Nebulae, galaxies, open clusters, a supernova remnant and a planet…

The fact that I didn’t post something for a while has nothing to do with me giving up my astrophotography hobby. Better yet, it causes me to have a boatload of astrophotos to show you. February appears to have been quite the productive month for me, more on that later.

First of all, I got a pretty decent shot of the galaxy couple M81 and M82. It shows some red detail in M82 (top left) and 2 distinct dust lanes around M81. They do not just appear close in this image, they are actually quite close to each other. Close enough in fact, for the galactic gravitational fields to enhance star formation in the other galaxy.

The M81 and M82 galaxies

The M81 and M82 galaxies

Now, most of the images I post here are stacks that represent total exposure times of 10 minutes or more. But of my favourite target, the Great Nebula in Orion, I got only some 10 decent frames of 30 seconds each. When I realised this, shooting a pile of good M42 photos became my top telescope-priority. The image below is the result of stacking 40 30-second photos and shows some really cool detail in the dust clouds. Also, a faint blue bow is noticably which marks the top of the entire nebula. In the dark region between the bright nebula and the upper blue bow is filled with red, even fainter gas clouds. Longer exposure times will probably reveal more of this.

My best M42 so far. If your screen is bright, or you look at it from an angle, you can even make out the top bow.

My best M42 so far. If your screen is bright, or you look at it from an angle, you can even make out the top bow.

In my previous post, I showed you my first photo of the Flame and Horsehead nebula. I figured that if I used my f10 telescope, I would get a more detailed view of the small horsehead feature. Sadly, I didn’t manage to get a good image of the Horsehead Nebula, but I did get a cool Jupiter. Since I haven’t had my camera attached to my f10 with Jupiter high in the night skies, I decided to give it a go and actually captured Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (bottom right of the planet, in the red belt).

Jupiter captures with dslr on evening with pretty poor seeing (about 60 frames)

Jupiter captures with dslr on evening with pretty poor seeing (about 60 frames)

I also tried to capture M35, which also didn’t turn out very great, like the Horsehead Nebula. I think my light pollution filter doesn’t work very well with the optics in the f10. But as this image is already way better than what I got from the Horsehead Nebula and it shows a lot of brilliant stars, why not post it here right?

M35; an open cluster

M35; an open cluster

After 2 weeks of constant cloud cover, a few days ago I got the opportunity to take some shots between pathes of fast floating clouds. The allmost full moon gave my photos a small gradient, which became a big gradient after stretching the intensity levels. Nevertheless I got a quite cool image of M1; the Crab Nebula. I especially like how star-littered the image is and that the nebula itself is a remnant of a supernova explosion in the year 1054.

M1; the Crab Nebula. A supernova remnant from an explosion in 1054.

M1; the Crab Nebula. A supernova remnant from an explosion in 1054.

Another image I took was one of the Pleiades. More 30 second images and the use of a light pollution filter gave me better results than before. More surrounding dust clouds are apparent and I also like how the optics cause bright circles around the stars that translate with the position in the image.

M45; the Pleiades star cluster traveling through clouds of dust

M45; the Pleiades star cluster traveling through clouds of dust

If you recall that I also captured M51 and the Flame and Horsehead Nebulae earlier this month, you probably figure that all the photos together would make a great poster. At least, that’s what I did… So here it is: The first JCdeBoer.com-poster-of-the-month!

Poster of all the astrophotos I shot this February

Poster of all the astrophotos I shot this February

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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