Thursday, March 15, 2018

M81 and M82

The spring brings out some great galaxies. This is the first iteration of a long-term project I'll be working on with respect to these two galaxies.

M81 is on the right, lies around 11.7 million light years away and harbors around 250 billion stars. M82, on the left,  is also called the "Cigar Galaxy" lies at about the same distance as M81. The two galaxies are seperated by about 150,000 light years.

Image Details:

* Imaging Scope: Astrotelescopes 80mm ED Refractor

* Imaging Camera: Nikon D7000

* Guiding Scope: William Optics 66mm Petzval Refractor

* Guiding Camera: Orion Starshoot AutoGuider

* Mount: Celestron CGEM

* Exposures: 9 * 8 minute lights, 9 * 8 minute darks, 30 bias frames

* ISO 1000

* Aligned and Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker

* Post-Processing Dynamic Photo HDR, LightRoom and Photoshop.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Waxing Gibbous Moon

The weather has been atrocious! Several cold fronts have come through central Texas over the last few weeks, so the observatory has been closed. The skies were clear tonight, so I grabbed a decent capture of the Moon.

Here's hoping next month is better. Galaxies are rising and I'm itching to recapture some old friends....

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

The Sword of Orion Region (2018 Attempt)

Obviously a fantastic part of the sky, imaged by many! I really wanted to get a lot of data of this region now that the observatory was up and running. After a few attempts, I realized that my stars were rather oblong during long exposure imaging. Couldn't really figure it out, so I hit the proverbial reset button: realigned the mount, rebalanced the mount with photographic equipment attached, re-installed new guiding software (PHD2), and started from scratch. Immediately saw better results with easier guiding (software could easily pick up guide stars) and could now get nice round stars. Also paid attention to focusing!

Anyway, the image below is a nice result!

Image Details:

  • Imaging Scope: AstroTelescopes 80mm ED Refractor
  • Imaging Camera: Nikon D7000
  • Guiding Scope: William Optics 66mm Petzval Refractor
  • Guiding Camera: Orion Starshoot Autoguider
  • Light Frames: 20*5 minutes @ ISO1250 for the overall region, 20*1 minutes @ ISO1250 for the core
  • Bias Frames: 20
  • Dark Frames: 10
  • Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker
  • Merged in Dynamic Photo-HDR
  • Tweaked in Adobe Lightroom

Friday, December 22, 2017

M45 Pleiades Cluster

This is the first official image out of my observatory!

Image Details:

  • Imaging Scope: AstroTelescopes 80mm ED Refractor
  • Imaging Camera: Nikon D7000
  • Guiding Scope: William Optics 66mm Petzval Refractor
  • Guiding Camera: Orion Starshoot Autoguider
  • Light Frames: 17*8 minutes @ ISO800
  • Flat Frames: 40
  • Bias Frames: 40
  • Dark Frames: 7
  • Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker
  • Final single image processed in Photomatix Pro
  • Tweaked in Adobe Lightroom

I Now Have an Observatory! (aka "Going Off the Deep End")

Astronomy has been an on and off hobby for me, but since moving out to rural Texas, it's been more on than off, and that was the intent. We moved northwest of Liberty Hill, where skies are currently around Bortle 3 with the light dome from Austin to the south. One can clearly make out the Milky Way on a moonless night, and my property offers a big sky view with very low horizons all around. I'm sure more folks will settle into the area but believe we've moved far enough out that we'll be ahead of the sprawl for a long time.

Part of the move involved purchasing an observatory. I looked around at various options and studied pros and cons of various designs while also thinking about my own needs and preferences. I originally considered a dome, but of the available options at my price range they were either too expensive or looked too much like port-a-loos (according to my wife/financial officer). I really ultimately preferred a roll-off-roof design because it offered great sky views and more room to walk around and store stuff (again, given my budget). Also, it would look more like a shed than a pure observatory, the latter looking more expensive and perhaps more attractive to would-be thieves.

I explored different options ranging from building it myself to turn-key solutions. I'm not handy at the best of times, so my confidence with respect to the former option was very low. Exploring turn-key solutions, I inquired with several dedicated observatory builders. Most were friendly, but prices shot up quickly when discussing the various options that I needed. I also approached local barn/shed builders. Most declined right off the bat, a few were interested and promised to draw up plans. While waiting for such plans, I got in touch with a few folks from the local astronomy club who had put together an observing site about 1.5 hours west of me called Stellar Skies. It's a great bit of land where folks can pay for a small portion of it, with concrete pad included, and utilize it as they wish (temporary scope setups on weekends to permanent observatory builds with remote access). They have a chap there who builds roll-off roof observatories and who is also a professional framer/builder. After a few email exchanges, he agreed to come out this way and build me a 10'*12' roll-off roof within my budget! Great guy, this Jarret character - he owns a massive Dob and has earned various Astronomy League certificates for visual observing. He well-and-truly understood the intricacies of building observatories and asked all the right questions while putting it all together. (While he was building my observatory, he launched a formal company which can be seen here - Heaven's View Observatories:

So, it took Jarret about a month or so put the observatory together. He had other jobs and rain interfered with the construction site access (when it rains on my property it becomes a massive mud fest!). But, he got it done and it was complete by Thanksgiving weekend. The beauty of his design is that he uses steel beams for the roof rail supports, with a cross-beam welded support system. This means no warping over the years as might be experienced with wooden rail support systems. Once he was done, I painted the exterior and interior. I also built a corner desk unit and added some cheap but strong plastic shelving from Lowes hardware store. The floor isn't done yet, and I'm exploring options for that but leaning towards some matt black horse stall padding available at my local Tractor Suplly Company (yeehaw!). I'll also add a solar power system to keep my marine battery charged, which powers both my scope and laptop during imaging.

It really is a luxury in this hobby to have your own observatory. To be able to walk out and be imaging without barely any setup time is amazing and great fun. My mount, the Celestron CGEM, has a hibernate mode, so you can effectively turn it off and on later and the mount will still be perfectly polar aligned. So, you really do have a ton of time to really focus on the image, including obtaining your dark, flat and bias frames.

Anyway, finished product pictures are below, and you can see construction images on my FLICKR site here.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Another Catch-Up Post

Not sure if anyone is still following this blog due to its inactivity. Not even sure if people really blog anymore, or just FaceBook and Twitter all the time instead, or whatever.

Been an eventful few months. The death of a close friend, a new job, a trip back home to Australia and a move to a new home. Some of these things I have experienced in the last few months have led me to live a little harder, chase some more dreams, value some things that I haven't on the past.

Anyway, astronomy...

Last month I was able to set my sights on Saturn with my relatively new astro imager, a ZWOASI120MC. Managed to capture a lovely shot, as seen below.

Image details:

 - Celestron C8 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope
 - Celestron CGEM mount
 - ZWO ASI120MC camera
 - Celestron 2X Barlow
 - 800 frames stacked in Autoskakkert2

It's the best image of Saturn I've ever captured. The conditions were probably 3-4/5, so a better image isn't far off but I now have to wait for next year. 

I've also been working on some wide field shots. We have moved out into the country, and have a property with spectacular night skies (bortle 3-4). The Milky Way is clearly visible, and the ability to shoot from my back yard is first-class. Below is a star trail shot I took with a lightning storm along the horizon.

As a result of moving out into the country, I have the ability to build an observatory which I am n ow in the middle of. More of that in the next post...