10 Months of deep sky astrophotography

When I started this site, I just began taking my first astrophotos. The image below was my first attempt to capture the Orion Nebula with my iPhone.

First try at m42 with iPhone

First try at m42 with iPhone

After this first attempt, I improved my astrophoto skills by practicing with planetary imaging. But still, I couldn’t squeeze any more out of the iPhone than this:

Final try at m42 with iPhone

Final try at m42 with iPhone

I decided it had been my final try at iPhone deep sky imaging. I tried my luck with both xbox live and ps3 webcams, but the xbox live cam didn’t pick up anything special and I still haven’t got the ps3 cam to do long exposures.

After I bought my DSLR I could do untracked 0.8 second exposures without too much trailing, but the 0.8 second exposures aren’t that exciting really. It’s my new motorized tracking mount in combination with my DSLR that makes all the difference. When last week the thick layer of clouds showed the tiniest opening, I immediately set up my telescope to take advantage. Unfortunately the opening was so small, that by the time I had everything up and running – which didn’t take that long – a milky but slightly transparent blanket covered the skies again. To make things worse, some serious winds shook my telescope tubes every now and then.

Bright as the Moon is, I could just lower the ISO values and take a decent picture of it through the clouds. To give you an idea of the amount of clouds present, I’ve also added a few images taken at higher ISO values so that you can see the clouds passing in front of the Moon.

Moon at low ISO values

Moon at low ISO values

Despite the once more disappointing skies and the feisty gusts of wind, I decided to try finding the Orion Nebula. After a while I succeeded in doing so and started taking 20 second exposures between successive wind gusts and through the clouds. The majority of the images showed massive trailing and were useless. Some however, were not that bad and after 30 minutes or so I had 4 or 5 decent shots.

After stacking and some post processing, I was suprised to find that I had also captured the Running Man Nebula, which isn’t as bright as the Orion Nebula itself. All in all, the small stack of photos, taken at seriously bad conditions, ended up in my best photo of the Orion Nebula yet. I can’t wait to test my setup under really good conditions 🙂

M42 taken with DSLR and tracking mount through a thin layer of clouds

M42 taken with DSLR and tracking mount through a thin layer of clouds

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My New and Improved Ring Nebula, Dumbbell Nebula and Pleiades Open Cluster

As you may remember, I had my telescope out at the time of writing last post. At that time I already noticed that I was too late to get an awesome image of the Ring Nebula, I took better photos of the Dumbbell Nebula at different settings and tried to capture some Pleiades nebulosity. While working on last post, I was waiting for clouds to pass over, but eventually, they didn’t.

I think I’d better postpone my efforts to capture a glimpse of the Horsehead and Flame Nebula untill the Orion constellation is higher, somewhere in December, Januari… Apparently I live in an area where amateur astronomers are being terrorized every evening by foggy skies. By the time deep sky objects in Orion are high enough to be imaged, fog has already kicked in.

Nevertheless, as I mentioned, I also shot some decend images of other objects. I started with the Ring Nebula. But after my first test image, the photos became too faint because the roof was partially obstructing the view. The single frame I did get turned out quite nice by the way:

A single frame of the Ring Nebula.

A single frame of the Ring Nebula.

When I manage to get more and longer exposures of the ring nebula, it should display more yellow and red features.

As quickly as I found the Ring Nebula, it took me over 10 minutes to get the Dumbbell Nebula (M27) in view. I took 12 good 15 seconds frames at ISO 6400 and 7 good 30 second frames at ISO 1600. The ISO 1600 frames showed less noise and stacked nicer so I used those to get the image below. I really like the amount of stars visible in the image. M27 is located in the constellation Cygnus which lies exactly over the star littered arm of the Milky Way.

Long exposure stack of the Dumbbell Nebula (m27)

Long exposure stack of the Dumbbell Nebula (M27)

My 5 stacked 30 second exposures of the Pleiades open cluster (M45) do finally show some faint blue nebulosity around the stars. Especially the lowest of the 6 brightest stars shows a glow with a well defined edge. The lines at the bottom right are the remains of an airplane saying ‘Hi’ while I was imaging.

Really faint, some blue nebulosity is visible in this image of m45. Especially the strokes that are caused by stellar winds.

Really faint, some blue nebulosity is visible in this image of m45. Especially the strokes that are caused by stellar winds.