Pardon the mess…

Pardon the mess..

The weakest link in any security system is the human beings. My site was hacked again recently, and I’ve moved it. There’s no nice easy way to move a large complex WordPress site from one domain to another, and there are tools, but they did not really do the job 100%. Working on it, but here it is on the new hosting company and it’s slowly coming back to where it was before. Please excuse any missing images or broken links. I keep chipping away at it as time allows. Thanks for visiting!

The Wild Duck Cluster And BILLIONS AND BILLIONS of stars…

Like the man in the movie said, “My God, it’s full of stars!”

The rich star field of the Milky Way as a back drop to a cluster only 10,000 light years agway.

At first I was really disappointed in this image. I wanted a nice framed image of the Wild Duck cluster, which visually has a bit of a V shape to it (like a flock of ducks). Too many stars… however, pulling back there are TOO MANY STARS… The Wild Duck cluster is a mere 10,000ish light years away, and behind it you see a sampling of the billions of stars that make up the galactic plane of our home Milky Way Galaxy. Also well revealed in this image, are the dark veins of smokey dust that traverse the Milky Way’s densest regions. There are many of these dark nebula cataloged throughout our home galaxy too, and quite a few are on my imaging to do list.

Not a Comet Number 94

Image of M94
The Galaxy Messier 94

This galaxy is #94 in Charles Messier’s catalog of objects that — at least initially, was meant to identify things that were not to be mistaken for a comet. Eventually the list really is just a catalog of interesting objects, but this galaxy in the (somewhat) northern constellation of Canes Venatici surely must have been a target that could easily be mistaken for the head of a comet. The core of this galaxy is quite bright, and there is a faint, but not hard to capture photographically, halo of stars surrounding the core.

I took this image with a 6″ Esprit refractor hosted in the dark skies of the California desert near Lake San Antonio. This is my second major project with a CMOS camera using the Sony IMX 455 sensor. The very core of the galaxy is still a little over exposed with only three minute exposures through Red, Green, and Blue filters, and I did a few 5 minute exposures in Luminance. The halo of stars came out readily, which is a testament to the low read noise of the sensor. However, there is actually another stream of stars that extends from this ring that shows up in some deeper exposures that I did not pick up. Keeping the core from saturating, and still picking up the star streams is a challenge. I’m going to have to attempt this target again sometime to see if I can get the full dynamic range with one length of exposure time.

Another processing challenge to this image has to do with the halo. It is very faint, and the gradient tappers gradually into the background. There’s even what appears to be some Hydrogen Beta star forming details in the top section of the ring from this image. However, getting this ring to look right is a challenge. I processed the image in PixInsight and Photoshop on two computers that are color calibrated, and the image is set to use the sRGB color space. However, in some browsers, and in an email client, the halo is very blocky and mottled. On my iOS devices, the ring is rendered quite beautifully with no artifacts. So… when you look at this, depending on your device, the halo may be blocky and garish slightly, or smooth and subtle. We still have a ways to go it seems with computer display technology, and this image seems to push those boundaries as well.

The Pinwheel

This is my best rendition of this beautiful galaxy to date I think. It’s commonly, but unofficially called the Pinwheel Galaxy and is cataloged in the Messier catalog as M101. It is about 21 million light years away and is in Ursa Major near the end of the handle of the Big Dipper. It can be a difficult target because it has a low surface brightness, and the outer arms and “wispy bits” can be hard to capture and bring out.

This is my first image from a new remote setup that I am sharing with a couple of friends. One is hosting the location, and another and I have contributed bits of the gear we are using. It’s really quite nice to log in remotely to a location across the country that is under a dark sky and use a system ready to go! This image is 10 total hours of exposure time through colored filters and some “Luminance” (black and white) to boot. This is also the first time I’ve produced a deep sky image with a CMOS camera that I felt was on a par with CCD camera technologies. I’ve long maintained that people saying “CMOS is catching up to CCD” should note the important word “catching”, …as in not there yet. I think we are there finally, and we can stop saying that now. Of course, good cameras are still at a premium, and the one we are using is a ZWO 6200 Pro (monochrome). We are shooting binned 2×2 on an Esprit 150 in order to not be too over sampled. The full resolution version of this image is quite satisfactory to me (this is also cropped down a bit from the full frame image).

Messier 101
Messier 101

The Big Rock In Outer Space

The full Moon is so often ignored in astrophotography, but a full Moon does in fact yield a wealth of details about our nearest celestial neighbor. Taken just a few hours past full in January, this full Moon image was made from a three image mosaic taken with a 2750mm telescope connected to a DSLR camera (Canon EOS Ra and a Sky-Watcher Mak-Cass 180). This produced a large high resolution image that was then processed “gently” to tone down the overwhelming brightness so you could see the various features that the full Moon reveals so well. The rays and ejecta blankets, the different colors and materials of the Maria, and even the lunar highlands, especially along the southern limb show differences in brightness. Along the Eastern limb where the Sun is just grazing the lunar surface, the terrain stands out in stark relief. Along the south west you can just see the subtle elevation differences along the lunar limb as well, the Moon is not a smooth sphere. It is a beautiful, and “weathered” neighbor in space.

Mega Moon
Mega Moon!


Winter Star Party 2020!

Star parties are a lot of work for the organizers and staff. The annual Winter Star Party in the Florida Keys is no exception. Days before the star party opens staff show up to start preparing the site, and the day before the gates open the vendors and manufacturing reps show up to setup their tents and booths. The night before opening, staff, vendors, and invited speakers all enjoy having the site to themselves and if the weather is clear will get in a little observing and imaging themselves. These two 32″ Dobsonians with Mike Lockwood mirrors were putting on a fine show Sunday night before the guests arrive. This is probably not what you imagine when you hear the word star party, but for amateur astronomers, this is how we roll.

Two large Dobsonians on the beach
Deuling Dobs!

The Book

My book is now available in print through Amazon print on demand! This is not a technical “how to” book on astrophotography, but rather this is a book I wrote for my family and friends who simply appreciate the images they see and are mildly curious about how much work goes into taking these photographs. It’s my love letter to the night sky and a tour of the kinds of targets we shoot, the gear we use, and the lengths we will go to to find dark skies suitable for this kind of imaging. I hope some of you will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Image of cover of Evening Show Book
Now available in print!

Messier 55

How have I missed this gorgeous globular cluster? M55 is low to the South in the constellation Sagittarius from where I live, and capturing it was part of my recent surgical strike. My two favorite Northern Hemisphere globulars are M13 and Omega Centauri, and this one is every bit as beautiful. The core is not quite as dense, and you can easily resolve and bring out the amber and blue stars all the way through the core. Globular clusters are honestly low hanging fruit if you have a quality refractor. Nothing I own but one of my Esprit refractors will bring out the powdery nature of this star city. Also, short exposures are actually best! Short exposures will not saturate the star cores and it is far easier to preserve the star colors both in the cluster itself and in the surrounding sky. Only 70 minutes of two minute RGB exposures went into this image using an FLI Microline 16200 on an f/7 Esprit 150. Unguided of course on a Paramount MX+ 😉

Messier 55
Messier 55, a beautiful city of stars.

Stardust Ranch

How much longer will sights and images like this be possible? All over the world, astronomers, both amateur and professional alike seek out dark sites such as this dark sky camp shown here in Okeechobee Florida. Not only is it getting harder and harder to find areas far enough from city lights (and here, you can still see the sky glow from the city of Okeechobee), but inevitably the sky will be filled with satellites streaking through our images. The recent Space X launch has drawn a lot of interest to this, and bear in mind there are dozens of geosynchronous satellites already in this image that you can’t see. Make no mistake though, the drum of progress will demand that this number grows to thousands to tens of thousands in the coming years, and we need to be prudent and responsible about how we affect our environment, and this includes the night sky.

Milky Way over a dome
The glorious skies of Stardust Ranch

Omega Centauri

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.

Image of Omega Centarui
Omega Centauri is a phenomenal globular cluster in the deep southern skies.