Archive for September, 2009

We are now enjoying long dark evenings and are once again getting into the swing of imaging well into the early hours – weather permitting.  The imaging object I have chosen for this month is the famous Double Cluster in the constellation Perseus.  The Double Cluster as the name suggests is made up from two beautiful open clusters, NGC 869 and NGC 884.  Walter Scott Houston in his Deep-Sky Wonders book has this down as a January object, but I find I have to have a go at looking/imaging this one the second it comes into a favourable position in my skies.  The usual description of this amazing object, when viewed through a low-power eyepiece is “Diamonds on Black-Velvet” – and I clearly recall my first observation of the Double Cluster throught the C11 was precisely just like that.  It is an incredible sight, and it is even a naked eye object appearing as a fuzzy glowing region near Cassiopeia.  In fact it is such an amazing visual object that CCD images rarely do it justice for reasons that will become apparent as we carry on examining this region.

If you use a low powered telescope, or better still a pair of 10 x 50 binoculars to look in the Double Cluster region, something very odd immediately strikes you.  Like ornaments on a charm bracelet the Double Cluster sits on the edge of a bright ring of stars which leap out at you when viewed through binoculars.  Now look at this region on a star map or planetarium program.  Although you can make out the ring of stars that make up “Greg’s Charm Bracelet” – they are by no means conspicuous, and don’t show themselves to be clearly differentiated in any way from the myriad of background stars in the region.  So this is clearly some sort of subtle eye-brain processing going on which makes the “Bracelet” so very clear when visually observed.  There are plenty more asterisms that “pop out” when observed through binoculars, but effectively “hide away” when looked at on planetarium programs and star maps – Kemble’s Cascade immediately comes to mind.  I think it is similar subtle processing by the brain-eye system that makes the Double Cluster itself so very striking.

Returning to imaging the Double Cluster, it is a matter of getting a large number of subs at maybe 2 or 3 minutes per sub, under Moonless conditions.  We can of course image clusters with the Moon up, but if we are trying to get that “Diamonds on Black Velvet” image, then we want the darkest skies possible.  It is also worth going as deep as possible as well in order to pull out the impressive dark rift that runs between the two clusters adding further to the  contrast when viewing this region.  For a nice noise-free image it is worth trying for at least 100 sub-exposures which means spending up to maybe 5-hours imaging the Double Cluster.  If you end up with an image that even approximates the view of the real thing – then it’s 5-hours really well spent.

Clear, dark skies until November’s object of the Month 🙂

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The third clear Moonless evening in a row had me out to capture this beautiful little open cluster in Cassiopeia called the Owl or ET cluster – NGC457.  As I mentioned before, Noel’s real speciality is stars – which you can quite clearly see is the case in this image.

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Clear dark Moonless sky last night and Cepheus was in a perfect position for imaging.  So I decided to get some more deeper, better data on the Iris nebula so that Noel can work his magic and incorporate this with last year’s result.  Managed to acquire 4-hours total using 15-minute subs and I must say the star shapes across the whole FOV are the best I’ve seen out of the Hyperstar 3 so far.  Just waiting for Noel to come on line and then I’ll send the data over to him.  Be prepared for what I believe will be a definitive image of the Iris nebula region – coming your way soon 🙂

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Every year the New Forest ponies (and as you can see the Shetlands) are rounded up for checking/branding/marking/injections, and the picture below shows the beginning of the action.  Lots of helpers and riders on the day and the Forest gains an “electric” atmosphere as people and horses alike feel the adrenalin rush that is “the Drift”!!

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We’re on a roll 🙂  The weather has not only been unusually good these last few nights, but they have been Moonless nights too!  Excellent!!!  Managed to capture the Double Cluster a couple of nights ago and Noel worked his magic on the data -his great speciality is stars by the way, in case you didn’t know – and a Noel Carboni processed deep-sky image is instantly recognisable by the unique beauty of the stars – and no, I have absolutely no idea how he does it – I just print the pictures out and gawk at them for hours.  Greg & Noel proudly present you with the well-known “diamonds on black velvet” that is the Perseus Double Cluster.

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Noel recently processed an image taken just a few days ago.  This one is NGC281 also known as the Pacman nebula in Cassiopeia.  Twelve subs at 15-minutes per sub gave this result, and 15-minutes at f#2 is equivalent to an hour and a half with the old Sky 90 setup!  Another image for Star Vistas II 🙂

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We had a week of sub-zero temperatures at the beginning of 2009 which led to hoar-frost covered spider webs and grass as well as “crystalline copses” – trees glittering from the ice in the early morning winter sunshine.  It was also a very hard time for the forest animals and farmers brought out feed for the cattle for sevaeral weeks – the first time I had seen this done locally.

A picture of the frost covered spider webs made today’s EPOD 🙂

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I shall be giving a talk to Southampton Magna Rotary Club on the evening of Thursday 24th September 2009 in Southampton.  The title of the talk is “The Magic of Photography” and I will be discussing photography in general and deep-sky imaging in particular.  Signed copies of “Star Vistas” will be available for purchase on the night 🙂

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I spent last week at an electronics Conference in Athens, Greece.

Amazingly, from the Acropolis I could see two observatories – one actually down in the town (!) and another far away on a hilltop overlooking Athens.  I don’t think their light pollution can be too good!  The Conference dinner was over on the coast a few km from Piraeus – once again, the light pollution was pretty huge, Jupiter clearly visible over the sea, the summer triangle getter much dimmer overhead, and the plough practically wiped out inland.  It’s a great shame that the opportunity for great clear skies and good seeing conditions are so severely hampered by light pollution in Greece and on her islands.

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Noel has just processed the H-alpha data from Thursday 10th September 2009.  This was the first target using the new 45nm bandwidth H-alpha filter (Baader) I purchased from Ian King Imaging Ltd.  This is 10 subs at 10-minutes per sub, so for a total imaging time of an hour and 40-minutes I think the result is pretty good.  For the moment I’ve put the IDAS filter back on the system as there are a few star fields I want to capture, but I might just return to the 45nm H-alpha a little later in the year.

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