December 2020

Christmas Gaps in the Clouds

  • Nik 

Last night I did manage to see Jupiter and Saturn shining in the sky (briefly) from amongst the trees but there was a large bank of cloud approaching from the west so I didn’t bother driving to my favourite roadside venue to take a snap (If I’d managed to get out I would have tried out my new Barlow). Tonight, as predicted, does look abysmally cloudy so no chance.

On the plus side last night did clear a bit later on so I got a view hours of DSO in trying out my new CLS filter.

M45 - Skywatcher 200PDS + Hypercam 183C Pro + CLS. 13 x 5min + 1 x 10min. Total Exp 1hr 15min

First up was M45. 5 minute exposures through my 8″ refractor with a few 10 minute exposures at the end.

Note: This is without flats but I’m still reasonably pleased with the results.

Then a quick go at the Flame Nebula (a bit of a Christmas tradition with me). Again 8″ refractor with CLS filter. Only 35 mins of 5 min exposures.

Note: I think I’ve over cooked the red balance to bring out the surrounding brown cloud. I may have another go at processing this.

NGC2024 - Skywatcher 200PDS + Hypercam 183C Pro + CLS. 7 x 5min. Total Exp: 35 min.

Comparing this to the test shot a took a month or so ago when I was testing my belt mod on my mount, I think, shows what a big difference the CLS filter is making.


Looking at the forecast for the rest of the week I may have taken my last pictures for 2020 but we’ll see what Christmas Eve brings.

Happy Holidays

Jupiter and Saturn

  • Nik 

Possibly the biggest event of my life is happening on 21st December 2020. Yes I’m talking about the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn but living in the UK the conditions for viewing it are not good, to say the least.

It’s been all  over the news outlets for about the last month. Sadly they fail to give much detail other than the is a once in lifetime opportunity. I guess they are mostly geared up to cater for people looking at it with the naked eye but it does wind me up slightly (rant over now).

Firstly, the position in the sky. I’m at latitude 52 degrees north which means that the whole thing isn’t getting much above 10 degrees above the horizon just after sunset. This makes observing from my garden, and in fact the whole of my street impossible (there is a house and trees in the way).

Secondly, but probably more importantly hasn’t anyone looked at the weather forecast???

So I decided to get out early on Tuesday 15th since this seemed to be about the only semi-reasonable break in the clouds. Jupiter and Saturn by then were within 1/2 degree of each over which was just close enough to cover with the FOV of my 80mm refractor.

So, our criteria for success (pretty low ones I’ll admit) were are follows:
  1. See Jupiter and Saturn in the sky with the naked eye between the clouds
  2. Get a selfie of Jupiter and Saturn with a smart phone
  3. Get my rig setup and get a reasonable image (I’m not expecting miracles here, just something recognizable)
You can just see Jupiter in the background over the top of my scope.

So, in the back of my car goes my Skywatcher EQ3-2 Pro and my Explore Scientific ED80APO. I used my GPCAM3 with this since it was already setup and seems to be a good match for the telescope.

With a boot full of junk off me and my son go about 2 minutes out of the village to a local lay-by with a good westerly view.

I figured that I wouldn’t really care about light pollution from car headlights since Jupiter and Saturn are so bright.

It was only just dusk when I setup. Jupiter and Saturn could just be seen but no stars were visible (So, criteria #1 achieved 🙂 ). So selfie taken. The evening can be counted as a success (I said our criteria for success were pretty low).

So our first problem was that there were no stars. I had to do a very rough polar alignment of the mount with a compass and hope it was close enough. No polar alignment with SharpCap which I really missed 🙁

I figured that as long as it was close-ish it wouldn’t matter since the exposure times would be so short. (Luckily I was right).

Second problem was pointing the scope. I’ve been a bit spoilt over the years by the fabulous Astrophotography Tool (APT) and it’s Point Craft option.

  • Issue 1: stars weren’t out
  • Issue 2: I’d forgotten to install EQMOD on my laptop to drive the mount. (Thank the great flying spaghetti monster I remembered to pack the hand-controller to my mount).

Oh well, so I had to do it the old fashion way. My son was useful at this point by yelling excitedly when Jupiter flashed across the screen.

Managed to just get them within my FOV with a bit of tinkering. Saturn was just about recognizable but a lot fainter than Jupiter.

So given the exposure time I needed to grab Saturn and the Jovian satellites this completely overexposed Jupiter but the purpose of the evening wasn’t to get a lot of detail but to actually get a a shot at all.

I did take an avi but I’ve had no luck in aligning and staking it so I’ve pulled out this one frame (from fairly early on in the film because the cloud started to close in) and fiddled quite drastically with it.

I processed Saturn, Jupiter and the Jovian satellites separately and then merged the lot together.

Not the greatest picture of all time but we were just happy that we got anything at all (As you can see).