Another Side Of the Veil

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Veil Nebula / Cygnus Loop WO GT81 & modded Canon 550D + FF | 30 x 180 sec exposures @ ISO 1,600 | 19th September 2015

I first imaged the Western Veil in October 2014 and return each year to the so called Witch’s Broom and other parts of this faint supernova remnant that stretches over 3-degrees of the night sky for the next four months.  Located in the Cygnus constellation, the Veil Nebula is high in the sky and at this time-of-the-year is only just visible late in the night being some 80o east of The Meridian; short nights and lack of darkness further complicates imaging at the moment.  However, with the weather set fair and having just completed some other good targets, I couldn’t resist a few frames of the Eastern Veil using the new ZWO1600m-Cool camera and narrowband filters before going to bed.

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Eastern Veil Nebula (NGC 6922 & 6995): WO GT81 & modded Canon 550D + FF & guiding | 10 x 300 sec @ ISO 1,600 + darks | 11th September 2016

With Nautical Darkness due to end at 2.40 a.m. imaging time was at a premium. In the event I managed just 40 minutes, towards the end of which the sky perceptibly lightened – it was after all mid-summer day and the Summer Solstice beckoned!  The limited imaging time inevitably impacted on the quality of the final image but I am nevertheless pleased to have seen and imaged another side of the Veil nebula so soon in the year on 21st June – certainly the sensitivity of the camera helped a lot in achieving this.

Veil HSO Hub

HSO

Veil Bi Col Hub

Bi-colour Ha+OIII+OIII

Eastern Veil Nebula – narownband images: All images taken using WO GT81 + Field Flattener & ZWO 1600MM-Cool camera + either Ha (6 x 180 sec), OIII 3 x 180 sec or SII 3 x 180 sec at -20C set at Gain 300, Offset 10 & full calibration | 21st June 2017 

I am still experimenting with narrowband imaging and therefore using colour mapping processed the three wavelengths into three different final image formats.  The HSO and Ha-OIII Bi-colour are interesting but my favourite is the SHO version shown below, which shows interesting and attractive details of the Veil’s nebulosity in ways that were previously not possible with a DSLR camera.  Though short, it was a very productive evening for imaging and for a variety of reasons will be a night to remember for a long while.

Veil SHO GxCcropHub

Eastern Veil Nebula in SHO – For Will

 

Overspill

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After months of cloud followed by 3-months of lost imaging time due to a mysterious camera / mount control problem, I was on the verge of throwing in the towel by August.  But then I sorted the problem, started guiding and as if by magic, with a prolonged spell of good weather managed 7-nights of astronomy between 23rd August and 13th September; such was the intensity I was able to work over consecutive nights and by the end quite exhausted but happy.

Under clear skies and warm nights I could operate in just shorts and a T-shirt, a hitherto unknown experience at Fairvale Observatory.  In such comfort I was also able to experiment and optimize the equipment set-up further – oh, if it could only be like this always.  Of course I did not miss the opportunity to chase some night sky objects as well, imaging 11 targets all-in-all, sometimes on more than one occasion.  It was a glorious time which has since taken time to organise and process.

Top left – NGC 6905 Blue Flash Nebula in Delphinus constellation 42″ x 35″ mag +11 26th August; Bottom left – NGC 6781 planetary nebula in Aquila constellation 1.8′ +mag 11.8 23rd August; Middle M57 Ring Nebula Lyra constellation 1.4′ x 1.1′ mag +8.8 13th September; Right M57 23rd August

A number of these images have already been reviewed in Forbidden Fruit and The future is not what it used to be but, such was productivity that for the record I’ve collected the overspill here.  Inevitably targets reflected what was about and in sight from this location at the time but were nonetheless diverse in nature, ranging from the Witch’s Broom to planetary nebulae, the Andromeda galaxy and, making use of the otherwise frustrating monthly occurrence, the Moon.  Features such as M57 and NGC 6781 are intrinsically too small for the William Optics GT81 and Canon 550D, filling significantly less than 1% of the original image but after cropping both are evident in the final picture.

Top Left – M15 Globular cluster Pegasus constellation 29th August; Top Right – Q1 Moon 23rd August; Middle Right – NGC 6960 Witch’s Broom Western Veil Nebula; Bottom – M31 Andromeda Galaxy 26th August

These images are not particularly memorable but it was a fun time and I will remember the enjoyable experience for a long while.  Of course, the cloud has now returned and since passing the autumn equinox night temperatures have plunged into single figures.  On the plus side, Orion is on its way together with all the other photogenic objects that characterize the winter night sky – can’t wait!

The future is not what it used to be

 

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If I’m honest my astrophotography has so far often been – never mind the quality feel the width!  That is to say, I have tended to chase objects – nebulae, galaxies, planets, solar – in order to learn about my equipment and the night sky as well as just have fun recording images of these distant worlds.  Nothing wrong with that is there?  It’s not that I don’t aspire to obtaining the best image possible and I have made good progress since starting out but I’ve often felt constrained by circumstances.

Although I’ve generally been happy with my images, it’s a fact that there are a number of factors that altogether make astrophotography difficult, especially here at Fairvale Observatory:

  • Poor weather & persistent cloud cover
  • The Moon
  • Buildings & trees obscure sightlines
  • Light pollution from Gatwick airport
  • Numerous aircraft passing overhead
  • Equipment problems
  • Software problems
  • Equipment and software failures
  • Equipment limitations
  • Need to assemble equipment each time
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Bad weather, frequent cloud cover, limited sightlines, aircraft trails and the inevitable monthly occurrence of the Moon limit imaging opportunities here.

Under these circumstances I usually need to grab what I can, frankly it’s a miracle I’m able to achieve anything sometimes; Met office statistics for the six-months period from September 2105 showed cloud cover was a record 68% compared with an historical average of 32% for that time of year, as a result it was unusual to be able to undertake astrophotography more than once month, if that!  Wherever possible I therefore have to target those items that I can improve easily, quickly and cheaply dealt with, which is mostly equipment.  Buoyed by renewed enthusiasm from my recent autoguiding success, I now intend to concentrate on changing some key items that I hope will eventually bring about more noticeable improvements.

sign2For a while I have been thinking about getting a larger telescope, in order to get to those faint fuzzies that are beyond the capabilities of the otherwise excellent William Optics GT81.  As usual the choice is a minefield of possibilities, each with inevitable imaging pros and cons!  I started thinking about a Ritchey Chrétien or Schmidt Cassegrain but I have really appreciated the qualities of the aforementioned WO GT81 and am now erring towards a larger refractor.  However, after further consideration I am now considering a change of priorities.

In September I was fortunate to attend a presentation on image processing by Nik Szymanek who, it has to be said, really knows his onions when it comes to astrophotography; I was intrigued and impressed to find out he also hails from my neck of the woods when I was a teenager in Essex and is an accomplished rock drummer – something I also used to meddle with in the past – what a geezer, as he would say.  The talk was very instructive and I am now ploughing my way through Nik’s fabulous book on the subject called Shooting Stars (published in magazine form by Astronomy Now).  Such personal, first-hand and relevant guidance is difficult to find in astroimaging and the book has a wealth of really practical information and useful advice that I wished I’d known sooner.  Good equipment is important but in the world of digital imaging the significance of processing cannot be overstated.  It’s a dark art alright (no pun intended) but Nik’s work has strengthened my resolve to improve my processing knowledge and I’m even more determined to raise the bar during the forthcoming winter.

20160708-shooting-stars-for-storeFollowing Nik’s talk and listening to others, the penny that has now dropped is that for the moment it’s not the telescope but the camera that needs changing.  After careful thought it’s apparent that I already have very good set-up, yes a bigger aperture would be good for those smaller fuzzies but the 81mm apochromatic refractor I already own is an outstanding telescope that still has much potential when combined with the AZ-EQ6 mount and now autoguiding.

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The addition of a modded DSLR at the beginning of last year had a significant impact on my images, especially with Ha dominant DSOs which I literally saw in a new light using this camera.  I have continued with the DSLR for a number of reasons but mainly because I am familiar with such cameras which are relatively easy to use and produce reasonable results when starting out with astrophotography.  However, listening to Nik and reading the forums and elsewhere, I have come to accept that the best way forwards should now be a CCD-type camera.  As a result I am deep in my research of CCD issues and possible cameras – this could take some time and won’t be cheap!

The operation of CCDs is quite different to a DSLR and I’m sure will involve a whole new period of pain but it’s clear that this is the best route for now if I am to significantly improve my astrophotography.  Other than the technical challenges CCD imaging presents, I am however concerned about the greater number of frames needed for LRGB + calibration and how that’s going to work with the weather restrictions and other problems I have but it’s got to be worth a try.

However, before setting out on this daunting task I first slewed the camera towards a few familiar objects just to experiment with guiding and assess the benefits it might bring to my imaging in the interim.  A spell of unusually good weather in late August – early September was too good to miss and with guiding I was able to achieve exposures of up to 8 minutes.  However, for the moment I continued to limit the number of Subs and calibration frames just to ensure I could shoot more objects in the available time, plus you never know when the next bank of cloud will roll in – old habits die hard!

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Looking at the results below demonstrates my progress when compared with earlier images but the limited number of frames and calibration has probably restricted the full benefit of what might be gained from guiding and some shots remains quite noisy. Nonetheless, I now have high hopes that the potential is within my grasp to make real progress in achieving better image quality.  I am not convinced I have yet reached a turning point but I am well positioned to navigate the tasks required to get there, which are now more clearly understood and in my sights or should that be RDF – watch this space!

M31 Andromeda Galaxy

M31 DSS2 30 sec ISO800 170814crop

WO GT81 + unmodded Canon 700D & FF| 10 x 30 secs & ISO 800 | August 2014

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WO GT 81 + modded Canon 550D + FF | 9 x 120 secs @ ISO 1,600 | 19th September 2015

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WO GT81 + modded Canon 550D & FF & PHD guiding | 10 x 300 secs @ ISO 1,600 calibration | 8th September 2016

NGC 6905 Western Veil Nebula – The Witch’s Broom

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Canon 700D | 20×90 sec + darks.bias/ flats @ ISO 800

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WO GT81 + modded Canon 550D + FF & PHD guiding | 5 x 300 secs @ ISO 1,600 & calibration | 8th September 2016

NGC 6888 Crescent Nebula

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WO GT81 + modded Canon 550D + FF | 19th October 2015

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WO GT81 modded Canon 550D + FF & guiding | 10 x 300 secs @ ISO 1,600 & calibration | 11th September 2016

NGC 6992 Eastern Veil & Bat Nebula

NGC 6995 Stacked1-22 (Large)

Eastern Veil Nebula – NGC 6992 (right) & NGC 6995 (left). WO GT81 + Canon 700D & FF | 29 x 120 secs + darks/bias?flats @ ISO 1,600

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Eastern Veil Nebula (NGC 6922 & 6995): WO GT81 & modded Canon 550D + FF & guiding | 10 x 300 sec @ ISO 1,600 + darks | 11th September 2016