Andromeda galaxy revisited

Back on September 21st of last year my first ever DSO (Deep Space Object) was Messier 31 (M31 for short), the Andromeda Galaxy. This is a common target along with the Orion Nebula for newcomers to astrophotography because it can be captured relatively well without spending all night and locating the Andromeda Galaxy is fairly easy. I thought it was about time I revisited that target and see what kind of improvement I could muster up after four months of work. Here is the image I captured on January 13th of this year:

The Andromeda GalaxyHere is the Andromeda Galaxy image from September 21st of last year for comparison:

Andromeda Galaxy old

Much better! I still have issues to work out but the amount of data, quality of the image and colors are far superior to my previous attempt. The blue on the lower left is particularlly pleasing as I have seen that in images of the M31 Galaxy and wondered why I can’t seem to capture it. I attribute the improvement to things like more light frames taken, more dark frames taken, much better focus, using a field flattener, better skyglow filter and of course, better technique.

With the exception of the field flattener and new skyglow filter all the equipment was the same, as was the software used. The new image was 20 lights of 300 seconds each at ISO800. I stacked those lights with 10 darks for the final image. It is taking me a while to get the correct length of exposure and ISO to minimize noise while making sure I have enough signal to stack and stretch. I think I am going in the right direction.

My setup provides a little too much magnification to get everything in the frame which is a shame. Maybe if I ever switch to a full frame camera or CCD I can get the entire Andromeda Galaxy in the image. Even so, not too bad.

I hope you enjoyed my images of the Andromeda Galaxy!

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M42 The Orion Nebula, revisited

If you have been reading since the beginning you know that my second target for AP, and really more of an afterthought at the time, was the Orion Nebula M42. I was not at all pleased with the image, too many problems to really even get started. Now, a few months later, I had some ideas on how to correct some of those issues.

M42 the Orion NebulaHere is my original image of the Orion Nebula for comparison:

Original image of Orion

  A little better image of M42 don’t you think? I started off with of course better focus, then added better tracking, and lastly applied a little of my daytime photography knowledge and tricks to it making an HDR image to deal with the really bright core vs very dim outer dust lanes.

In this one image are stacks of 5 second, 10 second, 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 45 seconds, 60 seconds, 120 seconds and finally 180 seconds images. Each stack is then combined using HDR Efex pro to create the composite and then stretched in Photoshop. That’s 90 lights, 20 darks and 20 bias all combined into this one image. Funny thing is Messier 42 is one of the brightest objects in the sky and can clearly be seen with the naked eye as a fuzzy patch in the sky at below Orion’s belt. Yet even for being this bright it is the hardest object I have shot to date with all this combining and processing.

If you want a little more comparison, check out the Messier 42 image shot by the Hubble Space Telescope. Obviously mine don’t even hold a candle to what the Hubble can do but it is very interesting to see the same details in both images and realize I gathered much of the same data with amateur gear. That is simply amazing. It also really makes me strive to see what else I can accomplish.

Thanks for looking at my Orion Nebula images!

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Solar imaging first attempt

Solar imaging solves the problem of always being asleep during the day and imaging at night (what AP guy actually has a day job? heh). I wanted to play around a little with solar and see if I liked it. If I do, of course there are dedicated Ha and Ck solar telescopes which are fairly expensive that I can use to do some pretty impressive solar work. For now though, I purchased a Thousand Oakes full aperture glass solar filter for my main scope to see what it could do and here is my first attempt at solar imaging:

Solar imaging   But just an image is not enough, I need to learn something:

annotated solar imaging So off I go researching sunspots, they have numbers you know 🙂 Not only is solar imaging fun and a great way to use your equipment during the day, but it also can help you learn more about the stars. When you are imaging thousands of stars at night it is hard to think about what all is happening on the surface of each star. With solar imaging you can watch the sunspots move across the face and know that the sun is just as much a living thing as you are.

It also makes a fantastic outreach tool as sometimes it is difficult to get people together after dark, particularly children and their parents. If you want a great use of this for outreach, any DSLR with live view becomes and excellent real time solar image capture device which can easily be put on a computer screen. You can also use any video camera you can attach to a eyepiece or telescope as solar imaging cameras.

I simply bought a nice glass solar filter for my primary imaging system and added some solar observing glasses to create an excellent solar photography kit.

Hope you enjoyed my first attempt at solar imaging!

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Orion Skyview Deluxe 90mm f/11 refractor

After purchasing my Orion Skyview Deluxe I thought I would share my thoughts on it.

Imaging can take many hours without touching anything. You just sit there. Sometimes I read, sometimes I watch TV, sometimes I browse the internet. Why not look around at the sky? So I found an Orion Skyview Deluxe on the bay that I liked, first because it was a refractor and I really like my refractors, second because it was kind of a classic from the 1980s or 1990s, and thrid because it was Orion and I really like my Orion stuff. I managed to get it for what I though was a reasonable price, just under what a new Orion Astroview 90mm would have cost and this one had a better mount and polar scope to boot. When it arrived there was a problem, they had not packed it well and the top plate where the scope mounts was broken:

Broken mount adapter  

So I emailed Orion, I could hear the laughter from here, no, there is no replacement part for an Orion Skyview Deluxe. I tried Astromart, dead silence. I tried a local welding shop, they laughed saying it was cheap pot metal and there was no way to repair it. They did however suggest a machine shop. After talking to Pat at ELM Machine in Oakhurst it seemed he was confident he could make a new one better than the old, and here is what he came up with:

New custom adapter   This isn’t “better” than the original, this is WAY WAY WAY better than the original! Excellent work Pat! Now my scope is in service and I will have more to do than read or watch TV while imaging for more than eight hours a night.

Orion Skyview Deluxe with new adapter I like this scope so well that even when it is not in use it is assembled and sitting in my living room where I can swing the scope around to look out the back window. I can also carry it through the sliding glass door and set it on the back upstairs deck. With a low power eyepiece the Orion Skyview Deluxe is a wonderful scope for watching the buzzards sitting in the tops of trees.

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Andromeda Galaxy, M31, First Deep Space Object

Here is the Andromeda Galaxy (M31 Galaxy) and that makes it official, after a couple more orders from Orion to get things I didn’t think of the first time, and a lot of time practicing with the scope and connecting it all to a new netbook, I am an astrophotographer (albeit a pretty crummy one, heh). Crummy or not, I am really excited to be able to create images of these beautiful objects millions of light years away. Without further ado, here is Messier 31:

Stretched image of the Andromeda Galaxy   It takes an amazing amount of work to get one image. My first few images on the blog (the moon with my 114EQ and Jupiter with this scope) were both single images (OK, Jupiter was two single images sandwiched together). This one is a whole slew of images combined in a special piece of software called Deep Sky Stacker with other images called darks which are taken with the lens cap on. All of those are combined and then the resultant image is put into Photoshop and “stretched” by using levels and curves to get the result you see above. Hours and hours of work to get this one little image. Man, glad I didn’t know all this before I bought the scope, I may have hesitated! Here is what the image of the Andromeda Galaxy looks like before all the stretching:

Unstretched M31   Amazing, right? I also had a chance to do the Orion nebula too, here is my shot from it:

Orion nebula Not too bad I guess but it has a lot of issues. Since I was mainly concentrating on the Andromeda galaxy I was not to worried about how this turned out, I am very sure I will be shooting Orion many more times in the future.

I hope you enjoyed my first DSO images including the Andromeda Galaxy!

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First light

First light it seems is the term used to describe when your telescope gets to go out and be used for its intended purpose for the very first time. A few days ago I received a bunch of boxes from Orion and quickly set about assembling things. I did have to make one phone call, read a bunch of directions and play with things a while but I finally got things running where I think they should be.

I Joined the North Houston Astronomy Club (they have a dark site in Montgomery and somehow are tied to SHSU’s observatory here in town, have to figure that one out later) and was headed down to their dark site when it hit me, I have no chair to sit on and nowhere to put my star charts, binoculars, drink, nothing! Fortunately I was passing an Academy sporting goods store so I stopped in to grab some essentials.

Once at the dark site I set up and waited for the sun to set:

Orion was correct, the views through this scope were nothing short of amazing and breathtaking. I got to see Jupiter, the Ring nebula and the Dumbbell nebula. I could clearly see the bands on Jupiter! In addition the Ring was bright blue and the Dumbbell was a pale blue, almost aqua. I had repeatedly been told you couldn’t see colors, they lied.

Since I bought this setup for astrophotography it seemed only fitting I try to take a picture so I attached my camera to the adapters and shoved that in the focuser to get some images. I combined two of them (one for the planet, one for its moons) and here is the result:


Amazing! Yeah, its a crummy picture, but for my first night out with no practice and no help really, it is amazing.

Special thanks to the NHAC members who were there and helped me find alignment stars, and even let me look through a Nagler eyepiece! Better than my Stratus eyepieces? Yes! $700 better? Nope, not even close. In fact, the guy with the Nagler seemed pretty impressed with my Stratus eyepieces, pretty dang good for the money.

What a night!

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Decisions made, packages arrive!

After spending more time than I care to admit reading, comparing and discussing different options I made a decision. I also came to realize that third party sellers may have idiots working for them that have no idea what they are talking about.

When I called around talking to vendors there were two that really stuck in my mind, funny enough they have almost the exact same domain name, and Here are their stories (dong dong): is a company named Hayneedle. They sell just about everthing, but have one website devoted to telescopes. They sell Celestron, Meade and Skywatcher primarily and were very friendly. After several conversations where I was explaining what I wanted to do and what cameras I had, etc, the salesman (Jeff) there sent me a quote on everything I would need to start based around the Meade Lightswitch 8″ SCT. is the website for Orion Telescopes direct. The salesman there, Laker, was very professional but maybe not quite as nice as the one from Hayneedle. He suggested a setup based around the Orion Premium 110mm f/7 ED APO refractor on a Orion Sirius EQ mount. It was a little more expensive than the Meade.

Now came the comparison: The Meade had the new “lilghtswitch” technology which supposedly could automatically align the scope just like flipping a lightswitch. Set the scope up, press a couple of buttons, BAM! You were good to go. Sweet. It also had 8″ of aperture and everyone in astronomy knows aperture is king right?

The Orion on the other hand had a beefier mount that was a true EQ mount and not a single fork alt-az. This means it can support more weight and do longer exposures. To do that on the Meade I would need something called a wedge and that isn’t cheap.

Doing a little more looking at things it seems I would have to learn to do collimation on the Meade, and it has to sit out longer to adjust to the temps before I could use it. It also has a problem called coma that the Orion does not (different telescope design). On further reading, it seems that since the Meade has two mirrors it loses a lot of light due to scatter and the mirrors blocking some of the light, the Orion is a refractor and does not have these issues. It is also very easy to put another telescope on the Orion mount, not so for the Meade. Lastly, the Orion package includes an autoguider for really long exposures (it’s possible to do 15 minutes or more!) while the Meade is limited to about 30 seconds.

Once you look at all the differences the choice was easy:

Now all I have to do it put this stuff together and make it work!

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