Sunday, 28 December 2008

Jones 1

...or to give it it's proper title, PK 104-29.1 . This planetary nebula was not picked up during the first great sky survey of about 10,000 deep sky objects for the New General Catalogue and the Index Catalogues. It is about 12.7 visual /15.1 photographic magnitude and its blue glow is spread over the two main arcs of a twisted ring over 5' in diameter. I saw the glow from one arc in the 20", but using a Lumicon UHC filter I could see both arcs and make out the ring - it was faint but easy after 10 minutes dark adaption - both of us present saw it visually this way. The central star is very blue and magnitude 15.7 easily captured in this image comprising of 9 x 30 second exposures (without detrailing). It is easily located (but not seen!) by going 1ºSSE of 72 Peg which is just north of the Square of Pegasus.

How many galaxies can you spot?

Sitting in the control room below the main dome, I was browsing the deep sky software and decided to slew the 20" toward the hitherto unknown (cliché) Pisces Cloud. I went upstairs and visually located NGC 403 and hopped over to the galaxies, which I could see as a few fuzzy patches strung out more or less in a straight line. I stuck the camera on and collected lots of trailed 30 second exposures. This is the current problem with the scope - not that it doesn't know where it is, but something somewhere is causing a quasi-periodic error. I later detrailed these and got 14 reasonable shots that I stacked and aggresively processed. You can see the purple amplifier glow at the bottom right and some headlight/light pollution residual artefact across the picture (taking flat-field images addresses this issue but make the problem worse before they make it better in these circumstances). I think it looks cosmic.

Venus, Jupiter and a Plane

Here's one of the scenic examples of my shots. It is of the observatory building showing the dome glinting in the moonlight and also features a plane flying in the distance behind it and the planets Venus and Jupiter. This wide-field photograph of 15 seconds at f/5.6 was taken on December 6th shortly after sunset at 1730 UT and has also captured some annoying but in this case quite aesthetically pleasing light pollution.

Looking back to the summer sky in an icy winter wind

This picture of M57 was taken from the observatory dome with an icy wind blowing in the opening, soon after dusk twlilight with Lyra and Cygnus still reasonably high in the western sky. The only problems being 1. car headlights and 2. a buffeted telescope. I couldn't get any 30-second shots without trails, so I de-trailed them all (phew!) and stacked the best 16 of them. Despite the de-trailing artefacts which appear as streaky noise you can easily make out IC 1296 the 15.1 magnitude spiral galaxy to the right.

Using my f/10 SCT at f/4

As I do astronomy on a budget, I like to see what I can fudge together or get away with. I do not have sophisticated tracking equipment on my SCT, just the R.A. motor and a manual guiding 1 x sidereal rate hand controller. This would suffice if I were to enjoy spending hours typically at -2ºC, hunched over an eyepiece, trying to counter the effects of wind and drift in my motor versus the sidereal rotation of the earth. I can't be doing with this and my knowledge of optics tells me that at f/4 compared with f/10 optics, the light gathered per area is 2.5x2.5=6.25 times greater thus shortening exposure times. I got hold of a second f/6.3 field flattener and after many long attempts with various coupling adapters I found a combination that worked with the focus at the end of its travel. I had to use a 1 1/4" adapter (I will get hold of a 2" version ASAP) so the vignetting (edge-of-field clipping) is quite severe; still it gives it a lovely 'through the telescope' quality! This is the Pleiades with an effective focal length of 800mm and aperture of 200mm in a single shot of about a minute.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

A fire in space

I am very pleased with this picture of the Flame Nebula. Enjoy.
Mae'n dda gen i gyda hyn Lluniau y Niwl Ffagl. Mwynhau.
Ich bin mit dieser Abbildung des Flamme-Nebelflecks sehr erfreut. Genießen Sie.
Είμαι πολύ ευτυχής με αυτήν την εικόνα του νεφελώματος φλογών. Απολαύστε.
Je suis très heureux avec cette image de la nébuleuse de flamme. Appréciez.

Sunday, 30 November 2008


This is clearly not a photograph of the motorway that runs between London and Leeds. It is of the remnant from the supernova seen by the Chinese in 1054 as a star so bright it could easily be seen broad daylight. I want to see another. The very old star Betelgeuse in Orion is due to go supernova sometime in the next few tens of thousands of years and hopefully it will do it soon, during wintertime. That would be a truly awesome sight. A pinpoint of light much brighter than the full moon, turning the sky blue and casting sharp shadows when it rises at night. There is a slight risk of effects from the radiation, but we're just at a safe distance (no one knows exactly what this is, but it's about 600 light years away). Anyway this picture of M1 took 30 seconds on the 20" scope. This object is otherwise known as the Crab Nebula and it lives in Taurus, very close to the star ζ (zeta) Tauri.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Orion is back. Hail winter!

I had to test out the camera on the Great Orion Nebula. I knew it was very easy to saturate the centre of the nebula, so I took pictures of 30s, 6s and 1s. The individual frames looked lovely. I stacked the 3 pics in Registax after subtracting the light pollution and adjusting the brightness, contrast, gamma. The result is just an addition of the 3 different exposures, which isn't technically an accurate way of displaying it, but is necessary because of the large range of brightness.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

A Hallowe'en night moon.

The observatory scope has just been recollimated, which enabled me to visually spot Titania, a magnitude 14½ moon, 20 arc-seconds below the 6th magnitude planet Uranus, which appeared at 200x as a very clear bright green disk, wobbling around in the atmosphere. I thought I'd have another go at some pictures of the moons, and there were some surprising background stars right behind the planet. I saw 2 moons, stacked 6 5 second pictures and revealed a 3rd. So here are Titania, Umbriel and Oberon. We quite like the effect of the starburst cross on the planet, which is 3000 times brighter than the moons. Incidentally, we had a little bother identifying the moons using astronomy software, as it didn't allow for the almost 3 hour light time and they move significantly in this time!

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Cosmic Catherine Wheel

I went galaxy hunting the other night. This is a closer up version of the pinwheel galaxy or M33, shown below when I tested my 400mm camera lens. I got 6 30 second pictures on the 20" scope, all were very trailed in different ways, but I detrailed them all seperately, painstakingly! Then I stacked them, hoping that the trail artefacts left over would somehow "average out". Anyway there was a lot of red background noise, so I had to make the colour a bit bluish for the galaxy to stand out - as its light is very spread out. Good result I think?

A distant galaxy cluster

This is the faintest thing I've tried to take a pic of so far. It's 4 exposures combined from 15 seconds to 1 minute on the f/4.8 20" scope, at ISO 1600 (fastest film setting) on my Canon Camera. It looked good considering it's a collection of 14th magnitude galaxies. It is in Pegasus, near NGC 7331 and is called Stefan's Quintet. I've even picked up one galaxy on the image that's not in the PGC/UG catalogue on the far lower left! Impressive for such a short exposure, but not good for traces of trails left from my de-trailing

Monday, 13 October 2008

An autumn gem

NGC 246: I have always had trouble seeing this object as its light is spread over a large area, but I got a good view at low power through a nebular filter. It lies right in the middle of a triangle of stars including Diphda in western Cetus and its central star is double (3.8"). It is a close planetary nebula, well, close in planetary nebula terms at 2100 light years (Hipparcos). Sometimes called the Skull nebula, it is in Patrick Moore's Caldwell Catalogue at number 56 and was discovered by William Herschel in 1785.

Shakespeare's characters reveal themselves

Logically, following the image of Neptune's big moon, Triton I wanted to see other faint moons. Conversely, the moons around the much closer and 7 times brighter planet Uranus are fainter. However the brighter ones number 4 or 5 and rather poetically they are all named after characters from Shakespeare plays. In this picture, comprising of thirteen 3.2 second exposures, I just managed to get three. Fifteenth magnitude Umbriel is hiding just south of the planet's glare; below it are Oberon and Titania at 14.2 and 14.0 magnitude respectively. Also, rather confusingly is a faint star. This is a preliminary picture, which I hope to improve on as it is somewhat trailed and inexactly focused.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

How far south can you comfortably go?

I wanted to get a nice pic of NGC253 - the Sculptor galaxy and surprise folk by the fact it was in Sculptor, a constellation that is barely visible from UK. But to my astonishment, one of our club's members had just got a beautiful shot of it taken via the web on a Ritchey-Chrétien 10" in Australia. Nevertheless, I got a shot of it the following night on the 20". It's had a lot of light pollution subtracted off and I can't say my flat field was good enough to correct for the vignetting effect at the edges.

20" Mirror Test - part 2 small targets

One of my challenges since seeing Triton around Neptune in a 10" scope, was to image it. I didn't realise how easy this would be. It only took a few 4 - 10 second exposures on the 20" scope to easily capture Triton, which is 13.5 magnitude, and pinkish compared to Neptune's bluish. The separation is about 15 arc seconds, so there is either a tiny bit of coma or more likely inexact focusing.

20" Mirror Test - part 1 deep sky

The mirrors on my club's 20" have just been resilvered, and recollimated. I had to test it out, but my camera's adapter was too long, so I improvised and just tied and strapped my camera on. This is NGC 6781, an 11.8 magnitude planetary nebula in Aquila the Eagle. It looked great... pretty bright for something that magnitude and all of 1.8 arc minutes across. This was 11 x 30 second exposures.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Our overlooked galactic neighbour

M33, or the Pinwheel galaxy is only slightly further away than the Great Andromeda galaxy (2½ million light years!), but it can only just be seen with the naked eye from a very dark site, on a good night. I got this shot yesterday at the equinox sky camp in North Norfolk through the 400mm telephoto lens, and pushed the contrast a lot. It has a very low surface brightness as it is almost face-on to us, which makes it difficult to see well. I need more exposure time with this one, but I will have to sort out my scope's tracking motor and find some very dark skies to some good shots.


Got this shot by stacking a few 0.5 and 0.8 second exposures with the Canon at the end of a barlow, slid out from it's regular position to increase magnification - a 4,500 mm zoom lens if you like. The width of the disk from the image works out to be a very tiny 3.5" (arc seconds), close to the actual value of 3.7". I boosted the contrast but the colour is natural. It is a good example of what you can get from a back yard in the middle of a city!

Monday, 25 August 2008

New lens test.

I found an old 400mm telephoto lens and discovered that I could couple it to my new Canon. This is my 'test shot' - M 31, the Andromeda galaxy (note galaxy begins with a small 'g'!, even though it is bigger than our own). In a few billion years, scientists can't say exactly when, but our Galaxy and this one will crash into each other. You may think of a cosmic cataclysm, with stars impacting and fiery gas flying about, but in fact the stars will mostly all be far apart.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

A fantastic composition... a culmination of many natural sights!

Moon with Earthshine, Dawn twlilight, Noctilucent Clouds (very high ice clouds caused by meteoric dust), and the Pleiades cluster (M 45). 3 second exposure 75mm (x35/25) zoom lens, manual focus, rested on the roof of a car (with the engine switched on), without a cable release.
2:45 am June 30th 2008.

The other edge of the Veil

The Veil Nebula is the giant supernova remnant left in the direction of the constellation of Cygnus, the Swan, high in the sky on summer nights in the northern hemisphere. This was my first attempt at it - the post below (tough shot) is my best and latest shot, of the upper-left edge of the Veil. These posts aren't in order of time picture taken. This shot is a single 3 minute or so exposure of the right-hand edge of the Veil Nebula from SW Norfolk, that's been de-trailed.

A swan and a lagoon on a midsummer's night

Nebulae in Sagittarius, taken during the midsummer twilight period. They consist of many stacked exposures of about 30 seconds each at the ISO 800 Setting of my Canon EOS 350D, attached to the 'prime focus' position (using the telescope as a zoom-lens) of my 8 inch SCT at f/6.3. Unfortunately the Canon has a 80% blocking filter of the red light from nebulae and to remove it would be an expensive and difficult modification and would spoil the colour balance for all other photography. But I got these shots despite that! M17 the Swan nebula and M8 the Lagoon nebula.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Pluto...not a planet, just a dot.

I noticed I could easily see 15th magnitude stars on some of my long exposure photographs (that's about 4,000 times fainter than anything you can see with the eye alone). Pluto is 14th magnitude, so it is 2 and a half times brighter than a 15th magnitude star. With Malc's help we found what I thought to be Pluto, but actually it was the fainter star beside the one I thought. This picture shows the STScI (space telescope science institute?) picture of the sky next to the photo of the same area. I think my picture shows Pluto. A tiny dot!

The Great Orion Nebula, M 42

This is an example of my old film based photography. Here I used Fuji 1600ASA with the 35mm camera on the back of my 8 inch meade schmidt-cassegrain at f/6.3. About a 5 minute exposure. I love the colours. I have done my detrailing treatment on this scanned in photo.

The Dumbell Nebula - M 27

A lovely shot on a lovely night with Malc at the observatory, where we both took turns on the 235mm Celestron at f/6.3. I stacked a few images, removed the slight trailing and optimised the nebula and stars from the background.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Tough shot

I saw it was quite clear so drove out to a local little dead-end country road that I found recently. I set up my telescope in the reasonably dark skies there and took one of my most impressive pictures yet, it was a 9 minute exposure on my new Canon EOS 350D, guided by manually trying to keep a star on the crosshairs while looking up and kneeling on a mat. It was back-straining work but I was very pleased with the result. But when I came to pack up I saw full-beam headlights coming down the road, the car passed, they looked at me and it turned around as I hastily tried to put all of my parts in the boot. Two hard looking men in a old beaten up Sierra. What did they want? What were they doing? I soon packed up and drove off while they waited feet from my car! So... here is the resulting shot. Worth it I think. It's of a part of a supernova remnant called the Veil Nebula.

Star de-trailing

I have so many old photos ruined with star trails. I did a bit of looking around on the web, which helped me realise how to crudely remove these. I took an extreme picture of some trails, de-trailed it and it revealed itself as M42, the Orion nebula. Basically, I just clone an image in Paint Shop Pro 7, and translate one by the amount from the start of the trail to the end using 'Canvas Size'. Then I do 'Image Arithmetic' using Darkest. It doesn't work well when background 'noise' or lots of stars are clustered, but it sorted out a doubled picture of Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 Fragment C, when it flew past a couple of years ago.

Some planets...

I used to take pictures of objects in space using film, but what got me started with digital astrophotography was the good pictures of planets I got using a point-and-click off-the-shelf camera down my telescope eyepiece.
These pictures are: Venus, when it was a large crescent in New Year '07, through a window across a city street; Mars, when it was closest in '03 from my patio and Saturn in '07, from a dark countryside location (obviously they're not to scale).

Let's start blogging...

As you can see I am a fan of the ellipsis (...). It kind of adds a sense of wandering off and actually doing the thing referred to in the text preceding it. Enough about English, I have set this blog up to record and disseminate in some way my ever increasing and improving collection of deep-space images. Hence the title, which I think sounds quite funny (in a Dougal from Father Ted sort of way). What an understatement! I reminded myself of the size of objects in our local neighbourhood in space earlier when I read that the Sun was about 865,000 miles in diameter! That's just blows my mind! Much bigger than the entire moon's orbit! In addition to this, the entire surface is at about 6000ºC! Ouch! and just as you try to imagine anything surviving that (which it won't by the way), the corona, its outer atmosphere, is many million degrees! It infact shines in X-rays, by the light of multiply ionized atoms such as iron with fifteen electrons stripped off - you should see the website for the animations!