Friday, 9 October 2015

Obligatory moon shot!

After a warm and cosy hour's sleep, I forced myself to get out of bed to catch this rare occurrence. I think UK has been a bit unlucky with lunar eclipses recently. America seems to have got them all. The clouds cleared for me, but friends just down the road had a different story. I composited 6 shots through my 8" SCT to get this one, plus co-added and blended in a non-saturated moon. I tweaked the saturation and sharpened a little. Beautiful sharp stars with this technique!

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Kielder Water

We went on a drive up the spine of the UK to Kielder Water - and took advantage of the dark sky park status. These are some pictures we took on Monday night. It was pretty dark up there, but the cloud was rolling in. We stopped at a view point off the South side and got some simple long exposures of different lengths and focal lengths on the Canon 1000D with just a tripod as the moon was setting. I've processed a little in photoshop/paintshop. Spot the 'moon-dog'. The milky way shots didn't come out well as the lens misted up very quickly! The observatory at the top of the hill at the far end was a very welcoming and fantastic little place. It's an innovative design - almost like a jetty with two fairly roomy observatory domes along it's deck.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Scouting around for good astronomy sites

Hello. I've just moved and I thought I'd do a spot of astro reconnaisance of my new sector. After checking out Google Maps/Earth I headed out from the city and got rather lost trying to find my original target location. I ended up somewhere very rural and dark, but it was such a beautiful warm night - 20ºC at 11pm. I was in a T-shirt setting up my 8 inch SCT and Canon 1000D on top. I had found a lovely dry field with easy access off the road and a very open south, and well, all horizons. There was just a small hedge to the north. I encountered one passer by in the 2 hours I was out there. I managed several 2 minute tracked wide field exposures from atop my telescope. I didn't realise the field was full of hay bales until I took the first exposure! Here's the result - I tried to remove the gradients and enhance the local contrast to bring out the structure in the Milky Way, but there was some ludicrous light-pollution even here (somewhere N of Saxlingham Green, Norfolk). A nice night. Incidentally we had 28ºC, while the rest of the UK had persistent rain and about 19ºC. However, we got rain today - healthy garden I guess.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

The Lagoon Nebula

This nebula, which first appeared to humanity in 1654, by Italian astronomer Hodierna, was catalogued by Charles Messier as his eighth entry. It appeared as an interesting fuzzy smudge, behind a sparkling little star cluster and 4 stars in a line. This is a modern-day picture of it using the following equipment: an iOptron equatorial mount, a Celestron 9.25 inch Schmidt-Cassegrain, a f/10 to f/6.3 focal reducer, an Atik 383L+ CCD camera cooled to -20ºC (which had the usual temporary icing problems), a 1¼" filter wheel with Luminance Red Green and Blue filters. There was no guider used with this, so we limited the exposure length to 30 seconds, which could have gone higher but the wind occasionally would spoil a frame by shaking the telescope. The dew shield was removed, due to the wind. The other operation problem in taking this was the observatory wall was located about 15 feet to the south of the telescope, and at 8 foot high, meant the lagoon nebula was shortly about to 'hit the wall'. Luckily colleagues stayed on until midnight enabling me to acquire at least 12 images through each filter. Given the altitude of the subject (about 10º above the SSE horizon), it's not a bad image. Processing this was difficult, due to there not being any time to take any calibration frames. This keeps the noise down but gives horrendous vignetting to remove, which is especially hard when nebula fills the frame. The 'hot pixels' that pop up, were removed using a clever stacking technique, called sigma clipping, and there was no dust on the sensor to spoil the image.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Saturn heading South

While the rings are nice and open like they were in 2003, this time round, Saturn has moved South, Causing it to glide through the murky, churning atmosphere from UK. There are several ways to get better pictures of Saturn: wait until better seeing and persist with the best equipment possible, wait 8 or so years, move to Australia, set up a telescope on board a plane, install a sodium laser at the observatory and use adaptive optics on the primary mirror, be Christopher Go, or give up and use Hubble's pictures.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Norwich by Night 2015

With a bit of stacking and processing, Norwich is beginning to look like some sort of dark rural location. I'm lucky to live on a street where the lights are switched off at 1am BST. The sky was quite light really but the sky has been stacked and processed separately from the houses. "Norwich by Night 2015 has been spoiled by some cloud streaming in and the dust bunny to the right of the centre, but for me it's quite amazing to see the milky way from a city. Only the Scutum-Aquila cloud (upper left)was visible to the naked eye through the window, but the rest of the detail was brought out with contrast enhancing. I particularly like how I caught a faint reflection of my face peering over the roof corner at the centre, just to the right of the Lagoon Nebula.

A librated, saturated moon

The "top right" bit of the moon on April 26th with the colour saturation enhanced by 500%. Maximum libration point was just beyond the 'sea' near the top centre, which means we can see slightly round the edge of the usual face of the moon. The 'sea' is Mare Humboldtianum. The moon seems to be muddy brown and electric blue, when you turn the colour up.

Fleeting Mercury

Mercury above the rooftops at 21:56 BST 13th May. Snapped by poking my telephoto lens out of my bathroom window. ISO1600 f/5 1/15". It's always very low in the twilight, following the sun down, and it's only visible for brief windows of time, if it's clear. An elusive, vespertine planet! The camera lens's resolution isn't enough to resolve the shape of the planet but I've included a 5x inset.

A conjunction and strange things flying above my head

The night of April 11 was a nice little trip to the observatory, watching Venus and the Pleiades setting over the dome. I settled on this picture, which makes the dome loom large like St Pauls Cathedral, rather than the close up on the conjunction, which showed the gibbous phase of Venus. I also managed to spot the International Space Station beginning a flyover, so I repositioned the tripod and my head hoping to capture it flying past. Previous experience has allowed me to judge where to position myself but keeping still for 30 seconds is not easy. It's a lovely composition of cloud, space station flying through Lynx, Leo, Jupiter and Praesepe - the Beehive cluster and Pollux and Castor just above the dome.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Io and Europa's close encounter

Here's an example of where reality can get close to the simulation. I got some good seeing, and with a decent camera (a ZWO ASI) I got a decent video-capture of Jupiter's moons Io and Europa through my 8" SCT from a city backyard, as they passed by each other, at one point just overlapping. The image is in two parts, and explains itself. The angles are a bit different.

Zodiacal Light from Equinox Star Camp

Yeah! There are still parts of England that have escaped enough the scourge of light pollution, so that the zodiacal light can be photographed. I took this panorama on the equinox (March 21st 2015) from Haw Wood Farm campsite in Suffolk, near Minsmere. This is a beautiful area of the country, not too far a drive from the capital. Our astronomical society, Breckland, had a few members and guests attend a star party weekend at the campsite. I didn't however, look for the zodiacal light, I just noticed it on the photograph, once I'd stitched together this panorama. It is a series of 4 x 30 second exposures at f/3.5 on a regular Canon lens moving from South to West. The sky featured a beautiful range of objects, from left to right: Sirius, the Milky Way, Orion, the Hyades, the Pleiades, then the Crescent Moon and Venus.

Saturday, 14 February 2015


Here's my attempt at Comet Lovejoy via my 8" SCT, with 2 focal reducers at f/4. The image on my DSLR is vignetted at this focal length (800mm), but rapidly builds image exposure, helping capture moving images such as this comet. It is on its close passage by Earth here, and I hope to capture it again soon. I have added a rotational gradient shot that shows the knot structure in the tail well.

The million kilometer plasma filament

I popped down the observatory to try some solar imaging with the sun low in the sky Sunday 8th Feb. After dodging clouds, I was amazed to spot this filament so clearly through the eyepiece of the solar telescope. I got 20 pictures of it with my DSLR and stacked in PIPP and Registax. The large images taxed my laptop somewhat. Here's the result, exposed for flares (red) and surface detail (green) simultaneously. What an amazing structure this is, about the width of the Earth, suspended above the surface of the sun by magnetic fields. It would wrap around Jupiter's equator with length spare, and fit between the earth and the moon and back! If it fell back on the surface a Hyder flare would erupt, but it hasn't done so in the last few days. The sun is certainly more interesting than you may think!

A winter favourite

When testing and setting up guiding and imaging with the Atik 383L camera on the C925 on the iOptron mount, you have to go for a nice bright, interesting target like the Orion Nebula. Unfortunately we need a spacer to make the guide camera the correct distance from the imaging camera, if we're using the off-axis guider prism unit. We could either guide or image, so here's the image, unguided, which isn't bad!

Monday, 26 January 2015

Jupiter's triple transit

I got up at 3:30 a.m., venturing out into a frosty January night to the society's observatory. After dragging out the Celestron 9 inch Schmidt and iOptron mount, just the one hiccup occurred, caused by the video image capture software. An annoying but fairly quick restart later, all was well and I managed to get a sequence of 1.5 minute videos of Jupiter setting slowly in the West. UK wasn't the best place to image this triple transit due to Jupiter being fairly low, and in fact I haven't got the third shadow due to poor seeing. I later realised I should have got one more frame. You can see an interesting shadow exchange and Io (the moon moving across the disk) covering Callisto's (larger) shadow at the end of the animation, which runs from 0530-0621 UT, with irregular time intervals.

The image above is Jupiter on the 20-inch for comparison, the following Tuesday night. There is a slight aberration in the optical system, but the moons Europa (and its shadow) and Io are very clearly shown.