My first year in Astro Imaging

What an exciting year it’s been – my first year imaging planets, the moon and, best of all; deep sky objects! I bought my first telescope on the 18th December 2016 – a Celestron 130SLT which I planned on using purely for lunar observing. I quickly realised that I’d like to be able to image the moon’s surface and so began searching for tips on how I could connect my Canon 100 DSLR to the scope. Quickly it became apparent that it would involve moving the primary mirror – something I wasn’t prepared to do at that stage so I kept my eye out for a cheapish second deal on a scope, buying a brilliant Skywatcher 80ED scope second hand.

It had started.

I realised that I needed an EQ mount to really get more than lunar shots and, luckily, a friend offered me his old one for free to allow me to get started. Suddenly I was off – I had a scope, a camera and an EQ mount. I kitted out an old laptop with free sofware, and a copy of BackyardEOS and set about learning my craft. I quickly realised that this was not going to be an easy hobby (or a cheap one). I needed a method of guiding so converted an old finder scope to accept an Altair GPCAM 130 camera and I was in business.

It took a while to master polar alignment (this was before Sharpcap introduced their awesome polar alignment software) and my guiding was terrible. Nevertheless, I persevered until finally, I stumbled across my first galaxy and grabbed a smudged blur but it was my first true DSO image and I was so proud!

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M81 Bode’s Galaxy April 2017

Seeing that glimpse of another galaxy was truly mind blowing. The numbers involved were staggering – those photons captured that cold night in April had taken approximately 12 million years to reach my sensor. I was looking at millions upon millions of star systems in a galaxy outside of our own; a place we will never travel to as humans and yet I was capturing all of this from my backyard in Yorkshire, UK.

Looking at this image now – my first ever DSO – I am still moved by the capabilities offered to today’s amateur astronomers. I am also incredibly thankful to all those who have become my friends, and who have guided and supported me in my hobby.

To cut a long story a little shorter, I quickly progressed on a new mount (a Skywatcher EQ6-r pro) and several new scopes (Skywatcher 200pds and 130pds), a new imaging system (QHY163m & filters) and new software (Sequence Generator Pro) but I still go out and use my 80ED and (now modded) Canon DSLR for sheer simplicity. I revisted Bode’s Galaxy again recently, on the same set up and gathered this image:

M81 & M82 Bode's Nebulae Nov 2017

M81 & M82 Bode’s Nebulae Nov 2017

This image, more than  anything, shows how much I have learned over the course of this year, and how much I have still to learn!

I have shot extensively in narrowband over the course of the summer, capturing such targets as:

NGC 281 Pacman Nebula

NGC 281 Pacman Nebula

and

IC 5070 Pelican Nebula

IC 5070 Pelican Nebula

And finally, back into Autumn, I managed to capture the two targets I most wanted:

M31 Andromeda

and the beautiful Horsehead Nebula:

Horsehead Nebula

I know I have much to learn – my processing is still crude and overdone, and my equipment needs overhauling (such as to remove split diffraction spikes) but it has been an amazing first year and I am so looking foward to revisiting a lot of these targets and reshooting them in 2018.

Thank you to everyone who has helped support me and my development – and special thanks to Trevor from AstroBackyard.com whose site and YouTube channel probably did more than anything else to help push my progress this year for which I am very grateful.

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