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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Beautiful sunset and different types of nebulosity

After I finished my exams, I grabbed the first opportunity to get my camera out and shoot some pretty pictures. The icy sky in combination with the low sun friday evening, provided beautiful views. I tried to photograph them as best as I could:

Sun dog due to icy skies

Sun dog due to icy skies

Sunset over Enschede

Sunset over Enschede

The Enschede sky, shortly after sunset

The Enschede sky, shortly after sunset

Later that evening, I took my telescope out, including new mount, motors and feedback-loop guiding system. I never had the chance to use it before and I couldn’t wait to give it a try. The skies were definately not clear (a thin layer of clouds was still blocking light from the lower magnitude stars), but nontheless my guidecamera (my DIY xbox camera) managed to pick up some stars after playing with the settings for a while.

Modded xbox cam from side

Modded xbox cam from side

The idea is, to have two telescope tubes aligned and both fitted with cameras. One camera functions as a guide camera and has the sole purpose of showing stars on the computer screen. The computer then sends signals to the motorized telescope to keep a selected star exactly at the same place on the computer screen. Since the two tubes are aligned, the second telescope – fitted with a proper imaging camera – has a perfectly steady image to photograph at long exposure times.

As a first star to try the system on, I chose Betelgeuse, a very bright, red supergiant. The system picked up the star and kept it in place for about 15 seconds. After that, it seemed to make one misstep and then lose the star. I will have a look at the settings and lower the step size to prevent overshooting while making corrections.

Luckily, I seemed to have aligned the telescope pretty well, so that the error was small enough for 10-15 second exposures without trailing. So without the feedback system, I could still make some reasonable photos. The first image is a single 10 second exposure of Betelgeuse and the stars around it.

First long exposure telescope image. The bright red supergiant Betelgeuse was my first target.

First long exposure telescope image. The bright red supergiant Betelgeuse was my first target.

After that, I spend some time trying to find the Orion Nebula. This was quite a hastle since I couldn’t really see it, or the surrounding stars and I had to guess its exact location. Yes it was that clouded. Eventually, I found it and took a large amount of 10 second photos which looked like this:

Jpeg of raw 10 second image

Jpeg of raw 10 second image

Using 16 of those frames and stacking them together with 8 dark frames (photos with the lens cap on, to measure the noise induced by the camera temperature), I got the following result, which I’m quite pleased with 🙂

M42; Great Nebula in Orion. A stack of 16 10sec frames at iso 6400

M42; Great Nebula in Orion. A stack of 16 10sec frames at iso 6400

I sure have seen much better images, but considering that my guiding wasn’t working yet, the orion nebula being very low above the horizon and the layer of clouds present, this image is very acceptable. Because by then, it was already late and the skies weren’t that clear anyway, I decided to try one last target and call it a night. The target I chose was M45; the Pleiades open cluster with its blue glowing stars. The image below is a single 20 second frame which I processed a little. The glow if visible due the the gas that surrounds the stars and reflects the blue light. This type of ‘nebulosity’ is called a reflextion nebula. In contrast, the Orion nebula is an emission nebula, that gets its glow from very hot gas that actually emits light.

M45; Pleiades open cluster. A single 10 second frame at iso 6400

M45; Pleiades open cluster. A single 20 second frame at iso 6400

All in all, this was a rather large post. I do intend to post more frequently the upcoming months, but as always, it really depends on the weather 🙂