Oops, I think I may have broken the weather!

Hello, not much has been happening with photo taking for a while, as I posted a while back I’ve been using a 127mm Maksutov Cassegrain as my primary telescope, it’s an excellent piece of kit for visual observing, but its long focal length, 1500mm, isn’t that great for astrophotography. This means that I need a telescope that has a shorter focal length and a larger aperture, I decided that Newtonian is the way to go.

About two weeks ago I went up to the site I use in Cape-le-Ferne with the intention of just doing some visual observing. However the sky conditions were near perfect and I was getting exquisite views of M42 the Orion nebula, M31 the Andromeda galaxy and a few others, add to that the fact that the mount was tracking perfectly, I decided to set the camera up to do some imaging. I took around 160 photos and, unfortunately, not one was usable as the whole lot were out of focus. I realised that what I needed is a piece of kit called a Bahtinov mask, google it! The next day one was ordered and it arrived three days later. The timing couldn’t have been better as I’d been invited to attend an imaging evening under some of Kents darkest skies.

I gathered up my kit, made up a flask of tea and was picked up by a chum and we headed off. It was a bit of a pain having set up in the dark but luckily we were allowed to use ordinary torches to set up, phew! Once we were all sorted and had filled up on chilli we were all set. I used my newly acquired Bahtinov mask to focus the scope with the camera attached and started imaging.

The images we good, I was getting 20, 8 second exposures, but because the 127 isn’t the best ‘scope to image with I can’t stack them. Some of the images are featured on this post.

So now we come to last week, Wednesday the 7th to be precise, I took possession of a shiny new Skywatcher Explorer Newtonian. It has a 150mm aperture with a 750mm focal length. That’s an additional 23mm width with a 50% reduction on focal length. According to the blurb the ‘scope gives outstanding results visually and it has been designed with the astrophotographer in mind, thank you Skywatcher; at some point in the near future I will add a guide ‘scope which will enable much longer exposures as the guidescope sort of locks on to a bright star and continuously makes minor adjustments to the mount to stay centred on the object that’s being imaged.

The down side to getting a new telescope is that the rule of getting a new scope has kicked in and the night sky isn’t going to be clear for the next three weeks. Right now I’ll be happy with on clear sky over the Christmas break.

That’s it for now, I hope you like the images, nestled among them is the new scope, and have a happy whatever festive thing it you celebrate at this time of year.

Space, the final… oh you know the rest!

My readers may not be aware of the fact that I’m a keen amateur astronomer, I say keen, I live in England so clear night skies are a rare treat.

I’ve always marvelled the amazing images that are captured with a telescope and a camera. So I decided to have a bash at astro-imaging. My efforts range from down right awful to sub par; but they’re my images so I’m quite pleased with them.

I’ve imaged the moon through its various phases, I’ve photographed the stars and had a bash at DSOs, Deep Sky Objects, as I mentioned earlier my success is below average. There are some chanmakges I need to make to improve the quality of my images. I’m currently using a 127mm aperture Maksutov Cassegrain telescope with a 1500mm focal length, google it :D. This type of scope is not ideal for astro-photograpy. What I need is a Newtonian reflector of at least 150mm aperture.

Whilst the MAK, top image, isn’t ideal, the Newtonian has much more light gathering ability. So that’s one thing I need. It’s not too bad, a Newtonian is a relatively low priced scope. The biggest set back is my knowledge, my understanding of the techniques applied for astro imaging is somewhat lacking.newt

However, I have the good fortune to have a friend that has a great deal of experience with imaging the night sky, even better that he is very happy to share his wealth of knowledge. So with the proper kit and a few lessons, I should get the images I aspire to. Lessons have started and there have been results.

The first image is Messier 31, The Andromeda Galaxy. WARNING: educational info ahead! M31 is a spiral galaxy some 2.5 million light years from earth. With approximately 350 billion stars it is much larger than the Milky Way. M31 has a magnitude 0f 3.5 (ish). It is visible to the naked eye but very clear, very dark skies are needed. What can actually be seen is the bright core or centre of the galaxy. If it were just a magnitude brighter it would appear to be larger than the full moon. One more interesting fact, in about 4 billion year the Andromeda galaxy and the Milky Way will collide.

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This image wasn’t taken by me, oh how I wish. However I really hope that by the time M31 is in the best position for imaging I will have the new kit.

My next image is of Messier 51, the Whirlpool galaxy. It’s a fine example of a spiral galaxy, and a companion galaxy can just be seen above the main object. M51 is 24 million light years away and at magnitude 8.4 a reasonable sized scope is needed. The image isn’t great because there was some high altitude cloud.

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This image is taken by me, it’s a one minute exposure at ISO 1600.

My third image is a favourite target for astronomers, Messier 13; The great cluster in Hercules. M13 is a globular cluster that contains around 300, 000 stars. It s about 145 light years in diameter, it is 25,100 light-years away from Earth.

The Arecibo message of 1974, which contained encoded information about the human race, DNA, atomic numbers, Earth’s position and other information, was beamed from the Arecibo Observatory radio telescope towards M13 as an experiment in contacting potential extraterrestrial civilizations in the cluster. While the cluster will move through space during the transit time, the proper motion is small enough that the cluster will only move 24 light years, only a fraction of the diameter of the cluster. Thus, the message will still arrive near the center of the cluster.

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The top image is made from 37 images of 20 second exposures which have been stacked using Deep sky stacker, other than that there has been no other processing. The second image is a single 20 second exposure at ISO 1600  which has been darkened.

Image 3 is an unprocessed 20 second exposure ISO 1600.

If you look to the left of the cluster in images 2 & 3, at about the 7 o’clock position you can just make out a very faint object. This is NGC 6207, a spiral galaxy that is approximately 30 million light years away. NGC 6207 has a magnitude of 11.7.

I hope you enjoy the images, and that you weren’t too put off by the info blurb.

Astronomy Images.

I’m a keen amateur astronomer, I have a 127mm aperture 1500mm focal length Maksutov Cassegrain telescope on an EQ3 mount with dual axis tracking. Last year I upgraded my camera from a Samsung instamatic digital camera to a Nikon 3200 DSLR. I also purchased a few extras that would enable me to take prime focus images, something I was told I would be able to do with my type of ‘scope. I have the potential to capture some amazing images of the night sky, sadly I’m somewhat lacking in both skill and knowledge. One thing I don’t lack however is persistence, I am certain that if I keep at it I will get the images that I can be proud of.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased with the images I have taken, but I know that I can do better. So here are a few of my images, and one rather spectacular image that isn’t mine, I’ve included it to illustrate what I hope to be able to do after lots of practice.

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The moon
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Jupiter, The Great Red Spot is visible
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The Coat Hanger asterism
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The Teapot asterism
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Messier 31, The Andromeda Galaxy
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The bright streak is the International Space Station
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M31 with a meteor
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Close up of the moon
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The Pleiades cluster
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M31 comprised of 20 x 1 minute exposures, image courtesy of Ewan Vellacot.

Messier 31, The Andromeda Galaxy is the most distant object that can be seen with the naked eye. It’s 2.5 million light years away. It is about twice the size of the Milky Way, our home galaxy, and contains around 1 trillion stars.

I hope that it won’t be too long before I have some stunning images of my own to share with you,