Rob Leonard

Venus in the Pleiades

The clouds cleared just long enough to get a nice view of Venus passing through the Pleiades this evening. I took a couple with 300mm lens and then attached the camera to the 8 inch Dob- I’ve attached 2 here, one to show the half-disk and then another exposed to reveal the stars. The view in the eyepiece was a wonder, with Venus sat just on the end of a tail of fanter stars drifting to the side of cluster. I told the family I’d just pop out for five minutes and was still there gazing at the moon an hour later- terrific views of Copernicus tonight with good seeing between the clouds.

 

 

Observing and another wide image.

Sunday night was one of those rare occasions when a clear night is accurately forecast in advance. Shame it was work the next day, but the forecast meant I able to set up both imaging rigs and the dob in the daylight and get going as soon as the sun set..

The observing was pretty good- I really wanted to make the most of the winter targets that are now drifting away and had good views of Venus, M42, the Running Man and the Flame. Conditions were good so I had a go at the Horsehead with a number of eyepieces and filters, but no joy. Having seen it once (at a darker site) it always seems to be teasingly on the edge of vision- the bank that it sits in is often just discernible and so logically you would expect a gap in that bank to be visible too…

To make life easier I spent a bit of time on the Pleiades. It may sound funny, but after 5 years of looking at it, including 2 with the telescope I’m using now, it seems I’m only just now learning how to look at this. When I first look, the magnification of the scope (it’s 1650mm fl) makes the stars relatively sparse. Some strong nebulosity does appear quite quickly, but it’s only after literally minutes of just gazing around the object, wobbling the scope and moving just off the object and back on again that the filmy nebula away from the brighter bits emerges. Really gorgeous. And maybe I’m a just a bit slow on the uptake.

I then moved onto Perseus (which is in the darkest bit of sky for me)- looking at Mirium (lovely yellow/white double), Theta Perseus, Melotte 20 (better in the finder), M34 (not my favourite), the Double Cluster (always lovely), and Iota Cass (I couldn’t see the colours very well this time, which was a bit disappointing).

I then moved up to Ursa Major for M51 (it was quite high, the 2 cores were bright, and the bridge was visible, the arms less so, but a nice view all the same) and NGC 2403 which I recently imaged, but which was hardly visible in these skies. Next up was M106, but the clouds beat me to it and it was time to pack up.

Whilst enjoying the relatively balmy night (it didn’t hit the dew point until the very end) I also had the imaging rig on M106 (which I’ve yet to process) and the camera doing an 18mm field along the Milky Way. I’ve done two of these before; running the galaxy from bottom right to top left, and I had vague notions of turning It into some sort of super mosaic of the galaxy across the year, but it’s so much lower in the sky this time of year that it was impossible to frame it like that. I was also shooting into the light pollution over Burton, which gave me some wicked gradients across that wide view- here’s the stacked image after a stretch on it.

When I look at images like this it seems a miracle we can see anything at all through that murk. Pixinsight’s DBE tool did battle with it- and I’m going to call it a score draw- the bottom left corner was pretty much a lost cause, but after I cropped it out the rest of the image came out OK, with just a bit of vestigial lp gunk remaining. It seems really marked how much more sparse the galaxy is looking away from the core like this:

And here’s an annotated version:

 

A Great Big Thump

Came back from a nice family night out on Friday to a lovely clear view of 95%ish moon- had a lovely hour taking some pictures. After doing lots of DSO lately, where the pursuit of greater quality is leading to ever longer integration times it was nice to just wander round the disc of the moon and take (relatively) quick captures.

These are my 3 favourites- the same technique was used on all three- a one minute video using ASI224 camera, then Autostakkert to identify and stack the best 5% of frames and finally Pixinsight to crop and sharpen using the Multiscale tool (similar to Wavelets in Registax) and then tweak the levels.

First one is the Copernicus crater and associated impact debris. I tweaked the curves quite a lot to bring out the spoil from the impact. From Wikipedia, the crater itself is 93km wide, using the Pixel scale I make the main disk of debris around it 400km wide, whilst Wikipedia thinks the rays extend for twice that. That’s quite an impact!!!

Next up is another impact- here’s the smaller Proclus crater, with the rays of the impact spreading out over Mare Crisium:

Finally- here’s the Aristarchus Crater with Schroter’s Valley (which is the sinuous rille extending up from Aristarchus in the middle of the image) being really nicely illuminated on its southern wall.

 

Observing log Burton-on-Trent Andy & Rob 27/2/2020

Rob and I having marvellous time with 14 inch Orion Dob!

Great view of M42 appearing green and six stars clearly visible in trapezium.

Bagged Comet 2017 T2 Panstarrs bright almost planetary nebula like in eyepiece. Also seen Comet 289P/Blanpain which is supposedly magnitude 1.8 according to Sky Safari – no chance – very faint slight brightening of sky – needed accurate star hop and some tapping of scope to confirm.

Just seen Leo triplet M65 and M66 very easy to see but that third NGC 3628 – we saw it in the 14 inch Dob but so much fainter although once found relatively easy to follow around eyepiece when you move it – certainly a lot easier than comet 289P!

Whilst all this is going on, Rob is also photographing NGC 2403 – avoiding the usual suspects of close by M81/82. Sky much better from his house near Burton than mine in Lichfield – lucky blighter!

Cup of tea – back into the breech dear friends!…

Three clusters in Auriga, Double Cluster in Perseus, nebulosity visible with UHC filter on both Heart and Soul Nebula – we could map out edge, absolutely fantastic.

Very bright contrast views of M81 and M82 – some if best I have ever seen.

Rob saw bright meteor I missed

We finished with the Needle Galaxy. Very needle like! Bright and obvious direct vision. Great place to finish.

Andy

The Ghost of Cassiopeia

This is my first full colour picture from a mono camera 🙂

This nebula sits next to Navi in Cassiopeia (Gamma Cass)- apparently the star is gradually eroding the nebula. The nebula itself is both an emission and a reflection nebula, but I think I’ve only managed to capture the emission parts here.

I took this over 2 nights on 15th and 17th Jan. It’s been a bit of a learning process to put this together:

  • 40 mins of 2 minute subs in each of LRGB on 15th
  • 100 mins of 5 minute subs in Ha on 17th

It certainly takes a bit more effort to process mono, and it wasn’t helped by loads of problems with ice and fogging on my secondary. This led to not getting much Ha signal, and I’ve used layers in Gimp to bring it out (don’t tell Pixinsight- they’ll excommunicate me!). I think there’s probably more can be extracted from this data- especially around the body of the nebula- but I’m still pleased to have a full colour image!

I had another go at this a few days later and the whole scope completely iced up- see picture at the bottom!

 

 

Winter Widefield

Here are a couple from last week. First up, here’s a widefield view of the Milky Way- taken at 18mm on my 18-55 zoom. I did one of these about 4 months ago- it’s nice to catch the ‘next bit’ of the galaxy so to speak. This is an hours worth of 60 second exposures.

With hindsight I think I’d have been better off stopping it down a bit (this was f3) and going for, say, 30 2 minute exposures, as it was a swine to focus and the star shapes at the edges of the frame are more like fans. Still- it’s been nice to work my way around the frame and pick out some familiar objects- here’s an annotated version below:

A bit more successful was this slightly tighter view taken with the 50mm lens on the 15th when Neil came over and was working on his rather splendid Rosette. Again- this was an hours worth of 60 second exposures at f3.5, but the lens made a better job of keeping things sharp(ish).

The plan on this one was to be looking out past the edge of our galaxy at Andromeda (coming to get us!), but I haven’t been able to pick up of a drop off in the star density to pick up the edge of the galaxy. I might try this one again one day from a darker site. I still like this image a little better than the wider one as the objects in it are a bit more distinct- Pacman is really clear, Caroline’s Rose is quite prominent and you can see the dark nebulae of our galaxy.

 

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!

Heart and Soul

Finally had a chance to catch up with some processing this weekend.

Firstly- here’s a widefield shot including the Soul nebula and the Double Cluster from 4th December. This is taken from the best 70% of two hours of data using vintage 135mm lenski on a 600d and Star Adventurer, with the usual set of calibration frames.

Next up here’s a Ha and Oiii from 1st December on the Heart. This is from 14×10 mins of Oiii and 30x 10 minutes of Ha. I should have done them the other way around as the Ha is a stronger signal, but I had the Oiii in to start with. I’ve used an “HOO” palette for this- feeding the Ha into the Red and then the Oiii into both Blue and Green, with the Blue favoured for no other reason than that I quite like the purplish hue it gives.

I’ve enjoyed messing about with the Starnet++ programme lately- so here’s a starless version:

Finally, I think at times I’m guilty of getting too involved with the process of putting these images together and losing track of the incredible size and structure of these objects and the miracle of being able to take pictures of the them from my back garden. So here’s a crop of Melotte 15, the Open Cluster at the “Heart of the Heart”. Our estimate is that this nebula is 7,000 light years distant from Earth and has a diameter of 107 light years across. Using the pixel scale on the original photo (23 pixels=1 light year) I’ve done a (very) rough approximation of our Stellar Neighbourhood around the nebula structure in the middle of the cluster. What would our night sky look like if we had this in the middle of it? Would it have changed our biology, our myths, our history? For sure, it’d make for some pretty cool photos…

(Edit) Quick request from the WhatsApp group – here are the Ha and Oiii that the shot was built from: