The ruins of Rievaulx Abbey, deep in the North York Moors. The Milky Way arches over the ancient Gothic cathedral.
I managed to grab a few shots of comet Lovejoy (C/2013 R1) as it flew past the Beehive cluster (M44) in the constellation of Cancer. Lovejoy is one of four bright comets currently visible in the early morning sky, including the much anticipated ISON. Unfortunately I don’t have the will power to get up at 5am to enjoy the show, but Lovejoy hangs much higher in the sky at this point, so appears much earlier. (These images were taken between 1 and 1.30am local time).
The comet is still pretty dim at the moment at magnitude 6.2, and invisible to the naked eye. But it should continue to brighten for the next month or so, hopefully developing a more pronounced tail as it dives toward the Sun.
A single 30 second exposure was enough to bring out the comet’s intense green colour caused by poisons gasses spewing from the core. I captured a total of 40 exposures at 30 second each stacking them in Deep Sky Stacker to create the 20 minutes image shown here.
Stacking the images centred on the comet results in the streaking of the background stars due to the huge speed of the comet (roughly 100,000 mph). DSS does give the option to stack the comet and the stars separately (so both are sharp). This sounds great, but in practice didn’t work too well and I actually prefer the original 3 minute exposure stacked on the stars.
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Comet Lovejoy Update 30th November..
Comet Lovejoy is best seen in the hours before dawn, where it sits nice and high in the sky. But thankfully for people like me who enjoy their sleep, it’s also now visible in the evening sky as well. It appears lower down at this time, so the conditions aren’t as good, but it has allowed me to revisit the comet to see how it’s doing as it nears the Sun…
The comet, seen here gliding past the Sunflower galaxy (M63), has grown a pretty huge tail in the last month! Although I’ve found long exposures of the comet difficult to take due to its massive speed, the image below with the levels pushed to the maximum shows some nice detail in the tail.
Orion is one of the most recognisable and celebrated sights in the winter sky. The constellation has been documented, worshipped and woven into fable and legend for thousands of years. The supergiant stars Betelgeuse and Rigel are two of the brightest in the sky, and the vast amount of nebulosity in the region make Orion an excellent target.
I tried my hand at capturing the legendary Orion nebula (M42) in the sword region. The nebula is among the brightest in the night sky, so I was optimistic for a pretty good result. But seeing it final result stacked in DSS with all its stunning detail, I couldn’t help but be blown away once again!
Orion’s belt also contains the famous Horsehead nebula, which I thought would be neigh on impossible to capture due to its faintness and fairly low position in the sky as seen the UK. It’s a target made even tougher due to its red colour, which regular unmodified cameras don’t capture well.
It took the longest exposure I’ve managed to date (1 hour 12 minutes) to draw out the detail, but the final stacked image just about shows the Horsehead nebula, along with the beautiful flame nebula.
Since testing out the new Nikkor 180mm f2.8 lens on the Andromeda galaxy, we’ve been cursed with almost 3 solid weeks of cloud and moonlit nights. This is pretty typical, as anybody who’s just bought some new equipment will tell you.
The stars finally came out for an hour or so last night, allowing me to grab some shots of the Triangulum galaxy (M33). Being much smaller and fainter than the Andromeda galaxy (magnitude 5.7 vs 3.4) I went for a MUCH longer exposure, taking 50 shots at 80 seconds each, for a total of 1 hour and 6 minutes.
First attempt at imaging the Andromeda galaxy with the new Nikkor 180mm f2.8 ED Ai-s lens. I was able to grab just 2.5 minutes of exposure time before the clouds rolled in, but the resulting image stacked in Deep Sky Stacker blew me away!
The lens is incredible. It can be shot wide open at f2.8 while still producing sharp contrasty images, with very little coma. There is more detail visible in a single 30 second exposure with this lens, than a full 5 minute exposure with the 18-105mm. The spiral arms and dust lanes stand out nicely in the final image, with the two satellite galaxies M32 and M110 easily visible. The colour the lens produces is another welcome improvement over the flat colours from the old lens, and something I hadn’t expected.
This sequence shows the progression over the last 2 months, from single 10 second image, to the most recent tracked and stacked image. All images were taken with the Nikon D7000 at iso 1600:
- View – Single frame with Nikkor 50mm f1.8, on fixed tripod. 10 second exposure at f2.5.
- View – 30 frames with Nikkor 50mm f1.8, on fixed tripod, stacked with DSS. 5 minute exposure (30 x 10 seconds) at f2.5.
- View – 3 frames with Nikkor 18-105mm f3.5-5.6, tracked with barn door tracker and stacked with DSS. 5 minute exposure (3 x 100 seconds) at f5.6.
- View – 5 frames with Nikkor 180mm f2.8 ED Ai-s, tracked with barn door tracker and stacked with DSS. 2.5 minute exposure (5 x 30 seconds) at f2.8.
The key to improvement was building the barn door tracker which allowed for longer exposures, along with Deep Sky Stacker to reduce noise and bring out the details. I should be able to improve on the sequence even further once the weather picks up!
After 3 weeks of bad weather and moonlight, I eventually had another go at the Andromeda galaxy. The final image (below) is a definite improvement as the galaxy was near zenith at time of shooting, so there was less atmosphere in the way. At 6 minutes and 30 seconds (13 x 30 seconds) it’s also a longer exposure. I think it would be possible to improve still further, but I’d need to go to a dark sky site and use ‘sub frame’ exposure times longer than 30 seconds.
A moonlit night in Whitby, as the Milky Way shines through the gloom on Yorkshire’s Jurassic coastline.