North American Nebula – SHO (Simulated)

A miracle happened, I finally got some clear skies on a weekend night when the moon was not up or bright. It just so happened that Milky Way “season” has just begun so I was finally able to put my new scope – the Radian Raptor 61 – through its paces and image something I have been waiting to image since last November – The North American Nebula (NGC 7000).

Image 1 – Starless
Image 2 – Negative
Image 3 – Inverted
Image 4 – Final Process

45 x 240s
7 x 300s
(3 hours, 35 min total integration)
20 darks, 25 flats, 25 dark flats, & 50 biases
800 ISO – Bortle 8
.
Radian Raptor 61
Canon EOS Ra
Optolong L-eNhanced Filter
Sky Watcher EQ6-R Pro
ZWO 30mm f4 MiniScope (guide)
ZWO ASI224MC (guide)

Imaging Notes:
I felt like the focus was a little soft. I realized this about 3/4 of the way through the session and decided to roll with it and keep my fingers crossed it would end up alright.
I was able to get 3 hours and 35 minutes of total integration – essentially from the moment it rose above the trees to the East until the ambient light from the pending sun rise began to wash out the nebula.

Processing Notes:
Stacked and channels separated in Astro Pixel Processor –
– Extracted Ha & Oiii, simulated Sii with Ha-Oiii Mono
Processed in Photoshop

M13 – The Great Globular Cluster in Hercules

Friday night finally brought clear skies to me, but it also brought a bright moon at around 82% luminosity. Because of this and also because I do not have any clear view points on any bright nebula, I decided to do something different. We are currently in what is called “Galaxy Season” in the Northern Hemisphere – a time when a lot of popular nebula are below our horizon or rising really late / early in the morning. For reference, I can now begin shooting the Cygnus regions around 2:30am. Since I had a bright moon and because of my current focal lengths (380mm / 480mm depending on my flattener) I decided to do something other then galaxies – globular clusters.

I had never shot a globular cluster before, and with my focal length coupled with the bright moon and my bortle 8 skies, it presented a challenge. I have been using the L-Pro filter by Optolong for my broadband targets, but I have had issues with achieving good focus consistently as well as light transmission. I am under a firm belief now that my best bet in shooting targets like this, and even galaxies, should be done with no filter at all.

I began the night shooting M3, a globular cluster in Canes Venatici, and then moved to M13 once it had risen above the tree line. On both targets I was able to get right at a hour and a half of integration time. My initial processing of M13 had me blowing out the core really bad so I went back and made some adjustments, mainly in how I did the curves in Photoshop. I posted the images on Instagram but I was still not totally happy with my result. I went back and started from scratch to get my current result. With my focal length, bright moon and light pollution, I am happy with the results.

60 x 90s
20 darks; 50 flats, dark flats and biases
400 ISO – Bortle 8 – Lunar Luminosity 82%

Meade Series 6000 80mm Triplet APO
Canon EOS Ra
Ho-Tech Field Flattener
No Filter

Betelgeuse

We were blessed to be able to go on a quick two week trip down south from New England to see some of my wife’s family and some of mine. Unfortunately, even though I brought my entire astrophotography rig down, I did not very many clear nights. The one good night I did get, I was not in a good place to setup my entire rig (could not see Polaris to polar align, a lot of trees, etc). However, I still was able to get out and do some experimenting by taking one second exposures with the Canon EOS Ra attached to the TPO 180 Ultrawide Astrophotography Lens. One of the targets I choose to hit up was Betelgeuse. Late last year I promised a friend that if I ever had a chance to set my camera to Betelgeuse i would and I hate to admit that I simply never took the time to do so, until now.

Above is Betelgeuse with some surrounding sky with no annotation, annotated and in negative. I really had a good time experimenting while getting this shot. This data was collected in Griffin, GA.

100 x 1s (1600 ISO)
50 x 1s (3200 ISO)
20 / 20 darks, flats, dark flats and biases
Bortle 6
.
TPO Ultrawide 180 Astrophotography Lens
Canon EOS Ra
Tripod with Orion Panhead

Markarian’s Chain (Partial)

I had a little more then an hour left over on a clear sky night and I decided to turn to Markarian’s Chain – A string of galaxies that form part of the Virgo Cluster.

On the left is the picture, which is heavily cropped, that I ended up with and the one on the right is annotated by astrobin.com.

Equipment & Stats
Meade Series 6000 80mm Triple APO Refractor
Canon EOS Ra
Optolong L-Pro Filter
Sky Watcher EQ6-R Pro Mount
ZWO 30mm f4 MiniScope (guide)
ZWO ASI224mc (guide)

60 x 60s
20 dark, 50 flat, 50 dark flat and 50 bias frames

The Rosette & Cone Nebulae

After doing a widefield session where I was able to get both M42 and the Horsehead Nebula in one frame, I decided to look at some other targets I could do with my set up and one, or rather two targets umped out right away: The Rosette Nebula and the Cone Nebula.

Both of these targets quickly became favorites of mine, especially the Rosette. I spent five days in January getting almost 12 total hours of data integration and loved every minute of it. The Cone Nebula, which includes the Christmas Tree Cluster started out a little rockier, but with another evening of data beyond my first, came out really well too. This time I was able to get both of the Nebulae in the same frame at the same time!

TPO UltraWide 180 f/4.5 Astrophotography Lens & Guide Scope
Canon EOS Ra
Sky Watcher EQ6-R Pro
Optolong L-eNhanced filter
ZWO 30mm f4 MiniScope (guide)
ZWO ASI224mc (guide)

30 x 300s
20 dark frames
50 flat frames
50 dark flat frames
50 bias frames
800 ISO – Bortle 8

Captured in APT with guiding done with PHD2. Stacked in DSS and processed in Photoshop

Rosette & Cone Nebulae – Annotated by astrobin.com

The Orion & Horsehead Nebulae

Ever since I began doing astrophotography, both the Orion Nebula and the Horsehead Nebula were always high interest targets for me. Up until last October, once I got a mount that could track and a telescope with a focal length capable of taking images of these two targets, I had to settle for views through an eyepiece or trying to take a lot of short exposures at really wide focal lengths to try and get an image. Even once I got a mount and a good telescope, I was still restricted in getting one target at a time. I kept seeing people post pictures with both in the field of view, but due to the limitations of my set up, I was unable to do the same… until now!

Thanks to the TPO UltraWide 180 f/4.5 Astrophotography Lens & Guide Scope I was able to get both targets, and more, into the same frame!

TPO UltraWide 180 f/4.5 Astrophotography Lens & Guide Scope
Canon EOS Ra
Sky Watcher EQ6-R Pro
Optolong L-eNhanced filter
ZWO 30mm f4 MiniScope (guide)
ZWO ASI224mc (guide)

Do to how my setup is currently with this scope, it is impossible for me to rotate the camera to frame the shot differently, but luckily the framing was good to go how it was! I will be writing a post soon going over how I have it set up with my current gear.

26 x 300s
20 dark frames
60 flat frames
50 dark flat frames
50 bias frames
800 ISO – Bortle 8

Captured in APT with guiding done with PHD2. Stacked in DSS and processed in Photoshop

Jellyfish Nebula – IC 443

At the beginning of February I had a decently clear night so I decided to shoot a faint nebula commonly referred to as the Jellyfish Nebula. IC 443 is located in the Gemini Constellation and is a large, and faint, supernova remnant. Below are three different processes.

Both the initial process and the reprocess were stacked in Deep Sky Stacker and processed how I normally process images. The final process was stacked in Astro Pixel Processor. With stacking in APP I am able to separate the individual channels taken and assign them differently from the typical RGB pattern. Because I am using a narrowband filter like the Optolong L-eNhanced this approach is possible to do for really interesting results!

Equipment & Stats
Meade Series 6000 80mm Triple APO Refractor
Canon EOS Ra
Sky Watcher EQ6-R Pro Mount
ZWO 30mm f4 MiniScope (guide)
ZWO ASI224mc (guide)

30 x 240s & 5 x 300s
20 dark, 50 flat, 50 dark flat and 50 bias frames

Same Equipment – New Setup

So, if you follow my blog here or follow me on Instagram you know that on my last night of gathering data for my Rosette Nebula project I ran into a snag with alignment – do to my own misdeeds – and it frustrated me to the point that I gave in and began asking around about connecting my mount to a PC and using software instead of the SynScan hand controller included with my mount for alignment and GoTo movement. Thanks to a lot of people of Twitter and Astrobin.com, I was able to get over my anxiety of trying new things and I set up my current rig to run strictly off the PC.

The idea, as shown above is to have the mount connect directly to the PC with no hand controller and with no ST-4 connection from the guide camera. The guide camera also connects directly to the PC. My mount, the Sky Watcher EQ6-R Pro, has a USB connection builtin, a lot of mounts do not. For those you will need a special cable that connects from the ST-4 connection to the USB on your computer. I use a powered USB hub that I have mounted on the tripod legs to run all of my USB cables – the one from the mount, the one from the guide camera and the one from my imaging camera – to that then feeds into one USB port on my laptop. My hub has 7 total ports so if I want to add in an electronic autofocuser in the future I can. I am still working on my cable management but with this setup I lose one cable all together and another cable gets simplified, so it is getting there!

Now, with this setup, everything, and I mean everything can be ran off of the computer. This includes polar alignment, star alignment, and goto actions – and because there is software that can do what is called Platesolving, the accuracy of you being on your target is essentially 100%. The other huge benefit is that the guiding is done by pulse through the PC connection versus having to go directly through the camera with the ST-4 connection. Couple this with PHD2’s multi-star guiding and barring issues, you will guiding will be golden.

Once I am setup, I can begin my evening by using SharpCap Pro (you must have the paid Pro version) to polar align. I use my mount’s polar scope to ensure Polaris is visible then I turn on SharpCap. I begin in home position (mount should be off) and use the SharpCap Polar Align Feature. It will tell me what to do step by step and once I am done, I can return the mount to Home and begin my alignment process.

To align – I use my image capturing software – I use Astro Photography Tool (APT). I turn my mount on, then turn APT on, connect to my mount and camera and then select a bright star to go to. It does its initial movements, then I platesolve, it adds corrections and moves again. This process repeats until the star I chose is centered – automatically! I then ensure my focus is good and select my target for imaging. I repeat the above process of platesolving and aligning then when it is complete I open up PHD2, connect my guide camera and mount and begin calibration. Note: If my target is not close to the meridian, I try to use a star for my initial alignment that is close to the meridian (right now Capella works well) to do both my initial alignment and focus as well as my PHD2 calibration. Unlike with ST-4 – once calibrated you can move from target to target without having to calibrate again.

Once I am on target and and goto is finished and I am guiding, I simply begin my imaging plan. That is it! One note I will make is, if you are not planning on doing a meridian flip – you just want the mount to keep going, make sure you check your driver software – in my case, and in most cases, EQMOD and ASCOM – and uncheck the box that will stop the mount when it hits the meridian. It will not continue to track the target if that box is checked.

The main issue I had was that it was really cold! Around 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 degrees C) for most of the time I was out. Regardless, I was able to get some new data on NGC 417 and the Tadpole Nebula as well as get additional data on NGC 2264 – The Cone Nebula / Christmas Tree Cluster.

The last thing I did was attempt a 10min (600s) exposure. The results are shown above! The first image is a single 10 minute long exposure on M81 & M82, the second image is that exposure combined with five 5 4minute long exposures. All in all I was happy with how everything ran and the ease of setup. Looking forward to getting back out there the next time the sky is clear!

If anyone wants any information on how to setup the mount, etc, or any questions on general, please feel free to leave a comment.

Clear Skies!

Update: It was pointed out to me that I hadn’t mentioned any of the equipment that I use, so here is as full a list as I can think of:

  • Mount: Sky Watcher EQ6-R Pro
  • Imaging: Meade Series 6000 Triplet APO / Canon EOS Ra
  • Flattener / Reducer: Astro-Tech 0.8 Reducer or Hotech Flattener
  • Filter: Optolong L-eNhanced or L-Pro
  • Guiding: ZWO 30mm f4 Mini Scope / ZWO ASI224mc
  • Computer: Old Alienware laptop
  • USB Hub: TP-Link USB 3.0 7-Port Hub with 2 Charging Ports
  • Cables: (all cables go from the listed equipment to the USB Hub)
    • Canon EOS Ra: USB Type C Cable, Anker Powerline III USB-A to USB-C Fast Charging Cord (10 ft)
    • ZWO ASI224mc: C2G USB 3.0 SuperSpeed A to B Cable M/M – USB cable – USB Type A (M) to USB Type B (M) – USB 3.0 – 10 ft – black
    • Sky Watcher EQ6-R Pro: Amazon Basics USB 2.0 Printer Cable – A-Male to B-Male Cord – 10 Feet (3 Meters)
  • Power Supply:
    • House Power
      • Generic extension cord and generic power strip
      • Sky-Watcher AC/DC Adapter – S30105
    • Field Power
      • Orion Dynamo Pro 155Wh AC/DC/USB Lithium Power Supply – 02309

Software I use: SharpCap Pro (polar alignment), Astro Photography Tool (imaging / GoTo / alignment, etc), Lightroom (exporting images to main PC), DeepSkyStacker (stacking), Photoshop with Topaz Suite, Astronomy Tools Actions and GradientXtreme plugin. I also have Astro Pixel Processor that i mainly use for extracting channels for simulated palettes.




Rosette Nebula | Caldwell 49

I began this project on January 7, 2021 and was able to reach my goal of 10+ hours on target on January, 22, 2021. I was able to take images on the 7th, 10th, 18th, 20th, 21st and the 22nd with the first two nights being clear, transparent and all my gear working properly. The next three nights were supposed to be clear but I battled intermittent clouds and was not able to gather the amount of data that I thought I was going to be able to. The last night that I collected data I had clear and transparent skies, all of this despite having a 1st Quarter Moon up, however, it took a couple of hours to troubleshoot my mounts alignment process, which I still haven’t gotten back to where it was before the 22nd. Note: I still use the hand controller and do a 3-Star alignment mainly because I have not had any issues at all. This issue I believe was my fault – I chose Capella as my first star and went to it with no problem. I chose Sirius as my second star, however clouds came in before I the mount pointed to it and I decided to wait – on the star – for the clouds to clear. This took around 15 minutes and I think the wait messed up my mounts internal correction. I decided to realign one it clear up but the mount was not going to correct locations for the stars. I eventually got it close enough to get to the Rosette Nebula to finish up my data collection.

Over the course of the six sessions, I used the L-eNhanced filter by Optolong for five of those nights. I used the Optolong L-Pro for one night. I wasn’t planning to use the L-Pro data but I liked the final stack a lot better with it. It helped give the background a little more balance and helped give the stars some color versus just ending up the same color as they can do when using the L-eNhanced only.

Statistics –

L-eNhanced:
Jan. 7, 2021 – 40 x 240s (800 ISO)
Jan. 10, 2021 – 40 x 240s (800 ISO)
Jan. 20, 2021 – 19 x 240s (800 ISO)
Jan. 21, 2021 – 37 x 240s (800 ISO)
Jan. 22, 2021 – 23 x 240s (800 ISO)

L-Pro
Jan. 18, 2021 – 55 x 60s (800 ISO)

Taken from Providence, RI under Bortle 8 skies. Average temperature was 33°F (0.5°C). Darks, flats, dark flats and biases used for calibration on all sessions. Tracking and dithering done with PHD2. Image capture done with Astro Photography Tool (APT). Stacking done in DeepSkyStacker and processing done in Photoshop 2021 CC. Plugins and tools used in PS include GradientXtreme, Topaz Denoise and Astronomy Tools Actions.

Equipment –

Meade Series 6000 80mm Triple APO Refractor
Canon EOS Ra
Sky Watcher EQ6-R Pro Mount
ZWO 30mm f4 MiniScope (guide)
ZWO ASI224mc (guide)

Horsehead & Flame Nebula

My first attempt at doing 5 minute exposures, for the most part, did not go too well. I think mainly because of transparency issues. I had ran 4 minute long exposures the night before and they came out great. Those posts will be up as soon as I get the data totals on target that I want. However, my data on the Horsehead Nebula, in my mind, came out alright!

Equipment & Statistics

Meade Series 6000 80mm Triplet APO
Sky Watcher EQ6-R Pro
Canon EOS Ra
Astro-Tech 0.8 Reducer/Flattener
Optolong L-eNhanced
ZWO 30mm f4 MiniScope (Guide)
ZWO ASI224mc (Guide)
PHD2 for guiding, APT for capturing, APP for stacking/processing, Photoshop/Topaz for final processing

31 x 300s
20 Dark Frames
50 Flat Frames
50 Dark Flat Frames
50 Bias Frames

The two images at the top are my final edit / process. The ones here above are my first. I am including them because in someways they may be better plus I really like how the negative image looks.

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