M57 Procesed in Color


Thanks to some encouragement from my Better Half, I finally processed the images I took of the Ring Nebula, or M57. This is an image made of 60 images taken through three different filters and then stacked. Once aligned and cleaned up, I colorized them again in Photoshop.

M57 - Ring Nebula
M57 - Ring Nebula
It's not yellow enough, but that's because my green images were not strong enough. I'll take more of that channel next time around.

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First Automated Image Capture


Having continued to battle the integration challenges of bringing all the automation elements together, I was thrilled to capture my first truly automated image. While the image itself is a great example of bloated stars, poor guiding, and other faults, it was taken without any intervention on my part.

Comet 103P/Hartley 2
Comet 103P/Hartley 2
The image is of Comet 103P / Hartley 2. It was simple unguided image of 120 seconds with no filters. However, it was the process that was exciting for me.

Since I wanted to image the comet, I had to find the where it was in the sky, as the comet wasn't in my usual list of regular objects. So I opened Starry Night, my planetarium software, and searched for the comet after downloading the latest data. Finding it, I simply right-clicked and said "Add to ACP Plan." This brought up ACP Planner, where I created the plan for a single 120 second image, with no additional focusing, and no filters. The plan was automatically fed to the ACP site running on my internal web server, where it was ready for execution.

Selecting the plan from the menu, I simply told ACP to go execute the plan. ACP aimed the scope in the direction of the comet, took a pointing image to make sure the scope tracking was accurate, and then to my surprise, it solved the plate! It was the first time I was able to do a plate solve, which means ACP knew exactly where the scope was pointing in the sky. It then slewed the scope a little further to get to the place in the sky I told it to go, and began to take the image. I couldn't tell what it was imaging until after the image was downloaded, but when it was done the comet appeared on my screen. I couldn't believe it!

While the image is not very good at all, it's still an image of a comet, and it's the first time I've actually glued the pieces together. Now I can focus on getting the "little" things like focusing and guiding fixed, and making truly beautiful images.

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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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M51 - A New Galaxy for Me


After discovering that I was having trouble connecting to my dome and scope from the control PC, I finally tracked down the issue. The USB card had gone bad, so I wasn't able to connect. A short trip through Best Buy and a new board solved the problem. Happy that I had resolved an issue that had been troubling me for some time, I was happy to see the Clear Sky Clock showing that tonight would be a good viewing night. I gave it a shot and was pleased with the results. While it won't land me a job at JPL, I think you can clearly see that this is a galaxy.

M51 - 50 images time 8 seconds each
M51 - 50 images time 8 seconds each

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Another Moon Shot


This shot was fun for a few reasons. First, it took about 5 minutes to open the dome, get Bertha warmed up, and the image capturing started. Second, the scope was aligned well and slewed to exactly where it was supposed to go. This is shot at first quarter, at 52% of full.

First Quarter, 52% of full.
First Quarter, 52% of full.

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First Galaxy with the DSI


I finally made some progress getting all the pieces to work together this week and was able to do some astroimaging with the DSI. The image below is my first success. It is an image of M65, and was taken with the DSI Pro III using Bertha and a 6.3 focal reducer. I was only able to get about 25 images of 15 seconds each, but those seemed to pull enough photons to make it worth while. I hope you enjoy.

M65 - Luminous Only
M65 - Luminous Only

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New Camera!


Thanks to my awesome wife, Bertha has a new pair of eyes. Well, one eye, really. She gave me a Meade DSI Pro III CCD camera for Christmas! My first photo with it tonight, stopping only to share my excitement, pour some wine, and eat dinner is to the left.

First photo with DSI Pro III
First photo with DSI Pro III
The camera is awesome and so is the software that came with it. Although the moon is quite bright tonight, I'm going to try my hand at some other objects later.

The Autostar Suite software that came for free with the camera is really terrific to use. It has taken out many of the issues I've had with other attempts, including autoexposure and auto-stacking of multiple images. I slewed the scope to the moon and selected the area I wanted to image, and clicked "Start." After I manually focused, it took 30 images and stacked the best. Here we go!

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Comet Lulin


While this doesn't really qualify as the observatory's entry for its first light, I couldn't resist checking out Comet Lulin with a pair of binoculars on a tripod. I had my tripod in the observatory because Matt Green and I lined up the pier and sighted it with a laser level mounted on the tripod. I lined up Polaris with the level, and then swung the head of the tripod down the hole to locate "North" for the base of the pier.

Looking at Comet Lulin through a pair of 10x50 binoculars was less than amazing. It was basically a little grey spot in space, just a few degrees South of Saturn in Leo. But at any rate, I found it, and observed it while standing in the observatory. Bertha is happily nestled on the floor in the family room, enjoying the fire my good wife just built and watching her crochet hats. Bertha wasn't any help tonight, but hopefully will soon be in her new home.

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