Astrophotography

My Redbubble Store

Friends and family have been after me for years to make a storefront selling some of my astrophotography. I’ve tried various things, sampled different printers, etc. I’ve finally decided that selling prints will simply require me to get my own printer and probably fulfill the orders myself. This is still a big TBD (To Be Done) for me. In the meantime though, I keep seeing astro prints on all these other products, and wondered what my own stuff would look like. A company called Redbubble specializes in this, and I’ve started a shop there and have uploaded a few initial images and carefully have paired them with with items I thought made sense. Some things don’t make sense (a square image of a colorful nebula on a hat for example), so I’ve done some curating myself. Each image though has dozens of items you can select from, and I plan to add new images and items regularly. The store front shows for one example my favorite full Moon image on a clock, but you can also get that image on many other items as well. I plan to buy a few of these items for myself, and come Christmas they will make great gifts for my family and closer friends. Check out the store here, and be sure and check back every few weeks for new items!

The Storefront of my Redbubble store.

Astrophotography Highlight – The Cygnus Loop

Eastern Veil Nebula
Cygnus Loop
The Cygnus Loop in the Hubble Palette.

As Summer draws to a close we find Cygnus the Swan nearly directly overhead by astronomical twilight. Cygnus is a narrowband wonderland overflowing with emission objects for both small and large fields of view. One fine example is the Cygnus Loop, or the Veil Supernova remnant. Formed by a supernova that occurred some 5,000 to 8,000 years ago, this large loop of nebulosity spans some 100 lightyears across and is located approximately 1,470 lightyears away (an update over older estimates which placed it at least 2,500 light years away).

You need about a 4 degree field of view to capture the entire extent of this object, such as the one shown here captured with a 200mm focal length telephoto lens (Canon 200mm f/2.8) on a QSI 683 camera (8300 based chip). This was imaged with 3nm narrowband filters and then colorized using the popular Hubble Palette mapping colors to the individual narrowband wavelengths (green to hydrogen, red to sulphur, and blue to oxygen).

On the far right hand side of this image is the Western Veil Nebula (NGC 6960), often just called the Veil Nebula. My favorite unofficial moniker is the Witches Broom. It is especially striking when imaged with not just RGB filters, but also supplemented with some Ha and OIII data, such as the one shown here. (Esprit 80 Refractor, Starlight XPress Trius 694, Baader filters). The bright star riding the broomstick is the star 52 Cygni, which is a bit closer than the nebula (only 291 light years), and is just in the line of sight of the edge of this feature.

The Witches Broom
The Western Veil, or the Witches Boom.
Backing out from the Witches Boom, we see Pickering’s Triangle (NGC 6967) up near the northern end of the loop. To me, this looks like a river delta on the Mississippi, or Nile river perhaps.
Fleming's Wisp
Pickering’s Triangle or Fleming’s Wisp

High resolution images of this area reveal a complex cosmic web of smokey tendrils. Not only is the area bright in RGB broadband light, but it’s also brilliant in Hydrogen Alpha, and OIII.  In fact, the OIII emissions of the entire super nova remnant here is among the brightest of many emission objects you can shoot.

The object is named for a director of the Harvard Observatory, but it was actually discovered by a female astronomer who was once his maid (you can’t make this stuff up), Williamina Fleming. Fleming’s Triangular Wisp is another popular, but also unofficial name for this feature.

The Eastern Veil nebula (NGC 6992) is also an amazing object in and of itself. Presented here in monochrome shot with a narrowband filter that captures light from glowing Hydrogen gas (Officina Stellare, RH-200, Starlight Xpress 694 camera).

Eastern Veil Nebula
Eastern Veil

Sometimes called Cirrus Nebula East, or the Spider, or Bat nebula, it is a worthy member of the Veil complex. The wispy filaments of glowing gas are simply etherial. It should be pointed out that in addition to photography, an OIII visual filter renders most of the Veil complex quite well with a glowing ghostly quality that is breathtaking. I’ve seen it in scopes as small as 6″ and it even very closely resembles the images shown here.

Cygnus is one of my favorite regions of the sky, especially for narrowband backyard imaging. The Veil complex has treasures for all focal lengths and chip sizes too, and if you don’t have narrowband capabilities, it is bright enough to shoot well even with a one shot color camera using a light pollution filter. Go get some of it before it’s gone!

Clear Skies!

Astrophotography Highlight – M13

The summer is not just galaxy season, it’s also globular cluster season! Most globular clusters are located in the halo of the Milky Way and while a few can be found amongst the dense star fields of the Milky Way, most are well separated visually from our galactic arms. My favorite globular cluster is M 13 in the constellation Hercules. From the beginning of June, you can find M13 already getting high in the east, just north of due east, right along the edge of Hercules’s quadrangle.

M 13 is well placed just after dark.

M13 holds a special place in my heart as it was my first “deep sky” object that I ever had to find by star hopping with with my trusty red “Christmas Trash Scope“ decades ago now. Later, as my telescope collection grew in both quality and quantity M13 has been my benchmark target to judge the quality of my gear, both visually, and photographically.

Visually, M13 looks like crushed diamond with sparkling stars all throughout. It is bright, and the longer you expose, the larger it will appear, however you must take care not to over expose the core, else you will loose the ability to show the individual stars all the way in. Furthermore, the stars of M13 have colors! If you avoid over exposing, you can bring out the blue and amber star colors, which gives your image more character. All of my earliest attempts at imaging M13 showed a solid white snowball which matched my visual experiences and so I didn’t know any better. Look for those colors in your data — they are there!

M13
At 2000mm focal length, the great globular in Hercules is a magnificent target.

The Hercules globular passes directly overhead for most of us in North America and is an excellent backyard target, as houses or the neighbor’s trees rarely obstruct it when it is highest and at it’s best. Furthermore, it is bright enough to stand up to imaging even in light polluted areas. The image above here was taken just outside Orlando Florida, and with a quarter moon in the sky! Just take plenty of exposures to stack down the shot noise from your sky glow.

As a good-sized target, M13 looks great for a wide range of fields of view. A wider field image of at least a degree will reveal two bonus objects. NGC 6207, a 12th magnitude galaxy just 28 arc minutes to the north east is often captured in wider views and with sufficient aperture can be spotted visually. A real prize is to capture the very tiny galaxy IC 4617, a 15th magnitude blip of a galaxy that is only an arc-minute across.

M13 and companions
Don’t miss a couple of small galactic interlopers when shooting M13.

There is no better target I think to demonstrate an optics resolving power than a globular cluster, both visually and photographically. The view through the eyepiece can never be matched by a computer display (with today’s technology), but a fine optic and camera combination can come close to revealing that powdery essence of M13, plus bring out the colorful stars throughout it’s core and halo.

Clear skies!

Grand Canyon Star Party

It’s been over two years since I (or most people) have attended a public star party. In June I returned to one of my newer annual favorites, the Grand Canyon Star Party. I’ve attended both North and South Rim events, but this year I spent at a week at the south rim event doing public outreach each night, and sneaking in some astrophotography on the side. Conditions for deep sky work here are not optimal because of the lunar phase (the Moon comes up not long after midnight), but it is a glorious opportunity for nightscape work.

My Sigma 20mm f/1.4 performed as well as always, but I tried a new lens this year, the Tamron 35mm f/1.4.  I was amazed by its performance. Not only was it sharp and fast, but even wide open, it was dramatically better than the Sigma lens at the same f-stop. I took some snapshots with it, but it really performed on a tracking platform (I used a Sky Watcher Star Adventurer AZ-GTI) with a 20 second exposure. I actually meant to do a full 30 seconds (the maximum exposure without an intervalometer on my Canon EOS Ra), but my fat fingers, the cold, and distracting wind… well, I got what I got! Tell me, does it not look like a giant crab monster in the sky? Or is it just me.

Milky Way Core Image
The core of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. Several reddish emission nebula are prominently displayed along ethereal fingers of dusty dark nebula.

Horsehead and Flame

This is hands down, my favorite object to shoot. I try to image it annually to measure the progress of my craft. I remember my very first image, horribly blood red image with a black outline of the horsehead. I’ve come a long way, and so has my gear. I had a weeks vacation scheduled for the Winter Star Party this year, but it was canceled so I went to my own dark sky site. I really think this is the best one I’ve taken so far.

This was first light with my new AP Stowaway refractor, and I shot with both a Canon Ra and the QHY 128c. The QHY won that battle, this is just 2.2 hours of 3 minute exposures. The area from the horsehead and up is glowing hydrogen gas, but there’s quite a bit of dust below that scatters reddish light as well. Almost a red/mud brown. Of course, the little pockets of blue reflection nebula really punctuate the region too! I especially like the area cataloged as NGC 2023, which is the blue “tunnel” just to the lower left of the horse head proper. The big yellow “flame” is called the flame nebula, and was once popularly called the “burning bush”, which I think is still appropriate!

Horsehead nebula egion
Hands down, my favorite celestial object to shoot

Shooting For The Moon

The Moon is in truth my favorite astronomical object to study, and I love observing it visually. The dynamic range and subtle momentary details that you see in an eyepiece is unmatched by my, or anyone else’s photographic efforts. My favorite way to observe and photograph the Moon is with a focal length that allows a camera to capture the full disc of the Moon first, usually on a DSLR. Then I’ll pop in a 2x or 4x TeleVue Powermate (depending on seeing conditions and the pixel size of the camera) and do some “Lucky Imaging” at higher resolution.

When I’m done, I take the camera off again, and will pop in a couple of eyepieces to enjoy her majesty more personally. I have a growing collection of data from nights like this, and one of these days I may put out my own lunar atlas. I usually use my Esprit 150 or my Quattro 12″ (harder to do eyepiece work with the Quattro) on a Software Bisque Paramount. I’ll use my Canon EOS Ra for the full disc image, and a ZWO high speed camera for the closeups with one of the Powermates.

Moon and close up
The Moon on the Evening of November 24, 2021

A Long Time Ago…

… in a galaxy far far away.

Rumor has it the Triangulum Galaxy is the inspiration for a famous movie galaxy. It is indeed far far away at 3.2 million light years, but in cosmic scales, it’s actually one of the galaxies closest to our own Milky Way galaxy, and the third largest galaxy in our “local group”, which includes our home the Milky Way, and the Andromeda Galaxy. When the light I captured with a telescope left this galaxy, my home state of Florida was underwater and the Earth was much warmer than it is today, with almost no ice cover in the northern hemisphere. Also cataloged as M33, this galaxy is an amazing and beautiful spiral galaxy with active star forming regions, knots of pinkish glowing hydrogen gas, and dust lanes that extend almost all the way into the core. Perhaps some Jedi too.

Technical Details: I used a remote system I helped setup with two friends at Falling Eagle Observatory. It sports a Paramount MX+, a ZWO 6200 monochrome camera, and a Sky-Watcher Esprit 150 refracting telescope. I took 9 hours of 5 minute unguided images using clear, red, green, and blue filters.

The Triangulum Galaxy
A Galaxy Far Far Away… 3.2 Million Light Years to be exact

The “Slaughter Moon!”

Moon and old fort
Moon rise over “Slaughter Bay” in St. Augustine Florida.

In the almost 30 years I’ve lived in Florida, my favorite place to visit is still St. Augustine. I first visited as a child of 9 or 10 while on a family vacation from my native Kentucky, and the place has left an everlasting mark on me. One of my favorite things to do is photography here, and I always try to do a little nightscape work if we are staying overnight. The Saturday a week before Halloween was a great night for this.

I planned the Moon rise time using TheSky astronomy software and an iPhone app called PhotoPills. I recently picked up a 1.4 tele-extender used from a friend and was really wanting to try one of those Moon images you see where the photographer is a good distance from some famous landmark and catches the Moon coming up behind it. I had wanted to use the St. Augustine lighthouse, but the Fort seemed a safer venue, and indeed it was. I was surround by MOBS of people well after dark. It was now a week away from Halloween and the walking ghost tours business was booming. I’d setup in a lonely location, and then there’d be a huge crowd around me in no time as I had inadvertently picked a station on someone’s walking tour! This happened three times. Really.

People were friendly though, and many took note and were respectful of my gear and obvious pains I was going through to get this shot. Most pulled out their cell phones and took a few pictures themselves as the Moon came up behind the old fort (Castillo de San Marcos National Monument). I hadn’t planned it this way, but the clouds shrouding the Moon just really set the atmosphere for a spooky photo. They really were this red and orange low on the horizon, and I realized only afterwards that I had captured this directly over the “Matanzas Bay”, which means “Slaughter Bay” in Spanish. There is a bloody story behind this name that I’ll leave to you to research on your next trip to St. Augustine!

Tech stuff — This was two exposures on a tripod layered together with Photoshop. They were seconds apart at ISO 3200, with the only changes in settings being focus and exposure time. The fort exposure is 3.2 seconds and you can see how well-lit it was from the surrounding lights. The Moon however was much brighter and was taken with a 1/80th second exposure. The focal ratio for both was also f/8. The camera was a Canon EOS Ra, the lens a Canon 300mm F/4 L lens, and the Mark II 1.4 Canon tele-extender. I used the camera’s self-timer to avoid camera shake. Pro tip: Always remove your UV/IR filter that protects your expensive lenses when doing nightscapes!

 

Two Planets and Two Moons

Yes, this is a composite of three different images. They were all taken on the same night, with the same camera and telescope and so all are at the same image scale. The North Western limb of our own Moon highlights the crater J. Herschell and its surroundings. Jupiter and Saturn are were also putting on a nice show the night of August 19th, with Jupiter being at opposition. But, look closely, there is another Moon. That moon or natural satellite of Jupiter is an indistinct white dot against the bright planet, but a black dot is clearly visible, being the shadow of IO falling on the planets cloud tops.

Langrenus

Anytime is a good time to take photos of the Moon. Often the terminator where the Suns grazing rays reveal stark geographic details get’s all the attention, but much of the Moon is also amazing when seen with the Sun high overhead. Along the limb as well, we can see that the Moon is not a smooth round sphere, but has its dips and valleys as. In fact some astronomers will time star or asteroid occultations (when the star or asteroid disappears and reappears) along the edge of the Moon to refine our models of celestial mechanics.

This may be one of my favorite images of the lunar surface in a long while. The crater Langrenus is the large circular feature in the middle of the frame, and you can see the rings from the terraced structure of its crater walls with the Sun nearly overhead. To the upper left is Mare Fecunditatis with the two side by side craters Messier and Messier A. Don’t miss the dual rays cast off to the left like the tail of a comet. At the upper right, we see a depression with a dark floor, that is Mare Smythii rocked towards the Earth this night (August 19, 2021) by a favorable libration (an apparent rocking back and forth we observe of the Moon due to it’s non-circular orbit around the Earth).

Tech details: Taken with an Esprit 150 refractor and a TeleVue 4x Powemate for a total focal length of 4200mm. The best 1/2 of 20,000 video frames taken with a cooled ASI 174 camera were combined for this image. All from my back yard in Lake Mary, FL on a Paramount ME II telescope mount.

The Crater Langrenus
The area around the Crater Langrenus with the Sun high overhead. The details of the limb of the Moon are well resolved in this image.