That's the big question. Over the last couple weeks I have had five clear nights of imaging with the new pier—the pier allows me to keep my astro gear setup semi-permanently. I park the scope at the end of the night, shut everything down, throw the cover over it and cinch it up. Done. (I bought a TeleGizmos 365 Series Cover for 8-10" SCT from OPT several months back, but I'm just starting to use it now). There were three rainy days between these image captures, and a couple nights that dipped below zero (low 20°s F/ -6C). I left the mount and scope set up in the rain, protected by the cover, and with a couple bags of desiccant, the equipment was completely dry. Unlike a tripod, the pier allows me to tighten the cover around the post under all the equipment, holding off any moisture that might rise up from wet grass and ground.
So, how's the pier functioning? Perfectly. My goal was to be able to setup my gear and leave it outside for long periods—maybe weeks, and not have to polar align after the first night. I did run through a polar align the second night because I wanted to see how well it maintained alignment, and it was right on. I have now gone through three more imaging sessions without polar aligning! I simply check the weather, pull off the cover, power up everything, and begin my first sequence of the night. It really has been that simple.
How is the Total RMS when guiding? Very good—what I expected. Depending on seeing and other factors I've been running with .5" to right around 1", which is as good as it gets for my skies and mount. The pier is rock solid. We'll see how four bolted together lengths of treated lumber behave over time, but I am not expecting any movement.
The distance from the reducer/flattener to the sensor is just a hair too far, maybe a millimeter off, so stars are slightly wonky. I'm still playing around with a few equipment details. Other than that, I'm really happy with these imaging runs. Start-up and shut down is so easy. This really is the next best thing to a backyard observatory. And building the walls and roll-off roof of a tiny observatory around the pier might be a next step, who knows? I also have my micro-observatory project still underway, but that only works with a small mount. I'm having an issue right now with the CEM25P, and I have to resolve that before I can get back to the micro project. At the end of the day, what's cooler than having a permanent astro setup in the backyard? Yup, two permanent astro setups in the backyard.
I went with Hydrogen-alpha for last night's run, and targets included with 60 x 240sec subs of IC 405 (Flaming Star Nebula) in Auriga, and 60 x 240sec subs of IC 2177 and NGC 2327 (Seagull Nebula) in Canis Major.
IC 2177, NGC 2327—Seagull Nebula:
Gear notes: SkyWatcher EQ6-R Pro mount, William Optics GT81 Apochromatic Refractor 392mm at f/4.7, ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro monochrome camera, Astronomik 6nm filters, Moonlite focuser, Raspberry Pi 4 4GB / 128GB running INDI/KStars/Ekos
After the earth rotates Orion and Monoceros out of view in the south, I'm only left with a few nebulae. There are a bunch of galaxies though... But with the scope I'm using for large deep sky objects (William Optics GT81 with 392mm focal length), most are too small. M81 (Bode's Galaxy) and M82 (Cigar Galaxy) however, are just large enough to capture. This shot is made up of 30 x 60-second subs in Hydrogen-alpha, Green, and Blue filters that I've mapped to RGB. With the Ha filter you lose some of that broadband Red light, but the trade-off (better IMO) is you capture any large H2 regions in the galaxies. Those are the red and pink chunky bits in Bode's Galaxy and a lot more of that "starburst" core of the Cigar Galaxy—so, basically I'm capturing nebulae in someone else's galaxy, almost 12 million lightyears away from us. Cool. Both of these Messier Objects are in the Constellation Ursa Major (Big Dipper). Gear notes: SkyWatcher EQ6-R Pro mount, William Optics GT81 Apochromatic Refractor 392mm at f/4.7, ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro monochrome camera, Astronomik 6nm filters, Moonlite focuser, Raspberry Pi 4 4GB / 128GB running INDI/KStars/Ekos
From the imaging run last night. The Rosette Nebula (NGC 2237) in the Constellation Monoceros is another deep sky object I typically capture every year--at least once! Trailing Orion across the sky, it's over a 100 light-years across and about 5000 lightyears away from us. 50 x 240 second sub-exposures in Ha. Gear notes: SkyWatcher EQ6-R Pro mount, William Optics GT81 Apochromatic Refractor 392mm at f/4.7, ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro monochrome camera, Astronomik 6nm filters, Moonlite focuser, Raspberry Pi 4 4GB / 128GB running INDI/KStars/Ekos
Rosette Nebula in the Constellation Monoceros (detail). You're looking at about 360 trillion miles of globules and globulettes—all those dark cloudy bits, running from the bottom middle of this frame to the top right. This is a detail view of my last Hydrogen-alpha image of NGC 2237 where interstellar gas and dust around one side of the Rosette Nebula have condensed into strings of dark cloudlets that block the emission from the core group of stars lighting up the broader background. Several of the stars that make up the cluster NGC 2244 are massive super-hot O-type stars, and these produce the stellar winds and intense radiation that have shaped the Rosette Nebula. To give you a sense of the scale here, pick any of the branches in those dark cloudy structures, or even most of the loose globules of condensing hydrogen. Our entire solar system can easily fit within the width of one of these. And I'm not talking about the orbit of Pluto; I'm using the Oort Cloud as the defining boundary, which would make the diameter of our solar system roughly 1.5 lightyears. In other words you can fit about 240 of our solar systems, lined up one after the other, in the same space as this chain of dark clouds. William Optics GT81 @f/4.7 Astronomik 6nm Ha filter, ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro mono camera.
Tuesday night I captured 50 x 4-minute sub-exposures in Hydrogen-alpha for NGC 1499 (California Nebula) and last night I captured 60 x 240 second exposures in Sulfur 2 (SII), combining them here into a color image, with Ha in red, SII in blue, and each shared equally across the green channel of an RGB image. There just isn't any OIII (Oxygen) in the mix for this massive emission nebula in the Constellation Perseus. Gear notes: SkyWatcher EQ6-R Pro mount, William Optics GT81 Apochromatic Refractor 392mm at f/4.7, ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro monochrome camera, Astronomik 6nm filters, Raspberry Pi 4 4GB / 128GB running INDI/KStars/Ekos
Wow, we actually have a pretty decent view of the universe from our backyard. Notes: Nikon D750, Irix 15mm f/2.4, 30-second exposures. That's Ursa Major, the Big Dipper, to the right of the scope, that upside down W in the tree branches is Cassiopeia, and that bright star between them, a little to the left of where the scope is pointing, is Polaris, the North Star.
I have to capture M42, M43, NGC 1977, the Orion, De Mairan's, and Running Man Nebulae at least once a year, and now through December is when the Constellation is high in the sky and still early enough be awake--I captured most of the 52 subs that went into this shot between 11:30 and 2am. This is just one filter's worth. I have to go back and either take OIII and SII or Blue and Green, using this Ha capture for the Red channel in RGB.
Imaging session notes: 52 x 240 second subs + 50 x 10 second subs for the Trapezium, stacked in DSS, processed in PS 2021. SkyWatcher EQ6-R Pro mount, William Optics GT81 Apochromatic Refractor 392mm at f/4.7, ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro monochrome camera, Astronomik 6nm Ha filter, Controller: Raspberry Pi 4 4GB / 128GB running INDI/KStars/Ekos.
The California Nebula (NGC 1499) in the Constellation Perseus is relatively close to us, about 1000 lightyears away in the Orion Arm of our galaxy (Milky Way), and it's roughly a 100 lightyears in length, so what you see here, top to bottom, is about 600 trillion miles of ionized hydrogen. NGC 1499 is a good-sized emission nebula, about 2.5° in length from our view on Earth. To put that into perspective, a full moon is 1/2°, so the California Nebula is about 5 full moons long in the sky.
Imaging session notes: 50 x 240 second subs, stacked in DSS, processed in PS 2021. SkyWatcher EQ6-R Pro mount, William Optics GT81 Apochromatic Refractor 392mm at f/4.7, ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro monochrome camera, Astronomik 6nm Ha filter, Controller: Raspberry Pi 4 4GB / 128GB running INDI/KStars/Ekos.