The Trifid nebula, whose name means “divided in 3 lobes” is an amateur favorite. An island of HII region which is the red portion (HII regions are emission nebulae created when young, massive stars ionise nearby hydrogen gas clouds with high-energy UV radiation causing the gas to emit red light) , a blue “reflection “portion which occurs when light of the nearby massive blue stars reflects off of the dust, and a “dark nebula” portion which divides the nebula into its 3 lobes. There is also an open cluster of stars in the field. The Trifid is 5000 light years away toward the center of out galaxy, hence the very dense surrounding star fields and dust.
I completed my test of the Tak FS120 imaging capability and you can see the result below. I was pretty happy with it, especially considering the very modest set up I am using (see last entry) . For the full resolution image you can click on the thumbnail on the right side of the blog under “my astroimages”. I am looking forward to more projects with it!
Until next time. Thanks for reading!
M20, the Trifid. Single raw image 5 minutes.
This is the fully processed result! 33 x 5 minutes or close to 3 hours of data. I tried not to overprocess it but to preserve the natural nebula colors and bring out the background dust behind the dense star fields.
Can’t remember the last time I was actually “at the telescope”. Not with automation, executive programs, remote operations etc. However as luck or bad luck would have it I encountered another hardware failure on the now 9 month old Paramount. This time it was the PCB on the MKS 5000 control unit. So with my main imaging platform down I went back to basics. Back to the reason I came here in the first place. The dark sky! It’s still there. I happen to have a Tak FS102 refractor. This is a wonderful instrument. Let’s look at this for a minute. The FS-102 is one of the long discontinued Takahashi refractors. The FS series are some of the finest small refractors ever made yet supposedly for visual use only. Why is that? Did some “Dark Lord of Imaging” declare you can’t use it for that? Without going into a long treatise on refractive optics, let’s just say that the FS scope being a doublet lens design was replaced by the triplet lens designs (Tak TOA and TSA) which “supposedly” give better chromatic aberration correction which “supposedly” is better for imaging. Each wavelength of light coming through a lens “bends” or refracts at a different angle so without correction the red light comes to focus at a different point than blue, etc. Contemporary refractive optics (known as apochromatic using ‘ED’ or ‘extra low dispersion’ glass) were designed to correct for this and prevent what is known as chromatic aberration which appears visually as weird color fringes around objects. Apochromatic optics can consist of doublet lens or triplet lens designs.
But wait a minute. The FS is a fluorite doublet. Fluorite is not a glass. It’s a crystalline mineral and it has superior optical properties to glass , including very high transmission of light and low scatter. ‘FS’ stands for “Front Surface” meaning the fluorite element is on the front. It is true I obtained this scope mainly for visual use and the views are amazing here; strikingly better in my opinion than in my triplet William Optics refractor of similar size hands down. Outstanding crispness and color! I think it’s the best I’ve seen in a scope of this size. In my opinion if the scope gives you excellent optical performance visually, then why would that not translate to imaging performance? I decided to give it a try.
So under the incredible dark moonless night sky here at Orion’s Belt Remote Observatory in the Sacramento Mountains, with the Summer Milky Way coming in to full bloom over the horizon at about 10 pm, I set up the FS for an imaging session targeting an age old favorite: M20, the Trifid Nebula, in the constellation Sagittarius. The Trifid has everything in one package. It has an open star cluster, an emission nebula (the red portion), a reflection nebula (blue portion) and a dark nebula in the middle creating the trifurcated appearance. I have a small Tak guidescope mounted on the FS, just for occasions like this. I hooked up my Canon 60Da and connected the Lodestar X2 guide camera to the guidescope. I plugged the Lodestar into the guide port on my Celestron AVX mount and took about 3 hours of images! The steps were as follows:
1) Polar align the mount. I used Polaris and sighted it with a laser pointer. Pretty rough but adequate
2) Calibrate the mount. Most of the go to Celestrons do it the same way. Use the hand pad and punch in 4 stars, 2 on either side of the meridian. I put the Canon in “live view shoot” mode which is very handy because you don’t have to keep taking exposures to find the star you’re calibrating on. It is basically a video mode but very high sensitivity. It just works! I use the brightest stars out there.
3) Refocus. Once the calibration is complete I will focus on the last star. I use the live view mode and use the magnification function to blow up the star, then carefully focus until the star image is as small as possible. The FS focuser is very solid but it is not a dual Crayford style so you have to go slow.
4) Slew to M20. Take a 15 sec image and make sure the framing is what you want. In this case I had to use the hand pad to make small adjustments.
5) Finally you start the guiding process. I used PHD2 guiding software which is freeware and works with a number of guide cameras. Outstanding program! Very simple to use. I really was not sure what kind of guide performance this simple AVX mount would have but I was pleasantly surprised that it responds quite well to guide commands . It just works! All I did was plug the Lodestar into the port called “autoguide” and configure the PHD2 software. You pick a guide star on the screen and click on the guide button! Folks, it does NOT get any easier.
So that was it. Now you can be the judge! (see below) Honestly I think it did pretty well for a single 5 minute raw image! I will update you on the final result after processing etc. Couple of points. One is that you do need a flattener for this as you do for most refractors. I borrowed the one I was using for the William Optics which is identical diameter and close to the same focal length. The FS is an F8 where the WO is about F7. It seems to do the job as the stars are perfectly round to the corners of the image. Second point is you need to spend time focusing. There is no automation of this. This is just old fashioned adjust until it’s right.
Didn’t think this post was going to be this long but the night “back at the telescope’ was the most fun I’ve had in quite some time. So far I have not been the victim of any spells cast by the “Dark Lord of Imaging” !
Thanks for reading!
Back to basics imaging set up! Tak FS 102, Canon 60Da with flattener, Lodestar guider, Tak GT40 guidescope, Celestron AVX mount
Ok so I’m not in the warm room! or in the astronomers quarters at the base of the hill watching it happen remotely. I am “at the telescope” under the glorious Milky Way while the images are being captured. I dropped the south wall down and did some binocular viewing during the session. This is astronomy folks!
M20, the Trifid. 5 minute raw image with the set up shown above. A jewel in the stellar sea of the galactic center! You can see the edge of the Lagoon nebula in the lower right peeking through. Ok so I know it’s not a full res image. BUT at full resolution the stars are still round and not bloated. Can’t wait for the final result! Fluorite optics folks! That’s where it’s at …for refractors anyway 🙂
This kind of stuff never gets old! A crisp Sunday morning, a cup of hot coffee, and a glorious sunrise with our friends Venus, who is a morning planet now after passing through inferior conjunction,, and of course a waning crescent moon.
Spring hasn’t quite sprung yet up here on the Hill. This morning the temp didn’t quite break 30 degrees. Strange patch of high humidity came through last night and when I checked the scope after last night’s session there was frost on it! Had to throw out about 75% of the images as a result. But, we did get one hour’s worth of new data on a new imaging project, the galaxy pair M81 and M82. I have never actually imaged these together before. Looking forward to the finished result! Then to top it off I found one of this month’s binocular bright comets, PanSTARRS, making its way through Aquarius now. I caught a glimpse of it about an hour and half before sunrise. Not enough time to do a full imaging sequence but enough to see a tail! Comet Lovejoy, supposedly more impressive is just too low now for me to get a good look at it. We’ll have to revisit these next month perhaps!
Comet PanSTARRS (C/2015 ER61) just passed closest to Earth on April 19 at 109.5 million miles. It should continue to brighten up until May 10 when it reaches perihelion, closest to the Sun. This is just a 1 minute single frame uncalibrated luminance image taken with the 5″ refractor
New project! The galaxy pair M81, M82 are part of the “M81 galaxy group”. There is a third galaxy, NGC 3077 which is interacting with the other 2 gravitationally but not in this field. The interactions have stripped away hydrogen gases from all 3 forming intergalactic filamentary structures called the Integrated Flux Nebula, I hope will be revealed in the final image. This is a single raw uncalibrated 6 minute luminance image taken with the 5″ refractor. Note the vertical lines through some of the stars. This ccd is very sensitive and what is called non-antiblooming, meaning that for these stars the charge in these pixels have exceeded the saturation level and then start to fill adjacent pixels. The sensor is designed to allow for vertical shifting of charge but not horizontal. So yes, this is kind of an “accepted inconvenience” , which has to be processed out of the image at some point, in exchange for higher quantum efficiency and data preservation but perhaps a topic for another day!
Thanks for reading!
What a difference a couple of years makes! Our community known as Talavera continues to grow like crazy along with the town of Las Cruces, NM. Along with huge growth comes increase in lighting and unfortunately the lighting is not exactly sky friendly. I am truly amazed in the 4 years I have been here the light dome from town has been steadily increasing to the point now where it is close to 50 degrees over the western horizon! Thankfully we now have Orion’s Belt Observatory in a dark site (for now), dedicated to deep space imaging and spectroscopy. So what to do with the Talavera Space Hut as we affectionately call it?
This is the equipment stationed in Talavera. An Astrotech 12″ f/8 RC scope on a Paramount ME and mounted on that is a William Optics GT102 refractor. The 12″ has a focal length of 2400mm. This is more than sufficient for planetary imaging.
I have thought about this for awhile now and what we decided to do was convert it to a planetary observing site. We can also do video astronomy for community outreach as we have in the past. Possibly narrow band projects etc but for now we have reinvented the Hut for the purpose of solar system observations. On Saturday March 4th I started this transition with a full evening of solar system observing and what an amazing night it was for that! I think the images are self-explanatory.
We already have installed a stepper motorized focuser. The camera currently is a Skyris 132M video camera with manual filterwheel. The Skyris is usb 3 and capable of frame rates as high as 100fps
We started out with the Moon. We’re using the software Fire Capture and you can see some of the lunar surface there on the screen
The space hut is a small roll off structure, only 8 feet square and manually operated. It is located in our backyard here in Las Cruces
A very cool Venus apparition! The bright planet is rapidly swinging between us and the Sun as it goes through inferior conjunction and will soon swing around to the other side of us and the Sun to become a morning star! In the meantime it appears as a very thin crescent. This is a capture sequence with a blue filter.
The fairly well publicized lunar occultation of Aldebaran, the red giant star in Taurus, occurred on Sat night the 4th. I am not much of a lunar observer but I was aware of the time it was supposed to re-emerge and since I was lucky to be out there testing this equipment for its new role I decided to try and capture it! The star’s relative motion is very fast and I was just in time! This is a single frame at prime focus.
Finally there was Jupiter! I do have some experience with planetary imaging prior to moving out here so I do know what to do. Unfortunately it appears I will have to add some extension to the optical train in order to use any additional magnification so sorry the planet is so tiny but this is an LRGB image obtained about 12:30 AM MST. No transits or other phenomena were visible at that time but I think this is promising. The image is pretty clean and seeing was not superb so perhaps this is a good sign of things to come!
Not too bad for a first night of solar system observing!
Thanks for reading!
August 4th the Backyard Observatories crew completed their mission in a most efficient and professional manner! I highly recommend BYO for anyone considering one of these. Unfortunately I missed a couple of days due to my work schedule. In any event Orion’s Belt Observatory is now complete!- sort of. Next is connecting the data and electric, painting and setting up additional equipment for remote operation. First light with the 16″ is not expected to happen until next Spring but it possible we could have our 5″ refractor operational by the end of the year.
You can see the entire build at orionsbeltobservatory.com!
Entry door on the west wall. Roof opens to the north
East wall looking west
Inside the observatory. The 2 foot drop down panel is seen to the right. We had the roof insulated to prevent excessive heat build up in the summer
The warm room! We have a 4 foot window on each side to monitor the operations of each pier
Roof motor just outside the warm room
Inside the warm room. It’s about a 5 1/2 foot depth. Plenty of space!
Day 2 of the build was actually yesterday. Once the flooring is in, it goes pretty quickly except the crew got rained out. They are hoping to finish by week’s end
Bright sunny day to start off as the walls go up!
Entry door is on the west wall. This is where the walking trail takes you from the house.
The south wall has a 2 foot drop down to facilitate viewing of the precious southern deep sky objects! The wall height is 7 feet. I can adjust the pier height accordingly. I kind of got tired of ducking every time I go into the smaller structure I have in Las Cruces and I am over 6 feet tall myself
To the north is the warm room. The great thing about a roll off is you have the option if you make the structure big enough to have more than 1 pier. Since I will have 2 piers, I will also have 2 stations in the warm room. The weather is starting to turn for the worse. It is our “monsoon season” this month.
Floor detail showing the 2 piers.
Detail of the framing inside the structure
Two things really surprised me last night while I am spending the weekend up here on Mintaka Hill watching the observatory build. A while back I purchased a used Tak FS102 refractor basically for visual use up here in the dark sky. The Tak FS is a fluorite doublet, since discontinued by Takahashi in favor of the TOA and TSA triplet optics mainly for the supposed imaging advantage, the perfect color correction. Anyway the older Taks have a superb reputation and I can’t tell you how amazing the views are through this thing. However, as an imager by nature, I just had to see what the images were like. Now I am used to big optics with self guiding dedicated ccd cameras. This is completely new to me, which is just one of the things so great about this hobby in that you can discover new things all the time…even if it’s not dark matter! I had also acquired in the past a Celestron AVX equatorial mount also for the purpose of goto visual observing. But wait a minute! There is a “guide port” on the mount. So now we have a scope and a mount that can guide. I looked into this at length and of course there is a “Celestron VX” Yahoo group. It turns out that yes you can guide! And you don’t even need to connect the mount to your computer to do it! So next thing was to figure out what to use. This set up was not going to hold much weight so next thing I needed was a guide scope and a lightweight guider. I decided to go with a lodestar guide camera and a small 50mm scope compatible with my set up (shown below). With my Canon 60D which can easily reach focus on the longer FL Tak and a freeware guiding program called “PHD” I was able to test the new platform! I was blown away by how accurate the guiding was for only rough polar alignment. I’m still learning how to fine tune that on this mount. Perhaps more on that in another post. Anyway you be the judge. The stars are not perfect. They may not even be in the best focus since I had to do that on the fly. But I think you can agree that this is going to be a worthwhile activity going forward! So the 2 things I learned that surprised me:
- The Tak FS102 CAN take very good images. Also the field is pretty flat.
- You can guide accurately with the Celestron AVX with no planetarium program and no direct connection from the mount to the PC!
Portable visual/ imaging set up. Tak FS 102 on a Celestron AVX. 50mm guidescope is mounted on the Tak as you can see. How guiding works: Connect your dslr as you would normally to your computer. Attach the guide camera to the guidescope. You should have 2 cables with your guide camera. One cable is an ethernet like cable that connects directly to the guide port on the mount. The other is a usb cable that connects to your computer. Download the freeware program “PHD guiding” and follow the instructions. When asked to select your guiding configuration, choose “on-camera” which means the camera is connected to the mount. That’s totally it!
This is a completely raw unprocessed image of our good friend in the Milky Way, the Lagoon Nebula. 4 minute exposure using the set up described above. This was with very rough polar alignment. I was within about 20-25 arc minutes of the pole in both altitude and azimuth!