Astronomy Search:

Live Star Chart -- Messier Slide Collection -- NGC Slide Series

Click here, to see latest weather radar Vail, AZ from Weather Underground

Get Polaris transit times at the U.S. Naval Oceanography Portal

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Messier 47

The open cluster M47 is approximately 1600 light-years from Earth and is 78 million years old.

Unguided, 250 x 15 sec JPEG frames, 1600 ASA, noise reduction enabled.

NGC 2264, Christmas Tree Cluster

Here is the Christmas Tree Cluster (the bright star forms the base of the trunk) and the brighter portion of the Cone Nebula. Much more exists in the IR spectrum. This would be a good subject for a CCD or modified DSLR.

Unguided, 200 x 15 sec JPEG frames, 1600 ASA, noise reduction enabled.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Messier 36, another revisit

Another improved image, unguided, 117 x 15 sec JPEG frames (threw out 50 frames because I just couldn't get the neighbors Christmas light glow out...they were on a timer, and shut off about an hour later), 1600 ASA, noise reduction enabled.

M42 Orion Nebula, revisited

One year ago, I made my first telescope purchase in years, a 6" inch Newtonian and an Atlas mount. Bought a DSLR camera, too. I desired to learn about digital astrophotography. As the year progressed, I found myself in a relentless pursuit of simplicity. I could have taken the high road and gone with much more expensive CCD technology and computer-based control and processing, but it just did not seem worth the expense.

Taking an approach similar to radio astronomy, short samples at high gain, has been as rewarding as I could have ever wanted. Without so much emphasis on technology, I find I'm enjoying my study of the heavens, telescopes, and astronomy just as much as I did in high school.

So in tribute, here is an unguided retake of Orion nebula, one year later.

Unguided, 176 x 15 sec JPEG frames, 1600 ASA, and noise reduction enabled.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

NGC 2024, Flame Nebula

Unguided, 272 x 15 sec JPEG frames, 1600 ASA, and noise reduction enabled. Had a little trouble getting this one, but in the end it didn't turn out too bad. I appear to be having battery amp glow issues as of late. Not too sure what that's all about. Nights have been getting cooler, too. Strange. It has been more prominent lately. Thinking about charging ahead of time and letting the batteries refrigerate for a bit.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Eric, "supersize" has been restored

The friendly folks at Google recently made a change to Picasa regarding the embedded picture hotlinks. Currently, the embedded references constrain you to a few fixed viewing sizes and does not directly provide a link to the full-size JPEG that is stored I used to be able to get.

I figured out how to bypass this. If you happen to notice the new links Picasa uses now, you'll find a size code inserted in the URL pathname. For example, the 288 pixel-wide view includes .../s288/... in the pathname. If you instead use .../s0/... for size zero, then apparently it defaults it to the full-size image stored there!

Programmers are so predictable.

So, all the 9 embedded links since that change in the Messier and NGC collections sidebar have been supersized, and I'll do so for all new pics.

Cheers, Eric. Thanks for letting me know you liked that feature.

Messier 1, Crab Nebula

Unguided 251 x 15 sec JPEG frames, 1600 ASA, noise reduction enabled. Always wanted to get a snapshot of this. Could stand to be taken at higher magnification.

Messier 15

Unguided, 212 x 15 sec JPEG frames, 1600 ASA, noise reduction enabled. This globular cluster and the stars around it bare a close resemblance to the view of M13 in Hercules.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My next telescope...

This hybrid Cassegrain design from Vixen is awesome. The VC200L uses a sixth order aspherical primary mirror and a convex secondary mirror, replacing the meniscus corrector plate with a triplet corrector lens near the end of the optical chain. Focusing is performed using a 2" Crayford focuser at the end of the optical chain, rather than moving the primary mirror and suffering mirror shifts during focus. The optical tube is baffled and the secondary is oversized. At f/9.5 it is somewhat faster than traditional Cassegrains.

For $1700, it is certainly more pricey than my $380 Newtonian. Yet, the step in optical precision is significant, and comparatively well-priced against competing and mainstream high-end designs.

Of all the optical systems I've researched, Vixen's VISAC design is the only one that addresses spherical aberration, coma aberration, and field curvature. Even chromatic aberration is far less than the exceptional (and more exceptionally expensive) flourite lens refractors. Considering that field curvature is eliminated, suggests better optical correction than even a Ritchey-Chretien...and new manufacturing methods for RC scopes are producing some much less expensive designs

From what I've read and observed from vendors and blogs, I think the VISAC design hasn't caught on simply due to technical arrogance in much of the user base and limited marketing visibility. It just isn't sexy enough and there simply are not any additional distractions or operational steps to get in your way. But, as of today, you can buy them from Orion Telescopes online!

Eliminating the corrector plate and complex mirror focusing mechanism clearly helps reduce the manufacturing costs. Baffling and Crayford mechanisms are cheap. So, the cost is likely rolled up into the improved mirror coatings and the corrector lens. A fair trade, I'd say.

All my deep sky photography relies on the reflectivity of my 6" primary mirror and oversized secondary without any loss in light transmission due to an intermediate lens configuration, though my reflectivity is somewhere in the mid 90% range (it's less than $400 bucks what do you expect). So in my view, the VC200L decrease in transmissivity by adding a triplet lens is offset by the 1.8" larger aperture and higher reflectivity from the superior Japanese mirror coatings.

Don't just take my word for it, read this article by Astronomy Technology Today. Note, the article is taken from Vixen's web site as access online requires subscriber login. I just need to save my pennies.

Messier 34

Unguided, 208 x 15 sec JPEG frames, 1600 ASA, noise reduction enabled.

Messier 52

Unguided, 223 x 15 sec JPEG frames, 1600 ASA, noise reduction enabled. Nice clear and dark night. Open cluster in Cassiopeia, discovered by Charles Messier in 1774. Even caught a glimpse of the Bubble Nebula near the upper left.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Baader Coma Corrector and the Sculptor Galaxy

Unguided, 247 x 15 second JPEG frames, 1600 ASA, with noise reduction. The camera was also fitted with a Multi-Purpose Coma Corrector (MPCC) from Baader Planetarium, Germany.

The MPCC attaches to the T-ring right in front of the camera, and comprises what appears to be 2 lenses complete with 7 layer coatings to provide a completely flat field and eliminate coma from the fringes of the field of view.

Well, I've definitely observed an elimination of coma around the edges of the larger master photograph (all my images are cropped to scale to a widescreen display). But, any time a lens is introduced less light makes it through, and two or three elements (lenses) has some impact. You can see in the image that the diffraction lines are barely visible and the stars less point-like.

Another unexpected downside due to the proximity of the MPCC lens surface to the CMOS sensor, is the radiated energy from the active CMOS sensor electronics in the camera being reflected right back onto the sensor! Arrrgh, this adds more noise the point it interferes with getting a cleaner image. I've taken several other photos so far with and without the MPCC, and the additional reflected noise is consistent. Never occurred to me before I bought the thing.

Its my opinion at this point, dealing with coma means spending more for a higher quality instrument such as a Mak-Newt, SCT, or of course an RC telescope. There is a hybrid made by Vixen, the VC200L, where the front plate is removed and a 3 element corrector optic is placed at the end of the focuser assembly. Comparable light loss might be mitigated by the fact it has an 8" aperture rather than 6" in my scope. Its possible the VC200L lens surface is far enough from the camera's CMOS sensor (at least 3 or 4 inches) that it might reflect very little back.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Messier 39

This open star cluster is approximately 800 light years away and estimated to be from 200 to 300 million years old.

Unguided, 200 x 15 second JPEG frames, 1600 ASA, with noise reduction enabled.

Galaxy and Cluster, NGC 6946 and NGC 6939

An interesting view, here a nearby spiral galaxy, NGC 6946, highly obscured by interstellar matter of our own galaxy is contrasted in this photograph by a distant open cluster, NGC 6939, in the same field of view.

Since 1917, eight supernovae have been observed in NGC 6946.

Unguided, 204 x 15 second JPEG frames, 1600 ASA, with noise reduction enabled.

NGC 7293, Helix Nebula

Tried a difficult target, the Helix Nebula, a large planetary nebula. Given that it is one of the closest of such nebula to our solar system, you would think it was much more distant. Apparent brightness is spread across a vast surface relegating any other observing details deeper in the IR range. Clearly, photographing this kind of deep sky object approaches the limits of what can be reasonably done in an evening with the latest DSLR camera.

It is possible another alternative might work, taking successive exposures over several evenings. I have yet to try this. Maybe if I have time during Christmas break. Would really need to leave the telescope outside and in place for a whole week.

Unguided, 250 x 15 second JPEG frames, 1600 ASA, with noise reduction enabled.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Messier 27, Dumbbell Nebula

Yes, Dumbbell here was the first planetary nebula to be discovered, and resides in the faint northern constellation of Vulpecula. The central star is a white dwarf, larger than any known white dwarf. In 1970, astrophysicists found the nebula around the star was expanding at 31 km per second, suggesting an age of only 9,800 years!

Unguided, 202 x 15 second JPEG frames, roughly 51 minutes of exposure, 1600 ASA, noise reduction enabled. Just stacked and stretched, great natural color and contrast. The images were taken between the hours of 10:30pm and 1:00am in the morning. The prior blog entry regarding M33 was taken afterwards until about 3:30am in the morning. The M33 shot is much more grainy, given largely to being in the portion of the sky over the Tucson light dome. In the future, I should probably avoid imaging toward the West and Southwest portions of the night sky.

Messier 33, Triangulum Galaxy

Unguided, 203 x 15 second JPEG frames, roughly 51 minutes of exposure, 1600 ASA, with noise reduction enabled.

This was a fairly dim object, even though it is listed at about magnitude 7. Could stand to get twice as many exposures to bring out more detail. Still, a really spectacular face-on spiral galaxy. It has also been referred to as the Pinwheel Galaxy, even though Messier 101 is officially recorded with that name.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Messier 45, Pleiades

At last, another chance to try the Pleiades now that I have had much more practice. This image is comprised of 288 x 15 second JPEG frames, unguided, 1600 ASA, approximately 72 minutes of exposure! A personal record.

This cluster is number 45 on Charles Messier's list of nebulous objects. This beautiful cluster of stars was also mentioned by Homer around 750 B.C.. It has had many names, including Seven Sisters, Matariki (New Zealand), and Subaru (Japan). Comprised of hot blue stars formed over the last 100 million years, the brightest stars illuminate ancient dust collected from the original formation of stars giving it the bluish nebulosity.

IC 5146, Cocoon Nebula

Well, here's a tough one. Unguided, 180 x 15 second frames, 1600 ASA.

The Cocoon Nebula is an emission, reflection, and absorption nebula all woven together in a young developing star cluster. Formed only 100,000 years ago and is 4,000 ly from Earth, fairly close in astronomical terms. What makes this interesting is the dark nebula you can see (sort of) trailing off to the left of the picture.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The LCD "zoom/review" focus method

A simple way to focus your DSLR for astrophotography without a lot of other expense like a costly knife-edge device or laptop with cabling and focus control software, involves zooming in and reviewing diffraction lines from a bright star near the deep sky target. This method works best with a Newtonian telescope, where the secondary mirror is suspended by 3 or 4 straight flat bars 90 degrees apart within the optical tube assembly.

With diffraction lines, the zoom-review focus method can be accomplished very quickly. Three focus frames taken during the prior night's efforts are shown here.

The metal bars commonly referred to as "spider" vanes, cause the attractive (or distracting) star-like diffraction lines observed in my photos. I find it a pleasing photographic effect. For non-Newtonian scopes, one could fabricate some vanes to attach in front of a tube assembly to create diffraction lines just during focusing. I've seen some photos on other web sites where amateurs have used Photoshop to add the diffraction lines artificially (honestly, it looks as fake as it sounds).

You always want to try and focus on something nearby, as slewing the telescope clear across the sky can disrupt the mirror collimation on your touchy Newtonian.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

NGC 869 and 884, the Double Cluster

Another break in the storms, maybe this is the end of it. Under a beautifully clear and dark night, I was able to capture the Double Cluster below. Unguided, 257 x 15 second JPEG frames (roughly 64 minutes of exposure), 1600 ASA.

I attempted to get a parting shot of M6 too as it moves closer to the horizon, but the glow off my wall from my neighbors flood lights really ruined it. Even with 186 frames captured, it was like trying to take a picture with the moon out. Argh.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Messier 7, Ptolemy Cluster

Unguided, 168 x 15 second JPEG frames, 1600 ASA

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Messier 16, Eagle Nebula

Alright, this is much better. Unguided, 201 x 15 second JPEG frames, 1600 ASA. I've also included a before and after comparison with previous take to illustrate the difference more "signal" can make!

Messier 31, Andromeda Galaxy

Unguided, 201 x 15 second JPEG frames, 1600 ASA

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A break in the weather?!

Looks that way, possibly Tuesday or Wednesday night. Mark's weather station corroborates the reports, we've got rising temps and rising barometer. Window of opportunity may only be 3 hours at like 2 this point, I'm willing to do just about anything.

Misadventures in programmable calculating...

Though my first attempt using the TI-83 was very successful, actually trying to program or debug what you've written is difficult. To be honest, you can only expect so much from a limited calculator interface. So those of you who wish to try, be forewarned its not as easy as it looks. You will undoubtably have to commit some time to learn and understand it.

Word of advice, if you make a mistake (any mistake) press CLEAR and ENTER to wipe out that line, and start over.

But hey, when it works, it works just great!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Another local weather link

One of my wife's cycling buddies and his family has moved further east of here to St. David out near the Dragoon Mountains, and has set up his own observatory and weather station. The weather station is now online via the Weather Underground and I've linked his banner on the sidebar. Congratulations, Mark!

The Clear Sky Chart

Stumbled across the Clear Sky Chart link. Provides some advanced notice on likely state of the skies, thanks to our Canadian neighbors! Lots of locations and observatories are currently supported. Searched on Vail and identified an observatory just 7 miles away from here belonging to none other than Dr. Levy, "The Comet Hunter." Heh. Just found out he and his wife live in Vail, too. I've inserted a link to their Jarnac Observatory sky chart in my page, we'll see how useful this is.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Where's the bubble?

Tried my best to find some time between the storms at night, but the clouds keep rolling in. Below is my first attempt at the very bizarre Bubble Nebula, or NGC 7635. This night I threw out 45 frames due to clouds. Even with 125 x 15 second frames, there was still residual noise from some of the more sneaky clouds. As you can see in the picture, only the lower portion of the bubble is visible.

I'm just going to give up on deep sky objects until I can truly get a normal dark Arizona night sky. Sheesh.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Messier 17, Omega Nebula

Intended to capture twice as many exposures as I did, but clouds rolled in quickly. This lovely object is also referred to as the Swan Nebula, not sure why. I don't see a swan. I see a lobster. In fact, in the southern hemisphere it is often called the Lobster Nebula.

Unguided, 94 x 15 second JPEG frames, 1600 ASA, dark frame subtraction, just stacked and stretched, no other processing.

Omega Centauri


This incredible globular cluster in the constellation Centaurus, known as Omega Centauri (NGC 5139), looked stunning in the telescope. Didn't get as many shots as I would have liked, it appears almost near the horizon. I quickly took as many as I could before it went down behind my brick wall.

Unguided, 23 x 15 second JPEG frames, 1600 ASA, automatic dark frame subtraction.

This globular cluster orbits our Milky Way galaxy. Only a few months ago, astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope and the Gemini Observatory in Chile claim to have found evidence of a medium-size black hole at its core.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Using TI-83 as camera intervalometer

Found a really cheap solution for hands-free operation. Introducing the handy TI-83 graphing and programmable calculator (emphasis on programmable). Told about this link regarding time lapse photography while surfing for a commercial solution. A good colleague turned me onto this; Geoff is a real jack-of-all-trades sort. Turns out the remote shutter jack on my Rebel XT camera is a 2.5mm audio jack. The data port on the TI-83 is also a 2.5mm audio jack. By programming a routine to time mirror lock up and shutter release, the TI-83 send() command is used to pulse the data line...the same way a remote shutter control pulses the camera. The only difficulty I encountered was locating a male-to-male 2.5mm cable. Only thing I could find was online at BoxWave.

This is so cool! As I type this, the camera is outside working on 200 exposures of M17 tonight. No need for a laptop and cabling, now I'm free to grab the binoculars, star map, a beer, or two. The picture below is a little fuzzy, but you can see my messages printing to the screen as it operates the shutter release.

I programmed the calculator with the following:

[7/13/2008] Thanks to Craig on Andy's Shot Glass site, I've corrected listing. You MUST use the programs menu to enter commands, and remember to use the STO key to assign values to variables (the -> notation):

Prompt I
Prompt E


Disp N


Disp “BUSY”



Disp "DONE"


Thursday, June 26, 2008


Monsoon season is here. As spectacular as it is, puts a real damper on
my nighttime activity. Working around the phases of the moon is one
thing, but this just blows. All I can really do is wait, and enjoy the
light and water show.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Using a Barlow Lens

The new T-ring adapter arrived, so once again I can trod out to the backyard and play around in the dark. I decided this night I would spend a little more time with that Barlow lens, maybe I was distracted last time I attempted this when the T-ring failed.

Increasing the magnification, compounds the effects of any errors you might have. I read that on a forum somewhere. It truly is the case. Focusing with a Barlow lens that effectively doubles the magnification, took 10 to 15 minutes! Really had to work to dial it in. This night was particularly challenging. A near full moon was out and monsoon season has officially started, so humidity was up. Any slight fluctuation in the upper atmosphere was readily apparent in the frames I collected.

The following picture of The Ring Nebula (Messier 57) was taken using a 2x Barlow at 1600 ASA, 175 x 15 second frames and automatic dark frame subtraction.

For the next several rounds of nightly shoots, I've decided to try working with JPEG format directly from the camera. I expected that it should dramatically reduce my processing time and have some impact on noise. The frames of this M57 photo were all captured in JPEG format. The optical effects of the Barlow don't help here in getting a fair comparison, but I found that capturing 150+ frames in JPEG format dramatically improved signal to noise ratio as compared to my other runs of 150+ frames in RAW format. It was really no comparison. I'm anxious to try this again in a normal prime focus configuration. For me, I'll use the Barlow approach sparingly where zooming in on a small object seems reasonable.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Rough night...

Well, sometimes things just do not go well. Was late getting set up, didn't start taking pictures until after 11pm. Then about an hour in, I noticed the camera itself.

Apparently, the T-ring is broken. Camera spins wonderfully around on it, too. Not sure how this happened, I'm not that hard on it. Tried to complete, but I was worried about how much rotation I had to process out. Since the T-ring mount was no longer fixed, it was flexing in the wrong direction as well. Had to wait until all the photo processing was finished only to discover that with all the moving and shifting as the telescope slew, focus was not consistent through all the frames. A new $20 part is on order.

I also tried out a 2x Tele Vue BIG barlow, and through all the other frustration I found that even though the increased view is nice for smaller objects, the visual acuity seems to suffer. Stars are softer, not sharp, and though focused (I think) the digital image seems a little unnatural. It looks magnified. Seems a better approach would be to use a Newt with a longer focal length.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

NGC 6960, Veil Nebula

Unguided, 1600 ASA, 200 x 15 second frames, equivalent to 50 minutes of exposure. The Veil Nebula, also known as the Cygnus Loop, is a relatively faint remnant of a supernova in the constellation Cygnus. Interesting to note, the IR cutoff filter in my Canon 350D keeps most of the hydrogen emissions from being recorded, otherwise there would also be a significant red portion to the nebula.

Couldn't decide which portrait orientation I liked better, so I included both.

A Night at Kitt Peak

Last night, my daughter and I drove 90 minutes to the outskirts of Tucson to the famous Kitt Peak National Observatory. From the base of the mountain upon which the observatory resides, we drove 12 miles and climbed to 6800 feet. When we moved to Vail, I was fairly impressed at living at 3300 ft. This was awesome. My daughter was very excited, she had been looking forward to this. She was not disappointed. I've captured a few of our photos below.

We made a reservation a few weeks back as part of their Nightly Observing Program (NOP). Last night they were completely full, at least 3 dozen in attendance. After a light meal, our host rushed us off to begin our nightly viewing. We broke up into groups. Twelve of us volunteered for the open-air roll-off building, and we had a chance to share viewing with a 16" Ritchey-Chretien scope. The Sky6 software was used to drive the system. The scope was hoisted on top of a Paramount robotic mount. Boy, if I had the bucks....

This next picture is of the McMath-Pierce solar facility, the largest solar telescope in the world. The above ground portion of the scope runs over 200 feet above the ground, where the rest runs another 300 feet under ground! The entire assembly (above and below) is refrigerated.

And here as you enter the visitor center, just two of the many domes across the mountain top.

This next photo was taken from our sunset viewing position.

Phone home anyone? Cell phones are not allowed, in addition to the glass and mirror telescopes the observatory maintains a few radio telescopes as well. They don't like cell phones there.

The obligatory big government commissioned observatory sign.

For academic and professional astronomers, this must be a great place to work. Around the site you can find dormitories attached or adjacent to each of the observatory domes. Apparently, to request a dome for research requires submitting a paper. If the paper is accepted, the wait can be 12 to 18 months. Each scope is booked for up to 3 astronomers every day of the year.

This last photo is of the 6-story tall Mayall 4-meter telescope. I'll let you figure out which one it is.

If you ever have the opportunity. Its a great visit. I would love to go back and try the Advanced Observing Programs, where you can spend a few nights using the observatories instruments yourself. You are treated as a visiting astronomer with complete access to their resources. It'll only run you $425/night per person, not including room and board which is an extra $80/night per person. Have to save my pennies...

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Messier 13, Great Cluster

OMG, I think I just advanced as a lifeform!

Unbelievable! I guess my premise was correct. Third time's the charm. This most excellent shot of the The Great Globular Cluster M13 in the constellation Hercules was taken on the night of May 26th 2008.

151 x 15 second frames at 1600 ASA, roughly 38 minutes of exposure time.

Look below, I included a before and after shot, just to pinch myself. Incredible. Guess I found the signal, Mr. Universe.

Messier 20, Trifid Nebula

First result from my little experiment. How'd I do? Charles Messier discovered this heavenly object in 1764. The red emission nebula comprises a young star cluster near its center, and is surrounded by a blue reflection nebula. 99 x 15 second frames, or about 25 minutes of exposure. Only tossed out 6 frames from 105, and I was being picky. Thats roughly 5%, a sixfold decrease in defects!

Compare this to the earlier post of M8 and you can see here that the starfield of the Milky Way around M20 lacks the background noise and reddish glow. Stars are more pinpoint. I did pick up some coma in the far upper right; not sure if there was some tube flexure or impact from additional temperature drop.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A little experiment...

I've decided to play with exposure settings. Over the last two months, I've extended unguided exposures from 15-30 seconds to 1 minute frames, and along the way observed how far the impact of tracking error goes. In any given run of 1 minute frames, I will throw out 30% due to noticeable tracking error occurring every 7-8 minutes. After spending 3 hours to take the photos, that seems like a waste of good photons.

"Well, duh!", is probably what some of the hardcore computerized brethren would say. Yes, I could get an autoguider cam, get out laptop, install software, add more cables, adjust guide scope to reasonably bright star, and consume more time in setup and prep.

Or...I could simply take shorter exposures and significantly increase the quantity. Its all about the signal. As Mr. Universe would say, "You can't stop the signal, Mal."
I believe taking a very large quantity of short, high-gain exposures will produce a more desirable signal to noise ratio in the end, reducing much of the 'blowout' in some of the brighter nebula and globular cluster shots, thereby producing richer results, without turning my scope into something from The Matrix. -- So Say I

The emphasis here is on digital astrophotography with the minimum amount of gadgets and expense. Once confidence and happiness is achieved at this level, you certainly can go up ($$$) from here as far as your wallet will take you! IMOP, the most expensive piece should be a quality, motorized German equatorial mount with computerized GoTo handheld. The GoTo saves a significant amount of time and is self-contained. A simple OTA for light gathering should not cost more than $500, and at that cost, driven by your desired aperture. A high-gain DSLR camera body can be found online or at your local fence for $400 or less, providing mirror lockup and automatic noise reduction (dark frame subtraction) built in.

* leveled mount and polar alignment via polar scope (a few minutes)
* 3-star GoTo system alignment (5 minutes)
* laser collimation (less than 30 seconds)
* DSLR focus with LCD review/zoom method (1 minute or less)
* unguided photography using shutter remote for as long as your camera has power and your CF has memory left (3.5 hours)
* beer, coffee, or both (your choice, no time limit)

Folly? I'll let the pictures stand on their own merit. You can all laugh at me later. The next round of astrophotography will be captured this way, without making any changes to post-processing method.

Skol and Compai!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Messier 8, Lagoon Nebula

Couldn't wait any longer, Moon still rising during prime photography time, and the constellations Sagittarius and Scorpius are appearing earlier now in the southeastern sky. With the Moon glow, I decided to drop frame exposure to 30 seconds. This image comprises 94 frames, or roughly 47 minutes. Beautiful.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Zeta Scorpii

In addition to Mu Scorpii, the Scorpion's Tail is comprised of an open cluster NGC 6231 (partially viewed above) and the binary Zeta Scorpii (near the bottom of the photo). This image was simply 2 one-minute frames slapped together. Another part of the Scorpion's Tail includes a diffuse nebula referred to as the Northern Jewel Box. Will save that for another night.

Mu Scorpii

Before heading off to bed, I spotted what appeared to be a comet-like image in the lower southwestern portion of the sky; the southern end of the constellation Scorpius. Having lived in the Northwest and at sea-level for most of my life, I've never had the opportunity to view this portion of the sky. Looking through the telescope it became evident that this image was comprised of an open cluster, and some binary stars.

The photo above is comprised of 5 one-minute frames for Mu1 and Mu2 Scorpii, an eclipsing binary. Mu1 is considered a variable star due to the impact of the eclipsing behavior on its apparent magnitude. May be a little over-exposed.

Messier 83

I have made a list of the most interesting Messier objects left to look at, either due to apparent size or magnitude. M106 and M83 were the goals of this fine dark night. After capturing M106, I had sufficient battery power left to get 25 one-minute frames of M83.

Messier 106

Did not realize there were other galaxies in view until after the photo was processed. 42 one-minute frames, 1600 ASA. Not as many frames as I had planned, as the equatorial mount was extended in that direction as far as it would go. To keep going would require slewing completely around, then the mirror would have to be collimated again, and the camera focused and adjusted to recreate the same orientation as seen in the picture above.

I decided to move on to another object.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Messier 4, The Cat's Eye

26 one-minute frames, 1600 ASA. This looked huge in the scope, never observed this cluster before.

Messier 65 and 66

Two members of the Leo Triplet. 42 one-minute frames, 1600 ASA, automatic dark frame subtraction. Captured 59 frames altogether, but had to toss those with tracking error. Discovered the longest I can go in this fashion with a fresh battery is 3 hours, or a little over 90 one-minute frames using up 70% of my 1GB CF card.