Worth waiting for…

It’s been a bit of a barren few months for observing- bits and pieces here and there, but no really good session to get properly stuck in.

The forecast for last night was looking great all through the week but gradually deteriorated as it drew closer and was looking decidedly iffy by the time last night arrived. There were a few breaks in the cloud so I decided to set up just before ten (hey- no work today! 😀 ). This was soon looking decidedly optimistic:

First stint:

  • M42 – really nice view at 55x with UHC filter- well able to distinguish the fainter nebulosity behind as well as the bright core. Despite upping the mag, however, the trap would not reveal any more than 4 stars.
  • M43 and Running Man also looking really good. Until they disappeared. Yep, clouds.

Swung the scope round to a clearer bit of sky near Ursa Major:

  • M81 – Nice view of the core, but little extension beyond. First view for a while- nice to see this pair rising again after hugging the evening horizon for the last few months.
  • M82- A better sight- some distinct mottling along it and thickening at the core. Then the clouds got it.

There’s a gap!

  • Nice split on Castor
  • NGC2371 – Planetary Nebula – I don’t know this one. Quite faint. It really blinks. Oh- it’s gone.

Blow this- headed inside for a drink and some cursing of UK weather. Kept checking with gradually diminishing enthusiasm every 20 minutes or so. One last look at 12:15- Wow- crystal clear! Right…

  • Cone nebula – this was my imaging target for the night so I thought I’d have a look. The Christmas tree cluster was nice and pretty, but after letting my eyes relax and adapt the nebulosity emerged. This is the best view I’ve ever had of this object. Now we’re talking!
  • Dropped down to the Rosette- same experience. I’ve only seen hints of this before, but whilst the overall shape was hard to discern (it was filling the 30mm FOV) the central cluster was nice and prominent and by holding it centrally and just looking round the view lots of wispy structure gradually emerged. I spent a while on this. Really nice.
  • Next I thought I’d have a look at Sirius and see if the Pup was visible, despite being just above my neighbours house. Upping the magnification and putting the aperture mask on it was… dancing like a disco glitterball. No chance!
  • Leo Triplet. Leo was now rising high over the rooftops so I took my first view of the season at the triplet. It was really nice and prominent in the 30mm, but the best view was in the Baader zoom where a bit more shape was discernible. Even NGC 3628 was easy to spot- good conditions indeed.
  • C/2017 T2 Panstarrs Comet – This took a lot of finding- very careful star hopping in the ep from Miram on the edge of Perseus. In Sky Safari it looks like you can follow the tail, but for me only the head was visible and this was a pretty faint smudge, jumping several fields of view across to find it and working with star patterns.
  • From here it was a short hop to the Double Cluster- always such a good sight. By now this was well over to the North West, but this is a good direction for me and the view was lovely and steady with lots of the stars yielding plenty of colour- a wonderful sight.
  • I thought from here I’d go and look at the Heart Nebula, but took a slightly wrong turn and found the Stock 2 Open Cluster instead. This is a new one on me, but was a nice rich view, filling more than the eyepiece at 30mm.
  • The Heart was a bit fainter than the Rosette and Cone, but I could still see the bright section around the central open cluster.
  • The Soul was brighter- the nebulosity was more prominent- especially around the ‘neck’ and ‘feet’ bits.
  • This was fast turning into my best ever night for nebulae, and to keep it going I moved up to Capella to try for the Flaming Star. Very pleasingly, not only was it clearly visible, but I could make out the rippling texture along the top edge of it.
  • Feeling like I was on a roll I moved across to the ‘Tadpoles’ nebula (surely it should be called this?) next to it. This didn’t show any texture, but some wisps were definitely visible.
  • I’m really fond of the clusters in Auriga so I took the 30mm out and did a nice tour of M36, M37 and M38 with the Baader zoom.
  • It was getting on for 3 now and really time for bed but with Ursa Major rising high in the sky I couldn’t resist a quick look at M51. Both cores were quite prominent and the bridge between them too, but I couldn’t get much further into the arms on this occassion.

I’ve had the scope out a few times over the last few months and a few nice views, but for various reasons it hasn’t really come together into a properly decent session like this. There were some fabulous views and it was enhanced by some virtual companionship on the WhatsApp group. The thing that has me scratching my head is why the views of the nebulae were so good. I’ve been using the same equipment for a while now (14inch dob, 30mm Aero Eyepiece and UHC filter) but it’s never been close to this despite some apparently excellent transparency and sessions at darker sites. I guess just another reminder of what a capricious pursuit this is!

M42 photo from Lichfield 17/1/2020 – QHY10

QHY10 60 sec sub-frames, darks and flats.

The following photos show how the same photo can appear quite differently when slightly different processing systems used – including PixInsight Dynamic Background Extraction, eyedropper to set background black level in Photoshop, synthetic flat field in Nebulosity, curves and levels in various programmes.

Which version do you prefer?



Rosette Nebula in Ha

This is the result of last night’s ‘learning session’, thanks to Rob (who has a very nice little observatory!) for hosting.

Stack of the best 12 images, also using flats generated with Rob’s portable Flat-O-Matic which I think is going to be copied quite soon!


Rosette Nebula in Ha
Rosette Nebula in Ha

Here’s a version using the Ha layer as L on top of an old RGB one:

Rossette Ha as L
Rossette Ha as L


Astrophotography log 12/1/2020

  • Lichfield, UK.
  • William Optics 66mm scope, Altair Astro 183M mono camera.
  • Sky Watcher Equinox Pro 80mm scope, QHY10 one-shot colour camera.
  • Sky Watcher EQ6 mount, unmodified.

I am quite pleased with myself with what I have achieved tonight in my astro imaging – and it gives an idea of just how long this astrophotogtaphy stuff takes especially when you are relatively new to it as I am – I am pleased because I have achieved something but as you can see below it wasn’t that much! This is after spending over 6 months during my sick leave trying to learn astrophotography in UK. Mind you, very poor weather has limited opportunities to be outside during that time to a very great extent. I started at 4.30pm and finished at 10.45pm. In that time, I exchanged the QHY6 camera on my William Optics scope on the dual mounting bar of my imaging setup for the Altair 183M, and then spent a long time changing t-extension tubes around until I got the right combination to allow me to get the Tele Vue 14mm Radian eyepeice in the TS-optics OAG/flip mirror on same scope par-focal with the Alair 183M camera. I then aligned the 183M and QHY10 cameras – the latter also on the dual mounting bar but on my Sky Watcher Equinox Pro 80mm scope – I say aligned although a more precise alignment needs to be done on another day so fields of view of two cameras match as closely as possible (my intention is to simultaneously take black and white photo for luminence and colour to combine with it – lot faster than RGB). I then rolled the mount and scope and cameras outside onto the grass, polar aligned using my Polemaster scope. All this was completed by 6.20pm when I could start imaging. I have managed to get data on M45 which could be quite good for 60 odd minutes before it went behind a tree. It took until 9PM to get that data due to issues getting the scopes (particularly the QHY10) to play ball. I then had a go at the Horsehead/Flame Nebulae but I suspect that data is useless due to cloud comin

For the first time I aligned using EQMOD, although only used one alignment point – actually worked quite well as I had carefully polar aligned using Polemaster – Polenaster really is quite brilliant!