First Light with a Player One Poseidon-M

Image of Player One camera
Image of Player One camera
I think we are going to make beautiful music together….

I plan to do a longer and more thorough report on the Player One Poseidon-M camera at a later date, I’ve only just received it recently and have had a spotty few nights out with it, but I’m pretty impressed so far. I ordered a full set of Chroma filters for it, and my first clear night the only filter that had arrived was a 3nm Ha (Hydrogen Alpha) narrowband filter. The Moon was up and well, Ha is great in the moonlight, and I could not wait to try the new toy out.

Well, who doesn’t shoot M42 when they get a new camera? It’s bright, it’s pretty, and it’s loaded with glowing hydrogen gas — I have a shiny new camera and high quality 3nm hydrogen filter. I wanted to see how much detail I could get out of the trapezium, which is the very bright core of M42, so I experimented to see how long I could go without saturating that region. I was shooting at high conversion gain (HCG), but could go a full minute and still make out the four stars of the trapezium. The screen stretch showed glorious detail already and so I decided one minute was enough.

Hydrogen Alpha image of M42 region
Who doesn’t shoot M42 when they get a new camera?

Orion passes between two trees from my backyard each night, and I only got 104 of these one minute exposures over two nights, but it was quite enough for an impressive image non-the-less of the entire region. I would have liked to get more to reduce the noise in the outer areas, but it is definitely good enough for the internet as is. One minute narrowband subs (oh, this was at f/7 by the way) is pretty impressive, but I have to admit, M42 is a pretty bright target, so I tried a few others also at shorter exposures.

Tadpoles in Ha
Tadpoles are a must image with narrowband filters.

I did some one and two minute exposures on the Rosette and the Tadpoles and stacked equivalent spans of time for each. The one minute stacks did not suffer from what I could tell from a qualitative inspection vs. the stack of two minute subs (both stacks of about half an hour).

I also did 162 x 60 seconds on the Cone nebula region. The screen stretch of the individual subs was very faint on this region, but the stacked result was quite spectacular I thought. The fox fur region is just loaded with detail and subjectively I’d say it’s every bit as good as what I used to do with CCD’s and longer (individual exposures).

Rosetta nebula in Ha
A very popular target in Ha, the Rosetta nebula does not disappoint.

I’ve been speaking about the new age of shorter exposures for a while now, but I’ll abbreviate my thesis in that shorter individual exposures are becoming more usable due to camera improvements, but the total integration time for a quality image has only diminished very slightly due to increases in QE (Quantum Efficiency). There is still only so much light coming from astronomical objects, and it still takes hours of total integration time to create a very high quality image. These images look great on the web, but if I were to print them or display higher resolution versions, I’d want a little more integration time to better smoothen them out (from shot noise).

I plan to push on this camera pretty hard, do a lot more experiments (both qualitative and quantitative), write some software, and take some pretty pictures. Stay tuned…

Cone nebula region
One minute Ha subs at f/7. Individual subs were pretty faint, but 162 of them turned out quite nice!

Oh, and if you can, be sure and catch my talk on “The Future of Astrophotography” at the upcoming Winter Star Party, or you can read a reprint of my August 2022 Sky & Telescope article “The Next Big Thing” here.


The Aristarchus Plateau

On the evening of January 5th 2023, the Sun’s angle on the Moon was just right for what I think is a spectacular view of the crater Aristarchus and the Aristarchus plateau. The Plateau is a distinctive squarish region about 200km across with an offset color from the surrounding lunar mare, from which it rises in places 2km above the Oceanus Procellarum. The crater itself is the brightest crater on the Moon and can be spotted naked eye, and will stand out even in Earthshine.

Image of Aristarchus Plateau
The Aristarchus Plateau is a very distinctive square looking feature with the brightest and youngest large crater on the Moon.

Equally spectacular to me was the far limb showing numerous craters and ridges illuminated by what to them was the rising morning Sun. Often imagers will keep their cameras oriented so that North is up for their astronomical images, and this includes the Moon. I tilted the camera purposely here as I liked the more dramatic view as if flying over the Moon and viewing the landscape personally.  There are plenty of atlas’s with topographically accurate orientations to their reference images. I wanted something that made me feel like I was there, because to me at the time, I was — and I snapped a photo to remind me of the visit.

Our daytime star

I’m continuing my exploration of “lucky imaging” of the solar system objects, this time with the Sun. A special filter made by DayStar allows only a very narrow wavelength of light through when observing the Sun that is emitted by hydrogen gas. You can see in this image how the gas is swirling around on the Sun, cooler areas (not COOL, just cool-ER) manifesting as sunspots, and of course a few prominences on the edge of the Sun proper. The Suns surface was taken with very short exposures, and the prominences were taken at a slightly longer exposure that causes the surface to just appear solid white. So the two were merged to show the entire view. This is a good example of what we space photography nerds call dynamic range. The full range of brightness in this image can’t be captured by a single exposure length as the camera doesn’t have that much range. Well, truth is, many people do pull that off, and with more practice I may too. For now, two exposures worked well enough for me<g>. Please be sure, this was a very special (and expensive) solar filter. If you turn your Christmas scope to the Sun, you will likely damage the scope, blind yourself, and yes, potentially set something on fire (perhaps your shirt!). Don’t try this at home kiddies, I’m a professional… well, sorta.

Hydrogen alpha Sun
Our daytime star, the Sun in Hydrogen Alpha light.

For some technical details, the camera (a Player One Apollo Max) is monochrome, or black and white. The image was colorized after the fact for aesthetic reasons. I’ve looked through this filter, and Hydrogen Alpha light is a bright electric pink. It’s only a single wavelength of light, and there’s no point in using a color camera. I matched it in Photoshop… but, man it makes for an ugly picture! Other details… Sky-Watcher USA Esprit 150 refractor with a Televue 4x Powermate to get the focal ratio where it needs to be for the special filter I used (rays of light to the filter need to be pretty direct on and not slanted like at faster focal ratios).

As far as processing goes, I’m getting traction, but I can critique several things about this image. Truth is though, I’ve reworked it a few times already and am ready to apply what I’ve learned now to my next image. Rest assured…. there is ALWAYS a next image.

Fly me to the Moon

A closer view still
The Moon and Mars
From Central Florida, the Moon only got “close” to the planet Mars.

The evening of December 7th, 2022 was a Full Moon and for many of my US friends the Moon occulted Mars for a short time. In Florida and most of the east coast, it was only a near miss and yes I photographed it like everyone else. But this post is not about that event, but rather the show the Moon was putting on at it’s South Pole. When the Moon is full the Sun is bearing down straight on it, more or less, from our vantage point. The Moon though is a sphere (okay, sphere-ish), and it’s not a smooth sphere, it has bumps, valleys, hills, etc. We often love observing the lunar terminator when these features are in stark relief, but still we are seeing these features from directly overhead. If only we could fly to the Moon, and look at them from a low elevation to see them in the distance rising from the lunar surface. Well… we can!

This is exactly the view we have when the Sun is grazing along the edges of the Moon. On the night of the occultation, the southern edge was putting on quite a show and I just had to take some video for later processing (a technique we call “Lucky Imaging“).

The image below was taken through a Sky-Watcher 180mm Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope and a Player One Neptune C II high speed camera. Many thousands of frames were taken, but the atmosphere is turbulent, so a computer program helps search through all the individual frames to find the ones with the most stillness to them. They are combined to make a clean smooth image, and then I apply a little sharpening to clear up any blur remaining. I also rotated the original image 180 degrees to give the sensation of flying over the Moon rather than under it.

Southern region of the Moon
Near the South Pole, the grazing light of the Sun brings the rugged lunar terrain into stark relief.

The conditions were excellent, so I decided to try doubling the magnification with a 2x Televue Powermate. This brought my total focal length to 5,500mm and with my cameras small pixels, an astonishing 0.11 arc-seconds per pixel resolution. For most deep sky objects (galaxies and nebula) you can only achieve this much resolution/magnification with long exposures by putting your telescope in space where there is no atmosphere. Doing this from Earth requires very fast frame rates to capture the stillness, and a great number of frames to choose from. That’s why we call it LUCKY imaging!

This second image is the left most area from the image above, but taken at twice the focal length. The camera rotation doesn’t match if you can forgive me for that, but it still captures the feeling of really “being there”, at least it does to me.

A closer view still
A closer view by two of the lunar southern highlands.

Finally, for the selenophiles out there (of whom I count myself), I’ve also labeled some of the more prominent craters in this image. Who say’s the full Moon isn’t interesting to photograph?!? Definitely not me.

Southern region labeled
The craters Moretus, Newton, and Casatus.

To the MOON!!

Read with Sean Connery’s accident, “You call this astrophotography?”

Happens to me all the time… on the space coast. I am quite fortunate to live an hour away from the Kennedy Space Center, and I can see most launches from my yard when the weather is good. Sometimes though, you just have to drive over, and not since the last time I drove over for a night Shuttle launch have I seen something so spectacular as the launch of Artemis 1. The Moon has always been my first love of the celestial realm, and since I was a boy I dreamt of walking there one day. I still remember my mother getting me out of bed just shy of four years old to see the broadcast of Armstrong on the Moon. My father acted like it was the greatest thing ever, and it left an impression on me to this day. I plan to be there too when mankind (and this time a more diverse crew) again launches to the Moon. Godspeed Artemis 1, the precursor to our return to crewed flights to the Moon!!

Oh… and I got an extra bonus. I caught what I’m pretty sure is a NASA helicopter monitoring the launch, or it’s silhouette in the bring light of the launch. It had no running lights, but it’s as plan as day when you spot it in this photo! It’s astonishing how recently even a helicopter would be considered a fantasy, and here we are going to the Moon AGAIN!

Artemis 1 Launch
Back to the Moon! And watching nearby, see if you can spot a helicopter monitoring the launch.

Getting Lucky

Last week I had some “work” (I often do imaging research and development scope side) to do and the night before I was getting a new scope and mount lined up and tested ahead of time to save a couple of hours at the beginning of the night “of the tests”. The last thing I did was slew (point the telescope) to Jupiter. There it was, right in the center of a DSLR I had on the back as a simple camera that would do the job for alignment testing. Hmmm, I thought, I have to take that camera off anyway, maybe I should pop in an eyepiece and at least look at Jupiter as it is so well place at the moment. It of course was spectacular as always but I could not believe my luck — not only was the Great Red Spot visible, but the moon (natural satellite actually) Io was nearby and casting a shadow on the Jovian clouds, near the Great Red Spot! Basically, this is a solar eclipse on another planet, caught from Earth! 10 minutes before, I was looking forward to going to bed early, and now I’m digging out tele-extenders, spacers, etc and putting a high speed camera (Player One Neptune C-II) on the back of the telescope in place of the eyepiece. “Lucky Imaging” is a technique where we take many thousands of high speed images (this only works with bright targets like the Moon, Sun, and Planets) and then let the computer pick out just a few of the sharpest images taken during moments of stillness in the turbulent atmosphere.

In this case, I was lucky in more way than one, and I’ll take the win!

Jupiter with shadow transit
A solar eclipse, on another planet!

Dust In The Wind

“From dust you are made, and to dust you shall return.”

The universe is a dirty place. I love this wide field image that prominently displays the great Orion Nebula (and nearby Running Man), a place of star birth and glowing gas on one side, and the dirty brown rusty colored dust of stars long dead who have given up their nuclear fused materials as the seeds of new stars and planets yet to be. The whole circle of life of the cosmos is on display here!

Tech details: Astro-Physics Stowaway 92mm refractor on a Software Bisque Paramount MX+, QHY 128C Pro one shot color camera. There’s 6.5 hours of exposure time gathered over three nights from my dark sky site in Okeechobee county Florida.

M42 and surrounding dust
Star birth and decay in the cosmic circle of life.

Sunspot Parade

While Hydrogen Alpha solar filters get most of the attention because of their visual flair (see what I did there<g>), there’s something to be said for white light filters. Sunspots are fascinating and to me they look like tiny organisms crawling and evolving as they move across the Sun’s face. I’ve labeled the AR (Active Region) designations I observed on the morning of October 7th. I was using my 92mm Stowaway (Mary Anne) and a 2x Televue Powermate with an Altair Astro Solar Wedge v2. I’ll have more to say about this solar wedge another time, but this was also first light with my Player One cameras. I had the Apollo Max out and got some nice data, and this is actually a color image (it is a white light view remember!) with the Neptune-C II. I’m very impressed with the Player One camera quality, and the responsiveness of their engineers to questions and issues with their SDK (What, you think I’m not working on astro software anymore? Who told you that?). You’ll definitely see more from me with these cameras.

Sunspots across the Sun
Sunspot parade the morning of October 7th, 2022.

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!