M13 in Color

Last night was an awesome night for observing. Bertha jumped to life and was ready for the job. By the time I got behind the console, it was nearing midnight, so I wanted to take advantage of the skies as best I could. Looking up what was at the zenith, I found M13, the  Hercules Cluster, was almost directly overhead. Given that this is the perfect chance to get the best photos, I started with it. Fortunately Bertha pointed to it right away, and I started taking images with the Meade DSI Pro III. Given the quality of the skies, I decided to try my hand at the full LRGB (Luminous, Red, Green and Blue) series, to colorize this image. It was the first time I tried it, but here's how it turned out:

M13 - Hercules Cluster
M13 - Hercules Cluster

To make this image, I first captured the Luminous, or images filtered only with an infrared filter. I took 60 images at 8 seconds each, and did automatic dark substraction to remove unwanted "hot pixels" from the images. I actually took about 75 or so images until I got 60 that met the quality constraints that I entered into the software. Then I took enough images through the red, green and blue filters to yield 10 usuable images for each filter. This gave a ratio of 50% luminance data to 50% color. These images were also binned 2x2 since I only needed color, not detail.

I stacked them using AutoStar Drizzle, which gave me four files in the FITS format, which a lossless format for astrophotography. Then I imported each of these files into PhotoShop through the ESA/NASA/Hubble FITS Liberator tool. Once in PhotoShop, I stacked the RGB images and manually aligned them , and then layered the Luminous image on top. After blending and applying levels to the colors, this is what I got. Not bad for the first attempt, in my opinion.

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