Author Archives: Rob Leonard

The Tadpoles Nebula

I caught this one on Christmas Eve. We had a lovely clear night, and although it was very much family time I did manage to sneak out and set the scope running. It was pretty clear nearly all night, so I was able to gather data for all the channels in one night- a rarity in UK narrowband imaging. Details are:

Capture details are:

RGB (for the stars) – 10 mins/channel – 20x 30 seconds, Ha – 90x 2mins, Oiii and Sii – 75x 2mins.

130pds on HEQ5 with ASI1600mm at Gain 250.

I’m normally indecisive about the best presentation, but in this instance the Hubble version was definitely the one to go with, as it really highlights the tadpoles. I’ve also included a Starnet version- it definitely adds some noise, but you can see the faint bits of the nebula much better.

I was curious about the Tadpoles- apparently they’re similar to the Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula- dust and gas left over from the formation of the nearby star cluster NGC1893, and the nursery for future star creation. They point away from the cluster because of stellar winds and radiation pressure from it.


7 Sisters of California

This is my second attempt at this composition and some time off over the holidays is giving me time to catch up with processing…

This is quite a large chunk of sky between the Pleiades running up to the California nebula. I had a go at this around 9 months ago, but it was low in the sky at the time and I clipped the background to sort out atmospheics and light pollution gradients. It’s been nice to have another go closer to the zenith. The acquisition was as follows:

2 pane mosaic, taken through Altair 183c Pro camera on a Star Adventurer with a Canon 15 year old “nifty fifty” f1.8 lens. I found focussing at f1.8 just about impossible, so it’s stopped down to f2.8. I wanted to get as much of the dust as possible, so I didn’t use a filter and this restricted me to 30 second exposures at gain 1000. Each pane has 120×30 seconds.

I then enhanced the California nebula by blending it with some data taken back in October with a 1970s 135mm Soviet lens and an Ha filter.

Mineral Moon from 29th December

Here’s a picture of last night’s full moon. I’ve spent a good part of the today learning some new processing techniques from the page below:

How To Photograph And Edit a Mineral Moon | Light Stalking

Unfortunately the steps are all in Photoshop, so I had to work out how to do them in GIMP, but it seems to have worked. I wanted to see if I could do this entirely in free software, but couldn’t get the noise reduction to work so there’s a bit of Pixinsight in here, but otherwise it’s all done with free stuff.

Capture details are: Canon DSLR on 130PDS – Disc is stack of 30 of 1/500s, halo is a single jpeg at 1/10 sec

Processing is: Converted to avi by Pipp, stacked in Autostakkert, Saturation and Layers in GIMP and Noise reduction in Pixinsight MLT.




Hunting Barnards Loop

I’ve been fascinated by Barnards Loop ever since I first saw a photo of it- an emission nebula that covers a huge part of the sky. In case you’re not familiar, it’s a large loop of gas centred roughly on Messier 42 that encircles good chunk of the Orion constellation. It’s thought to be a remnant of a Supernova from a couple of million years ago at least 100 light years across. I had a go at imaging it last year, but wasn’t especially thrilled with the results, so definitely on the list for another go. Easier said than done when you’re fighting light pollution…

I started this on 16th initially with an IDAS light pollution filter and a Sigma 18-55 lens. Unfortunately the lens/filter combination produced some very strange effects, so I took the filter out and stacked 20 minutes worth of data from 40x 30 second shots. I’m to the North of Burton and so Orion goes right over the light dome from the town- not a pretty sight:

I attacked it in Pixinsight with DBE. It’s a good tool, but the mess left behind from this one had me needing to clip the background out to get something presentable. Still- I thought it’d make a good base to mix some Ha over:

Next clear night was Christmas Eve. I waited for Orion to get nice and high in the sky and then had a go with a 7nm Baader Ha filter, collecting an hour of data. This really underlines how much LP gets generated by an average urban area. Despite around 95% of the visible spectrum being cut out, there’s still a pretty nasty gradient:

Did my best to sort it out, but it was still a pretty noisy image. Final result is below. If I want to get a decent version of this I think I’m going to need to go somewhere darker, but if anyone has any bright ideas for improving this in the meantime, I’m listening!



Couple of presentations of ngc7822 between Cepheus and Cassiopeia. First one is HaRGB- 2.5 hours of Ha and half an hour of RGB. I then added an hour each of Oiii and Sii, but no Oiii appeared and I had to really work the data to get something out of the Sii. So it’s a bit rough, but hey ho. Might go for a brighter target next…

Cloud dodging my way to an old friend…

One of those nights where you know from the forecast it isn’t going to be great, but you’re also suffering withdrawal and go for it with the 14″ anyway…

Started off with Mars. I’ve recently discovered that the best view of it in the dob is with a variable polarising filter. It really cuts the glare down and doesn’t seem to lose as much resolution as the aperture mask. Lovely clear surface detail and the polar cap still just visible. Kicking myself that I didn’t discover this combination back in October!!!
Next over to the Pleiades and it’s a fabulous sight- lots nebulosity and texture between the stars. Love it.

Then it clouds over….

90 minutes later Sam suggests that if he gets his PJ’s on then maybe the sky will clear- and sure enough it did ten minutes later! I can hire him out at if anyone’s interested…

Transparency isn’t so good, but stars can be seen!!! M42 has cleared the house for my first proper view this season. A brilliant sight and we spend some time drinking it in. The main nebula is bright and clear at 55x and really pops with the uhc filter in. It’s like having an old friend back. Even the Running Man is quite prominent. Swap over to the 7mm for 236x and the core is like a whole new object, lots of texture in the bright area with the fainter stuff dropped out by the higher mag. The trapezium is bright and clear with E and F stars just about there floating in and out of visibility.

Pop the 30mm back in for a trip to Alnitak, but the sky is getting murkier by the minute. I can see hints of nebulosity, but not the dark lane that means I can chalk up the flame.

In view of the conditions I decide to look at some brighter stuff. Sigma Orionis is a good sight- 4 stars easy. It looks to me like the A star has a companion. Lots of checking and double checking and a bit of a read on the internet- it does have one and was discovered in a 12″ scope. In view of the conditions I find it very unlikely that I’ve seen it, but one to go back to. Has anyone else on here snagged this one? Really good view in any case.

Next I had a look at Betelgeuse. I know it’s just a big fat red star but I love the colour and so did my son.

Moved down to Rigel. I really like it-it’s a nice split and a good example of uneven stars without being anywhere near as difficult as Sirius.
One last view on the faint stuff- over to M31/2. A nice view, but too murky to pick up 110.

Thicker cloud now so scanning the sky to find gaps…

Iota Cass- easily found and split.
Achird a nice split with some hints of colour.

A nice session- shame it clouded over, but a bit of a fix to keep me going!!!!

The Bubble Nebula and M52

Had this data a while but not the chance to process. I got the RGB and Ha data on 22nd November and then the Sii and Oiii a couple of nights later. I left the Oiii and Sii running overnight, but had to drop a lot of frames due to cloud. The RGB and Ha was the data I used for the HaRGB demo to the RAG AP group on Friday, but I’ve only just had the chance to add the Oiii and Sii.

Kit was 130pds on HEQ5, with ZWO ASI1600mm to capture

Capture details are:
20x 30 sec each of RGB
90x 1min Ha
50x 2min Oiii
55x 2min Sii

Presentations are Ha, HaRGB and SHO with RGB Stars.

Turn Back to Orion

Recently I’ve been struggling for ideas for visual observing. When there’s a clear night I keep going back to the same old targets, and whilst this is enjoyable, it doesn’t carry the same excitement of discovery. I think the root cause of this is not doing the leg work beforehand- I normally build target lists (often from other’s observing reports), but I’ve dropped out of that habit a bit of late.

A couple of days ago, whilst contemplating a tricky work problem, I picked up my old battered copy of “Turn Left at Orion” and started flicking through. In my first year of observing it was this book that really got me going, giving me target ideas and helping me to find my way around the sky. As I’ve become more proficient it has gradually fallen out of use, but flicking through it I found I’d done what everyone probably does and gone straight for the showpieces. There are a wealth of other targets along with nice little narratives.

So last night I worked my way with my 14” dob through pages 180-189 of my 4th edition. I used Sky Safari a little to help with the navigation (it makes it so much easier), but otherwise this is a session done Old Skool!

Mars: Alright- this wasn’t on the list, but you can’t ignore it, sitting there so prominently. I’ve become a bit spoiled in this apparition, having had quite a few outstanding views of it. Last night was a bit murky in comparison with the best of those, suggesting thin cloud, but I was still able to make out shading on the surface and the distinct solar cap. It’s been a wonderful target these last 6 weeks and I’ll miss it when it has receded.

Almach: Incredibly I’ve used this star to navigate many times, but never actually looked at it in the eyepiece. What a beauty! Very bright and to my eyes it looked blue and almost white with a hint of yellow!

59 Andromeda: Like two blue cats eyes, nicely separated and evenly matched.

56 Andromeda: This pair was a touch fainter and a less vivid colour, but more of a golden colour with a wider separation. It took a bit more finding, sat on the edge of a relatively sparse open cluster NGC752. With hindsight, I was sticking too closely to the script here and should probably have dropped in a wider eyepiece to enjoy the cluster more. The Baader 8-24 zoom I was using is very good for dropping in and out, but the narrow FOV at 24mm doesn’t give the best view of extended objects like this.

6 Trianguli: A much tighter pair at 3.7”, but quite easily separated at 8mm.

Lambda Arieta: A nice contrasting brightness, TLAO talks about contrasting colours but I can only see a hint of blue in the much fainter companion, whereas the primary seems completely white to me.

1 Arieta: Another tight pair at 2.9”, but quite easily separated at 8mm. Again, I was unable to make out a colour contrast.

Mesarthim: A more comfortable split and a much brighter double star, apparently even brightness (combined mag 3.86). According to TLAO the orientation barely changes, suggesting that we’re looking at the orbit edge on. I was curious about the name of this one so researched a but further- apparently it’s a corruption of nearby Sheraton; and as a star it appears in Chinese and Indian Mythology; in the latter as a doctor to the divine. It also gives its name to an Australian band who specialise in the Depressive Suicidal Black Metal genre. Who knew that was a thing? I’ll probably give it a miss…

M34: Turn the page and here was a more familiar object. To me it looks sort of like a flower stalk, set against the rich star field of the Milky Way. This time I did drop out to the 30mm- a really nice view.

The Double Cluster: Here’s an old friend, it even looks good in the finder. Sticking with the 30mm I was comfortably able to fit both sides in the same FOV. As well as the richness of the Star Field I love the different colours in this one. There are lots of tones of yellow and blue, and then a few deep red ones really stand out. Found myself in disagreement with TLAO here- it claims this is much prettier in a smaller telescope (a 4/4 frac view, but only a 2/4 dob view), but I find the view in my Dob for this one glorious- the number and concentration of the stars make this one of my favourite sights. On the other hand- I do like the way TLAO descriptions lapse into the whimsical- “the view from a planet in one of the clusters would be spectacular: perhaps a hundred stars in the home cluster would be far brighter than the brightest star in Earth’s sky, while the other cluster would be far more impressive than any open cluster in our sky”. Now there’s something for your dreams.

The Pleiades: Having the 30mm in the scope and talk of spectacular open clusters made me take a detour to the Pleiades. Perhaps natives of the Double Cluster have a better view, but this one does me just fine. The electric blue colour and patches of nebulosity still visible even with the strongly illuminated moon. Yum!

Back to TLAO…

Iota Cassiopeia: This again is a familiar target; I find it a good test of conditions, especially when the Double Double is dropping low. I quite enjoy pulling it up at 24mm, when it looks elongated but single, and then zooming. At 20mm it’s already a double, but I’m at 10mm before the third companion starts to appear. By 8mm it’s a clear separation. Sometimes I can see hints of colour, but tonight they all look white.

Struve 163: Another triple, but much greater separation. The A and B stars were showing fantastic colour- deep blue and orange, although the third was much fainter. This was another discovery for me, a lovely sight, I need to make this a regular stop!

Eta Cassiopeia: Another pair of contrasting brightness, I found this quite a straightforward separation. TLAO claims sharply contrasting colours, but I couldn’t get this- just a hint of orange in the secondary for me.

Burnham One: I struggled to find this one a little, and didn’t manage to split the A and B pair (1.1”- which is usually just in range for the dob). I should have tried a mask, but was more excited that the transparency had improved a bit and some clouds to the south were dampening the moonlight to the extent that I could see the PacMan nebula- something I’ve never managed from home before!

Sigma Cassiopeia: This, at 3.2” was an easier split- the clouds were coming closer now…

Struve 3053: Last view of the night and another new one for me. I had to be quick with the star hopping to beat the oncoming clouds, but got there just in time- and very glad I did. Quite startling orange and blue- a really lovely view.

The encroaching clouds ended it there, but really enjoyable to get the buzz of discovery back. I would happily have turned the page for a tour of Cassiopeia’s open clusters, but that’s going to have to wait until the next time!