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!

Beehive Cluster: I Don’t See Anything There [Magnitude]

Light Pollution

In light polluted areas, seeing fuzzy star clusters is nearly impossible to the naked eye.  Therefore, when I attended a Star Party at the Virginia Living Museum, I wasn’t ready for the result.  Ok full disclosure, it was my first Star Party.  The lyrics from Arrested Development’s Tennessee come to mind, “the date was going great and my soul was at ease until a group…”  Ah yes a group started bugging out and it was amazing.  I was given the task to point my telescope at the Beehive Cluster, aka M44.  The Beehive Cluster is an open star cluster.  Everyone who looked at the cluster was amazed, be that as it may the stars in the cluster were invisible.  Comments like “There’s nothing there” or “I see nothing in that part of the sky” or “That’s amazing!” were thrown out like bags of peanuts at a Nationals game.

Light Polluted View
From my backyard

A Little Science

So, your question is “how does this happen?”  Here’s an example from my backyard.  Yes, however, I had to do this again for effect.  Just take a look at the sky between the trees.  It’s dark blue and almost devoid of stars.  The sky is “bright” because of the lights around Hampton Roads Virginia. Let me get a bit scientific here.  A telescope can pierce through this light pollution and expose the stars that are there.  It does this by focusing the light to a single focal point.  Under magnification, the user to focus on this small point.  The larger the aperture the more stars you can see.  This great engineering marvel is what delivers the impactful punch we saw that night.

Here’s the final edited picture:

Beehive Cluster, M44
Beehive Cluster, M44
Telescope: Meade EXT-125
Camera: Google Pixel

How I Captured the Beehive Cluster

Yes, you guessed it, I used the Meade EXT-125 telescope and Google Pixel to capture the photo.  The camera has to be set to ISO 800 or higher to let in enough light to see the stars and minimize the amount of noise in the photo.  This setting also depends on the seeing conditions at the time. There are about 1000 stars in the Beehive Cluster and is young at around 600 million years old.  Perched around 577 light years away it’s a perfect target for amateur telescopes.  Although, there are many more experienced, astronomers that will tell you that Messier found more impressive star clusters and the crowd favorite is M13, the Great Globular cluster.  Do this with your neighbors and friends and wait for it…wait for it…yep there it is.  Tell me about your experience.

 

Equipment Spotlight: Google Pixel Really Blue [Color]

The pictures are improving, my editing skills are improving, and the results are joyful, but in case you haven’t noticed yet, my camera of choice is my Google Pixel Really Blue Phone.  I use this everyday for, well, phone calls, texts and email.  So as you can see it earned character in scratches and cracks as a result.  Yes if you’re wondering, I do also have an iPhone.  It’s a work phone that I don’t have too many positive things to say and the world has already compared the two phones with nauseating persistence.

Google Pixel Really Blue
Google Pixel Really Blue

Why Google Pixel

You’re reading this to understand why it’s my camera of choice at this stage in my young astrophotography career.  It’s simple, I love a challenge, and I don’t see many people using this phone for this purpose.  In addition, all over Twitter and Facebook I see the work of Samsung and Apple phones proudly displayed.

More importantly, I get that Google limits the Pixel shutter opening time to 0.6 seconds max.  You can’t get great shots with that short an opening time.  This coupled with, light pollution, is a significant difference between seeing more nebulosity in a nebula or just a bright star.  Again, I take photos from my yard in Hampton Roads Virginia, so light pollution is a problem.

Dark Sky Map
Dark Sky Map

Smartphone Details

All smartphones have one thing in common, the stock camera app leaves out all the bells and whistles needed to capture a decent astrophotography photo.  Therefore an app like Camera FV-5 is downloaded and the user becomes hooked.  This app is nice.  You can adjust ISO, Shutter Speed, and even use it as an intervalometer.  Great for most smartphones except the Pixel.  Yep, Google limits the shutter speed in the hardware not the software like everyone else.  I have a fix for that, but that’ll be in my next post.

Reflection Astrophotography & Google Pixel

Let’s discuss this awesome camera on the Pixel that everyone raved about.  I too am raving about it.  The system they’ve implemented takes a number of pictures and stacks them for you.

Camera Glare
Telescope: Orion Astroview 6
Camera: Google Pixel

If you’re not aware of stacking pictures, I’ll discuss in another post.  Anyway their camera produces great low light photos and most other types of photos are great, except photos through my telescope.  Taking a picture of the reflection leads to, well, reflections. Here is the result.

At the bottom center are two purple smudges.  They are coming from the camera sensor on the Pixel.  It turns out the pixel uses reflected light to measure the light conditions.  Needless to say it reflects off the telescope eyepiece and becomes part of the picture noise.  It’s also very difficult to eliminate from the picture.

Orion Nebula
Orion Nebula
Telescope: Orion Astroview 6
Camera: Google Pixel

Yet after some trial and error I was able to eliminate this defect from the pictures and achieve results like this Orion Nebula photo.  The choice of camera is yours and of course there are many options to choose.  Just at there is with software to edit your photos.  Even with the Google Pixel, and any other camera for that matter, you have to edit the photos to get the desired result. I enjoy the results of my efforts and will share more in additional posts on how you can improve your smartphone astrophotography.  Keep trying new things and clear skies to you!