The Moon and Old Faithful

July 12, 2019 Leave a comment

What to do when a first quarter moon interferes with your plans to shoot the Milky Way in Yellowstone National Park?  Incorporate it into the shot!

On the one clear night I got during my trip to Yellowstone, the moon was too bright to capture the Milky Way like I’d hoped to, but I was able to walk around to the back side of Old Faithful to bring it into the shot.  This is a series of 15-second exposures at ISO1600 gain using a Rokinon 14 mm lens at f/2.8 on a Canon 6D.

Old Faithful time lapse copy

Seeing a geyser at night was an beautiful experience.  It was quiet and calm, with very few people out.  If you are ever in Yellowstone, I recommend staying up late, when you’ll have Old Faithful all to yourself (and maybe a bear or two).

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Custom digital editions of The Astrophotography Planner now available!

I am now able to create a custom digital edition of The Astrophotography Planner for you.  It’s the same price as the print book ($19.99), but instead, you get a custom pdf of over 160 pages with data based on your specific location. It also includes additional details like moon rise/set data incorporated into the charts and an overview chart showing how many Quality Imaging Hours are available for all 76 areas in one view.  Plus, you get charts that go an extra year beyond the print book:  2019-2021.

If this is something you are interested in, please send $19.99 via Paypal to deepskyprimer@gmail.com with:

  • Your name
  • Your latitude and longitude (rounded to the nearest degree is fine)
  • Your time zone

Turnaround is 1-4 days, since each one requires some manual steps to create.

APP CoverAPP ChartAPP table

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NEAF 2019

April 6, 2019 Leave a comment

Now that I’m back in the states again, it’s great to be able to attend the Northeast Astronomy Forum in Suffern, NY.  There are lectures and solar observing, but for me the main attraction is the exhibit floor.  This is where you can see the scope, mount, or whatever that you’ve always wanted, in person.

Floor

All of the usual suspects were there, and it was great to catch up with people and meet a few new astro-friends.  I hadn’t been in over five years, so it was interesting to see how things have changed.  A few observations follow:

  • For scopes, Celestron, Meade, and TeleVue were there with big booths, but it was great to see that Explore Scientific had a booth to match (and probably with more scopes, including some awesome refractors in the 152-165 mm range).  Takahashi had a small booth, as did William Optics.  AstroPhysics had a good size booth with lots of glass to look at.  Omegon had some scopes on display too.

ES

  • For cameras, Atik, QSI, FLI, QHY, and ZWO were all there.  QHY had examples of their high-end scientific cameras, including the much-talked-about QHY600, which he said would be priced at “over $8000” when released.  There was a medium format scientific camera that was “over $50,000” if that’s not a big enough chip for your needs!

QHY

  • One hot item seemed to be Omegon’s new MiniTrack LX2, a mechanical (wind-up) travel mount for wide-field AP; like the AstroTrac, but much smaller (and cheaper, with a NEAF special price of $115).  I thought a cool innovation it had was to use adjustable tension instead of counterweights.
  • There didn’t seem to be as many small vendors as I remember.  Two publishers had booths (Willman-Bell and Springer), and some software companies did too (SGP, Diffraction Limited).  It was great to see the filter manufacturers there (Chroma, Optolong)
  • There were only a few retailers there, but Highpoint Scientific and Woodland Hills had lots for sale.  Some of the non-US vendors couldn’t sell direct, but were giving out coupons to use online or with the vendors on-site.

So did I find some goodies to lust after?  Absolutely.  I decided that maybe a 140 mm refractor could just be handled by my mount, and I really liked the Explore Scientific carbon fiber FPL-53 triplet they had on display.  I also found that the William Optics RedCat was a bit bigger than I expected a 51 mm to be, and not much smaller than my Star71, though the FLT132 behind it looked pretty nice.

ES140

Wo

Overall, it was great to be there and see the people of this hobby in person, rather than just online.  (Does amateur astronomy still skew white, male, and older?  Yes.  But it does seem to be getting better.)  I love that there are new manufacturers coming into the astrophotography space and shaking things up a little.  There was definitely more of a focus on AP than visual, or maybe that’s because that’s what I was looking for.  NEAF is always worth it, and 2019 was no exception.

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The Dark Nebulae of NGC7000

March 10, 2019 Leave a comment

For an incomplete project I’ve been working on, I matched up Barnard’s Atlas of Selected Regions of the Milky Way with my own widefield image of the NGC7000 area.  In case you’ve ever wondered about the designations of the dark nebulae around the North America Nebula, here they are!

I find it odd that he didn’t catalog the “Gulf of Mexico,” but when you look at his plates, what we now call the Pelican Nebula isn’t as bright, so the Gulf doesn’t look as distinct.  It was subsequently picked up in Lynd’s catalog as LDN 935.

NGC7000 Fully annotated 50pct

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The Astrophotography Planner is published!

January 19, 2019 2 comments

I’m happy to announce that my latest book is now available.  This one started out as my personal almanac to help plan when different objects were best positioned in the sky.  I’ve expanded upon that to create a full book with maps and complete details for 76 of the most popular imaging targets. 

Producing great deep-sky images requires many hours of exposure time. Knowing when an object is optimally placed in the sky is critical to gathering the best data.

This book features charts and maps for 76 of the best deep-sky objects visible from the northern hemisphere. The charts show how many quality imaging hours you can expect for each on any given date, as well as where it will be positioned. Maps are provided to help you decide how to frame each object, and field of view templates are provided for common sensors and focal lengths. Detailed information about the moon is included for 2019 and 2020.

In short, The Astrophotography Planner will help you make the most of every clear night to produce the best deep-sky images possible.

Buy it on Amazon.

ap planner cover sm

A sample page is posted below.  There are 76 areas of the sky covered exactly like this in the book. Instead of simple rise and set times, it shows when the object is at least 15º above the horizon and the sky is dark.  Separate lines are plotted for those at 30º, 40º, and 50º latitude.

AP Calendar Chart Pages-1.indd

Available on Amazon.

Areas of the sky covered:

  • Sh2-308
  • The Seagull Nebula
  • Thor’s Helmet
  • Medusa Nebula
  • Abell 31
  • NGC2903
  • M81 and M82
  • The Hickson 44 Galaxy Group
  • NGC3521
  • The Leo Trio
  • M109
  • The Antennae Galaxies
  • M106
  • Markarian’s Chain
  • The Needle Galaxy (NGC4565)
  • The Sombrero Galaxy (M104)
  • The Whale and Hockey Stick Galaxies
  • The Sunflower Galaxy (M63)
  • The Whirlpool Galaxy (M51)
  • M3
  • The Pinwheel Galaxy (M101)
  • NGC5907
  • M5
  • The Draco Trio
  • The Rho Ophiuchi Area
  • The Great Hercules Cluster (M13)
  • The Snake and Pipe Dark Nebulae
  • The Trifid Nebula
  • The Lagoon Nebula (M8)
  • The Eagle and Swan Nebulae (M16 and M17)
  • M22
  • Barnard’s E
  • Sh2-86
  • The Tulip Nebula (Sh2-101)
  • The Dumbbell Nebula(M27)
  • The Crescent Nebula
  • The Propeller Nebula
  • The Gamma Cygni (Sadr) Nebula
  • The Fireworks Galaxy (NGC6946)
  • The Cygnus Veils
  • The North America and Pelican Nebulae
  • The Iris Nebula
  • Sh2-129
  • The Elephant’s Trunk (IC1396)
  • The Cocoon Nebula
  • The Wolf’s Cave (vdB 152 and B175)
  • Sh2-132
  • The Helix Nebula
  • NGC7331, the Deer Lick Group, and Stephan’s Quintet
  • The Wizard Nebula (NGC7380)
  • The Bubble and the Lobster Claw
  • Ced214 and Sh2-171
  • The Andromeda Galaxy (M31)
  • The Sculptor Galaxy (NGC253)
  • The Pacman Nebula (NGC281)
  • The Ghosts of Cassiopeia (IC59 and 63)
  • The Triangulum Galaxy (M33)
  • NGC891
  • The Heart and Soul Nebulae
  • NGC1333
  • IC342
  • The Pleiades
  • The California Nebula (NGC1499)
  • Sh2-206
  • The Witch’s Head Nebula
  • The Flaming Star, the Spider, and the Fly
  • The Crab Nebula
  • The Orion and Running Man Nebulae
  • The Horsehead, Flame, and M78 Nebulae
  • Barnard’s Loop
  • Simeis 147
  • NGC2170
  • Lower’s Nebula (Sh2-261)
  • The Jellyfish and Monkey’s Head Nebulae
  • The Rosette Nebula
  • The Cone, Foxfur, Christmas Tree Area
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The Cosmic Question Mark (Ced214, NGC7822, Sh2-170, et al.)

September 29, 2018 Leave a comment

After reading about it on the CloudyNights forums for a while, I decided to get a camera based on the Panasonic CMOS sensor.  While they are not any more sensitive than the KAF-8300, the resolution and low read noise were appealing* for narrowband imaging.  I bought a used ZWO ASI1600MM Pro, and I was very pleased with the price, the accessories, and the build quality.  This image is first light with that camera.  It is also first light with my new NUC at-the-mount computer, which is one of those “why didn’t I do this sooner?” kind of upgrades.

As you can see from the image below, imaging at f/2 is a joy with the Samyang, and the sharpness is impressive.  The C.Q.M. is actually several objects, but framed together, they do indeed look like a question mark.  NGC7822 is at the top, though it’s really just the star cluster.  The whole nebulosity that forms the top of the question mark is cataloged as Sh2-171.  The bright part in the middle is specifically cataloged as Ced 214.  The ‘dot’ of the question mark is Sh2-170. The small cluster at the top right, just outside of the question mark is King 11.   The larger cluster in the same area, but just inside the nebulosity is NGC7762.  Click on the image for a full resolution version.

CQM full

  • Exposures:
    • SII: 59×3 min
    • H-alpha: 31×3 min
    • OIII: 56×3 min
    • Total exposure time:  7 hours 18 minutes
    • Taken September 18, 2018 near Doylestown, PA
  • Telescope: Samyang 135 mm telephoto at f/2
  • Camera: ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro with Baader 36 mm narrowband filters
  • Mount: Takahashi EM200
  • Guiding: Orion SSAG through 50 mm finder, guided using PHD2
  • Processing: PixInsight

 

* (even if much of the read noise gains are offset by the reduced full well capacity at higher gain settings)

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The image that wasn’t to be: Comet 21P

September 16, 2018 Leave a comment

After two years in the UK, I’m living in the US again, and more importantly, imaging again.  I don’t know how the UK imagers do it: I didn’t get a chance once in my two years there to set up.

I made the mistake of introducing too many new variables on my first night back out.  A new NUC computer is controlling things now, and I was trying new software, APT, for the first time.  So of course things went wrong.  It’s a shame, because the alignment I was trying to catch only existed for about 2 hours.  Comet 21P/Giacobini–Zinner would be passing right through a triangle of objects that consisted of M35, IC443 (the Jellyfish Nebula), and Sh2-252 (the Monkey Head Nebula).

Long story short, I got 3 4-minute exposures before the mount refused to track anymore.  I was so despondent, I didn’t take any flats or darks, so this is a pretty raw process, but for what it’s worth, here’s what I got.  Oh, the image this could have been with more time… I hope someone out there captured this alignment better than I did.

Comet_21P_12_min PS

3 4-minute exposures.  Modified Canon 6D, William Optics Star71, Takahashi EM-200.

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