Out of Order

I haven’t had much of a chance to go out and gaze at the stars in the past couple of weeks due to a mixture of clouds and the fact that my telescope mount for the Astromaster 114EQ broke the night of December 30th, 2011. I was tightening the thumb screws to attach the optical tube to the mount when all of a sudden there was a SNAP and before I could react the telescope fell to the floor. The mount snapped and there is no DIY fix.
You can see me holding the thumbscrews that connect the telescope to the mount, along with the mount broken there. At the moment of the picture the telescope was laying on the floor. Fortunately after going through and giving the OTA a thorough check it didn’t seem to be damaged, but it may need a good collimation after falling about 3 feet to the ground. I can’t describe how scared I was to look into the tube expecting to see a shattered mirror.
I have contacted Celestron and they will replace the part, sending out the broken part to be replaced this week. Unfortunately they are saying it could take 4-6 weeks until I receive my new mount. Until then I still have the 70mm refractor although I can’t really take pictures with it, and it’s been quite cold so sketching my views is a bit of a hassle.
I’m also looking into a new telescope – The Omni XLT 150 – which will be a nice addition to my small telescope collection. Keep an eye out I will hopefully be back up and running as normal hopefully within a couple of weeks. Sorry about any lack of viewing updates.

December 29, 2011 Viewing Session – NGC 884 and NGC 869 (Double Cluster)

Another clear night in December, and it may be the last of the year. Went out to get a view and images of NGC 884 and NGC 869 – The Double Cluster. I’ve posted an image of it in the past (at this link here), but tonight’s yielded much better results due to 30 images stacked at 15Seconds, 3.2seconds, and 8seconds all at F3.1 ISO400.
Click to Enlarge.
NGC 884 and NGC 869 also known as Caldwell 14 are two open clusters within the constellation of Perseus. The cluster can be found between the constellation lines of Perseus and Cassiopeia. These two relatively young clusters lay at a distance of 7600 and 6800 light-years away with NGC 869 being 5.6 million years old and NGC 884 being 3.2 million years old. Each cluster contains a few hundred stars, young hot super-giant suns that are thousand times for luminous than our sun. This double cluster is one of the few objects that can be seen with the unaided eye. They cover a span of only 30 arc-seconds which is about the width of the moon.
When viewing the double cluster you can see a variety of colored stars from blue, to white, to the red of a swelling giant star moving ever closer to it’s violent end as a supernova. This cluster can be enjoyed with just your eyes (given you live in a dark enough area) as a fuzzy object between Perseus and Cassiopeia, or enjoyed with a pair of binoculars, or a telescope ranging from small to large in size. Next clear night see if you can spot the double cluster with your unaided eye.

December 27, 2011 Viewing Session – M42 (Orion Nebula)

The day was clear, the sun was shining, and I was expecting to get a good view of the 2 day old crescent moon 7° from Venus in the western sky after sunset. That was destroyed by a thick layer of clouds that rolled in about 30 minutes before sunrise. After that I figured the sky was going to be cloudy all night. Around 9pm I let the dog out and I decided to have a look up, and the sky was clear. After letting the dog in I took the Astromaster 114EQ out with hopes of getting a few images that I could stack and make into a pretty image to share here. I had some luck, but need to fine tune and learn some adjustments to be made.
The Orion Nebula is a diffuse nebula just below (south) Orion’s Belt, and is also visible to the naked eye granted you have clear skies, and minimal light pollution. To find the M42, first find Orion’s Belt, look below it for the three fainter stars almost perpendicular to the belt. The middle of the three stars is where the nebula can be found. With the unaided eye you may notice that this middle star is a bit fuzzy, and that’s because of the nebula. Aim a pair of binoculars or a telescope at this and you will be amazed with how much of the nebula is visible.
At a distance of 1,344 light-years away this nebula shines quite bright through a telescope and handles magnification quite well. Although this is all that I was able to see through my telescope, this nebula is part of a much larger nebula within Orion known as the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex. Inside M42 there is quite a young cluster of stars known as the Trapezium. Through my telescope the Trapezium is just visible with the 32mm eyepiece and I can resolve 3 of the stars. I didn’t get the chance to magnify it anymore than that, but those three stars in the Trapezium turn into a total of six with good transparency and higher magnification.
This is a single image of M42 I took showing the Trapezium. Click to Enlarge.
Through the 32mm eyepiece M42 looks a lot like it does in my picture below. The image below was created with about 30 images stacked in Deep Sky Stacker at 3.2seconds F6.3 ISO400. Strapped the camera to the eyepiece set up a timer and let the pictures begin.
 Click to Enlarge
This second image was about a total of 70 images stacked, 30 of the images were the images used in the picture above, and the rest were taken at about 6seconds F4.5 ISO400. The central region of the nebula is a bit overexposed, but you can really start to see the shape of the nebula in this image. Hopefully I have clear skies soon, and will be able to spend more than just an hour with this nebula. By the time I had captured all these images a thin layer of clouds started rolling in.
 Click to Enlarge
Although the central area is overexposed I am still quite happy with the results I’m achieving with the setup I have. I finally have the tracking of the sky down to a point where I can take up to 15 second exposures and still have a decent enough picture to stack within Deep Sky Stacker, which is quite picky when it comes to even the slightest star trail. Now I just need to work on less exposure with a ton more images taken, or I need to screw around with some other settings.

EDIT: I have taken the two images and masked them in Gimp to come up with a much better image of the nebula. You can really make out the stars in the center of the nebula a bit more, and the central core of the nebula isn’t as overexposed.

Click to Enlarge

December 3, 2011 Viewing Session – M36, Time Lapse, Iridium Flare, Star Trails

While out viewing I had Rachael Alexandra come out and brave the cold temperatures and blowing winds to get pictures of me while viewing through the telescope. The pictures were taken with an exposure time of 30 seconds. You may think you’d end up with a blurry me, but when looking through a telescope at an amazing thing thousands of light-years away you tend to not move a whole lot. After she was done I gave her the chance to view a pretty open cluster in Auriga.

M36 sometimes called the Pinwheel Cluster, is an open cluster in the constellation Auriga. There are three Messier object in Auriga M36, M37, and M38 all of which are open clusters. I decided to go for M36 not just because it’s the first in the list within the constellation, but because it seemed to be the brightest of the three. M36 is roughly 4,100 light-years away, and about 14 light years in diameter. It is about 25 million years old which astronomically speaking is rather young. M36 has an irregular shape and the stars are in a chain like pattern.

Although not visible with the naked eye as I was scanning the area I came across a faint cluster of stars using the 32mm eyepiece. Not too many were very bright, but there were a few stand-out stars. About 15 stars in the heart of the cluster most of which visible with averted vision. Some seemed somewhat hidden close to the brighter stars making them harder to pick out. When I stepped up the magnification with the 12.5mm the harder to see stars before seemed to pop out in the eyepiece a bit more. Roughly the same amount of stars this time in the heart of the cluster, but then averted vision brought out a few more of the dimmer stars unseen with the 32mm.

Click for larger image.

Also throughout the night starting around 5pm I setup my camera to take a 30 second picture ever 5 seconds. The shutter speed was 30 seconds, F3.1, ISO400, takes 30 seconds to process one image, so each picture took 1 minute+/-. I had this running from 5pm to 3am and got 457 images. I took these images and made them into a time lapse video. A little bit of jostling of the camera by some wind gusts, but all in all this time lapse came out pretty good. I’ve attempted a few before like this one when I had no luck. This time though I only had a short batch of thin clouds come in for a short time during imaging.
 Time lapse video, best watched full screen in HD (everything’s better in HD).
When scrolling through the pics of this video before making it I saw some streaks across the sky, most of them were planes, except one in the lower left corner that was extremely bright near the beginning of the video. If you didn’t see it, watch it again and look for it. At first I thought I had caught a meteor, then looking online at CalSky it showed that there was an Iridium Flare from an antenna 5 minutes later than the picture was taken and 6 minutes later was an Iridium Flare from a solar panel. After some looking on the site and then checking my camera I found that my time is 5 minutes off which would make these images a direct affect of an Iridium Flare.

Iridium Flare in the Northeast with Cassiopeia and Perseus in view. Click to Enlarge.

Still a faint streak in the lower left in the frame after the previous one. Click to Enlarge.
Some info on Iridium Flares. They are from an Iridium Satellite which is a relatively small telecommunications satellite in a low Earth orbit. They’re part of a world-wide system for mobile communications. Each satellite has three main mission antennas (MMAs) which are flat, highly reflective surfaces that can reflect the suns rays when hit just right. These Iridium Flares can be as bright as a -8 magnitude which for comparison bright Venus can reach a magnitude of -4.9.
That’s not it either. I then took these 457 images and brought them into another program and made pretty star trails out of them. Again you can see the wobble from the wind, but again this came out pretty good for a first. This won’t be the last!

November 6, 2011 Viewing Session

I had went out planning to image Jupiter and a large section of sky like I did in my previous post of November 5, 2011 Viewing Session.
Very first thing I did when I went out was piggy-backed my camera to my telescope, turned on the motor to track the stars across the sky and test out a 15 second exposure. After the first one I examined it, made sure there were no star trails present and then set the camera up to take 20 pictures at 15 second exposure, ISO 400, F-Stop 3.1. I aimed the scope and camera at the constellation Cygnus, and just below it is Lyra with it’s star Vega shining near the bottom off centered to the left of the picture.
 Single frame 15sec, F3.1, ISO400. Click to enlarge.
 16 frames 15sec, F3.1, ISO400. Click to enlarge.
I then took the scope and aimed it at Jupiter tracking it across the sky viewing it in my 12.5mm eyepiece, then I decided to kick it up a bit and put in the 6mm. For some reason I just couldn’t get the focus sharp enough with the 6mm, so I took my 2x barlow piece out and put the 12.5mm in it making it a 6.25mm. I know this sounds pointless to do since the 6mm didn’t work, but for some odd weird reason it worked and I got a pretty good focus. The next hurdle I had to jump was dimming Jupiter down so it wasn’t just a giant bright white ball in the eyepiece which was quite a task, but my Moon filter came in handy to tone down the light. It’s hard to spot in the photo below, but the Great Red Spot has started to come around the limb of Jupiter in the upper left side you can just make it out. I attempted editing this image to bring it out a bit, but I had no luck so these are just straight off the camera.
 Click to enlarge.
 Click to enlarge.
Later on in the night before calling it quits I had seen about 5 meteors from the meteor shower Taurids that peaks the night of November 12 into the morning of November 13. These were very bright and kind of fell from the sky like you would picture a flare gun. Short lasting but quite bright considering how they grasped my attention immediately and made me stop packing in my things to bring it inside. I took a series of images, only about 6 images more focused on Pleiades. I tried a few zoomed out to try and capture meteors but they only seemed to streak across the sky as my camera was done taking an image of an area. I tried for meteors but all I got was this pretty picture.

 Pleiades single frame 50sec, F5, ISO400. Click to enlarge.
Pleiades 6 frames 50sec, F5, ISO400. Click to enlarge.