April 2, 2021

I'm waiting on some telescope upgrades to arrive to see if it's feasible to convert my Celestron Omni XLT 102 telescope on a CG4 mount to a computer controlled (possibly guided) rig. This would allow me to track objects and take longer exposures, without as much star trailing!

April 11, 2021

My upgrade arrived and it appears to be working. I'm not yet sure how well, because it has been cloudy and raining so far this weekend. Allegedly there will be a break in the clouds around 4am. We'll see...

April 19, 2021

Saturday night the clouds began to dissipate. The time to properly field test my mount upgrade had arrived! I setup everything in the side yard under partly cloudy Bortle 6 skies. It was very humid out as well. All that moisture in the air, coupled with the light pollution, made it difficult to see anything dimmer than a Magnitude 9. Difficult, but not impossible! I polar aligned my mount, and then aimed my telescope at Sirius. Using Starry Night 8 that came with my telescope, I synchronized my telescope to the bright star in my telescope's field of view. From there, I was able to find another nearby star in the software and direct the telescope to aim there. With my 25mm eyepiece, the target was always in the field of view. I would make minor adjustments with the mount's motor controls to center the new object, then synchronize the telescope again. Wash, rinse, repeat. This star hopping process allowed me to aim the telescope at objects in the sky that I could not see with the unaided eye. I will note that the further the next target was, the further from center it would be in the eyepiece. This seems to be because the telescope goes to the place in the sky where the object was when it received the order. The longer it takes to get there, the more Earth's rotation has moved it in the sky. The key is centering and synching it each time you go to a new object. Now, with that being said...

What dim objects did I observe? All of them. I wish. I first went to this part of the sky. It's loaded with visible galaxies. As I mentioned before, I had trouble seeing most of them, being that they're Magnitude 9 or dimmer. I did manage to take a picture of one galaxy, with it's core visible. In my excitement, I completely forgot to notate which galaxy it was! I did some checking on Messier objects with a magnitude I would've been able to see. Judging by the star patterns, I think it very well might be M81, Bode's Galaxy. Check out this edited picture and this edited screenshot to see if I'm right. I also was able to view some globular clusters. They were in the Magnitude 8 range and the details were astounding. I'm extremely eager to go to a darker sky and see more details of these galaxies and globular clusters! I'll keep ya posted. ;)

April 21, 2021

Monday evening the skies were clear enough for some observing. I took the liberty of taking some pictures of what I was able to see. This time I kept track of what I was doing! Check out the results below. I even tried a 10 second exposure on M81 that was photobombed by a satellite. I suppose that's something to consider when the time comes to take longer exposures! Here's a video of the micro go-to upgrade of my mount in action. This is interesting to me because Polaris was not visible yet in the night sky. I aimed my mount in the general direction Polaris usually is, and the results were not terrible! Slewing to Pollux and then Castor and back to the Moon were not a problem with the low magnification eyepice and lack of polar alignment. What you see is me manually bringing the target closer to center after the mount stops. From there I synchronize on the target and hop to the next one. At the end, I'm using the digital zoom on the phone.

Speaking of longer exposures, my next mount upgrade will attempt to allow me to autoguide my telescope. This involves attaching a small guide scope with a camera on it. Guiding software will allow me to select a star in that camera's view, and follow it. It will send commands to the mount to maintain the star in the same field of view. Meanwhile, whatever I'm looking at through the main telescope should also appear to remain stationary. This will allow for longer exposures in photos. In order not to go crazy, I'm going to try this out using my phone at first for the 10 second (max I can do) exposure pictures. If the guiding works, I will get a proper dedicated astronomy camera. The guide camera I'm planning on getting likely will be taking some pictures as well. I mean, why not... right?

April 27, 2021

Throughout the week, the forecast for Sunday changed from clear, to mostly clear, to partly cloudy, then back to clear. To say I was eager to get out and give my kit a good workout would be an understatement! It ended up being a nice night for observing. The temperature was colder than I anticipated. I ended up going to a relative's house in a Bortle 4 sky area. I did the same thing I did before while waiting for Polaris to become visible; I gazed at the moon. This time with my moon filter that I seldom use. It dims the bright satellite enough to not totally wreck your night vision. There was a hiccup with the new equipment, causing me to struggle fiding objects I wanted to at times. The add-on to the mount connects wirelessly to my laptop. That wireless network kept dropping. I suspected the cold, or perhaps interference, but last night it did the same thing at my place. I have parts arriving that will allow the telescope to communicate with my laptop over a wired connection. We'll see how that goes.

The very first object on my list I wanted to view gave me problems. It was this nearby black hole recently confirmed. I was able to find a bright star nearby to synch the scope with, and then told it to go to the star in question that is locked in orbit with the black hole. In hindsight, I probably should have done that at a higher magnification, because the stars I saw in the eyepiece did not match what I expected. Beyond that frustrating beginning, I was able to find nearly all the objects on my list, and some that weren't! The last thing I wanted to see was the ISS. I made a plan to do so. This wasn't an equipment failure though, it turns out I just didn't have a view of the horizon at that low angle. Bummer. You'll see star trailing in these recent pictures. This is because I had to use a longer exposure to capture some objects. I blame the bright moon. Shame on you moon! I had a special guest come into view while checking out M4. Some of these pictures of stars were taken because they have a nebula around them that I intend to revisit in the future. Others were taken because they're bright, well known stars.

Going back to the new parts coming for my telescope. I ordered another kit to allow the telescope to be guided automatically. This is cleverly called auto-guiding. What it means is, I will have another small scope (ordered) attached to my telescope, and it will have a camera attached to it (ordered and received). This camera will be connected to my computer, where software (probably PHD2) will allow me to select a star from the field of view. This allows the software to track the star, making it a guide star, and send commands to the telescope mount to maintain the star in the same position in the guide camera's field of view (FOV).

May 9, 2021

Saturday night had an hour or so of clear skies once darkness arrived. I finally was able to test out my guide camera, attached to my guide scope. I thought about trying it out on my main scope, but that would've been a tad more of a challenge. The max resolution (1280x960) of this camera means I'd have a small field of view, and with the F10 focal ratio of my scope, I would be very zoomed in on objects. Also, given that I had limited time until the clouds rolled in, I went for the easiest test. When I aimed at the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51), I tried various exposure times and gain setting to get a quick, one shot image that showed some structure in the galaxy. The end result was a 5s exposure in 8bit mono with gain set at 75.

I had also wanted to observe the NASA Wallops Island rocket launch last night, but it was scrubbed due to weather. It seems the skies bother us all sometimes!

June 1, 2021

There hadn't been a clear night on a weekend for a long time. Saturday night was partly cloudy for a few hours, so I went out to test the auto-guiding setup. I didn't go prepared. When PHD2 was doing it's calibration, I didn't understand what was going on. When it said, "star lost," I would become irritated and stop the process, then start it over again. After several goes at this I gave up. I switched to the other test, which was checking out the stability of the WiFi on the go-to unit now that I made some changes to it's configuration. Those changed were made thanks to the email response from Astro Gadget's support team. They provided the web interface login information for the SimpleDreamEQ3 unit so I could make changes to the WiFi. It has 802.11b,g available, but for some r reason was trying to use 802.11n. Changing to 802.11g apparently has resolved that issue. I tried looking at some objects in the sky but the seeing was conditions were not good.

Last night was much better. My buddy invited me over to his place where the sky is a good bit darker. This time I let the calibration process in PHD2 continue. It went on much further than before, but would fail at the last step before guiding. I realized what probably was going on. The GuideDreamST4 kit from Astro-Gadget is a little quirky. The SimpleDreamEQ3 kit it connects to has an East and West setting for observing each side of the meridian. However, when the GuideDreamST4 is connected, it seems to swap those. I was looking East and had the kit set to East. When I set it to West, PHD2 was successful in achieving guiding. Yay! But wait, there's more! It guided for a few seconds then trouble arrived. My RA motor seems to have an issue. It might be the motor. It also might be the SimpleDreamEQ3 unit that controls it. The issue it has is that the RA continues to step in one direction. Often this can be stopped by nudging the RA control in the opposite direction. That probably isn't helpful though in auto-guiding. This issue is going to require further investigation, and perhaps another contact with the Astro Gadget support team.

After that process, I decided to switch back to the go-to and look at some things in the Eastern skies. That part of the sky is obscured at my home where I set up my telescope. I captured a few images through the guide scope with the guide camera. Two were of objects I'd already viewed, and two were new to me. The last one was purely accidental. While my friend was imaging M13, we took some views through my 25x70 Celestron Skymaster binoculars. We had some trouble finding M13, but once we did it was easily discernible. M4 was much easier to find. It was a bit dimmer, but still hard to miss. My buddy now wants his own pair of binoculars. I don't blame him! Later on, I had the scope synched to Antares and then slewed over to M4. That went well. I went back to Antares and tried to slew up to Rho Ophiuchi (ρ Ophiuchi) that I previously imaged with my cell phone. When the scope stopped its slewing, what I saw on the camera was not what I expected. I looked at the Starry Night software and zoomed into the area, and still could not recognize what exactly I was looking at. The clouds were beginning to roll in so we called it a night, but not before I took two images of that strange region.

This afternoon I browsed over to Astrometry to run some plate solving on them. Surprisingly, it solved it quickly. Here is the result. I went back into Starry Night and looked at that area. NGC 6114 doesn't show up when you zoom in. When I was trying to figure out where this was, I thought that M4 might be what was in the bottom right, but according to Starry Night's view (when zoomed in) there was no cluster in the upper left. I zoomed out and saw it, faintly. In that view I compared the RA/DEC of where I ended up to where I wanted to go. It appears the DEC motor did not move when the go-to attempt to Rho Ophiuchi was initiated. I've had this problem before and normally a quick nudge on the DEC hand control gets it moving. If the clouds weren't rolling in, I would've plate solved the image on the spot, and figured out what went wrong then corrected it. On the subject of plate solving, on Astrometry's successful results page there's a link on the bottom right to view your uploaded image in the World Wide Telescope. It has a nice overlay with a slider that you can use to compare what you captured with the much more detailed sky survey images. Here's what mine looked like before zooming in.

During the hiatus of updates, I decided not to go with the ASI294MC Pro camera. I had explored some topics on the Cloudy Nights' forum and saw that it has a few quirks that require experience in post processing to resolve, experience that I do not have. In boredom, I checked the forum's classified section after making that choice. Much to my surprise, there was an telescope mount for sale that I was looking for, the Celestron AVX. Normally this is priced at $899, I see that Celestron just raised it to $999. It's hardly in stock anywhere (like many astronomy related items). It was being sold used for $750! While contacting the seller, I stumbled upon a Canon Rebel T7i body for sale. This immediately jumped out because it's one of the entry level DSLR's recommended by Trevor from AstroBackyard. It seemed reasonably priced at $550 so I jumped on it. I ordered the necessary attachments (I hope) and intervalometer right away. Those have already arrived, the camera should arrive Friday. It's nearly time for some high resolution color photos through the telescope!

June 7, 2021

I had one night off this week and it turned out to be a beauty! Kelby (Mr East Exposures) found a nearby Bortle 3 site. It had a couple nuances, but otherwise was completely worth it. My Canon Rebel T7i was collected from the Post Office earlier that morning. I'd never used a DSLR camera before, and did not prepare myself at all on how to use this one. What more could I need to know than shutter speed, ISO settings, and file format to save to? It turns out there is a lot more to know. Go figure! The good news is the T-Ring and 1.25" adapter I had purchased did work, as did the intervalometer. The not so good news is that I completely brainfarted on what ISO actually does. For some peculiar reason, I had this notion that higher ISO meant higher light gathering. I knew that was dependent on aperture and exposure time, yet set my ISO to 12800 for most of the pictures I did take. Let's just say that I was lucky to get remotely usable images.

Now, on to the telescope mount problems. I did not get around to testing/tweaking the mount the week before this. My DEC axis had a lot of slop when I set up that night. I tightened the four bolts that need to be loosened in order for the drive motor to work. That fixed the slop, but the drive motor wouldn't move the DEC axis. Whoops! I slightly loosened the bolts again and all was well. This time when attempting to autoguide with PHD2 it lasted longer, but gave me a different error. It seems that the kit and PHD2 cannot agree on how to make the fine tune adjustments. When the mount is set to track in RA only, the adjustments it makes are enough to prevent star trails at F10 for a 20s exposure. My guess then, is a communication problem with ASCOM settings or something within PHD2 I need to adjust.

There's another issue I've run into again: electricity. The power supply I have is plenty sufficient enough to power the telescope's drives for hours on end. My laptop, however, drains after about three hours of use. That night I plugged it into the power supply, and in about an hour, it drained that as well. Bummer. That ended the photography for me that night. However, I did bring my binoculars and the sky was brilliantly showcasing stars and deep sky objects to the naked eye.

At this Bortle 3 site we observed the Milky Way with our naked eye, from horizon to horizon. The Lagoon Nebula was visible without averted vision as well. I should mention that Kelby ended up purchasing the same Celestron Skymaster 25x70 binos that I have. With those, we saw the Lagoon and Trifid nebula in the same field of view. When I went back to look at them again, I found the M22 (globular cluster) and M25 (open cluster) slightly to the left of what I was looking for. However, I had no idea where I was in the sky, so I kept on going 'up' and saw two more fuzzy irregular spots in the sky. Kelby and I came to the conclusion that these were M17 (Swan Nebula) and M16 (Eagle Nebula). I also found NGC 6231 (open cluster) in Scorpius just above the trees on top of the mountain where we were. There was another bright object between there and the Lagoon Nebula. It looked like it might have been a nebula with lots of stars. Kelby thought it was NGC 6334 (Cat's Paw Nebula). It was more condensed than the open clusters M6 and M7 in the area. He might be right. (Edit: I now believe it was M6 after all, after seeing it in another photograph.) I'll revisit that again with my telescope for sure. Looking through the binoculars at the Milky Way above us was mind boggling. The sheer amount of stars that became visible was overwhelming and made it easy to get lost in the sky. Kelby and I pondered how much more intense that view will be at a Bortle 2 location. Hopefully we'll find out next month at Cherry Springs State Park!

Regarding the few images I was able to save, they've been added below. There were no calibration frames to speak of, just stacked exposures of ludicrous settings. Vega and M4 were stacked using Deep Sky Stacker and processed in GIMP. I started a 45 day free trial of PixInsight today. I used that to process Rho Ophiuchi. Kelby shared some of his stacked data with me, and with some actual research into what I was doing, I was able to nearly duplicate his results from Photoshop. For a novice, it was quite a shock at how easy that was for me. There is hope after all!

June 13, 2021

Last night was supposed to be about 20-30% cloud cover. You be the judge. I sat out there for nearly three hours until the clouds broke enough to polar align my telescope mount. Then it was another hour until the sky became clear enough to aim the telescope at to have another go at this autoguiding. It did not go well at all. The guiding software was over-correcting in DEC. When I looked at the logs, it said my polar alignment was off significantly. This flabbergasted me! I'd been doing that alignment for quite a while now and haven't had much trouble with stars trailing while tracking in RA only. I fiddled around with some settings and nothing worked. The clear section of sky was being invaded by more clouds at this point. I figured I would take some longer exposures of some clear spots to check later if there are star trails. Indeed, there were. When I packed everything up and came inside, I dismantled the motorized upgrade to the mount. It was futile, a lost cause, to try and autoguide this mount. My temper was flaring!

A few hours later I remembered another thing I could do without the motors. Then while out for breakfast with my father, I decided to yet again further investigate this upgrade kit. I discovered something strange, but it was irrelevant to the guiding process. The +/- RA/DEC buttons on the SimpleDreamEQ3 unit do not work properly when in guiding mode. I opened up the ASCOM Utility and I was able to properly move in each direction. It's worth noting that in guiding mode, RA will pause to let the sky catch up instead of reversing. Then I realized that the micro-goto function still worked, and that would still be of use. I begrudgingly reattached the motors to the mount. I then started investigating the polar axis finder that I use to polar align. This came with my mount and I just assumed it was like plug-n-play. Wrong! This accessory also needed to be aligned to the mount, before aligning to the the celestial north pole. Not only that, but I sort of didn't attach it properly. It technically still would work how I had it, after aligning it, but it looks really goofy that way. Tomorrow I will align the polar axis finder with the mount, and wait again for clear skies on my off days for another round of tests.

The night wasn't a total loss though. I captured an amazing video of a shooting star!

June 28, 2021

Last night the sky was mostly clear above my small patch of yard. I had to force myself to focus on getting autoguiding working instead of trying to take pictures of things. The polar alignment was more accurate after the adjustments I made to the alignment scope. I also found a handy app for my phone that shows me where exactly Polaris should be around the North Celestial Pole (NCP). This is a lot easier than reading the weird etchings of constellations on the reticle that my scope has. I also tweaked the DEC worm gears on the mount to remove the backlash and also allow the motors to operate the axis. That was a huge help! When I calibrated to begin guiding, it completed the task much faster than before. I also used the in-app suggestions to make settings corrections to allow for more accurate guiding. Once that was all working and stabilized, it was time for a test.

I figured, why not aim at the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) again? It was somewhat high in the sky and I had about an hour and a half before my view of it was obstructed. I settled on taking 60 second exposures at ISO 800. I got 50 of those in, and tried 10 more at ISO 1600. The 10 really didn't change things much. I processed the data with and without them, and the difference was unnoticeable. If I had taken 50 of each, there likely would've been an obvious difference. Now, the guiding wasn't perfect. There was one thing I meant to do but opted out. That was a polar drift alignment, to further check/test the accuracy of my polar alignment. As it turns out, I was closer than I had been, but still far enough off to degrade the guiding. Without any tracking or guiding, I cannot take even a one second exposure without star trails. With the one minute exposures and 'almost close enough' guiding, my stars were a little egg shaped. This also took away from the sharpness of the galaxy structure. Next time I will be sure to do the polar drift alignment. If time and weather permits, I will try two different methods of imaging as well. I will increase the exposure time and keep the ISO at 800 for one set. For another, I will increase the ISO and decrease the exposure time, probably to around 30 seconds. Overall, I'd like to collect the same total amount of time each way and compare results. The image I ended up with wasn't great, but it's the most detailed (and colorful!) image I've obtained so far. Check it out in the image section!

Any minute now, UPS will be delivering some new astronomy gear to me. Also, have you enjoyed watching Jupiter and Saturn escort the moon across the sky lately? I know I have! Until next time...

July 6, 2021

The trip to Cherry Springs State Park was canceled due to cloudy skies in the forecast. In the meantime, Saturday and Sunday night were somewhat clear out so I got to play with my new astronomy gear at home. The additions to the family are the SkyGuider Pro mount and (don't laugh) the AstroMaster 80AZS telescope with it's alt-azimuth mount and tripod. I was looking around for a star tracking camera mount that would attach to my camera's tripod and allow me to take wide field sky photos at long exposures. That's when I came across the SkyGuider Pro. I saw this package would do all that and was also capable of supporting a small telescope. I've seen several people, Kelby included, using small refractors for deep sky astrophotography. This was interesting, but I didn't have a small refractor! It turned out that the AstroMaster 80AZS was small enough to fit, was in stock, and came with a sturdy tripod itself. After I convinced myself it was worth the risk, I pulled the trigger and bought them both. The SkyGuider Pro wouldn't mount as-is to the AstroMaster 80AZS tripod. The bolt that came with it was too short and too big. I setup everything on my camera tripod, and with the camera on the mount it worked well. When I set it up with the telescope though, it was slightly exceeding the tripod's capacity. I figured as much, but at least the mount could handle it. A quick trip to Lowe's and less than a dollar later, I had a bolt the right size to mount the SkyGuider Pro to the sturdier AstroMaster 80AZS tripod. Everything seemed in place, I just needed clear skies to test it out again.

Saturday night was mostly clear, so I took out the new rig to play. It's nice being able to carry the tripod, mount, telescope, and camera all in one trip out the door! I had to wait a little bit for some high clouds to get away from Polaris. Once I was aligned, I decided to aim for a nebula, The Witch's Broom nebula to be exact. This was practically straight up. It took a little patience to find it, and I didn't have it framed very well. There are no slow motion controls for DEC or RA on this mount. Everything is done by loosening things up and swiveling the telescope/camera around to where you want to aim it. I was happy to see a faint ribbon of blue in my first exposure, as I was completely unaware if this was even possible to capture without filters. I captured more data on this target than any previous one. There were fast moving low clouds that caused some frames to be discarded. Also, my camera had reached the IMG_9999.CR2 for it's raw data files and created a new folder. I never looked in there when I went to transfer the data, half asleep, after coming inside. I processed what I had anyway and came up with a mediocre result. After about three or four runs through processing, each time starting from scratch, I finally settled on the heavily cropped version you'll find on the Images page.

The next night was a lot clearer, but also it was the 4th of July. I polar aligned ASAP with no problems. Yet when I took my first images, the neighborhood fireworks were causing flashes in the sky that were interfering with my exposures. I was aiming at the globular cluster M3. It was already setting, and by the time the celebrations subsided, it was low on the horizon. I captured enough data to get a reasonable image before it entered the city glow. I think the next addition to the family will be a light pollution filter! After M3 was in the glow zone, I began looking around for other things to image in the sky. In my Bortle 6 patch of grass, I have a lot of obstructions. This limits me to mostly aiming southwest to northwest. The other rest of the sky is mostly blocked by my house, my neighbor's house, and the tree between them. The tree does block the light from the street, giving me somewhat of a shadow to set up in. I couldn't find any deep sky objects to aim at. But hey, Jupiter and Saturn were about to rise above my back porch!

I went and got my planetary camera and laptop. For whatever reason, I could not find either planet in my field of view using the AstroMaster 80AZS and the NexImage 5. This was more of a curiosity anyway. I don't think imaging these planets with an f5 telescope is ideal in any way. It was time to put the little scope inside and bring out the big guy. (I can call it the big guy, because it's the biggest telescope I own!) This time I had the SimpleDreamEQ3 kit on the mount, compared to the last time when I was tracking planets with the slow motion hand controls. It was easy getting the targets into the FOV. The kit automatically tracks in sidereal, not entirely accurate but close enough for this purpose. The planets actually were nearly stationary in the FOV. That was a joy to see! I decided to try using the 2x Barlow lens with the camera since I didn't have to worry about tracking by hand. It zoomed in as expected, and they were still being tracked well enough to not need to slew the telescope every 10 seconds when using a low resolution. There were some significant differences though in how sharp I was able to get the data using the Barlow lens. I had some data of Saturn without it, but not Jupiter. My Saturn image was heads and shoulders better than my previous attempt. While the Jupiter images is a significant improvement as well, it was not as much as the Saturn result. It turns out there is a rule of thumb 5x rule involved. You take your focal ration (f10 in my case) and divide by 5. Your planetary imaging device's pixel size should be close to that. The NexImage5 has a pixel size of 2.2µm, which multiplied by five brings me very close to my f10. Interestingly, my DSLR with my 2x Barlow might work in the big scope. I might have a crack at that in the morning.

There are perhaps better settings and configurations in iCap that I can use to get better data. That is something I am going to look into. Apparently, I had done this before and found someone else's saved configurations for Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, already saved in a documents folder. I suppose it's time to refresh my memory and get ready for another go at these two planets! Also, there is quite a bit of field curvature in the AstroMaster 80AZS. I expected there to be some, as I've read that many 'fast' telescopes have this issue. This is a low end telescope for beginners or just a quick grab-n-go for travel. I wasn't quite sure how capable it would be for imaging, or if it even would work at all! Right now I can deal with it by keeping my objects in the center and cropping it down as much as reasonable. I will say that I've been checking out field flatteners for this f5 telescope though... I remember being quite surprised that the Omni XLT 102 had no curvature in my images. This might actually be because of how the image circle is hitting the sensor on the DSLR. Right now I'm using a 1.25" adapter to connect it to the telescope. I think some of that adapter is actually blocking light to the sensor. It's currently not bothering me, but eventually I might try a 2" adapter and see what that does. For now, it's just another area to crop out.

This all means there are more images on the Image page for you to view! One of them is just a reprocessed result of already acquired data.

September 6, 2021

It's been two months since the last update here. In that two months, I've only been outside two whole nights to image anything! This is mostly due to my work schedule, and partly due to clouds. Yes, those darned clouds! I managed to get lucky with a clear night off work for Saturn's opposition. I did not get lucky imaging Saturn, despite using the lucky imaging technique. I'm not sure what went wrong. But my data from that night did not produce an image close enough in quality to my previous 'best' Saturn image to justify keeping it. I did get some better Jupiter data though. I also got some other things using a new piece of equipment!

Ok, it's not a fancy addition, but it's a useful one! I snagged an 85mm f/2 lens from the Cloudy Nights classified section. I setup my DSLR that night with the new lens and took some pictures of the North American nebula. While those exposures were being taken, I was surfing the sky with my binoculars. Suddenly I realized the Andromeda Galaxy was within view! I'd had a couple hours already on the nebula, so it made perfect sense to switch to imaging M31. I was able to get it into the frame on the first try. It only took two or three other tests to center it, then the imaging began. Unfortunately, then the moon also began to rise. It was only about 24% illuminated. What made it a problem was the humidity. It really caused a glow in the sky, and that was creeping into the Andromeda Galaxy region I was photographing. Dew was beginning to accumulate everywhere as well, and there I was without a dew heater. I wasn't familiar with this lens and did not have it set properly to do the nebula imaging that I wanted, possibly even interfered with Andromeda as well.

A couple days later, Kelby and I found ourselves at Cherry Springs State park. The view was amazing! We could see the Milky Way from horizon to horizon. Our binoculars got a lot of use that night. I took my first ever Milky Way photo that night. After that, I tried my luck with the Rho Ophiuchi Cloud Complex. Nearly the entire sky was clear, except some clouds to the south. Those darned clouds! They limited my time on that targe to 18 minutes. Meh. After that, I took aim at the Double Cluster facing north, and framed it to capture the Heart and Soul nebulae. When I was satisfied with my time on that target, Pleiades had risen. I took some time on that target before calling it a night. There were some Perseid meteors to watch, and they were quite spectacular. Also, that pesky dew was everywhere again. At least this time Kelby had a dew heater for me to borrow. Once again, my camera settings were not as ideal as I could have had them. I'm really not happy at all with the Pleiades result I ended up with. So for now, that data is on the shelf.

A couple weeks ago there was a game changing delivery to my front porch. My iOptron GEM28 with iPolar and 1.75" LiteRoc tripod arrived! I had the weekend off and it arrived Saturday morning. As the urban legend goes, such deliveries are typically accompanied with clouds. Those darned clouds!!!! The following week had some clear skies, but I was at work. Thankfully, it gets dark enough for me to test out some things before going to work. It took a little bit to get the iPolar alignment figured out that first night. Once I was polar aligned, I went to the one star alignment. Much to my disappointment, the telescope was waaaaaaay off. I had no time to deal with this nonsense! I plugged the hand controller into my laptop. I manually aimed the telescope at Arcturus. Then I told Stellarium to synch my telescope to the coordinates of Arcturus. From there, I used Stellarium to direct the telescope to M3. Finally, I opened up PHD2 and ran a calibration. The GEM28 calibrated quickly and began guiding. It was going so very smooth that I nearly called off work to continue to play with my new mount!

The next morning I investigated the problem with the go-to. Apparently, someone entered the latitude in the longitude setting, and the longitude in the latitude setting. I wonder who could've done that... That night was clear again so outside I went. I decided to record my polar alignment. Check it out!

When that was done I did some go-to tests. I was using a 10mm eyepiece and everything I went to after my one star alignment was spot on. Once again I had to pack up and go to work. I sometimes kick myself for working nightshift and having this hobby. But in the winter months I will have more time to image before going to work. It also means there is no problem at all for me to stay up all night on the rare clear weekends to image something. Tonight is forecast to be quite clear. It's also a new moon. I'm also off work. It looks like I might have a near perfect night to image with my new mount for the first time!

September 9, 2021

Monday night out with my new mount had it's ups and downs. How dare I expect everything to just work. Polar aligning with iPolar was a breeze. I had set the proper longitude and latitude for the new location, and actually set them in the correct spots! I noticed right away that the time was off a few minutes. That seems a little weird, because there is a battery in the hand controller that's supposed to keep that stuff going. I went to do a simple one star alignment, as I had last done at home when I had the go-to working, and it was way off again. This was a theme from time to time throughout the night. I had to sync to target several times. I double checked the polar alignment and it was still as it was. Perhaps what I should have done is reset all alignments before starting to align that night. All was not lost though...

I had planned on imaging two targets that night. I know that if I stayed on one target all night, there was a better chance of having a higher quality image. However, I also have a DSLR with one battery that only lasts about 2.5-3hrs. I figured I would shoot the first target, and then charge the battery. While it was charging, do some visual observations. When it was charged, setup and get on the second target. I was going to shoot the Helix Nebula first, then catch M81 and M82 after they passed the meridian and began rising in the sky again. However, I saw that the Helix Nebula was kind of low on the horizon as well, but in a little more of the city glow. I was skeptical that my DSLR could get a suitable image in those conditions, and I passed. Instead, I went right to Bode's and the Cigar Galaxy. They were actually lower on the horizon, but in a darker area. The live view exposures looked promising so I let it run.

As fate would have it, my battery began flashing red just about when the target was at the meridian. I'd had nearly 2hrs of data, so I wasn't peeved. I put the battery on the charger and began some visual stuff. This would be a good time to mention that Kelby was also there at this dark site, and had his new equipment out and running. He stayed on target and imaged the Helix Nebula. After a little bit of observing, I noticed that the globular cluster (M15) that I was trying to view was very, very dim. Dimmer than it should be. Upon inspection, it became clear that my telescope lens had been overcome by dew. Yes, I'm a noob and did not have a dew heater! Kelby had two spares, and we got them on my scope and guide scope. After the dew was gone, some clouds rolled in. They were not supposed to be there! Those darned clouds! Kelby packed up and headed home, since he had work in the morning. I continued shooting darks and started packing up. Half way through the darks, the clear sky returned. I was going to try and image NGC 1333 (The Embryo Nebula). That's one I haven't seen imaged frequently. I managed to get a few exposures of it between clouds. I'm sort of glad I didn't try imaging it. From what I was actually able to capture, I don't think I would have been able to get much detail without a lot more exposure time than I had available. The image of M81 & M82 is in the gallery. It's much better quality than the M51 image I had taken on the CG-4 mount.

It rained all night last night. It's supposed to be clear tonight though. I probably will setup again briefly before work and test my adjustments. This weekend looks promising as well. I am trying to pull some strings so I don't have to work overtime this weekend. In closing I will add a detail that I forgot in the previous update. While Kelby and I were out in the field at Cherry Springs, we'd occasionally hear footsteps nearby. It was very dark there, and even after your eyes adjust to the darkness, it's difficult to see very far in front of you. The second time I heard the footsteps, I walked a little bit closer towards them and began shining my red light at the sound to see who/what was there. It was a fox! The bugger was standing there looking at me as if to say, "Do you mind?!" We locked eyes for about five seconds before it continued on its way.

October 24, 2021

Between weather and work, I haven't had many nights to get much observing done. I had some issues with walking noise on my last image. I tracked it down to the way I had my guide scope mounted. I sorted that out and went out for a night to image M33, the Triangulum Galaxy. It was rising out of the city glow, and I got about two hours of data on it before my camera found itself too close to the tripod legs. My long telescope isn't ideal for looking straight up... I was curious how much detail I'd be able to eek out of this target. I understood it to be a tricky one, despite it's large size. I did manage enough detail to see a nice bit of structure. The chromatic aberration was terrible though. My achromatic refractor isn't meant for imaging at all, and this highlighted that for sure. The field drift issue did get fixed with the new mounting solution for the guide scope.

There was another someone clear night that I had an opportunity to aim to the sky. The seeing conditions were quite poor though. I tried to do some lunar surface imaging, but it just didn't work out as well as I hoped. It did give me some practice and experience in the process of it all though. However, when I went out on another night to give it another go, I discovered my new neighbors had installed a motion activated light on their second story back deck. This pesky light activated when I walked into the only dark spot in my side yard, and it washed it completely out with bright LED light. I've yet to encounter my neighbors (they are remodeling and haven't moved in). Maybe they can adjust the light or perhaps even disable it... Wishful thinking! Because of that, the weather, and my work schedule, my gear has mostly been inside. Speaking of gear...

I have some new stuff on the way. I say on the way, but they're all backordered... I've ordered an ASIAIR Plus, an Apertura 6" f/4 Imaging Newtonian reflector telescope, and an Apertura Coma Corrector for the new telescope. I'd been going back and forth between an Apochromatic refractor or a reflector for my next telescope. I had concerns with how to manage the dew on the reflector. With the refractor, I could use my current heater bands. I spoke with some owners of the same reflector that I purchased, and they showed me their solutions to dew. One actually lives relatively close to me. That gave me the confidence to go with the Apertura 6" Imaging Newtonian. It's a faster focal ratio than the refractors I was looking at, has more aperture, and costs significantly less. I believe this will allow me to get more accomplished in the little amount of time I have available for imaging.

December 31, 2021

The long awaited final update of the year has arrived. My deepest apologies to those who have been anticipating exciting content to cap off the year. Let's start off with some equipment news. The ASIair Plus arrived this week. I honeslty expected my telescope to arrive before this did. That was a pleasant surprise, however the telescope was more of a priority. My next two purchases will be (in theory) a dedicated astronomy camera and a better planetary camera.

Now for the imaging updates. These will be introduced in chronological order, the dates escape my memory though.I finally accomplished something I'd been wanting to do for many months: I captured an hours worth of data on Jupiter and turned it into a rotation animation! Due to my scope's low quality, there's a bit of a purple haze to it. Either way, it was a fun project and I look forward to doing it again with better optics. Next up was a test of my Astronomik CLS filter for my DSLR. I had trouble in the past getting the color corrected in post editing with this filter. It really limits the red spectrum of light, and causes quite a blue tinted raw image. I aimed it at Sadr and captured some quick data using just my 85mm lens. The result was a success! I didn't have a swamped field of stars or very much chromatic aberration. Not long after that, I was testing multi-star guiding in PHD2. It was much easier than expected, so I decided to capture some data on M92, a globular cluster. Overall, it wasn't a huge improvement in guiding though. I used my 85mm lens again to take a nice wide field image of the Orion area. The result was quite a pleasant surprise considering the short amount of time I spent on it! Soon after there was a full moon and a mostly clear night. This time I used the mono guide camera to do some lunar imaging. It went much better than my last attempt. Although the images can be a little pixelated when you zoom in. It's a cheaper camera so perhaps that's why. When I was finished with that, I hooked up the DSLR to the big scope and aimed it at the Great Orion Nebula (M42). I took a few short unguided exposures. I wasn't expecting it to fit in my field of view. However, it fit rather nicely. I am eager to make a proper attempt at this soon! You can find these new images in the image section.

February 7, 2022

There have been some shocking developments! The telescope I had ordered hadn't had an update on the lead time since I ordered it. I decided to look around the interwebs for similar telescopes, you know, just in case one happened to be in stock somewhere. Behold! This GSO 6" F4 Imaging Newtonian was in stock and nearly identical. It is $100 more, in stock, and maybe even slightly better quality. I had to pull the trigger on it. While I had been waiting for my other scope and coma corrector, I recalled the corrector was in stock at one point. I called High Point Scientific and my memory was correct. They had my corrector and were, like many of us, waiting for the telescope. I canceled the telescope order and my corrector ought to ship soon. The GSO 6" F4 also should be shipping this week. I'm pumped! I have already retired the 4" achromat Omni XLT 102 into it's original box. No more yard cannon swinging around trying to smack into the tripod during meridian flips!

In the meantime, Kelby and I did venture into the frozen darkness Saturday night to do some imaging. The temperature was already below freezing when we set up our rigs. It dipped down to 18�F before we called it a night. This was sooner than I had hoped, but the cold was becoming unbearable out at the location we were at. My ASI Air Plus got it's first use. This went so much smoother than I expected! I'll be making a video of it in use the next time I go out. It's lovely to have something just work as intended with no surprises. I started the night aiming at the Great Orion Nebula. I wasn't paying attention and my mount began a meridian flip. I had to shut down to stop that, or it would have ran my scope into the tripod legs. I didn't get a lot of data on M42, but there was enough to work with. After that, I revisted M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy. That was my first guided image, and I wanted to see how much improvement the new mount would yield. I'm happy with the result. My next target was the Coma Cluster, or Abell 1656. I'd been waiting for this target to become available. I could've used more time on it for sure, but the cold was not kind to my camera batteries. The second battery I was using died and that was my sign to call it a night. I had another battery to use, but the cold was too much. My tablet was shutting down due to the low temperatures. I felt like shutting down as well! That means there's three new images to check out in the image section. See ya next time!

March 21, 2022

Obviously, I've trimmed down the website a bit. Some interesting things have taken place. My new telescope is fantastic and frustrating at the same time. I've had some major/minor struggles with collimation. This required purchasing two more tools/accessories: a Telecat XLS sight tube and a Howie Glatter laser collimator. I had originally purchased cheaper, similar tools but they were 1.25" and were less precise. I'm currently having issues with proper back focus on the coma corrector. While dealing with that, I picked up a used Baader UHC-S 1.25" Nebula Filter from the Cloudy Nights classified section. I liked it so much I also purchased a new Astronomik 2" UHC filter. I also snagged two new cameras! One for planetary imaging, an ASI 224 MC and a dedicated astrophotography camera, an ASI 183MC Pro. Here is an image with the new scope, using the Rebel T7i and Astronomik CLS clip in filter, not using the coma corrector. Here is an image taken with the ASI 183MC Pro using the coma corrector and the Baader UHC filter. You'll notice far less noise with the new camera. It's also a smaller sensor with smaller pixels, which helps with a sharper image. I'm not sure if the coma is less on the second image due to it being a smaller sensor or if it's due to the coma corrector. I'm still working out the back focus distance on that issue.

This is what my setup looks like without the coma corrector in place. The camera sticks out a bit further using the corrector. I think this is almost complete, just some minor tweaks here and there.

April 12, 2022

Ok, I've done it again. I purchased more gear. The first was the Baader Semi-APO filter. This was for my Omni XLT 102 achromatic refractor. It's purpose is to reduce (or eliminate!) the blue halos of chromatic aberration on stars. Imaging with that long f/10 refractor was where I started, and I really didn't want to give it up. If this worked, I'd have a nice option to image smaller objects. Check the image section for test results on that! The second thing I bought was a new guide scope, the iOptron iGuider. This little guide scope attaches to the side of my mount, and has a shorter focal length. This should be a better option when using the shorter focal length GSO 6" Newtonian I have. I had another telescope on my 'wish list' at High Point Scientific. It was in stock, but became back ordered recently. I didn't think much of it, because I wasn't ready to buy it yet. That is, until I received a bonus at work. With money burning a hole in my pocket, I found out that it was in stock, flattner as well, at Agena Astro! I purchased this William Optics Z61II as well as the Flat61A field flattener William Optics makes for it. They also have a 0.8x reducer/flattener combo for it. However, as the focal length is already quite short, I didn't feel the need for it. Since the focal length was short, I was actually able to get the spacing and focus right before going outside, all thanks to this guide. There's a test image there to download that I loaded up on my laptop and focused my scope/camera at from down the hall. If only I had a long enough hallway to do this with the GSO 6" Newtonian... After weeks of clouds, there was a clear night just a few days after getting these fun new toys, so check the image section! Here's what the newest telescope looks like set up in my small patch of urban grass. You can also see how the iGuider is attached.

WO Z61 + GEM28 + ASIAIR Plus

April 14, 2022

It was nearly a full moon, which made finding anything to image during a clear night was going to be a pain. I took the reflector out for some testing, again. Once again, I would get close to a good collimation and coma free field, and then I hit a brick wall. Thankfully, there seems to be a kind person at a local astronomy club who is going to help me out this week. I came back in and got the little Z61 and went out to image the Owl Nebula and Surfboard Galaxy. They were about as far away in the sky as I could get from the moon. Check out the image page to see what result I got!

May 1, 2022

That kind person at a local astronomy club helped me tremendously. As I suspected, it was one small thing I wasn't doing quite right. After helping me out, he invited me into their club meeting. It was quite interesting. I most likely will join soon! After the meeting, the sky was clear enough for a star test. The reflector passed, it was certainly collimated! I stuck in the coma corrector, and bam! The problems were still there. After all this time, I have decided my Apertura coma corrector is defective. I purchased a Baader Mark III MPCC, which arrived just in time for a clear, moonless night!

Don't go to the image section yet! I had some clear nights to test some other things in the meantime. I compared my long refractor to my reflector on the Needle Galaxy. I put together a YouTube video to share this test, check it out:

Ok, back to the clear, moonless night. I revisted some old targets, and my DSLR was back in action! I was using it with my William Optics Z61 and SkyGuider Pro mount. Unfortunately for me, this meant I had to find my target manually, and then attempt to frame it. This took about 20 minutes in and of itself! In the process, I bumped the tripod a little bit, slightly moving it out of polar alignment. That left me with star trails starting to show up in test images at 60 seconds. To combat this, I took 30 second exposures. Normally I'd use ISO 800. For this I was using ISO 12,800. I wasn't sure it would work. After all, take a gander at what a single exposure looks like! I went for broke and took 300 of those. It nealry filled my SD card in the camera, and it took a long time to stack. So go check out the image secion, and be sure to scroll slowly looking for the new image indicator.

May 14, 2022

Apparently there was a recently discovered supernova that I could've imaged on my last night out. No worries, after a few weeks the clouds passed... I managed to get about 5hrs of data on it and it turned out better than I expected. There were several clear nights in a row, but the moon was out being annoying. I decided to go for a wide field shot of Messier 106. I ended up getting 9.5 hours of data on it over two nights. I had used different exposure times, due to a brain fart. That complicated things a little when putting it all together, as well as removing my camera to clean some dust speckles off of my filter. I didn't get the camera back on at exactly the right rotation, but it was close. I ended up having to crop a little off the edges of the final image, losing a faint galaxy in the process. My apologies to all the civilizations I deleted!

In other news, I bought a used 8" SCT. Time will tell if I made a worthy impulse purchase or not! Stay tuned...

June 4, 2022

I went up to Cherry Springs State Park on Memorial Day weekend, specifically May 28th and 29th. Kelby and a friend of his (and a friend of that friend and their friends!) also went along. It was like a pyramid scheme of friends... Anyway, I did get some imaging done. Once again I attempted the Iris Nebula. Once again I was thwarted! This time it was by a guide scope with no dew heater. I got two hours of data on it on the first night. It was a very wet night, with occasional fog banks rolling through the field. I had been imaging with the z61 and brought along the 8" SCT for visual use. The SCT was on the old CG-4 mount, meaning everything we wanted to see had to be manually located. Not an easy task for me! I did find the Ring Nebula, and one of the guys found M13. The Ring Nebula was a fuzzy greenish-blue oval in the eyepiece. Messier 13 was amazingly resolved. I kept putting higher powered eyepieces in and was blown away at the detail. In the morning I kept wiping the dew off of the SCT's corrector plate so we could take a peak at Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars. They were low on the horizon and everything was wet. It gave me a hint of how they'll look in better conditions. I can't wait!

On the second night I kind of poked around doing EAA (Electronic Assisted Astronomy). I checked out the Crescent Nebula and something else (that I forgot) while waiting for the Eagle Nebula to rise. I imaged that for a little while, then switched to the Lagoon Nebula. I'm really happy with how the Lagoon turned out. The Eagle Nebula is "OK" I suppose. It likely needed more time to get what I hoped to acquire. I nearly caused a terrible traffic accident on the way home. Long story short, I was very distracted and made a left turn across traffic and pulled out in front of a pickup truck. We both hit the brakes and swerved just in time that our only contact was my fog light shroud clipped their lower front bumper and tire. It was a terrifying split second!

Last night I went out and did some more imaging from home, this time with the GSO 6" Newtonian. There is an issue with my DEC axis that I need to adjust. I'm going to give that a crack tonight. I may continue with the same scope/target tonight, or switch to the big 8" SCT and get try getting it fully collimated and do some imaging with it. That'll depend on how the data looks from last night's session. Currently it's two hours and going using PixInsight's WBPP script. Go check out the images!

July 4, 2022

It's been a while, hasn't it? The weather hasn't been very favorable. One night I went out to image the Cat's Eye nebula, and it wasn't quite what I hoped to achieve. There is a "long term" project I'm working on that will be updated whenver it's finished. In the meantime, I went back and reprocessed some old data, particularly the stuff with the AstroMaster 80AZS. You'll see a bunch of "new" icons in the image gallery due to that. As always, the new targets will be appended to the end (bottom) of the gallery. I've added one there as well. Finally, we've had some clear skies. Unfortunately, they were on the week days. This means losing some sleep on work nights. I used the Astronomik UHC filter to image through the local light pollution and get an image of Messier 17, the Omega Nebula. While setting up, I just happened to notice there was a comet nearby. I went out the next night to try and image that, my first comet imaging attempt. That didn't go very well. I had some noisy data, and I couldn't quite separate the comet from the stars and vice versa.

Last night I went out to my Dad's Bortle 4 yard and captured the Western Veil Nebula and Pickering's Triangle. This object was the first nebula I'd ever imaged, and it was fun to finally return to do it more justice! When my image session was done, I plopped the old Meade 8" SCT on the mount and did some visual observing. I was able to see color bands on Saturn and even make out the Cassini Division. Jupiter was sharper, but no details that I hadn't seen through the eyepiece before. Mars still looks like a big red star, I might have to use a filter to observe it better. I never did a star alignment on the mount, so dimmer planets were not easy to discern. I checked out many star clusters and they were amazing. I'm probably going to setup the guide scope to run off ASI Air so it can plate solve and assist in centering on objects, and do visual observations for one whole night. I am so eager to slap the ASI 224 on this bad boy to do some planetary imaging!

I've once again made another telescope purchase. I was flip flopping between two scopes, the Explore Scientific 127ED Triplet and the Astro-Tech 125EDL FCD-100 Doublet. The 127 is more expensive, a triplet, but uses FCD1 glass. The 125 is a doublet, almost the same price (but on sale now), and uses higher quality FCD-100 glass. I had decided on the AT127EDL. I was about to buy it, and I had one other thing to check. The weight would be close to maxing out my mount's capacity, so I checked the Astro-Tech 115EDT. This was a little smaller in aperture, shorter in focal length, cheaper than the AT125EDT, lighter, and came with a hard case. The reason wanting a new refractor was for the longer focal length. My GSO 6" Newtonian has a focal length of 600mm, but with good resolution capability. However, it has a coma issue still that I've not resolved. It's still manageable though. The ES127ED has a 952mm focal length, whereas the AT125EDT has a 975mm focal length. This AT115EDT has an 800mm focal length. I think it's suitable for what I'd use it for. The type of glass is allegedly close to FPL-51 quality. My William Optics Z61 uses higher quality FPL-53 glass, and is a doublet. The AT115EDT is a triplet. It has good reviews, and the images I've seen captured using it impressed me enough to go ahead and buy this one. It arrives tomorrow!

August 14, 2022

The curse of clouds that come with new astronomy equipment struck me severely! There were a few nights where I had some hours to get in some imaging, one was during a near full moon. Clouds ruined many attempts. However, I did get some interesting images out of my new telescope! I think it might be very close to the heaviest scope I'd put on my modest mount. I had to adjust the declination worm gear tension. Guiding isn't terrible, but there is an issue with oval stars. The RA error is 2x and sometimes even 3x the DEC error. I bought an off-axis guider to hopefully address that. If that doesn't work, I might have to increase the RA worm gear tension a little bit. I've added new pictures to the gallery, including some planetary, go check them out.

So far, my experience with this telescope is excellent. The focuser is smooth, the overal build quality is great, and the optics really nice for the price. The ability to rotate the entire focuser or just the part the camera attaches to is very nice. When I lock the focuser, it stays locked the entire night, and there is no tilt/play in it. It's nice that it came with a case to carry it around if I travel with it. My only complaint is about the weather not letting me get the time I want on my targets!

October 2, 2022

It's been a while, and there's a lot of updates to the image gallery. Some are reprocessed old data, with better revisions. There are also some new images as well. Of the new ones, a couple were simply test runs with minimal exposure time to see how the telescope might handle the target. Part of the reason for the long time between updates has been the time spent reprocessing the old image data.

The off-axis guider improved my star problem a little bit. It seems when I'm shooting on the Eastern side, that's when the stars are having problems. I will chalk this up to the telescope being at or just beyond the weight capacity for my mount. You see, when aimed in that direction, the mount's rotation is raising the scope, working harder. When aimed West, it's lowering the scope, which is smoother. I suppose this means eventually (I know it was coming) I'll have to get a heaftier mount. In the meantime, I'll have to work with what I have.

I had begin imaging a target in the constellation Cygnus (near Sadr) and had 10hours of data on it. It didn't seem to have improved very much from the 5hrs on the first night to the 10hrs total on the second, so I stopped working on that. Later, I would reprocess that 10hr data and facepalm, because it looked much better than I expected and more time would have been ideal. From there, I used what clear skies I had, which happened to always fall on work nights, to run some short sessions on various objects to see how they might turn out. Most recently I imaged the Fireworks Galaxy (NGC 6946) with 14hrs of total data. This has been my longest integration so far, and I would've kept going but I ran out of clear skies again.

"What ever happened to that 6" Newtonian telescope?" I'm so glad you asked! I have done more research on my coma problem and it turns out that I should've done more research on the coma corrector before purchasing the Baader MPCC Mark III that I did. It's better than the one I originally purchased, but not at all ideal for my telescope. There are two that have proven results, each a bit more expensive than my telescope was. I probably will buy one of them before the end of the year. I also want to get a longer mounting bracket for this telescope so I can balance it better. Since we're going over other telescopes, I finally found a new home for my Celestron Omni XLT 102 and GG-4 mount! An old friend of mine was happy to take it off my hands.

I want to try a mosaic image for my next challenge. I have decided to attempt this on Messier 31, the Andromeda Galaxy. I can use my William Optics Z61 telescope and my ASI 183MC Pro to do a four panel mosaic image and the overlaps end up being right where I would want the most integration. Check out this screenshot for a better idea of what I'm talking about. Ideally I will run a short session with this plan to make sure it works. When I'm confident that I can process the data properly to get the mosaic image, I will attempt to gather as much data on this project as possible.

November 5, 2022

The previous two weekends were blessed with clear nights and no moon interference. I had set everything up and was ready to try the mosaic of the Andromeda Galaxy. Just for fun, I took a single exposure of the galaxy to see how it would fit in my field of view. When I saw how much actually did fit, I opted to just shoot the target that way. I collected 7.5hrs of data on it that night. I could've done more, but I wanted to get some time on the Orion Nebula before dawn. That target ended up with 90min of data. It was starting to get hazy out and a fog was rolling in so I had to stop. The next night was not clear, so that was it for that weekend.

I wanted to try imaging something very dim for my next challenge. I opened up stellarium and began searching the sky in the East to see what target might be visible from my Dad's yard. There were not many choices, but thankfully one was fascinating. I found LBN 534, a molecular cloud, that would be very high in the sky to start the night. This object looks like a checkmark, and is sometimes referred to as the "Cosmic Checkmark." It includes a faint reflection nebula, VDB 158. That comprises of a couple blue-white dwarf stars that give the dust a faint bluish glow. I planned on imaging this the entire night. However, after 8hr 12min worth of data the object was getting close to the mountain top horizon to the west. I decided to pack it up and get home, as the images were degrading in quality already, probably due to the poor seeing conditions due to the air currents above the mountain. After all, the forecast was clear the following night, and more data could be captured then. I came home and ran what I had through my processing software and decided to skip night two. I was a bit fatigued and the data I had was enough for me.

February 6, 2023

The winter weather here has been brutally cloudy. There have been a few hours of clear skies here and there, but not enough to motivate me to set up my equipment and try to image anything. However... There is this comet zooming by called C/2022 E3 (ZTF), yeah, it rolls right off the tongue! I decided to take a crack at it this weekend. The moon was nearly full and seeing conditions were about as bad as you could get under clear skies. I managed an hour of data on it and came in to start the wonders of processing. The way I went about it, took about 15 hours in total to get it done. I'm sure there are easier ways, and maybe I will figure them out (or get them to work). That being said, there's a new addition to the image section! Bonus: I added some reprocessed images as well.

Galaxy season is right around the corner. I'll get more use out of my AT115EDT then. Also, I've got some ideas for getting the GSO 6" Newtonian back in action. That's actually next on my "to do" list.

March 8, 2023

A clear night presented itself during the week towards the end of February, and I had to make use of it. I hadn't swapped out my Z61 for the AT115EDT yet, so I needed a wide field target. NGC 1893 was still visible, albeit late in the season for this. It was already setting by the time it was dark, this meant I would have to go out and collect my rig around 1AM. I'm not a fan of that, but it is what it is. I decided to use my UHC filter for this, since it had a nice amount of Ha and Oiii in the structure. One issue with this filter is that it doesn't cut off after the Ha bandpass. It allows everything beyond that through. The infrared light causes the stars in my images to be quite bloated. I decided to put a UV/IR filter in front of the field flattener, and use the UHC filter in the filter drawer in front of the camera. It worked as planned and my stars were much more manageable. The image turned out OK consdering the very short amount of time spent on it. You know where to find it!

The following weekend there was a Saturday that looked like it was going to be great for imaging. I had formulated a plan to travel to a Bortle 4 location and image M106 with my AT115EDT. I had done a wide field image of this from my Bortle 6 yard and was really looking forward to this. But as often happens, the weather changed and Saturday was lost. The conditions that Sunday were good, but I had to stay home due to work the following morning. I had to look for a new target and was considering NGC 2683, the UFO Galaxy. The problem was it didn't rise above my roof for a few hours after dark. While poking around in Stellarium, a new target manifested, NGC 2903. This is a cool looking barred spiral galaxy that would be right above my roof within 30 minutes of the sky becoming dark enough to work with. I collected almost eight hours of data, but in the end only a bit over five was used. As the galaxy was setting in the west, my guiding failed when it lost the guide star. I figured something like this would happen, as seeing conditions were not great to begin with. The image still turned out a little better than I expected, so go check it out!

April 16, 2023

Welcome back to galaxy season! I managed to get four nights of clear skies since the previous update. The first two nights I dedicated to the Leo Triplet. However, the second night was almost a complete bust. I had been in a rush and started imaging right away after setting up. I did not wait for the telescope glass to reach ambient temperature. This caused my focus to change as the telescope cooled down. I was only able to use about two of the six hours of data collected that night. I suspect the first night also lost a little focus towards the end as well. I think there were a lot of frames rejected from the end of the session.

The next clear night I went after M106. This was another target I previosly imaged with a widefield telescope. I made sure to allow the telescope to cool down, and rechecked focus again half way through the session. All in all, I collected about five hours of good data on this night. Towards the end there was a layer of thin, high clouds rolling in that cut my session short. This also happened the following clear night. I had removed my off-axis guider for this session and went back to the 60mm guide scope. It's tough finding good guide stars at f/7 in this light pollution. The guiding was "good" however due to the short guiding focal length, it wasn't exactly ideal for my pixel scales. I could only do sixty second exposures before stars would begin to trail.

I tried something different for the most recent clear night. I put a 2x barlow lens in my guide scope. This magnified the image and simulated a 490mm focal length, rather than 245mm focal length. I wasn't sure if this would work, and after struggling to get it focused, it actually worked quite well. But I also ran into the guide star problem... I had to find a target where a magnitude seven star was in the guide scope field of view in order to get excellent guiding. It probably could work with slightly dimmer stars, I may try this when there's a few hours of clear skies that are not suitable for a full imaging session. It's a challenge because of the small sensor and field of view of the guide camera. I did find a good target this night though, the amazing Coma Cluster. It had a few stars in the guiding view that were bright enough to lock on to. I also had switched my main camera to Bin2 for this session. I wanted to see if the blurry images were more of a result of my guiding or oversampling due to small pixels. The results were inconclusive, because there wasn't very much detail to resolve for this target.

May 21, 2023

I finally bought a proper coma corrector for my GSO 6" Newtonian! It is the Sky-Watcher Quattro Coma Corrector that is for their f/4 Newtonian scopes. It works amazingly well, and is worth every penny. I also bought a longer dovetail mounting plate to better balance this rig on my mount. This change meant I had to rely on the off-axis guider, which didn't thrill me. My first target was the ever faithful Whirlpool Galaxy (M51). For some reason I had forgotten about this session, stumbling upon it while updating the website today. A couple of days later I imaged the Pinwheel Galaxy (M101) and that one remains fresh in my memory. After the meridian flip, there was only one dim star to guide on in the off-axis guider field of view. I shuffled some things around, rotated the telescope in it's mounting rings, and put the 60mm guide scope back on it. However, I was not motivated to go out and test it on the next clear night...

A week goes by and there is a suitable clear night under a moonless sky, but there is some smoke in the air. I went to my Dad's for darker skies, and smartly took along my off-axis guiding setup. The guide scope was working and the mount was guiding, but it just wasn't enough. My stars were oblong at three minute exposures. This meant putting switching back to the off-axis guiding configuration, and wasting precious time. When that was all sorted, I also had a brain fart trying to focus the scope. I spent roughly 30 minutes(!) trying to get focused before I realized I was aiming at a multiple star system. My scope was able to resolve two stars, and those diffraction spikes would never 'merge' to achieve focus. I then started imaging Sh2-136 (The Ghost Nebula), and managed 6hrs 5min of data on it. That means there's three new images to check out, plus a revised one of the Cosmic Checkmark!

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