 300D ISO400 Total of 3 min. Processed using Deep Sky Stacker and Paint.NET.
I kept the Iridium Flare (not purposely photograped) as I think it adds to the image.

Canon EOS 300D ISO400 Total of 6 min. Processed using Deep Sky Stacker and Paint.NET.
You also have M32 (top) and M110 (bottom).

Both images are taken at Prime Focus using an Orion ST80 400mm f/5.

Obviously if I had gathered more data these images would show much more detail, but for my 2nd outing I think they hold-up.
I also tinkered with FITS Liberator (the NASA imaging tool) but I need to spend more time with this.

Clear Skies.

UPDATE 25-SEP-2014: I realised when processing that GIMP only works in 8bit even though it can read 16bit files and that is why I did not use it. I have just found today that Paint.NET is the same. So I really need to get PhotoShop!!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Back on it

After the summer hiatus we are now back on it! (Not that we were ever off it, but you get my meaning!).

During the summer months I had decided to upgrade my mount to give me the full go-to experience. Essentially the CG-4 head is the same as the EQ3-2 and to this end I purchased the Skywatcher EQ3-2 GoTo upgrade kit and boy was it worth it.
So, not only do I get to find my objects around the sky more easily and quickly I also have a superb platform on which to base my Astro photography and get a fully motorized mount to boot.

It must be noted here though that there is a very steep learning curve with this equipment. It is essential that the mount has a Polar Scope and that this is properly set-up. This in turn enables you to align with the North Celestial Pole (near Polaris) - essential for any decent Astro photography.

I also purchased an Orion ST80. I had read good things about this scope and even though it is simply an achromat, the optics are superb for the money with little to no chromatic aberation. I will use this as my prime photography scope for the time being and later if I have the money I will use it as my guide scope. But that's for the future...

With all these tools at my disposal I decided to choose M81/M82 as my first targets. This was kind-of forced upon me as the nearly full moon was in the south at this point. I know that any seasoned Astro photographer would not even venture out on such a night, but I was keen to try out all the equipment and put to work what I had read.

And here it is:

Taken with a Canon EOS 300D at prime focus, a total of four 60 second exposures at ISO 800, stacked in Deep Sky Stacker with 1 dark frame and processed in GIMP.

M82 (Cigar Galaxy) at top, M81 (Bode's Galaxy) at bottom and also NGC3077 to the lower left.

It can only get better from here and can't wait for those clear dark skies.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

New Ritchey Chrétien scope

Just a quick update to keep things flowing....
I have recently upgraded my kit to a 6in Ritchey Chrétien by Revelation Astro (from Telescope House).

Complimenting this I have a 1.25in quartz diagonal and the Celestron 8-24mm zoom eyepiece. (This beauty was first introduced to me by Al during the Sheffield Astro Star Party a few weeks ago and is a great eyepiece with a wide FOV through all the focal lengths).

Contrary to popular belief I bought the scope primarily for visual but the scope design is also superb for astrophotography as well. As both mirrors are fixed (with no corrector plate in the front) it acts like a Newtonian reflector but with the added benefit (in my opinion) of operating like an SCT. Two crucial differences are that (1) both mirrors are Hyperbolic - they bring all the wavelengths of light to the correct focal point and (2) It is coma free.
There is also a quicker cool-down time as the tube is open. There are also baffles down the length of the tube to avoid stray light, which in turn enhances contrast.

The pictures here show it mounted on the Celestron OMNI CG-4 with dual-axis drive.

First impressions are that it is a really (and I mean really!) great instrument giving pin-sharp, crystal clear images.

One of my first nights out (as I was itching to use it) was very, very poor seeing but Jupiter just sprung out. Now if a scope can do that on such a rubbish night then it surely can produce the goods when the sky is much better....

Here is a picture of Jupiter taken A-focally at about 12mm, giving 114x (I have only cropped the image to put here). The eyepiece has the great feature of having a screw adapter under the eye cup so that you can attach a DSLR directly. You have to be careful of the weight so as not to stress the diagonal, etc. but all was OK.

My next shot is of the Moon. This really can't be beaten and one thing to note is that the picture will not do justice to the shear amount of detail the scope gives, even at high power. WOW. I was not disappointed, I just wanted to see more and more. There was so much detail being shown that hadn't been apparent with other equipment. The optics of this instrument are truly AWESOME!


Saturday, March 15, 2014


As this blog drifts more into the black arts of astrophotography I thought I would impart a little of what I have learnt about processing.

Using a couple of images I have posted within the last couple of months and armed with a couple of hours reading tutorials on the internet I thought I'd give it ago.

My first target was the purple "noise" in the corner of some of my earlier shots.  This was removed using both the Chromatic Aberration sliders in Lightroom and also boosting the colour on the noise reduction slider in the same software.  Finally the last thing I did was change the white balance to as shot, rather than the custom settings which were being added as standard.  This was the result;

As you can see there is still a little "blow out" at the line of termination and that is due to me trying to sharpen it as best I can although I may sacrifice the extreme detail in future shots for a more rounded image.

The above is two pictures joined using photoshops automate feature.  It's OK but has the "natural" appearance and we all know the moon is grey, right?  Again I have my red hue down the line of termination.
As the last couple of blogs have been focusing on Mare Imbrium I thought I would steer towards that.  Using the above image I heavily adjusted the colour sliders in the hope that I could lose that redness;

As you can see I almost succeeded! By adjusting the colours, even though the image is black and white, it has bought out a little more contrast.  I particularly like the "wave-like" formation at the top left which is the area with the most unfortunate name of Mare Frigoris.

The starting images weren't my best so with a better starting point I'm hoping to improve on the above.

I'm quite happy I just need to spend as much time with the pc as I do with the telescope!


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The game is a foot ....

OK, so more Moon I know, but what a Moon it is with a bit of The Belt of Venus thrown in ....

Belt of Venus

Mare Imbrium. Sinus Iridum (top left with the Montes Jura), Plato (top right), Eratosthenes (bottom - and bottom of the Montes Apenninus), Archimedes (centre right) moving more right to Autolycus (bottom) and Aristillus (top).
Cassini lies at the bottom end of the Montes Apenninus.
The Russian probe Luna 2 landed to the left of Autolycus.
Luna 17 landed below and to the left of Sinus Iridum.
Apollo 15 landed on Rima Hadley which is to the "top" of the Montes Apenninus in the darker area.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Never Get Enough

Feeling a bit of healthy competition I thought I would try for the moon tonight, since it is absolutely perfect viewing.

I took about 30 pictures but my 2X barlow, while good means that the moon will not exactly fit onto my camera sensor.  Luckily Photoshop has the automate feature which stuck these twon together withouy me having to align anything, think I'll try a mosaic next!!

This clearly shows Mare Imbrium towards the top and Tycho at the bottom. The picture is a bit washed out because a) it was taken as a jpeg, b) it was taken in Mono c) it was taken at 1000ISO 1/250sec.  This was due to the fact I hadn't changed the settings from last time!

Next is almost the same image taken in RAW, stitched and converted jpeg.

Notice the redness creeping in along the line of termination.  This is something I need to work on in my processing.

Finally we have the Mare Imbrium with Sinus Iridum on the left hand side, Pinto at the top and the Apennines on the right of the sea.

 The three craters toward the Apennines are Archimedes (the larger lower one), Autolycus (small middle) and Anstillus at the top.  And finally the crater at the bottom of the mountain range is Eralosthenes.

A fine evening in all.


Monday, March 10, 2014

We're getting there now....

Spurred on by our foray to the Sheffield Astro Society's dark sky meeting I have just come in from taking some shots of the moon. I just had to get these on the blog ASAP. Both are taken at prime focus with a 2x SkyWatcher barlow.
The top image shows crater Clavius (large crater at bottom) with craters Rutherfurd (bottom) and Porter (top) sitting on it's rim.
The lower image shows Mare Imbrium with crater Plato clearly seen (top). Montes Alples (to Plato's top right) and the Vallis Alpes (to Plato's bottom right) are clearly seen.

Canon EOS M ISO100 1/15sec manual focus. Cropped and processed.


Sunday, March 09, 2014

Sheffield Astro Society

Last night, 8th March, saw the Sheffield Astro Society visit one of their preferred dark sites at the car park for Surprise View, Derbyshire.  MJ and I decided to go as I had never been to an "event" like this before and MJ had only been to a meeting of the Baker Street Irregulars before and what a night.

The event was to showcase the Moon, Jupiter and Orion and judging by the ooh's and aah's by the 30 or so people who attended they succeeded in their goal.  It was great to see so many people, all of whom were very interested, MJ's telescope was getting quite a bit of attention, and the Society's staff were knowledgeable and polite.

The pictures above were taken on a Olympus Pen E PL1  using a one minute exposure and have been processed to get rid of some of the orange light

There was some cloud cover around 7pm which lifted slightly during the night but the Moon, Jupiter and Orion were visible.

 The Moon with Orion clearly visible to the left centre of the picture
 A rare shot of MJ and Al together.  MJ's Vixen scope is in the foreground and Orion over our heads.

Whereas I didn't bring my telescope I did bring my Celestron 8-24mm zoom eyepiece and camera, obviously.  So using my T-adapter we connected the camera to the scope and took the resulting images.  To say neither of us have combined each others equipment before we were reasonably happy with the results.  There were regulars of the Society there with laptops who were filming Jupiter, stacking and processing the image there and then.  Oh, to have such kit!

 The Moon. 1/80sec ISO 250
 An attempt at the Orion Nebula (from previous pictures you can see the moon was bleaching out a lot of the light)

Overall it was a great night, in fact MJ said it was his best night out with a telescope ever!   I think to be with like minded individuals who don't mind getting cold can only be a good thing.

The Dark Site (the idea for this comes courtesy of a gentleman called Karl I met at the event who's version was a lot better!)


Saturday, March 08, 2014

Still Here!

After a month or more of cloud cover during all the optimum night viewing times the skies have eventually cleared over the last day or two.

I've been roaming the skies rather than constantly trying to take pictures.  With my new eyepieces I had a great view of the Orion Nebula (tried to take a picture but still suffered from movement) and Orion in general.

The moon has looked great for the last week and viewing it last night using my #21 orange filter was an absolute joy.  I have found this only works best when the moon is at least half full as it does take away a lot of light but the extra detail it brings is amazing.  I have tried to capture this but due to different exposure settings needed and extra focusing tweaks I haven't quite got it set up to use as an aid to astrophtotography.

I have included a picture from Monday 3rd March 2014 when the moon was in it's first quarter.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Equipment, Belt of Venus and Jupiter

Had a really good viewing session the other evening (19th Jan) and thought it worth blogging about it!
As it looked like it was going to be a good evening for the stars (as it turns out very cold as well) I set up early so that I could get the equipment spot-on. So here is my setup.

A Vixen VMC110L (4.3in Modified Mak) mounted on a Celestron Omni XLT CG-4 that has the dual-axis motor drive fitted.

The Vixen has a red dot finder and flip-mirror system which is perfect for astrophotography - you mount the camera directly out of the back whilst still having an eyepiece at 90 degrees through the top (no need for a star diagonal).

I was also looking forward to using my new Skywatcher 2x Barlow lens.

Dusk started to arrive at this point and that is when I had a great view of the Belt of Venus - when you can see the Earth being put into shadow (looking east) by it's rotation. You get a lovely pink glow in the sky which seems to split the light from the dark.

That would be it until darkness fell....

By the time I got out at the scope was covered in moisture. The air temp had cooled very quickly, but due to the dust caps the mirror had cooled and had not been affected.

I was determined to get a good first (proper) try at Jupiter (which is now very good in the East to South all night).

Here it is.

Mounted at prime focus with a 2x Barlow.
Canon EOS M 1/10sec. ISO1600.
The image has also been processed using a high-pass filter to sharpen it.

Happy viewing.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

New Year, New Kit.

Just a quick note to say I got some new kit for Christmas; a 2X barlow, a #21 orange filter and a Celestron 8mm -24mm zoom which I hope I can utilise and show you the results on this blog.

Last night, 9th January, was the first night I've been able to get out since getting the new kit and even then I wasn't well prepared.  I did manage to try everything out though.  The filter is great for observing but I have yet to get to grips using it for astrophotography.  The zoom lens is great, no need to change EP's and it has a T-thread under the rubber eye comforter.  The clarity is by far and away the best I have used yet.

The barlow is also great and should allow me to take full frame pictures of the moon.  Again, I haven't much time to try it out but when I have the full disc of the moon fits onto my sensor exactly, sounds great but does mean it's tricky to get a decently framed picture.

What with the new kit and my little bit of editing and stacking knowledge I thought I'd show you 2014's efforts so far;
Jupiter, 1 sec, 320 ISO.
  The moon, below, 1/80sec, 320 ISO
The Appenines, zoomed in.
  (I'm unsure as to why this has a lot of purple noise around the line of termination.  This isn't visible in windows explorer.)

All the above images were taken using the 2X barlow.  Hopefully my next set will be using the zoom lens.