Flaming Star nebula

flaming star nebulaAfter giving up on it a couple of weeks ago, I decided to have another try at the Flaming Star nebula, this time under better conditions…

Heading a few miles out of town to darker skies makes a huge difference for such a faint subject. The darker background not only make the nebula more visible, but also allows for longer exposure times before light pollution levels get too high. Because of this I was able to double the normal length of sub exposure to 1 minute, taking fifty in total.

To highlight the stars, a couple of extra minutes exposure using the was enough to bring out the colours in the line of stars beside the nebula.

Even with the extra light gathered, the final image stacked with Deep Sky Stacker took plenty of work in Photoshop to reveal the reds in the Flaming Star nebula and glowing cluster NGC 893 sitting opposite. Also revealed in the middle of the shot is the jewel-like Spider Nebula (IC 417) along with its prey, the tiny Fly Nebula (NGC 1931) seen just to the left. The two open clusters in the shot are M38 (top left) and M36 below.

Doubling or tripling the 50 minute exposure time would be necessary to improve the quality of the image. It looks a little grainy due to all the post-processing. But with the time I spent on processing, I think I’ll leave it at that!

Image details: Nikon D7000Nikkor 180mm f2.8 at f2.8. 50 minutes (50 x 60 seconds) at iso 800 using didymium filter, plus 2 minutes (4 x 30 seconds) at iso 800 using . Stacked with Deep Sky Stacker and tracked with barn door tracker.

The wide angle shot below, taken at 35mm a few weeks ago, puts the 180mm shot in context…

Auriga wied field taken at 35mm

Orion nebula revisited

Orion Nebula with barndoor trackerThe plan was to capture the flaming star nebula in Auriga last night, with it being overhead. I set the tracker up, took a few shots and immediately realised just how faint it was!.. As an antidote to this disappointment, I aimed the camera at the brightest nebula in the sky, the Great Orion Nebula.

I was able to add another 60 shots to the 112 I already had from last years efforts. I had reworked the 56 minute image several times, improving the results each time as my post processing techniques have developed.

The sequence below shows a progression from single 30 second photo, up to the latest image of 1 hour 26 minutes. There’s a big jump in image quality at each stage, with the latest image being much sharper due to the improved barn door tracker design. I also managed to find a more pleasing colour balance compared to the slightly muddied earlier versions.

Orion Nebula image processing sequenceImage details: Nikon D7000Nikkor 180mm f2.8 at f2.8. 1 hour 26 minutes (172 x 30 seconds) at iso 800. Using didymium filter. Stacked with Deep Sky Stacker and tracked with barn door tracker.

Evolution of comet Lovejoy

Despite being chilled to the bone on more than one occasion, tracking comet Lovejoy over the past month has been a great experience. It was, and still is, a stunning comet. Shooting Lovejoy on a total of 10 occasions over the last month with varying levels of success, I’ve stitched together the best of the bunch to show how the comet has evolved over time…

Nikon 180mm f2.8 D810aFor the earlier shoots I experimented with different exposure lengths (15-60 seconds), different ISO levels (800-1600), different lenses and different focal lengths (50mm, 85mm and 180mm). This was probably not the best tactic as the best results came from a 12 mile trip to darker skies on the 24th, using the tried and tested settings of 30 second exposures at iso 800 with the 180mm/f.2.8 lens. The image quality is visibly better in this shot mainly because the comet was near zenith so less post-processing was needed to remove the effects of light pollution…

Comet Lovejoy 2015 star trackerImage details: Nikon D7000Nikkor 180mm f2.8 at f2.8. 5 minutes (10 x 30 seconds) at iso 800. Using didymium filter. Stacked with Deep Sky Stacker and tracked with barn door tracker.

Comet Lovejoy with blue tailAs Lovejoy recedes further from Earth, its movement through the sky also appears slower. So although it’s starting to fade, it allows for many more exposures before the movement becomes an issue with the stacking. For example this 14 minute exposure from the 6th February vs. the 4 minute exposure on the 13th January.

In the recent images from early February you can clearly see the huge dust tail curving as the comet passes around the Sun.

Image details: Nikon D7000Nikkor 180mm f2.8 at f2.8. 14 minutes (28 x 30 seconds) at iso 800. Using didymium filter. Stacked with Deep Sky Stacker and tracked with barn door tracker.

I’ll no doubt take more shots of Lovejoy, but as can be seen in the most recent image from the 10th of February, the tail seems significantly dimmer now. Whether this is just another fluctuation in the structure of the tail, or a more significant decline, we’ll have to wait and see.

So I’m left with a series of shots showing comet Lovejoy’s evolution, along with a very full hard drive!.. Let’s hope the next comet Terry Lovejoy discovers is as good as this one.


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Samyang 85mm f1.4 lens..

astrophotography with Samyang Rokinon 85mm f1.4On a side note, the Samyang 85mm f1.4 lens I bought specifically for the job of imaging the comet proved to be no match for the trusty Nikkor 180mm f2.8. Unlike the results with comet Jacques, the tactic of maximum light gathering didn’t pay off this time. The lens may prove to be better suited to other subjects, but I’m not convinced as the coma was very noticeable even when stopped down. I think the ultra sharp Nikkor 85mm f1.8 G is the way forward at this focal length.

Image details: Nikon D7000Samyang/Rokinon 85mm f1.4 at f2.8. 4 minutes (16 x 15 seconds) at iso 800. Using didymium filter. Stacked with Deep Sky Stacker and tracked with barn door tracker

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Comet Lovejoy update 17th February…

Comet Lovejoy 2015 passes the Little Dumbell NebulaWith the skies finally clear after a week of cloud, I jumped at the chance to capture another shot of Lovejoy as it passed by the Little Dumbbell Nebula (M76). The planetary nebula is so tiny and faint that it’s considered one of the trickiest objects in the Messier catalogue to observe. The comet itself is definitely fading now, with the tail in particular much harder to pick up.

Image details: Nikon D7000Nikkor 180mm f2.8 at f2.8. 12 minutes (24 x 30 seconds) at iso 800. Using didymium filter. Stacked with Deep Sky Stacker and tracked with barn door tracker.

Auriga

Auriga with nikon 35mm f1.8 G lens

Imaging full constellations is something I’ve been itching to do since trying the new softon filter. So last night I set off in search of some darker skies armed with a borrowed Nikon 35mm f/1.8G lens. The constellation of Auriga was the target as it’s perfectly placed overhead at this time of year, and imaging large targets overhead is much preferred. (Trying to remove gradients from targets lower down is a real nightmare).

With an exposure time of 22 minutes, the detail visible in the shot is pretty impressive. The centre of Auriga holds two open clusters, M36 and M38, which sit beside a couple of faint nebulae; the Flaming Star nebula, and the less catchy IC410 – an area which could be an excellent target for the 180mm lens at some point.

The lens itself worked like a charm. Stopped own to f4 it’s super sharp, and the light weight makes it easy on the barn door tracker (200g vs 800g for the 180mm). I also had a pleasant surprise when it came to stacking the images as I realised I’d also caught the California nebula in the upper right of the shot!

Hoya Softon A filter for astro  imagingTo get the glowing star effect I took nine 2 minute photos without the filter, then two shots with the softon filter in place. I stacked these separately in DSS and combined them in Photoshop with the softon layer set to ‘screen’.

This side-by-side caparison of 2 minute shots of Capella demonstrates the filters effect. The medium to bright stars stand out much more, as well as their colours. The filter also dims the background stars making the constellations pop out even more.

Image details: Nikon D7000Nikkor 35mm f1.8G at f4. 18 minutes (9 x 2 minutes) at iso 800 using didymium filter, plus 4 minutes (2 x 2 minutes) at iso 800 using softon filter. Stacked with Deep Sky Stacker and Photoshop. Tracked with barn door tracker.

A colourful conjunction

Comet lovejoy and the pleiadesComet Lovejoy continues to impress as it swiftly passes through the winter sky. A conjunction with the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters in Taurus set up a beautiful wide-angle photo opportunity last night for which I was lucky enough to have clear skies. The intensely green comet, the electric blue Pleiades and the vibrant orange of Aldebaran formed a colourful celestial triangle.

This is the first image I’ve taken using the excellent new softon filter which really makes the brighter stars in the constellations pop out, as well as emphasising their true colours. It should be especially good for wide-angle shots as a way of making the constellations more recognisable. As with all the filters I use, I bought the largest size possible, then simply use step-up rings to fit them to any of the lenses.

Image details: Nikon D7000Nikkor 50mm f1.8 at f4. 8 minutes (8 x 60 seconds) at iso 1600. Using didymium filter and softon filter. Stacked with Deep Sky Stacker and tracked with barn door tracker.

Comet Lovejoy imaged with Nikon D7000 at 180mm f2.8Despite painfully cold fingers, I persevered with the hand-driven barn door tracker to capture a few closer shots with the 180mm lens. The comet has certainly evolved over the few days since the last shoot.

Image details: Nikon D7000Nikkor 180mm f2.8 at f2.8. 5 minutes (5 x 60 seconds) at iso 1600. Using didymium filter. Stacked with Deep Sky Stacker and tracked with barn door tracker.

Comet Lovejoy stacked in DSS Using Deep Sky Stacker’s comet mode lets you fix the comet’s motion, revealing more detail in the structure of the tail.

Image details: Nikon D7000Nikkor 180mm f2.8 at f2.8. 10 minutes (10 x 60 seconds) at iso 800. Using didymium filter. Stacked with Deep Sky Stacker and tracked with barn door tracker.

Comet Lovejoy – C/2014 Q2

180mm f2.8 Nikon D7000 barn door tracker
Ever since hearing about newly discovered comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2 in the Autumn of last year, I’ve been eagerly anticipating its arrival. Even splashing out on a new lens for the occasion. Unfortunately the weather has scuppered any plans I had to capture the comet in early January, with endless amounts of cloud, usually rolling up just as it gets dark!..

Last night, however, a fleeting break in the clouds allowed me to grab a handful of shots as the comet makes its way past Earth and on towards a close encounter with the Sun on the 30th of January.

I didn’t anticipate much detail with just 8 images to go on (4 minutes total exposure time), but at least the the stacking process was a quick one. The final image above reveals a surprising amount of structural detail in the tail, along with its stunning blue colour. The comet appears much larger than I expected too, the tail now stretches over 10 degrees (20 times the size of the full moon), with much of this huge tail cropped off the bottom of the frame.

With comet Lovejoy quickly moving higher into the northern hemisphere sky, and with the tail changing structure on a daily basis, it should still be a great target for the next couple of months – weather permitting!

Image details: Nikon D7000Nikkor 180mm f2.8 at f2.8. 4 minutes (8 x 30 seconds) at iso 800. Using didymium filter. Stacked with Deep Sky Stacker and tracked with barn door tracker.

The Pleiades

The Pleiades star tracker

The open cluster of the Pleiades is a captivating sight in the winter sky, with nebulosity visible even to the the naked eye. Longer exposures reveal the electric colour of the blue hot stars at the cluster’s heart. These bright stars make it tricky to capture the fainter wisps of nebulosity without causing excessive coma. Stopping the lens down to f4 (instead of the usual f2.8) helped a lot with this, but resulted in some diffraction spikes, which I actually think work nicely.

Image details: Nikon D7000Nikkor 180mm f2.8 at f4. 36 minutes (27 x 80 seconds) at iso 1600. Using didymium filter. Stacked with Deep Sky Stacker and tracked with barn door tracker.

Pleiades-UGC2838 Just beside the Pleiades, next to the perfectly named Electra, lies one of the most distant galaxies I’ve yet managed to capture. Looking like a mere smudge in the image, edge-on galaxy UGC 2838, at 300 million light years distance, is an incredible 676 thousand times further away than the Pleiades themselves. At magnitude 17.88, it is also by far the faintest object I’ve knowingly photographed.