Wednesday, May 20, 2015

When the skies just won't cooperate...

Central Texas has been getting some terrific rain over the last couple of months, and it's much needed given the drought that we have been in for the last few years. However, it hasn't exactly made for great opportunities to go out and observe and image the night sky.

So, instead, I've been trying to capture some more interesting lightning shots. Quite a few storms have passed through the area, some violent, some rather calm. Some have caused tornado activity further north, but down here we've had a bit of flooding and a lot of ground-strike lightning.

Below is a shot taken near a town called Bartlett, east of Georgetown. I drove around behind the storm as it was moving west, and found a nice country road to help make the image more interesting. This is a couple of 10 second exposures, stacked, and I used my car lights to provide lighting from the road.

Always remember - safety first! Best not to shoot directly in or in front of the path of a storm. Lightning strikes are random and standing around with heavy, metal equipment won't help your survival chances in such an event!

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Star Party at Work

Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting a small star party at my office. The idea actually came up about a month ago, when I responded to an email chain abut how people apply technology to their hobbies outside of work. Naturally, the mix of technology and optics comes into play with respect to astrophotography, so I wrote about my endeavors in that arena. This, in turn, gained a fair bit of interest in an astronomy night, so I organized one.

Naturally, the minute you try and organize such an event, the weather simply refuses to cooperate. All throughout the new moon/early moon phase period of the month, we were socked in with clouds. Last Wednesday, the skies were clear. The moon was at about 80% full, but I decided to run the star party anyway so that folks could at least get a taste of what was up there.

So, under a bright moon and streetlamps in the company parking lot, a decent group (maybe 20-25 folks or so) assembled around my 12" Lightbridge, and we picked out a few targets. Venus, Jupiter and Moon were obvious targets, which generated lots of "oohs" and "ahhs". The cloud bands on Jupiter were a definite hit, as was a really close-up view of the Moon. We were also able to track down the Orion Nebula as well as the Castor double-star system. I think everyone had a good time, especially the kids that were brought along by their parents. I'll schedule another event soon, but the next one will be under darker, moonless skies so that we can hunt down some more distant objects.

In other news, I have purchased a field flattener for my refractors. This should result in cleaner, flatter (duh!) images moving forward. Again, naturally, because I have bought new astronomy equipment, the skies have not been friendly. Hopefully I can get out there somewhere next week and give it a shot.

Clear skies!

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Sword of Orion Region - B&W

This is, again, the Sword of Orion region in the Orion Constellation. It contains the Running Man Nebula to the left and the Great Orion Nebula to the right, both being massive star forming regions. Without a doubt, one of the most amazing visual and photographic night sky objects.

This is a combination of data taken several days ago, processed with data taken last year. I decided to leave this in black and white as it tends to illustrate the detail in the nebulosity much better than color.

 About 75 minutes (7, 4 and 1 minute frames)
- 5 * 3 minute dark frames
- 10 bias frames
- ISO 800
- Imaged with a Nikon D7000 and Astrotelescopes 80mm ED Refractor
- Guided with a Meade DSI and Orion SSAG through a William Optics 66mm Refractor
- Mounted on a Celestron CGEM
- Stacked in DSS
- Post processing in GIMP
- Mild tonemapping in Photomatix Pro
- Noise reduction in NeatImage

Thursday, February 19, 2015

M45 Pleiades Cluster

Current work in progress for this year. Guiding seems great. I think I have a lot to learn about post-processing though.

- 42 minutes (7 minute frames)
- 3 * 7 minute dark frames
- (no flat frames used)
- ISO 1000
- Imaged with a Nikon D7000 and Astrotelescopes 80mm ED Refractor
- Guided with a Orion SSAG and William Optics 66mm Refractor
- Mounted on a Celestron CGEM
- Stacked in DSS
- Post processing in GIMP
- Mild tonemapping in Photomatix Pro
- Noise reduction in NeatImage

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Flame and Horsehead Nebulas

A work in progress, but another better test with my new guiding setup from last night. The Orion Starshoot Autoguider is a BREEZE to use. Also using PHD2 Guiding which continues to give me live feedback of my guiding status and offers recommendations for improvement. Outstanding!

Could still do with some work. Need to add darks and bias frames.

  • Image: 80 minutes of ten minute exposures @ ISO1000
  • Imaging: Astrotelescopes 80mm ED Refractor and Nikon D7000
  • Guiding: William Optics 66mm Refractor and Orion Star Shoot Autoguider
  • Processing: Deep Sky Stacker, GIMP and Snapseed

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Yes! I can guide again!!!!

Over the past year or so, I have had serious autoguiding issues with my setup. I had suspected that it was soemthing to do with my Serial cable adapter that sits between the laptop, which runs PHD Guiding, and the Celestron CGEM hand controller on my mount. So, I purchased an Orion Star Shoot AutoGuider (SSAG) which connects directly into the autoguiding port on the CGEM mount itself.

Installation of the SSAG drivers was fairly straightforward. I also downloaded the newer version of PHDGuiding (PHD2) which, I must say, has a slicker interface and a lot more options to explore.

So, before the moon came up last night I set up at a local dark sky spot and tried it out. After spending an hour-and-a-half wondering why nothing was working and finally figuring out that I had plugged the SSAG guide cable into the wrong port, the system worked flawlessly. I ran a test of several 5 minute exposures on M42, with this image being the result. No fancy processing here, just a few test captures to make sure my guiding was back on track.

The SSAG camera is great. Sensitive, love plugging directly into the guide port on my mount, and just super easy to use. I'm looking forward to getting back out there this year and shooting some more stuff!