Category Archives: Astrophotos

East Veil Nebula

I switched the observatory camera from the original CCD SBIG ST-10XME to my modified CMOS Canon 500D/T1i. Replacing the observatory camera was more work, of course, than envisioned. The Canon sensor is set back compared to the SBIG’s and there was not enough range for the TEC-140 telescope to get focused. Jeff Dickerman, the super helpful president at Optec, made me a new adapter to go with another receiver that shortened the camera train enough to get easily into focus. I then rediscovered (I had forgotten but found my own online forum entry!) that CCDAutoPIlot had to turn off the feature on TheSkyX that would record both RAW and FITS files and records only the FITS files. It turns out the DeepSkyStacker can work with FITS and convert the RAW files that create them in color. But I had over time come up with a dark library in RAW frames for the Canon so I could temperature match with the light frames. I don’t have such with FITS files. But if I want to use the observatory automation of CCDAutoPilot, which I do, I will need a new FITS library at a range of temperatures to do it right.

Then I had trouble with setting exposure with CCDAutoPilot on the Canon images. I’m telling a lot of technical info here, but it took a lot of wrestling directly with complex technology to get through all the unforeseen obstacles. The Canon CMOS sensor uses a 2X2 Bayer matrix to record color. Two cells of the matrix are green, the other two are red and blue each. CCD’s, like my SBIG camera,have individual sensors not organized in a matrix. In something to do with the CMOS Bayer matrix, CCDAutoPilot only sees one cell as exposed, and it was saturated, while the other three were only about one-fifth exposed. It averages them in a meaningless way and it seems hit or miss if CCDAutoPilot can get the exposure close enough to get flats. Sometimes it gives up, sometime it settles on something. Focusing is tough too, as is plate solving. CCDAutoPilot did not have a solution as you can see on their forum here, but John Smith, the creator of the software, encouraged me to investigate on my own further. You are getting in pretty deep when the software designer basically gives up and says good luck.

Weirdly, after all that, I did come up with the image below.

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Trifid Nebula, Star Factory

The Trifid Nebula is one of the most popular objects to be viewed and photographed by amateurs like me, but if you are in mid North America you have to be quick, it isn’t up for long. In mid-August it doesn’t get fully dark where my observatory is in Torrey, Utah until 10 PM. At that time the nebula is due south, right at the meridian, and at its highest point in the sky for the night at a low 26 degrees altitude (90 degrees is straight up). Boulder Mountain is south of Torrey and it is as dark as it gets in that direction, so it is a good place and time to photograph the object. But by 1 AM the Trifid is getting below 20 degrees altitude, getting close to the mountain and running into too much atmospheric interference near the horizon. The trick is to get some moonless, cloudless nights at these few critical hours. Mid-August worked out this year.

Deep-sky object, Trifid Nebula
Trifid Nebula in Sagittarius, HαRGB, August 2020
Sky plot
Just above the “teapot,” the field radius of the attached image = 0.5 degrees

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IC 4601 in Scorpius

I’m working on weaning myself as much as practical from social media. I have previously written how the largest corporations today, primarily all internet related, are dangerously sucking all the oxygen out of the economy. I don’t want to be a part of that travesty if I can help it.

I have been posting my astrophotos on Facebook where I get by far the most response. But I want to lay lower playing that game. I have ad blockers and add-ins that keep me from being tracked, but I want to spend less and less actual time there. I also use DuckDuckGo to search instead of Google, have dropped my Amazon Prime, and the only Apple product I use is an old iPad to stream Spotify. It’s a start.

As part of that start I want to post my astrophotos here instead of Facebook. I may not get as much attention. I hope to be grown up enough to be fine with that.

Here is one of my latest images. You can click on it to go to my astrophoto gallery on this same website to see a larger version and to find brief technical information about how it was acquired.

Backyard observatory deep space object photo

IC 4601 in Scorpius, June and July 2020

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Veil Nebula (NGC 6960)

The Veil Nebula, sometimes called “The Witch’s Broom” is in the constellation Cygnus. Some 5,000 years ago, give or take, a star went supernova and this image is a piece of the remnant. The full circle of the remnant takes up about a three degree circle in the sky equaling a space about six times the diameter of the moon. With instruction manuals, trial and error and plenty of help from experts on amateur forums, I point the observatory telescope to a pre-identified place using sophisticated, automated equipment and capture the sub images. William Herschel, on the other hand, made his own telescope and found the object for the first time in 1784. No digital cameras were involved.

Veil Nebula

Veil Nebula (NGC 6960), June 29, 2017

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Hair in the air

I wonder if she had bangs. The constellation Coma Bernices is named in honor of Berenices II of Egypt, who was the queen of Ptolemy III (246 – 221 BC). The queen vowed to sacrifice her acclaimed amber tresses in the temple of Aphrodite at Zephyrium following the king’s safe return from battle. After her golden locks mysteriously disappeared from the temple, the court astronomer Conon apparently made peace by convincing the royal couple that the lost sacrifice had been transformed by the gods and made into an eternal constellation. Perhaps kings then, like president trumps today, required constant creative handling. Trump might think it handy to have a blowdryer galaxy all his own for his special headdress.

M100 & NGC 4312 Galaxies

M100 & NGC 4312, Torrey 5/27/2017

M100 and NGC 4312 are members of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies in constellation Coma Berenices, 50 million light years from earth. M100, also known as the Blowdryer Galaxy, is the upper galaxy seen face on, NGC 4312 is a spiral galaxy seen edge on. There are several other small dwarf galaxies also in the image. Continue reading

Fireworks galaxy (NGC 6946)

 

Fireworks-DSS2-PS1-web

Fireworks galaxy, NGC 6946, in the constellations Cepheus and Cygnus. Torrey, 6/4/2016 (revised color)

It is new moon early June and the nights are dark but short. Summer solstice is only two weeks off and it does not get dark enough for observing until 10:40 PM. It will start getting light again in just five and half hours. Dark enough for observing is known as astronomical twilight and technically starts when the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon or almost two hours after sunset. Before astronomical twilight comes nautical twilight, defined by the old mariners as when the horizon at sea is still barely discernible. Continue reading

Black Eye Galaxy (M64)

Black Eye Galaxy (M64)

Black Eye Galaxy (M64)

I am able to get close enough to the heavens to take photos of deep sky objects from my driveway on the Colorado Plateau because I am standing on the shoulders of giants. This subtle jewel of a galaxy first picked up it’s nick name in February 1787 when William Herschel wrote in his observing notes, “A very remarkable object, mE. [much elongated], about 12′ long, 4′ or 5′ broad, contains one lucid spot like a star with a small black arch under it, so that it gives one the idea of what is called a black eye, arising from fighting.” Continue reading

The Whale and the Hockey Stick

“Star gazing is 50 percent vision and 50 percent imagination,” says my favorite astronomer, Chet Raymo. And maybe another 50 percent knowledge. The more you know, the more you can see. On a clear dark night in Salt Lake City, or Chicago, or Boston you can maybe see 50 stars, probably more like 25. The sky is washed out by light pollution and it is the sky most of us see if ever we look up. But we evolved under the stars of pollution free skies and on a clear dark night high on the Colorado Plateau there are still thousands of stars visible. Here the light of the Milky Way can be enough to cast a shadow. All the same, the stars we can see are a tiny fraction of the 100 billion in the galaxy. On nights like these the scene above seems to reach down to shake my sleeping natural soul awake and beg my mind to look up and see, to stand and see with imagination.

Whale and Hocky Stick (Crowbar) Galaxies, Torrey 3-9-2016

Whale and Hockey Stick galaxies, Torrey 3-9-2016

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Heart and Soul

My friend and Torrey House author Brooke Williams has been thinking about awe lately. He is intrigued by how we seem to disappear in the wonder of the wild moment. He thinks that in a moment of awe we shift “our focus from our individual selves to the great and potentially powerful collective.”  Brooke is intrigued by what psychology professor at University of California, Berkeley, Dachel Kelmet, in his book, Born to Be Good, calls the “pro-social” behavior that is often the result of experiencing awe. Brooke and I have been comparing notes about consciousness and our awareness of beauty, connection and self-awareness of our awareness, what Brooke calls “Homo sapiens sapiens” (they who know they know), for quite a while. You can see his blog on awe here.

I tell Brooke I have a growing sense that consciousness is probably an element in the Cosmos, something like time and space are. It is consciousness in quantum mechanics that “collapses the probability wave function” and brings a mere thought into material being. I am not the only one who supposes that consciousness is the elemental source. If it is, when we are in the most beautiful and wild places our whole evolved being is called to greater attention. Our realization of something beautiful is telling us we are looking at truth and AWE is the feeling of the connection to that universal consciousness, the source of all being. I think about this often and wonder. Starry nights like we had lately are a good thinking and experiencing catalyst.

Heart and Soul nebulae in Cassiopeia

Heart and Soul nebulae in Cassiopeia

And just in case I need a hint from above, there it is . Two fantastic nebulae about 7500 light years away in Cassiopeia are called the Heart and the Soul. Here is my cropped capture of a two by two mosaic. The conditions on the first night out were exquisite. It was cool, utterly clear, moonless and calm. It felt like I should be able to reach up and manipulate the constellations or scoop of a handful of stars to pocket and give to my kids. Kristen would think that was a cool wedding present. The second night had high clouds, not all that thin, but the photons made it to my telescope anyway.

These nebula are emission nebula where the red areas are glowing gas with dark dust bands interspersed. The gas glows from the radiation of the clusters of hot stars in the nebulae centers. In fact, in the center of the Heart nebula are, according to Wikipedia, two stars locked in orbit, accounting for the unique shape of the Nebula. The stars are doomed to fuse together and explode into a supernova in 700 million years. According to researchers, this discovery, reported in Nature in February 2015, was the first confirmation that giant white dwarf binaries exist, and the first record of a system with such a fate.

I posted more on the technical aspects of this capture, including the full un-cropped mosaic, on my astrobin site here.