Rob Leonard

Lunar Crescent Mosaic

This one’s been in my camera for a few days- I took it last Tuesday. It’s made of a mosaic of nine panels- each one the best 5% of frames from a 30 second avi. This was a bit tricky to get- it was only just dark enough whilst I was capturing and the seeing was terrible so this isn’t as sharp as I’d like. Still quite pleased to have got it though.

Working version showing the panels:

Final Version:

Observing Feast

Had the 14″ out as the forecast looked good and no work today… Before joining the others for the virtual star party Sam and I tried splitting a few doubles that were emerging in the twilight. It’s funny how your observing develops- doubles didn’t really interest me much to start with, but as time has gone on I’ve become a little addicted to it. I’ve found with my gear an aperture mask and (if the seeing will take it) really high magnification (470x last night) works well.

Epsilon Lyra: you could drive a bus through there!

Izar: Ok more like a road bike (with skinny tyres) but still a nice clear split.

Next spent a bit of time setting up an imaging run, then rejoined the club online call on audio and we tried to look at the same features on the moon. The seeing was superb. Great to share these highlights with others:

Lunar X- my first observation.

Lunar V- likewise!

Walther- spectacular shadow reaching from central peak and picking out features on the crater floor.

Ptolemaeus- wow! Just perfectly placed with the crater rim picked out as a shadow across the crater floor. I spent ages on this trying to imagine the sight at the edge of the shadow as the sun crested the 2.5km high ridge above the crater floor. Reading today that the crater is close to 100 miles wide it isn’t quite as I imagined. I suspect for 95% of the lunar day this crater is a bit meh to observe- but so perfectly placed tonight with all sorts of textures and features in the floor it was an awesome sight.

Ok so now it was darkish, time to go deep space…

M13- familiar, but a wonder every time. Propeller visible.

ZetaHerc- split came and went in the seeing, but pretty clear at times. Credit card split, not road bike.

M81 Central shape, hazy outlying areas
M82 a sleek line, some mottling despite proximity to the moon.

Now Cygnus was over the rooftops to the east. Time for a summer target feast:
Full veil complex in oiii & 30mm. Lovely view, witches broom much the brighter bit, wonderful to have it back.
Crescent nebula- yes! First sight!!! Faint but just visible in oiii. Only really sure because of the keystone asterism framing the wisp.
M27 dumbbell- in Baader zoom and Oiii filter. Apple core shape prominent with fainter view of the outer lobes.
M57 the ring – very bright in oiii, still easily visible with no filter.
M71- quite faint but pleasing
M56- very nice- quite faint but with even distribution.

Ok- now 2am and only Andy and I left so one last object and the sky is now darkest around Ursa Major.
M51- spiral arms!!! Yes! Drifting in and out of perception and requiring AV but a very fine view.

So- packed up the dob and the imaging rig and was just locking up and about to go to bed when Jupiter popped round the side of the house and said “You don’t want to do that!” Quickly grabbed the 8 inch:

Jupiter- 4 moons and stripes oh yeah!!! Couldn’t make out much detail with it being so low in the sky, but great to see it again.
Saturn- My log says “& Titan” but looking at Sky Safari now I think it was more likely to be Iapetus. I couldn’t see the Cassini division but there was a hint of banding.

Wow- one of those super awesome sessions that come along so rarely. A real pleasure and such a range of stuff seen. Would have preferred to do it at Rosliston, but a good alternative to share it virtually with other club members.

Best not plan anything too demanding today!

My Workflow for Comet Stacking

This is my shot of the Atlas comet from back on 11th April. My workflow steps to create it were:

  1. Capture data- 90 x 1 min L, 15 x 1 min each RGB using SW200p.
  2. Realise that I don’t know how to stack comet data and leave for 2 weeks.
  3. Try and stack using PI but find that Pixinsight Comet Alignment won’t stack DSS calibrated FITS files. Swear. Leave for another 2 weeks.
  4. Relearn how to calibrate in PI and start processing only to discover all subs are slightly out of focus and quite a few are spoilt by cloud.
  5. Reduced to 28 mins of RGB frames and stack to create the starfield- stars are OK but the comet is a disco smear (unsurprisingly).
  6. Use the PixInsight comet alignment tool on the L data. Looks completely pants. Swear again, delete it and give up.
  7. A couple of days later remember that DSS has a Comet alignment tool in it. Bit of a faf (you have to tell it where the comet is in each frame) but gave a much better result.
  8. Use GIMP to clone and blur out the worst of the stacking artefacts and layer into the starfield in lighten mode.

So- here it is, plus a few “making of” shots. It feels like I’ve cheated a bit as this is a mono comet with RGB stars, but after the difficulties in processing it I’m actually really pleased to have got something!

The Disco Comet:

The DSS Comet:

Put it all together:



A little lunar session

We had a nice family movie night last night (Solo- very underrated in my view!) and when it finished we spotted it was clear out. Thought we’d have a quick view through the dob and it looked so good we opened the shed up to take some pictures. Here’s Sam in action on the laptop:

This is my favourite- I’m really taken with Montes Riphaeus picked out on the lower left hand side of this- they look quite small here- but this is a range over 100 miles long and 30 miles wide.

Here’s the Plato Crater- this is the view that persuaded me to get the imaging rig going- at the top of the picture you can see the crescent of Montes Jura arcing off into the shadow. This is a range of mountains similar in scale to the Alps and the bit that really grabbed me was the shadow from the end of range reaching out away from us across the smooth lunar floor. In the 8 inch dob at 350x this looked epic.

Finally, here’s a view of a rougher area- the Southern lunar highlands. The standout features here are the terracing that you can see on the 4800m high walls of the Tycho crater top and right of centre and the giant Clavius crater left of centre. The crater itself is 140 miles wide, with 5 smaller craters arcing across its floor.

Each image is taken from a 1 minute video shot with an ASI224 + 3.2x Barlow on a SW200p scope. We used Autostakkert!3 to identify and stack the best 10% of frames and then used sharpening and colour management in Pixinsight to finish it off.

Spring 2020 Lockdown Astro Bonanza

It’s feast or famine in this hobby, isn’t it?

Back in November I was feeling so starved of night sky I was starting to check out remote telescope subscriptions. Fast forward 4 months and the clear nights have been a regular and very welcome occurrence in these strange times. In the month between 15th March – 15th April I’ve been able to observe and/or image on 11 different nights helped not a little by working all the time at home.

I’ve still got quite a lot of data to go through but thought I’d share a few of the pictures I’ve managed during this time. Feedback always welcome…

M106 – 15th March

ASI1600MM / SW200p / HEQ5 – 20x 2 mins in each of RGB

Really pleased with how this one came out- but really wish I’d framed it better to move NGC4217, bottom right, further into the frame as I hadn’t realised it would be so photogenic.

Leo Triplet – 22nd March

ASI1600MM / SW200p / HEQ5 – 48x 120s L, 20x 2 mins in each of RGB

M63 Sunflower Galaxy 25th March

ASI1600MM / SW200p / HEQ5 – 40x 60s L, 10x 2 mins in each of RGB

Seven Sisters and California 25th March

Canon 600d / Jupiter 135mm / Star Adventurer – 45x 1min exposure per pane.

Really pleased to have got this one. I only realised it was a composition that would work with the 135mm whilst doing a much wider shot- and it would have been better had I done it a few months earlier. As it was I managed 45 minutes on each pane before they slipped below the horizon- indeed there was a bit of incursion from the Leylandii dark nebula at the bottom of my garden on the last few subs. The gradients were pretty fierce as well- to the extent that the Pixinsight tools really couldn’t do much and I resorted to eyeballing the brightness and joining the pictures up in Gimp- hopefully I got away with it! I’ll definitely have another go at this later this year when they’ll be much higher in the sky.

M3 Globular 26th March

ASI1600MM / SW200p / HEQ5 – 10x 2mins in each of RGB

I do love globs, especially the way they start to look different from each other once you get to know them. M3 always looks much tidier than M13 in the eyepiece to me, but that’s less apparent in pictures. What stood out for me on this one is the contrast between white and orange stars. Definitely have to look for that in the eyepiece next time.

M101 Pinwheel Galaxy 26th/27th March

ASI1600MM / SW200p / HEQ5 – 146x 1min L, 15 x 2 mins each of  RGB, 58x 2 mins Ha

I really went to town a bit on this one to see how much gathering extra data would help the image. Adding the Ha in took quite a bit of tweaking- the process I usually use for nebulae pictures (learned from Light Vortex tutorials for Pixinsight) really didn’t give me very much so I spent a long time playing with it. In the end the most effective way was to combine the Ha with the Red prior to colour combining, then after the stretch and applying luminance, use the Ha layer as a mask and enhance the saturation on the red that way.

Virgo Galaxy Cluster 27th March

Canon 600d / Jupiter 135mm / Star Adventurer, 123x 1min

This didn’t come out as the most exciting image in the world- you have to look quite hard to spot the galaxies, so I ran it through the Pixinsight script that annotates your photos to make a GIF of it. There are quite a few!!

Owl Nebula 6th and 8th April

ASI1600MM / SW200p / HEQ5 – 8×5 mins in each of Ha, Oiii and Sii

These were done under a bright moon- the first is a Bi-colour HOO from the first night’s captures and the second is SHO after I’d captured some Sii. I think I prefer the HOO version- the Sii signal was very weak and I don’t think it really adds anything to the images.



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: