More from Cygnus: Crescent and Tulip Nebulae

June 12, 2019 - Reading time: 2 minutes

The Crescent Nebula, NGC 6888 (top right) is an emission nebula in the constellation Cygnus, about 5000 light-years away. Like most of this region around Cygnus, you can't do anything in hydrogen-alpha or sulfur2 without wading through clouds of the stuff—billowing, eddying, and general nebulousing. It's beautiful. There's a Wolf-Rayet star, WR 136, at the lower left edge of the Crescent Nebula (from this angle), and it's stirring up violent stellar winds and blazing quickly through its life; it's expected to go supernova in a couple hundred thousand years, and it's only a four or five million years old. WR stars are unusual: they're very bright--thousands of times brighter than our sun, and they burn much hotter, thousands of times hotter than almost all other stars. And they have very short lifespans. From Wikipedia: "According to recent estimations, WR 136 is 600,000 times brighter than the Sun, 21 times more massive, and 5.1 times larger. Its surface temperature is around 70,000 kelvins". Notes: Astronomik Ha, OIII, and SII filters, William Optics GT81 at f/4.7, ZWO ASI1600MM Pro cooled mono camera, on an iOptron CEM25P mount.

Sharpless 2-101, the Tulip Nebula (top left) is an emission nebula in Cygnus, about 6,000 light-years away. The microquasar Cygnus X-1 is the bright star just above the top point of the Tulip in this image. Cygnus X-1 is famous for being one of the first suspected blackholes, as well as a famous bet between physicists Stephen Hawking and Kip Thorne over that possibility. Hawking conceded to Thorne in 1990 as evidence for a blackhole mounted. Although the Tulip (Sh 2-101) stands out brightly with oxygen in blue, the whole region around the constellation Cygnus is cloudy with interstellar dust and gas. Notes: Astronomik Ha, OIII, and SII filters, William Optics GT81 at f/4.7, ZWO ASI1600MM Pro cooled mono camera, on an iOptron CEM25P mount.


Eagle Nebula - wide-field view with a side-order of infrared

May 25, 2019 - Reading time: 2 minutes

Here's another one from last night's run, a wide-field view of the Eagle Nebula (M16, NGC6611) in IR-OIII-Ha with Ha luminance. From our perspective Messier 16--Eagle Nebula--sits just north of the Milky Way's dense core of stars, bands of clouds, dust, hydrogen, and other galactic detritus. I wasn't very hopeful with the IR subs, but the Ha subs were beautiful. The OIII frames were about what I expected--not too much but enough to include them. To brighten things up I went back and added the processed Ha stack as a luminance layer. Yes, this may be a spectacularly weird color arrangement, but we're working in false color imaging already, and this doesn't seem that far off from our galaxy's actual core colors--at least in terms of the bands of dust and ionized gases.

Here's the Ha stack:

For comparison (with NGC 6611 above), here's the processed version of the Eagle Nebula (M16) I took last year with a slightly different setup--same William Optics scope + Atik414EX mono CCD camera. This is a bi-color hydrogen-alpha and oxygen3. With this one I think I had my OIII frames mapped to G and B channels, and Ha mapped to the Red channel.

NGC 2174 in the Hubble Palette and Bi-color HO

February 22, 2019 - Reading time: ~1 minute

NGC 2174, the Monkey Head Nebula. I went with the Hubble Palette, SHO, on this one. Exposures: 24 x 120 seconds Ha, 26 x 120 seconds OIII, 24 x 120 seconds SII. Equipment: William Optics GT81 APO refractor, ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro monochrome 16MP camera (unity gain 139/21), Astronomik filters, iOptron CEM25P mount, INDI/Ekos/KStars control software. NGC 2174 is a faint emission nebula located in the constellation Orion, about 6400 light-years away. This was a test of my field setup that I'll taking on the road in a week. I'll have to come back to NGC 2174 with longer exposures--and more of them. And dark frames. I didn't shoot any calibration frames in this run.

Here's my processing of NGC 2174 in Hydrogen-alpha and Oxygen (without the Sulfur frames).

California Nebula - NGC 1499 Bi-color Ha + SII

December 28, 2018 - Reading time: ~1 minute

NGC 1499, California Nebula in bi-color narrowband hydrogen-alpha and sulfur 2. I captured this data on the 25th, but didn't have time to capture oxygen 3 frames with high clouds moving in and the moon rising. Even so, I like the way this turned out with the two bandpasses, almost fluorescent. NGC 1499 is about 1000 lightyears away, and if you haven't guessed, it's called "California Nebula" because if you flip this image 90 degrees counterclockwise it looks like the state. 

Astro Session - November 10, 2018

November 11, 2018 - Reading time: 4 minutes

Soulful Friday--more importantly it was a cloudless Friday on the 10th. I'm going to have to do a mosaic for the whole thing, but for now here's the southern end of IC 1848, the "Soul Nebula" in Ha and OIII (Soul is also identified as Westerhout 5 and Sh 2-199). IC 1848 is in the constellation Cassiopeia, and what you see here is a bit more than half the 100 lightyears in length of the whole nebula--so what is that, something like 588 quadrillion miles from top to bottom? At 6,500 light-years away, that will make a nice four panel mosaic. (Notes: 40 x 240 seconds in Ha, 28 x 600 sec. in OIII. Atik 414EX mono CCD, Astronomik 12nm Ha, OIII filters, William Optics ZS61 + WO Flat F6A f/4.7, iOptron CEM25P EQ mount, Orion OAG + ZWO ASI120MM-Mini guide cam, Stellarmate OS (INDI/KStars/Ekos) running on Raspberry Pi 3b+)

This is the first time I've captured any subs of NGC 2264, the Cone Nebula, about 2600 light-years away (800 Parsecs) in the constellation Monoceros. NGC 2264 includes several identified objects, including the Cone Nebula, Fox Fur Nebula and a massive variable star system, the Christmas Tree Cluster at its core. (Notes: 61 x 300 seconds in Ha, 48 x 300 sec. in OIII. Atik 414EX mono CCD, Astronomik 12nm Ha, OIII filters, William Optics ZS61 + WO Flat F6A f/4.7, CEM25P EQ mount, Orion OAG + ZWO ASI120MM-Mini guide cam, Stellarmate OS (INDI/KStars/Ekos) running on Raspberry Pi 3b+)

Near-Infrared: I also captured 40 frames of M78, a reflection nebula in the constellation Orion. I captured 20 of each in Ha (~656nm) and infrared with the 685nm longpass filter to see what showed up, and was surprised by what I could see in the unstretched subs. There really is a lot going on at the red end of the spectrum--and beyond, and I combined both of them in this shot, divided evenly across RGB (R=Ha, G=50%Ha/50%IR, B=IR). The plan is to come back with a set of color frames and see if I can combine the whole set.

I took some pics of my narrowband setup for this imaging run, before nightfall and in the middle of shooting frames for the Cone Nebula just before Meridian Flip. 

Here's a screenshot of Ekos and KStars running, with the guiding tab opened. It was pretty windy, so an RMS" of 0.58 is great, but overall my guiding has improved since going to an Off-Axis Guider. I'm now using the Orion Thin OAG on both trains--color and narrowband, and the difference is noticeable. It took some time to dial sensor and focus distances in, but results are clear, and I just don't think I'll ever go back to a guide scope.  

Astro Session - November 8, 2018

November 9, 2018 - Reading time: 8 minutes

First shot of the season in the constellation Orion! I set up the AstroTech RC scope (6"/152mm aperture f/9) with my narrowband imaging train, Atik 414EX, ZWO filter wheel with Clear, Ha, OIII, SII & IR685, William Optics 0.8x field flattener/reducer that brings the AT6RC to f/7.2 at 1080mm focal length.  With the Atik's 6.45μ pixels this has my resolution at 1.23 arcseconds per pixel, and a field of view of 0.48° x 0.36°.

Here are some shots of my set up last night, before nightfall, and in the middle of the narrowband run with 600-second exposures. 

The 1000mm+ focal length did get me wonderfully close to the Horsehead Nebula (B33) and the reflection nebula NGC 2023 (bottom left) in the constellation Orion. This is what 46 stacked 600 second hydrogen-alpha frames will get you if you stretch things a bit too much and don't use any calibration frames. That would reduce the noise/graininess somewhat. Anyway, pretty happy with this. (46 x 600 second exposures in Ha, Atik 414EX mono CCD at -10C, Astronomik 12nm Ha filter, AstroTech AT6RC f/9 Ritchey-Chrétien + WO Flat6A f/7.2, iOptron CEM25P EQ mount, Orion OAG + ZWO ASI120MM-Mini guide cam, Stellarmate OS (INDI/KStars/Ekos) running on Raspberry Pi 3b+. Stacked in DSS, processed in Photoshop CC 2019).

I stretched the hell out of this stack of 46 x 600 second subs, mainly to see what the data would show if I went out of my way to bring out the details. I also didn't use dark frames with this--so that's worth a try. The Atik 414EX at -10C or cooler is very clean, though. I usually don't gain a lot with calibration frames, but in this case even a little will improve the noisiness.

I don't use the AT6RC scope that much, mostly because when paired with the cameras I have the resolution is oversampled crap. The Atik is the only one that's right in there at 1.23 arcseconds/pixel, and that's with the 0.8x field flattener/reducer. 

Another point (or set of points) I would like to make is the Astro-Tech 6" f/9 Ritchey-Chrétien is a $400 scope, and I'm pretty impressed with the light and contrast it managed to pull out of the night sky. Some of the credit certainly goes to the Atik CCD, which really is an amazing little camera. The sub-$1000 iOptron CEM25P has no problem with long exposure times. Along with the $129 12nm Astronomik Ha filter, this is a very inexpensive narrowband setup. The point being you don't need to spend a raft-load of cash to start capturing those beautiful HII regions, supernova remnants, and other wonders in the night sky.  

My tips for the iOptron CEM25P--or what I've learned over the last two years: For narrowband, I normally shoot 5, 10 or 20 minute subs depending on the brightness of the target, and the iOptron has no problem. However, there are a few steps I go through in order to get very long exposures from this mount. 1) a solid foundation--solid tripod or better. I don't have a concrete or steel pier, but I do have a treated 4x4 solidly in the ground, and it doesn't move. 2) More counterweights, closer to the center of balance. I try to use more weight, and keep them as close to the top of the counterweight shaft as possible. I know it's tempting to use fewer weights farther out, but trust me on this--and don't worry about the bushings that carry all the weight. They can handle far more than you'll ever bolt on. It's minor, but it does smooth out tiny movements the scope has to make--so improved guiding. 3) Balance, balance, balance. You want a perfectly balanced scope and equipment. Don't bias weight to one side; don't get your gear "close enough". If you'll permit me to anthropomorphize the CEM25P for a moment, you want the mount and motors to think they're moving nothing at all, and for that you'll need to balance the shit out of your payload. I use small 100g camera gimbal weights to even the load--balance is that important. (

Okay, I also took some subs of the Triangulum Galaxy core (M33) while setting up and getting into focus--testing out shooting in 2x2 binning, which reduces the resolution by half. 

Astro Session: October 12, 2018

October 12, 2018 - Reading time: ~1 minute

Wide-field of the Wizard Nebula surrounding the open star cluster NGC 7380 in the constellation Cepheus, about 7,200 lightyears aways from us. I reduced the saturation so that you hardly notice the differences in the RGB mix, mostly R and B because this is a bi-color set with Ha and OIII. I think I prefer this reduced color or even a completely desaturated (grayscale) version. There are so many stars in this image and I'm not a fan of the off-color red and blue stars you get with narrowband. Also in this shot, I particular like the dark band at the top left. These "dark fog" or dark nebula regions consist of interstellar gas and dust that absorb the light from surrounding stars, and the constellation Cepheus has some famous dark cloudy areas, B 174, 150, and several around IC 1396. (16 x 300 second exposures in Ha and OIII, Atik 414EX mono CCD, Astronomik 12nm Ha, OIII filters, William Optics ZS61 + WO Flat F6A f/4.7, CEM25P EQ mount, Orion OAG + ZWO ASI120MM-Mini guide cam, Stellarmate OS (INDI/KStars/Ekos) running on Raspberry Pi 3b+). 

Astro Session: July 18, 2018

July 18, 2018 - Reading time: ~1 minute

Here's NGC 281 ("Pacman Nebula") in the Hubble Palette (SII, Ha, OIII -> RGB). NGC 281 is an emission nebula, about 9,200 lightyears away in the constellation Cassiopeia. I re-stacked and reprocessed some hydrogen-alpha, oxygen-3, and sulphur-2 image data I shot several months ago, and I'm happier with this latest result than I was then. It's called the Pacman Nebula because it sort of looks like the classic video game character. (6 x 1200 second exposures in Ha, 5 x 1200 sec OIII & SII with 16 dark frames, Atik 414EX mono CCD, Astronomik 12nm Ha, OIII, SII, William Optics GT81, CEM25P EQ mount, WO 50mm guidescope with ZWO ASI120S-MM guide cam, INDI/KStars/Ekos observatory control).