Three more months of crap

As the title suggests – another three months of piss poor weather, has seen off another deepsky imaging season, thoroughly hacked off with the weather in the UK – and so it is with regret that I’m giving up on astronomy and astro imaging as a hobby, in total almost 6 months has passed since I’ve been able to do anything other than checked the equipment ( kick out spiders making homes on my mount and scope ) and remind myself how to use it, there’s no enjoyment in that i’m afraid. So I’m selling off my gear bit by bit. But it’s not just the weather the night sky is being polluted by the likes of Elon Musk and his Starlink satellite atrocity ( over 1000 not so dim satellites and counting ), and he’s not alone, Oneweb and Amazon funded by Jeff Bezos to name a few – if current satellite internet proposals become reality, about 50,000 active satellites will orbit overhead within ten years, if that’s not a crime I don’t know what is, we might be seeing the last generation of children to see the night sky relatively unhindered by false stars, that’s not for me I’m afraid, add the increasing shite UK weather makes astronomy and astroimaging a non starter.

 What am I going to do now, I’ve taken up Metal Detecting, something that me and my partner can do together, we both enjoy the countryside, fresh air and the excersice, we already have quite a few ” Permissions ” and it is very interesting researching the history of a particular piece of land and hopefully discovering a piece of history.

 I will leave this site up for two more months if it helps anyone interested in astroimaging after that it will be closed, a sad goodbye but better Metal Detecting than going mental through not imaging.

Endless Bad Weather, Almost

What can I say, the weather has been absolutely dreadful, a couple of strong storms, lots of rain and seemingly endless cloud cover and howling wind. The Leonid meteor shower was clouded out ( all of it ), it’s just plain depressing – but not unexpected, last year was exactly the same. The forcast for the rest of this week is the same as it has been for the last two months, that’s right two months have passed since the sky has been good enough to do any type of imaging, that’s when I managed to finish the Cygnus Wall.

The trouble is, when you have not used your imaging equipment for so long – you forget how to do stuff, more importantly the order in which to do stuff, for example my equipment is separated into two categories – Hardware and Software. The hardware – Mount, Telescope, Camera, Guide telescope and Guide camera are the main of it, there is also supporting hardware, Guide port adapter ( allows guide commands to be sent to the mount ), Dew bands ( to stop dew forming on the optics ) and telescope remote focusers for both main and guide telescopes and a laptop computer to run it all and of course all the necessary 12 Volt power and USB leads, now the USB leads are permanently connected, but as with such leads, every now and then they have to be un plugged and then plugged in again for them to work – or all you get is “device not found “, why this is I just don’t know. The Software on the laptop is again grouped into two, the main software is – ASCOM ( AStronomy Common Object Model ), which allows different astro software to work together and provides a standard interface to a range of astronomy equipment including mounts, focusers and imaging devices in a Microsoft Windows environment, the huge majority if not all astro software has to be ASCOM complient. PHD2 ( guiding software ), Cartes du Ciel or CDC ( planetarium software, allows computer control of the mount ) and APT ( Astro Photography Tool, image capture software ), and the remaining software is for control of the two remote focusers. With all this stuff it stands to reason that there is an order of doing things -power up laptop, turn on mount power, turn on camera power, turn on remote focuser power and turn on dew band power. set the date and time on the mount hand control and select if daylight savings is enforce or not, do a star alignment so the mount mainboard computer knows where it’s pointed and set the mount hand control to PC Direct mode ( so the laptop computer can control the mount, RS232 cable required ) now back to the laptop, Start CDC, connect telescope ( mount ), start PHD2 and select connect all ( guide camera, guide port adapter and mount ) and start APT, start imaging camera, cool imaging camera ( set to -20C ), connect to PHD2 ( for dither between images command ), connect remote focuser.

That’s the bare bones of Setting Up, you also have to select a target to image, run a guiding calibration, check your focus and adjust if needed and select the number of images to capture and the exposure length ( this setting up takes about 10 minutes or less to do ), as you can see if you have not done all of the above for some two months, it’s quite easy to see why some parts of the sequence can be forgotten, leading to some head scratching until the forgotten portion is remembered.

So when a break in the clouds permitted me, I set up the observatory for some imaging, just to keep my hand in so to speak, everything turned on, everything connected, mount star aligned, software all working, camera cooled and target selected, guiding calibrated and imaging commenced – five image captures later and the clouds rolled in and it started to drizzle. All shut down, mount parked up and all powered off. in all just over an hour of good clear sky, in two Bl**dy months – add to that another month of lockdown due to COVID 19 or whatever ruddy strain it is now, a Spanish variant was the last I heard, in short BORED BEYOND BELIEF are not the words for it.

I’m really starting to question whether Astronomy or Astrophotography is a worthwhile hobby to have under and in the UK climate, oh and sorry no pics this time, HumBug.

Oh ok then, this is what I was trying to image, the Wizard nebula in Ha, I have already imaged this object before using the Hydrogen Alpha filter, but I wanted to add more data to get a cleaner image.

NGC7380, The Wizard Nebula Ha

The Cygnus wall is finished, at last

The last time I did any work on the ” Wall ” part of the North America nebula, NGC 7000 was way back in June, then I captured the Wall in Ha light, but now the nights are drawing in, the sky is getting much darker now as the sun goes deeper below the horizon ( Astronomical twilight is when the center of the Sun is 18° below the horizon ) so as last night was clear I managed to collect the OIII and SII data to finish the Wall. The seeing was good as Cygnus is nearly overhead when it gets dark.

NGC7000 North American nebula, The Wall - Cygnus
NGC7000 North American nebula, The Wall – Cygnus

I captured as many 300 second exposures in each of the two filters as I could, I also had to perform a Meridian flip part way through capturing the SII data, The Meridian is an imaginary line, running north to south, directly overhead, at your observing location. When using a German equatorial mount you run the risk of the telescope hitting the mount tripod or pier, if the telescope is allowed to continue past this meridian line on the West side of the mount and falling ( counter weights rising ), this can cause damage to the the drive motors and gears so a ” flip ” or a 180° about turn is performed before this happens to put the telescope on the East side of the mount and rising ( CW’s falling ). This also has the effect of inverting the image as the telescope and camera are now essentially upside down compared to before the flip occured, as both the R.A axis and DEC axis rotated 180° – so you have to double check the image Framing, the APT image capture software I use has a framing mask tool that can be flipped to help in this. I had to stop imaging at about 5am, as once again the clouds rolled back in.

Once the data was collected I then proccessed it through Deep Sky Stacker and Photoshop.

The Wall, Cygnus
The Wall, Cygnus

I think it turned out quite well, hopefully I’ll get some more clear nights as I will soon be able to continue my Rosette nebula project, also Orion season is back.

I was away camping week before last, at a small campsite in Bridgetown, Exmoor not far from Dunkery beacon. The campsite lies beside the river Exe, I took my DSLR with me this time and got a couple of nice shots of the night sky as well as the stunning views a round abouts, however the site sits in the bottom of a deep valley with tall trees on either side so the view of the sky is rather limited.

A truely beautiful dark sky, I really wish my observatory was under it, but on top of one of the hills would be best. 


Perseids, clouded out again for a second year.

I didn’t even mention the Perseids last year – because it was clouded over for the entire time, again for a second year the Perseid meteor shower, from my location has been hidden by clouds all week, this time with a yellow weather warning for thunder storms all week. Capturing a good thunder storm or two on the all sky camera would be great – if it actually happened, but I haven’t even heard the slightest rumble from where I live, what we have had this week is humidity at 90% and heat up in the 30’s, to say it’s been oppressive would be an understatement, the forecast for next week is much of the same, maybe next year ?.

Work, work and more work

It’s been a while since my last post, while a lot of people have found lots of time on their hands with this Corona virus pandemic and lockdown, I on the other hand have not stopped at all, work has gone mad and as a concrete mixer driver, working long days is not conducive to long nights in the observatory, While I’m not complaining, some people may not have a job to go back to – it does mean I’ve missed lots of opportunities for imaging and as a rule the weekends when I’ve not worked have been rubbish anyway.

As an example, when the lockdown restrictions were eased, my partner and I, like many others decided to go out in our camper for the weekend, just to get away from the same four walls, the weather forecast was for cloud and possible light rain ( so I didn’t take my portable imaging kit ) but that didn’t matter, we’re pretty much self contained in the camper, also we didn’t go far, just to Dunkery beacon near Minehead, Somerset – a wild, beautiful and secluded area, and the highest point in Exmoor. It became obvious as we pulled into a wide layby that the weather forecast was going to be utterly wrong, the clouds were going and a deep blue blanket of evening sky was replacing them, and my portable imaging kit was 30 miles away.

So we sat and enjoyed watching the stars come out one by one, I keep a pair of 10×50 binoculars in the van so all was not lost, binoculars are great especially from a dark sky reserve, Jupiter and Saturn shone brightly in the south east and the Milkyway reached from horizon to horizon, at home you can only see the Milkyway overhead due to light pollution, eventually we retired to bed as it became a bit chilly. 

At around 2am, I woke up and looked out of the window, I quickly got dressed as I could see comet Neowise and Noctilucent clouds, neither of which can be seen from home due to nearby houses and light pollution, all I had to try and capture this scene was my mobile phone so my appologies for the quality of the following picture.

noctilucent clouds and neowise
Noctilucent clouds and comet Neowise

You can just make out the comet as a light patch at top centre of the image.

Noctilucent clouds are the highest clouds in the Earths atmosphere,  located in the Mesosphere at altitudes of around 250,000 to 280,000 ft – They are too dim to be seen during the day and are only visible when illuminated by sunlight from below the horizon while the lower layers of the atmosphere are in the Earths shadow, they are visible only during summer months when conditions are right.

I have also been tinkering, I have made a new housing for my all sky camera as the one I had did not weather well and the plastic became brittle as it was not UV stable, the new housing is made from a waterproof outdoors electrical junction box and a circular dew heater from, total cost was less than £25. This camera will be put out when needed and not left to the elements, the camera and lens remain the same.

As the nights are now drawing in again – hopefully I’ll be able to get some more enjoyble work done.

NGC7000 and the Wall

On my last imaging session, I chose the North American nebula – NGC7000 as my target, this large nebulous region is in the constellation of Cygnus, very close to the star Alpha Cygni or Deneb

NGC7000 and Cygnus
NGC7000 and Cygnus

The relatively small field of view given by my 8inch RC telescope, means only a small portion of the nebula can be imaged, therefore I chose a bright area of the nebula called “The Wall” for the nights imaging run. using the Hydrogen Alpha filter, I captured 40 x 5 minute exposures or just over 3 1/2 hours worth, more than enough for stacking in DeepSky Stacker.

NGC7000 North American nebula, The Wall - Cygnus
NGC7000 North American nebula, The Wall – Cygnus

I plan on adding OIII and SII data to this, but for now the weather has turned unsettled for the moment, I have high hopes for next Friday or Saturday night to do this, fingers crossed.

IC1318, the Sadr region

IC1318, the Sadr region lies at the centre of the Cygnus constellation, close to the central star Sadr or Gamma Cygni – it contains many dark nebulae as well as diffuse emission nebulae. I chose to image this region as the contrast between light emission and dark areas are quite pronounced and a lot of detail can be easily discerned. 

However the amount of detail captured is very poor when imaged with an OIII filter, so I only used Ha and SII filters and combined them by putting the Ha data into the green channel and the SII data into both the red and blue channels in Photoshop to create the following SHS ( SII, Ha, SII ) colour image, also some tweaking of the contrast and highlights ( this is commonly known as messing about ).

IC1318, Sadr region

Captured over two nights with an Altair Astro 8inch RC, Baader Ha and SII narrowband filters and a ZWO asi1600mm Pro mono camera, 40 x 300 seconds exposures with both filters.

below is a wider view, captured using a 72mm William Optics Megrez refractor and the same filters and camera.

IC1318 Cygnus Sadr region SHS WO72mm Megrez
IC1318 Cygnus Sadr region SHS WO72mm Megrez, Sadr bottom middle

Eta Aquarids no, Starlink yes

In my earler post, I said that I had set up my Canon EOS 600D DSLR camera some weeks ago to try and capture some Eta Aquarid meteors, now while I had transferred the image of Venus that I had taken, I had not looked at the rest of the images stored in the camera from that evening ( 21st April 2020 8.30pm ) – I had a look today and though I had not captured any meteors I did it seems, by chance capture these bleeding Starlink satellites. I had pointed the camera at an area of sky just below Ursa Major, the Great Bear, the Plough or if you prefer the Big Dipper, I had started to capture images just before 8.30pm and the sequence of 59 images that contain the satellites trails go on for 6 minutes, I had to adjust the tone of the individual images in Photoshop to make the trails stand out better, then reduced images to a quarter original size to allow me to make a GIF.

Below is a single image from the sequence, I have marked where the satellite trails are as its hard to see without enhancement.

Single image
Single image

Here’s the GIF of the Starlink pass, you can see the stars of the big dipper handle as well as some whispy clouds.


As these images were captured at dusk, you can see how bright they would of been had it been properly dark.

NGC 6888 ,the Crescent nebula, a matter of timing, and a late Venus

The Crescent nebula, NGC 6888Caldwell 27 or Sharpless 105 is an emission nebula in the constellation of Cygnus, that is some 5000 Ly away, formed by the stellar wind from WR136, a Wolf Rayet star – colliding with and energizing the slower moving wind ejected by the star when it became a red giant around 250,000 to 400,000 years ago.

Here is a spectrum of WR136 that I previously captured, note the bright emission lines.

WR 136 Cygnus ngc6888
WR 136, Cygnus, NGC6888

I decided to image this object as I already had data in Ha, OIII and SII, as long as your using the same set up, telescope, field flattener and camera, you can keep adding to the data, that’s the beauty of digital imaging, I added an extra 4 hours of exposure to the data and came up with this image.

Cresent nebula hubble palette
Cresent nebula Hubble palette, WR136 is the central star

As I mentioned in yesterdays post, I was going to try and capture these Starlink satellites with my allsky camera, they would pass over this morning at 3.48am GMT, the following comes from the Express website.

Space enthusiasts will be treated to two opportunities to spot the synthetic satellites this week, according to the Find Starlink website.

Wednesday, May 27 at 3.48am GMT: Starlink-6,7 will be visible travelling from southwest to east for around five minutes.

This starts at 13° from the horizon and the constellation will reach a maximum elevation of 51°.

Thursday, May 28 at 2.50am GMT: You have a second chance of spotting Starlink-6,7 while traverses from south to east for approximately three minutes, starting at an elevation of 25° and reaching 29°.

Well the allsky camera caught nothing. the problem lies with the information re-produced by the express science collumist, Tom Fish, who starts his post with the headline.

SpaceX Starlink: These are the exact dates and times to see Starlink from the UK this week

He reported the times in GMT ( Greenwich Mean Time ), the website clearly states all times are in BST ( British Summer Time ) which is one hour ahead of GMT, so I was an hour late, now I challenge Tom Fish to see any satellite, unless it’s burning up in the atmosphere, at 17 minutes before sunrise.

I should of checked the findstarlink web site myself, lesson learned – tomorrow morning at 2.50am BST looks a better option. 

Here is an image of Venus from my backyard taken 3 weeks ago, I had my Canon EOS 600D on a timer hoping to capture some Eta Aquarid meteors so I took a quick shot of the planet before it started getting too low.

Venus, the evening star