Like the man in the movie said, “My God, it’s full of stars!”
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.
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.
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).
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+ 😉
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.
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.
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 love this area, there’s so much detail to be seen and all kinds of great geography to study.