The North American Nebula

NGC7000 or The North American Nebula is found in Cygnus, just northwest of the bright star Deneb. A huge complex of glowing gas and dark dust the nebula covers and area several times larger than the full moon.

The image here is the sum of 60 individual frames, 30 at 1 minute and 30 more at 5 minutes of exposure taken with a TeleVue 76mm scope and a ZWO ASI1600mm Pro camera through a hydrogen alpha filter.

The bright North American Nebula and the rifts of the dark nebulae LDN 935 in hydrogen alpha light
The bright North American Nebula and the rifts of the dark nebulae LDN 935 in hydrogen alpha light

A Bright Comet in the Dawn

We have a bright comet in the dawn sky for a few days. Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE has brightened rapidly over the past few weeks, now about 1st magnitude it can just be seen against the glow of dawn.

Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE against the dawn
Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE against the dawn

I took along Hodepodge to serve as a tracking mount for the TV-76mm scope and a couple cameras to do some comet shooting. The Canon 6D would go with the small ‘scope, the EOS-M5 with a tripod for wide angle shots.

Driving up Waikoloa road I was troubled by a bank of clouds in the Waimea saddle, thus I elected to head for the Humuʻula saddle instead. I ended up in the lava fields along the Mauna Loa access road. The view was perfect, and I had just enough time to get the mount and camera setup as the comet rose.

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The Lagoon in Hydrogen-Alpha

With summer upon us the central core of the Milky Way galaxy dominates the late evening sky. This allows an astrophotographer a rich selection of targets well placed for shooting all night long.

Among these targets are the large emission nebulae… M17, M16, NGC4628, NGC6334, NGC6357, SH 2-54, and a long list of others. The brightest among these nebulae is M8, the Lagoon nebula, a rich and complex region of star formation, sweeps of gas, and dark globules.

With a new hydrogen-alpha filter added to the camera’s filter wheel it is time to re-image some of these old favorites. The filter is a narrow-band filter allowing through a slice of the spectrum only a few nano-meters wide. The filter pass-band is centered on 656nm deep in the red, the glow of neutral hydrogen gas, this allows sharp images of these glowing nebulae complexes.

M8, The Lagoon Nebula taken in H-alpha light at 656nm
M8, The Lagoon Nebula taken in H-alpha light at 656nm

Another Night, Another Supernova

Supernova 2020jfo in M61 is not the only supernova occurring at the moment. Actually there are over sixty supernova in progress at the moment that we know of. The modern transient search programs locate them by the dozens, and while the average large galaxy might have one supernova a century, there are an enormous number of galaxies we can observe while monitoring for those great explosions.

Currently the brightest supernova is 2020hvf at magnitude 12.4 hosted by galaxy NGC3643 in Leo. Unlike the pretty face-on spiral of M61, this small 14th magnitude galaxy is completely outshone by the supernova. Looking at the image one is struck by the realization that for a week or two that one star is outshining the combined light of the hundreds of billions of other stars that make up an entire galaxy.

NGC3643 with supernova SN2020hvf on the evening of Mar 15, 2020
NGC3643 with supernova SN2020hvf on the evening of Mar 15, 2020

Markarians’s Chain

Shot photos from the driveway again last night. Several hours shooing at the heart of the Virgo cluster and Markarian’s Chain.

I was shooting color data, but clouds rolled through the field before I got any blue data. Will have to shoot again another evening. In the meantime I put together a monochrome version.

The two big elliptical galaxies towards the lower right are M84 and M86. In the center is an interacting spiral galaxy NGC4438, notably distorted through interaction with NGC4435 seen right above it. The big elliptical at lower left is M87.

Do not try to count the number of galaxies here, zoom in and dozens upon dozens become visible.

The heart of the Virgo Cluster around Markarian's Chain.
The heart of the Virgo Cluster around Markarian’s Chain.

Astrophotography from the Driveway

A clear night finally appeared, clouds have been plaguing this particular dark of the Moon. What to do? Maybe do some astrophotography?

The nebula complex M17 in hydrogen-alpha
The nebula complex M17 in hydrogen-alpha

I have a new piece of kit, a ZWO ASI Air Pro that has been on back-order since November. With shutdowns in China and the rest of the mayhem it finally arrived this week.

The unit is a little dedicated astrophotography computer that makes a lot of the setup so much easier, while simplifying the snarl of cables on the telescope.

Controlling the camera, filter wheel, and guiding is done through a very nice app on the iPad. In less than an hour I had the basics figured out and was taking images.

A few technical issues to learn about through the night, such as how to best configure the WiFi for use with the home network, how to access and download the images to the desktop computer, etc., but no real problems. I took images through until dawn’s glow appeared in the data, running from twilight to twilight.

A First Attempt

Just getting back into astrophotography after quite a few years of observing visually. A new camera, updated software, it seems like I am learning all over again.

For a first run I processed a monochrome image of M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. A quick run of fourteen luminance frames, 8 at 5 minutes, 6 at 60 seconds combined into a single frame.

M31 or the Andromeda Galaxy, with M110 visible above and M32 visible below the core
M31 or the Andromeda Galaxy, with M110 visible above and M32 visible below the core

I have color data for this image, but that will be a lot more processing. Given all of the various filters and calibration frames I really need to get the automated batch processing running before I do much color work.

Witnessing a Total Solar Eclipse

By the time this is posted, by the time you read this, the eclipse will be long over. You will have been flooded by images and descriptions of this event from thousands of sources. However, this blog is a personal diary, I will put down my thoughts and memories before they grow dim, post my photos, and preserve the experience for myself.

Solar Corona
An HDR view of the solar corona from the 21Aug2017 solar eclipse

Our plan was simple, camp out well ahead of time in a site that had been carefully selected and scouted. Jody and Larry camped along side this little pretty meadow earlier in the summer, noting that it would serve quite well. They also arrived first, five days before the eclipse, and minutes ahead of others that sought this same place.

The plan worked, and worked well. In the days leading up to the eclipse dozens of vehicles came past, each looking with envy at those who had arrived early to claim the best spots. The stream of vehicles continued late into Sunday eve, no matter, this forest offers room for all.

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