Saturday, December 18, 2010

2010 Geminid Meteor Shower

No, we're not going to warp. This is a composite image generated from several sub-frames taken of the Geminid Meteor Shower this past December 14th. I set up the camera on the Vixen SP and pointed it at Gemini. Out of 276 30-second exposures, meteors appeared on only six images.

Meteor showers usually occur when the Earth moves through a cloud of particles that have been cast off by a comet. The Geminids were assumed to be from a comet, but no comet was known that could have produced them. However, In 1983 asteroid 3200 Phaethon was discovered and shortly thereafter identified as the source. It may be a chunk that was broken off of a larger asteroid, Pallas. The particles that we see as meteors may be debris left over from a collision or other breakup event.

The shower was actually quite active--despite the lackluster appearance of meteors in the image above. I stopped counting fairly early on, but saw dozens over the course of the night.

Meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, but their trails point back to a small area called the radiant. This is the point in the sky that corresponds to the direction in which the Earth is moving and plowing through the debris field.

The two bright stars near the center of the image are Castor (left) and Pollux (right). The radiant is located just above Castor. Gemini extends to the upper-right of the image. The cluster of stars to the lower-right is Messier 44, the Beehive Cluster.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Rosette Nebula

The Rosette Nebula (Caldwell 49) lies in the constellation Monoceros, the Unicorn. It is a faint emission nebula that surrounds open cluster NGC 2244 (Caldwell 50). Both the nebula and the cluster lie between 5,000 and 5,200 light years away. At that distance, the Rosette Nebula is about 100 to 130 light years in diameter. The visible part of the nebula in the image below covers an area slightly larger than the diameter of the full moon, but is so faint that it requires either a very large telescope to see it visually, or long-exposure images.  The Rosette's name comes from the nebula's resemblance to a decorative emblem.

The stars of NGC 2244 are young--only about four million years old--and extremely hot. The pressure of their stellar winds is clearing out a space within the nebula. This action also compresses nebular gas along the outside edges of the cleared space, which triggers additional star formation.

Caldwell 49 (Rosette Nebula), ST80 on Vixen SP, 17x180
The Rosette Nebula is the most visible part of the much larger Rosette Molecular Cloud.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Broke California

Sometimes, imaging sessions don't work out so well. Unexpected changes in the weather, equipment problems, and even poor planning can bring disaster. Take, for instance, the other night...

I set up in the ObservaRory (my yard) to image Messier 77. I quickly realized, though, that M77 was way too small for my ST80--there's not much to see at that magnification. I wouldn't have wasted my time if I done sufficient research on my target.

Auriga was above the trees, so I decided to try something really ambitious: the Flaming Star Nebula. No good, though. It wasn't nearly dark enough, and even with a 3-minute exposure there wasn't much to see. Again, poor planning on my part.

I've been wanting to image the California Nebula (NGC 1499) for some time. It's a large nebula, from our perspective, but it's also very faint. I figured that if I could get a minimally decent image of the Witch Head Nebula, then I could get the California.

Within a few minutes I was set up and taking 3-minute exposures. It was faint, but I was happy that it showed up at all. Maybe the night wouldn't be a complete loss.

Time was not on my side. For one, the Moon was rising at 10:23 that night, and it was already nearly 9:30 by the time I got everything going. Also, my infant son was asleep and would likely wake sometime between 10:30 and 11:00 to be fed and have his diaper changed. Once everything was set up I went inside to watch a movie with my older son.

I went outside around 11:00 (just as the little one was starting to stir) to check things out, expecting the sequence to be just about done. To my dismay, however, I discovered that the laptop that was controlling the camera had gone into sleep mode due to inactivity. UGGGG!!! (I know that I had disabled the auto sleep mode. How it came to be turned back on again, I have no idea...) The sky was too bright to continue imaging the California Nebula, and I had baby maintenance duties to perform, so I shut everything down.

Upon examining the images later, I discovered that there was an odd blemish--probably something to do with dust and/or dew on the objective lens. I had forgotten to take flats, so I was stuck with it. Add to that the fact that I didn't get nearly as many subs as I wanted...

But, here it is, anyway. Like the real state of California, mine is broke(n), but it's still a pretty nice place:

NGC 1499, the California Nebula. ST80 on Vixen SP. 22x180 at ISO-1600.
The nebula lies approximately 1,500 to 1,800 light years away, and resides in the Orion arm, which is the same spiral arm of the galaxy as the Sun. It is about 100 light years across.

To the south of the nebula is the bright star Xi Persei, also known as Menkib. It is on the right-hand side of this image. Menkib may be providing most of the light that is energizing the nebula

Menkib means "collarbone" in Arabic, and it is part of an old Arabic constellation that includes the nearby Pleiades. Even though Menkib is relatively faint in our skies (apparent magnitude of 3.96), it is actually about 13,500 times brighter than then Sun in the visible spectrum. That makes it the most luminous star that we can see with the naked eye. It appears so dim to us because of its distance and the vast amount of light-absorbing interstellar dust between us.

Menkib is also a "runaway star." It is moving away from us at an unusually high rate of speed (about 20 km/s). Its speed may have been gained from a gravitational encounter with another star, or by the supernova explosion of a previous companion star. Menkib itself is a supernova candidate, and may explode anytime within the next million years.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Leo Triplet

About 35 million light years away in the Leo constellation lie three galaxies--Messier 65, Messier 66 and NGC 3628. This group is called the Leo Triplet, or the Leo Trio. Each is a spiral galaxy, and each is gravitationally influenced by the other two.

Here is Messier 65. It has a high ratio of old to new stars due to its relatively low quantity of gas and dust. Note the prominent dust lane in the foreground. The star in the middle of the dust lane resides in our own galaxy.

Messier 65

Messier 66 has an unusual shape.  Its spiral arms appear to be bent above the plane of the galaxy, and the nucleus is off-center. This is likely due to its gravitational interaction with its neighbors. Messier 66 is about 95 light years across, which makes it slightly smaller than the Milky Way.

Messier 66
The faintest of the three galaxies is NGC 3628. It is seen edge-on. The outer edges are distorted as a result of the gravitational influences of Messier 65 and Messier 66.

NGC 3628
The Leo Triplet can be easily viewed in a 6-inch telescope (and in some smaller scopes) in clear, dark skies. It is likely that Charles Messier's equipment was not sensitive enough to detect NGC 3628, which explains why it was not cataloged along with its neighbors.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Looking for Faces in All the Wrong Places

Note:  This is a discussion of the Face on Mars. It will likely make some people angry. I believe that the "face" is a natural feature. This topic has been discussed to death by various individuals on both sides of the argument, but I thought I'd try my hand at it, anyway.

Images are courtesy of the European Space Agency. Yes, I'm using data from an ESA web site to discuss something that NASA did. Go figure.

The human brain is an amazing piece of engineering. Ironically, it is so complex that not even the human mind can't fully comprehend it, but significant progress has been made in decoding some of the brain's mechanical processes.

One of these processes deals with face recognition. Studies have shown that part of the brain's visual processing region, called the fusiform gyrus, is responsible recognizing and categorizing visual information. A specific area in the fusiform gyrus, known as the fusiform face area, seems to be responsible for recognizing human faces. Other studies have shown that this ability is already functioning at birth. Such mechanisms are essential for our survival, and most tend to stick with us throughout our lives.

And that's a good thing. Imagine what life would be like if you couldn't recognize friends, family, or even yourself. Unfortunately, there is such a condition. It's called prosopagnosia, and may involve damage to the fusiform face area.

Conversely, we often recognize faces where there are none. Pareidolia is a phenomenon where we see images and faces in things that are not related to the things we perceive. For example, most of us have recognized the shape of an animal or other thing in a cloud.

This ability has its advantages. It permits us to see through camouflage, pick out faces from a crowd, and produce interesting art.

But, it can easily be carried too far.

Take for example, the infamous Face on Mars.

While taking pictures of potential landing sites in 1976, the Viking 1 probe imaged the Cydonia region of Mars. One of the more intriguing features was a mesa that resembled a human face. As soon as the image became public people began to claim that the image was an artificial construction. It was hard to argue against what the eye was perceiving, though, until NASA was able to get higher resolution images nearly 25 years later.

I thought it might make an interesting exercise to show how the real feature can be mistaken for something that it's not, when the conditions are right.

First, here is the original Viking 1 image from 1976:

Yes, it's small. Actually, I think this is a slightly enlarged version of the original image. The resolution was very low--somewhere in the order of 150 to 300 meters per pixel. The pixels represent two types of things: luminance data, and missing data. Luminance data represents the brightness of the surface being imaged. Combine luminance pixels together and you get a black-and-white image. The missing data is just that: pixels that were lost in transmission.

Below is an image from the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS). This one has been scaled down to save space. A larger version is available here.

Big difference, huh? Well, the resolution of this image is MUCH higher, and the image was taken when the sun was higher in Cydonia's sky. It's still easy to see some parts of the face in the image, but, in my opinion, it certainly doesn't look as much like a face as the Viking 1 image.

For my little exercise, I reduced the MGS image to approximately the same size as the Viking 1 image:

Next, I simulated the shadows from the Viking 1 images by adjusting the contrast:

I thought that the image still had too much detail, so I blurred it a little:

Finally, I attempted to identify the missing pixels on the Viking 1 image and apply them to this image. This gives the face its right "nostril:"

OK, maybe it's not as impressive as the original Viking 1 image, but I think it still proves my point that it is easy to mistake one thing for another.

And this phenomenon isn't limited to just the "I-know-what-I-saw" and the I Want to Believe crowds. Famed astronomer Percival Lowell was convinced that there were canals--and therefore an advanced civilization--on Mars. And more recently one of my favorite astronomers thought he saw the ghost of Lenin on his shower curtain.  (OK, not really, but it sounds funnier that way.)

Still, despite the evidence, some people cling to the idea that the Face on Mars was made by some intelligent force. I admit its more fun to believe in space aliens, fairies, and that Andy Kaufman and Elvis are still alive. But, there are times when we need to face facts and move forward--and hanging onto a fantasy doesn't do anyone any good.

I think, instead, that we should focus our energy on finding out who or what created these interesting Martian features:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Messier 33

Messier 33, also called the "Triangulum Galaxy" or "Triangulum Pinwheel," is located in the Triangulum constellation. It is barely visible to the naked eye in clear, dark skies. It appears as a circular fuzzy patch in a small telescope.

M33 is part of the Local Group, which is the group of at least 30 or so galaxies that include our Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy. It is located about 3 million light years away, which is relatively close in a galactic sense. It's proximity makes it an ideal target for study by astronomers.

This image is composed of 21 2-minute sub-frames taken by a Canon EOS Rebel XS with the ST80 on a Vixen SP mount.

Messier 33, The Triangulum Galaxy

Monday, November 1, 2010


I've been trying to photograph lightning for quite a while.  It's pretty tough to get good shots.  It takes patience, and a good deal of luck.  So far my efforts have been mediocre at best.

This evening I got my best shots so far.  While our neighbors in Montgomery County were getting pounded by powerful thunderstorms, I was taking snapshots of all of the excitement from my front yard.  Below are the best two shots of the series.  They are 5-second exposures, taken at ISO-1600.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Comet Hartley - The Movie!

I took the individual images that I shot of Comet 103P/Hartley and compiled them into a movie.  It shows the progress of the comet over about a 70 minute period.  The file is in MP4 format, and is located here:

Look for the satellite that passes through the Double Cluster!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A New Pleiades

While waiting for the Witch Head Nebula to rise, I pointed the ST80 at The Pleiades.  I was curious to see how an image of it might turn out.  This image was composed from 18 3-minute subs at ISO-1600:

Messier 45, The Pleiades

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Spooky Sky Sights!

Fall is my favorite time of year. We finally get some relief from the high temperatures of late summer, and the humidity drops. In addition, some very interesting things begin to appear in our skies. Halloween is almost here, and with the prospect of the local candy supply increasing significantly, I thought it might be appropriate to ring it in with some spooky sights.

Just off the star Rigel, in the constellation of Eridanus, lies a faint reflection nebula cataloged as IC 2118. The popular moniker for this object is the Witch Head Nebula. You need very dark skies and a fairly large telescope to see this nebula visually--8" aperture to see the brighter portions, 16" for a chance to see any detail--but I was able to get an image using 3-minute exposures with my little ST80.

The "head" is a profile view, with a long, pointy nose, an open mouth, and a pointy chin. Rigel is located out of frame to the right.

IC 2118, the Witch Head Nebula
No self-respecting witch would go without transportation. This one left her broom parked in the Cygnus constellation:

NGC 6960, the Witch's Broom.  Also known as the Western Veil Nebula.
NGC 6960, which is sometimes called the Witch's Broom, is part of a vast supernova remnant called the Cygnus Loop. The Loop is about 3 degrees across, which is about six times the width of the full moon. The star that created it exploded about 15,000 years ago.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Comet 103P/Hartley

Comet 103P/Hartley is promising to be the brightest comet of 2010. It won't be a fill-the-sky-feast-for-the-eyes comet, though. Not every comet can be a Hale-Bopp or a McNaught. In fact, it will be barely visible to the naked eye under dark skies. Right now, it can best be viewed in telescopes, and even so it is just a fuzzy green dot. But when it comes to comets, we take what we can get!

Comet 103P/Hartley is a periodic comet that orbits the Sun once about every 6.5 years. It was discovered in 1986 by astronomer Malcolm Hartley. Its closest approach to Earth, at about 11 million miles, will occur on October 20, 2010. It should reach magnitude 5, which is pretty dim, but not impossible to see in dark skies.

On October 8 and 9, 103P/Hartley passed near the Double Cluster in the constellation Perseus. I compiled this image from several individual images taken on October 8. The comet is the green patch in the upper-right. The nucleus of the comet is the bright green streak. The streak indicates how far the comet traveled during a 24-minute period.

Comet 103P/Hartley passing in front of the Double Cluster in Perseus.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Vixen SP

OK, remember a few posts back when I said that I was borrowing a Vixen Great Polaris mount to use until I could make it back out to the observatory? Well, the guy who lent me the mount found a great deal on a Vixen Super Polaris mount. I bought it, and had my first imaging session with it this past Friday.

The Super Polaris is the predecessor to the Great Polaris. The main difference that I can see between the two is that the SP does not have a dovetail mounting plate built into it. That's OK, as I can probably get one for it later. Other than that it looks almost identical to and seems to have all of the same features as the GP.

So, here is the first image that I have finished processing from Friday night:

Andromeda Galaxy (Messier 31), Messier 32 (left of center) and Messier 110 (below and right of center)
This is, by far, my best image of the Andromeda Galaxy. I'm very pleased with this little mount! In addition to being a good astroimaging platform, it is small and very easy to transport. I'm hoping to take it with me on trips when I go to places that have really dark skies.

2010-10-06:  I modified the image to reduce star bloat and improve the color and brightness.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Auction Photos

My employer participates in the State Employee Charitable Campaign every year. Our Big Event is a silent auction that contains items donated by employees and local businesses. This year's auction is on October 1st and will be held at the Windham School District Headquarters building in Huntsville, TX.

A coworker suggested that I submit 8x10 prints of some of my astroimages to the auction. I selected four images that I thought would have wide appeal.  Some have been reprocessed so that they would be more suitable for large prints. The images here have been reduced for screen display.

Sword of Orion
This is one of my all-time favorite images, and one of my favorite targets. The large nebula in the center, The Great Orion Nebula (Messier 42), is a complex structure of emission, reflection and dark nebulae. The nebula on the left, The Running Man, is composed of three separately cataloged reflection nebulae: NGC 1973, NGC 1975, and NGC 1977.
The Pleiades
This image of The Pleiades looks great on the screen, but some of the fainter details didn't show up very well in the print. Still, it's made a beautiful photo.

Andromeda Galaxy
This is a new image of the Andromeda Galaxy that I have not posted on the blog before. I took it with my ST80 on the Vixen GP mount. I wasn't impressed with the subs that I was getting, so I cut the session short and moved to another target. Later, when I stacked and processed the image, I realized that it didn't turn out half bad. It has been heavily processed to remove noise and chromatic aberration. I intend to go back and reshoot the Andromeda Galaxy at the next opportunity that I have for imaging.

Flame and Horsehead Nebulae
This image of the Flame and Horsehead nebulae is my favorite of the prints. It is also a new post to the blog, and a reprocess of an older image.

In addition to the prints, I am submitting a certificate for a private screening at the Sam Houston State University planetarium, hosted by planetarium director Mike Prokosch.

If anyone is interested in attending the auction, drop me a line and I'll give you directions to the building.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Huntsville, a Portal into an Alternate Universe

I think that my hometown of Huntsville, Texas must be at the intersection between our universe and another.  Why do I think this? There are lots of reasons. The purpose of this post is to bring to light some unusual features that I have found around town that have led me to believe that Huntsville is riddled with portals into another reality, which I like to refer to as Universe X

I also believe that things and beings from Universe X sometimes cross over into our universe. The Farrington Building, which is the science building on the campus of Sam Houston State University, appears to be at the epicenter of these strange incursions. I wouldn't be surprised if this was the result of some experiment in interspatial physics that went horribly wrong.

I have seen many strange things in Huntsville--most of them at Walmart.  Below are images of some of these strange features, but be warned: the natural conclusions that one must draw after seeing these images are quite disturbing. I believe that Huntsville--and possibly the entire Earth--may be the target of a full-scale invasion of hideous beings from Universe X!

Portal to an Alien World?
Located on a wall near the west door of the Farrington Building is this seemingly inconspicuous hole, which is about an inch across. When I discovered it in July 2009 it was spewing forth a cool wind at a prodigious rate.

I think it is a tiny portal into an alien world located in another universe. It must be cold there, or perhaps the seasons are different than here in Huntsville.  I suspect that the lab in which the portal was supposed to be created is on the other side of this wall.  Maybe the scientists who made it were a little off in their calculations, and the portal ended up inside the wall.  At any rate, it appears that the scientists made a couple of unsuccessful exploratory holes before finding the exact spot into the interspatial rift.

Doorway to the 4th Dimension
Inside the southern stairwell of the Farrington Building is a half-height doorway with these two signs taped to it. The one on the left labels this door as "Doorway to the 4th Dimension." The sign on the right is a list of warnings. Here is a close-up:

I do not know who put these signs here or when they were placed, but they confirm my belief that something unusual is happening. Someone has obviously taken notice and felt the need to caution others. Three people may have even lost their lives. The door was locked, so I was unable to engage in my own investigation.

Reserved Parking for Alien Visitors?
This sign has had me baffled for quite some time. It is located in the parking lot next to the Estill Building (which, interestingly, is next door to Farrington). What does "PERM T" mean? Is it a code, or does it perhaps refer to a "visitor" named "Perm T?" And by "visitor" I mean "visitor from another universe." Maybe this is where Perm T, Alien Being from Universe X, parks his car when he visits Earth.

Simple Stairway, or Alien Mind Control Device?
The image above is of part of the main stairwell at the Newton Gresham Library. Ordinarily I wouldn't take much notice of such a mundane object, but after examining this photo I was struck by both the object's symmetry and the repetition of its elements. It seems strangely mesmerizing. I wondered if such a device could be used to induce an hypnotic state in humans, opening their minds up to control by a hostile entity. "Oh, you're just being paranoid," I've told myself. But, then I saw this:

Typical Library Sign, or Coded Alien Instruction Sheet?

You might be thinking, "Big deal! This is a library, after all."  I mean, we've all been taught to be quiet in the library, right?

Well, think of it this way: if you were a ruthless alien from an another universe and you wanted to control the minds of humans using hypnosis, wouldn't you need quiet for your hypnosis device to work? And where else do humans gather in significant numbers and stay quiet? Certainly not a football stadium! (Although I am convinced that spectator sports are also a form of mind control.)

Plus, look very closely at the image in the lower-right corner of that sign. Do you see anything unusual about it? I do. Here are the things that I see that concern me:
  • The person who is "shushing" is standing outside of a house. Why a house? We're in a library!
  • Note that the "shush" sound, which seems to be indicated by the little arrows, is actually coming from the "shusher's" fingertips. Vocal sounds come from the mouth, not the fingers!
The sign is clearly a coded set of instructions that are delivered to us while we are in a stairwell-induced trance.  In Universe X alien-speak, it reads something like this:  "Sneak up to a human's house, then use the plasma-ray emitters in your fingers--you know, the ones we installed while you were in a trance in the stairwell--to melt the locks and steal their brains.  Then, return those brains to us, your Universe X Masters."

How do I know that aliens are stealing human brains in Huntsville?  Well, there are a lot of mindless people round about town.  I mostly see them at the local Walmart.

By now you probably think that I'm some kind of crackpot. Don't write me off, yet. Like I stated above, others have noticed that something is definitely wrong here in Huntsville. If I'm out of my mind, then I have company. Take a look at this:

What is a Raffic?!???
This door is located in an office building across town from the university. The text is a very explicit warning that something potentially dreadful lurks on the other side.  What is a "raffic?"  Is it something that pounces fast moving prey? What does it prey on? I am certain that it is a danger to humans, otherwise what would be the point in putting the warning on the door?

My leading theory is that the raffic is a beast from Universe X that has been brought to our universe. It hides in the stairwell behind this door. I bet that the Universe X aliens feed uncooperative humans to the raffic.

I have been through this door (slowly) many times, but have seen nothing particularly unusual. I am very curious though, to know what a raffic looks like so that I may avoid it in the future. My imagination has been in overdrive ever since I saw the warning. I'm pretty certain that a raffic looks something like this:

Raffic on the Other Side of the Door
I think it's something like a sasquatch, except with razor-sharp claws and horrible, pointy teeth. Yes, I'm almost certain that this is what a raffic looks like.

This is all that I dare show you at this time. I suspect that agents of Universe X are on to me. Stay safe, watch out for brainless people at Walmart, and stay clear of the raffic!

Monday, September 13, 2010

What is Messier 71?

Messier 71 is a rather unremarkable looking little cluster in the constellation Sagitta, but astronomers have puzzled over exactly what it is for many years.  It has characteristics of both an open cluster and a globular cluster.  The general consensus is, I believe, that it is a relatively young globular cluster (9 to 10 billion years old) with a loose grouping of stars.

Messier 71. ST80 on Vixen GP. 9x60 at ISO-1600
UPDATE: APOD posted an article featuring Messier 71 on December 10, 2014.

North America Nebula

I've been wanting to image NGC 7000, the North America Nebula for a long time. A couple of previous attempts made with the Epsilon-200 were not that impressive--mostly due to tracking problems with the mount. Also, the combination of the Epsilon-200's field of view and my camera's chip size is not wide enough to capture the entire nebula at once. Mike Prokosch captured it with his ST80 and Canon Rebel XTi, which has the same CMOS imaging chip as my camera. His turned out so well that I knew that I had to try. Here is mine:

NGC 7000, the North America Nebula.  ST80 on Vixen GP.  9x180 at ISO-1600.

The purple halos around the stars are the result of chromatic aberration. This is a common problem with refractor-type telescopes. It is caused by the fact that different wavelengths (colors) of light do not focus at the same point. The ST80 is an achromatic refractor, which means that it has a pair of objective lenses that help to reduce this effect; but, it is not 100% effective. Higher-end refractors, like apochromats and others that use specially made (and more expensive) lenses minimize or eliminate this effect. Mike's image doesn't have the pronounced purple halos because his exposure time was shorter.

But, hey!  I'm not worried about purple halos at this point.  I'm just happy that I can get decent astro images from my own yard!  After all, my primary purpose in doing all of this is to see things that I can't see with the naked eye.  I'll worry about making perfect images later...

The North America Nebula, named because its shape resembles the continent, is a huge molecular cloud located in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan. The nebula is quite large from our point of view, spanning the width of about four full moons. It is difficult to see, though, because it is very dim. I can be seen with large telescopes under very dark skies, but the best way to see it is in long-exposure images, like the one above.

Vixen GP, Many Messiers

The Great News: We have a new baby boy! He arrived a few days ago, and is in fine health.

The Bad News: I won't have much, if any, spare time over the next few months to go out to the observatory to do imaging.

The Good News: Val, my astronomy pal over at, lent me a mount that I can use for astroimaging at my house!

I picked up the mount at an impromptu gathering at the observatory the other week and gave it a test drive. It worked great! This comes as no surprise, though, as the mount is a Vixen Great Polaris. It has a right-ascension drive (no declination drive or GOTO), a polar alignment scope, and a very sturdy tripod. Val has taken some excellent images using that mount.

I've been wanting to take a group shot of the Lagoon Nebula, Trifid Nebula and open cluster Messier 21 since they came up over the horizon a few months ago. I figured my ST80 had a wide enough field of view to capture all three, and then Mike Prokosch confirmed my thought when he created a fine image of the same region with his ST80 a couple of months ago. Here is my attempt, and first light with the Vixen GP:

Messier 8 (Lagoon Nebula, lower-left), Messier 20 (Trifid Nebula, middle-right), and Messier 21 (upper-right)
There is noticeable vignetting in the image.  I will need to work out a way to create flats with my ST80.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Better Coathanger

I had the opportunity to re-image the Coathanger Cluster with the Epsilon-200.  Here is the new version:

Coathanger Cluster, Epsilon-200

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Messier 3 Redo

Sometimes I like to go back and reprocess images to see if I can make them better.  Below is a redo of Messier 3.  The original can be seen here.

Messier 3, in Canis Venatici

Friday, August 27, 2010

Waning Moon

It seems that whenever I decide to image the Moon I do it when it is in a waxing phase. Below is a rare (for me) image of a waning gibbous moon.

The Moon is best imaged when it is in a gibbous or crescent phase. This is because the sunlight is shining across the surface at an angle, which causes objects such as mountains and craters to cast shadows. The shadows help highlight the details of the Moon's surface features.

Click on the image below to see the full-size version. The full-size file is fairly large (about 3.9MB).

Waning Gibbous Moon, August 26, 2010

Messier 103

Open cluster Messier 103 is located in Cassiopeia.  I guess its great claim to fame is the red giant star that appears in the middle of the cluster from our perspective.  I used it to test the alignment of the NJP mount.

Messier 103 in Cassiopeia

Jupiter and Moons

This composite image of Jupiter and the Galilean moons was created using the Epsilon-200 astrograph.  I had just finished imaging the moon and, on a whim, decided to see if the scope had enough magnification to pick up any details.  Surprisingly, it did.  It's nothing spectacular, but I thought it was kinda interesting.

Jupiter and Galilean Moons

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Coathanger

The Coathanger is an asterism in Vulpecula. Cataloged as Collinder 399, and also known as Brocchi's Cluster, it was thought to be an open cluster until fairly recently. This image was a test to see if I could fit the entire cluster onto my DSLR's CMOS chip using the Epsilon-200. I will go back and take longer exposures when I get a chance.

Coathanger Cluster, Epsilon-200
Here is an earlier image taken afocally with my ST80:

Coathanger Cluster, ST80

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Helix Nebula

I took this image of NGC 7293, the Helix Nebula, the same night that I imaged the Cocoon Nebula.  It was way hotter that night than it needed to be, and my DSLR was showing definite signs of heatstroke.  Still, I plowed forward, taking images on the Epsilon-200.  The NJP mount was giving me fits, too, but I managed to make it behave enough to get a few decent subs of the nebula.  Anyway, after many attempts at processing and reprocessing what, for all intents and purposes, was a whole bunch of crummy subs, I got this:

NGC 7293, the Helix Nebula

Messier 92

Messier 92 is a globular cluster in Hercules. It doesn't get as much attention as its brighter sibling, Messier 13. In fact, M13 has pretty much gotten all of the glory. After all, M13 is often referred to as the "Great Globular Cluster in Hercules," and the "Hercules Cluster." So where does that leave M92? Is it the "Not so Great Globular Cluster in Hercules?" The "Also Hercules Cluster?" Or, the "Red-headed Stepchild Cluster in Hercules?"

In my opinion, M92 is worth a look. It has a very bright center, and it is said that the cluster is visible to the naked eye in dark skies. I haven't seen it naked-eye, yet.

Messier 92 in Hercules

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Cocoon Nebula - Redo

I went back and reprocessed the Cocoon Nebula image from a few days ago. It looks a little better to me now. I'm not 100% satisfied with it, though. One thing I like about this version is that the colors of the surrounding stars are more pronounced.

IC 5146 (Cocoon Nebula) and Barnard 168


Moonrise, August 21, 2010

Thursday, August 19, 2010


This is a sundog that appeared in our sky on August 8, 2010.  Sundogs are created by ice crystals in the atmosphere.  Even in warm climates, like ours, they can appear in high clouds.  The sun is out of frame to the right.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cocoon Nebula

The Cocoon Nebula (IC 5146, also Caldwell 19) is located in the constellation Cygnus.  Dark nebula Barnard 168 extends from the Cocoon Nebula to the edge of this image.

Heat is one of the worst enemies of imaging chips.  I do not have a rig to keep my DSLR cooled down, and it was VERY hot the night that I imaged the Cocoon Nebula.  There was a significant amount of noise in each of the subs.  I removed a lot of the noise, but I think that the overall image quality suffered pretty terribly.

IC 5146 (Cocoon Nebula) and Barnard 168