High-gain Test - Gathering Narrowband Data

September 26, 2019 - Reading time: 3 minutes

Autumn is officially here, and this is the season of the Pleiades, Orion, the nebulae in the constellations of Perseus, Monoceros, Auriga, Taurus, and Gemini. Now, M42 isn't in view until 2am, so that had to be the last in the sequence. And, yes, you can tell I was just dorking around with filters with our galactic neighbor, Andromeda M31, in near IR and hydrogen-alpha. I know M31 is a decent Ha target, and you can see some wonderful images in Ha-RGB out there in the world, but I had never tried shooting 2-minute subs of M31 with a 685nm long pass filter.  

I ran the ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro mono CMOS camera at a gain of 200 and offset of 65 in the following shots. And no calibration frames for any of these. Higher gain reduces dynamic range, but you're also reducing read noise and gaining (ha ha) resolution and the ability to shoot shorter exposures--and more of them, and if you take enough subs, this should balance things out.  There are miles of discussion on gain and offset in astro-imaging, but I was recently reading Jon Rista's comments in an astrobin forum thread and that got me to test out higher gain/offset. 

M31 in Near-IR + Ha

I moved over to Cassiopeia and shot 40 x 4-minute subs each of IC 1805 (Heart Nebula) and IC 1848 (Soul Nebula) in Hydrogen-alpha. Here's the stitched together pair:

Still waiting for Orion to get above 30°, I spent some time on NGC 1499 "California Nebula"

And Orion is back in the sky! Sure, you have to get up at 3 in the freakin' morning to see it with your own eyes. Or you can program your astro imaging system to stay up all night and take pictures without you. Here's M42, Orion Nebula, along with M43, De Mairan's Nebula--that's the spherical-looking cloud formation with the big bite taken out of it. And above that, shining brightly, Sh2-279 Running Man Nebula--although the famous running man shape isn't clear in hydrogen alpha. I'm not sure how well it comes out with oxygen III and sulfur II, but I'll come back another night to capture the OIII and SII frames. Notes: 31 x 240 second exposures in Ha + 20x 10 second subs just for the Trapezium (the super bright core of the Orion Nebula--so bright I have to take separate short exposure shots and merge it back in processing). William Optics GT81 APO refractor, ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro mono camera, Astronomik 6nm Ha filter.


Very wide-angle view of the sky

August 31, 2019 - Reading time: ~1 minute

Here's my first night out with the Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone (the heavier, more durable, aluminum and magnesium alloy housing version of this lens).  And I'm impressed with just a few shots, wide-open aperture, and single 15 - 20 second exposures--no tripod, although I rested the Nikon on the deck railing.


Astro Session with the new ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro

December 26, 2018 - Reading time: ~1 minute

Wide-field of M42, the Orion Nebula--and it's amazing how cloudy and dusty the whole area is. I spent half the night adjusting things--focus distance, off-axis guider spacing, but managed to capture M42 and the surrounding region (two sets of subs: 21 x 300 second, and 20 x 20 second for the bright Nebula core and Trapezium). Calibration frames: 20 Dark and 20 Bias, No flat frames. I shot these with the ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro monochrome camera, Astronomik 12nm Ha filter, William Optics ZS61 APO, iOptron CEM25P mount.

I also managed to capture a dozen frames of the California Nebula:


Orion Mosaic

December 11, 2018 - Reading time: ~1 minute

I've had the Orion Atlas EQ-G, William Optics GT81, and ZWO ASI071MC camera set up for the last three days. It's been cold--down around -10C in the early morning hours. With a new moon that's slowly waxing, but still mostly absent from the night sky, I've been using the color camera to capture some amazing targets, including this three panel mosaic of the Orion Nebula (M42), Running Man Nebula, Horsehead Nebula (Barnard 33), Flame Nebula (NGC 2024), and the three giant stars in Orion's Belt, Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka. This is why the Orion Constellation is arguably the sky's most impressive constellation.  NOTES: 31 x 300 second exposures for each, with an additional set of 10 and 30 second exposures for the Trapezium in M42--that really bright triangular region. There's just so much fiery star forming action at the heart of the Orion Nebula that any exposure over a dozen seconds is going to blow out the whole area.

Here's my setup for the last few nights:

Orion at the southern Meridian:


Astro Session - April 5, 2018

April 5, 2018 - Reading time: ~1 minute

As the days become longer, as we swing around our sun, headed for aphelion in July (greatest distance from the sun), and our planet's 23.5 degree tilt is angled toward its rays, we'll be seeing less of the constellation Orion--in normal viewing hours. I took this 30 second exposure last night around 9PM, and Orion is already moving below the trees to the southwest. That's the Pleiades (M45) at the far right. I also happened to capture the headlights and brakelights of Alice's car as she's driving past to our driveway, almost home after picking up Christopher from work. 


Astro Session - March 11, 2018

March 11, 2018 - Reading time: 2 minutes

First test shots of M42, the Orion Nebula, M43 De Mairan’s Nebula, Sh2-279 Running Man with the ZWO ASI071MC cooled CMOS camera. No calibration frames, just 17 stacked 300 second light frames, with the sensor cooled to -10C. Last night was not very clear, scattered clouds, fairly poor seeing. I can't wait to test things out with some really clear and dark skies. I definitely need cal frames, because things ended up pretty noisy after processing. I will say, so far, with only a few hours of use, I'm impressed with this ZWO color camera. That doesn't surprise me. ZWO makes a solid camera--I've been using an ASI120MM-S for several years, as my guide camera. It's fast--USB 3, with a small but very sensitive monochrome sensor, and it just always works under any OS on a variety of hardware--Windows, Linux, MacOS. That's what I meant--it shouldn't surprise me that the ASI071MC (quite a bit more expensive and a far more capable camera) just works well. What did surprise me is how much this camera can pick up, bringing out some very faint nebulous areas. I know it has a very wide/high dynamic range. That's one of the things I was looking for in an OSC camera. For this M42 test I used a Gain of 0 and Offset of 8, the minimum recommended by ZWO for long exposure times and HDR (high dynamic range). We'll see how things go on the next clear night. I'd like to test out unity gain settings, and LRN (Lowest read noise) setting, which is high gain, high offset, used for short exposures. (William Optics GT-81 + 0.8x Field Flattener/Reducer f/4.7, ZWO ASI071MC cooled CMOS camera, iOptron CEM25P EQ mount, 30mm mini guide scope with ZWO ASI120MM-S guide cam, INDI/KStars/Ekos observatory control. Location: Stratham, New Hampshire, US. Bortle ~4). Astrobin 


Astro Session - January 10, 2018

January 10, 2018 - Reading time: ~1 minute

The temps are nice--downright warm compared to what we've been hit with over the last couple weeks. The clouds are the problem. They gave me two hours of clear skies, and I spent them taking a batch of five minute exposures of M42, the Orion Nebula. (Atik414Ex mono CCD, William Optics GT-81 + 0.8x Field Flattener/Reducer f/4.7, iOptron CEM25P EQ mount, Astronomik 12nm Ha filter, WO 50mm guidescope with ZWO ASI120S-MM guide cam, INDI/KStars/Ekos observatory control).


Astro Setup - September 23, 2017

September 23, 2017 - Reading time: ~1 minute

What the backyard looked like last night. Sort of an astronomy campout under the stars. It was a pretty clear night. I hope you had clear skies wherever you were last night! (Nikon D3100, 18mm, 13 sec. exp. ISO 1600 - I used my son's camera for these shots because mine was hooked up with the AstroTech scope) 

Here's one from last night's astro shoot: M42 - Orion Nebula (Yes, my favorite diffuse nebula). This time of year Orion doesn't start appearing over the horizon until the early morning hours. My Exposures started around 2am and ended around 5am. (Nikon D750, AstroTech AT6RC, William Optics field flattener/ 0.8x reducer; 162 light frames stacked in DSS, 140 dark frames). 

And another shot from last Saturday night--of the Orion Nebula (M42) and De Mairan's Nebula (M43). This was the view from my other scope, William Optics GT-81 with the Atik 414EX monochrome CCD camera--which is just going to pick up a lot more of that good old ionized interstellar hydrogen.