Equipment for Astronomy

How to set up Carte de Ciel (Sky Map, CdC) & PHD software for imaging & guiding – version 23/4/2020

After successfully managing to get guiding working earlier this week, I decided to write an outline of the process for (mainly) my own reference so that next time I would know what to do!

Not a perfect process – Damian made this comment:

Well done with regards to last night. I had a quick look at your screengrab on the blog. You didn’t have any calibration loaded – that’s why CAL is orange/yellow in the bottom right. The red DARK also suggests there are no darks for this connection..? Considering PHD had no data about your mount to go on, it did well!

….So still some way to go to improve it.

Click on link below to download process (PDF):

How to set up Carte de Ciel (Sky Map, CdC) & PHD software for imaging & guiding 230420



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.



Resolving the problem of my Dobsonian telescope falling off the equatorial platform when the platform is at an angle

My solution to the problem of my telescope falling off my Equatorial Platform. I have replaced the central bolt of the Orion UK Dobsonian telescope with longer one and bolted the base of the rocker box to the top of the platform. I have replaced the nut with a wing nut so that I can easily attach and detach the rocker box from its base.


Equatorial Platforms USA compact wooden platform for 52 degrees North – Photos of Platform & User Guide (Instruction Manual)

My latest acquisition, being testing with my Dark Star 12 inch Dobsonian telescope.

Equatorial Platforms USA 52 degree compact platform user guide scanned 19/3/2020

From my tests today, the power connection port is CENTRE POSITIVE (12V DC) – i.e. same as the cable used for powering HEQ5/EQ6 mount or my QHY10 camera. It certainly powers up using one of the 12V power supplies for my WD MyBook USB external hard disc drives – which is what I was using in photo below.


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!