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11/30/-1
    
Thursday, May 20th, 2010
This entry is for several nights last from earlier this month. 5/8, 5/9, 5/12.

Tonight I feel like a kid in a candy store. I've got my imaging system trained on M106 while I'm visually observing with the 16". This is my favorite way to do astronomy!
Some specific things that are making this evening considerably fun:
1) I've got pent up passion for a clear night sky!
2) The sky seems a bit darker then normal and seeing is great.
3) Everything is working well (so far!)

The Observing Session
On the visual front, I'm seeing deeper then I ever have from my home location before. In Virgo, while looking for M61 I saw 2 small fuzzies. Turning to Starry Night to identify them, it turns out they are NGC 4281 and 4273 12.3 and 12.4 mag respectively. But upon identifying them, I see that there is a 13.1 in the same field of view (NGC 4270). Back to the eyepiece and sure enough, there it is. But I'm also seeing a hint of another, so back to Starry Night. It's NGC 4268 at 13.2 mag! I've never seen down to 13.2 mag from my house before. This is a combination of the darkness of the sky and seeing tonight and I'm sure the newly refigured 16" mirror (by Steve Swayze) is also outperforming anything else I've ever had.

The best views of the evening were using the binoviewers to observe M13, Alberio and Saturn. It's hard to describe how incredible the views were. The binoviews make the sky look 3D although I know it's an optical illusion to see the brighter things as closer, it's simply stunning using both eyes, Alberio had richer color in the blue and gold stars then it normally does. And Saturn... WOW! it had color, was extremely 3D looking and Enceladus was a tiny clean pin dot of light.

Oh man! This is AWESOME!! I'm in love with astronomy!

On the imaging front, my Peltier chamber is cooling my camera down to a chilly 25 degrees (F) on this 58 degree night. Oh yeah baby! The colder the better. 90 minutes and counting on M106 which faithfully clicks away sub after sub while I drink in the fantastic views.

The Imaging Session
Magic was happening at the camera. Everything was working swimmingly. No glitches or software errors or any other such thing. The polar alignment was near spot on, the tracking/guiding is within 2 arc seconds or so, and the stars are nice and sharp with 10 minute sub exposures. I took 2 shots during these sessions. M13 and M106.

Something a little different for me is that I've been using Deep Sky Stacker Live to accomplish 2 things:
1) FWHM stats on the fly across the entire image
2) Sky glow stats on the fly to judge sky darkness and transparency
There is also the added bonus where it stacks the image live as each new sub frame is acquired. That's pretty cool! But DSS Live doesn't calibrate the stack. Waaaa... but Luc said it IS in the development path to implement that. Yay! I can't wait.

I'm including a screenshot of my imaging workflow to show how I see Nebulosity's acquisition, PHD's guiding, and DSS Live's image stats all at a glance.

Imaging With Friends
Thursday night Richard and Barry came over and we had a blast. My driveway is large enough for my 3 cars, my popup trailer, Richard and Barry's cars, and all 3 of our imaging setups without it being too cramped. We set up our gear in our own little spaces but close enough to each other where we could share our views and converse easily. Richard shot M81/M82, Barr shot M13 and I shot another night of M106. By midnight or so the clouds were thickening or perhaps t was fog or haze, but either way it cut our night a bit short. Even still, we got decent shots, and had good company doing it.

M13 - The Great Hercules Cluster
The sky was starting to haze over during the M13 shot which can be seen in the large halos around the bright red and blue stars in particular.
Scope: Vixen ED103S with WO Flat 2 0.8x FR/FF
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G with GoTo
Guiding:  Meade DSI Pro and PHD Guiding
Guide Scope: William Optics ZenithStar 66 SD
Camera: Canon EOS 1000D (Modified)
Special Settings: None
ISO: 800
Exposure: 1 hour (6 x 600s)
Processing Software: Acquired in Nebulosity with high dithering, Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker (Kappa-Sigma Clipping for all frames), Levels, Curves, Astronomy Tools, Gradient XTerminator and Noise Ninja in Photoshop
Support Files: 40 flats, 40 bias, 8 darks
See Gallery below for image

M106 and Friends - A Nice Group of Galaxies
Three nights of imaging and 4 hours and 40 minutes of exposure to get this shot. I'm pretty appy with it overall as I was able to get the outer fainter part of the galaxy.
Scope: Vixen ED103S with WO Flat 2 0.8x FR/FF
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G with GoTo
Guiding:  Meade DSI Pro and PHD Guiding
Guide Scope: William Optics ZenithStar 66 SD
Camera: Canon EOS 1000D (Modified)
Special Settings: None
ISO: 800
Exposure: 4 hours 40 minutes minutes (28 x 600s)
Processing Software: Acquired in Nebulosity with high dithering, Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker (Kappa-Sigma Clipping for all frames), Levels, Curves, Astronomy Tools, Gradient XTerminator and Noise Ninja in Photoshop
Support Files: 40 flats, 40 bias, 8 darks
See Gallery below for image

ADDENDUM - New Mount For Ha Solar Imaging
I've been wanting to get tracking for my PST so be able to do some solar imaging web cam style with the LiveView on my 1000D. I bought a used Orion SkyView Pro mount with an RA drive. This is a fantastic solution for this method I think. It tracks the sun well enough to visually observe for long periods of time without having to move the mount and it certainly tracks long enough for web cam imaging.

Sun in H-alpha
So this is my first picture of the sun using LiveView RegiStax and tracking. All of my other solar shots have been one shot images.
Scope: Coronado PST
Mount: Orion SkyView Pro w/RA Drive
Camera: Canon EOS 1000D (stock)
Special Settings: Captured via LiveView with EOS MovRec
ISO: 200
Exposure: 100 seconds (1500 frames @ 15 frames per second)
Processing Software: Acquired in EOS MovRec, Stacked in RegiStax 5, Levels, Curves in Photoshop
See Gallery below for image


Image Gallery For This Session
01 M106 4h 40m 02 M106 Acquisition Screenshot
03 M13 1h 04 Sun 2010 05 14
   

01-M106-4h-40m.jpg
Click picture above for larger version
If the picture seems too bright or too dark, try adjusting the brightness below.
Brightness:
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Comments:
On 05/30/10 at 01:10pm Miquel wrote:
I love the 3D look of this picture. It is awesome! :)

On 05/20/10 at 12:54pm Barry wrote:
The M106 group is superb!!!! You captured a great solar prominence.....that's a keeper.

I am still working on (and hopefully improving) my M13 data. I have to admit that I like star spikes better than star halo's but it's still a fine image.

I think all three of us did alright considering the haze and high cloud layer.

On 05/20/10 at 07:45am Jim McPherson wrote:
Neil,

This is by far your best entry since I've been a member here (March 2010). I can hear your excitement and passion in your words. As the new kid on the block it's good to see that passion in someone with your experience because it's indicative that it can last beyond the "shiny and new" phase.

Let's get together soon to observe or just grab a cup of coffee.

Jim



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