Astrophotography in Central Mass 

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Flame Nebula and Horsehead

Published on 2015-11-09, by

After the Triangulum Galaxy headed into the trees, I slewed the ‘scope over to the Flame Nebula which was just coming out from behind a tall tree to the South.  This is the same small window of opportunity that afforded the recent attempts at Orion Nebula.  As much as I love trees, I’m looking forward to opening the view significantly allowing many hours of exposures on targets that fly low. When I processed the images I was excited to see, for the first time on my own equipment, the Horsehead Nebula adjacent the Flame Nebula.  I don’t have many exposures to work with but here’s a good start.  Feedback welcome through the contact page.

Flame Nebula & Horsehead

Flame Nebula & Horsehead

 
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Triangulum Galaxy Revisited

Published on 2015-11-09, by

This is my second or third attempt at imaging the Triangulum galaxy as an astrophotography target.  I was finally able to get some sharpness and detail thanks to better optical alignment.  It moves quickly out of reach beyond the trees so there weren’t many exposures to combine.  This is a mashup of 30s exposures @ ISO 25600, 30s exposures @ ISO 6400, and 60s exposures @ ISO 6400 taken with the Canon EOS 6D DSLR. The exposures were registered and stacked in Deep Sky Stacker then processed with Adobe Camera RAW and Photoshop CS6. Within Photoshop the processing involved several fantastic plugins including Noise Ninja, Gradient Xterminator, and Hasta La Vista Green (HVLG).

Triangulum Galaxy

Triangulum Galaxy

 
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The Missing Cap (Orion Telescope Downer)

Published on 2015-11-06, by

Earlier this year, I purchased an Orion 4.5″ StarBlast telescope from the Goodwill Auction website.  The telescope arrived in all of the original packaging and I couldn’t see any signs of wear.  I believe the telescope was donated new or perhaps used only once or twice.  After some deliberation I decided to donate the telescope to a local library as part of the Aldrich Astronomical Society‘s Library Telescope Program.  I initiated a GoFundMe campaign to raise the funds necessary to purchase the additional supplies that go into transforming the telescope for public use (PDF). Thanks to the generosity of many people, I was able to raise the $200 very quickly and John Root will put in the order for the remaining components.

The one caveat in all of this is that either Goodwill left out the OTA cap on accident or the person who donated the telescope to Goodwill omitted it.  In order for the telescope to travel to and from library patrons’ homes safely, a dust cap is needed and preferably an OEM cap.  I contacted Orion and was rather shocked to find out that they could not offer me a replacement.  If you have any suggestions or know of a place I can purchase a replacement please use the contact page.

I post this not to fault Orion’s agent, Giovanni, nor the company as a whole.  They make great products and that’s why we’re able to successfully deploy them to so many libraries.  I am posting this as a plea to Orion to offer replacement parts to owners of their telescopes–regardless of whether they are the original owner.

Here’s a full transcript of my chat with the Orion agent (2015-11-06):

Chat 2015.11.06

Giovanni
12:35:50
Thank you for contacting Orion Telescopes & Binoculars, how may I help you today?
Charlie Ste…
12:36:17
I lost the aperture cover for my Orion StarBlast 4.5 astro reflector telescope (the tabletop unit) can I get another one?
Giovanni
12:37:03
Did you purchase this telescope from us?
Charlie Ste…
12:37:24
No I purchased it used from Goodwill
Charlie Ste…
12:38:15
Happy to pay for the part
Giovanni
12:39:02
Are you referring to the collimation cap?
Charlie Ste…
12:39:37
No the cap that covers the OTA
Charlie Ste…
12:39:46
The big one
Giovanni
12:41:21
The one that goes on the end of the telescope when doing solar viewing?
Charlie Ste…
12:41:51
No the opaque black one that protects the primary from dust etc during storage and transport
Giovanni
12:42:06
One moment please
Charlie Ste…
12:42:17
Thanks, Giovanni
Giovanni
12:42:54
Like this correct?
http://www.telescope.com/432mm-Orion-Lens-Cap-for-Binoculars/p/7609.uts?keyword=telescope%20cap
Charlie Ste…
12:43:17
One sec
Charlie Ste…
12:43:59
Sort of… this is for the Orion 4.5″ telescope
Charlie Ste…
12:44:11
I think part of it fits within the OTA and overlaps slightly
Giovanni
12:44:34
Yes, that is not the correct size
We might not have one at the moment for the 4.5
Charlie Ste…
12:44:36
This is the reflecting telescope… the 4.5″ newtonian
Charlie Ste…
12:44:42
Ok
Giovanni
12:44:45
Let me go head and double check and see if we have the proper size for your telescope
Charlie Ste…
12:44:52
Thank you.
Giovanni
12:46:28
We unfortunately do not have one, go head and check astromart.com
They might have one that fits the telescope
Charlie Ste…
12:46:59
Yeah, I’ll check there. We want to cover this telescope for use at a local library
Charlie Ste…
12:47:12
https://gofund.me/librarytelescope
Charlie Ste…
12:47:42
Haven’t had any luck finding the part
Giovanni
12:48:28
Hopefully they might have it
Charlie Ste…
12:49:16
I don’t understand that Orion doesn’t have the cap for a telescope they manufacture and are still actively selling
Charlie Ste…
12:49:43
Doesn’t that seem like needing a hub cap for a vehicle and the manufacturer saying go to the junk yard
Giovanni
12:51:32
All telescopes come with the appropriate parts when customers order them
Charlie Ste…
12:52:34
There must be a giant quantity of them where they’re manufactured?
Charlie Ste…
12:52:39
Sorry if I’m giving you a hard time
Giovanni
12:52:47
Since we are limited with replacements, we replace parts for those who purchase the telescopes directly from us or an authorized dealer
Giovanni
12:53:20
One moment please, let me go head and see if we can get you that part
Charlie Ste…
12:53:21
Our club orders sometimes 10 of these telescopes at a time so I’ve asked the guy who orders them to go through his channels
Charlie Ste…
12:53:43
We’ve put over 50 of these telescopes into libraries statewide
Giovanni
12:58:05
Unfortunately we can’t get that part, but some customers have used a shower cap to prevent dust and etc
Charlie Ste…
12:59:48
Ok. Thanks for your time.

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Pleiades in November

Published on 2015-11-06, by

This is my latest attempt at imaging the Pleiades (Seven Sisters) open star cluster in Taurus. The “seeing” hasn’t been great lately and the moon was a factor on the 3rd.  Given the sky conditions, I’m pleased with the results. Use the contact form to offer feedback.

I’ve been working on the mechanical alignment of my Newtonian telescope trying to achieve the best possible light cone for round tight stars. I’ve also recently started using a Baader Planetarium MPCC multi-purpose coma corrector (PDF).  The corrector is a lens assembly that corrects the light cone as it passes through allowing round stars almost to the edge of the full frame sensor.  I highly recommend this product to anyone imaging with a fast Newtonian telescope!

M45 - Pleiades Open Cluster in Taurus

M45 – Pleiades Open Cluster in Taurus

 
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Seeing is believing

Published on 2015-11-03, by

By all measurements, tonight should be quite adequate (by New England standards) for astrophotography.  Both Meteoblue and the Candian Government are reporting decent “seeing” tonight and the moon shouldn’t become a nuisance until around midnight.  Many of the Aldrich Imagers will be setting up their scopes and pointing them to the heavens hoping for the best.

Yesterday, I installed a longer counterweight bar for my Celestron CG-5 mount–allowing me to reduce the overall weight by at least 5 lbs.  Initial tests seemed to indicate that the mount was slewing more smoothly and with less effort than before.  I’ve pushed the limits of this mount far beyond the suggested capacity since it’s all I have.

Seeing prediction for the night of 2015-11-03

Seeing prediction for the night of 2015-11-03 (courtesy of meteoblue.com)

 

Maple Observatory Construction

Published on 2015-10-30, by
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ATWB Pic of the Day (Oct. 27, 2015)

Published on 2015-10-29, by

I posted a few days ago about my favorite online astronomy forum Astromart and about Anacortes Telescope & Wild Bird (ATWB)‘s customer gallery.  They’ve just launched a new site with enhanced gallery functionality that incorporates a social media integrated theme.  I love the idea that people can comment on photos I’ve taken and vice versa gaining feedback and building community. Here’s a screenshot from the Astromart forums with my latest Orion Nebula as pic of the day in their sidebar:

ATWB Pic of the Day (Oct. 27, 2015)

ATWB Pic of the Day (Oct. 27, 2015)

 
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Hunter’s Moon

Published on 2015-10-27, by

Last night the full moon dominated the sky from dusk until dawn. The temperature dropped below freezing and the grass and leaves were covered in frost. I used the night to fine tune the alignment of my optics.  I’m not entirely convinced the secondary mirror is at the ideal/correct placement and orientation.  The laser collimator was used to ensure the secondary is in correct relation to the primary, which I center-spotted.

For the previous many nights, I had noticed that stars on the left side of the camera frame had more coma or perhaps astigmatism (elongation).  I rotated the secondary mirror ever so slightly, readjusted the collimation of everything using the laser and stars, and now I perceive that the stars stretch towards the edges of the frame evenly on both sides now.  I’m still very new to all of this and so lots of experimentation is required.

After allowing the primary mirror to cool to equilibrium, which seemed to take a long time, I decided to snap a few shots of the moon.  Lunar astrophotography (can we call it that?) has the opposite challenge of deep space astrophotography.  The moon is incredibly bright and instead of long exposures, tracking the object as accurately as possible, I reverted to the shortest exposure my camera would allow without any tracking.  Any other targets were a loss with all of the light from the moon and the poor atmospheric conditions.  I found an interesting article this morning which describes last night’s moon as the last supermoon of the year and also a bit of history around this full moon’s moniker, The Hunter’s Moon.  You learn something new every day! ;-)

I sharpened this image every so slightly.  It’s possible to sharpen it up and increase the contrast so that all of the subtle craters pop out and yet I felt that the moon looked rather artificial when enhanced to that degree.

Hunter’s Moon 2015

 

Aldrich Observatory Construction

Published on 2015-10-26, by
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Full Moon Selfie

Published on 2015-10-25, by

 

 

When the moon is full, astrophotographers often have less than an enthusiastic response.  It tends to dominate the sky and wash out any hope of observing deep sky objects.  I used the beginnings of tonight to try out my new folding table–a  big step up from setting things on a Rubbermaid tub.  I figured another good use for the bright full moon was to illuminate myself and telescope for a selfie. I tried to hold pretty still for 3 minutes while the exposure unfolded.  The hope was to catch the star trails as they seem to revolve around Polaris (made more obvious with software enhanced diffraction spikes).

Full Moon Selfie

A man and his telescope

 
© 2015 Charles Kelley Stevenson