Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Goodbye 2008!

Here is my best image of 2008. The Dumbell Nebula.
Well, 2008 has to go down as the worst weather on record along with the worst economic downturn, thanks to the behaviour of our banks!

Summer was a wash out, cloud, rain and waterlogged gardens. We are now having the harshest Winter that we have had for years, heavy snow well before Christmas and now in the grip of Artic conditions.

Gloom and Doom aside, I did manage to capture some good images around March time and later when I got my Skywatcher 80ED Pro. Since buying the Skywatcher the weather went downhill and I have not really had chance yet to go after some good DSOs. I want to image M42 again and the Horsehead Nebula, Crab Nebula and Triangulum Galaxy with the 80ED Pro. Lets hope that next year things will improve.

The trouble is that it is easy to loose interest if you don't get chance to try things out.

I now have three scopes, Skywatcher 130m reflector, Skywatcher ST80 and Skywatcher 80ED Pro along with the SLT computerised mount.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas in space

Probably one one of the most famous photos ever!
The Earth rising over the Moon at Christmas in 1998. On Christmas Eve the crew of Apollo 8 sent a live TV broadcast from the Moon. Everytime I see this photo it gives me the feeling of lonleyness, our Earth is so insignificent, a beautiful blue ball in space.

The words of Genesis in the broadcast really come to life!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Apollo 8 Launch

Forty Years ago today three astronauts did the unthinkable!
Apollo 8 was launched to orbit of the Moon and return. The year was 1968.
I was 14 years old at the time and remember and followed the whole mission, especially the live broadcast from the Moon on Christmas Eve and the reading of Genesis from the Bible as the pictures were shown. I have a DVD of the broadcast and brings back many memories of that Christmas in 1968!

After launching on December 21, 1968, the crew took three days to travel to the Moon. They orbited ten times over the course of 20 hours, during which the crew made a Christmas Eve television broadcast in which they read the first 10 verses from the Book of Genesis. The crew timed this reading to coincide with a full view of planet Earth hanging in the empty blackness of space while clearly showing the rich diversity of the living planet as indicated in Terran colors, seas, landforms, and weather patterns, rising over the dull gray horizon of the lifeless Moon. At the time, the broadcast was the most watched TV program ever. Apollo 8's successful mission paved the way for Apollo 11 to fulfill U.S. President John F. Kennedy's goal of landing a man on the Moon before the end of the decade.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Moon, Venus and Jupiter

A lovely view tonight of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter.

This morning we had heavy snow so the ground tonight is freezing with deep snow on the ground, not ideal for setting up equipment!

These images taken at twilight with my Canon 350D and 200mm zoom lens. Last night Venus went behind the Moon, but it was cloudy so couldn't get a shot of it.

Here a zoom image of just Venus and Jupiter as they are close together.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Moon and Jupiter

A beautiful sight tonight, a cresent Moon and Jupiter low in the Southern Sky.
Coming home from school at about 5.30pm the view of this was quite spectacular, I got home and then took my camera into the garden to try to capture the moment. Later this month we should see the Moon, Jupiter and Venus very close together, lets hope we get clear skies for this.
Last week brought a taste of Winter...SNOW!
I have never known snow in October before, temperature dropped below zero and some clear nights but too cold and windy to get out with the scope!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Andromeda Galaxy M31

I think this is the best image so far with M31.

I managed to stack about 100 subs and a LOT of processing in Photoshop!

The image looks great when reduced in size, but very noisy at full size.Took the image last night October 5th, if you look back on the blog you will see that the same day last year was also clear! In fact yesterday afternoon the weather was glorious and the night was clear up to about 11.00pm.
Other parts of the country had floods and heavy rain.
Andromeda is not an easy target to image, I used 40s subs with my Canon 350D, which was about at its limit with the SLT mount without star streaking.

I'm pleased with this image...I wonder now if I can manage to add together the previous subs from other sessions and produce something spectacular!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ring Nebula M57

At last! A clear night...

Tonight I set up the Skywatcher 80ED to try to image the Ring and Andromeda galaxies. Still trying out the new equipment and it did take a while to get the focus right.
M57 looks beautiful and can be seen clearly with a wide angle eyepiece on the 80ED. I managed to take about 30 exposures of M57 with the Canon 350d set to iso 800, stacked with DeepSky Stacker and processed in Photoshop.
Although I captured Andromeda, I didn't have enough exposures to bring out the detail, unfortunately, the camera moved when I changed the battery and couldn't get it right again.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Indian Summer?

Today was wall to wall sunshine all day!

The first since May!

Today everyone was smiling and happy, it really does make a difference.

As we move into Autumn I am suffering from a distinct lack of SUNSHINE. This has been the worst Summer I can remember! Rain, cloud, storms and floods thats all we have had this year and now at last, as we move into Autumn we have glorious weather. Clear skies tonight, but very hazy so still not ready for the scope.

I remember an Indian Summer somewhere around 1980 when it lasted from September right through to November. Wall to wall sunshine and clear nights...I wonder...will it happen again?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Big Bang Day!

"Scientists have hailed a successful switch-on for an enormous experiment which will recreate the conditions a few moments after the Big Bang.
They have now fired two beams of particles called protons around the 27km-long tunnel which houses the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
The £5bn machine on the Swiss-French border is designed to smash protons together with cataclysmic force.
Scientists hope it will shed light on fundamental questions in physics."

I must admit that I had never heard of the 'Higg Boson' particle until this week. Apparantly, this 'God Particle' will explain how mass and gravity are explained. It's all a bit complicated and over my head at the moment. The CERN LHC (Large Hadron Collider) took 13 years to build at a cost of £5bn thats about the same amount that taxpayers money put in to support Northern Rock!!!
I wonder which is the best value for money?
Seriously though, the LHC is a state of the art machine that will open new dimensions on Physics and give us a better understanding of the 'Big Bang' and how the universe was born.
It's pity that the media and tabloids have tried to 'scaremonger' by saying that the world will end and the machine will produce tiny black holes that will swallow the universe. This morning many children went to school scared out of their wits with little understanding of the technology thinking that there really was going to be a 'Big Bang'.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

First light with the 80ED

Last night was probably the best for months, so I took out my new Skywatcher 80ED Pro to try it out with some well known old faithfuls. Above is M13, Hercules Cluster and the Dumbell Nebula. I didn't spend too much time on this, only about 20 exposures because small banks of drifting cloud. I'm impressed!
I'm waiting for Andromeda this space!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Skywatcher 80ED Pro

At last, i've been and gone and bought it!
Here is MY Skywatcher ED80 Pro assembled on my Celestron SLT computerised mount. I can't wait to try out some images with this fantastic scope.
How about this for the specs...


Skywatcher Pro-Series ED refractors are built with a two-element air-spaced objective. The second element is made of the highest grade ED fluorite glass called FPL-53. This premium glass choice is a basic warranty for virtually no false color and for high contrast.
The high standard set in material choice is also set in production.

No effort is spared to reach optimal optical quality:

Our best opticians give each objective a hand pitch polishing finishing touch. This dedication to perfection together with aspheric shaping technology are the best ways to reach a very good wavefront (*) which means virtually no aberrations and textbook star images. The quality of each ED Pro Series objective is monitored by means of Ronchi (*) test and star (**) test. (*) The essential function of a telescope is gathering starlight without "disturbing" it.

This means changing the path of the lightwaves without altering the lightwave itself. Lightwaves all together are referred to as a wavefront. Alterations in this wavefront caused by the optics should be avoided. A wavefront analysis by Ronchi test will show an absence of wavefront alterations if the black and white lines (interference pattern) are perfectly straight and parallel. (**) The star test proves the ability of the optics to reproduce a pinpoint light source (star) as a pinpoint image.

Concentric light circles will surround the pinpoint light dot. These increasingly faint light circles are unavoidable due to diffraction but being well concentric around the central light dot they are a warranty for good optical alignment of the lenses. Performance of the Sky-Watcher ED Pro-Series refractors surely will both delight and surprise the most critical observer. - Diameter: 80mm - Focal Length: 600mm - F/ratio: F/7.5 - Fully Multi-Coated Doublet Objective Lens - FPL-53 ED Fluorite Glass Objective Element - Backlash-free 2” Crayford Focuser with Brushed-Aluminium Hubs & rubber grip rings

Metallic High-Transmission Lens Coatings Each air-to-glass lens surface has exotic anti-reflection metallic coatings applied to ensure optimum light through-put of approaching 99.5%. The proprietary Sky-Watcher “Metallic High-Transmission Coatings” (MHC) are the finest photon anti-rejection coatings in their class.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

An amazing picture!

"Imagine landing on the Moon, climbing down the ladder of your spacecraft, and looking around the harsh lunar landscape—to see another, older spacecraft standing only 200 yards away.
That's exactly what happened in November 1969, when astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean stepped out of the Apollo 12 lunar module. There, within walking distance on the edge of a small crater, stood Surveyor 3, an unmanned U.S. spacecraft that had landed in April 1967."
I didn't know this...
"Apollo 12's landing site had been chosen deliberately near Surveyor 3. The little lander had spent two and a half years exposed to the worst the Moon had to offer: harsh vacuum, intense cosmic radiation, meteoritic bombardment, extreme temperature swings. Back on Earth, NASA engineers wanted to know how metals, glass and other spacecraft building materials held up to that kind of punishment. Inspecting Surveyor 3 first hand seemed a good way to find out. "
I didn't know this either...
"On their second four-hour EVA, Bean and Conrad walked over to Surveyor 3, took dozens of photographs and measurements, and began snipping off parts of metal tubing and electrical cables. They retrieved a camera. The very last thing they removed was a small scoop at the end of Surveyor's extendable arm, which had dug into the dry moon dust and gravel to make mechanical measurements of lunar soil."
Maybe I was enthralled with the Lunar Landing at the time, after all I was only 15, but when I saw this on S@N forumI was amazed. This was 1969 ... how on earth did they do it?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Wish List!

A picture of my wish...Skywatcher Pro ED on an SLT mount. (Not mine!)

It's the twilight season, when it never gets dark, so not much happening at the moment. I'm now thinking about later in the year, when I can sit in the garden on a warm evening with a can of beer imaging around the rich Cygnus area!

Its now time to upgrade my imaging set up and buy myself a Skywatcher Pro ED80!

What can I say...superb APO scope, price reduced, ideal for imaging, fits onto my SLT mount...need I say more?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Phoenix landings

These are even more incredible images!
Click the image to see full size!
The amazing picture was captured on May 25th by the HiRISE camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Though the lander looks like it might be dropping straight into Heimdall, it is really descending about 20 kilometers in front of the crater, in the foreground of the scene. The orbiter was 760 kilometers away from Phoenix when picture was taken, at an altitude of 310 kilometers. Subsequently the orbiter's camera was also able to image the lander on the surface. The parachute attached to the backshell and the heat shield were identified in the image, scattered nearby. Of course, the Phoenix lander itself is now returning much closer views of its landing site as it prepares to dig into the Martian surface.
Why we have not seen these these pictures on the news is beyond me, we see bad news and Gordon Brown every day, but what about celebrating the achievements in technology?
In 1969 images like this made front page news and this was just the Moon!
This is Mars ... amazing!!!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Phoenix has landed!

Two brilliant images here, the first is Phoenix with the chutes open taken from the Mars Orbiter and the second is the Phoenix on the ground.
Watched the Phoenix land live last night on NASA TV, absolutely amazing! The initial images from a polar region of Mars excellent!
Mind boggling to think that I sent my name to Mars as part of the mission along with Melissa's!

For the first time in human history, we have landed in a polar region on another planetary body. Congratulations to the Phoenix team — we are on Mars!
Now — armed with a suite of science instruments and a digging robotic arm — the spacecraft and its team on Earth can begin hunting for water ice and adventure.

My name — along with a quarter million others from around the world — is now on the surface of Mars. Landing with me on the DVD disk is Visions of Mars, a treasure trove of literature and art — from classic works by Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury to Orson Welles' radio retelling of "The War of the Worlds" to a special audio recording of Carl Sagan delivering a message to the future.

Friday, April 11, 2008

M101 Pinwheel Galaxy

My first attempt at M101, the Pinwheel Galaxy in Ursa Major.
This is one of those objects that is difficult to see because it is quite big with a high surface area. I could not find it with my SkyWatcher 130m. I'm really pleased with my first attempt with a scope and equipment that is really working at it's limit. If you look carefully you can see another feint galaxy to the lower left of M101.
Conditions were not ideal when I took this image, a lot of hight cloud and light pollution, but I managed to filter out some of it to produce an acceptable image.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

M45 and Nebulocity

This image was taken on 4th March when the sky was super clear!
I have used photoshop to try to bring out the nebulocity in the cluster. The blue glow is caused by gas that is ionised by the hot, blue stars in the cluster. I had to play with this for quite a while because I kept getting a 'ghosting' effect when the 60 images were stacked.
The result is in fact only 7 images @ 45 sec stacked.
Brings out the nebulocity nicely!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Crab Nebula

Supernova remanant M1, The Crab Nebula.
Taken on 9th February with the Canon 350D, about 70 exposures at 45 seconds, ISO800.
Again, this is another object that I have not been able to find by just using skymaps and 'star-hopping'. Very frustrating...but now I have managed to image this object a couple of times with help from the SLS GoTo mount and Skywatcher ST80. A feint object really, so I am working at the limit of my present set-up. You can see 'The Crab Nebula' clearly, but does not look much like a crab! I cannot bring out any of the 'filaments' using Photoshop that bring out any detail. I think that longer exposures are needed to capture detail.
I've been investigating buying a Skywatcher 80ED1 Pro (APO Refractor), this seems like the next logical step in order to move on to better imaging with the SLT mount.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Space Shuttle Night Lift-Off

Space Shuttle Endeavour on it's way to the ISS.
Fantastic image of the Space Shuttle this morning on it's way for a 16 day misson to the International Space Station with part of a large Japanese laboratory. The lift-off was about 5.00am here.
Now, when there is a Space Shuttle mission it has always been possible to see the ISS passing overhead, so maybe I will try again to capture some images with the Skywatcher 130 telescope and webcam.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Whirlpool Galaxy M51

M51 Whirlpool Galaxy
Wow! I've waited a long time to try to capture this one!
I gave up trying to see this galaxy with my Skywatcher 130 last year. It is really hard to find in the constellation of The Plough and I just could not find it. Since then The Plough has been low down in the North East so I have had to wait until it is high enough and clear enough to attempt to find it with the SLT computerised mount and Skywatcher ST80 telescope. I was confident that I could find it, but not sure how well to image it.

The image above is beautiful, don't forget that this is taken with a wide-field, short focal length, 80mm scope. I'm amazed!
Here are some details: 60 exposures, 45 sec each, ISO 800 with my Canon 350D. Taken on the 4th March 2008.
A beautiful clear night, the best seeing for a long time!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Just to prove that the Earth is a living planet that has tectonic plates, tonight we came 'down to Earth'.

At 1.00am the largest Earthquake for 25 years was felt all over the country!

I was in bed when suddenly the whole house started to shake and the walls vibrated with a low frequency rumble. It was scary!

The tremor lasted for about 10 seconds with a magnitude of 5.2, one of the most powerful ever felt in this country.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Christmas Tree Cluster

This star cluster in named because it looks like an upside down Christmas Tree.
It has another name associated with it, the Cone Nebula. In my photo I managed to capture the star cluster and some nebulocity in the top right of the 'tree'. To bring out the true colour of this object it would need much longer exposures than the one above.
This image was about 30 exposures at 45 sec. each with the ST80 and Canon ED350D.
Quite a difficult one to process this!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

ISS and Space Shuttle

6.40pm on the 10th February and the International Space Station with the Space Shuttle passes over high in the sky. This image was taken with the Skywatcher 130 and Philips Toucam Pro II attached. Probably the most difficult object to capture as it moves at an amazing speed and hard to capture it with a camera.
I set up the equipment by focusing the webcam on the Moon and adjusted the red spot finder to track the ISS manually as it came over. Now the Skywatcher 130 is huge and the sensor on the webcam is tiny, so capturing any AVI is pure luck! I managed to capture about 20 frames from over 2500, I really tried hard to follow it as it came overhead, but really hard!
If you look carefully you can see the shape of the ISS and some nice colour too.
Amazing to think that what the image shows is the International Space Station and also the Space Shuttle bringing the European add on to the station.
I'll try again if I can to capture a better image!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Flame and Horsehead Nebula

This is my first attempt at these nebulae in Orion. I have always wanted to be able to see or image the Horsehead Nebula, I remember looking at a colour photo years ago when I was doing my Open University Course (S256) and I was stunned by the beauty of this nebula.

The last three days have had amazing weather! 15 degrees, wall to wall sunshine and clear nights! (and it's half-term)

The image above was taken with my Skywatcher ST80 and Canon 350D camera. About 100 x 45 sec images, iso800, stacked and processed in Deepskystacker and Photoshop. I think that I now need to move onto a longer focal length refractor like the Skywatcher ED80. Again, I am limited by the exposure time with the SLT mount, 45 sec seems to be the limit with the ST80. Maybe I can give it longer with an ED80.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Phantom Galaxy M74

M74 The Phantom Galaxy
In this months Sky at Night Magazine this elusive object was named 'The Phantom' because it is the most difficult of Messier Objects to find and take images of it. Back in November I managed to find and image this very feint object. Not a lot of detail and I wish now that I had given the object another hour of imaging time.
I used the computerised SLT Mount and ST80 telescope to find M74 and was amazed when it appeared on screen. This image was made up of about 30 stacked images at 45s, ISO 800 with my Canon 350D.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


M33 Triangulum Galaxy
Rain, Rain, Rain...this is looking like the wettest Winter on record!
No chance of taking the equipment out into the garden as it is totally waterlogged.
Last week I bought a copy of the CD 'A Guide to Astrophotography with Digital SLR Cameras' a great resource with videos of using Photoshop to get nice results. Here is M33 taken in November, at the time the background was very red and spoiled the image. I have now neutralised the background which has revealed a lovely image of M33.
Thanks to Jerry Lodriguss and his CD which came super fast through the post from America!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Enhanced M42 Nebula

M42 Orion Nebula
I took this image on 12th December during a lovely, clear frosty night. I have worked on the image for a long time to improve it, so here it is!Taken with my Skywatcher ST80 and Canon 350D camera, about 100 subs @ 45s, stacked in DeepSkyStacker and processed in Photoshop 7. This is by far my best image of M42 so far. I'm quite pleased with this one!

The other day I bought a copy of 'A Guide to Astrophotography' this is a CD with video tutorials about processing with Photoshop. One of these is very simple operation where the background colour and noise can be neutralised. The result on this image was amazing! The CD came from America, but arrived in 3 days!

I love Orion, a spectacular sight in the Winter sky. I always wanted to find out more about the 'blur' of the Orion Nebula. I have often seen photos taken from huge observatories, but never thought for a minute that I would be able to photos of my own like this!