NGC 457 - the ET or Owl Cluster in Cassiopeia

A favourite cluster that looks like it's name, with a little imagination. I like to pick up the colour of the stars which is why I used 60sec frames on this. Longer exposures than 120sec or so, burn them out.
I used a William 98 and a SX M25C camera, guided by a Vixen 260L and SX H9C. Flats and bias frames used when calibrating and colour synthesising in AstroArt4. Further processing in Photoshop, including GradX and Noel's Actions.

Comet 103P Hartley - 101019

Taken with a William 98FLT on an AP 900GTO mount, 60 unguided frames of 60 sec each, then manually stacked on the comet in AstroArt and further processed in Photoshop. If you magnify the trails enough you'll see the individual star images. The long trails are indicative of the speed it's moving across our sky, though this should slow as it moves away from us and it should have started that on the 20th.
Not as bright as the pundits forecast, quite difficult to see in binoculars though easier in a telescope except when the Moon is as big and bright and close as it has been this week.

M42 - 101006

A clear but very dewy night with some high haze. I couldn't resist this. Always a difficult target because of its wide dynamic range. I tried to get a reasonable result without having to take a variety of exposure lengths, short to suit the Trapezium and long to suit the nebulosity. The equipment used was the WO 98 and M25C, but the work is mostly in the processing and this time I tried a self-devised DDP curve in Photoshop. I think with a modicum of success, but many more chances to photograph this target in the coming months.
The exposure was 15x120sec, perhaps between two stools? But the process is worth pursuing for this or other targets.
Stacking and calibration, flats and bias, in AstroArt and all the rest in Photoshop, including some GradX and High Pass sharpening.

M45 - The Pleiades in Taurus

This was taken on Saturday 11.9.10, with an SX M25C in a William 98FLT on an Astro Physics 900GTO, and guided by an SX H9C in a Vixen VMC260L.
Acquired in AstroArt and stacked and coloured there then processed in Photoshop.
It's really quite easy to get a reasonable result on this subject, and it suits a DSLR and short focal length telescope. The difficulty is as much in processing as in taking the photograph, because of the wide dynamic range, bright stars and faint nebulosity.
The exposure was 14x240 secs, hoping to strike a balance between the two. Perhaps the right way would have been to take two series, one short for the stars and the other long for the nebulosity. Some Noise Ninja was used, some Grad X and some pinching and a touch of High Pass sharpening. The photograph is uncropped.

Jupiter and Ganymede

Taken on Friday the 3rd of September with a webcam and a Vixen VMC260L, through poor seeing and thin cloud. Not the best with regard to quality, but interesting. If I'd caught the situation earlier I might have set up to do a longer series and made a video of it, but all well and good in hindsight.
The four were taken soon after each other and all within about 10 mins. Of course when I'd got home it cleared up, as always.
Processed in Registax and Photoshop.

Jupiter and Io - 100831

Taken on the 31st of August with a webcam and Vixen 260. A very hazy night, with seeing limited to about mag 3. But it has a steadying effect on planets, so more of a plus.
This is a good year for Jupiter as it rises quite high in the sky, after two years of keeping very low in the south, so make the most of it. It needs a long focal length, the big Meade should produce good results, and if the seeing is good, add a barlow.
Processed in Registax using 444 frames, out of 2000 taken.
That's Io in the bottom right hand corner.

M103 in Cassiopeia

Tricked by the Cloud God again into seeing it clear at home. A rotten night at the observatory, full of very dense haze/thin cloud, but you have to go out when there's a sign of it being clear. Well, I do.
This is a brightish Open Cluster that I've not photographed before and in such bad skies nebulae aren't really on, so clusters it had to be.
Taken with a WO98FLT and M25C camera on the 900GTO mount. Guiding was poor but not really needed at 120sec frames, 13 of them. Actually 20 were taken, but many were just too hazed to use.
The bright blue star lower right is Ruchbar in the W of Cass and the little cluster at the top edge is Trumpler 1. On the left there's what seems to be an empty patch, though stars can be seen there, a dark nebula? There's another on the right too.
Acquired in AstroArt and stacked and coloured there, final processing in Photoshop, without any sharpening. Uncropped except for stacking edges.

NGC7331 - In Pegasus

Not the best image I've ever taken, it was an attempt to try and capture Stephan's Quintet in the constellation of Pegasus. I didn't have a detailed enough star map to nail down the galaxy group with any precision, as there are no bright stars in the vicinity, so I had to centre the image on NGC7331 which is nearby and visible at the eyepiece. I have no Go-To trickery on the mount to help me in these situations but I enjoy the challenge of star-hopping anyway. If you look closely and use a bit of imagination you can see a few fuzzy patches where the quintet should be, about a third of the way along the top of the image from the right. There are also a few galaxies just below NGC7331 but I haven't identified them yet. This seems an interesting part of the sky but not one I'll rush back to as I don't have the equipment to do it justice yet! Processing has also exposed some large ring shaped gradient variations in the background, something I'll have to investigate further....
Taken with my usual equipment on 18th August 2010. Only 8 images stacked.

M71 - 18/08/2010

This is an image I took of M71, which is a loose globular cluster at a distance of around 13,000 light years in the constellation of Sagitta. Not a particularly fine example of a globular cluster but, lying in the middle of the Milky Way, it has a very rich backdrop of stars. It's a stack of 8 30second exposures with flats and darks, processed using GIMP. I would have stacked more frames but a slow moving faint satellite, which I only spotted later, ran straight across the shot over the period of about 8 frames!

Albireo - Beta Cygni

This blog seemed to be lacking in Double Stars, so what better place to start than Albireo, Beta Cygni, said to be the most beautiful double in the whole night sky. Albireo, at a distance of 380 light-years, can be found at the bottom of the 'Northern Cross' and is easily split with any telescope. The most striking thing about this double is the difference in colours, one gold and one blue, seperated by 35 arc seconds. It is still uncertain as to whether this is a true binary star, if it is then the orbital period has been estimated at around 100,000 years! The gold star is itself a double star, potentially making this a triple system.
The image, taken on 4th August, is a stack of 9 30second frames with darks and flats, processed (very lightly) using the GIMP. Skywatcher 8" Newtonian, Coma corrector and Canon EOS550d.

M27 - The Dumbbell Nebula

I took this image on the 4th August 2010, on a night of very good seeing conditions. It's a stack of 28 30sec. frames with darks and flats. Comparing this image to Brian's further down this blog shows how DSLRs (unmodified) are not as sensitive in the red region due to the filters in front of the sensor.
The Milky Way was clearly visible running through Cygnus and across to Cassiopeia, a rare sight from just South of Pontefract! I also saw two bright Meteors which could have been early Perseids since they both seemed to radiate from the direction of Perseus. The evening was capped off with a first look at Jupiter this season, despite being very low in the sky several cloud belts were easily visible, the SEB was still missing though.

Jupiter - 100729

This promises to be a good season for Jupiter, arching higher in the sky than the previous two.
Taken from Austerfield with an old Toucam 740 in a Vixen 260 at 3000mm EFL. Some 2000 frames were stacked in Registax and fiddled with there and in Photoshop.
The Southern Equatorial Belt continues to be absent and looks almost as though it has been "painted over". The black spot is the shadow of Ganymede.

M57 - The Ring Nebula

This is my first image of the Summer and is really just a quick test of the gadgets I've made/bought over the past few months. As usual, after spending several hours setting up the telescope and imaging bits then waiting for the sky to darken a bit, I only managed 5 minutes photography before the clouds rolled in and the Moon came out to play. The image is a single 30second exposure of M57, but taken through a coma corrector which, at first glance, seems to have done a good job. I've purposefully left the image un-cropped so you can see the stars right at the edge of the field, these would normally look like comets. 6 flats were taken with my new light box, which, when combined in DeepSkyStacker, have produced a nice evenly illuminated field. 2 dark frames were also taken but their effect isn't really visible in the image. The Ring shows slight colouring and, if you zoom in, the central star is just visible. I need more focal length for this object ideally. Equipment used: Skywatcher 8" Newtonian, Skywatcher Coma corrector, Canon EOS550d.

M29 - an Open Cluster in Cygnus

Taken on 23.7.10, a poor night of mixed cloud and clear, with lots of thin hidden cloud and haze, which shows itself as a streaky background. I'd done some collimation on the Vixen and needed a test and this was near where the mount was pointing at the time, the middle of Cygnus. I didn't have time to get the guide system into operation for fear of cloud attack so ran 30 frames at 60sec. No flats, which would have helped the background.
Sometimes called the Cooling Tower cluster, it's not particularly inspiring, quite small too, 10 arcmin and mag 6.6, so should suit the Meade's 3500mm FL, with a big enough chip. The Vixen's is 3000mm. 30 mins is what this took, and that should be plenty for most clusters, and Cygnus is full of them.

The North American, Ferret and Pelican - NGC7000 and NGC5070

These are, or this is, a large nebular cloud to the left of Deneb in Cygnus.
Taken last year with the Pronto on a Meade 14" and my M25C. The exposure was 14x300sec and it was guided by the Meade and an H9C. Acquired in AstroArt and processed there and in Photoshop.
The North American is the large part to the left and the Pelican is the smaller one to the right. The Ferret is the smaller one between them around the 2 bright stars, the eyes. You need an astronomer's imagination. The ferret needs a lot of it,
the Pelican is quite clear but the North American I see as a Water Buffalo. Choose your own names if you don't like these.

Noctilucent Clouds - 100704

I know they aren't really astronomical but then neither are satellites and space stations etc. So here is the first I've seen this year. The picture was taken from Austerfield with my Samsung M110 P&S camera at f2.8/1sec, and a chair. No processing to speak of. The little spot to the right is Venus, but you'll have to click for a larger version to see it.

NGC40 - a planetary in Cepheus - 100705

This is quite a bright one, recorded as mag 12.3, but being compact, about 1.2 arcmin across, is easier to catch than the number suggests.
Near the top of the sky, so well clear of the rubbish near the horizon. Taken with a Vixen 260, focal length 3000mm, and an SX M25C camera, though a smaller one would do as well. Guided by an SX H9C in a WO98 on an AP 900GTO mount. Acquired in AstroArt and processed in AstroArt and Photoshop, and not cropped. 25 flats were taken and averaged but darks aren't needed with my camera. An IDAS filter was used. The exposure was 30x120sec, 120sec to retain star colours.
The 14" Meade should manage this well enough.

Scorpius rising

I took this image on the 5th of June while on holiday in Majorca with a camera and mini-tripod balancing on a rubbish bin. Looking east it shows Scorpius rising over the villas on the cliff tops and also the faint glow of the galactic centre in the lower left quadrant. This is an area of sky rich with Messier objects, see how many you can spot, I'm up to 14 so far!

Canon EOS550d, focal length of 29mm at f3.5, ISO800, 20 second exposure.

M17 - The Swan

It's upside-down here so looks more like a swan than in the sky, where it can be seen visually, with a big enough telescope, as a fairly bright and recognisable shape. It was taken with an M25C and Vixen VMC260L with a Meade 6.3 focal reducer in the optical train to widen the field of view.
Taken on the 16th of June this year, this object is very low in the south so fraught with light pollution and thick air introducing diffraction problems etc. But shortening the focal length eases many difficulties, as does an IDAS LPS filter.
The exposure was 7x300sec, 25 dome flats were taken too, but no darks, and it was processed in AstroArt and Photoshop CS2.


This is an animated gif file, made of two frames taken in March this year, without a telescope, naked DSLR? It's of the dwarf planet Vesta, as it was passing through Leo.
If you click on the picture you'll get a larger one and be able to see the animation.

M27 - the Dumbbell nebula

More testing of the Vixen 260 I use on the 900GTO mount. It was taken on the 12th of May 2010, with an M25C camera and a .5 focal reducer in the optical train. An IDAS LPS filter was used, as always. The exposure was 9x120sec and the guiding, with an H9C in a WO98 was working well, but dawn was encroaching and I had to shut down. It needs more time, though this is bright enough to get a satisfactory result with minimal time.
The whole was acquired and stacked in AstroArt4 and processed in Photoshop CS2, with help from GradX and Noel's Actions.

The Great Globular Cluster in Hercules - M13

The image was taken on 12th May 2010 using my 8" Skywatcher Newtonian and Canon EOS550d. It's a stack of 19 30sec. exposures at ISO800, with dark and flat frames. This is my first experiment with flat frames and it hasn't been entirely successful as a gradient can still be seen across the image, probably due to the way I did it!
To the bottom left of the image is the magnitude 12 Spiral Galaxy NGC 6207, a recent producer of a type II supernova (SN2004A).

The lower picture is the same data, but processed in a different way, and shows that there are many ways to skin a cat, in fact with processing astrophotographs there are many hundreds, so the final result is very subjective and dependant on the photographer, though we all try to maintain the correct colour balance, unless doing narrowband work. Is processing a Black Art? well, certainly it could be considered an Art, the shade of black I leave to you.

M57 - the Ring

Taken on 26.4.10, using a 10" Vixen reflector and M25C camera. Not as good as it should be so I'll be looking for this again. The individual frames were overexposed, can hardly say that about astronomical targets, but I'll try this one with 60sec instead of 300sec frames. The middle of the ring was too bright in comparison with the rest of it and took lots of work to balance, but I suppose I'll have a similar problem with shorter exposures, but it should be easier, we'll see. I'll try to focus more carefully too.
Processed as usual in AA4 and CS2, with help from Noel's Actions and GradX.


This was taken on the 8th of April on a hazy night, as part of a series of tests with the new Vixen VMC260L and 900GTO mount. The telescope has a focal length of 3000mm and I added a .5 focal reducer to bring it down to 1500mm. Acquisition and pre-processing, average stacking, were done in AstroArt and final processing was in Photoshop CS2. The exposure was 45x60sec and unguided. The camera used was an SX M25C with an IDAS LPS filter. Very heavy with noise, which more time would help solve, but that wasn't the purpose of the tests.

A crater on the Moon, but which?

Taken on the 23rd of April from Austerfield, with an old Philips 740 webcam and a Vixen VMC260L, 3000mm EFL. There were no clouds but so much haze that the Moon had difficulty getting through. As for stars, I could only see Arcturus. The sky was also like jelly, but nonetheless I had to try, rather than waste a 10 mile drive. 600 frames taken and processed in Registax, with a bit of work in Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro.
So which crater is it? I think it's Copernicus, but I may be wrong.

M66 in Leo

Not sure when but it was taken by Kevin Read using the Trifid on the 14" Meade. There was not enough colour data to make up a full colour photograph so this is an averaged stack of 7x30sec Luminance frames, stacked in AstroArt4 and processed in Photoshop CS2 with levels and curves and a touch of high pass sharpening and some unsharp masking. Gradient Xterminator was used to even out the background gradients and Noel's Actions were also used to enhance the galaxy and to smooth the background.

Looking West from WYAS - 16/04/2010

The 56hr old Moon, Venus and the Pleiades (upper left of the Moon) all in a line. Mercury would have completed the line-up but I think it was hidden behind the cloud low down, I didn't see it at all on this particular evening.
Taken using a Canon EOS 550d and EF 50mm f1.8 lens, 5sec exposure at f4, ISO100.

The Moon - 56hrs old

The 56 hour-old Crescent Moon as seen from WYAS on the 16th of April. The image was taken using a Canon EOS 550d attached to the Televue 102 in the dome.

As the sky got darker I was able to capture the Earthshine using the same equipment but a longer exposure.

NGC 6543 - Cat's Eye nebula - 100417

A planetary of some 3arcsec dia. So quite small, but they almost all are. This is another unguided test picture, taken from Austerfield, using the Vixen VMC260L and an H9C camera, without filters. The exposure was 40x60sec, and it was acquired in AstroArt4 and processed there and in Photoshop CS2.

NGC 2903 - The one that got away?

This brightish galaxy is not included in the Messier catalogue for some reason, which is strange considering some of Messier's comets apparently passed close to it. I decided to photograph this object after reading an article on it in the April 2010 BAA journal, it can be found 1.5 deg due south of lamda Leonis. Discovered by William Herschel in 1784, it's a barred spiral Galaxy lying at a distance of around 25million light years and shows many similarities to our own Milky Way.
The image, taken on 14th April 2010, is a stack of 21 30-sec exposures at ISO 1600, no dark frames or flats were included in the stack which compromises the result somewhat. The sky was heavily light polluted, possibly due to the volcanic dust cloud from Iceland, most likely it was just the usual high-pressure smog! Canon EOS550d, Skywatcher 200p, DeepSkyStacker and the GIMP.

the Moon - but you knew that.

This was taken on the 23rd of March through a 14" Meade, afocally, with my little Samsung M110 point-and-shoot-camera, by putting the lens up to the eyepiece of the telescope.

NGC 2392 - the Eskimo nebula - 100408

This is a small planetary nebula in Gemini, sometimes called the Clown nebula. Not as good as the CFHT one, at least I think it was theirs, you know the one, but not bad for 45x60sec unguided frames on a hazy night. It was taken using a Vixen VMC260L with an Antares .5 focal reducer. This reduces the focal length to 1500mm. The camera was an SX M25C. Stacked and pre-processed in AstroArt4 and finalised in Photoshop CS2.
There aren't many objects up there with green in them but some planetaries are so endowed, due to the oxygen in their gas clouds caused to fluoresce by the ultraviolet light from the white dwarf in the middle

Mercury and Venus - 7th April 2010

Mercury is currently having its best apparition of the year and can be easily found lurking next to the much brighter Venus in the early evening twilight. This picture was taken using a Canon 550d and 300mm telephoto lens, 1.6second exposure at f8, ISO400. I even managed to get a TV aerial in the shot just for Brian :)

M3 - Again.....

Here's another picture of M3 to compare with Brian's below. I took this because I didn't want to stay up and wait for M13 to swing into view! It's still a fine example of a Globular Cluster though. Seven 30second exposures, taken using a Canon EOS550d (ISO1600) and my 8" Skywatcher, stacked with DeepSkyStacker and tweaked using the GIMP. 7th April 2010.

A second version of M3, reprocessed another way. Better? Worse? Very much in the eye of the beholder.

M51 - Whirlpool Galaxy (7th April 2010)

This image is a combination of ten 30second exposures stacked using DeepSkyStacker and edited with the GIMP. Taken using a Canon EOS550d DSLR and Skywatcher 200p Newtonian on a driven, but unguided, EQ5 mount. I took over 20 shots but a lot had to be discarded due to star trails and passing clouds. ISO 1600 was used, as the sensor in this new camera is much better than my old one.
An alternative method of processing the same frames. As always, it's in the eye of the beholder.

M3 - 100322

Taken with a William FLT98 and SX M25C on an AP 900GTPO mount. Guided by an H9C in a Vixen VMC260L. This is the first guided try with the AP mount and all seems to be working well. The exposure was 7x120sec, which isn't much but the night wasn't good enough to be worth more between clouds. Pre-processed and averaged in AstroArt4 and finally in Photoshop CS2.

The Veil supernove remnant, all of it I think

Taken from Austerfield on the 20th of July 09 with the WYAS Pronto and a Meade .63 focal reducer. The camera was an M25C camera with an Ha filter, all riding on a 14" Meade, guided by an H9C in the Meade. The exposure was 14x600sec. Stacked and processed in AstroArt4 with final work done in Photoshop CS2.
There are lots of problems to be seen, generated mostly by the optics. Try to pick them out.

12.3.10 - Friday

A trip made to visit the observatory facilities of Doncaster AS in Austerfield near Bawtry. A moment during a break for tea and biscuits when Tim Beale explains the mount he uses to take photographs from his garden in Darrington. Looking on and listening intently are Steve Dunn and Brian Joynes.

M67 Open Cluster

Taken 7.3.10 by Tim Beale using a Canon DSLR on a Skywatcher 8" Newtonian. 11 frames taken and stacked then processed in Photoshop.
This is almost a first attempt at astrophotography.

The Centre of M42

Taken by Julian Snowden with a Nikon D90 and the 14" Meade at the Rosse Observatory, and processed by Steve Dunn in Photoshop.

2.3.10 - Tuesday

A couple of pictures of Mars taken from the Rosse observatory on 2.3.10, an Open Night, using the 14" Meade and a webcam. The job was done by the small group of budding astrophotographers who'd met at the observatory for the first time, and took the opportunity to take a record of Mars through the heavy haze/thin cloud. Mars was almost the only item that could get through it. The Moon came up later wearing what appeared to be a shawl.
Processing was done in Registax.