Sunday, January 21, 2007

A break in the clouds...

When I checked my email this morning, I had received a Clear Sky Clock alarm, indicating favorable conditions tonight. I checked it out and sure enough, clear skies, good transparency and 3/5 seeing - not bad at all!

I headed out to the local observing site around sunset, where a few other eager beavers had already arrived to cure their long-time absence from the night sky due to clouds and the recent "ice storms". A nice thin cresent moon kept us company until about 7:30, but the skies were very clear and steady - not bad!!!

Setting up the equatorial wedge was a snap. I don't have an illuminated reticle (YET) so was forced to do a rough polar alignment. I had it done in about five minutes. I GOTO~d to a few objects and while the scope didn't exactly put them slap-dab in the center of the FOV, it was still within the FOV of the eyepiece I used (21mm Stratus with a 68 degree FOV). It tracked quite nicely indeed, and I was satisfied with the setup.

Side note - my handset cable plug broke a few months ago and I had taped it into the motherboard with some electrical tape. Today I bought a regular 25' phone handset cable and it worked a treat on the scope.

Anyway, fired up the laptop and started taking images of M42. I could now see why I need to do a more precise polar alignment as the long exposures I did take (4 seconds to 10 seconds) showed some distinct star trail signs. I stuck to 4 second exposures and managed to take a few snaps (like the one above, 40 4 second images, stacked) of the nebula before DEW kicked in. The image above was also run through a freeware software package called "Noiseware". it does a great job of eliminating noise from the image. You can download it, free, here. Anyway, this image has much nicer nebula detail than the one from a couple of weeks ago. Still, need to get longer exposures and be more patient, generally!

Crikey! I had a dew shield in place and it usually does just fine, but tonight was nuts. My corrector plate got heavily dewed in a very short space of time, and the imaging session was therefore over.

So, next I need to get an illuminated reticle, and then probably a better dew removal system, like a dew zapper. In any case, I could see better results with my newer photos, as they revealed a bit more detail in the nebulous cloud at the core of the Orion Nebula. These shots are still nothing to write home about, but at least they are improving.

Next weekend I am hopefully off to Canyon of the Eagles, where I will try out the same setup on some other object, either a globular cluster or a galaxy.

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