Imaging NGC 1976: The Great Nebula of Orion & Running Man

UK skies often mean imaging under less than optimal conditions – this year has been particularly poor in terms of clear skies. It seems all we’ve had is rain and cloud so, whenever the skies are clear, I need to get out and have a go. And so it was last Wednesday, when a clear 12 hour night clashed with a 61% moon phase. I decided to throw caution to the wind and try and image the Great Nebula of Orion, NGC 1976. I had just received a 0.85x field flattener and reducer for my 80ED scope and wanted to test how it worked. I decided to try for 5 hours on Orion, once the moon had moved further towards the western horizon, and hoped that my clip-in CLS filter would be effective.

I also decided to shoot at two exposures and try out PixInsight’s HDR image process to try and bring out the core while still capturing the outer nebulosity.

I shot the following sequence:

30 x 10s
10 x 300s
20 flats
No darks (but extreme dithering)

The average sensor temperature was 4c for the 10 secs and 13c for the longer 300 sec exposures. I also paused for 45 secs between each frame, and dithered every other frame on high settings.

The star field turned out really well – pretty round right to the extremities – and the SNR was good, especially on the 300 sec subs.

My processing in PixInsight was a little unusual – I’m not sure how it ended up as vibrant as it did; I did saturate but not a lot – the data just seemed to go in this direction. It might be because i have started using the ArcSin stretch process which seems to retain colour a lot, especially reds which probably amplified the results from my modded DSLR. Whatever the reasons, I do like the result! I will have another go at processing it using a more conventional workflow, but I am definitely keeping this as an alternative take on NGC 1976.

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A more conventional presentation on my Astrobin Account

It was quite flattering that my image got selected by Flickr on the 29th to appear on their end of year Explore feed so that opened up my Flickr account to a whole new audience.

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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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DSLR Capture of the Heart Nebula IC 1805

As I am back to imaging on my DSLR in the short term, I wanted to test out how it would perform on a hydrogen gas nebula, now that the camera has been modded and had a filter removed. I opted for the Heart Nebula – IC 1805 – as it afforded me the most time in one session. I captured a total of 8 hours of subs, each of 240 secs at ISO 800. These were then calibrated and stacked in PixInsight, my processor of choice.

I struggled, however, to process accurately in PixInsight – one corner in particular just refused to even out and so I was faced with the prospect of some rather extreme cropping to remove stubborn gradients. That is until I tried out a trial version of Star Tools. It stripped out the gradients with ease and actually produced an image of much greater clarity and crispness than PixInsight did, despite several attempts. A quick boost in Photoshop and it was finished.

I didn’t mask the stars as well as I’d have liked and this has resulted in some ring artifacts – I know where I went wrong and may go back and have another go in the future but I’m happy overall – especially in terms of the sheer amount of nebulosity the modded Canon allowed through.

I now own a licence for Star Tools – it doesn’t replace PixInsight but, like Photoshop, it is a handy tool in my processing arsenal and can produce excellent results quite quickly. I’ll see about doing a proper review of Star Tools once I truly get to grips with it.

Stats:

Lights: 120 x 240secs (!!)

Darks: 20 (I’m going to move towards using more extreme dithering and a master bias instead of darks on the DSLR)

Flats: 50

Final image:

Stacked and calibrated in PixInsight

Processed in Star Tools

Finished in Photoshop

Heart Nebula

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