Comparing M13 Photos [Messier 13]

M13 or the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules is an astronomy favorite. It is 145 light years in diameter and contains approximately 300,000 stars. I’ve recently focused two telescopes on the region of our galaxy. Of course one is the RRRT (Rapid Response Robotic Telescope) located at Fan Mountain in Charlottesville, VA and the other is my modified Orion Astroview 6 telescope. Let’s begin with the professional telescope.

Up Close & Personal

M13_Great_Globular_Cluster_RRRT_5_16_19
M13: Great Globular Cluster
May 16, 2019
Telescope: RRRT (Fan Mountain)
Camera: SBIG STX-16803
Exposure: Visible (Mono): 40 @ 2 min
Total – 1 Hour 20 minutes exposure

With more than 1 hour of data collected, it looks impressive. The detail in this M13 photo is what garnered a more than 1.0k up votes on Reddit (Go Hoos!) in less than 24 hours. When I chose to attempt this photo, I decided to not incorporate color. My mistake, bruh! It would have made it that much more appealing. In my young post processing career, I wanted to do M13 justice.

By justice, I mean showing off the capability of the camera and telescope and exposing the great many parts of this globular cluster. Pay close attention to the stars in the center of the cluster. It’s not a large blurr. Zoom in and you can count them. Ok some of them.

Finally a lot about this photo was simple. I can run the telescope from my recliner hundreds of miles away. The calibration frames are automatically done and applied to the photos before I receive them. What more could you want from an image taking session?

Familiar Surroundings

M13_NGC6207_6_14_19
Messier 13
Telescope: Modified Orion Astroview 6
Camera: Canon EOS T3i
Exposure: Sky Glow Filter: 16 @ 2 min
Calibration: 30 Flats, 30 Bias, 9 Dark
Total – 32 minutes 20 seconds exposure

At home it’s different. I have to plan my imaging session early in the day and begin execution of that plan just before sunset. Capturing M13 was no different. Having chosen the telescope, the timing for capturing the photo was the terrible. There was an 85% Waxing Gibbous Moon out. In addition, my closest neighbor left their lights on with brand new bulbs. I was so bright out, my shadow had shadows.

M13_NGC6207_6_14_19_crop
Messier 13
Telescope: Modified Orion Astroview 6
Camera: Canon EOS T3i
Exposure: Sky Glow Filter: 16 @ 2 min
Calibration: 30 flats, 30 bias, 9 dark
Total – 32 minutes 20 seconds exposure

Change to the plans, I cleaned off my Orion Moon and Skyglow Light Pollution Filter and began capturing 2 minute sub frames. The result was actually better than expected. The light pollution filter allowed enough light from the stars to enter the camera. While the center is a blob of light, the detail is excellent with the outer stars. This one also has the natural color which shows the vast quantity of blue stars in the cluster. I also cropped the photo to explore the detail.

The post processing was more complicated and took more than 1 day to complete. The reward I believe is a comparable photo to the RRRT. Certainly a bit less detail, but just as stunning visually. What do you think?

Thank you for your time and comments are always welcome. Clear skies!

How To Find Night Sky Objects Without A GoTo Mount [Plate Solving]

I want to find night sky objects with a GoTo mount. If you know me, I love technology. Yet for this hobby, I want to learn the night sky with as little support from technology. Huh? This makes no sense. Many astrophotographers use GoTo mounts to find night sky objects. Get with the technology Kevin! While I hear you, I still desire looking up into the sky and know what area of the sky I’m seeing. Anyway, this stuff costs money and most of us are not made of it so there.

Star Hopping

I began my journey to find night sky objects by hopping stars. Most of us know the Big and/or Little Dipper or even the Orion Constellation. If you’re new to astronomy, learning the stars is not hard. I have a link on the home page of this site that has a printable sky map.

skymap
skymap

So how do I use a sky map to find night sky objects? First take some time to match the constellations on the map with what you see in the sky. You’ll quickly find that if you’re in the northern hemisphere, the southern hemisphere sky will not match. Once you match the sky you see to the sky map, pick an object. Then look for a path from the recognized area of the sky to the object you want to see. Simply connect the dots on the sky map then connect the dots in the sky the same way with your eyes.

Not every target you seek will be a dot in your sky. Light pollution varies depending on where you are and will mask some objects and others will look like smudges in the sky. Speaking of which, what is next when the object is not easily seen?

Plate Solving

M3_5_28_19_
Messier 3 Globular Cluster May 28, 2019
Telescope: Modified Orion Astroview 6
Camera: Canon EOS XTi
Exposure: No Filter: 14 @ 90 seconds
Total – 21 minutes exposure

Ok so I found a way to use technology and still learn how to find night sky objects. This is M3 or Messier 3. I spent weeks star hopping between Arcturus and the Canes Venatici constellation. This globular cluster is a magnitute 6.2 or in other words, not very bright. The scale for night sky object brightness is backwards. The more negative the number, the brighter it is. The Moon when full is approximately a magnitude -12. The other frustration with M3 is that I live under Bortle Class 5 skies. With 0 being equal to dark skies, 5 means I have to navigate a fair amount of light pollution. Needless to say, there were a lot of frustrating photography sessions where M3 was not seen.

So I got inventive. Since I use APT (Astrophotography Tool) to capture my photos, I decided to give plate solving a try. The tool for plate solving looks like this.

First step for me is to star hop. I know my target and I know about where to look. I point my telescope there and take my first picture. Now this is where it gets interesting. I hit blind on the Point Craft window. The plate solving software opens in the background and is given the picture I just took. It analyzes this photo and determines the location in the sky the telescope is observing.

Stellarium
Stellarium

I then click on show when then sends the data to Stellarium. In Stellarium, I can see additional details regarding where the telescope is pointing. From this information I adjust my telescope and repeat. Once I have the object in view, I continue to adjust using my eyes.

This is how I found M3 after many frustrating weeks of searching the sky. It gets me into capturing photos quicker and I’ve later captured M101 using the same technique of star hop then plate solve. Give it a try with the software you use.

GoTo Mount

M13_Great_Globular_Cluster_RRRT_5_16_19
M13: Great Globular Cluster May 16, 2019
Telescope: RRRT (Fan Mountain)
Camera: SBIG STX-16803
Exposure: Visible (Mono): 40 @ 2 min
Total – 1 Hour 20 minutes exposure

Like I said, I don’t own a GoTo Mount, but I do have access to a fully robotic telescope. I recently used it to capture the Great Globular Cluster in Herucles or M13 or Messier 13. It contains approximately 300,000 stars. In comparison M3 contains approximately 500,000. So on my rainy days I use this telescope to capture photos and add to my post processing fun. This photo is in mono or black and white. I plan to take a color photo with my telescope and non GoTo mount. Look for it in the near future.

Pleiades
Pleiades

Globular star cluster simply means a ball of stars. There are open clusters which take on irregular shapes, but are close group of stars. The Pleiades or 7 Sisters is an open star cluster shown here. From where I live, I can see a great many night sky objects and photograph many more than what my eyes can see.

I do however want to address those of you living in the heart of a big city. Get a GoTo mount for your astrophotography. The light pollution there is blinding, but many astrophotographers are able to get stunning photos of night sky objects from their apartment balcony for example. The other option is to travel away from the city. Then you can see the stars and learn to star hop your way around.

Let me know what your experience is in the comments below. Thanks and clear skies!

Messier 51 On The RRRT [Whirlpool Galaxy]

Remember my last article? You know the one about my experience at the Fan Mountain Observatory in April 2019. The outcome was to target Messier 51 or the Whirlpool Galaxy with the RRRT (Rapid Response Robotic Telescope). Well the results are in and before I get there I’m going to tell you a little about the process.

24 Inch RRRT at Fan Mountain used to capture Messier 51
24 Inch RRRT (Rapid Response Robotic Telescope) at Fan Mountain

Planning Phase

Dr. Edward Murphy suggested capturing Messier 51, so I didn’t change that part of the plan. It was everything else that needed to be thought out. With the limited time available, I could choose to do a long session in visible light or break up into 3 sessions in RGB (Red/Green/Blue). And after careful consideration, I decided to challenge myself and go RGB.

Next the telescope is capable of 6 minute exposures and the most I’ve done is 30 seconds. So I baby stepped it at 2 minutes per exposure. That’s pretty much it although I had to learn new post processing tricks to put it all together.

About Messier 51

M51 Whirlpool Galaxy_RRRT
Messier 51 or M51 or Whirlpool Galaxy.

Discovered and catalogued by Charles Messier in 1773. To him it was a fuzzy nebula. Later it became the first galaxy to be classified as a spiral galaxy thanks to Edwin Hubble. Looking at the photo, you see a companion galaxy. In addition, it is a dwarf galaxy named NGC 5195. It looks to be a meal for Messier 51. Light from this group takes approximately 23 million light years to get to us. Unless you can bend space and time, visiting during your lifetime is well…impossible.

Summary

I liked most was the post processing workflow I developed. After stacking, I had to learn how to combine each color into one picture using Gimp. Check out the workflow below to see how much fun this was for me. I look forward to my next challenge as always and for you…clear skies!

Workflow

  • Deep Sky Stacker: Stack each color set
  • Gimp: Merge into 1 picture.
  • Startools: Autodev, Crop, Wipe, Autodev, Deconvolution, Color, Noise reduction
  • Gimp: Final Curves adjustment, add signature

UVA, Norfolk State & Me [Fan Mountain Observatory]

I live in Hampton Roads so I know of the local HBCUs (Hampton University & Norfolk State University). I’m also a graduate of the University of Virginia (Go Hoos!). So when Tom invited me to visit the Fan Mountain Observatory, just oustide the grounds of UVA, I jumped at the opportunity. It’s only open to the publice twice a year. With the door open, I walked in. And yes, Norfolk State owns one of the telescopes.

The Trip to UVA

Arrival in Charlottesville, VA
Arrival in Charlottesville, VA

Fresh off seeing my UVA Cavaliers win the NCAA Mens Basketball Championship, I couldn’t wait to visit grounds. In fact I packed all my UVA gear and prepared to buy more. Ok so I was wearing most of it, but who cares, I am going back to Charlottesville, VA. I picked up Tom just as the rain hit and loaded the car with his telescope and imaging gear. It was an easy drive to UVA. I told Tom we’re going to have to stop at the Corner and go to Mincers because I’ve got to shop. Of course we were not alone. Mincers was packed and it was loaded with all the Championship stuff an Alumn and Fan could ever want. With purchases complete, we checked into the hotel and planned the next steps to the Fan Mountain Observatory opening.

Fan Mountain Ticket April 2019
Fan Mountain Ticket April 2019

The Observatory at Fan Mountain

Fan Mountain Comples: 31 in Tinsley Reflector Telescope
Fan Mountain Comples: 31 in Tinsley Reflector Telescope

The road to the top is narrow. Traffic was only allowed up between 7 pm and 9 pm. After that it’s one way down the mountain. Driving, my 4 wheel drive SUV, made the ascent easy. Fifteen minutes later we arrived and began immediately taking pictures. The UVA team set up specific times to tour the 30 inch and 40 inch telescopes. They explained the benefits of using the infra-red light spectrum to view night sky objects. They also detailed how each telescope works and their history at UVA.

Fan Mountain Observatory Complex
Fan Mountain Observatory Complex: 40 inch telescopes.

It was interesting to note that the students are focused on the non visible light wavelengths. So for me as a backyard astrophotographer, it sparked a lot of questions that the students enjoyed answering. The 31 inch scope does not have motors on the ascension and declination axes. Because it’s manual, it is not used often. The 40 inch (1 meter) is a massive telescope. It sits on an isolated 2 story concrete pier and barely fits under the dome. If the weather cooperated, I’m sure that would have given us a great view.

The RRRT from Norfolk State

RRRT Dome at Fan Mountain
RRRT Dome at Fan Mountain

The RRRT or Rabit Response Robotic Telescope is fully automated. The scope is owned by Norfolk State University and maintained by the UVA team. It is one sweet telescope. Tom and I were given a private tour of the facility by Dr. Edward M. Murphy, Professor of Astronomy. It is connected to Skynet. Yes Terminator fans, Skynet does exist! Skynet is a product of the University of North Carolina (UNC). To begin with, this particular Skynet makes sense. It’s a network of telescopes that look at the sky. With Skynet, a automated telescope like the RRRT can be remotely given a specific target to photograph. Subsequently, 13 telescopes are connected to Skynet and the system knows which telescope is available based on weather stations at each location. Dr. Murphy offered me an account to use the RRRT and of course I accepted. When I get the photo I’ll show you.

24 Inch RRRT at Fan Mountain
24 Inch RRRT (Rapid Response Robotic Telescope) at Fan Mountain

The RRRT is a Ritchey-Chretien telescope. Separating itself from other types of telescopes, this type contains two mirrors. The primary is concave and the secondary convex. The primary mirror is 24 inches in diameter. Therefore it can gather significant amounts of light. It has a large CCD camera. The camera is an SBIG STX-16803 with a 4096×4096 pixel sensor. Also, it sports a set of Johnson/Cousins UBVRI filters. I’ve requested the RRRT to photograph Messier 51 or the Whirlpool Galaxy. My patience will be tested since Virginia weather has been on the cloudy and rainy side for months.

Fun Trip For All

Incidentally, using this telescope does not mean I’m done with my scopes. However, it simply means I’ve got a professional scope on the team. I am grateful to both Tom (for the invite) and Dr. Murphy (for the invite to SkyNet). Thank you for being you. Clear skies!

Thomas Epps & Dr. Edward Murphy
Thomas Epps & Dr. Edward Murphy in front of the RRRT at Fan Mountain

Orion Astroview 6: Equipment Spotlight [Moving Prime Focus]

I moved prime focus without cutting the OTA (Optical Tube Assembly) on my Orion Astroview 6 telescope. Huh? How? No way? The first thing I did when the Canon EOS XTi DSLR camera arrived…put it on my 6 inch reflector telescope. I quickly discovered that focusing on stars, and DSO (Deep Sky Objects) was impossible.

Orion Astroview 6 – About The Scope

Orion Astroview 6 telescope
Orion Astroview 6 Telescope

This telescope has a 150 mm aperture and a 750 mm focal length. This gives it a fast f/5 focal ratio. It’s great for viewing planetary and bright DSO. You can image with a smartphone most of the objects in the night sky using eyepiece projection, and with a webcam or DSLR camera, planetary objects. It comes with two counter weights (7.5 lbs and 4 lbs). All together it weighs 37 lbs. The OTA is 27 inches long. I’ve added a motor to the mount in order to track the objects I’m viewing. In addition, the Orion website clearly omits DSO in the “Best For Imaging” category. You know me, I love a challenge.


Orion Astroview 6 – Prime Focus & Moving It

Newtonian Prime Focus Diagram
Newtonian Telescope view of Prime Focus

The Orion Astroview 6 is a Newtonian or Reflector telescope. In a telescope like this, prime focus is the point where the light converges in the viewer. The image here shows where prime focus rests depending on the location of the primary mirror. If you follow the arrows which represent light, you see the light reflects off the primary mirror on the right. It is then reflected off the secondary mirror into the viewing tube. Viewing with your eye through an eyepiece works great on my telescope. That’s what it is designed to do. The focuser is simply moving prime focus up and down so your eye can focus on the object.

With a DSLR camera, it is more difficult because prime focus is too low in the view tube. The focuser cannot bring prime focus close enough to the camera. In the image above, it shows two locations for prime focus. These lower one is the designed location for observation. The upper is the modified location that is good for DSLR astrophotography. There are several ways to get a DSLR camera to work with the Orion Astroview 6 telescope. Everything you read on the internet or see on YouTube state that the modification is permanent. Meaning you have to drill holes in the OTA or cut off the back end of the OTA. These are good options for those with money to throw away. Here’s how I moved prime focus.

Orion Astroview 6 – The Primary Mirror

Orion Astroview 6 Mirror Assembly
Mirror Assembly

As we say in engineering, you can’t fix what you cant see. So I took the telescope apart. Shown here is the mirror assembly in its compnent parts. Shown next to the mirror are 3 rubber clamps which hold the mirror onto the frame on the right. I focused on these three for my modification. You know I like to 3D print parts for this hobby. My measurements, and some trial and error, revealed the prime focus needed to move about 20 mm. My design moves it about 30 mm, to give the focuser room to adjust for temperature changes.

Orion Astroview 6 – Mirror Extension

Orion Astroview Mirror Extension
Orion Astroview Mirror Extension

Let me introduce the Orion Astroview Mirror Extension. If you have access to a 3D printer, you can click the link and print 3 for yourself. What I like about this is that I reused the screws already in the telescope. It holds the mirror far enough in the OTA to achieve prive focus with my DSLR camera. I can also return the telescope to original condition for resale or a night of viewing. The base of it matches the original rubber clamps and the screws hold them tight to the mirror frame. The best part is that this is non-destructive to your telescope!

Orion Astroview 6 – DSLR Photo Results

Object: Orion Nebula & Running Man Nebula
Telescope: Orion Astroview 6
Camera: Canon EOS XTi
Frames: 49 @ 30″ (about 25 minutes total exposure)
Post Processing:
– Deep Sky Stacker
– StarTools
– Gimp
Orion Nebula 2019

Orion Nebula 2019
Telescope: Meade ETX-125
Camera: Canon EOS XTi

With the Meade ETX-125, the field of view is small and only the Orion Nebula fits in the picture and barely. The increased field of view with the Orion Astroview 6 allows me to include the Running Man Nebula. the Mead is has a focal ratio of f/12 vs the Orion Astroview 6 focal ration of f/5. This means faster light gathering capability and more vibrant colors in the resulting photo. I’ve not seen an extension like this anywhere, so I hope you like and use on your own telescope.

Owning the Orion Astroview 6 telescope does not mean only viewing anymore. You can take great pictures of deep sky objects and view the Moon and planets when ever you like. You will get good at collimating your telescope and I recommend cloth mirror protection whenever you change back and forth. Enjoy this and clear skies.

Canon EOS XTi: Equipment Spotlight [DSLR Camera]

Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi

The Canon EOs XTi joins my astrophotography family. I started using my Google Pixel Really Blue to photograph night sky objects. I’ve captured the Orion Nebula, Sun, stars, planets, star clusters and the Andromeda Galaxy with my smartphone. The smartphone can capture, with the same quality, most night sky objects. Deep Sky Objects present a challenge for the smartphone. I acquired a used Canon EOS XTi DSLR Camera. It was donated by Chuck Marshall of Chuck’s Camera Plus in Hampton, VA. It is gently used and has a damaged card reader.

Canon EOS XTi Specs

Crop Sensor vs Full Frame

I don’t yet know enough about this comparison to speak to it. At minimum I know the crop sensor removes the edges from your field of view increasing focal length. Full Frame gives you everything which has its place in your astrophotography tool bag. More on this in future posts.

Light Sensitivity

The details of this camera can be found on the Canon website. So let’s discuss the inportant ones related to astrophotography. Light sensitivity allows you to adjust for the brightness of the planned target. Having this flexability is needed with the different objects night sky. The Horsehead Nebula for example is very dim in comparison to the Orion Nebula which you can see with the naked eye. The Canon EOS XTi has an ISO range of 100-1600. Bright objects like the Moon or Sun need low ISO to capture clearly. This model requires a filter to reduce the light intensity and/or very fast shutter speed to compensate. The Google Pixel is capable of ISO less than 50 with a max of 10000. Certainly the Canon EOS XTi, released in 2006, will be used for specific photos since it can’t compete with the smartphone.

Shutter speed

Shutter speed with the Canon EOS XTi is maxed at 1/4000 sec. Compared to my Google Pixel at 1/8000 sec, the smartphone wins. On the opposite end where DSO objects live, the camera slows shutter speed to a minimum of 30 sec. The Google Pixel, 0.6 sec. And the winner goes to the Canon.

Canon EOS XTi Capability

Orion Nebula 2019
Orion Nebula 2019
Telescope: Meade ETX-125
Camera: Canon EOS XTi
Orion Nebula November 2017
Orion Nebula November 2017 Telescope: Orion Astroview 6 Camera: Google Pixel

Yes there are many differences to point out between pictures. You can see the difference between the crop sensor (Canon) vs full frame (Google Pixel). The difference between a 30 sec shutter time and a 0.6 sec shutter time. The Google Pixel has elongated stars because polar alighment is difficult in my yard. I have to drift align for polar alignment and that works best with a long shutter opening time. Of course the pictures show how much post processing improvement I’ve gained since 2017.

Canon EOS XTi Conclusion

Super Blood Wolf Moon 2019
Telescope: Orion Astroview 6
Camera: Google Pixel

The Canon EOS XTi currently works with my Meade ETX-125 Telescope. The scope has a smaller field of view so getting all of an object in the frame is a challenge. I’ll explain why it cannot work with the Orion Astroview 6 telescope in another post. The Canon camera will perform great with DSO and I’ll keep the Google Pixel dedicated to solar system objects. I’ve learned enough in the short period to help my neighbor sucesssfully capture photos of the Super Blood Wolf Moon. He too uses a Canon product and the results match the picture here. My own experience aside, I’ve not seen anyone else sucessfully capture a detailed DSO photo with a smartphone that rivals a DSLR camera. Get one and clear skies!

2019 Total Lunar Eclipse [Astrophotography]

Progression from start to totality

Total Lunar Eclipse

The total lunar eclipse was beautiful! I took more than 500 pictures of this event to create this photo. The 2019 total lunar eclipse wowed and amazed. My social media feeds were inundated with photos from the amateur photographer to professional photographer. I’m somewhere in between, although I did have an opportunity to help my neighbor acquire several photos with his camera.

Total Lunar Eclipse Photo Explained

The total lunar eclipse starts with the full moon (bottom left) and is called the Wolf Moon. Wolf because all full moons in January are wolf moons. The full moon is called super when closest to Earth. The next pictures are showing the shadow of the Earth as it crosses the surface of the Moon. The final two pictures show the distinctive red color that comes from bent light passing through the Earth’s atmosphere. The red color also gives this event the final word to it’s title of Super Wolf Blood Moon.

The time from start to totality (point where eclipse is total), was about 1 hour 45 minutes. This photo contains single unedited shots combined in a mosaic. It was a long night and I assisted my neighbor with is photo taking experience. So expect to see more post processed photos in the coming days.

Total Lunar Eclipse How To

I posted a few of my unedited photos and the question “What did you use?” came up several times. I used my Orion Astroview 6 inch reflector telescope and my Google Pixel smartphone. With this setup, polar alignment doesn’t have to be perfect. The short shutter time of 0.6 seconds means I have to take a lot of pictures to get a longer exposure. Since my target was the moon, longer exposure photos were not needed.

Total Lunar Eclipse: Super Wolf Blood Moon

For my neighbor he used a Canon camera on a tripod with at 500 mm lense. He and I both set our cameras to ISO 800. He bumped up his shutter open time to 1 sec and achieved great photos at totality.

Hopefully you enjoyed this post. Let me know in the comments.

Dark Sky Astrophotography [Smokey Mountain Getaway]

August is a busy month for my family, and we took a weekend to visit the Smokey Mountains in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  Wow what a great opportunity to do dark sky astrophotography with my Google Pixel.  I was so excited I didn’t know what to do with myself.  The visit was also the same weekend of the Perseids meteor shower peak.

Dark Sky Astrophotography

Mikly Way Photo
Telescope: None
Camera: Google Pixel

In the category of “don’t let this happen to you,” I completely forgot every technique I learned previous to this night.  My sky glow filter never made it out of the case, I left my red flashlight at home and the barlow stayed in the case as well. For you this is the reality of astrophotography, not every night goes according to plan.  I normally just take video of the planets, but this night I ended with a few shots of the Milky Way.  Here the theme of “I forgot what to do” continues.  I made no exposure adjustments to the Google Pixel camera.  I took the photo freehand (no tripod).  Yet, the photo, after post processing, is surprising.  You can see Mars and Saturn and the faint glow of the Milky Way.  Helpful tip: If you can’t see it, turn up the brightness on your screen.  Needless to say my first Dark Sky Astrophotography session was almost a complete bust.

It Was Fun Regardless

Dark Sky Astrophotography Setup
Telescope: Meade EXT-125
Camera: Google Pixel

When I arrived at the top of the mountain, my two guests J10 and J12 (shorthand for 2 of my 3 kids) quickly began to complain.  I was too cold and too many people were said in chorus.  I picked a spot and set up my Meade EXT-125 telescope.  The night began with showing numerous guests Venus, Juipter, Saturn and Mars.  It was a beautiful sight, the sky was clear and the number of stars visible numbered in the thousands.  If you have never been to a dark sky location, plan a get away and go.  Not only is dark sky astrophotography better there, but the views are priceless.  I live very close to several large cities and the light pollution is hiding all the beauty.

Never Stop Learning

A few meteors cross the sky spectacularly then I’m requested to help another work her Nikon DSLR camera.  Cool I thought, this would be interesting.  So I proceeded to discuss long exposure photography tips I learned online (of which I’m not an expert).

Smokey Mountain Planets Photo
Telescope: Meade EXT-125
Camera: Google Pixel

Hopefully, the results were good.  In addition to the Milky Way photo, I captured the four planets shown in the picture above.  Again none were taken with a filter or Barlow lens.  I guess I lost myself once I saw the clarity of these planets in my scope.  Venus was first and is in a quarter phase.  Then Jupiter put on a show as always.  The visitors kept asking me to view Jupiter more than any other of the four.  Once Saturn appeared, I lost most of my guests and began to capture the video I would later edit.  Finally Mars came into view and I completed my night with complaints again from my two guests.

My Dark Sky Astrophotography Results

I combined my edits into one photo because the planets are small in the photos.  The detail in all of them are better than what I get at home.  You can see some of the dark regions of Mars and the definition in the cloud bands on Jupiter are supurb.  Dark sky astrophotography is my ultimate target condition.  Although my results cannot rival many others, they will soon.  Thanks for your feedback on my experience and clear skies!

Mars: The Red Planet on Display in Summer 2018 [Dust Storm]

Mars July 2018
Telescope: Meade EXT-125
Camera: Google Pixel
Photographer: Kevin Francis

During the last star party at The Virginia Living Museum, I laid eyes on Mars for the first time this year.  It rose above the horizon to become the fitting end to the night’s event.  Venus started the activities and Mars finished it.  Bright and unmistakably red, we all focused our telescopes on the red planet and made the same comment, “It looks cloudy.”  Currently Mars is experiencing a planet wide dust storm.  The Opportunity rover is hopefully going to survive to continue its record breaking exploration of Mars.

Barely visible on the north pole is the ice cap.  The southern ice cap is hidden from my view here.  At the time the planet was low in the sky, so seeing wasn’t great.  This is the best of the photos I captured that night.

Critiques of the photo

ISO too high.  Because it’s so birght, lowering the ISO and taking longer video should improve the picuture quality and detail.  This is the initial issue I can see.  Leave me a message with your thoughts on how I can improve.

Mars in Opposition

Mars is in opposition on July 27, 2018.  Based on the weather reports I will be under cloudy skies.  If you’re under clear skies, think about me.  Hopefully the weather man is wrong, very wrong.

Any planet in opposition is simply when the Earth is directly between the planet and the Sun.  Mars is also at it’s closest point to Earth on July 31, 2018.  That’s about 36 million miles between planets. Both of these events means it will be putting on a great show now through August 2018.  It will be bright and dominate the sky. Get your binoculars, telescopes and cameras ready.  Take lots of pictures, make lots of memories and do it with family and friends.  Clear skies!

Saturn: Photographing the Cassini Division 2018 Update [Rings]

Light travels about 2 hours from the Sun to Saturn to your telescope.   We can spend about that much time searching for the perfect picture of planet and rings.  Because the rings, saturn is most astronomers fan favorite.

About Saturn & The Cassini Division

My Astrophotography quest with Saturn is to photograph clearly the Cassini Division.  It is one of the most identifiable targets in the rings.  Simply because photographing the rings, have been challenged by light pollution, poor seeing, etc.  The Cassini Division is a major separation in the rings of Saturn that spans 3000 miles or 4800 kilometers.  And it is named after, French discoverer Jean D. Cassini.  The division is created by Saturn Moon, Mimas.  In addition it is located between the A and B rings.  By the way, Star Wars Fans, Mimas is often referred to as the Death Star Moon.  Look it up it’s true.

The Challenge

For me this is one of the more interesting features of the ring system.  Although the ring system is extensive, I’ve had little success photographing it clearly.  I do most of my astrophotography from my yard.  Therefore getting a dark sky and very little lights is difficult.  My neighbors have their lights on most of the night and I live on a cul-de-sac with a lamp post in the middle.  Saturn rises above my neighbors house around 10:30 pm and then has to pass several tall pine trees in order to be clearly visible.  Once past most of these factors, I’m still determining the best settings for the Pixel.

Saturn: Cassini Division
Telescope: Meade EXT-125
Camera: Google Pixel

The Latest Result

Take at look at this detail.  As always I can do better and therefore achieving dark, clear skies away from the city is my goal.  I took a number of video on this night and this was the best of the group.  Saturn never looked better for me.  It’s a 3D globe with cloud bands visible.  The rings reflect the shadow and the division clearly.  More importantly the result is cool.

Also important, there’s still some noise in the picture, and as I get more experienced with derotation, I will therefore create better results.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. Clear skies!