I accidentally stumbled on how to make mosaics while trying to combine some data in Astro Pixel Processor. I had been taking images in Cygnus around the star Sadr and was trying to pull out some more detail when I realized that what I had done was make a mosaic! Since I had done it with two images, I decided to take some more panels and see what I could come up with:
Since I hadn’t planned to do it from the start, my panel structure was off so I had to take one more panel then I would have needed to if I had planned it out ahead of time.
Total integration time is 21 hours and 20 minutes. This makes it my image with the longest integration time. Integration for each panel:
Propeller Nebula – 48 x 300s Crescent & Tulip Nebulae – 48 x 300s Region near Farawis – 48 x 300s Tulip Nebula – 39 x 300s Sadr & Crescent Nebula – 73 x 300s (two sessions, one from June of last year and one from June of this year.
I used Stellarium to help figure out my framing and center point for capturing the panels. I captured each panel on a different night and stacked them in DeepSkyStacker. Mosaic was combined using Astro Pixel Processor and I saved the combination as an unstretched linear image. I processed the linear image using Photoshop. Processing consisted of color balance, stretching by levels and curves, noise removal using NoiseXterminator and various Astrophotography Tools Actions. Since I shot from Bortle 8, I had some weird gradients (my neighbor also had their backyard light on for two of the nights). Also, since I hadn’t planned to do a mosaic from the start, my framing was very inefficient. For my next mosaic, I will actually plan it better and probably use Teloscopius to figure out my framing. I tried several different processing techniques, first using a stretched image from Astro Pixel Processor, as well as using Siril to stretch the individual stacks before combining them in APP. In the end, linear combination and processing was the best!
It has been since November, 29, 2021 since the last time I was able to image, but finally on June 17, 2022 I was able to get back out there!
During my last imaging session of last year, my laptop died and it has been nerve wracking trying to get set up again. Finally, we got a new laptop that I was confident would work and I set about getting everything hooked up and working. My first night back out I was about to get 2 hours and 15 minutes of imaging done on the Sadr Region, one of my favorite areas of the night sky to shoot! I am working on more images of this area in Cygnus and hope to post them all soon!
The weather in New England has been full of a lot of misses over the past month or so. Either too cloudy, too hot, or both. At the beginning of August, I decided to use the Radian Raptor 61mm to shoot the Elephant’s Trunk Nebula.
Processed as a HOO palette image using Astro Pixel Processor to separate the color channels, I really liked how this came out versus the “normal” processing and also the simulated SHO processing I did.
Radian Raptor 61 Canon EOS Ra Optolong L-Pro Filter ZWO 30mm f4 MiniScope (guide) ZWO asi224mc (guide) Pegasus Powerbox Advanced
19 x 360s Dark, flat, bias and dark flat frames for calibration ISO 800 – Taken in Providence, RI – Bortle 8
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
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
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
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
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.
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)
Generic extension cord and generic power strip
Sky-Watcher AC/DC Adapter – S30105
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.
Final version of the Heart Nebula project with my broadband data and three days worth of narrow band data all put together. Note, that for most of these the Moon was either full or close to it, so there was a lot of ambient light beyond the typical light pollution I suffer from. I will be creating a portfolio on Pixieset specifically for Heart Nebula images for purchase. For other images, please visit SNC Astro on Pixieset.
Statistics and Gear:
Meade Series 6000 80mm Triplet APO Sky Watcher EQ6-R Pro Mount Canon EOS Ra Astro-Tech 0.8 Reducer / Field Flattener OptoLong L-eNhanced Filter (2″) ZWO 30mm f4 MiniScope (guide) ZWO ASI224MC (guide)