Leo the Lion and Coma Berenices, May 2018

Click to see the full-sized image.

Since I started taking wide-field pictures of the sky last year, the constellation Leo has been my most-photographed target.  Being high overhead in my area during its prime viewing season, its resulting images suffer the least from the harsh light pollution closer to the horizon.  It is also an easy constellation to trace once you identify the anchor stars of Regulus and Denebola.

This image was produced in DeepSkyStacker from about 25 25-sec exposures, f/2.8 and ISO 200.  I have settle on these settings based on my earlier pictures this year of Orion, Gemini, and Auriga.  Further post-processing attempted to accentuate the bright stars.

Above Leo and to the left you can see Coma Berenices.  It sort of blends in with the other fainter stars directly above Leo.  This was in part a trade-off by me – I wanted to show as many stars as possible, at the loss of Coma Berenices blending too much into that fainter star field.


Next on my ongoing astro-imaging tour, I hope, is Jupiter.  I took one set of pictures a few weeks ago, but they turned out badly.  The skies were clear this weekend but the humidity was stifling.  Fortunately, there is plenty of time to see and image Jupiter in 2018, and I am still easily on pace based on prior years and how Jupiter repositions year-to-year.  In 2016 I started photographing Jupiter in early April; in 2017, I started in early May.  So 2018’s “window” is a few weeks away.

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Constellations X: Spring Triangle Fever

Click to see the full image.

May 4th, 2018, 09:50 p.m. local time

For the record, I have had amazingly clear skies ever since late last week.  Each night I have tried to take advantage of these viewing opportunities, especially since the aging Moon has been rising well past midnight.  On Friday night, the first adventure I undertook was the photographing of the Spring Triangle – Arcturus, Regulus, and Spica.

I was not sure if I could capture this asterism in one picture.  The Spring Triangle is much larger than the Summer Triangle.  But I was successful.  It is worth noting that normally, I crop my raw images to focus on whatever the subject of the picture is.  For the Spring Triangle, you are seeing the complete and full dimensions of the source image.  This required the widest setting of my widest lens.  It is a very large patch of sky.

This is not a stacked image.  I went with only 25-second images and different ISOs.  The picture above was at ISO 200.  It was post-processed to remove light pollution and accentuate stars.

So aside from the technical details, what exactly are you looking at?  You can see all of Leo to the right.  Find Regulus and you should be able to trace Leo.  With Arcturus and Spica you can see parts of the constellations Bootes and Virgo, respectively.  In the top middle you see the packed stars of Coma Berenices.

This photography session increased my constellation total to 32.  Bootes, at least partially, is seen.  Also, correcting my previous records, I should have acknowledged earlier that Coma Berenices is a recognized modern constellation.  It was an ancient asterism, originally considered to be part Leo, being the lion’s great and magnificent tail.

  • Ursa Minor
  • Draco
  • Leo the Lion
  • Aquila
  • Sagitta
  • Delphinus
  • Velpecula
  • Lyra
  • Cygnus
  • Taurus
  • Perseus
  • Camelopardalis
  • Auriga
  • Cassiopeia
  • Cepheus
  • Scorpius
  • Ophiuchus
  • Virgo
  • Cancer
  • Leo Minor
  • Lynx
  • Ursa Major
  • Pegasus
  • Andromeda
  • Orion
  • Canis Minor
  • Lepus
  • Monoceros
  • Eridanus
  • Gemini
  • Bootes
  • Coma Berenices

References:

Constellations IX: Not Just Auriga

Click to see the full image.

March 11th, 2018, 09:10 p.m. local time

Over the past month I devoted photography sessions to Orion and surrounding constellations like Taurus, Lepus, and Canis Minor.  Last week I focused on Gemini.  On Sunday I turned my attention a bit past all of those towards Auriga.  This is one of my favorite places in the sky, particularly because of the star clusters M36, M37, and M38, which all look fantastic through my 10″ Dobsonian.  But this night was not about high magnification as I once again set up my digital camera on tripod for more wide field imaging.

For Gemini I used f/2.8 and ISO 400 with 25-second exposures.  For Auriga I slid the ISO down to 200 while keeping the other settings the same.  Lowering ISO helps to reduce noise and improve colors, at the potential loss of detail.  I am pleased with the results as a good balance between accentuating the bright stars as well as including an adequate canvas of the faint background stars.  In post-processing, this time I prioritized trying to bring out the colors in a neutral sense without over-representing any one RBG band.

Auriga is in an interesting part of the sky for another reason, as the boundary between the surrounding star activity of the likes of Orion, Taurus, and Gemini and a fairly bland section of the sky occupied by the lesser known constellations of Lynx and Camelopardalis.  There are no noteworthy stars nor high-profile deep sky objects in that vicinity, until you hit the areas marked by Polaris, Ursa Major, and stretching over to Leo.

My attempt to center Auriga emphasizes this point, as the picture is a bit lopsided with all the cool stuff at the center, bottom, and left with a relative void in the upper right.

So what else is in the photo besides Auriga?  Taurus, Orion, and Gemini are all peeking in.  And then there is a near-full cameo by Perseus, which I outlined below.  And you can even see, at the very bottom, that demon star whose brightness allegedly fluctuates but I have not fully confirmed yet.

Click to see the full image.

This photography session did not increase my constellation total, which still stands at 30:

  • Ursa Minor
  • Draco
  • Leo the Lion
  • Aquila
  • Sagitta
  • Delphinus
  • Velpecula
  • Lyra
  • Cygnus
  • Taurus
  • Perseus
  • Camelopardalis
  • Auriga
  • Cassiopeia
  • Cepheus
  • Scorpius
  • Ophiuchus
  • Virgo
  • Cancer
  • Leo Minor
  • Lynx
  • Ursa Major
  • Pegasus
  • Andromeda
  • Orion
  • Canis Minor
  • Lepus
  • Monoceros
  • Eridanus
  • Gemini

References:

Constellations VIII: Gemini

Click to see the full image.

March 3rd, 2018, 08:45 p.m. local time

Shortly after I took long exposure images of Orion on Saturday night, I repointed my camera further up, above Orion and towards the East.  This is where Gemini resided, high overhead.  The same camera settings were used as for Orion.  Additionally, I used essentially the same post-processing techniques that I have experimented with on Orion these past few days.  Whenever I redid Orion, I subsequently tried the same on my Gemini raw image.

The thing about Gemini is that there is no obvious outline to the constellation.  In my skies, the main stars Pollux and Caster are easily visible, but that is about it.  And even if I could see more stars, I would have a hard time tracing this constellation without a high familiarity of its shape.  I decided that tracing the constellation on the image would be helpful in this case.

Besides the feature Gemini you can also see all of Canis Minor with its bright star Procyon.  Orion’s upper arm is seen below Gemini, with the eastern edge of Taurus just visible (the blue star at the very right edge of the photo is Zeta Tauri).  At the bottom of the image are a few stars from the unicorn, Monoceros.

Every dot you see in this image really is a star.  It has been fun for me to compare my images with detailed star charts to trace out these sometimes unnamed stars.  It proves to me that they are not just camera background noise but genuinely specks representing stars and star systems in our Milky Way Galaxy.  This shows the power of a decent lens and inexpensive digital camera being able to punch through the canvas of light pollution to reveal the truths above.

Since I started taking wide-field views of the sky, I put my tally of snagged constellations at 30:

  • Ursa Minor
  • Draco
  • Leo the Lion
  • Aquila
  • Sagitta
  • Delphinus
  • Velpecula
  • Lyra
  • Cygnus
  • Taurus
  • Perseus
  • Camelopardalis
  • Auriga
  • Cassiopeia
  • Cepheus
  • Scorpius
  • Ophiuchus
  • Virgo
  • Cancer
  • Leo Minor
  • Lynx
  • Ursa Major
  • Pegasus
  • Andromeda
  • Orion
  • Canis Minor
  • Lepus
  • Monoceros
  • Eridanus
  • Gemini

References:

Re-Imagining Orion

Click to see the full image.

March 3rd, 2018, 08:20 p.m. local time

After I took my first true pictures of Orion early last week, while I was pleased with the results, I felt the images were still lacking, particularly in background star detail.  On Saturday, I took to shooting Orion again, with my same new lens.  This time, I bumped the focal stop all the way down to f/2.8 and the ISO to 400.  I then stacked 30 25-second images in DeepSkyStacker.  For the next several days, I played around with the resulting image mightily in PaintShop Pro.  Subtracting light pollution, adjusting levels and curves, experimenting with colors, and trying to accentuate the brightest stars.

I have realized within the last 48 hours that there are infinite routes to take when editing astrophotography in post processing, particularly wide field views.  Imagination and artistry combined.  I feel this image provides more detail than my last Orion.  Likely, I will continue to experiment.

Constellations VII: Orion and Taurus

Closeup of Orion.

February 26th, 2018, 08:15 p.m. local time

Finally, for one night, the weather was great (likely above 45 degrees F), no wind, and an amazingly clear sky.  This is the best time of year for stargazing where I am, when the weather permits, because there are neither bugs nor humidity to combat.  If this had not been a school night, I would have pulled out my big telescope, waited the 45 minutes for it to cool down, and then observed the sky for as long as I could.

The only damper was the Moon, days away from Full, lighting up everything.

Waxing Moon notwithstanding, these conditions were perfect for tripoding my camera and trying out my new wide-field lens.  I upgraded over the stock lens of my DSLR camera last month and have have been eager to use it.  This night’s session was mostly a test of the new lens.

Here is the full image:

Click to see the full-sized image.

Orion with Taurus was the perfect target.  What most impressed me about this image, which is a single post-processed shot, are the colors.  The oranges of the giants Betelgeuse and Aldebaran, the blues of the young stars in the Pleiades.  They all pop out vibrantly.

This is a 20-second exposure and remarkably only ISO 100.  I think there is room for bringing out even more details if I bump up the ISO more and play with the focal length, set at f/2.8 for this image.  It’s worth noting here that I did try image stacking at ISO 1600 with a much higher focal length, but the end results seemed dull compared to this single shot image.  I have work to do to figure out how to take advantage of my new lens in conjunction with image stacking.

Other constellations are visible as well.  In the extreme upper left is the star Procyon and its constellation Canis Minor.  To the left of Orion, very faint, is Monoceros.  Below Orion you can see the top of Lepus, and next to that is the end tip of Eridanus.  I admit that I never thought about Lepus (a hare), Monoceros (a unicorn), and Eridanus (a river) until now.  They are simply too faint and not in any recognizable shape to take special notice of.  Still, there they are, pretty much as they were when the ancients named them.

Gemini is also barely visible at the top, but let’s save mention of the twins for when I can get a better view, when the glaring Moon is not sitting right on top of Castor and Pollux

Since I started taking wide-field views of the sky, I put my tally of snagged constellations at 29:

  • Ursa Minor
  • Draco
  • Leo the Lion
  • Aquila
  • Sagitta
  • Delphinus
  • Velpecula
  • Lyra
  • Cygnus
  • Taurus
  • Perseus
  • Camelopardalis
  • Auriga
  • Cassiopeia
  • Cepheus
  • Scorpius
  • Ophiuchus
  • Virgo
  • Cancer
  • Leo Minor
  • Lynx
  • Ursa Major
  • Pegasus
  • Andromeda
  • Orion
  • Canis Minor
  • Lepus
  • Monoceros
  • Eridanus

References:

Waiting for Winter to Reopen the Sky

Ice-covered Lake Michigan this winter.

I wish there was more to say and show from the past few weeks, but the weather has not been cooperating.  Cloud-blanketed days and nights intermingled with furious snow bashings have created a mid-Winter with little time for anything beyond work and shoveling.  But I keep my back deck snow-free in hopes that a prolonged break will come one evening and I can get either a telescope or camera out for at least a brief time.

There are a few matters to report.  First, we are now in prime time viewing season for Orion.  From the northern hemisphere, it’s high in the South around 8 to 9 o’clock.  I very much want to take a wide-field view of this constellation, especially since I recently bought a better wide-field lens that I am eager to try out.  I did catch a brief glimpse of Orion last night through a break in the clouds, but certainly not predictable or long enough to warrant getting equipment set up to photograph.

Over the weekend, in between my snow removal shifts, I was up very late, around 1:30am, and noticed to the East that Jupiter was already visible through my trees.  This is great news as it means opposition is rapidly approaching, and in another one-to-two months it will be available for observation and photography at reasonable evening hours once again.

Finally, all the snow in my area made we wonder if my neighbor’s buried outdoor lights would lessen the area’s light pollution for the time being.  With a small break in clouds last night, I did look up for a few minutes, but did not notice any difference.  My guess is that any mitigation of pollution due to covered lights is offset by the highly reflective white snow cover.

The Orion Nebula via Smartphone

The Orion Nebula, M42

January 25th, 2018, 8:30 p.m. local time

The skies were very clear last night and the temperature in the mid-30s (F), with no wind.  It was a great opportunity to take my 10″ Dob outside for the first time this year.

There were many targets in the sky, but as it was a school night, I decided to focus (no pun intended) on the Orion Nebula.  I first observed it for a while with only my 2″ 32mm eyepiece.  It still looks as I recall from the prior season of observation.  Worth noting was the presence of the Quarter Moon, so the skies were nowhere near ideal for deep sky observations.

I then proceeded to attach my phone via mount to the eyepiece.  Understand that my attempts at photographing any deep sky object, such as M42, accentuate the limits of my astrophotography equipment.  I do not have an equatorial mount, so I cannot take the needed exposures for truly rich images.  One image I took at a four-second exposure brought out the nebula’s shape in surprising clarify, but the long star trails make the image unusable.  I settled for a few ~0.3 second exposures, lightly edited afterward in PaintShop Pro.

The Brightness of Algol, Part I

Click to see the full-sized image. Afocal image taken from a 254mm reflector.

“I will definitely be looking out for Algol and will try to take pictures.”
Me on September 12th, 2017

The star Algol, in the constellation Perseus, is known as an eclipsing binary star.  As explained at Scott’s Sky Watch:

“Algol’s brightness changes as we see it here on Earth. It’s not because its inherent brightness itself is changing, but because another star is passing in front of it, blocking out some if its light, just like the Moon did to the Sun last month, but much farther away. From its 90 light years, we can see it as only one star. Algol was the first star of this type to be discovered, so this type is sometimes called an Algol Binary. We here are fortunate to be able to see this.”

I had been hoping to take pictures over the course of days to see if changes in its brightness could be detected.  I was only able to image the star on one night so far, several weeks ago on December 19th.  I did log the telescope, lens, and camera settings, so that I can try to reproduce the imaging event at a later date.  The above image, from December 19th, is unaltered except for an increase in color vibrancy that can be applied easily to the next image.

There is still some time this season to capture Algol again.  I just need both the Winter weather and skies to cooperate together on a single night.