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11/30/-1
    
Monday, June 14th, 2010
New Moon Dark Sky Star Party at Indian Trail Spring (ITS)

We weren't supposed to be at ITS this weekend. We went to Mt. Pisgah. Unfortunately, the last 2 months of rain and the relatively fresh snow melt up there made things a bit too mushy for us to be there. So the alternative spot was trusty ol' ITS.

Bortle 1 sky featuring 360 degree horizon down to 1 degree or something, a very mild and shallow light bubble to the east the is from a small town 30 miles away, treeline to treeline Milky Way, and a plethora of stars. My favorite spot although rumor has it there are better... we'll see...

We spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights out there. Perfectly clear all 3 nights with seeing for each night being something like 5, 6 and 7 respectively.

My Personal Fiasco
Sheesh. I felt like a dolt. Every time I turned around something went awry. I needed to polar align multiple times, adjust balance multiple times, borrow stuff from other guys because I left things I needed at home, the battery for the Peltier chamber died, I couldn't really cover the scopes during the day because I left my scope covers, no mirror cover for the Lightbridge, didn't have the adapter for the guide camera, didn't bring my flat diffuser, etc. On and on it went. It was like a bad dream. I have a checklist with loads of stuff to be sure and pack but none of these things are on it. Well, they are now!

Amazingly enough though, I thoroughly enjoyed my time, got some great shots and borrowed stuff from the other guys which leads me to...

The Commune Star Party
This was a strange happening. It seemed like everyone had things that belonged to everyone else because we all needed something from each other. Either an adapter, a software driver, a helping hand, or advice to complete an objective, no one flew solo.

Thanks to Chuck, Pat, Brian, Richard, Scott and Claudia I was able to enjoy my time. I needed something from everyone. The nice thing is that they all needed me (and everyone else) for something or another as well, so together we all had a great time.

The Visual Sessions
Unbelievable views of everything you look at. The newly refigured 16" Lightbridge is boasting outstanding performance. The Lightbridge hardware has something to be desired though... I feel an ATM project coming on...

The faintest objects I took in were 15.4 magnitude perspective neighbors of NGC 7331. Faint and fuzzy... just the way I like them!

Some of the most spectacular views were:
- M13 in the binoviewer. Oh man... it just doesn't get any better.
- Structure in NGC 5985 in Draco. Doh!.. never seen that before. It always looks like 2 ellipticals and an edge-on, but tonight it was a face on with faint structure, elliptical and edge on. Oh yeah baby!
- The most massive solar prominence I've ever seen on the 14th around 2:00 UTC -8. It must have been 1/10 or more the sun's diameter. I wanted to image it, but I was tearing down to leave.
- The view of the weekend worth the entire trip was McNaught 2009/R1. Oh my. I'm no comet hunter so I don't see alot of them, but this one... WOW!

I spent alot of time just soaking in the views naked eye and with binoculars too. It felt so good to just be out under the stars night after clear night.

The Imaging Sessions
For the imaging sessions I had one objective in mind: Rho Ophiuchi. I've not shot it before except a quick take at Hancock a few months ago. It had enough going on to with I had lots more time and encourage me to shoot it this weekend. The whole weekend. Nothing but Rho Oph.

My single objective was to get a 6 hour exposure (3 hours each night) at 180mm and 320mm. Seeing, balance, polar alignment, kicking the tripod leg, screwing up my zoom lens focal length and loads of other problems killed that. I'm now having an on the fly change of plans.

I ended up shooting Rho Oph at both 180mm and 320mm, but only for one night and not all of the frames were salvageable. I shot just over 3 hours of each and ended up with 3 hours of one and 2 hours 15 minutes of the other. So much for my 6 hour shots!

But the cool thing is that I moved on to some other targets and got one scope and one widefield lens each night. Some better then others, but I'm pleased with all of the shots.

Rho Ophiuchi - 320mm
I've never taken a real serious shot at this before, so I wanted to get a good one. It kindof worked out. I shot just under 3 hours 30 minutes and ended up with 3 hours of usable subs. Tracking was TERRIBLE in this area of the sky so I ended up bailing out altogether in the multi-night verision. 

Scope: William Optics ZenithStar 66 SD with WO Flat 2 0.8x FR/FF
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G with GoTo
Guiding:  Meade DSI Pro and PHD Guiding
Guide Scope: Vixen ED103S
Camera: Canon EOS 1000D (Modified)
Special Settings: None
ISO: 800
Exposure: 3 hours (18 x 600s)
Processing Software: Acquired in Nebulosity, Stacked and DDP in Images Plus, Levels, Curves, Astronomy Tools, Gradient XTerminator and Noise Ninja in Photoshop
Support Files: 40 flats, 40 bias, one dark used as a bad pixel map
See Gallery below for image

Rho Ophiuchi - 180mm
I also wanted to capture a wider field to get the bulk of the nebulosity. I goofed it up by accidentally bumping the focal length ring and changing the focal length twice which meant many of the frames were out of focus or the wrong focal length to really get a good combination in the final stack. It turns out that the lens is a good one for imaging wide field as long as you can keep it from changing focal lengths. 

Scope: Canon 70-300mm USM IS Zoom
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G with GoTo
Guiding:  Meade DSI Pro and PHD Guiding
Guide Scope: Vixen ED103S
Camera: Canon EOS 1000D (Stock/ Un-modified)
Special Settings: None
ISO: 800
Exposure: 2 hours 15 minutes (27 x 300s)
Processing Software: Acquired in Nebulosity with high dithering, Stacked and DDP in Images Plus, Levels, Curves, Astronomy Tools, Gradient XTerminator and Noise Ninja in Photoshop
Support Files: 10 darks, no flats or bias
See Gallery below for image

Barnard 150 (B150)
Since my plan was foiled to keep shooting Rho, I opted to shoot B150 again. Last time I shot it for 4 hours from my house and it was the biggest processing challenge I've ever faced. I figured it would be pretty good from here - particularly if I expose for 3 hours. Sure enough, I'm extremely happy with this shot and I'm also kindof glad I pulled off of Rho Oph.

Scope: William Optics ZenithStar 66 SD with WO Flat 2 0.8x FR/FF
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G with GoTo
Guiding:  Meade DSI Pro and PHD Guiding
Guide Scope: Vixen ED103S
Camera: Canon EOS 1000D (Modified)
Special Settings: None
ISO: 800
Exposure: 3 hours (18 x 600s)
Processing Software: Acquired in Nebulosity with high dithering, Stacked and DDP in Images Plus, Levels, Curves, Astronomy Tools, Gradient XTerminator and Noise Ninja in Photoshop
Support Files: 40 flats, 40 bias, one dark used as a bad pixel map
See Gallery below for image

Cepheus Wide Field at 50mm
So for this shot, I put on the 50mm Nikon manual focus lens so that I was guaranteed that the focal length wouldn't change. In the image is caught B150 in the middle (roughly) and IC 1396 as well as other dark nebulae and galaxy open cluster pair of NGC 6939 and 6946. 

Scope: Nikon 50mm Manual focus f/1.4 stopped to f/4
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G with GoTo
Guiding:  Meade DSI Pro and PHD Guiding
Guide Scope: Vixen ED103S
Camera: Canon EOS 1000D (Stock/ Un-modified)
Special Settings: None
ISO: 800
Exposure: 3 hours (36 x 300s)
Processing Software: Acquired in Nebulosity with high dithering, Stacked and DDP in Images Plus, Levels, Curves, Astronomy Tools, Gradient XTerminator and Noise Ninja in Photoshop
Support Files: 10 darks, no flats or bias
See Gallery below for image

M101 - Pinwheel Galaxy
Switching scopes from the ZenithStar to the Vixen, I wanted to get 3 hours of M101. I got close. 2 hours 30 minutes into it and the software crashed but I didn't know it.

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: 2 hours 30 minutes (15 x 600s)
Processing Software: Acquired in Nebulosity with high dithering, Stacked and DDP in Images Plus, Levels, Curves, Astronomy Tools, Gradient XTerminator and Noise Ninja in Photoshop
Support Files: 40 flats, 40 bias, one dark used as a bad pixel map
See Gallery below for image

Dark Horse Rho Ophiuchi Wide Field at 50mm
I decided to try and experiment. While shooting an object in the scope, I normally point the wide field camera (50mm or 70-300 zoom) at the same place. This time though, I wanted to shoot the dark horse so I needed the camera pointing to the south while the scope was pointed to the northwest at M101. It worked and by the last frame the tripod leg was just coming into the field of view of the 50mm lens. Woot! Further, since the 50mm is a pretty wide shot, I was able to squeeze Antares/Rho Oph into the shot as well. Sweet! It might just be my favorite shot of the weekend.

Scope: Nikon 50mm Manual focus f/1.4 stopped to f/4
Mount: Orion Sirius EQ-G with GoTo
Guiding:  Meade DSI Pro and PHD Guiding
Guide Scope: Vixen ED103S
Camera: Canon EOS 1000D (Stock/ Un-modified)
Special Settings: None
ISO: 800
Exposure: 3 hours (36 x 300s)
Processing Software: Acquired in Nebulosity with high dithering, Stacked and DDP in Images Plus, Levels, Curves, Astronomy Tools, Gradient XTerminator and Noise Ninja in Photoshop
Support Files: 10 darks, no flats or bias
See Gallery below for image



Image Gallery For This Session
01 RhoOphiuchi 3h 02 RhoOphiuchi 180mm 2h15m
03 B150 3h 04 Cepheus WF 3h30m
05 M101 2h 30m 06 DarkHorse 50mm 3h
   

01-RhoOphiuchi-3h.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 06/16/10 at 04:59am Neil Heacock wrote:
Thanks so much guys. I'm really pleased with these. Some of the best I've taken.

The outing was really fun in spite of forgetting stuff and being so needy!

Jim, we'll talk and get together one of these clear dark nights. So far, the faintest I've seen from my house is 13.2 mag. There are loads of objects that are brighter then that which means there's a lot to look at from my house - but M13 in the binoviewer is simply spectacular.

Barry, I just looked at my other M101 shots and this one is definitely the best. I don't know if you can see them on your screen, but there are 3 *very* faint arms extending out to the top left. This is the first time I've picked them up at all. I'm very encouraged to see those.

Greg, so true! I appreciate your comments.

Jeff, that new camera sounds like fun. One of these days I'm going to get a proper CCD... one of these days...

Miquel, you are always a source of encouragement. Thanks for the kind words.

-Neil


On 06/15/10 at 10:05pm Miquel wrote:
WOW! WOW! WOW! I'm totally drooling...man...those are fantastic shots. I love them. Definetely, you are a maestro. So much candy for the eye and the brain. I don't have a favorite shot, they are all fanstastic. I love the...ooops... I already said that but you deserve it. Also, I love the story of everybody sharing little pieces of equipment to make everything work. Very nice job Neil!!! :)

On 06/15/10 at 09:16pm Jeff W wrote:
Holy crap Neil, those are amazing. Ive been in scope withdrawal. Not had many chances to get the gear out and when I did there were either other things going on or I just wasnt motivated enough.

We came into a little money, some inheritance, anyway, ive got a Meade DSI Pro 2 on order, the monochrome one with the filter set. Will be 3 to 4 weeks at least. Guess im going to have to learn lrgb imaging.

Anyway, I havent fallen off the earth, just taking a break from things.

Clear skies

On 06/15/10 at 02:17pm Greg wrote:
Great shots, Neil. I'll have to shoot Rho (when I get over my obsession with red nebulae!)

I think it's possible to have the opposite experience: Everything seems to go right, but you end up with nothing to show for it. I'd rather have your experience and propose that it suggests good character as well as good luck.


On 06/15/10 at 11:09am Barry wrote:
Nice shots, Neil. Yes, I think this is your best M101. The dark site and the extra exposure time makes all the difference in picking up that faint outer arm (up, in this photo). Excellent processing as well....natural, subtle color, etc. Good job!

On 06/15/10 at 11:00am Jim McPherson wrote:
Hey Neil,

Great entry. These types of events--where everything seems to go wrong but somehow work out anyway--tend to be the most memorable.

Your images are, once again, beautiful. The colors and nebulae are spectacular.

We have to get together to observe sometime soon as I'd love a peek through your LightBridge and that bino-viewer.

Jim



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