Observation Log

Birthday Clear Skies

  • Nik 

Monday was my birthday and as a present the skies cleared.

Only drawback was that we were due to go round to the daughter’s house for tea and cake. (She lives alone and we’re in a support bubble with her so this is OK under COVID-19 regulations). Luckily I have a VPN and I talk to my observatory computer using Remote Desktop so as long as I can get away with taking a laptop with me I’m sorted.

Monday the moon was in Gemini and near full. The seeing wasn’t predicted to be great but there was little cloud cover forecast.

My setup was more or less working with the exception of the dew heater and focuser. Since these use the same board I suspect it’s a power issue but it was too late to fix them.

I decided to risk it without dew heaters and given the temperature I’m amazed I didn’t get ice forming on the lenses.

I was using my Explore Scientific ED80APO and my 183C Hypercam with PHD2 guiding.

I managed to capture about 2 1/2 hours of light on M42. A combination of 5 minute, 2 minute and 1 minute subs. I’m quite pleased with the result.

ES ED80APO, HEQ5 - Guided. 10x300s, 28x120s, 18x60s. Total exp. 2hr6mins
ES ED80APO, HEQ5 - Guided. 10x300s, 28x120s, 18x60s. Total exp. 2hr6mins

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).

Sunday 20/01/2019

  • Nik 

Plan

  • Try removing diagonal from optical train
  • Recalibrate PHD2 after adjustments of RA gear
  • Field test ‘biscuit tin’ control computer

Site

  • Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, UK
  • Class 4 bottle

Log

So finally there’s a bit of clear sky to bed in my new kit (shame it will be cloudy by the time the super wolf blood moon starts it’s eclipse). This includes my new ‘biscuit tin’ control computer and my latest attempt at dialling down the backlash in my RA gear.

I had a try last week but it was far to windy for anything to settle.

So item 1. I wanted to have a try at removing my diagonal from the optical train and replacing it with extenders so I can make the telescope a bit lighter. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough extension tubes so I’ve left the diagonal in.

Item 3. I’ve brought a small single board computer to sit next to my telescope and basically run all my windows software (via remote desktop) and connect inside via Wi-Fi. The whole thing sits in a small biscuit tin, hence my pet name. The whole computer runs off a 2A 12v supply so it will run off my Powertank with a 12v USB adaptor (rather than running of the 1.5A USB outputs on the Powertank). Everything seems to work well and I’ll post the details of the setup.

Item 2. Calibration seems to have worked OK and the backlash is a bit better. Time will tell.

As a test I managed to get about 17 60s exposures to stack of M42 as a test before the cloud closed in again.

Results

Monday 3/12/2018

  • Nik 

Plan

  • M42 – New ES APO 80mm.

Site

  • Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, UK
  • Class 4 bottle

Log

So my shares have vested and I’ve splurged on a new ES APO 80mm. Bit of a bodge job getting the guide scope shoe replaced since the spacing is wrong for the mounting bracket but good enough for now.

Short summary here: “It’s brilliant!” As advertised, nice sharp stars, Crawford focuser is nice. Basically a joy to use.

Ran a set of one minute subs and some individual exposures just to try it out. Managed a 10 minute guided exposure (which for my rig is good).

Results

M42

M42 ES APO 80mm – f/6. GPCAM – 10 minute exposure half gain. Some post processing with GIMP 2.10

Monday 17/09/18

Plan

  • M33 with 0.6 focal reducer and filter on 130 900mm newt.

Site

  • Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, UK
  • Class 4 bottle
  • Weather
  • Pressure: 1007hPa
  • Wind around 7kph.
  • Temp Around 18C.
  • Dew point 10C.

Log

Tonight was one of those nights where my rig decided to work, more or less perfectly, from the off and surprisingly the weather played ball as well (although the forecast looked pretty dire to start with).

My home made focuser seems to be working well. The interface is a bit clunky at the moment and I’ve still got to plumb it into an ASCOM driver so it will work with the auto focuser stuff in ATP but it worked well manually.

Also my little set of sensors  seemed to work well (or well enough for my needs anyway) giving pressure, temp and dew point.

I was running with my new (cheap) focal reducer which brings my focal length down to about 517mm.

First off I ran a 30 shot series of 60s exposure on M33. That seemed to go well so I upped the exposure time to 2 minutes and ran another 30 shot series.

Since it was about midnight and M45 was in view by then I took a few bonus shots.

Results

Turned out not to be great after an amount of post processing. There’s some vicious vignetting from the focal reducer which my flats don’t seem to want to get rid of. Since i’d left the equipment setup and the focus constant I’ve been experimenting with flat fields. Hopefully this should pay some dividends.

Saturday 1/9/2018

  • Nik 

Plan

M27 second of two nights. 2 or 3 minute exposures.

Site

  • Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, UK
  • Class 4 Bortle

Weather

  • 15% med to low cloud between 9pm and 10pm otherwise clear.
  • Wind around 7kph.
  • Temp Around 18C.

Log

Tonight isn’t going exactly to plan but better than last night.

Last night I didn’t have any trouble with guide setup, tonight it’s caused nothing but trouble. Guess I’m going to have to reserve a night soon to sort it out.

At one point, since I was having no luck taking anything over about 45s, I decided to do a bit of lucky imaging. 15s x 240 – max gain on the camera. I’ve quickly stacked about 50 of them and it doesn’t look half bad.

M27 – Test Stack – 15s x 50 – Max Gain – GPGAM3

For got measure after this run (and another attempt at M27 with a longer exposure) I tried NGC7635.

Results

M27 – 15s x 240 – stacked – GPCAM3 – Max Gain Cut to about 140 frames with FWHM rejection

M27 – 15s x 240 – stacked – Max Gain

NGC7635 – 15s x 150 – Max Gain – Stacked

Friday 31/08/2018

  • Nik 

Plan

M27 first of two nights. 2 or 3 minute exposures.

Site

  • Home
  • Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, UK
  • Class 4 Bortle

Weather

  • 15% med to low cloud between 12am and 1am otherwise clear.
  • Wind around 7kph.
  • Temp Around 17C.

Log

Last night was a bit of a disaster as far as getting a good set of observations went.

Night started off fairly well. Got polar alignment very quickly, focusing as well. Then tube managed to hit the tripod whilst going a goto so I lost worm gear alignment with the PEC. So spent first half of the night sorting that out again until it clouded over.

Then I thought it was high time I sorted out the mount limit function so it didn’t happen again. Tried for about an hour but still don’t seem to have got the hang of it. Will have to try another night.

By then it was around one in the morning and the sky had cleared again. Ran a guided 120s x 30 set of exposures on M27 + darks which took me through to four am.

Unfortunately, since M27 had by then dropped down towards the west there’s a terrible light gradient on these, which is a shame because some of the internal detail doesn’t look bad. Home hum. Will try again tomorrow and hopefully get a reasonable result since the weather looks like it’s going to not be my friend for the next week.

The night wasn’t a total loss though. I did finally sort out the issue I was having with my pulse guiding. Turns out I had the RA and DEC pulse guide rates set to x0.1 which wasn’t anywhere near enough to allow any tracking errors to be sorted out. I’ve upped this a bit to x0.4 for both and guiding seems to be a lot happier.

Result

 

M27 – 30 x 120s – AltairAstro GPCAM3 178C3