The Wizard

April 25, 2020 - Reading time: ~1 minute

The Wizard Nebula in Cepheus surrounds the star cluster, NGC7380, discovered by Caroline Herschel in 1787. The Wizard is between 7000 and 8000 lightyears away from us, and the core star forming region is about 100 lightyears across. Notes: Shot from my backyard with a William Optics GT81, iOptron CEM25P EQ mount, Moonlite Focuser, ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro Monochrome Camera, Astronomik 6nm narrowband filters.

The Wizard and the Soul

August 2, 2019 - Reading time: 3 minutes

I captured almost 5.5 hours of OIII and SII data on NGC 7380 (Sh2-142) the Wizard Nebula and star cluster in Cepheus, along with a full set of narrowband frames for IC 1848 the Soul Nebula in Cassiopeia.  I timed things well enough that I captured 20 subs each of Ha, OIII, and SII for the Soul before the earth rotated into early morning. Not a ton of data, but enough to process and see how it looks--not bad, in my opinion. My camera rotation is almost 90º off, almost vertical against the long side of the sensor, but I cropped the nebula to a square so you don't have to see how silly that looks. 

I captured the Ha data for the Wizard Nebula early in July, and now I have enough to process in SHO (Hubble Palette) that's where we map the three bandpasses, sulfur (SII), hydrogen (Ha), and oxygen (OIII) to RGB, Red, Green, Blue to make up a color image. 

Here's NGC 7380, Sharpless 2-142, Wizard Nebula:

IC 1848, the Soul Nebula:

I don't know if I succeeded but I was trying to get more hydrogen green back into the arrangement. Most of the nebula is hydrogen--just going off the signal in the Ha frames compared with the OIII and SII data. The rims of both regions of IC 1848 are thick with sulfur--red and green gets us that golden brown, but I think the processes, filters, actions typical for astro imaging go too far in reducing green in the images, bending it more toward blue. This does have the benefit of bringing out oxygen, which is nowhere near as plentiful as the blues I see in most SHO/Hubble Palette images. That's just what everyone's come to expect from a "Hubble" image. On the other hand this is one of the coolest aspects of the hobby, the ability to go back and re-processes your data, because you have new or improved processing tools or skills, a new set of data, or simply because you want to experiment with color allocation.

I woke up around 3:30 am and went out to check on the night's imaging run. I was in the middle of the sulfur2 frames when I took this shot with the Nikon: the William Optics GT81 APO refractor pointed at Cassiopeia (top left), actually just below it, which is where you will find IC 1848, the Soul Nebula. Just so you are aware, this is all automated--slewing, plate solving, focusing, filter rotation, and image capture. Once I plot and schedule an imaging run, the last place I want to be is near the telescope where the slightest motion in the ground can ruin a good 5-minute exposure. I was just out there to look at the beautiful sky, and take some crappy blurry photos of my astro gear against the starry background.

Pelican Nebula ( IC 5070 and IC 5067)

July 25, 2019 - Reading time: ~1 minute

Another one from my June 8th narrowband imaging run through the constellation Cygnus. The Pelican Nebula ( IC 5070 and IC 5067) in sulfur 2, hydrogen-alpha, oxygen 3, mapped to RGB.

My narrowband imaging rig: William Optics GT81 (81mm aperture, focal length 392mm, f/4.7), Moonlite Focuser, Pegasus Astro Power, and ZWO monochrome cameras and EFW. 

Short nights, narrow bands, works in progress

July 9, 2019 - Reading time: 2 minutes

We probably have less than four hours of seriously dark night this time of year--at my location, coastal New Hampshire. And you have to make do with that. So, last night I spent every minute on hydrogen-alpha frames for three targets, Sh 2-54 (with the star cluster NGC 6604 in the center), NGC 7830 Wizard Nebula, and NGC 281 Pacman Nebula. I went through each of these and shot 30 x 180 second exposures, starting around 10:30 pm, which is still a bit within astronomical twilight.

The nebula Sh2-54 is about 5000 lightyears away in the constellation Serpens. It's part of a long band of nebulosity that extends almost ten degrees through the Eagle Nebula (M16) and Swan/Omega Nebula (M17) below that. NGC 6604 is the cluster of stars above and to the right of the brightest knot of the nebula. Imaging notes: 30 x 180 sec Ha sub stacked in DSS and processed in Photoshop CC. 

NGC 7830 is the star cluster surrounded by the Wizard Nebula, an HII region about 7200 lightyears away in the constellation Cepheus. This is 30 stacked 3 minute exposures, no calibration frames. 

NGC 281, called the Pacman Nebula for obvious reasons is an HII region in Cassiopeia. Pacman has some amazing features including a batch of really distinct Bok Globules, those small dark nebulae full of cosmic dust that may be playpens for newborn stars. William Optics GT81, ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro, Astronomik Ha 6nm filter, 30 stacked 3 minute exposures, no calibration frames. 

NGC 281 Pacman nebula in Ha:

NGC 7380 star cluster surrounded by the "Wizard Nebula" in Ha:

Sh2-54 Nebula and NGC 6604 open star cluster in Ha:

Lion's Mane in Cepheus

July 5, 2019 - Reading time: ~1 minute

Work-in-progress for Sh 2-132 "Lion's Mane" emission nebula on the border between Cepheus and Lacerta, about 10,000 lightyears away, and over 300 lightyears in diameter. This is why Cepheus is such a wonderful constellation. The Lion's Mane is another giant HII region with ionization partially provided by two Wolf-Rayet stars, WR 152 and WR 153, which have blown out the rings you see in the image. I'm in the middle of capturing data for this. This is a fairly dim object--I only have about half the frames I want for Ha and OIII, and I haven't even started SII capture yet. Here's a bi-color Ha+OIII for the subs I've captured so far. William Optics GT81 APO refractor, ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro mono camera, Astronomik filters, iOptron CEM25P mount. 


Rosette Nebula

June 27, 2019 - Reading time: ~1 minute

The Rosette Nebula (NGC 2237 et. al.) from my backyard. 28 x 240 secs Ha, 26 x 240 secs OIII. William Optics GT81 APO refractor, ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro mono camera, Astronomik filters, iOptron CEM25P mount, INDI/Ekos/KStars

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.

Notes: 31 x 240 sec Ha, 33 x 240 sec OIII, 29 x 240 sec SII,  Astronomik Ha, OIII, and SII filters, William Optics GT81 at f/4.7 with WO 0.8x Flat6A II, Moonlite focuser, ZWO ASI120MM OAG, Imaging camera: ZWO ASI1600MM Pro cooled mono 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.


North America Nebula (NGC 7000) and the Pelican Nebula (IC 5070, IC 5067)

June 9, 2019 - Reading time: ~1 minute

I spent most of last night's imaging run, about 5.5 hours, on this two-panel mosaic of NGC 7000, the North America Nebula and IC 5070, IC 5067 the Pelican Nebula. NGC7000 and this whole area is one of those deep sky objects with which you can do amazing things in narrowband or broadband color, and turns out beautifully in RGB, bi-color Ha and OIII, even Hydrogen-alpha by itself. For this shot I went with the Hubble Palette in SHO, mapping SII-Ha-OIII to RGB, Sulfur = Red, Hydrogen = Green, Oxygen = Blue. This is why you see aqua and gold standing out in many of the Hubble images. It also affects star color, and you end up with some shade of purple.

Here's an update with the two-panel mosaic of the North America Nebula (NGC 7000) and Pelican Nebula (IC 5070, IC 5068). I fixed the stars and toned down the whole image