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Here is an image I took of the Great Orion Nebula and joining it is the Running Man Nebula off to the left. This is an Astrophotograph consisting of 24 long exposures from 120 to 300 seconds each, combined with 24 calibration dark frames of equal length and also approx 20 bias frames. Being that I live in a light polluted environment I couldn't take longer images, otherwise the histogram would have gotten blown out, even when I was using a light pollution filter on my Canon 60Da astronomy DSLR. When Orion comes around next time I hope to retake the long exposures at a dark sky location, not having the sky glow really helps matters.

The Orion Nebula is a diffuse nebula about 1400-1500 light years distant and is a bright and quite hugh target in the night sky, the mouth of the nebula alone is about 9 trillion miles wide and the complex itself encompasses a very large area well beyond what the image shows. The fact I didn't take many more exposures means I didn't expose the vast cloud of nebulosity, only hinted here. As I mentioned, next season I will spend a couple nights at a mountainous dark sky location and I hope to collect about 4 hours or more of integration time compared to the 1.2 hours in this image. The individual exposures will be longer as well, all of it to increase dynamic range and of course collect more light photons. Maybe by then I'll be more accomplished with Photoshop, a complex processing program I just started with. That is if I don't get so frustrated, as is the case with this hobby sometimes I just don't throw everything off the nearest cliff first. But, I just upgraded to a premium telescope mount, something I've wanted for a long time to solve tracking and autoguiding issues and if I can dial in that part of the process I should be posting a more detailed image next time. Prior to purchasing the telescope mount I had thoughts of whether I should purchase a Ducati 1299 instead, time will tell if I made the right decision, lol.
 

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Amazing!
Can I ask how much time did it take to set up the shot?
And a brief description of the process?
Seems to me that everything has to be done perfect.
A WEALTH of knowledge you must have to get it.

When they launched the HUBBLE a co worker was complaining about the waste of money spend, and he made the statement what are they going to find. I replied "Exactly the point" (of spending the money.)
Well done! You must get great satisfaction with the results.
Thanx for posting.
 

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a brief description of the process?
John has tried this before. A brief description of the process is impossible.

Seems to me that everything has to be done perfect.
Which is why I am sticking to nature and landscapes.

Anyone else see a scary skeletal head in the nebula?
 

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Discussion Starter #4 (Edited)
John has tried this before. A brief description of the process is impossible.



Which is why I am sticking to nature and landscapes.

Anyone else see a scary skeletal head in the nebula?
Bill, couldn't have said it better, especially when there is what you are supposed to do and what really happens are two different things. My knowledge of the subject is pretty limited when it comes to post processing. I know I must have the right equipment in place first, starting with the telescope mount I mentioned. Just like the three words in real estate, "location, location, location", the owner of the world renowned Astro-Physics company, makers of premium refractor telescopes and mounts said the most important mechanical tool in astrophotography is the mount, mount, mount. As I mentioned, I stepped up in that category and purchased an Astro-Physics telescope mount recently and was fortunate because it was a "used" mount, but never set up except for a photo op with the BBC for a documentary about exoplanets. That is because the seller is married to MIT Professor of Physics and Astronomy Sarah Seager, a well known expert on exoplanets and the chief investigator that found the first exoplanet with an atmosphere. If you Google her name you will see she is a "Whos-Who" in the field, someone you cannot help admire if you have an interest in this stuff. The seller had a major lifestyle change with marriage and a move to the USA when Sarah was offered the Professorhship at MIT. I was fortunate to deal with him, couldn't have asked for a more honest and gracious person, I will be updating him in the future on my progress with the mount.

Even though my current mount is considered a premium product, I have had ongoing issues with it going back over a year. It has been back to the factory twice and only after a volume of emails and over a hundred hours of testing have I seen some progress made. This project has kept me from initiating the new mount, except for upgrading the control box chip and keypad chip, it has been an ornament in the living room. The mount has it's own learning curve, something that I underestimated, but if you are as handicapped as I am about computers and software, no surprise then. Once I get the current mount back to factory specs I'll move on to the new one.

I'm to the point where I take it one day at a time, it's just a hobby and it's supposed to be fun, I have to keep that perspective. Just last night I was checking out an amateur astronomer's website, this guy represents the extreme end of the hobby being that many of his images have been published. Like many at his level, he would loose me in the first paragraph of a processing tutorial. When I stay on a target for a series of long exposures that totals 1.5 hours, not including darks, flats and bias frames for calibration purposes, I think I'm doing OK although I know that's not enough, but for this guy 1.5 hours is a drop in the bucket. When he sets up on a target, hes on it with total integration time over a period of days that will routinely hit 20 to 30 hours! There are many reasons why I can never do that, for one, with me having a totally portable mount, it's a challenge to frame your shot just to get it back to where you were the last time without the aid of an observatory or permanent pier, a focuser rotator, auto focuser and a proper and consistent polar alignment, etc. There is also a thing called the "Meridian Flip", this is when your telescope mount is programmed to automatically flip the telescope over to the opposite side of your tripod once your target transits the imaginary Meridian line. The Meridian is the imaginary line that runs directly overhead from North to South, just like the many other imaginary astronomical lines that represent other transits relative the earth's tilt and rotation. It your mount does not do the Meridian Flip, the telescope will collide with the mount, can't have that. But, the key is to perform the Meridian Flip whereby your telescope is dead on the target, putting it in the frame exactly where it was before. At that point you continue imaging, all the way til dawn or deep into the southern sky. Like many others, I have avoided the Meridian Flip, did it just to see a few times, but wasn't successful. I usually stop at the Meridian, essentially cutting off more valuable data collection or sometimes I'll reposition the telescope once safely pass the Meridian and continue imaging (depending if I don't have to work the next day). However, where it's particularly difficult is when trying to image a faint target, like a nebula and your mount isn't exactly accurate all the time and doesn't put you on the target when directed to do so, otherwise, you are left looking at an empty spot in space. However, since the target is faint, it still may be there and if there aren't any guide stars in the vicinity to use as land marks, I would take a 30 second high ISO image just to see if it's there or not. More times than not it's not and I'll spend some time looking, taking a test image and moving on a few times just to see if I can get lucky. If the mount isn't cooperating, then any software help with a Planetary program for targeting is useless. It's not all bad that I usually stop at the Meridian because as things move across the sky the southern Meridian more often comes into play than the northern end. The southern sky is directly over the hugh Sacramento light dome and imaging there is very difficult even with filters because of the light pollution problem. The histogram gets blow out quicker in this area, so that means shorter images and hassling with post processing trying to mitigate it. This is just one example of what can go wrong, you just hope everything goes right, but there's always something. So, I guess this answers a part of what MTScott was asking and I address it more below. Scott, if you want to know more, PM me.

I'm pinning my hopes on the new mount being able to pull me through some of these issues dealing with tracking, alignments, gotos and guiding and do it at a higher level than my current mount (when it's working correctly that is). The ultimate goal of any astrophotographer is to produce images that display "round stars", that is the ultimate measuring standard for accuracy. If you achieve round stars you know your images are precise, not just in focus, but in many other respects as well. The mount plays the biggest role in this quest, but there other factors that influence the outcome such as optics, system flexure, polar alignment, etc.

Speaking of the new mount, here's a photo of it with an 11" aperture EdgeHD SCT and 80mm guidescope telescope sitting on top of it. The set up is about 6'5" tall and that doesn't include the 80mm guide scope that will sit on top of the main scope, essentially raising the height to about 7'. The guide scope has it's own camera, you insert it into the focuser and with cabling is attached to the telescope mount. Based on a software guiding program, you select an appropriate guide star and after calibration the software sends directional commands to the mount in order to keep it precisely tracking the guide star across the sky. This is a potential problem point where things can go wrong trying to achieve those round stars. There is actually a third camera that I use in my set up, it's a polar alignment camera that attaches to the front of the right ascension axis of the mount. To achieve the all important polar alignment the process with this camera and software is pretty straight forward, you bring Polaris (north star) into the frame and then follow the on screen directions and make manual adjustments to your mount, putting it exactly on the North Celestial Pole. The North Star isn't actually true north in astronomical terms, close enough for visual or for people using it for navigation purposes, we have to be precisely aligned to true north, if not you loose your quest for "round stars". Once you complete the polar alignment steps, done so by algorithms in the programming, the mount is now mechanically correct. Achieving an accurate polar alignment has been a problematic issue for imagers for years, something that can take a few pages to discuss, but with more recent software advances, in particular the one I'm currently using, the process has been much easier to perform accurately. Much of these set up issues deals with those many imagers like myself that do not have the luxury of a backyard observatory or permanent mount. Those lucky guys/gals can simply walk out to their shed and flip on the power switch basically and are ready to image. That's because everything is where it is night in and night out, including the polar alignment calculations. On the other hand, us backyard chumps have to haul everything out, making multiple trips, assemble everything and go through the calibration processes each time. It takes me approximately 1 to 1.5 hours just to set up and then 30 minutes to break down, that's if I leave the tripod and mount out overnight which I prefer to do. I'll bring the telescope and cameras in, but leaving the tripod and mount out (properly covered) essentially mimics having an observatory since I know nothing has changed position. The next night I'll quickly check my polar alignment, do a one star alignment to verify goto accuracy and be ready to image. I'll leave the base equipment out for a three day period at the most, not wanting to expose it to the elements longer than that even when properly protected. This scenario is the ideal, but with my mount issues, I often run into trouble right out of the gate when the one star alignment comes up short, I then have to waste valuable imaging time sorting that out. As part of checking off the list of possible suspects, I'm now looking at mount Orthogonality, a term I don't quite grasp yet, but forced to address as a possible issue.

I haven't used the big 11" telescope yet for anything but a quick look and collimating it. Despite it's specs, my current tripod is incapable of supporting it, the big scope is 42 lbs loaded with imaging gear, well below the tripod's limits, but even the manufacturer of the tripod admitted to me it has trouble handling larger SCT scopes like mine, but do you think they would mention this in their advertising? The new tripod in the photograph came with the Astro-Physics mount and is much more capable, but herein lies another problem. I have lingering injuries from a bad motor accident and four operations, one involving my messed up left shoulder. I didn't realize the tripod and mount were as tall as they were and now I find it difficult to lift the 11" telescope into the mount saddle safely. To do so I might have to use a small step ladder, for sure when mounting the guide scope, but I never did trust those little step ladders. I could chuck the tripod and replace it with a $2,000 shorter tripod, or currently I'm looking at a way to cut the three legs down, each leg has an inner sleeve to raise or lower the tripod, those have to be cut as well. Not a problem dealing with my main imaging telescope, a smaller 20 lb refractor, but one day I want to use the bigger scope for planetary imaging, a preferred tool for that.

I'm a long way off convincing my wife to move to a more rural dark sky location without making it sound like my only motivation is because of astronomy. I might settle for an urban setting with at least a view of the northern, eastern and part of the southern skies, something that I'm loosing every year as my neighbor's trees are blocking these areas piece by piece. With the even increasing light pollution, proper imaging is becoming more difficult, especially when using a DSLR. The solution to that particular problem is narrowband imaging using a CCD camera. Immune to light pollution, but expensive with a steep learning curve. For example, the preferred CCD imaging camera is mono, not color for deep sky imaging. Better dynamic range, etc. The DSLR has the advantage of being a one shot affair having the bayer matrix sensor representing RGB (red, green, blue), to bring color into a CCD mono camera you have to use individual color filters, three of them with an additional luminance filter. That means for every minute or hour of a long exposure using a DSLR, with a narrowband CCD camera set up you have to repeat that with each filter by way of a color wheel, automated of course. So for every hour using a DSLR it's four hours with a mono CCD camera. Notwithstanding combining, stacking, bla, bla,bla later on. No wonder many people stay with the DSLR, they are in fact getting better all the time, good enough from the results I have seen! One advantage of CCD cameras is their internal cooling capability, lower the sensor temp and you have less noise.

Attached is a photo of the big set up with the new mount and tripod and also I found one of my main imaging scope atop the new mount as well, you can see the obvious size difference. The mock ups don't show the maze of cabling that goes with them while in imaging mode. After all this, I'm more convinced than ever the smart one in the room is Bill and yes, I believe I saw the skeleton head, it's amazing what you can imagine looking at deep sky objects outside of the obvious names they give them like, Pacman, Witchhead, Thor's Helmet, Eagle, Pelican Nebula, etc.
 

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Again thanks for posting, AMAZING and true to photography "the more you know the more there is to know".

Exciting to say the least. And your Wifey must get some great satisfaction witnessing you "Nerd Out" (for lack of better words and all due respect)
Hats off to you and take a bow!
Well done.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Again thanks for posting, AMAZING and true to photography "the more you know the more there is to know".

Exciting to say the least. And your Wifey must get some great satisfaction witnessing you "Nerd Out" (for lack of better words and all due respect)
Hats off to you and take a bow!
Well done.
Hahahaha, "Nerd Out" that struck a cord because most people who know me would never guess I was into astronomy. People from a long time ago knew me as party central.
 

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Amazing!
Can I ask how much time did it take to set up the shot?
And a brief description of the process?
Seems to me that everything has to be done perfect.
A WEALTH of knowledge you must have to get it.

When they launched the HUBBLE a co worker was complaining about the waste of money spend, and he made the statement what are they going to find. I replied "Exactly the point" (of spending the money.)
Well done! You must get great satisfaction with the results.
Thanx for posting.
I can think of some recent plans that are a real waste of money, but I won't go there here. Anyway, speaking of the magnificent Hubble, I'm counting the days for the anticipated launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018. OMG, this instrument is going to be a game changer. It is far bigger than the Hubble and as they say in astronomy, "aperture is king". The anticipated performance will be totally mind blowing, it will see things beyond the reach of Hubble, taking us to the edge of the known universe and beyond. It will be capable of resolving many exoplanets, but the Webb isn't the only ground breaking telescope in the works, there are others planned into the 2030s, not only space based, but some monster land based telescopes as well. Amazing stuff and amazing discoveries are forthcoming.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Impressive work John. The results are pretty stunning. I think you are getting more out of this adventure than you would out of a 1299!

Mike
Lets hook up for some coffee! The 999R needs to go to Starbucks.
 

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James Webb is gonna be so cooooool!
 

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Is a weekend cabin or time share an option?

I was thinking of picking up a cheap California Pines lot just to use it as my designated dark sky location. It's a development west of Alturas in Modoc County near the Oregon border. I've seen lots there go for as low as $3K, but not the kind of place I would ever think of building a cabin, if I could even afford it. Another draw back is the distance I would have to drive to get there. In the meantime, the astronomy club I belong to has a designated dark sky location at the Blue Canyon forest service airport off of I/S 80 on the way to Reno. It's only about an hour's drive, whereas California Pines is closer to six hours. However, the Blue Canyon location is decent, the Milky Way is clearly visible except for the fact the southern end of it gets swallowed up by the Sacramento area light dome. The southern end of the Milky Way is where the core of the galaxy is located and is the brightest section, in the area contains many of the best and most beautiful interstellar formations in the galaxy. You get to see all of this in Modoc County, not all of the county, that's reserved for an area between the Warner and Sierra Nevada mountains, or, a small town named Likely. Likely is located south of Alturas and is considered one of the darkest sky locations in the USA and a popular destination for amateur and professional imagers alike. In fact, world reknown imager Tony Hallas rents an RV space there and he considers it the best location around. The specific location where these "photon hunters" go is called Likely RV and Golf Resort. Imaging there in the dry months offers full service facilities and the owner has catered to the astronomy crowd for good reason. He has also made the place more astronomy friendly by installing six concrete telescope pads, each having their own electrical hook-up. Instead of having to bring your own power kit, you don't have to worry about running out of juice at Likely, unless they have a power outage. I built a power kit for dark sky excursions, using a 90Ah Victron AGM deep cycle battery with six cig connectors, Ah meter, Lund DC/AC adapter, etc. I figure this kit should power my set up for three nights.

According to the dark sky map, color coded based on how dark specific areas are, Likely is located in a black zone, the top tier of the color chart. California Pines is about 3 to 4 tiers down on a 11 tier dark sky map. That's still considered dark in my book because most of us live in light polluted zones.

For affordability and ease of access, I can drive to sufficiently dark sky locations in under two hours, Blue Canyon being the closest time wise. It has been said just by taking deep sky images under dark skies will improve your results immensely, I know that from the couple times I've gone to a dark sky location. Well, one time because one trip was a bust when my auto guiding software wouldn't connect, without auto guiding long images are impossible. Being in a location with minimal light pollution enables you to collect more target photons and not sky glow photons, the latter makes a mess of many things, the obvious is the histogram which gets "blow out" prematurely and limits how long your exposures can be. Instead of taking longer exposures without the usual noise associated with light pollution, you have to take many more shorter exposures to undermine sky glow, surely a remedy, but not an alternative to longer exposures. This is particularly true when using a DSLR as opposed to using a mono CCD camera and narrowband or LRGB filters. The latter's use of filters combined with a built in cooling mechanism works to reduce forms of noise and filter out unwanted light wavelengths, the light pollution variety yet allows the "friendly" light photons to pass through and strike the camera sensor.

The problem is trying to find dark sky locations, away from city lights, something that is getting harder to do because we are losing our night sky at a rate of about 6% a year. Take a look at any dark sky map and you'll see what the problem is and it's only getting worst. Heavy commercialization and lack of dark sky friendly lighting is the problem. The introduction of LED lighting has helped, but it can also have side effects. One is the blue wavelength LED lights puts out. This wavelength is hard to filter out and it is a cause of concern as cities convert to LED to save money on energy. The key to sensible lighting is curtailing wasted light, that is shade light standards where they don't "spill" light upwards. However, another problem is the fact cities have a tendency to overuse LED lighting, thinking more is better and why not since there is perceived savings. But doing that diminishes the purpose behind converting to LED and I haven't touched on the fact part of that has to do with the myth more light creates safer environments. There is also growing evidence the blue wavelength can be a health hazard and on top of all that humans have messed with our evolution by turning many parts of the USA into 24 hour days, something that is not natural to our biology. We are supposed to live in a night and day cycle, many studies have suggested this artificial manipulation has influenced our behavior and health negatively.
 
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