At this years Texas Star Party, I sat up with my friends from Sky-Watcher USA as always, and also Michael Hattey from Starlight Xpress was there. Michael brought me a present too, an updated control board for one of my favorite cameras, the Trius 694. The new control board turned my Trius into a “Trius Pro”, which meant another reduction of read noise, by 1/2, and an almost doubling of the download speed. What’s not to like? The seeing at TSP was a bit soft (using an Esprit 120), so I shot binned 2×2, and this image is only two hours of two minute exposures through RGB filters. There’s a little blooming on the saturated stars (elongation due to electron’s leaking into neighboring pixel cells), and this was tuned out afterwards (electronics upgrades need a little tweaking too). I plan to shoot this again at the Grand Canyon Star Party next month, so stay tuned and see what the camera can do at full quality!
I just love globular clusters, both visually and photographically. Omega Centauri is the undisputed king of globulars and is only accessible from the Southern states. What’s really great about this image is that I took it at the 2011 Winter Star party in the Florida Keys. That’s 8 years ago! My original attempt at processing the data is a bit less than stellar<g>. However I kept the original calibrated and stacked data set and just spent a few minutes on it to bring out this beauty! You can read more about it over at The Accidental Astronomer.
I’m a little late with this post, but I am no less thrilled than I was the very day, on March 8, 2019 when one of my images was selected as NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD). This years Winter Star Party (2019) was one of the best I’ve seen in 15 years weather wise. We had clear skies a good portion of every night, and I managed to capture close to 7 hours of data on this target over the course of four evenings using my favorite imaging combination, my Sky-Watcher Esprit 150 refractor and an FLI MicroLine 16200. I have a MoonLite NiteCrawler focuser/rotator upgrade for the OTA as well, and it’s just a rock solid and reliable combination. I could set my software to autofocus every time I changed filters, and I’d let it run for a couple of hours while I looked through friends visual telescopes and enjoyed a brownie or two from Mickie’s Kitchen.
If you haven’t visited my blog over at Sky & Telescope, now’s a great time to sample them. My latest post is about stretching data, and it builds on the last few posts which delve into linear and non-linear data, and what all this stuff about “bit-depth” is about. Typically when I write or speak, I don’t like to delve into clever processing tricks, but I like to cover the fundamentals. Getting good data, proper calibration and understanding the nature of what you have. If you have this foundation down, processing the images and getting “pretty pictures” is 100x easier!
Thursday night at the 2019 Winter Star Party, the thin crescent Moon presented a wonderful sight. Not only was the Earthshine quite prominent, but two peaks at the bottom limb were just poking up and out into the sunlight making little peaks of light below the crater Tycho. I had my 6″ Esprit 150 refractor setup with an FLI ML-16200 CCD camera, which is really best suited for long exposure astrophotography. So, I shot the lunar limb through an Ha filter, which attenuates the light nicely allowing for the slow shutter speed of a full frame CCD camera. Then for the Earthshine, I used a 10 second exposure through a red filter. This naturally saturated the bright side of the moon, but I blended the two images together in Photoshop to better match the dynamic range that was available to my eyes through binoculars or a neighboring telescope with an eyepiece.
This year the Winter Star Party returned to the Florida Keys after having to relocate for a year due to the extensive damage wrought by Hurricane Irma. We could not have been treated better by the weather, and there’s going to be several additions to my gallery from this years photography and imaging. This is my favorite image from the trip, and I think possibly my favorite nightscape I’ve ever taken. I also won first place in the wide field imaging contest with this shot. Just before dawn, I knew the Summer Milky Way would be making an appearance and I wanted to catch it behind a row of telescopes setup for the star party. While scoping out (ha, see what I did there) locations, I saw two other people shooting possibly Venus and Jupiter being reflected in the water. I knew I had the perfect shot that captured the essence of the Winter Star Party! Two star gazers enjoying the view in tourist central (the Florida Keys). Truly, we are all here as cosmic tourists.
Canon 5D Mark III
10 seconds @ISO 3200
Sigma 20mm art lens f/1.4
Yes, I know this phrase is a media super hype, and actually I tweaked it just a little bit. Super Wolf… it’s a thing. Wolf Blood… it’s a thing too. Super Wolf Blood Moon, ahoooooo!
I was sick and should have stayed home and went to bed… but what fun is that?!? Astrophotography is a compulsion, and the muse must be obeyed. This image is four frames stacked, each taken in rapid succession right after midnight. Hey, it’s the witching hour super wolf blood… okay, whatever. The exposures were with a Canon 5D Mark III DSLR on a Sky-Watcher Esprit 150 refractor (f/7). They were taken at ISO 3200 with an exposure time of 1.5 seconds. I found on the Moon just like for night scapes, higher ISO’s actually do have lower noise for low light images as long as you get sufficient light to the sensor. I wrote more about it over here at Sky & Telescope. The shorter ISO 100 images actually have significantly more noise.
Another side note, I posted this same image on Facebook and Instragram and they both destroyed the lower portion of the image! Apparently, the JPEG compression just saw the faint details in the red as big blobs. I love how much detail I got out of this. I know a lot of people are trying to do something really creative with a collection of images, else it’s just another eclipsed moon image, but still… this one is mine, and it’s just a well executed image with quite a bit of detail visible throughout.
I just love the colors on this nebula, which features both blue reflection nebulosity, and red from hydrogen emissions. I’ve been so frustrated from the weather this year and we are well past when the dry clear skies should have come to Florida, and it’s still as wet and rainy as the summer time (and this is now late December!). I was doing some organizing and discovered an SD card with data from the Texas Star Party. I remembered doing a quick run of this data and was disappointed because of some artifacts after stacking. Since then, I’ve learned a thing or two, and gave it another go… and hour later, I had this lovely flower. I’m so happy with it, and it was still a chance to process some “fresh” data! Found treasure.
Seems the clearest skies come with the brightest Moon. No problem, I love the moon too! I’ve been working on some new code that creates video files for “Lucky Imaging” and tried it out last night on the moon with a ZWO 120 Monochrome camera and a Sky-Watcher 180mm Mak-Cas telescope. I know it’s over kill, but the Paramount MX+ sure made this easy. Using ProTrack and the custom tracking rates, no matter where I put it on the Moon it just stayed right there. I did over 10,000 frames and stacked about 35% of the sharpest ones and then did a few final adjustments in Photoshop.
I loved this area, there’s so much detail to be seen and all kinds of great geography to study.
Well, it’s been a busy month! In this month’s Sky & Telescope Imaging Foundations, I tell you how to easily determine the best ISO to use for low light Astrophotography.