Author Archives: Rob Leonard

Catching up on Images

It’s been something of a hectic week, so it was nice to have a chance this weekend to download some pictures from last week, when Andy and James were round, and do a bit of processing.

Firstly- the best of the moon photos. These were mostly captured with my Meade ETX105 Mak, which I’ve mounted on my HEQ5 mount, because the original mount is not reliable. The pictures were taken with an ASI224 camera through a 2x Barlow- which gives a focal length of 2.8m and a hard time focusing! Each image is a 30second avi that I  stacked using Autostakkert, and then the multiscale process in Pixinsight for the sharpening. This seems to work in the same way as wavelets in Registax.

This is one of Sam’s of the Mare on the Eastern Side:

This is one that James took centred on the Cuvier crater:

This is one of mine – I loved this view, because you can just see the summit of the central mountain in what I think is the Walther Crater, upper left. This view was stunning in the eyepiece. If I’ve identified it correctly then this little spec is 4.1k high- i.e. it’s a similar size to Mont Blanc sat on a crater floor that’s about the same size as the entire English Midlands.

Finally, on the moon, from a bit later in the week is Montes Jura, which is the prominent range towards the top of the picture. This feature is 3800m high and 422km long- it’d be a pretty substantial mountain range here on earth.

Next up were some globs, which are a great target when the sky’s not properly dark. I took these with the 130pd-s, and again used the ASI224, but taking 20 second .pngs rather than .avi’s. The mount was unguided (the ASI224 is usually my guide camera) and even over 20 seconds there were some wobbles so when I stacked it I set DSS to only take the best 50%. Each imaging run was 30 minutes, so these are effectively a 15 minute exposure and all use darks and bias frames. I took flats as well, but between M92 and M3 a big lump of something landed somewhere on the image train which meant they could only be used on the last 2 images.

First up was M13:

Next was M92. I’d normally crop and re-size this to present it better, but I wanted to make it comparable to the M13 pic above, so all the settings are exactly the same, although my processing has yielded a slightly different background colour. You can clearly see M92 is a bit smaller, but I think it’s also neater and more compact.

Next up was M3- again with the same parameters:

Finally, I had meant to go over to M5 and get another glob, but went for M64, the Black Eye galaxy. I took this with exactly the same parameters as the globs above (mainly because I was having fun doing visual and didn’t want to faf around with settings). I’m quite pleased with this; at the Practical Astronomy Show earlier in the year Dr Robin Glover (author of Sharpcap) gave a talk about how, for CMOS cameras, long exposures are not necessarily needed, or, indeed, optimal. This has enormous potential, because, by stacking loads of shorter sub exposures instead of a small number of long ones, it greatly reduces the precision (and therefore cost) needed for an AP setup. Well, that’s all well in theory, but I’ve had a go at M81 and NGC2903 using this method and the results were pretty pants! In this case, the exposures, at 20s were a bit longer, and the gain a bit lower and I’m really pleased with the outcome. I mean you can see what it is, which is more than can be said for the other 2 I’ve had a go with.

 

Moon, Methane and Messiers

Splendid night of observing and (hopefully) imaging last night.

Sam had his mate James round, and then Andy T came over to join us as well. Due to the long evening twilight and the terminator being in a prime position on the moon, we started there. Once they’d got the hang of it the 2 lads were thoroughly enjoying scanning up and down the terminator taking videos of moonscapes, which when I get some time will hopefully become some nice images.

The areas we looked at were the craters around the South Pole (Scott and Amundsen!) then worked our way down (the image appeared upside down in the mark/planetary camera) past Cuvier, Stofler, Albertegnius and Hipparchus toward the smoother area that’s more dominated by mare. The highlight for me was Albertegnius which was just in the perfect position to be in complete darkness, but with the sun illuminating just the summit of the central peak.

By this time Andy had set up his spectroscopy rig and took a reading from the moon- and matched in to an internet reading of the sun- explaining to the lads that this was because all the light coming from the moon was reflected from the sun, and how the technique enables us to derive what the elements are in the star.

We also did some visual exploration of the terminator- and no matter how amazing the views of the moon through the planetary camera, there is nothing for comes close to the stunning HD quality through the eyepiece. Even at 465x through the zoom the view was sharp and full of contrast; a really stunning view.

It was, by this time, bed o’clock for the boys, but Andy and I carried on. First step was swapping the mak for the 130pd-s and setting some imaging runs going on globular clusters with the planetary camera as I felt that the glare from the moon made any other targets a bit unrealistic. I’ll post these when I get the chance to do some processing!

For the same reasons I decided to go for similar targets visually whilst Andy did his spectroscopy and we shared the results with each other. First up, though, was the double-double- it didn’t split as easily as normal which suggested the seeing wasn’t great (I already knew my scope was both cooled and collimated). Nonetheless I pressed onto some globs:

– M13 Obvs! Always a lovely sight. Whilst there Andy moved the scope onto NGC 6207- a new one on me, and just next to M13. It was a struggle to see and needed averted vision to spot, but at Mag 11 the skies cannot have been too bad to pick this up.
– M92 It’s a bit smaller, but somehow feels more compact and symmetrical than its big brother.
– M3 Again- like M92, more compact and symmetrical. It was nice going through these one after the other- on their own globs are all similar, but when looking at them one after the other you really start to see the differences.
– As we were in the neighbourhood popped over to see the Whale galaxy- several club members have been imaging this lately so it was good to have a proper look. With proximity to the moon it was quite an effort to find this and I had it in the eyepiece for quite a while before I was sure I had it. By relaxing and just looking around the target it became obvious how huge it was- nearly filling the ep at 210x. I couldn’t make out the distinctive shape, however, and neither could we spot NGC4656
– Next stop as M5, which was visibly smaller, but with a dense bright core and was pleasingly circular.
– The next Messier glob easily visible looked to be M9. Whilst aiming the scope Andy asked about the bright light in the same direction- which is over towards East Mids airport- and we both agreed was clearly a plane- although not moving too much. Realising that this meant it was heading towards away from us I tried to aim the scope at it, because sometimes it’s a great view in the eyepiece. This plane turned out to have horizontal banding and 4 moons. JUPITER IS BACK!! Albeit hugging the horizon in a boiling atmosphere. Because of this the views were not brilliant, but it was great to see after a long break. Andy quickly headed back to his spectroscopy gear and lined it up- the result was a mixture of the same elements we’d found from the moon, plus a couple of lines for methane. Very pleasing! I then moved onto M9 and caught a quick glimpse, but was kneeling uncomfortably over the telescope by this stage and was getting decidedly cold so we decided to head in for a cup of tea in the warm and to look at Andy’s spectroscopy results.

Suitably refreshed, and with the moon down near the horizon the sky was darker, but also more hazy. We decided to look at some summer targets and started off with the Ring nebula. I think the effects of time and cold were beginning to set in by this stage as I struggled to get it in the eyepiece- not helped by the fact that everything was dewing over. Andy quickly rectified this and we were rewarded with some lovely rich views and spent some time comparing the views in the Baader zoom with Andy’s Binoviewers. The conclusion was that the binoviewers offered a different experience- more natural and pleasing to look at, but also there was some loss of detail. Partly this is caused by the higher magnification available to the Baader, but we also thought it may be down to the greater number of optical surfaces involved on the binoviewers. We returned to M13 to see if we’d find the same outcome- and it was pretty much the same; although the binoviewers rendered the glob as a sphere- a wonderful view.

I’d have liked to try them out on Jupiter, but by this point it was behind the neighbours house, so we returned to deep sky targets instead- trying for M51. Unfortunately, by this point, the sky was pretty hazy and despite being certain I had the dob in the right place, I could not see the galaxies. Spent a while trying to remove dew from EPs, finders etc, but it was pretty clear that the sky was lightening and it was time to pack up. Big thanks to Andy for coming over- observing in company and sharing ideas adds so much to an evening and the output from the spectroscopy was really interesting!

Bodes & Cigar

From Sunday Night- there was little bit of darkness before the moon rose and I had a go at the M81/82 pair. This has long been a favourite target visually, and so I decided to have another go at imaging it- this time with my 8 inch scope and with another 15 months imaging experience under my belt.

Capture details: 24x 4mins with IDAS D2 + Darks, Flats & Bias.

M51

This is my go at Messier 51 from Thursday night, using the 200p f5 Newtonian that I picked up earlier this month. My first effort at deep sky with the scope had a few issues with collimation and focus, but a bit of time spent tuning it up seems to have yielded a much better result. This is one of my favourite targets, both for observing and images. To get a grandstand view of a galactic collision with an 8 inch dob in my suburban garden is one of those special moments that makes me love this hobby. In images, I love the stream of stars flung out into space from the encounter- this is the first time, after 3 attempts, that I’ve caught a bit of it.

This image is 35x 4 minute subs with 20 each of flats, darks and bias. Camera is a modded Canon 600d, stacking is in DSS and processing is in Pixinsight.

Galaxy Quest! Observing Report 25/3/19

A clear sky and a free evening coincide at last!

First up was setting up the 200p for an imaging run on M101 (still stacking!) and then a nice little session with Sam and the 8 inch Dob.

Betelgeuse was first up and discussing how if it was where the Sun was we’d be in it!
The Orion Nebula at 48x was a nice site, with the 4 brighter trapezium stars quite distinct.
We then moved onto the Double Cluster which filled the eyepiece at the same magnification- so many stars!
Finally we had a look at M65 and M66 in the Leo Triplet.

A bit of family time and then back out with the 14″ for a more serious session.

In Auriga- M36, M37 and M38 were a good place to start, they’re sliding off to the West now and in a better place for comfort and (from my location) light pollution and seeing. I was swapping between the 24mm Baader zoom and the 35mm Orion that came with the scope, and whilst the 35mm offered a better Field of View the 24mm had better contrast and brighter stars. It became clear during this time that whichever eyepiece I was using, the seeing was good and conditions were better than they’ve been for weeks.

Next up I returned to Leo and the triplet. As usual M65 & 66 were quite easy to see, but whilst the 35mm needed averted vision to see NGC3389, it was quite clear in the Baader zoom with direct vision and that eyepiece remained in the scope for the rest of the session. M105 and friends were quite clear and continued the evening’s theme of multiple galaxies in a single field of view.

And so- over to Virgo- starting at Vindemiatix and hopping up to M60, with M59 again in the same view. Whilst looking around and enjoying the pairing, with both galaxies showing a bit of shape, NGC 4638 popped out at me as well. With the conditions better than for weeks I then embarked on a wander through the wonders of Virgo that went well past bed o’clock but where the next object was rarely more than a Field of View away. From my notes:

M84 Bright Core, no Shape
M86 Bright with some shape
M88 Yeah! Bright, some shape
M89 Core very bright- but no shape
M90 Clear flat elipse; some shape with AV
M91 V faint- no shape
NGC4638 Quite easy to distinguish
NGC4564 Clearly seen
NGC4568 AV Only
NGC4477 Direct Vision
NGC4479 AV Only
NGC4473 Clearly seen with DV
NGC4458 AV Only
NGC4461 AV Only
NGC4435 Clear and distinct from other Eye
NGC4438 Clear and distinct from other Eye
NGC4388 Flat shape
NGC4413 V Faint but direct
NGC4402 Faint- AV only
NGC4476 Quite clear next to M87
NGC4478 Quite clear next to M87
NGC4486a Quite clear next to M87

Altogether that’s 30 galaxies observed in quite a small segment of sky. I was discussing with my wife afterwards my fascination with looking at these. In many ways they’re no spectacle at all- fuzzy patches of lighter sky, some of them little more than mottling against darkness. Yet when viewing them with the knowledge of what they are, of the vast eons across which this light has travelled, and of the journey we have been on as a species to reach our present knowledge plus the many open questions that remain about them they are, in the most literal sense, awesome. All this was combined with a little buzz of achievement- several times last year I tried to galaxy hop through Virgo to Markarian’s and always found myself losing track somewhere and returning to the start point. There were a few shaky moments last night but the feeling of accomplishment at the end was quite immense.

I spent today at a corporate event needing to look bright eyed and bushy tailed which required rather a lot of coffee. I’m not sure I was making much sense by the end, but it was well worth it!

First Light with my New Old Telescope

I’ve been thinking about getting another OTA to enable me to image at a higher magnification, but been a little worried about whether my mount and guide setup would support it. A few weeks back an old blue tube Skywatcher 200p OTA appeared on the SGL classified section for £50- it felt like a low risk way to find out.

As advertised, the tube has a few cosmetic marks, but the optics all seem to be good. Despite the impending Storm Gareth I really wanted to give it a go last night and see what how it would work. Collimation, balance and focus was easy enough (even though the focuser is a bit sticky), but the semi-cloudy conditions and the gusting winds causing the scope to jump around persuaded me to stick to the moon for my first effort.

Of the pictures below, the full disk is from my 600d with a 0.9 coma corrector; whilst the others are from stacked avi’s on my ZWO Barlowed to x3.2 with a bit of wavelet adjustment in Registax (I wrote that like I know what I’m doing in Registax, which I really don’t!). Finally there’s a little picture of the scope in action to record the moment!

Cone and California Nebulae (Manflu=Processing Opportunity)

A touch of lurgy at the moment has given me an opportunity to catch up on some imaging processing. The cone was the trickier of the pair- it’s much less bright and because there’s lots of gas around it, finding some background to calibrate on was not easy. Also, in my efforts to strip light pollution (both moon and LED) from the RGB subs I’ve removed any Oiii signal which I know is present somewhere in this! California was easier as it has higher surface brightness.

Cone:

14/2/19: Ha – 14x 10 min subs (yes- my wife is very understanding)

21/2/19: RGB – 40x 2.5mins subs

California:

14/2/19: Ha – 14x 10 mins subs

9/1/19: RGB – 12x 5 mins subs

 

Messier 42

Here’s an M42 from earlier this week.

On Monday night, with a very bright moon I took some Ha shots. M42 can be quite a tricky target because there’s such a difference in brightness between the centre and outlying areas, so this is a mix of 1 and 10 min exposures with the Ha filter. Unfortunately the clouds were rolling over quite frequently, and of 15 10 mins shots, only 3 were actually usable- this has given me a very noisy Ha channel to work with.

I had a bit more luck on Thursday night, before the moon came up, capturing 1 and 5 min exposures with the IDAS filter that I use to suppress the bright LED lights. Merging mixed exposure times is a new technique for me, so I’m quite pleased with how it has come out. The trapezium can’t quite be seen, but there’s still a reasonable amount of detail in the bright sections that surround it. The hardest bit was reducing the noise in the final colour image- I’ve lost a bit of detail doing this. Ah well- gives me something to aim for next year…

18/2/19 – Ha – 30x 1 mins, 3x 10 mins

21/2/19 – RGB – 12x1mins, 54x 5mins

Rosette and Alnitak

Finally had a chance to process the remaining images from the little clear spell we had last week.

It unfortunately conincided with work and other commitments so I’m really missing observing at the moment- but playing with the images has been some nice astro therapy in its absence.

Rosette HaRGB – this is the colour version of one I posted on 17th January- I managed to get 80 minutes of RGB on the 30th to add to the Ha pictures I’d taken earlier in the month. I really like this object- it’s a nice cluster in the dob and I can just about see some of the nebulosity (although obviously not the Ha). I think this image is a bit unbalanced- the red rightly dominates, but there shuold be some lighter colour as well around the centre. Probably because that’s the narrowband filter I’ve used, and it had 10 min exposures vs only 5 for the rest of the spectrum. I’d like to have another go at this and see if I can bring out some of the other colours. I also hadn’t understood how big this is-it’s three times the size of the Orion nebula and I love the way you can see how the newly formed stars have blown bubbles in the gaseous structure. There’s a range of distances from different sources- but they seem to average about 5000 light years- so this light started travelling when they were building Stonehenge.

Alnitak/Flame/Horsehead – I’m often drawn to this one- I find the Horsehead such a charismatic object. I’ve looked for it lots of times when the skies seem to be transparent but never succeeded in spotting it visually. The black and white image is another Ha effort- this time from 2nd February. The RGB bit was from a couple of nights before, and was one that I set running after an evening in the pub. It’s a much tighter crop than I would have liked because my framing was, shall we say, “not optimal”. I think I prefer the monochrome version of this.

 

 

This picture below was after the the Ha mage. I left it imaging overnight whilst we had guests and went back to it in the morning with the mount still faithfully tracking the constellation somewhere over America, but with the guiding not working so well! If you ever doubted the heat that cameras can put out- look at how everything but the guide camera is iced up.