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11/30/-1
    
Friday, April 11th, 2008
This is an entry for the past few nights. They have been incredible.
For one, I had company 2 of the three nights. It's always a pleasure having someone with you to enjoy both the heavens and the hobby.

Secondly, I had my first real experience doing what Ive been wanting to do since September of '07, imaging and observing.

Imaging And Observing
I've mentioned it before in my journal that I wanted to get a setup that allowed me to image with one setup while I was observing with another. Tonight that was a reality. I took the longest exposures I've taken to date. 1 hour 45 minutes for M51 and 2 hours 9 minutes for M101. The other images are an hour or so each.

I took a visual tour of the sky for nearly 8 hours each night while light frames and dark frames were being acquired to the laptop with minimal babysitting. Each resulting frame is so killer that I am able to stack 100% of them. This is a significant step up from losing 30% - 70% of the acquired frames due to poor tracking and an unstable mount not to mention the constant babysitting of each frame acquisition and tying up my observing gear to do it all. It used to be image or observe, now I get both. Woohoo!
 
The Imaging Setup
Mount: Orion Siruis EQ-G GoTo
Laptop: MacBook Pro Core Duo 2.16Ghz
Imaging Scope: Celestron 102mm Achromat (can't wait to get my Apo!)
Imaging Camera: Canon EOS 350D Digital Rebel XT
Image Acquisition Software: Nebulosity
Image Acquisition Bulb Control Interface: Shoestring DSUSB 
Guide Scope: Modified 50mm Achromat Finder
Guide Camera: Meade DSI Pro Monochrome
Guiding Software: PHD Guiding
Guide Control Interface: Shoestring GPUSB 
Scope Control Software: Starry Night Pro Plus
 
Yes, with all of this the setup time is lengthy, there are a bunch of lights blinking, wires strewn all over the place and multiple big heavy 12 volt batteries involved.

It's all a bit of a mess I suppose, but in the end totally worth the effort because my images have already dramatically improved and I haven't even figured out everything yet.
 
It's about $5600 in equipment including cables, batteries, and other accessories with the laptop being just under half of the cost. It can be done with a far less expensive laptop if the laptop was not a Mac.
 
The Visual Setup
Scope: 12" Hardin Optical Dob
Equatorial Tracking Platform: Round Table Platforms 25" EQ Platform
Eyepieces: Complete line of Orion Stratus 68 degree EPs, a TeleVue ParaCorr for flatter fields and a TeleVue 35mm Panoptic for the nice low power wide field stick your head in the scope feeling
 
This is roughly $3800 for everything including collimators, filters, and other small accessories.
 
The Observing Session
It's so nice to separate imaging from observing. Have I mentioned that I'm loving that yet?
 
These nights I took a significant visual tour through the heavens. Going from constellation to constellation as they were setting or rising through the evening.
 
Starting early from the West as things were setting I hit the wonderful open clusters M36, M37, M38 in Auriga. Moving East to Gemini I took a quick look at M35 and then a deep look at Mars. Even though it sat a bit close to the moon it was still a nice salmon colored disk with a hint of smudgy blotches that I knew were various storms on the surface. Cancer was difficult to make out with the moon so close, but I still managed a wide field view of the always stunningly bright Beehive cluster. In Leo, Saturn is getting close to start retrograding but it's still moving closer and closer towards Regulus and Thursday night it was almost crystal clear. Near picture perfect views 80% of the time at 400 power. I stayed here for quite some time before moving on to the two bright galaxy groups of M95, M96 and companions and M65, M66 and companions. Next I pulled up M104 in Virgo, but it sits in the muck of Portland so the view was limited but still the famous dust lane split the galaxy in half. The large perfectly edge-on NGC 4565 and the strange looking Black Eye galaxy in Coma Bernices are always so cool to look at. M53 is such a bright globular and even though it's not huge you can make out stars right into the core. Continuing to move East I hit M3 in Bootes and looked diligently for NGC 5466, but to no avail. Hercules was rising and M13, M92 and NGC 6229 are all cool globular clusters with of course M13 being the largest, brightest and most defined of them all (at least from my driveway).
 
While the summer constellations began to rise I moved North and took in M94 and M63 in Canes Venatici. And how can you be in this region without pulling up M51? Tonight the often bright spiral arms were very faint. Ursa Major holds such gems I briefly caught a glimpse of many of the brightest ones: M81, M82, M97, M101, M106, M107, M108, M109. Many of these objects have various NGC galaxies from the Ursa Major Cluster visible in the field. That's such a rich region.
 
Draco looks so cool cutting between The Big and Little Dippers. I had to pull up the famous trio of NGC 5981 (edge-on), NGC 5982 (Eliptical) and NGC 5985 (Face-on Spiral). They were all clearly in the view, but no structure in the face on was discernible.
 
Now it's past 3am and the summer triangle is up. The Milky Way is very faint through Cygnus and I pulled up many favorites between Lyra, Cygnus and Vulpecula. M57, M56, M27, M29, M39 and others. As a seeing test I pulled up the Double Double at 400 power and saw 4 distinct stars. A sign of excellent seeing. What a great couple of nights. I can't wait for the cloudy season to go way and usher in some clear dark summer skies.
 
The Imaging Session
While all of this amazing observation was happening I could hear the shutter open and close every few minutes. I decided to shoot all 3 minute subs tonight as a test. When I took longer subs the stars were pretty over saturated, so I think 3 minute subs may be better for me. I'm still experimenting.
 
Over these nights I took the following shots.
 
Abell 1656 - Galaxy Group
Abell 1656 is said to have over 400 galaxies. I don't know how many I have in this 60 minute shot, but there are a ton of them. The main cluster is in the center of the image, but there are galaxies scattered throughout. I left the processing washed out a bit not to clip the very faint galaxies. I also didn't include a small version because many of the galaxies are tiny and easy to mistake as stars, so for the first time I'm including a 100%, full 8 Megapixel frame 
 
Scope: Celestron 102mm Achromat Refractor @ f/5
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G with GoTo
Guiding:  Meade DSI Pro and PHD Guiding
Camera: Canon EOS 350 Digital Rebel XT (unmodified)
Special Settings: None
ISO: 800
Exposure: 60 minutes - 20 @ 180 seconds
Processing Software: Acquired in Nebulosity, Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker, Levels and Curves in Photoshop
See Gallery below for image
 
Perseus Double Cluster
I think this shot is a little too oversaturated which ended up losing some star color. These are 5 minute subs, but I don't think I'll do that long again. At least, not on bright objects.
 
Scope: Celestron 102mm Achromat Refractor @ f/5
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G with GoTo
Guiding:  Meade DSI Pro and PHD Guiding
Camera: Canon EOS 350 Digital Rebel XT (unmodified)
Special Settings: None
ISO: 800
Exposure: 20 minutes - 4 @ 300 seconds
Processing Software: Acquired in Nebulosity, Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker, Levels and Curves in Photoshop
See Gallery below for image
 
M13
I can't help it. I know I have more shots of M13 then anything else but it's one of my favorite objects.
 
Scope: Celestron 102mm Achromat Refractor @ f/5
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G with GoTo
Guiding:  Meade DSI Pro and PHD Guiding
Camera: Canon EOS 350 Digital Rebel XT (unmodified)
Special Settings: None
ISO: 800
Exposure: 20 minutes - 80 @ 15 seconds
Processing Software: Acquired in Nebulosity, Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker, Levels and Curves in Photoshop
See Gallery below for image
 
M35
This was on the tails of my autoguiding experimenting with 5 minute sub frames. It's a decent image, but again, I don't think I'll be using 5 minute subs anymore for objects like this.
 
Scope: Celestron 102mm Achromat Refractor @ f/5
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G with GoTo
Guiding:  Meade DSI Pro and PHD Guiding
Camera: Canon EOS 350 Digital Rebel XT (unmodified)
Special Settings: None
ISO: 800
Exposure: 20 minutes - 4 @ 300 seconds
Processing Software: Acquired in Nebulosity, Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker, Levels and Curves in Photoshop
See Gallery below for image
 
M51 
Until the 2 hour shot of M101, this was the longest exposure I've taken yet. In trying to increase the scale of the object I also performed a 3X drizzle stacking. I'm very pleased with the result in both cases. 
 
Scope: Celestron 102mm Achromat Refractor @ f/5
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G with GoTo
Guiding:  Meade DSI Pro and PHD Guiding
Camera: Canon EOS 350 Digital Rebel XT (unmodified)
Special Settings: None
ISO: 800
Exposure: 1 hour 42 minutes - 34 @ 180 seconds
Processing Software: Acquired in Nebulosity, Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker, Levels and Curves in Photoshop
See Gallery below for image
 
M57
I'm not quit as happy with this image, but it's very tiny at only 20 power (the power of the 350D in the 102mm achromat). I tried a 3X drizzle on this one too. I was less happy with the result, but its still not too bad.
 
Scope: Celestron 102mm Achromat Refractor @ f/5
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G with GoTo
Guiding:  Meade DSI Pro and PHD Guiding
Camera: Canon EOS 350 Digital Rebel XT (unmodified)
Special Settings: None
ISO: 800
Exposure: 30 minutes - 6 @ 300 seconds
Processing Software: Acquired in Nebulosity, Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker, Levels and Curves in Photoshop
See Gallery below for image
 
M63
I really wanted to get those tons o faint outer arms on this galaxy, and I did to a degree. I think it needs to be a 2 hour or more shot though to really capture them well. But again, I'm very pleased with the results.
 
Scope: Celestron 102mm Achromat Refractor @ f/5
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G with GoTo
Guiding:  Meade DSI Pro and PHD Guiding
Camera: Canon EOS 350 Digital Rebel XT (unmodified)
Special Settings: None
ISO: 800
Exposure: 60 minutes - 20 @ 180 seconds
Processing Software: Acquired in Nebulosity, Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker, Levels and Curves in Photoshop
See Gallery below for image
 
 
M101
I've taken many images of M101 and not very pleased with any of them. The galaxy is so large and diffused that it doesn't photography easily like M51 and others. This is by far by best image  of it to date. You can actually begin to see detail in the galaxy itself. Sheesh, I wonder how much data this thing really needs?!
 
Scope: Celestron 102mm Achromat Refractor @ f/5
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G with GoTo
Guiding:  Meade DSI Pro and PHD Guiding
Camera: Canon EOS 350 Digital Rebel XT (unmodified)
Special Settings: None
ISO: 800
Exposure: 2 hours 9 minutes - 43 @ 180 seconds
Processing Software: Acquired in Nebulosity, Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker, Levels and Curves in Photoshop
See Gallery below for image
 
 
M106
This is my first shot of M106. It's a really cool galaxy and has lots of friends in the neighborhood. I think this one is another good candidate for a much longer exposure still. 
 
Scope: Celestron 102mm Achromat Refractor @ f/5
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G with GoTo
Guiding:  Meade DSI Pro and PHD Guiding
Camera: Canon EOS 350 Digital Rebel XT (unmodified)
Special Settings: None
ISO: 800
Exposure: 60 minutes - 20 @ 180 seconds
Processing Software: Acquired in Nebulosity, Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker, Levels and Curves in Photoshop
See Gallery below for image


Image Gallery For This Session
Abell 1656 60m HUGE Abell 1656 60m lg
Double Cluster 20m 0s lg M101 2h 9m lg
M106 1h 0m lg M13 20m lg
M35 20m lg M51 1h 42m 3x driz
M51 1h 42m lg M57 30m 0s 3x driz
M57 30m 0s lg M63 1h 0m lg
   

Abell_1656-60m-HUGE.jpg
Click picture above for larger version
If the picture seems too bright or too dark, try adjusting the brightness below.
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Comments:
On 06/12/08 at 07:10pm Neil Heacock wrote:
Thanks Heather.

You bet you can. That's called afocal photography - shooting through an eyepiece. My first shots (pretty much everyone's first shots) are afocal moon shots.

Here is what I think was my first afocal shot I took. It was in June of '04
http://www.myastronomyjournal.com/journal.php?id=nheacock&jd=2004-06-28

Good luck paying with afocal photography!

-Neil




On 06/12/08 at 09:49am Heather wrote:
Wow! These pictures are amazing! I would love to get into astrophotography, but I don't have the necessary funds right now. Is it true that you can just hold up your digital camera to the eyepiece to get pictures of the moon and planets? What about clusters like the Coma cluster or the Pleides? Or M42?



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