Friday, March 16, 2018

Unexpected clear skies and a Messier mini-marathon

Last Sunday evening the skies cleared up, to my surprise, well enough to attempt some astro-photography. Of interest to me that evening was the fact that the portion of the night sky that is laden with galaxies was well up in the sky, the region around the constellation Leo, the Lion.
All images taken with a Meade LX200GPS 8" telescope and a Canon T3i DSLR.

First up to image were two globular star clusters:
(Note: click on the images for a little larger view)

Messier object: M 3 - globular star cluster
Notice the various colors of the stars.

Messier object: M 53 - globular star cluster

And then some "open" star clusters:
Messier object: M 35 - open star cluster

Messier object: M 44 - open star cluster
Notice again the colors of the stars

Messier object: M 67 - open star cluster

NGC 2158

Then a host of galaxies, various shapes and sizes!
Messier object: M 64 galaxy
aka "The Black Eye Galaxy"

Messier object: M 65 galaxy

Messier object: M 66 galaxy

Messier object: M 90 galaxy

Messier object: M 95 barred spiral galaxy

Messier object: M 96 galaxy

Messier object: M 98 galaxy

Messier object: M 100 spiral galaxy

The region around M 100 is filled with galaxies!
(satellite streaked the image)

Messier object: M 104 galaxy
aka "The Sombero Galaxy"

NGC 3628 galaxy

Not all galaxies are spiral in nature. Some are called "elliptical" or "lenticular" galaxies". 
They are without any spiral structure. Though not pretty to look at, they are part of the Messier collection of deep sky objects.
Messier object: M 105 elliptical galaxy (upper right)
and the region around it

Messier object: M 60 elliptical galaxy

Messier object: M 85 elliptical galaxy

Messier objects: M 84 and M 86 elliptical galaxies

Messier object: M 87 galaxy

Messier object: M 89 elliptical galaxy

After about 2 hours of imaging 20+ Messier objects and with frost building up on the telescope, I pulled the plug and headed indoors where it was warm!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Update: Super Blue Blood Moon photos and such

 I submitted this photo to the local TV station and was pleased that they made it the top image on their Facebook page the next day!
Then I was surprised again when another Facebook group AASP, which focuses exclusively on image of the Moon, selected my image of the lunar eclipse as one of the images of the Month for January, 2018!

I forgot to update the previous blog with more images. I promised so now I deliver.
This is the view across a meadow at the south end of downtown La Pine. This was at during totality. As you can see, light pollution from even our little town was enough to illuminate the meadow.
Exposure: 30 sec @ f/5, 18mm lens, ISO 800, Canon T3i body on tripod facing due west. The various colors on the horizon are homes with a variety of outdoor lighting reflecting up on a low fog. Just to the right of the moon is the open star cluster, M 44, the Beehive Cluster.

Here are the various telescopes and lenses I used that morning (from 4:30 am until 5:30 am)
Canon T3i with 55-250mm telephoto zoom lens on a Slick tripod.

Daystar 80mm telescope on Celestron CG-4 mount and Canon T3i camera body

Celestron 5 telephoto on Celestron CG-4 mount and Canon T3i camera body

Over-exposed image during totality to bring out M 44
The Beehive Star Cluster (on the right hand side)

More annotated images:

Finally a brief time-lapse:

Friday, February 16, 2018

A Test That Turns Into A 2 Hour Imaging Session!

I headed out to the obs with only the thought of breaking out my old Canon XS camera body that I had modded a few years back but was never satisfied with the results I got.
Since then I came to understand that the problem was that I was shooting on .jpg images, which are terrible to work with in astrophotography. RAW images, I learned, gave more latitude in adjusting colors, color balance and contrast.
So I thought I would take advantage of clear skies (which were going to get clouded over shortly) and run a few image tests with it... then get back indoors for the rest of the evening.
After a few shots and a brief effort at post-processing... I was hooked for two hours until the clouds started covering my subjects!
WOW, the images were impressive! And though I don't think the samples in this blog are anything like what they will be in the future (with more subs and better focus and more experience in post-processing) I was elated with the "test" results.

The first test shot was of the Orion Nebula (M42) region of the Orion constellation (which is in the southern evening sky now).
Wow! The reds just popped out! And a 3 minute exposure was all that was needed! Hit that EASY button!

What immediately captured my attention was the brevity of the exposures to grab the reddish portion of the nebula. In previous attempts over many years, the blues of the nebula stood out and the reds were harder to image unless I spent a lot of time with lots of sub-exposures. But because the camera was modded (the infrared blocking filter removed from the camera) the reds just plain POPPED out!
And that in just a few minutes compared to many times more than that in previous imaging sessions!
In fact, so much red that I had to combine the result with non-ir images to bring out the blues!

So I thought I would head on over to the Rosetta Nebula (just to the left of Orion). The previous night I had tried to image it only to be so disappointed in not capturing it that I didn't bother to post it on this blog. But just a 3 minute exposure with the modded camera and WOW! There it was!

Whoohoo! Hit that EASY button again!

And then, with clouds threatening, I slewed back to Orion, to the area of the star Alnitak and gave the Flame Nebula and the Horsehead Nebula a go.
Never before had I EVER captured the Horsehead Nebula with its deep reds without hours and hours of effort... and this was just a 3 minute sub! Hit that EASY button again and again!
Lessons learned:
1. An IR modified Canon camera body... DON'T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT !
2. Shoot RAW or else go home!
3. Stack "normal" white balance images with the modified IR images to bring out all the colors!
4. Use the live stacking program AstroToaster to quickly live stack the images

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Another try at Barnard's Loop in Orion WITH a guide camera!

Another clear evening (that's two in a row!) Out to the obs for some more tests with a new guide camera my wife got me for Christmas, an Astromania SGCMOS through Amazon. First time to really use it and WOW!!  Long exposures (6 plus minutes) with no star trailing... and I haven't found the upper limit of length of exposure yet!

This is a SINGLE image using an old Canon 40D camera with some post processing using GIMP, Luminar, and Preview.

Wide field image of the region of the constellation Orion. Showing Barnard's Loop, the Great Orion Nebula, the Flame nebula, the Horsehead nebula and a touch of the Wizard's nebula (far right).

Info: Canon 40D camera (NOT modified), ISO 200, 50mm lens set at f/4, 6 minute exposure, piggy-backed on a Meade LX200GPS 8" equatorially mounted scope, guide scope 50mm, guide camera is an Astromania SGCMOS (from Amazon).

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Barnard's Loop in Orion

Clear skies in La Pine, and you know what that means: astrophotography! The region around the constellation Orion was my focus last night. That faint reddish cloud at the left is part of what is called Barnard's Loop.

It was hard to bring out Barnard's Loop in post-processing but I got as much as I could without totally messing up the rest of the nebula, especially the Great Orion Nebula.

EXPOSURE info: 35 minutes total exposure time (about 75 - 30 sec subs), Canon T3i, 40mm lens set at f/4, tracking via Celestron 4SE mount, DeepSkyStacker, post-processed using GIMP (

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Initial post on today's total eclipse of the "blue-blood-super" Moon

It cleared up long enough to capture the first half of the total lunar eclipse here in central Oregon!
I will write more in a later post but I just wanted to get these images posted right away.
These were taken from the edge of "down town" La Pine, looking across a large meadow to the west. It was 21 degree F and very still. It was a beautiful scene... until the fog rolled in from the north.
Enjoy God's creation!

Prior to totality (exposure to reveal the dark shadowed area)

At totality (it was actually quite dark!)

This image has the star cluster M44 there on the right.

Monday, January 29, 2018

More Preparation for Wednesday's Total Lunar Eclipse

I needed clear skies to take two more test images of the full Moon in preparation for Wednesday, January 31, 2018 total eclipse of the Moon.

The first image test was to attach my Canon T3i to my Daystar 500mm f/6 scope (from the CATE Total Solar Eclipse Experiment).

This is much nicer image size and better clarity than the 400mm scope I tested yesterday.

The second image test was an early submission for an experiment to make a 3D image of the Moon tonight and (hopefully) for Wednesday morning's total eclipse of the Moon (weather permitting here). Images will be take over 500 miles apart (maybe more) with the exact same experiment by different CATE volunteers, one being in the San Diego, California.

Here are my early submissions to this test. The first is the focus image. The setup was a Daystar 500mm f/6, PointGrey monochrome 5mp camera, Celestron CG-4 mount taken at 8 pm, January 29, 2018.

The second is an HDR composite image. 

The last is a post-processed image to bring out some contrast.

So it appears that my primary scope is going to be the Daystar 500mm f/6, which I will use with both the monochrome PointGrey camera and my color Canon DSLR T3i camera.

I will still take a few image with a second Canon camera for "context" images.