December 25, 2008

North America Nebula & Pelican Reprocess

These frames were taken on the night of July 31-August 1, and I posted an earlier version here. But we have now had 21 straight cloudy days and nights! My photon deprived mind has begun scheming for ways to see the sky (we did have five minutes of partial clearing last night, and one could catch glimpses of Sirius through the clouds now and then, but mostly I was wrapping presents all night (little kids like everything to be wrapped, even if it's just a piece of candy)). One way to see stars is to reprocess old images. The earlier version of this set had a satellite or something fly through one sub-image. This version lacks that frame and takes advantage of better software and five months more experience. Open cluster M39 is in the upper left corner, and several other deep sky wonders are glimpsable between the stars. If you have a good chart, you can do some observing here! This image is a crop from a stack of 1-minute exposures with the Canon 400D and a 50mm f/1.8 lens stopped down to f/3.2.

December 1, 2008

Luna Venus Jupiter Conjunction (12-01-08)

Taken with the XTi and a 50mm lens from downtown Houston (at sunset, the most daylit image) and later in The Woodlands, TX.

November 27, 2008


I'm not too satisfied with this image of M52. Probably I need longer sub-exposures. This is about 150x15" at 800 ISO with the XTi and the AT66ED. I figured this would be enough for this bright Messier object, but the dimmer stars in M52 are quite dim still. On the other hand, some reports of M52 put its dimmer members at magnitude 16 or fainter, and that is surely the case. M52 is 3,000-7,000 light years away from earth, and has around 200 stars (that have been found; what are the chances a cool dwarf star or two were missed?), more than I see here. In other words, I am not likely catch all the stars in the cluster with this casual imaging setup and method, so in my image the stars go from quite bright to fading out, and a few more lie beyond the reach of this set of exposures. Here's a deeper, better image. M52 is very near the Bubble Nebula, as shown in this fine image and also in this fine image and this one, too.

November 26, 2008

AR6 on the Giro III

Tonight I took a whirl with the AR6 again, mounted on the Giro III. The mount handles the big refractor easily. Tonight I left the Orion V-block filter on the 2" diagonal.

I stuck with wide fields tonight, generally: The Double Cluster, M38, M36, M37, M35. These big clusters are amazing in this scope. Stars are pinpoint, sparkling jewels against a deep midnight blue background. I switched to 152x with the 8mm Hyperion on M37 and a double star just south of M37, nicely split. A magnification of 152x on this scope yields a 1mm exit pupil. Images stay quite bright but are magnified nicely, and in the 8mm Hyperion's wide field I do not need to move the scope often (the true field is nearly half a degree). Even so, the movements with the Giro III are smooth and easy. The first time I took the scope out I used a 5mm Stratus (less than one-third of a degree true field), and this is easily doable and enjoyable with this mount, though one has to move the scope more often.

I ended the night by splitting Rigel, a nice wide double at 152x, with a yellow white primary and a bright blue secondary. Then I went to pick up my daughters from a movie and came back to a cloudy sky and a fogged lens. Time to pack it in.

November 19, 2008

First Light with the 6" Achromat

Tonight I viewed for the first time with a new (used) Meade AR6 achromatic refractor. I saw some very nice views of the Double Cluster, Eta Cass, and Rigel. But after waiting for the lenses to cool, I went back out to look at the Trapezium. In this scope, at 240x, E is for Easy, and F is for Frequently Seen. In fact, the E component of this group was easily visible at 120x. It was grand, I tell you, and the nebula itself was more detailed than I have seen it in a long time. Looking through this scope is for me a new and impressive experience.

November 17, 2008

First Light with the Atik 16: The Bubble Nebula

I am very much an amateur at this sort of thing, but earlier this year I was able to buy at a good price an almost new Atik 16. It is an impressive camera in several respects. This image, in particular, is remarkable because it is unguided. It is 401 x 10" exposures processed and combined in Nebulosity then stretched in Registax and further stretched and modified in Photoshop Elements (including a framing effect from the Noel Carboni package, just received). The camera has remarkably high sensitivity to the Ha wavelength and generates very little noise, including remarkably low read noise. Capturing frames with it in Nebulosity is very easy.

Now, of course, this image is far from perfect. It is monochrome, unlike the sky itself, for instance. My goal was to get all the edges of the Bubble so that its shape was obvious. I also wanted to refrain from blowing out the central portion of the nebula that is the brightest. That brightest part is visible as a twisted line just under the star in the upper right of the bubble. The star above the twisted line is the one whose radiation is creating the bubble in the cloud of gas around the star and also the glow of the surrounding gas. The brightest part of the bubble is just around that star.

The Bubble Nebula is such an intriguing sight. I wanted to get in on the action of others who have seen it. Only a quite large scope would show the whole bubble structure to the eye, but I can capture it in a camera with a 135mm f/5.3 newtonian reflector from my suburban backyard. Truly great images include Croman's, the Hubble Space Telescope's, NOAO's, and Christen's. The first two of these links give more information about the nebula itself.

November 8, 2008


This image of open cluster M34, in the constellation Perseus, was taken with the AT66ED and the XTi, and is just over 23 minutes of exposures, or 93x15". It was also taken on the night of October 18-19. I think the cluster looks better in a telescope than in any image, but the image reminds me of what the cluster looks like.

A newly processed version of the same image data using PSE7 and looking much more like the cluster looks in a telescope:

November 7, 2008

M45---The Pleiades, The Seven Sisters, Subaru

Even folks without a telescope should recognize this group of stars, the Pleiades, which rises around sunset on November evenings and is a familiar sight throughout the winter in North America. It is an open cluster of stars between 393 and 449 light years distant according to the latest studies. In binoculars and especially in a telescope, the blue-white color of the cluster's stars appears. This image only captures the center of the cluster. The Pleiades group contains at least 500 stars, some too dim to be caught in such a short exposure through such a small telescope. The cluster is passing through a cloud of dust and gas. This image does show a small bit of the starlight reflected in blue on the dust around some of the brighter stars. Much more reflected starlight appears in the Hallas's much deeper image. My image was take with the 400D through the AT66ED, unguided on the LXD75 mount. Total exposure time was 17 minutes, or 68 x 15". Data was gathered on the night of October 18-19.

October 30, 2008

A Taurid Fireball

I was out last night around 12:15 pm and saw a bright fireball. It streaked through southern Gemini and appeared to come from Taurus, around Aldebaran. It shone quite a bit brighter than Jupiter, which was visible above my tree-line earlier. The streak covered probably between 25 and 30 degrees across the sky. I suppose this would be a Taurid.

October 28, 2008

A Dash Through Perseus: NGC 1342, Struve 425

Tonight I observed NGC 1342 in Perseus with the 100mm f/6. I counted 22 stars in the cluster. Many of the brighter stars form a long, rough arc along one side of the cluster, and others are scattered around inside the arc. It's worth the trip halfway from Algol to Atik.
From NGC 1342, I moved to Atik itself and then northwest 40 Persei. 40 is a double star. At 60x, I could see the bright primary (magnitude 5) and the much dimmer secondary (mag. 9.5) off to the upper left. The secondary is so delicately dim. It looks so fragile there, floating near the brighter star.
Next to 40 Persei, in the same view at 60x, is Struve 425. At 60x, it looked like one star, but at 120x, the two components split to reveal two equally bright stars (mag. 7.6) just 2" apart. They looked like a dimmer Gamma Virginis. With clear seeing, the 100mm f/6 put black space between the two.
I also observed M31, M32, and M110. I could see all three in one 17.5x view, though M110 only with averted vision.

October 26, 2008

NGC 891, Vesta

In my light-polluted skies, NGC 891 in Andromeda was just a slight smudge, barely visible in averted vision, but the smudge was elongated roughly northwestish to southeastish, and it was exactly where I later confirmed it in Uranometria. I also found the asteroid 4 Vesta, which passed through the head of the whale in the constellation Cetus (the whale) this month. Observations were made with the 100mm f/6 achromat.

October 21, 2008

Trapezium, Star E, 4" Refractor

This morning I saw the E component of the Trapezium in my 100mm f/6 achromatic refractor. I was using a 10mm Vixen Lanthanum eyepiece and a Celestron 2x barlow for 120x magnification. I was surprised. I've seen the E and F components in my 8" reflector but never either one in a 4" scope. Probably it's just for lack of trying. The E and F components should both be visible with more magnification and without the last quarter waning moon in Gemini as it was this morning.

October 20, 2008

Gamma Andromedae

Gamma Andromedae, or Almach, is a wonderful double star! At 120x in the 100mm f/6, the primary star is a glowing, twinkling, brilliant orange, and the secondary is a small, white diamond beside it. I've seen it before, but it is better each time I look at it. I'd be interested in other's impressions through other scopes. Apparently the secondary is itself a double star, but I'll need a bigger scope to split it.

October 19, 2008

Luna Early this Morning

Here is the waning moon early this morning. This was taken with the XTi through the AT66ED.

October 9, 2008

M42: One (Now Two) More Iteration(s)

OK, I'll stop, but I like this one the best in some respects. The colors are more respectful and pleasant, and the stretching has stopped short of graininess.

Nope. Here is one more still, processed in PSE7, which gives me better tools to show lowest light levels in the image and still not white out the brightest part of the nebula:

October 8, 2008


This morning very early I found M77 for the first time. The galaxy was obviously there at 40x in the XT8, but the view brightened and sharpened considerably at 240x. At that magnification, the sky darkened down, M77's oval core was obvious, and I could see some of the next most bright band of stars around the core. This is another Messier object checked off.

October 6, 2008


Tonight I found M73, those four little stars. This is another first for me. It was not nearly as good a sight as the Saturn Nebula nearby, or M2 further north. Wow! That M2 is a stunner, big and bright. Some stars around the edge were resolved in the XT8, even through heavy light pollution. The cluster was plainly visible in the finderscope.

October 5, 2008

M42: New Renditions

These iterations were processed in Photomatix. A Huntsville Amateur Astronomy Society member suggested hdr processing for astrophotos at the star party I attended in September. I had tried it with single astronomical images but not with different stretches of the same image. The technique helps, I think. It enhances the fainter parts of the nebula and helps the brighter parts not to look blown out.

October 2, 2008

M42 & M43

This is actually why I was aiming at M42. I've wanted to take a decent image of it since I was thirteen. This image is roughly 35 minutes worth of 10" and 15" exposures combined and processed in Neb 1 and touched up in DPP. It was taken from my backyard between 4 and 5:30 am on September 27 using a setup similar to that below but with only one scope on the mount: the AT66ED with the 400D attached.

October 1, 2008

M30 and the Outer Planets

Tonight I found M30, a fairly large and bright globular cluster in Capricornus. I was observing with the 100mm f/6 on the Giro III. In that relatively small scope, in my light polluted skies, with M30 so low to the horizon, and magnification at most of only 120x, I saw no stars, but it is a nice sight nonetheless. Moreover, it is one more Messier object I have now seen for the first time. I am slowly working towards seeing every one.

I also found Uranus and Neptune. Neptune is so far away and appears so small that 120x is not enough magnification to resolve it into a disk, but Uranus is a small green ball at that power. For a final treat, I turned to the Pleiades, which were just coming up over the trees. At 17x, they nearly filled the view---bright blue jewels on a dark blue sky.

September 29, 2008

Orion's Belt and M42-43

Here is Orion's Belt on the left and M42-43 on the right. There is a hint of NGC1977 in the image, too, just to the left of the M42-43 complex. How quick and easy to gather an image of what I see through a relatively small scope. This image is just a bit more than that, even, as I can see no color in the nebula in my 100mm f/6. This is only 5x1' through the XTi with the 50mm lens. It was taken on the morning of Sunday, September 28, at around 5:20 am.

September 23, 2008


The Andromeda Galaxy and its two companions M32 (to the right of M31) and M110 (in the upper left corner) look something like this in my 100mm f/6. M110 is pretty faint in this image. You may have to turn the lights off to see it, just as you would have to do to see it in the night sky! This image was taken with the setup below. It is 53x15" exposures with the last quarter moon glowing behind the trees, processed similarly to M52.

September 21, 2008


Here is open cluster M52 taken with the setup described below. This is 45x15" at ISO 1600, processed in Nebulosity and finished in Canon's DPP. The image came out thinner than I expected: I hoped to be able to stretch it more. Some high-flying water vapor and the rising last-quarter moon surely should take some of the credit for the thin-ness. Otherwise, the image probably just needs a lot more exposure time. In favor of the image, however, it does remind me of what I saw through the scope. In the 100mm, M52 was just barely visible before the moon came out, meaning that I could see eight or so of the brightest stars and a foggy patch around them. Such is my light-polluted back yard. After the moon came out, the cluster's brightest star was the only one clearly visible, though if I was looking with averted vision at exactly the right spot, I could see a very faint mist surrounding it.
The image also has very sharp star edges. They were sharpened in Nebulosity through a function that allows the user no control. The image is better this way than it was originally, and more stars are clearly visible now. Having done it, though, now I'd like to blur them back just a little bit, but I have no software to do it that I know of.

Waiting for the Clouds to Clear

Here is a casual way to image. The LXD75 carries the Orion 100mm f/6 as a giant finder. With a cheap 27mm crosshair eyepiece, it gives a wide view and allows me to position the imaging scope exactly on target. Its 100mm aperture allows me (usually) to see what I am imaging, which is very useful, as the camera always goes deeper than my eyes, even when it is on the AT66ED. The camera is the XTi. The camera and mount both rely on AC power. I attach a remote control to the camera. This setup, which is unguided, is only good for brighter, larger, deep sky objects, but it is not hard to set up or operate. At the time this image was taken, clouds were overhead, and the only thing I could image was the equipment. The skies later cleared beautifully.

September 18, 2008

A Silver Lining

Hurricane Ike blew through on the morning of September 13th. The winds were furious, and the rain blew sideways, but we lost only a few trees, none of which fell on anything but the fence. By 11:00 pm that night, several rain bands had passed over us, and there was a break in the clouds. The moon was full two days later, but here is Luna peaking around the clouds around 12:00 am on the morning of the 14th, the first light visible beyond the clouds after the storm.

September 9, 2008

M11 from Huntsville

This is M11. It is often called the Wild Duck Cluster, presumably because it looks like a flock of ducks moving south (or north). It never looked like that to me, but it is a wonderful sight in a telescope. I remember finding it in my Astroscan when I was about thirteen. It was beautiful, and I just stopped and stared at it for a long time, then went back to it often.
This image does not quite do it justice, but then it is only 22x15", or 5.5 minutes worth of exposures, just enough to put it in the XTi through the 66ED. I only had to discard one exposure.

[Below is another iteration of the same data, changed a bit in PSE7:]

September 8, 2008

M22 from Huntsville

This is M22, a showpiece globular cluster in Sagittarius, just left of the tip-top of the archer's bow. The image is 8.25 minutes (all the frames that were worth saving) of 15" exposures with the XTi through the AT66ED, unguided on the LXD75. Processing and stacking was done in Nebulosity 1 and some modest adjustments in Canon's DPP.

September 7, 2008

New Messier Heights

Last night I went to the Sam Houston State Observatory site near Huntsville, where many from the Huntsville club were gathered. The company was great and the weather splendid. I took the 100mm f/6, the C8, and the AT66ED. I bagged four from my remaining Messier list: M72, quite a disappointingly dim globular; M74, a rather dim but blobby galaxy still fairly low in the east at around 11:30 p.m.; M75, a much brighter and tighter globular, and a fairly stunning view in the C8; and M52, a nice open cluster in Cassiopeia (not sure why it took me so long to see M52).
I was also able to shoot some images with the XTi through the little red 66ED. We'll see how the images turn out. Above is Luna.

August 30, 2008

Total Eclipse (on Jupiter)

Tonight (Friday the 29th) my kids and I caught Io's shadow marching across Jupiter. Very cool. Jupiter was a sight tonight, with bands, festoons, and moons. Also, the 100mm f/6 split Epsilon Lyrae very cleanly, with black sky in between each of the two pairs, at 120x. The sky was full of water vapor tonight, but it did not seem to make detail less visible.

August 11, 2008

North America Nebula

Here are the other targets I was hoping to image in the Hill Country: the North America and Pelican Nebulas (Nebulae?). They are at the center of the image. You can see the shape of North America, I hope, and the Pelican (not shaped very much like a pelican) where the north Atlantic would be. The bright star to the right is Deneb. In the upper left is M39, an open cluster. Around about where Ohio or Pennsylvania would be in the North America nebula is another open cluster called NGC 6997.

This image was taken with the same equipment as the Sagittarius Field. This was 38x60" processed in Nebulosity and touched up a bit more in Canon's DPP. A satellite apparently flew through the field. The trail is not apparent in any of the sub-images without stretching, and I did not stretch them. Maybe someday I'll re-process and find it.

August 5, 2008

Get Out the Star Charts of Sagittarius

[Corrected image: Bluer than the original post on the advice of NHAC member and accomplished astrophotographer Dick Locke. This adjustment allows one to see some of the nebulosity just to the east of M8, such as I.4685, and further north I.1283-84. Aesthetically, it is much more pleasing, and the colors are more similar to those I imagine that I see with my eyes. Many thanks.]

This was one of the two images I hoped to obtain in the Hill Country. It is a wide view of the western part of Sagittarius. The center of the galaxy is in the lower side of the left half of the image. In the image are some of my favorite celestial wonders. The best way to view this image is to download it here (there is a download link on the right of the linked page if you are signed in to Google), save it, then look at it in a photo viewer in full size. Not all of it will fit on the screen unless you have a much larger screen than I have, but you can browse about the picture. Almost as if you are looking through a small telescope, you can see some of the things that fascinate me in this area of the sky.

In this image (well, in the full-size image from which this smaller scale version is derived), I find thirteen objects cataloged by comet hunter Charles Messier, including six open clusters, four globular clusters, and four nebulae. But besides this, I find eleven other open clusters and thirteen other globular clusters. Besides these, a number of dark nebulae appear in the image. I have no good catalog of dark nebulae, so I have not counted which I see, but many of the smaller and nearer ones are obvious. They appear as black holes against the background of stars. They are actually clouds of dust and gas that are nearer than the stars, block out their light, and so appear black.

The image is centered on the Lagoon Nebula, a bright cloud of dust excited by radiation from stars forming within and around it. Just to the right of it is the Trifid Nebula, so-called because it appears in small telescopes to split into three parts like three flaps in a pinwheel around a central, bright star. In this image, some of the lines between the flaps appear if you look very closely at the image in full size.

The image was obtained with the Canon 400D through a 50mm f/1.8 lens at f/3.2. Twenty 60-second exposures, taken without guiding while piggybacked on the 100mm achromat on the LXD75, were combined and stretched in Nebulosity, saved as a jpeg, and then color-enhanced, brightened, and contrast-enhanced in Canon's DPP. There is one problem at least with the image: terrible coma in the right lower corner, decreasing some but still present all the way up the right side. I could crop it, but I like to see M16 there on the right with plenty of stars around it.

August 4, 2008

Hill Country Trip

This last week my family and I took a trip to central Texas. One of my daughters had an activity in San Antonio, and we were in the mood for some peace and quiet and starlit skies. We stayed at the Starry Nights Bed & Breakfast. The accommodations were excellent, the surroundings peaceful and quiet. The kids had fun playing with our hosts' dogs, hiking the nature trail, playing on the swings and treehouse, and watching movies. We saw deer, a fox, a jackrabbit, the lizard who lived next to the porch of the cottage, and hawks soaring above. Two of the deer in fact gave me a scare on our last night as I was coming out in the dark to pick up equipment. I scared them, too.

I was able to do some imaging at night. The skies are beautiful. I could see the Milky Way from horizon to horizon. In Cygnus, the galaxy's glow reached at least the tips of the swan's outstretched wings. The weather reminded me only a little of a trip to the Texas Star Party a few years ago when the event was held in central rather than west Texas. On my first night at TSP that year, the skies were dark and clear. I was rolling through my small scope and binocular list looking for M51 when ... huh? ... the stars all disappeared! Clouds! The stars did not come back for at least three days, and I ended up leaving early. Last week, though, I usually had until 1 or 2 in the morning before I was clouded out. Four out of our five nights were cloudless until then.

The image above of Antares & M4 was taken with the 400D through a 50mm f/1.8 lense at f/2.8, piggybacked on the Orion 100m f/6 and the Meade LXD75. It is a single, 60-second exposure at 800 ISO. It has been subject to some (but not much) brightening and color enhancement. The clouds were just beginning to roll in from the southeast. They hadn't reached Antares yet, so I figured I still had some time.

July 20, 2008

Camping in the Backyard

On July 17, one of my sons and I camped out in the backyard. I pulled the 100mm f/6 out for a look at Jupiter and saw Ganymede about to move behind the planet. I watched until I could see the tiny bulge of the moon sit on Jupiter's edge like a profile of a mole on the planet's face, and then I turned in for the night. The almost full moon cast shadows on the back of the house. Image with XTi, ISO 200, 15-seconds, brightened up a bit.

July 14, 2008


This is Luna with the XTi through the AT66ED, a 400mm f/6 lens. The image was taken late in the evening of the 13th.

Mars & Saturn II

Here is another development of the same shot, with more careful processing. I subtracted a dark from this one and stretched it primarily in Nebulosity. It is the same data, but the result is smoother in this one, I think.

July 6, 2008

Saturn Mars Regulus Luna II

Here are more views of the July 5th alignment, at various ISO settings and exposures.

Saturn Mars Regulus Luna - July 5th

Here's what they looked like last night, in that order, with clouds moving by. The image only begins to do justice to the real thing. Canon XTI, 8-second exposure at ISO 800, resized.

June 30, 2008

Giro III & the C8

Last week I found the sky had cleared about 12:30 am and went out for an hour with this setup. The tripod is my own, homemade, walnut, not yet finished but very sturdy. That's the 100mm f/6 on one side, and the C8 on the other. In between is the Giro III that was my Christmas present (I have a very understanding bride who this year let me pick my own present). Just under the Giro III and above the tripod hub is a 60mm-wide rubber washer I obtained from Lowe's.

The Giro III is a fine piece of work. The C8 with the WO focuser and the 8mm Baader eyepiece is pretty heavy, but the Giro III handles it quite well. The 8mm provides a magnification of 254x. I thought that might be too much for the mount, but it was not so. The field of view is very small, just a quarter of a degree. To illustrate, M13 pretty much filled the view. I was just able to put Jupiter and three moons in the view; the moon furthest out would not fit or just barely fit with the planet quickly moving outside the view (Jupiter was awesome to behold that night at that magnification). Most things I see in that view disappear in about a minute tops, and they filled the middle 50% of the view for only 20 or 30 seconds. That means that I have to move the scope often. Moving the scope is not a problem, really, for me: I'm a dob fan. But dobs are so large. With the Giro III, I was hoping to get the benefits of a dob mount for my refractors and SCT. And that's about what I have. The primary issues for a mount of this type are, for me, backlash and settling time. Settling time is less than a second with this setup (with my rubber washer in place), and that's if I actually move the tripod. Just rapping on the tripod does nothing. Bumping the scope itself requires the less-than-a-second settle. If the scopes are balanced well, there is virtually no backlash. On this night, I was balanced a little too far backward for work at the zenith and tightened down the altitude axis to compensate, and even then the backlash was only 0.03-0.04 degrees, well within workable limits, even at 254x. I will definitely not hesitate to put the 8mm in again.

There are some drawbacks. My eyepieces do not all weigh the same, and sometimes I have to re-balance when switching eyepieces. That's a pain if I have to find objects twice. But the virtue of the dual arm setup is that I do not need to switch eyepieces. I use my 4-inch as a giant finder (35mm ultrascopic eyepiece, 17x) and the C8 for a closer view.

[Update: I later removed the rubber washer. The mount handles vibrations almost as well without it, and I was continually (once every four or five uses) having to tighten the bolt holding the mount when the washer was in place. On balance, I decided it was not worth the effort. The mount performs beautifully without it, too.]

June 25, 2008

Draco's Nose

I took the 100mm f/6 out last night for a short session. After a quick look at Jupiter (with Ganymede on one side and the other moons all grouped on the other), Albireo, M29, M27, and M22, I turned the scope to Draco's nose.
First, I found NGC 6229. This is a globular cluster in Hercules just south of the nose. Appearing much smaller than M13 or M22, and not nearly as bright as M92 just to the southeast, still NGC 6229 was not hard to find. It sits next to a couple of stars and the three objects together make a nice equilateral triangle. I could make out no individual stars in NGC 6229, but given that the globular is about 100,000 light years away, much further than M13 or M22, that's not surprising.
If Draco has a short nose, Al Rakis or Mu Draconis is it. It's a nice double star of about equally bright components that was split at 75x through the 100mm. It looks a little like Gamma Virginis---two tiny headlamps---only appearing a bit further apart than that system right now.
If Draco has a long nose, 16 & 17 Draconis is its tip, also a splendid view. 17 is a double, so the whole is a triple system resembling Mizar and Alcor somewhat, but closer together. 17 was also split at 75x.
I will definitely go back to these doubles soon.

June 19, 2008

Outreach & Navasota Storm

Last night I drove about an hour west to a young women's camp experience that my church organizes. A large group of campers and I talked for a bit about planetary orbits, and the planets' current locations, and then hit the telescopes. It was cloudy for part of the time, and this discouraged some, but those who stayed were rewarded with some nice views of Saturn and Jupiter through the XT8. Others watched the moon, which was full tonight, through the 100 f/6. My amazing daughters helped others look through the scopes.

After the young women left for their tents, a storm approached. It was never closer than about 20 miles, I think, but it looked ominous and for a while generated lightning about once every three seconds.

June 3, 2008

Jupiter & Sagittarius on June 1

This image is an 8-second shot with the Sony DSC-75, dark subtracted, color adjusted, resampling filters applied, and resized in Registax.

June 1, 2008

First Light with Little Red, and a First Observation of M94

Last night was lovely. I received a new (used) scope in the mail this last week: a bright red (anodized) AT66ED (f/6). It's a small scope, but it's a real performer! I hung it on one side of the Giro III and the Orion 100mm f/6 achromat on the other. I put a 24mm eyepiece in Little Red for most of the night, for about 16x, and an 8mm Hyperion in the 100, for 75x.

Some clouds passed by around 11:40, and then the night was grand. I first stopped at M94. This was an item on my "yet-to-see" Messier list. But no more "yet." There it was in the 66's view, and much brighter in the 100. In fact, I believe I could see a dark marking on the galaxy in the 100. I'd be curious if others see that.

I also found M63 again, but it was dim. Mostly, it was a grand night for globulars: M13, M4, M56, M22 (the Great), M28 (surprisingly bright), M54, M70, M69. Contrasting these is an interesting enterprise. More stars were resolved in M28 than any other. M4 always seems a bit under-populated for such a bright object. I am always disappointed that I can resolve so few of M13's stars in these smaller scopes. M28 was so bright I spotted it easily in the 66. It is almost as bright as M22, but appears perhaps only 25% as large.

I also observed M57 and M27, and M8 and M21. Jupiter was up, with two Galilean satellites on each side of it, as if the planet were a judge trying a case, with the parties and their lawyers sitting before him. I also looked at Cor Caroli, Albireo, and Epsilon Lyrae.

What most impressed me during the session was Little Red's performance. One could easily come to prefer the APO above other scope designs. I could see most of these deep sky objects in Little Red: M13, M4, M56, M22, M28, M57 (a tiny little ring in a very wide field), M27, M8, M21, M94. I was surprised. Increasing the magnification did not dull performance at all, but enhanced it. Jupiter looked every bit as good in Little Red at 80x as in the 100 at 75x---perhaps a little better because the planet lacked the slight purple halo the achromat always shows. And Little Red split the components of Epsilon Lyrae cleanly at 80x, a better view than in the 100 at 75x. Of course, the 100 gave everything a much brighter view, and the objects I could not see in Little Red I could see clearly in the 100, but Little Red did what it is supposed to do: Show high-contrast, wide-field images, and when magnification is pushed a little higher, continue to show very fine detail per inch of aperture.

May 24, 2008

The Dipper

We have had a cloudy couple of weeks, and the moon's been out the last few days, but this shot only took a couple of minutes when the moon was almost full. It is from my backyard with the Sony DSC-75. It is one, 8-second exposure, with darks subtracted and some minimal stretching done in Registax.

May 7, 2008

NGC 4312

The night I caught M100 I also moved the camera just a little to the south and found this galaxy, NGC 4312. You can see how the two images fit together: The upper rights stars in this image are the same stars found in the lower left of the M100 image. I cannot force any more detail out of this image, and I can see none in others' photos except in the very most detailed, in which slight spiral arms appear. This galaxy is part of the same cluster of galaxies as M100.

M100 Field

Four other galaxies appear in the M100 image, as marked. I have no idea what is the name of the galaxy on the upper left.

May 6, 2008


I was excited to get out on the night of April 29. The sky cleared off but for some high, hazy clouds that passed overhead. I was able to take this image of M100, a grand spiral galaxy 56 million light years away in the constellation Coma Berenice. Also in the image just above M100 are two other galaxies. There is a glimpse of one to the right, also, but it was mostly cut off in the processing of the unguided sub-exposures. This is 335 x 8.1-second sub-exposures (just over 45 minutes total) stretched in Registax and Nebulosity. The camera was the DSI Pro on the Vixen R135S on the LXD75.

[Below is a re-processed image of M100 using the same data and more sensitive tools of PSE7. It is slightly less detailed but deeper and less noisy:]

April 25, 2008

The Cone Nebula

This is the Cone Nebula. More information about it can be found here. This is a set of exposures obtained January 12-13 and not processed until now. The data was gathered the same night as the Horsehead and NGC2903. The camera is the DSI Pro, unguided on the LXD75, through the Vixen R135S at f/4.8. The image is faint. It might not appear clearly unless your monitor's brightness settings are maxed and the contrast is set just right (which also greatly improves the view of NGC 3628, below). Please click on the image for a larger view. The cone has long been a target of mine. I hope to revisit it as soon as possible.

The stars in this image are too large for my taste. The image is stretched so much: just enough to show the nebula, but so much that the stars look too large.