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February, 2012:

Leo Triplet

Image Location and Date: OCA dark sky site in Anza, CA on February 17th, 2012
Object: Leo Triplet. M65, M66 and NGC3628
Mount: Orion Atlas EQ-G
Imaging scope: Omni XLT 150mm Newtonian
Imaging FL: 750mm
Imaging focal ratio: f5
Imaging camera: Canon 1100D (Rebel T3) Unmodified
Lights: 28x300sec @ ISO 1600
Calibration: Darks, flats
Guide scope: Vixen 8×50mm finder with Orion StarShoot Auto Guider
Other details: guiding with PHD, captured with APT, stacked in Deep Sky Stacker and processed in PixInsight + Photoshop for final color adjustment.

Progress

Every winter I turn my scope to the Orion Nebula and it’s proved to be a good way of tracking my progress through the years.

The first entry is rather embarrassing. It was taken on Christmas Eve 2009. I had driven out to Tierra Del Sol by myself for a night of imaging since I didn’t have anything better to do for Christmas. It was cold, clear and dark. I was the only person there and I arrived after sundown so it was quite spooky trying to get my bearings. It was only my third month as a member of SDAA so I was still trying to get the hang of things. Tons of weird noises out in that desert.

I was having issues with my camera control software for my Nikon D60 so I ended up having to take each exposure manually. Since I was using a CG-4 equatorial mount without autoguiding I was limited to 30 second exposures so I had to sit there in the cold pressing the remote release, waiting, pressing the release… waiting… on and on until I decided to pack up. Wind, periodic error and high clouds limited me to around 65 usable frames totaling about 32 minutes in exposure time. Pretty bad considering it was a two hour drive to get there and I was facing another two hours to drive back.

Got home, loaded the images in Deep Sky Stacker and I was blown away.

My second attempt I came better prepared. I had a new mount (Celestron CG5) and an autoguider which enabled me to go up to 5 minutes if conditions were perfect. This particular night (February 5th 2011) was a bit breezy so I had to limit the exposures to 3 minutes. Still much longer than my previous limit of 30 seconds with the CG4. And I still had to throw away about half my frames leaving me with around one hour worth of data. A new Baader Multi Purpose Coma Corrector helped with star elongation on the edges. Fantastic!

Flash forward about a year and I’ve got a new mount (Orion Atlas EQ-G) that allows me to get as long an exposure as I feel like it. Sky conditions at the dark sites I go to limit me to around 10 minutes or so per subframe, a fantastic improvement over what the CG5 was able to do. I’ve got a new camera as well, a Canon 350D modified with a Baader IR filter. My setup is nearly automatic now… I just have to polar align, build my sky model, focus and start shooting. I’ll usually set my alarm when it comes to meridian flip time so I can be certain everything is still lined up… I don’t quite trust auto-meridian flip yet. I got about three hours of data, some in 10 minute exposures with the 60 second and five minute exposures thrown in for the HDR combination. I was wary of blowing out the core as was the case in my first two attempts.

In addition to new equipment I purchased Pixinsight, a fantastic bit of software for processing astronomical images. Learning my way around that has been a bit daunting but as I progress it becomes clear how sophisticated it is compared with other photo editing software such as Photoshop.

I like this image yet I recognize I still have a very long way to go. First order of business is to purchase a newer camera. The 350D was a great camera in 2006 when it was released but there have been tremendous improvements in sensor technology since then. The noise is very hard to control on the 350d and the amp glow in the corners is a nightmare, even with properly applied dark frames. Currently looking at a 450D for it’s low noise and liveview feature.

The image could also use more exposure time, as well as a blend with some hydrogen-alpha data. I could do a better job of taking flat frames and a better job of framing this. But until next year, this is it.

M42 – Great Orion Nebula

Image Location and Date: OCA dark sky site in Anza, CA on January 17th, 2012
Object: Great Orion Nebula
Mount: Orion Atlas EQ-G
Imaging scope: Omni XLT 150mm Newtonian
Imaging FL: 750mm
Imaging focal ratio: f5
Imaging camera: Modified Canon 350D
Lights: 6 x 600sec, 15 x 300sec, 20 x 60sec @ ISO 800 (155 Minutes)
Calibration: Darks
Guide scope: Vixen 8×50mm finder with Orion StarShoot Auto Guider
Other details: guiding with PHD, captured with APT, stacked in Deep Sky Stacker and processed in PixInsight + Photoshop for final color adjustment.

Cone Nebula Widefield in HaRGB

Image Location and Date: OCA dark sky site in Anza, CA on January 28th, 2012
Object: Cone Nebula Region
Mount: Orion Atlas EQ-G
Imaging scope: Tair-3c
Imaging FL: 300mm
Imaging focal ratio: RGB-f8 Ha-f4.5
Imaging camera: Modified Canon 350D
Lights: 7 x 1200sec, 13 x 600sec
Calibration: Darks + Flats
Guide scope: Vixen 8×50mm finder with Orion StarShoot Auto Guider
Other details: guiding with PHD, captured with APT, stacked in Deep Sky Stacker and processed in PixInsight + Photoshop for final color adjustment.