Astronomy Art

One of my friends from the Astronomy Club of Asheville is an accomplished artist. Her name is Diane Chambers.  She works with watercolors. Since she also has more than a passing interest in astronomy, she’s created some beautiful  watercolor paintings inspired by astronomical images.

Bug Nebula- Watercolor by Diane Chambers

Bug Nebula- Watercolor by Diane Chambers

I was lucky enough to win this painting, she donated, of the “Bug Nebula”, at last December’s annual club fund raiser auction at our holiday social.  It’s just one example of Diane’s fine work.  Please visit her website  at http://pdchambers.wix.com/artist#!outer-space/cdh5 and view the rest of her “outer space” gallery and the other beautiful work she’s done.

dw

 

Pardon My Appearance

The last time I created a web presence was for my son’s high school lacrosse team in 1996.  Since that time the features and options for web development have grown exponentially, just like our knowledge of the cosmos.

I had an idea of how I wanted to layout the information on this site, and like most things I found I needed to make adjustments along the way.  For those not making your first visit here, I’ve changed some of the pages and the menu system for navigation.

I’ve eliminated the static pages for asteroids and equipment.  I believe as I add data to hose subjects, reading the page will be cumbersome.  The information on those pages have been moved to the blog posts.  I apologize to those of you who left comments on those pages.  I have no known methodology to transfer that info to the guestbook.  You may reenter your comments in the guestbook, or not, as you choose.  The comments that were there were all general in nature and not specific to the page contents.  The equipment menu item has been removed and the asteroid menu item now directs you to the asteroid categorized posts, since that is one of my major interests.

For easier navigation I’ve removed the calendar from the side menu and replaced it with “Blog Topics”.  This will allow the user to direct their attention to posts for a particular interest.  The “Recent Posts” show all of the latest entries.

Thanks for your patience and support.

dw

Imaging Equipment for the T.D. Observatory

Observatory setup

Observatory setup

I have been imaging with various types of equipment during the past 2 years.  When I complete the observatory I’m building, this is the equipment that will be permanently installed.  In the future I plan to move to a larger telescope.  The Paramount MX+ should have no trouble carrying up to a 14″ SCT.

Paramount MX+ Robotic mount
Explore Scientific ES127ED APO 127mm F7.5 (for now)
Moonlite 2.5” motorized focuser
Atik One 6.0 ccd camera with internal filter wheel
Astronomik RGB filters
Orion 50 mm Guide Scope
SBIG ST-I Guiding camera

Asteroid 2004BL86

Asteroid 2004BL86, a fast mover, passed within 3 Earth-Moon distances on January 27, 2015.  I captured its passage through Cancer using a Canon 60da DSLR mounted on my ES 127mm refractor.  The video above is combination of about 265 individual 1 second exposures at ISO6400. That was the only way I could capture its motion without an elongated image of the asteroid.

The image below shows the track of the asteroid.  It was produeced by stacking all of the frames together on the background stars.  The gaps you see are frames that were omitted because of defects or delays between images.  The asteroid was quite dim so each frame had to be enhanced in Photoshop with levels and curves to brighten it and improve the contrast.

Asteroid  2004BL86 on 1-27-15

Partial Solar Eclipse 11-3-13

11-3-13-eclipse-setup

11-3-13-eclipse-setup

On November 13, 2013 there was a partial solar eclipse visible from my location in South Carolina. The moon was partially covering the solar disk as the Sun was rising.  The whole event only lasted 5 minutes before it was over.

The view through the morning air was quite turbulent.  The Suns disk was wavering like the mirage you see driving down the highway on a summer’s day.

In the foreground is my ES127ED Refractor with the Canon 60da attached mounted on my Celestron Cgemdx mount.  I used a Lenovo laptop with BYEOS to record video of the eclipse. I needed to setup on the driveway at the front of my property to be able to point at the eastern horizon.

In the background is my Stellarvue SV80 ED I used to observe the eclipse visually . It was mounted on an Orion Versa-Go II Alt/Az mount.

The three solar filters, (127mm, 80mm, 8×50 finder), are homemade using Baader solar film.

Here is the image I captured through the wavering atmosphere.

Partial Solar Eclipse_11-3-13

Partial Solar Eclipse_11-3-13

Baby steps on my learning curve imaging the skies

On my homepage, I speak of the differences between the varying styles, skills, and artistic preferences of different imagers on the same object. In this post I’ll be speaking about my own trip up the learning curve of taking raw data and turning it into something you’re proud to share with others.

With this post I am by no means presenting myself as an expert in processing, as you’ll plainly see in the final image. I have traveled some distance down the road of knowledge, but I consider myself a novice at best. My purpose is to encourage those like me who have an interest in astrophotography to push ahead down that road, even when you get frustrated after hours of manipulating an image and you just can’t get it to look like those magazine pictures. It’s also a warning to those who think it’s “easy”. “Just go out and spend a lot of money on equipment and the magazines will be falling over, looking to print your images.”

Producing an acceptable image, in my opinion, requires a solid foundation in three areas; solid equipment, procedures and the process of gathering data, and the ability to capture the complete dynamic range of an object through processing the combined raw data into an image.

The images I am presenting are of an often imaged object, M42- The great Orion Nebula. The data was collected in October 2013 and the various versions were all processed between then and November 2014. Each image uses the same data with the exception of the first two. They did not have the benefit of the 2 sec exposures that were added to the later versions.

The equipment used consisted of the following:
Hardware
Explore Scientific ES127ED APO refractor F7.5
Orion 50mm guide scope
Celestron Cgemdx mount
Canon 60da DSLR
SBIG ST-I guide camera

Software
BYEOS for image capture
PHD for guiding
Deep Sky Stacker for calibration and stacking
Photoshop CS5 for processing

I captured (35) 30 second subframes at ISO 1600, 6 darks. No flats and No bias.

Right off the bat you can see my first weak area is in data collection. I should have taken many more subs, and added bias and flat frames. I write it all off as rookie impatience and a little ignorance. I have since learned it’s all about the data; data, data, and more data. What you’ll see apparent in all the images is excess noise, although I did get better at reducing it as I learned more, it was at the expense of some of the sharpness. One of the other issues is the slight trailing of the stars, even with guiding. Guiding by itself has a learning curve to master and I probably did not have the mount balanced as well as it should have been.

M42 stacked

Stacked sub frames

This first image was my original take. Now, I had seen images where the trapezium was visible and not blown out, but I had no idea how to do it. I had also read about levels and curves, but had never tried to use them before. This image is almost exactly what was produced from the stacked set of sub frames. I was blown away at the amount of detail the Canon 60da was able to capture.

M42 30 sec

30 second sub frame

 

 

I was a little surprised that the red hues that were visible in the sub frames were now washed out after stacking. I played with the levels and curves but the image got away from me real fast and I backed off.

 

 


 

M42 stretched

Stretched with levels and curves

After messing with levels and curves I was able to bring out more of the extended nebulosity at the expense of the core. One of my club members commented on my image after posting to the Yahoo group: “You’ve blown up the Trapezium”. They were right!


 

My next task was to learn how to recover the Trapezium. I had heard about masking, but didn’t know how to use it. I turned to You Tube and my prayers were answered. After some diligent searching I found some videos that helped me to figure it out.

2 second Trapezium

2 second Trapezium

 

The technique I would use would be to insert some short exposure (2-sec) frames into the image and blend it in with a mask and feathering. I was able to accomplish what I was looking for, even if the finished result was not as perfect as it should be. I knew over time and practice my skills would improve. Even with some of my recent work, I still need to perfect these techniques.

M42 trapezium mask

Masked core to show Trapezium

 


The next thing that bothered me was the lack of color. Many of the images had had seen had beautiful hues of Blue, red and pink. I was able to bring out more color in the image by playing with the Hue and saturation, and selective color adjustments in Photoshop. I was able to bring up the color and use the different hues to highlight different portions of the nebula.

M42 saturation

Increased color saturation


 

In the final image in the series I started looking at the more advanced features of Photoshop and I was able to bring out a higher level of contrast in the range of brightness levels this nebula presents using the High-Pass filter. I like the way this image came out, although some might say it was over sharpened and over saturated. Again, this is a difference in artistic preference. This image and the one above present slightly different “looks” for this object.  I like them both equally.

M42 Sharpened

Sharpened for contrast

I’ve learned a lot from reprocessing this image over and over. There are many reasons why this image never reached the perfection I was hoping for. Sky conditions were not perfect. Even with 30 second sub frames the stars were bloated from poor seeing. In the last iterations I tried using star masks and reducing star size, but could not get it where I wanted it to be. I also suffered from imperfect tracking and guiding. The techniques of setting up aligning and setting the right parameters in the software make a big difference in the quality of the data.

I also learned that I have to take bias and flat frames to help reduce the imperfections produced by the optics and electronic noise of digital cameras. As a new imager I was anxious to produce that image I could show off to my friends. I really should have collected at least another hour or two of data to help increase the signal to noise ration and improve the background of the image.

I will revisit this object some day and give it the proper attention it deserves. Maybe by then my skills will have improved enough that everyone loves my image.

dw

Additions to Galaxy Gallery

I added a few more of my images to the Galaxy gallery today. The images I’ve posted so far have been captured over the last year and a half to two years. With my first posts, I intended to add in all of the technical information as I added the images to the gallery, but I soon realized that it would take me the rest of the year to get my images up. So I decided to add all the images and then highlight some of the technicals.

Most of the images were captured with an Explore Scientific ED127mm F7.5 Triplet APO refractor on a Celestron Cgemdx mount.  I use an SBIG STi guider with PHD  for guiding on a separate guide scope. Some of the images were taken on a Stellarvue 105mm F7 APO refractor, Stellarvue 80mm F7 ED Doublet, and a Stellarvue 60mm F5.5 Doublet APO, mounted on an Ioptron ZEQ25gt equatorial mount.

The color images with the exception of M104 were taken with a Canon 60da DSLR or Rebel XT.  I used a 35mm F2.0 Nikon lens on the Canon for the wide field shots.

M104 and the monochrome images are the first “test” shots with my new (April) Atik One 6.0 ccd camera and built in filter wheel with Astronomik RGB filters. The summer weather and other projects have kept the imaging to a minimum this year, so far.

dw

Messier 15

M15-Globular Custer

click for full size

Name: Messier 15- Globular Cluster
Constellation: Pegasus
Imaged: November 2012
Location: RMSP, Babylon,NY
Telescope: ES127 ED APO F7.5
Mount: Celestron Cgemdx
Camera: Canon Rebel XT

 

 

 

Details: (12) 30 second jpeg sub-frames (jpeg), combined in Deep Sky Stacker. I started working with levels and curves in Photoshop.

 

 

Messier 13

M13-Globular Cluster

Click for full size

Name: Great Hercules Cluster (M13)
Constellation: Hercules
Imaged: May 18, 2012
Location: RMSP, Babylon,NY
Telescope: ES127 ED APO F7.5
Mount: Celestron Cgemdx
Camera: Canon Rebel XT

 

 

Details: (12) 30 second jpeg sub-frames (jpeg),combined in Deep Sky Stacker.