Posts Tagged ‘astroimaging’

Barnard’s Loop

March 7, 2016 1 comment

When I was a kid, Barnard’s Loop was something that I saw on star charts, but it seemed so hopelessly dim, I never expected to actually see it.  And even when I started CCD imaging, it was still a somewhat elusive object: too large to capture unless you used a wide-angle lens, and even then you wouldn’t get decent resolution.  But the combination of a full-frame sensor and a very fast telephoto lens turns out to frame it nicely.

This image obviously has more in it than Barnard’s Loop.  M42/43, the Flame Nebula, the Horsehead Nebula, and M78 all sit nestled within the Loop.  But more interestingly for me, you can start to see the overall Orion Molecular Cloud complex in there: all the dim tendrils that connect each of these objects, some glowing, some blocking the view of the glow.  I regret stopping the lens down to f/2.8 now, as perhaps I would have captured more of the overall cloud that way.  I’d go back and retake the shot if I weren’t having so much fun with this new lens on other targets (and if I hadn’t spent five hours processing this one).  But I’ll consider this a success, as it’s another childhood dream accomplished.

Barnards_Loop_FINAL_50 percent

(This image is reduced to 25% of full size, as the 6D’s output is over 20 megapixels.)

Image data:

  • Exposures: 81×2 min at ISO800 – total exposure time:  2h 42m
  • Telescope: Samyang 135 mm f/2 lens at f/2.8 (reviewed here)
  • Camera: Canon 6D (modified) with Astronomik CLS clip-in filter
  • Mount: Takahashi EM200
  • Guiding: Orion Starshoot, guided using PHD2
  • Conditions:  fair transparency, calm winds
  • Processing: DeepSkyStacker -> PixInsight -> Photoshop
  • Date: Feb 28, 2016



Orion Rising Over Courthouse Butte

February 12, 2016 Leave a comment

Sedona, Arizona has the clearest, darkest skies I may ever see (anywhere near civilization at least).  Who knew there was a winter Milky Way visible too?!  Not this suburbanite.

I got one clear night to test out both my new Samyang 14mm lens and the iOptron SkyTracker.  While this image is not the best example of the SkyTracker’s abilities, since I misaligned it, the foreground framing was better than the other shots I took.  So this is the one I chose to process first.

Red Rocks combined FINAL for blog

Image data:

  • Exposures:  sky:  20×30 seconds, foreground: 1×30 seconds
  • Telescope: Samyang 14mm f/2.8 lens at f/4
  • Cameras: Canon 6D (modified)
  • Mount: iOptron SkyTracker
  • Guiding: none
  • Conditions:  excellent transparency, passing clouds
  • Processing: DeepSkyStacker -> PixInsight -> Photoshop
  • Date: Jan 29, 2016

Cocoon Nebula (IC5146) Widefield

January 24, 2016 1 comment

I used the snow day here in the northeast to get started on the backlog of raw data from the fall that I haven’t processed.  This is the Cocoon Nebula, with its dark nebula friend, Barnard 168.

Cocoon FINAL v2

I actually took a full night’s worth of H-alpha data, but decided to use only the RGB data here, as a slight misalignment of the telescope shooting the H-alpha would have required a different cropping of the image.

Image data:

  • Exposures:  15×10 min R, G; 18×10 min B (2×2 binning) – total exposure time:  8 hours
  • Telescope: William Optics Star71 (360mm f/5)
  • Cameras: SBIG ST-8300M
  • Mount: Takahashi EM200
  • Guiding: QHY 5L-II mono, guided using PHD2
  • Conditions:  good transparency, calm winds
  • Processing: DeepSkyStacker -> PixInsight -> Photoshop
  • Date: Sep 14 and 17, 2015

The Pleiades (M45)

January 10, 2016 Leave a comment

Somehow, I’ve never really captured an image of The Pleiades (M45). Such a bright target directly overhead, but I was mostly looking for narrowband objects instead, I suppose.

Pleiades final 8x10 crop

This image was processed entirely in PixInsight, except for the final rescaling and jpeg conversion.  I’m moving more in that direction. Frustrating and unforgiving it is, but powerful.  For such a bright object, the dust makes it more challenging to process than I’d expected.

Image data:

  • Exposures: 20×10 min L (1×1 binning), 8×10 min each R, G, B (2×2 binning) – total exposure time:  7h 20m
  • Telescopes: Two William Optics Star71s (360mm f/5)
  • Cameras: SBIG ST-8300M and QSI 583wsg
  • Mount: Takahashi EM200
  • Guiding: QHY 5L-II mono, guided using PHD2
  • Conditions:  fair transparency, calm winds
  • Processing: DeepSkyStacker -> PixInsight
  • Date: Jan 2, 2016

The Astrophotography Sky Atlas

November 22, 2015 Leave a comment

TASA Cover 500px

The Astrophotography Sky Atlas is now available at Amazon!

I spent two years coding, researching, and writing this book with a simple goal:  to create a compact, reasonably-priced atlas designed for the imager. Over 2000 deep-sky objects are plotted in their correct size and shape, including many faint nebulae not shown in other atlases. Stars are shown down to 9th magnitude.  The entire sky is covered in 70 full-color charts.

A tabular index contains important details on each object, including a description, the best time of year to capture it, and the required field of view.

What’s shown:

  • 416 emission nebulae and supernova remnants, including the complete Sharpless (Sh2) and RCW catalogs.
  • 171 reflection nebulae, including the complete van den Bergh (vdB) catalog.
  • 146 planetary nebulae, including the complete Abell catalog
  • 52 dark nebulae and molecular clouds
  • 792 galaxies (larger than 3 arcminutes)
  • 38 galaxy groups from the Abell and Hickson catalogs
  • 108 globular clusters (larger than 5 arcminutes)
  • 309 open clusters (larger than 5 arcminutes)

Keeping a focus on what is important to imaging, sparse open clusters and galaxies smaller than 3 arcminutes (unless part of a group) were left off the maps.

With information on nearly every possible photographic object in the night sky, The Astrophotography Sky Atlas will help you choose your targets and plan your imaging.

Making an adapter box for a Takahashi EM-200 mount

April 13, 2015 Leave a comment

As much as I admire Takahashi for their dedication to quality products, some of their design choices can be frustrating.  Worse, the cost to accomplish even standard tasks with their equipment — connecting a camera to a scope, controlling a mount, etc. — are steep.  I recently acquired an EM-200 Temma 2 mount, and before I could autoguide it or connect it to my computer, I had to overcome the non-standard cabling.

While the rest of the world has standardized their autoguiding connections with the same RJ-12 cable and jack (though not always the same pinouts) as SBIG’s now-ancient ST4, Tak for some reason decided to go their own way.  The Tak connection on the Temma 2 is known as a mini-DIN-6.  A quick search on the internet revealed that this is the same connection used on the old PS/2 keyboard and mouse cables.  I had some of those laying around the house, so I my plan was to use one of those.  Alas, this was not to be, as you’ll see in a minute.

Communicating with your mount on a deeper level than “speed up” and “slow down” usually requires what’s known as a serial port.  Serial ports on mounts are a little less standardized.  No modern computer has a direct serial (also loosely known as RS-232) connection, so you typically need a USB-to-serial adapter.  The output of this is what’s known as a DB9 connector, which you then have to adapt to whatever your mount requires.  For the EM-200, it’s a mini-DIN-4 connection.  Again, a little internet research reveals that mini-DIN-4 is also the standard for S-Video cables.  Aha, I have one of those lying around too!

Which brings us to an important point:  you cannot use S-Video or mouse/keyboard cables for these connections.  Why?  The pins on the connector do not always reflect the wires in the cable.  S-Video cables have two pins tied common, since the standard has two pins serving as ground.  Thus, there are only three wires in the cable, and we four separate wires for four separate pins.  It’s a similar story with the mouse cables:  only four of the six wires are used.  (Perhaps all six are used for PS/2 type keyboards?  I only had a mouse on hand.)  In fact, the DB9 serial cable I had actually turned out to only be connecting four of the pins when I opened it up.

So I needed one cable for autoguiding that was:  RJ-12 Socket <———->mini-DIN-6

I also needed a cable for serial communications that was:  USB<———->DB9<———–>mini-DIN-4

So it’s off to DigiKey to order some parts, since mini-DIN connectors are not something Radio Shack stocks in store.    I ordered:


The DB9 connector I did have around the house (from Radio Shack, and commonly available).  I also ordered a USB-to-serial adapter from ebay that has the FTDI chipset, as I heard that is the best choice, and I got an RJ-12 jack from Home Depot for $1.99 that has convenient punch-down connections on the back.  Finally, I bought a project box from Radio Shack to house it all.

Thankfully, Takahashi has published the pinouts for their cables, so this was a straightforward project.  I’ve reorganized them here in table format with schematics of the connectors.

The autoguide cable


The serial cableSerial

Now there is only the matter of assembling it all. These steps look easy, but it’s fairly tedious and can take a couple of hours.  First, cut a hole in the project box to fit the RJ-12 socket:IMG_1840

Now cut holes in the box to accommodate the cables (provide strain relief via knots or glue if needed), and strip the ends of each wire:


Using the tables above, solder the wires to each connector as appropriate.  Double check the connections with a multimeter. Epoxy the RJ-12 jack to the box lid:

IMG_1842The final adapter box has a USB cable coming from one end, and the autoguiding and serial connections coming out the other:

IMG_1844And here it is attached to the tripod, ready for use:


The Heart Nebula, IC1805, in Narrowband

January 27, 2015 Leave a comment

This is one of my favorite deep sky objects, especially for narrowband.  It just fits on an KAF-8300 chip at 350 mm focal length.  The small cluster in the core is Melotte 15.

I took three nights of exposures, which were spread over 41 days due to poor weather and holiday trips.  Maybe next year when Cassiopeia swings into view, I’ll make a similar project of the Soul Nebula nearby.

The Heart Nebula (IC1805)

The Heart Nebula (IC1805)

Image data:

  • Exposures: 32 hours total: 96 x 10 min Ha, 43 x 10 min OIII, 53 x 10 min SII
  • Telescopes: Two William Optics Star 71s (360mm f/5)
  • Cameras: SBIG ST-8300M and QSI 583wsg, 2×2 binned
  • Mount: CGEM
  • Guiding: QHY 5L-II mono, guided using PHD2
  • Conditions:  mild winds on two nights
  • Processing: DeepSkyStacker -> PixInsight -> Photoshop
  • Date: Nov 21 2014, Dec 31 2014, and Jan 1 2015
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