December 26, 2012

NGC 1999, the Keyhole Nebula (Dec. 12, 2012)


This is NGC 1999, the Keyhole Nebula.  It is a reflection nebula lit by the star on the right edge of the lower part of the keyhole.  The nebula is so bright there that it is difficult to see the star separately from the nebula.

The interesting thing about the Keyhole Nebula is that it is actually a hole.  Many dark spots seen against a brighter nebular background are cold clouds of gas and dust.  Not so the Keyhole, apparently.  The keyhole feature appears actually to be a hole.  Deep images with a variety of infrared scopes (reported here) show that in the keyhold feature there lurks ... nothing.  What blasted a hole through this patch of otherwise brightly lit cloud?  That is a mystery, but the area is full of young stars just beginning stellar life.  Perhaps one of them blasted a tunnel right through.

Mine is not a deep image.  Surrounding the blue reflection nebula is a lot more gas and dust that is not lit up so brightly with reflected light.  Some more interesting objects my image only begins to show are also brighter in other pictures of the region.  You can see some of them in Adam Block's image, here, taken with a much larger scope from the top of a very dark mountain.  In my image you can see just a hint of these other things in the reddish background and in the red glowing objects just to the right of the Keyhole Nebula.

Telescope: Orion 254mm f/4.7 Newtonian and RCC I
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9 (R: 9x240"; B: 10x240" (synthetic green)), T-shirt flats
Filter: Astronomik RB, IDAS-LPS2
Guiding: SX Lodestar and SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Registar, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

December 19, 2012

Rosette Nebula and NGC 2244 (Dec. 17, 2012)

The Rosette is a grand sight.  I have seen it in binoculars from the mountains near Reno, NV, but the nebula's relatively low surface brightness makes it a challenge visually from the city.  This is just the central area.  It's fascinating for its dark clumps of dust and gas in the upper left, the bubble carved out of the middle by the hot stars of the cluster NGC 2244, and the loops and filaments throughout.

This is second light with the AT111EDT.  This is just H-alpha.  I hope to go back for OIII and perhaps SII in the coming months.

Telescope: Astro-Tech AT111EDT and William Optics P-FLAT4 (eff. at f/5.6)
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9C (10x900"), Alnitak Flat-man flats
Filter: Astronomik 12nm Ha [+NII]
Guiding: SX Lodestar and SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

M1 (Dec. 12, 2012)

In 1054 A.D. , Chinese astronomers noted a new star in the sky.  It shone so brightly that folks could see it in the daytime.  But the star was temporary.  In fact, it was not a new star at all but an old star that exploded.  This nebula is the result of that explosion.  M1 is a supernova remnant.  It is one of the coolest deep sky objects in the heavens.

Why so cool?  Well, first, this is one of the few deep sky objects whose origin was observed by human beings, and it's been growing ever since.  Most objects in the sky change very slowly by our time scale, but not this one.  In fact, some amateur astronomers have observed changes in M1 in their own images over time.

Second, M1 is not just a supernova remnant.  It is the home of what is left of the star that exploded.  The core of the supernova did not have enough mass to become a black hole, so it stopped just short of that and became a neutron star.  Within it, gravity's power has overcome the forces that create space within atoms, crushing the elements away.  What is left is a ball of neutrons only 15-18 miles wide that contains more mass than the Sun!  Pretty heavy stuff!

But there is more.  The neutron star and its interactions with its immediate environment produce more than just visible light.  Radio waves, x-rays, and gamma rays all stream out of the center of M1.  See NASA's combined optical and x-ray image of the center of M1 here.  The neutron star's intense radiation causes this to happen.

Even more remarkably, the neutron star is spinning very quickly.  It's strong electromagnetic field concentrates the radio waves into pulses that tick like a clock in space.  When astronomers first heard it, its regularity suggested that astronomers were receiving a signal from aliens.  But theorists later determined how a neutron star could produce such pulses.  We call such a spinning neutron star a pulsar.

The pulsar itself is visible in this image.  At the center of the nebula are two stars, easily visible next to each other.  The pulsar is the dimmer of the two, on the right.  We may not have a picture of a black hole yet, but we have images of the next closest thing.  How cool is that?

This image is a combination of (1) a stack of frames taken through an H-alpha filter with (2) a short color image I took a year ago through the same telescope.  I have simply slapped the color over the H-alpha image.  Here is the H-alpha alone:

Here is the capture data for the H-alpha image:
Telescope: Orion 254mm f/4.7 Newtonian and RCC I
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9 (H-alpha: 10x900"), T-shirt flats
Filter: Astronomik 12nm Ha
Guiding: SX Lodestar and SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Registar, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

The color data is described here.

November 28, 2012

M33 (Nov. 16 & 17, 2012)

M33 is about 2.88 million light years away (give or take a hundred thousand or so).  That's practically in our backyard.  M33 is, with M31, our next-door neighbor in the universe.  M33's nearness is why it appears so large in this scene.  As galaxies go, M33 is not that big, or that bright.  Compare it with M31, which I shot a couple of months ago with the exact same equipment, and you can see how much larger and brighter M31 is by comparison.

Anyway, M33 is beautiful.  I've always wanted this kind of image of it.  I'm sure this won't be the last time I shoot it.  This image has been shrunk to 80% of original size to hide latent noise; this image could use another six hours or so (and from a darker site).

Telescope: SV80ED (and William Optics 0.8x II fr/ff (eff. at f/5.6))
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9C (49x480"), Alnitak Flat-man flats
Filter: Hutech IDAS-LPS2
Guiding: Meade DSI Pro and Hutech 50mm
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

November 22, 2012

NGC 1977, the Running Bigfoot Nebula (Nov. 16 & 17, 2012)


This nebula is part of a great complex of gas and dust in the constellation Orion.  The most prominent part of the complex is M42 and M43.  M43 and part of M42 can be seen at the bottom of this image.

The Running Bigfoot Nebula glows mostly for a different reason than M42 and M43, however.  While M42 and M43 radiate the light of ionized gas, the Running Bigfoot reflects the light of the bright blue stars in and around it.  If you look closely at the Bigfoot figure, you see in his trailing arm the reddish glow of ionized gas, probably hydrogen and nitrogen.  But the blue light of the nebula is reflected.  Further away from the bright stars, where the light is too dim to be reflected in blue, it is reflected in gray and then brown.

The Running Bigfoot Nebula is called by most folks the Running Man Nebula, but look at the size of those arms!  And he's got no neck.  He's like no man I ever saw.  His trailing leg is behind a bush, I think.

Telescope: SV80ED (and William Optics 0.8x II fr/ff (eff. at f/5.6))
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9C (50x480"), Alnitak Flat-man flats
Filter: Hutech IDAS-LPS2
Guiding: Meade DSI Pro and Hutech 50mm
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

November 20, 2012

M46, NGC 2438, Minkowski 1-18 (Nov. 16 & 17, 2012)


This image shows the open cluster M46 in the constellation Puppis.  The non-stellar ring of material that seems to be within the cluster is planetary nebula NGC 2438.  The nebula is actually in front of the cluster, astronomers believe, and just a chance alignment makes the cluster and the nebula appear together in the sky.

A wide field view is great for an apparently large open cluster like M46.  But to see the planetary nebula in detail, an imager must use a much longer focal length.  How about this image, taken through narrowband filters with the 0.82 meter IAC80 telescope?  The IAC80's 9-meter focal length reveals a host of details that my telescope's 0.5-meter focal length could never show.

As I was processing this image, I found another planetary nebula in it to the left of M46 and NGC 2438.  This nebula is cataloged as Minkowski 1-18, PK 231+04.1, and PN G231.4+04.3.  It is to the left (north) and down (east) just a bit from NGC 2438 and is near the edge of the frame.  It appears as a dim, dark red, circular patch just a little larger than the footprint of the brighter stars near it.  You may have to look at the full resolution image to see it.  I was happy to see it as I did not know it was there before taking this image.

Telescope: SV80ED (and William Optics 0.8x II fr/ff (eff. at f/5.6))
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9C (46x480"), Alnitak Flat-man flats
Filter: Hutech IDAS-LPS2
Guiding: Meade DSI Pro and Hutech 50mm
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

October 10, 2012

M42 Trapezium (Sept. 22, 2012)

The lovely little cluster called the Trapezium lies at the heart of M42, the Great Nebula in Orion, and is named after the shape made by its brightest stars.  M42 and the Trapezium are one of the grandest sights in the sky and are subjects for serious study.

The cluster's stars are close together, literally as well as apparently.  They appear so close that they were once thought to be one star, Theta Orionis.  As astronomers over time split the star into more and more components, they named the components with letters.  The brightest star in the cluster is Theta Orionis C.  It is very bright, very hot, and generates most of the ultraviolet radiation that makes the gas around it glow.  In the image, the star at the top of the Trapezium is D.  The two brighter other stars that make up the trapezoid, going from left to right, are A and B.  Here is a close crop of the cluster:

As more components were discovered, more letters were used.  The semi-bright star between A and B (and just to the right of A) is E.  The star just above C is F (which looks elongated; actually there are two stars there).  The star just below D is G, and directly below G is I.  Moving to the lower left of I is H, which is just below C and to the left of A.  Next to H, to H's immediate left, is another star, and I have no idea what it's name is.  Nor do I know the names of the other, nearby stars.  Actually, I was surprised to see so many here.  But this is not anywhere close to all the stars in the cluster.  Many of them shine in wavelengths other than those allowed by the two filters that I used to take this image.  I should explain.

One of the cool things about this nebula is that stars in it are still forming.  There is still a lot of dust obscuring stars that have formed, and the stars do not all glow with the same intensity at all wavelengths.  When we take pictures, we often use different filters that cut out all but a few wavelengths.  This allows us to focus only on the gases that light up the nebula, to the exclusion of almost all other light (including streetlights in front of my house).  For example, this image records light with a wavelength of 656.28 nm.  At that wavelength we find light emitted by ionized hydrogen.  Very near it we also find the light of ionized nitrogen, and my filter (called an h-alpha filter because it focuses on the hydrogen emission) just happens to pass light from a band 12 nm wide.  It is wide enough that it also picks up the nitrogen signal.  This image also records light taken through another filter that allows the wavelengths of 495.9 nm and 500.9 nm, and this light is emitted by ionized oxygen.  This filter is often called an OIII filter.  The h-alpha line is in the red part of the spectrum, and the OIII lines are green, but I've mapped OIII to blue here, also, because blue and red make a better picture.  So here you see the stars as they shine at those wavelengths.

But look at this next image.  I also took an image through an SII filter, which allows in light of ionized sulfur, at wavelengths of 671.6 and 673.1 nm.  The image is quite different:
More stars appear, and they are brighter.  Why is that so?  It may be because these stars radiate more light from ionized sulfur than from hydrogen, nitrogen, or oxygen.  I suspect that is the case.  Notice that stars G, H, and I are dimmer in this SII image, and that F is not elongated.  

The best way to see this cluster, though, is at infrared wavelengths.  Not until wavelengths of 750 nm do we reach the infrared.  Infrared light cuts through the dust, so an infrared image shows hundreds more stars in the area.  An example from the Hubble Space Telescope is here.  How cool is that?  On the other hand, when the Hubble records in h-alpha, nitrogen, and OIII, as I did, it picks up the same stars I do in the first image above (and a few more with Hubble's better resolution and bigger aperture, of course, but nothing like the infrared), as here.

Anyway, I took these images of the Trapezium from my backyard, in about an hour's time.  The stars are so bright that only short exposures would keep the stars small enough to remain separate.

Telescope: Orion 254mm f/4.7 Newtonian and Astro-Tech Coma Corrector (eff. at f/5.17)
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9 (H-alpha: 11x30"; OIII: 15x30"; SII: 15x30"), T-shirt flats
Filter: Astronomik 12nm Ha, OIII, and SII
Guiding: SX Lodestar and SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Registar, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

September 29, 2012

NGC 281 Bi-Color (September 2012)

Here is the Pacman Nebula again, a closer view.  The H-alpha data shown earlier this month falls naturally in the red part of the spectrum.  To this I have added OIII.  Ionized oxygen is green, but it is weaker than the H-alpha.  In this image, I have used H-alpha for red, OIII for blue; I combined this data (20% Ha, 80% OIII) to create a third data set, which I used for green.  This is a slightly false color, but I think it is easy on the eyes and shows the data well.

Telescope: Orion 254mm f/4.7 Newtonian and Astro-Tech Coma Corrector (eff. at f/5.17)
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9 (H-alpha: 1x900" + 12x1200"; OIII: 15x1200"), T-shirt flats
Filter: Astronomik 12nm Ha and 12nm OIII
Guiding: SX Lodestar and SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Registar, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

September 26, 2012

M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, with M32 and M110 (Sept. 19, 2012)



Behold the great Andromeda Galaxy!  In this image, you also see galaxies M32 (the small one, upper left) and M110 (the larger one, lower right).  M32 and M110 are satellite galaxies of M31.  Also visible at lower left is a large group of young stars in the spiral arm or ring of the large galaxy.  That group and the outer areas of the galaxy are bluer because the stars in them are younger and hotter than the stars in the galaxy's central bulge.

Telescope: SV80ED (and William Optics 0.8x II fr/ff (eff. at f/5.6))
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9C (47x420"), Alnitak Flat-man flats
Filter: Hutech IDAS-LPS2
Guiding: Meade DSI Pro & Hutech 50mm
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

September 21, 2012

Merope, AT111EDT First Light (Sept. 20, 2012)


Here is a closeup on Merope, one of the Pleiades (also known as Subaru or Seven Sisters, or M45).  The Pleiades are passing through a cloud of dust.  Reflected starlight from the group shines on the dust in blue.  Because the cluster of stars is only about 390-440 light years distant, it appears as a cluster to anyone looking up in a dark sky at the constellation Taurus.

This is first light with an AT111EDT.  I am the second owner, but the scope was well cared-for.  I am excited to fit this scope out for convenient imaging as a replacement for the 6" Newtonian.

Telescope: Astro-Tech AT111EDT (and William Optics 0.8x II fr/ff (eff. at f/5.6))
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9C (35x240"), Alnitak Flat-man flats
Filter: Hutech IDAS-LPS2
Guiding: Meade DSI Pro & Hutech 50mm
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

September 8, 2012

IC 1590 & NGC 281 (Sept. 6, 2012)

I've always wanted to get closer to the cluster at the center of this nebula.  A clear night this week presented an opportunity.  I had some trouble with the 254mm Orion Newtonian early on: a poorly installed dew heater was warping the secondary.  When I realized what the problem was and shut off the dew heater, the field quickly flattened out.  By that time, NGC 281 was just coming over the trees.  This is my first image of the nebula with the big Newt, and the first time I've shot H-alpha through the big scope.  I don't think it will be the last time.  This is also first light since installing a Protostar tubeliner inside the scope.

NGC 281 and the open cluster in the center of the image, IC 1590, are about 9,500 light years away.  The nebula is bright because the stars in it are bright.  The nebula is an emission nebula, which means that the gas of the nebula (hydrogen in this image) is excited by the ultraviolet light of the stars in the cluster.  The cluster and nebula are a package deal.

What I like about this nebula in particular are the clumps of gas and dust in front of it.  The clumps are being worn away by starlight, but several of them stand out against the face of the cloud, including the long river near the cluster and several little globules in the upper right.

It's a grand sight!  I recommend clicking on the full resolution link above, toggling F11, and panning about.

Telescope: Orion 254mm f/4.7 Newtonian and Astro-Tech Coma Corrector (eff. at f/5.17)
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9 (1x900" + 12x1200"), T-shirt flats
Filter: Astronomik 12nm Ha
Guiding: SX Lodestar and SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

September 3, 2012

Testing a TSA-102 (September 2012)

I am fortunate to have a friend with a Takahashi TSA-102.  I asked her advice regarding the scope, and she offered to let me borrow it. No kidding.  Taking up this very generous offer, I was pleased a few nights ago to gather 20x4' hours worth of data in Cygnus.  I wasn't even sure where the scope was pointing.  I just wanted to see what the image looked like and how the processing went.

Behold!  What I like most about this scope is the shape of the stars.  Wow!  They are perfect.  The colors are also nice.  This image was gathered with the SXVF-H9C and a Celestron LPR filter that happened to be lying about.  I did not bother to calibrate the color, as I do not where this is yet.  But the contrasting colors are easy to see.

August 25, 2012

NGC 185, M51, M16 - Smalls

We've had clouds and clouds lately.  I'm starting to chew on old data.  Two are new images to the blog, however.
This is NGC 185, a satellite galaxy of the great Andromeda Galaxy, M31.  NGC 185 appears to be full of older, yellow stars and not much action, but a dark lane also appears across the galaxy's face.  Astronomers looking very closely have discovered blue star clusters in the galaxy.  There is new stellar life there yet!  I believe I took this image with the Orion ED80 in January, 2010.

M51 is a spiral galaxy that is best positioned for imaging in winter and spring.  This is a re-process of data gathered with the Orion 10" f/4.7 Newtonian in March of 2011.

This is my last data from Three Rivers.  The nebula is M16, the Eagle Nebula.  The eagle shape is hard to see in the image, as the data is not deep.  But if you look closely you can see in the heart of the nebulosity the pillars of creation made famous by the Hubble Space Telescope.  This image was shot with the SV80ED, mounted on the EM-10, unguided.  It is a stack of forty 3-minute images.

All of these images were taken with the SXVF-H9C.

August 15, 2012

vdb152 or Ced 201, in Cepheus (19 July 2012)

Cederblad 201 or van den Bergh 152 (the nebula is listed in at least these catalogs) consists mostly of a long, wide trail of gas and dust, but the end of it is bathed in the reflected starlight of the bright, blue star passing by.   Imaging this nebula was one reason to go to the Three Rivers Foundation site.  This kind of dim starlight reflection and the dusty red-brown gas behind it can only be captured well and quickly from a very dark site.

This image is only 5x20'.  It was taken very early in the morning on the 20th of July.  I thought I was going to get some more time the next night, but clouds moved in.  So I was able to get no more luminance and took no color data.  Fortunately, there are many images of vdb152 around the web.  The color data you see above was donated generously by Bob Fera.  The Feras' lovely image, which I think has the best color balance of any for this object, can be found here (just scroll down through the great images till you find it).  Through the magic of Registar and Photoshop, I can superimpose just the color from the Feras' image over my own grayscale image.  Thanks to the Feras.

Here is my data in grayscale:

The optics on the 6" have gone slightly out of alignment.  It is time to take the scope apart and put it back together squarely.

Telescope: Orion 6" f/5 Imaging Newtonian and Astro-Tech Coma Corrector (eff. at f/5.5)
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9 (5x1200'), Alnitak Flat-man flats
Filter: Astronomik Lum
Guiding: SX Lodestar and SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Registar, Photoshop CS3
Location: 3RF's Comanche Springs Astronomy Campus, Crowell, TX

July 25, 2012

Iris Nebula, NGC 7023 (July 19 & 20, 2012)

This is the Iris Nebula.  The image was taken from the campus of the Three Rivers Foundation Comanche Springs Astronomy Campus near Crowell, TX.  I was planning on taking a trip to west Texas for four nights of imaging.  The weather would not allow it, though; it is monsoon season there, and little or no imaging with the portable kind of rig I use would have occurred, so that trip had to be postponed.  But I had a week available during a new moon.  An inquiry to the Three Rivers Foundation (3RF) proved helpful.  They offered to let me tent camp for free during open campus week, and asked only a small fee for use of the electricity.  I took my two sons.  Only the first night was great for imaging, but it was a great night.

In fact, that first night was fabulous.  The air was as still as I've ever seen it for imaging, and the night was very dark.  The Milky Way stretched from horizon to horizon.  Wow.  My boys had never seen it, but they won't forget it now.

The Iris Nebula is a reflection nebula, meaning that it reflects the light of the stars next to it.  The stars are blue-white, so the nebula shines in blue-white.  Reflection nebulae are much harder to see (or image) from the suburbs, so the Iris was a prime target from a dark sky site.  The bright star in the middle of the nebula provides much of the illumination.  It has just a number (SAO 19158), not a proper name, and is not a bright star to our eyes (just magnitude 6.8).

I obtained color data the second night.  The night was somewhat cloudy, and eventually I had to stop imaging.  The color data for this image is not the best, but it is just usable, and will suffice.

It would be hard to say enough good things about the 3RF campus.  There are scopes aplenty and accommodations for volunteers and visiting amateurs.  The folks in charge were welcoming and very helpful.  I met several serious amateurs there who were friendly and knowledgeable.  I hope to go back again soon.

Telescope: Orion 6" f/5 Imaging Newtonian and Astro-Tech Coma Corrector (eff. at f/5.5)
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9 (17x900'), SXVF-H9C (6x1200'), Alnitak Flat-man flats
Filter: Astronomik Lum
Guiding: SX Lodestar and SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Registar, Photoshop CS3
Location: 3RF's Comanche Springs Astronomy Campus, Crowell, TX

July 12, 2012

NGC 604 (from M33), HST


This data is from the Hubble Legacy Archives.  NGC 604 was discovered by William Herschel in 1784, but it lies in a nearby galaxy, M33, also called the Triangulum Galaxy.  NGC 604 is very bright, and is visible on nearly every image of M33, but the nebula, like the galaxy to which it belongs, lies roughly 2.8 million light years away.  Hubble's clear vision gives us such a close view.  This is not Hubble's most detailed data of this nebula, but it is a set I've not seen before.  This image combines blue, green, H-alpha, and deep red exposures.

June 27, 2012

Crescent Nebula, NGC 6888, Bi-color (June 2012)

Here is a bi-color combine of the Ha[+NII] and OIII data.  I had to tone down the Ha so that the OIII would show up.  The OIII is so dim from my backyard, and my camera so less sensitive to it, that I would have to take a lot more than 5 hours to brighten it up.  There are many great images of this object around the web.  Some of my favorites are Jim Wood and Emanuele Colognato's, here, and Ken Crawford's, here, taken with, respectively, 24" and 20" telescopes, and from darker skies.  The Crescent Nebula is about 5,000 light years away in the constellation Cygnus.

Telescope: Orion 6" f/5 Imaging Newtonian and Astro-Tech Coma Corrector (eff. at f/5.5)
Camera and Exposure: Ha (13x20'), OIII (15x20'), thru the SXVF-H9, Alnitak Flat-man flats
Filter: Astronomik 12nm Ha & OIII
Guiding: SX Lodestar and SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Registar, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX
Hat tip to Steve Cannistra for the bi-color processing method.

June 25, 2012

Crescent Nebula, NGC 6888, in OIII (June 24, 2012)


Here is NGC 6888 in a wavelength dominated by glowing, ionized oxygen.  It is much fainter than the Ha, partly because my camera is less sensitive in this part of the spectrum.

Telescope: Orion 6" f/5 Imaging Newtonian and Astro-Tech Coma Corrector (eff. at f/5.5)
Camera and Exposure: 15x20' thru the SXVF-H9, Alnitak Flat-man flats
Filter: Astronomik 12nm OIII
Guiding: SX Lodestar and SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

June 12, 2012

First Light: C8

OK, this my latest.  I've worked with a few Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes over the years.  I had a C5+ with very nice optics, and an observing buddy had a great C8.  Otherwise, my experience has been uneven.  But the reputation for these scopes purchased lately has been very good, and I wanted a good all-around observing scope of some size for planets, star parties, and nights when clouds come by around midnight.

I took this new C8 tube for a spin last night and formed a preliminary impression: Fantastic!  If there was image shift, it was entirely buried in the shaking created by my touching the focus knob.  Even slightly out of collimation the scope gave wonderful view of Saturn, complete with rings A, B, and C, and four bright moons.  And a not half-bad view of Mars.  After I collimated it, the star images looked pretty textbook to me at 400x (the planets had moved behind the trees by that point).  Wonderful!  It's a delightful scope, and very smart-looking.  It came Fastar-ready, but for now it will just sit nicely on the EM-10.

Perhaps I can quit buying scopes now.  Just kidding.  I'm joining TA: "Hi, my name is Val, and ...."

Update: I took the C8 out to a scout camp this week.  I gave a speech to about 90 young women who were camped there, and then they all looked at Saturn.  I love the comments they made: "It looks like a picture!"  "It looks so Saturn-y!"  "It looks like a sticker."  "Whoa!"  You know, Saturn is the big show.  The rings looked great, and moons, and the shadow of the rings on the planet.  Most viewed the planet through a 15mm Orion Expanse eyepiece, at 133.3x.  After everyone had looked, I pulled out the Vixen Lanthanum 5mm, and we looked at 400x.  At moments of good seeing, this was a fabulous view, but I did not get to look much, as I wanted everyone else to see.

Then all the girls left, but a few leaders stayed to see a few more things.  I put in the Meade SWA Series 5000 28mm, and we looked at the Ring Nebula, a random galaxy that I found in the Virgo cluster, M13, and M8.  All of them looked great.  Stars were pinpoint across the middle 70% of the view (the 28mm 68-degree eyepiece taxes the standard SCT just a bit, but I'm probably the only one who noticed, and I always put the thing I'm looking at in the center).  With the polar aligned EM-10, everything stays right where I put it.  M13 received votes for favorite object, next to Saturn, of course.

I like the scope a lot.  It sits well on the EM-10, though it's about as much as I would put on that mount.  I did not notice any image shift at all in this scope.  Focusing snapped in at about the rate one would imagine for an f/10 scope, but, when focused, the view was very sharp, on this night limited by seeing and not by the scope.

June 6, 2012

Venus Transit (June 5, 2012)

 

I'm not really a solar system imager, but who can resist an opportunity that happens only twice at 100+-year intervals?  I set up in the back yard and figured I might have an hour and a half through partly cloudy skies.  Actually,  I had about ten minutes of open sky, and I shot about ten single frames.  These are my best.  I planned a number of ways to image this but at the last minute reverted to the method I began with years ago in astro-imaging: eyepiece projection through a ClearVue 30mm eyepiece, a camera adapter, and my now-ancient Sony DSC-75.  This foolproof system allows me to focus visually and then screw the camera onto the adapter.  The camera then autofocuses on the image that the eyepiece puts up. 
After about ten minutes, the clouds moved in.
And then in some more.
And then the view totally clouded over.  Notice there are no shadows in this last image. This is the SV80ED with the WO diagonal, ClearVue eyepiece, and adapter, mounted on the EM-10.  I removed the camera so I could take a picture of the scope.  Of course, others took some wonderful images of the transit (one of my favorites is Rory's: here), and they are all over the web.  I'm happy to have seen it.  It's pretty cool to think of the sun 93 million miles away and Venus about 26 million miles away, and one moving across the other from our line of sight.

June 2, 2012

Crescent Nebula, NGC 6888, in Ha (June 1, 2012)


The moon was 90% full, but one can shoot H-alpha under the moon.  This is the Crescent Nebula, or at least the part made up of excited hydrogen (and perhaps nitrogen).  What you see here is essentially a large front of excited gas created by the movement of a bright, active star (the one at the center of the nebula) through a cloud of hydrogen.  The brighter part looks more like a crescent; the name matches visual observations.

Flats were taken with an Alnitak Flat-Man, which just arrived.  I used one of these two years ago and always thought it the perfect solution.  Last night's use persuades me I was right. This is also the first image I've taken with an H-alpha filter through the Orion 6IN.  And it's the first time I've stretched subs to 20 minutes.  I should have done 30 minutes, I think, and will try to with the OIII, or with more H-alpha, if I try to gather more data on this object.

Telescope: Orion 6" f/5 Imaging Newtonian and Astro-Tech Coma Corrector (eff. at f/5.5)
Camera and Exposure: 13x20' thru the SXVF-H9, Alnitak Flat-man flats
Filter: Astronomik 12nm Ha [+NII]
Guiding: SX Lodestar and SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

May 29, 2012

Luna in Monochrome (May 28, 2012)

I thought I'd practice for the transit of Venus.  It was a clear, warm might.  Very nice.  This is a stack of 50 very short images with the SXVF-H9C, converted to monochrome, taken through the SV80ED.

May 23, 2012

NGC 5850 (May 18, 2012)

This galaxy is a rather difficult target.  Its central bar is fairly bright, but the ring and outer spiral arms are diffuse and difficult to separate from the skyglow above my suburban home.

The galaxy is interesting both because of its morphology and because it appears to have developed asymmetry as a result of its encounter with its larger neighbor to the northwest, NGC 5846, which can be seen glowing at the bottom edge of my image (in which north is to the right).

My favorite image of NGC 5850 comes from the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter and is linked here.  Ah, what one can do with a 24" scope on top of a mountain.

NGC 5850 is between 58 and 93 million light years away.  Most distance estimates to the apparent neighbor galaxy, NGC 5846, are closer to the larger number.

Trees and dew limited my exposure time to just over 3.6 hours.  The image may improve quite a bit if I double that on a later night.

Telescope: Orion 10" f/4.7 Newtonian and Astro-Tech Coma Corrector (eff. at f/5.17)
Camera and Exposure: 31x7' thru the SXVF-H9
Filter: Hutech IDAS-LPS2
Guiding: SX Lodestar and SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

May 6, 2012

M106, or NGC 4258 (April 21-22, 2012)

Full resolution image here.

Galaxy M106 is nearby, large, and busy. The galaxy is estimated to be around 22 to 25 million light years away.  At that distance, its size appears to be around 125,000 light years across.  M106 is a Seyfert galaxy, meaning that a spectrum taken of its nucleus appears to show bright light from certain ionized gases moving at great speeds both toward us and away from us.  An accretion disk around a very large black hole is a good explanation for this data, so one is suspected at the heart of M106.  Masers have also been detected in M106 and used to calculate the galaxy's distance.  What a maser is is a little hard to explain, but there is a good introduction here and more information exists around the web.  Also, something in M106 appears to be generating tremendous shock waves that ram into gas near the galaxy's center; the shock waves heat the gas so that it glows with infrared and x-ray radiation.  More details here.  Yup, busy place.

There is a fine Hubble Telescope image of the center of M106 published here.  It is a mirror image of mine, but if you can flip the images in your head, you can easily match features. Clicking on the full resolution link just under the image above may help with the comparison.  The features are most easily matched when my image is at its original size.

This image is first light with the Astro-Tech Coma Corrector.

Telescope: Orion 10" f/4.7 Newtonian and Astro-Tech Coma Corrector (eff. at f/5.17)
Camera and Exposure: Total 10.33 hrs thru SXVF-H9, 37x10'; SXVF-H9C, 25x10'
Filter: Hutech IDAS-LPS2
Guiding: SX Lodestar and SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

April 28, 2012

M5 (April 21, 2012)

My galactic target had set below the trees, and two hours of darkness remained. This globular cluster of stars, called M5, had just passed the meridian and so was placed conveniently for my westward pointing scope. This image is simply luminance, or, in other words, "full spectrum" black and white. The lack of color is ok, I think. Rarely do I see color I really like in globular cluster images. The beauty of them lies primarily in the overwhelming number of stars. I was a bit disappointed that, with eight-minute exposures, the center of the cluster was completely blown out. Next time I will try to take some shorter sets, too. But I wanted the outer halo of stars that you see here.

This night was my first with the Astro-Tech Coma Corrector.

Telescope: Orion 10" f/4.7 Newtonian and ATCC (eff. at f/5.17)
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9, 10x8'
Filter: IDAS-LPS2
Guiding: SX Lodestar and SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

April 25, 2012

M20, the Trifid Nebula (4-22-12)

OK, the Trifid again, too.  My last color image of this was taken with the 6" without a coma corrector, and it showed.  This one is much better.  Shrunken to 60% of original size.

Telescope: Orion 10" f/4.7 Newtonian and Astro-Tech CC (eff. at f/5.17)
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9C, 13x6'
Filter: IDAS-LPS2
Guiding: SX Lodestar and SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

April 24, 2012

M8, the Lagoon Again (April 22, 2012)

Back to the Lagoon Nebula.  From my backyard, this nebula is only visible for a couple of hours at a time.  During galaxy season, the 10" is on the mount when it's really too late in the morning to go after another galaxy.  But the Milky Way is coming up over the trees about 3:30 am, and there we find this!  Glowing hydrogen gas provides the red color, and oxygen the blue that whitens up the nebula in the brighter lower middle.  Some blue may also be light reflected from the relatively new nearby stars.

This is also my first imaging run with the Astro-Tech Coma Corrector.  It's taken me a while to fit it in with the camera setup, but it appears to work beautifully.

Telescope: Orion 10" f/4.7 Newtonian and ATCC (eff. at f/5.17)
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9C, 9x5'
Filter: IDAS-LPS2
Guiding: SX Lodestar and SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

April 6, 2012

A Night with the Full Moon and the SV80ED

No imaging last night, as the moon is at 100% and clouds were predicted for early morning, but the sky was wonderfully clear and the temp around 60F, pretty ideal observing weather.  That the moon is out does not mean there is nothing to see, of course.

I observed with the SV80ED mounted on a newly refurbed and upgraded Tak EM-10 (which appears to work beautifully).  A 5mm Vixen Lanthanum eyepiece was used for 112x, and a 2x barlow with that eyepiece for 224x.  Here is the report:

Porrima, the great double star, was split but hard to see at 112x and cleanly split with black space in between at 224x, but the first diffraction ring surrounded both stars in a single, two-bulb bubble.  Both stars were pale yellow-white and nearly identical in brightness.  Reminded me of the way they looked when I saw them in 1995, much better than when I last tried to split them around 2005.  The pair is widening.

Izar was cleanly split at 224x and probably also at 112x, but the dimmer star lay in the first diffraction ring of the brighter star at 112x, and the two were harder to distinguish.  No problem at all at 224x, in sharp focus, as the first diffraction ring was more diffuse.  I'd say the brighter star is orange-yellow but the dimmer star remained in the diffraction ring of the brighter and its color was harder to tell: green, blue, and sometimes it looked more brown because it had a tinge of orange across it.

Delta Bootes was very nice, widely split at 112x.

Gamma Leonis---I always look for this: Cleanly split at 112x, both yellow-gold.

54 Leonis was the treat of the night.  At 112x, the stars were cleanly split, and quite wide, but the dimmer star was a tiny spark, and the larger star a jewel, both set in the velvet of the sky.  The view was just as good at 224x.

I also took a look at Saturn.  The rings are opening up.  Seeing was not great, but I could at 224x discern the Cassini division and the dark brown cloud band opposite the ring on the planet.  Two moons were visible to me, Titan and Rhea.

I also looked at Mars at 224x.  The North Polar Ice Cap was obvious, as was Mare Acidalium, and after that I spotted Sinus Meridiani and Sinus Sabaeus to the south and off to the side.  I was surprised I could see so much detail without a filter.

I also looked at the moon, and even at 100% illumination there was a terminator along one edge.  I have no idea what I was looking at, but the view was impressive.

March 29, 2012

M96 (March 25, 2012)

M96 is between 26.4 and 56 million light years away, but estimates cluster around 35 million light years.  M96 is found in the constellation Leo, not far (well, relatively speaking) from M95.  The ring of M96 is quite faint.  It does not stand out well against my light-polluted sky.  But I am here for the exploration, after all, and this is what appears in my 2.26-hour set of exposures.  Enjoy!

Telescope: Orion 254mm f/4.7 Newtonian and Baader RCC1
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9, 17x8'
Filter: IDAS-LPS2
Guiding: SX Lodestar and SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

March 27, 2012

NGC 4725 (March 25, 2012)

This beautiful galaxy is between 34 million and 71 million light years away, but most estimates are huddled around 41 million light years.  It is found, like M64, in the constellation Coma Berenices.  The galaxy is classified as an intermediate barred spiral, but you can see something like that.  It is peculiar, though, in that it appears to have just one spiral arm.  NGC 4725 is also classified as a Seyfert galaxy, which means that a spectrum taken of its nucleus appears to show bright light from certain ionized gases moving at great speeds both toward us and away from us.  An accretion disk around a very large black hole is a good explanation for this data, so one is suspected at NGC 4725's heart.

Telescope: Orion 10" f/4.7 Newtonian and Baader RCC1
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9, 17x8'
Filter: IDAS-LPS2
Guiding: SX Lodestar and SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

March 24, 2012

M64 or NGC4826, the Black Eye Galaxy (March 23, 2012)

This galaxy, found in the constellation Coma Berenices, is between 13 and 25 million light years distant, though estimates average (and most are close to) about 17.3 million.  So this galaxy is a near neighbor.  It's distinctive feature is the group of dust clouds close to the center of the galaxy.

One study of this galaxy found that, near its center, the galaxy's gas and stars are moving in the same direction, but, if one moves to the outer regions, the gas moves in a direction opposite the stars!  Cite.  Because stars formed out of the galaxy's gas, some event must have occurred to cause this, perhaps the infall of a great deal of new gas, but coming from the opposite direction.

Telescope: Orion 10" f/4.7 Newtonian and Baader RCC1
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9, 24x8'
Filter: IDAS-LPS2
Guiding: SX Lodestar and SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

M95 & SN 2012aw (March 23, 2012)

Finally, a clear night of imaging!  This is galaxy M95, between 29,000,000 and 42,000,000 light years from us, found in the constellation Leo.  The bright star just to the left of the nucleus is a supernova that was discovered March 16, 2012, and has been observed by professionals all this last week.
Amateur images like mine have been popping up all over the internet.  It's just an opportune time.  M95 reaches meridian around midnight this week, and that makes it ideal for folks like me to aim a telescope at it.  I tried to get an image of M95 last year on March 15.  It just happened that this week there was also a supernova exploding in the galaxy! How cool is that?

Final note: The galaxy on the far left of the large image is PGC 31984.

Telescope: Orion 10" f/4.7 Newtonian and Baader RCC1
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9, 56x4'
Filter: IDAS-LPS2
Guiding: SX Lodestar and SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

March 15, 2012

Summer Triangle

Lately we have had clouds, clouds, and more clouds.  But early this morning I went for a walk, and as I made my first turn east and looked up between the trees, I saw that the clouds had parted.  A star shone brightly.  I guessed it was Vega.  Then I saw another bright star to the southeast, so I looked further north and saw another.  It was the summer triangle: Vega, Altair, and Deneb.  The surrounding clouds framed them nicely.  A hopeful sight and a sign that the summer constellations are on their way.

February 27, 2012

M65 (NGC3623) (Feb. 25, 2012)

M65 is estimated to be 29,000,000 to 52,000,000 light years away.  We find it in Leo.  The galaxy appears near two other galaxies (M66 & NGC 3628) that possibly (likely?) have had some gravitational interaction, but M65 does not appear to be disturbed by them (see here).  Maybe the nearness is more apparent than real.

This image was cut short because my secondary dew'd up.  I actually included a few frames from after the start of dewing.  The dew destroyed star shapes and lessened contrast and depth.  It's clearly a problem I will have to address.  This is the first session in which dew has been a problem, of about ten or twelve with this scope over the last year.

Telescope: Orion 10" f/4.7 Newtonian and Baader RCC1
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9, 13x10'
Filter: IDAS-LPS2
Guiding: SX Lodestar and SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

February 4, 2012

M78, Leo I, and Hickson 44 (the NGC 3190 group)

On the night of January 29, I set up the 6" f/5 newt with the Astro Tech Coma Corrector and the SXVF-H9.  I wanted a shot of Leo I.  But I set up early, and Leo I was not up yet.  M78 was positioned just right, so I shot a couple of hours.  Leo I came up, and I began to see wispy clouds.  Oh, bother.  I went ahead, anyway.  After a couple of hours, the scope needed a meridian flip. I flipped over and centered Leo I and found an annoying reflection in the the center of the image.  It was Regulus, I'm betting, but I have no idea where the reflection was coming from within the telescope.  I obviously have some study to do.  Anyway, there was no way to avoid the reflection that night, so I just moved to another target, one of my favorite galaxy clusters, Hickson 44.  Because of all the moving around, I was only able to get about half the time on each object that I would like, and truthfully M78 needs about ten more hours and a darker sky.  Anyway, here are the three images nonetheless, processed, cropped, and otherwise fixed for best presentation.  No color here; the H9 is a monochrome and I was shooting for luminance, only.  Also, please note that the wispy clouds stayed with me for the rest of the night.
 M78, 17x7', a reflection nebula teaming with new stars about 1300 to 1600 light years distant.


Leo I, 14x7', a small galaxy about 800,000 light years away.  The bright star to the left (south) of the galaxy's location is Regulus.
Hickson 44, 22x7', a galaxy cluster 72 to 111 million light years away.

Telescope: Orion 6" f/5 Imaging Newtonian with GSO Coma Corrector (effectively at f/5.5)
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9
Filter: IDAS-LPS2
Guiding: SX Lodestar, SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

January 30, 2012

More NGC 2903 (Jan. 26, 2012)

A cold front blew through and cleared off the sky.  But the cold front also made the air turbulent.  Seeing was therefore not the best on this night, and the resolution of this 5-hour integration of NGC 2903 suffered.  Still, it is deeper and more noise-free than the image I took last week.  I'm glad to have it.

Telescope: Orion 6" f/5 Imaging Newtonian with GSO Coma Corrector (effectively at f/5.5)
Camera and Exposure: SXVF-H9, 50x6'
Filter: IDAS-LPS2
Guiding: SX Lodestar, SX OAG
Mount: Takahashi NJP
Software: Nebulosity, Maxim DL, Photoshop CS3
Location: The Woodlands, TX

January 19, 2012

NGC 2903 (Jan. 18, 2012)

This is an old, familiar target for me.  There are a few hours in January-March when there is little else visible from my backyard that I can shoot in the eastern sky.  This year, I was planning on spending five hours on it to get a deeper image.  I was also trying out my re-furbed H9, back from England, and a new Astro-Tech coma corrector.  I transferred the FT focuser to the Orion 6" Imaging Newtonian, put the coma corrector on the filter wheel, and set up in the backyard.  I started at around 8:40 pm.  By 10:25, I was shooting and quickly realized that the distance between the coma corrector and chip was wrong, probably too far.  I went out, took the whole assembly apart, removed an extension tube, and put it all back together.  This image shows much better control, actually quite good.  I have some oddities left, which I cropped out.  I'm not sure whether they are from camera or corrector.
Anyway, I had everything focused and trained on NGC 2903 by midnight, and I was prepared to gather light on this distant galaxy for the next five hours.  After 40 minutes, I looked outside.  Clouds!  Ahhh.  How did that happen?  I checked the weather forecast.  It had changed while I was setting up, from clear to cloudy for the rest of the night.  Oh, bother.  I brought the whole assembly inside.
That is why this image is only 6x5'.  That's all I could get.   But, you know, I post what I get.  It's a blog, not an art gallery.  Transparency was about a 5 out of 10, so with reflected light of the burbs, there was a bit of sky glow.  But, hey, it's another galaxy, and these details are all available to those who can look up with the right equipment!  Distance estimates for NGC 2903 range from 20 to 38 million light years.