NGC 7293 – Helix Nebula
Often depicted in various ways as an “eye” in space, the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) is definitely one of the more awesome planetary nebulae out there. It’s a fantastic example of a star that has gone nova after it’s outer shell of gas has been blown apart, leaving a white dwarf at the center.
This was one of a couple images I captured from the SkiesAway Star Party at Joshua Tree last weekend. Conditions were great all three nights so we started collecting as many photons as we could. At f/6.3, I had to stay with each object a while to get a good amount of exposure. The Helix is a somewhat low contrast object, but photographically it has amazinly vibrant colors. I did not ambitiously boost the saturation or embellish the colors in this image – it’s what the camera picked up! I actually did very little processing “trickery” at all, mainly just PixInsight’s DBE to help even out the background, and basic curves stretching in Photoshop.
This is an LRGB capture, each subframe of 720 seconds (a few hours of each channel total)
AP130GT f/6.3 Refractor
QHY16200 CCD with Orion 2″ LRGB Imaging Filters
QHY’s OAG and QHY 5ii Autoguider
AP900GTO EQ Mount
NGC 7380 The Wizard Nebula and Dark Nebula
“Cloak and Wizard”
LRGB was captured from my imaging site in the Siskyou volcanic wilderness under dark Bortle 2 skies. This is a few hours of LRGB with 12 minute subexposures with 3 hours (also 12 min subs) of Hydrogen-Alpha added from Frazier Park, California. The luminance has more stars and shows more white-light features, especially that dark nebula that seems to interact in some way with the bright NGC 7380 Wizard Nebula. So I really made an effort to blend the low-contrast but very rich luminance against the high contrast and darker H-Alpha. Because the Wizard is in such a dense star field and compared to some emission nebulas it does not have a ton of contrast, it’s rarely photographed in white light only. This is an attempt to preserve a natural white-light look and color while still benefitting from the extra contrast for the Wizard Nebula.
The dark nebula (towards upper right) is a rather low contrast feature but unique for this composition. It has a trailing, tadpole-like dark lane extending from the dark nebula, with a star in the foreground having no effect or reflection scatter – otherwise it ought to have made the nebula appear blue.
Milky Way Over Saguaro National Park
A pano-stitch of 4 frames.
Sony a7S ii
Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA set to f/4
13 second exposure ISO 12800
After a few days in New Mexico and Texas on business, I concluded my short trip to the southwest in Tucson, Arizona, where I decided to visit Saguaro National Park. It was my first visit, and by late May the temperature was already 100 degrees out during the day. Despite being out on a Sunday during Memorial Day weekend, I had nearly the entire park to myself during the day to tour the awesome scenery of the Sonora Desert.
I returned to the park at midnight. That was pretty spooky.. things were definitely crawling and scuttling about so I made a point to stay on the trails. It started getting interesting in the foothills as the giant Saguaro cacti would stand out against the sky. I found one in front of a cool ridgeline full of Saguaros and it was a perfect setting for the Milky Way. And that yellow dot in the center bulge of the Milky Way (in Ophiuchus) is Saturn! The deserts around Arizona, known for their dark skies, provide great views of the Milky Way. Sharing the scene with the giant Saguaros was humbling and the perfect way to end my weekend trip.
Gamma Cygni and NGC 6914
4 panel mosaic of the Sadr (Gamma Cygni) region including reflection nebula 6914 (to the right)
Nebulosity around the constellation Cygnus is commonly imaged with narrowband filters which is especially good for isolating the hydrogen emission nebula. This image, however, is taken as broad “white light” unfiltered with a color camera. So these colors are very “real” in the sense that the this camera resembles the color response of the human eye. The big difference is the longer exposure which is reveals more color and nebulosity than we could otherwise see in real time. This requires a very dark sky which is what we had at the 2014 Texas Star Party where this was captured.
Celestron RASA 11 f/2.2
Celestron CGEM DX Mount
30 x 120 seconds for each panel
IC5146 Cocoon Nebula
Reprocessed some data from 2008. This image of the Cocoon was taken through a telescope and CCD camera that I helped develop, and it was one of those nights were everything was cooperating and the seeing was good. I really like the unique color of this one. It often has a magenta look. Most of the red is hydrogen emission so it ought to look more red – but there’s also a lot of reflection and dark nebula which is scattering and obstructing some of the light.
Orion 190mm F/5.3 Maksutov-Newtonian
Orion StarShoot Pro 6.3MP CCD
23 x 480 second images
Galaxies in Coma Berenices
I revisited my image of the Coma Berenices galaxy cluster to see how far some of the background galaxies are. It’s been a fun datamining activity during the “processing season”. It’s amazing how far a medium-sized refractor can go when equipped with a CCD camera! Some of the galaxies here are easily fainter than 20th apparent magnitude..
Using the redshift data in TheSkyX for these objects (my image has several galaxies which are uncharted in TheSkyX!), I applied Hubble’s Constant as recently observed by the SDSS-III Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (~68km/sec per Mpc). So digging around the image, I found a galaxy that is over 4 billion light years away!! That’s looking back a THIRD into the universe’s entire timeline, from what is essentially a backyard telescope!! Obviously these distance estimates are rough. Even “nearby” NGC 4921 in the Coma Cluster, a “foreground” galaxy is said by multiple sources to be 300-320 Mly away, but if I pull from the same redshift data and newest Hubble’s constant, I get closer to 260 Mly. Here’s a cropped view with a sampling of galaxies I selected. I don’t have much more of a point to this other than it was a fun little astronomy exercise!
Captured August 30th from Little Mount Hoffman. The night of August 29th-30th eventually clouded over. But before it did, we were treated to some of Mount Shasta’s localized weather and lenticular clouds. Sony α7s ii and 35mm f/1.8 Zeiss. 10 seconds at ISO1000.
The site is actually very dark, but we’re seeing a fair amount of light pollution coming from the town of Mount Shasta, which is reflecting some light off the clouds in this image. The Sony’s amazing light sensitivity also easily picks up any light. The glaciers seen in this image are illuminated by starlight!
NGC 1579 and Surrounding Dust Lanes
Here’s the first of my processed astrophotos from my Little Mount Hoffman imaging trip this year. NGC 1579 is a faint, somewhat low contrast target, perfect for the excellent Bortle scale 2 darkness skies sitting over 7,300′ in elevation.
NGC 1579 is referred to as the “Trifid of the North”, since it resembles the popular Trifid Nebula (M20). NGC 1579, however, is much fainter and contains more subtle color. I particularly like the peach color in contrast with the blue reflection nebula.
With 15 minute sub-exposures with -20ºC CCD temperature, I gave the new QHY16200A a thorough workout. The camera has been a great match for the AP130GT. And this is the first imaging session with the dedicated AP field flattener for the 2.7″ focuser on my 130 Gran Turismo. I had previously used an Astro-Tech field flattener which worked well, but the larger 16200 CCD was better suited to a fully matched field flattener.
QHY16200A @ -20ºC
15 x 15 min L
5 x 15 min each for RGB
Messier 31, The Andromeda Galaxy
First light image of Messier 31 from last weekend with the new QHY16200A CCD camera! This has a slightly zoomed-in perspective at this focal length. Captured with the AP130GT at f/6.3 (819mm focal length). The camera is awesome! So much chip real estate and sheer pixel count makes it a really nice paring with this refractor. Even in the FOV calculators I wasn’t expected it to frame well at this focal length but the whole disk of M31 was captured anyways. I’m still using an economic field flattener which works remarkably well for this sensor size, but I will likely need to get the dedicated AP field flattener.
5 x 180 and 1 x300 second shots for Luminance, 4 x 180 each for RGB.