Orion & Horsehead Nebulae – SHO Palette

I decided to go back and rework some of my data from March and see what I could come up with. After reprocessing my Rosette & Cone wide field image in a simulated SHO palette, I decided to try and do the Orion and Horsehead wide field shot.

I did the stacking, channel combining and initial processing in Astro Pixel Processor then took the image over to Photoshop. I had to do it separately for the longer exposure and then the shorter exposure to create two separate images to use to try and combine them to soften the blown out core a bit. I believe my long exposures where simply too long to be real effective, but I was able to soften it a bit. I needed the longer exposure to pull out the detail in the Horsehead and Flame Nebulae, so I will need to research a bit more if I try this again in the future. I am thinking I may need to take three different data sets at different exposures and combine them over two. For reference, I have been using AstroBackyard’s Tutorial on HDR Composites. As always, Trevor Jones provides a lot of good information!

Image Information:

120 x 60s
60 x 10s
Darks, flats, dark flats and biases for both sets
TPO Ultrawide 180 Astrophotography Lens
Canon EOS Ra
Optolong L-eNhanced Filter
ZWO 30mm f4 MiniScope (guide)
ZWO asi 224mc (guide)

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

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.

Jupiter and more from Providence, RI

It’s been about a year since I have posted anything astronomy wise, but here are some. They are not spectacular for a few reasons 1) I have never used a Nikon before 2) it was cloudy & 3) well… it is Providence, lots of light. Oh, and the Jupiter one might actually be Vega or possible Deneb, it is hard to tell with the clouds.


Moon – Selma, AL – 8/9/08

This past weekend, my brothers and I had the wonderful opportunity to visit some of our real good friends who live in Selma, Alabama. I took my telescope because I knew they lived in tghe country, and it would be dark. I was able to get some really good images. To keep with my Moon theme, here is a shot of the moon. More to come later!

The Moon – 8/6/08

Like the last post, here is the Moon from tonight, plus the difference in phase from the past three nights. I have some shots more up close, both from last night and tonight, and when I get around to processing them, I will post them.

The Moon – 7/29/08

This will probably be the last pics of the Moon for awhile, unless I can get one more set tomorrow morning. Because of the “smaller” nature of the Moon, there are fewer pictures this time – simply, not much of the Moon to photograph! Also, pleas keep in mind, just as when the Moon is full and is hard to focus, the smaller the moon gets the harder it is to focus as well.

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