The Great Nebula of Orion is a beautiful object, the brightest nebulae in the sky. It is also quite easy to photograph, making it somewhat of a standard target. I, like many astrophotographers, use the nebula as something of calibration target to check new equipment and processes.
This shot was taken with a Canon 6D and a TV-76mm telescope, a combination I want to work with this summer. I also changed up my processing flow a bit, re-ordering the steps, to achieve better calibration. The result is a more neutral color tone in the original, I can then saturate the image to taste for display or printing. Th original might be a bit closer to true color. Of course, “true color” is a bit of an illusion in astrophotography, where everything is relative.
For my first pass on the Rosette I used about an hour of data. Ten four minute exposures, ten one minute exposures and ten 15 second exposures. The stack is designed to capture a wide dynamic range by using several different exposure lengths. Multiple images taken at each exposure to reduce the noise inherent in long exposure astrophotgraphy. All of this data is aligned and stacked to produce the final image.
When looking at the result it was apparent that I had not been successful in reducing the noise far enough. More exposure time was needed. The shorter exposures were not the problem, I needed more of the longer four minute exposures to reach the faint nebulosity.
The next night I acquired and shot again, another 24 exposures on the Rosette, another 1.6 hours of exposure. A planned astrophoto outing to the MKVIS at 9,200ft elevation offered a chance to get even more high quality exposures. This time I got 30 more exposures, another two hours of total exposure time.
Combining all 3.8 hours of exposure resulted in a notably nicer image. The noise in the fainter sections of the image is pleasantly reduced. It should be with 54 four minute exposures used.
I need to do some sort of systematic comparison of the data gathered in my driveway versus the data obtained at the MKVIS up on the mountain. Having a series of exposures taken with the same gear, on the same target, and at the same time of night just a few days apart should allow a reasonable comparison. I was unable to expose any longer at the VIS despite the colder temperatures (the camera was about 10°C colder). How much better is the VIS? Can I get data nearly as good without packing up the gear and heading up the mountain?
A result from Saturday night. About an hour of integration all told… Good color, very nice stars, good detail. While encouraging, I really need more time on this one, there is too much noise in the fainter regions of the nebula. I can get more data and add it to the stack to continue to improve the result. From up on the mountain I should be able to use longer exposures with darker skies. Colder conditions will reduce the dark current in the camera, also aiding in longer exposures.
Compare the processed shot with the single subframe I published yesterday. The final shot is a stack of 10 x 4min, 10 x 1min, and 10 x 15s frames, 30 frames for just under an hour of exposure. Also needed is another 10 x 240s dark frames and 10 flat field frames to use for calibration. This takes another hour, but was done after the telescope was rolled back into the garage and I went to bed.
The Rosette Nebula is a large star forming region just east of Orion in the constellation of Monocerus. It is quite large, the main body seen in the photograph is well over a degree across. The dark region in the center is about the size of the Full Moon
Digital SLR cameras make surprisingly good astrophotography cameras on bright objects. Good sensitivity, low noise and a convenient form factor make these camera a good choice for shooting the night sky.
One useful modification to the camera is removing the standard IR cutoff filter present in cameras and replacing it with a filter that is tuned to let in more of the red. The new filter should allow light at 656nm, what astronomers call hydrogen alpha, or Hα, the light emitted by neutral hydrogen atoms, the most common element in our universe. This is the red glow that makes the emission nebulae so colorful. An astrophotographer can do the filter change themselves, send it to a specialist who can do the work, or buy an already “modded” camera. Canon has produced two special models specifically for the astrophotography market, the EOS 20Da and 60Da, with this special filter.
Below, one can see the results of using modified, and unmodified cameras and relatively small telescopes…