Deep Sky (SBIG ST8XME), 2007

The camera arrived on 17th. July 2007, and as luck would have it a clear night as well. Still only Astronomical twilight, nevertheless a good opportunity to try out the camera with the LX200R. Messier 27, the 'Dumbbell' planetary nebula in Vulpecula was chosen as the first target. The self guiding proved itself admirably - this and the M57 following were both taken at the full 3 metre focal length of the LX200R.

Luminance 5 x 4 minutes, RGB each 3 x 2 minutes binned 2x2.

This image featured in The Sky at Night BBC TV programme, August 2012

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To follow on from M27, it had to be the other showpiece planetary nebula, Messier 57, the 'Ring' nebula in Lyra. Also in this image, brought out through the magic of digital processing is the faint 15th. magnitude galaxy IC1296.

Luminance 5 x 5 minutes, RGB each 3 x 3 minutes binned 2x2.

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Comet C/2006 VZ13 LINEAR zipped across the Northern skies during July 2007, and in its passage almost clipped the globular cluster M3 in Canes Venatici around 0000 UT on 23rd. At the time I realised this, I had packed my TMB 105 to take on holiday the following day, and the field of view required was too large for my LX200. So on with the diminutive William Optics ZS66 refractor and SBIG camera to capture what I could before the comet dipped below the trees.

Using Maxim DL to capture, I interspersed colour frames with the monochrome ones, but I didn't specify as many colour, and also took them binned 2x2, so rather than overlay as LRGB, I have kept them separate.

Here is a full size monochrome, stacked on the stars, with the movement of the comet over 30 minutes seen as the fuzzy streak at 8-o-clock. 20 x 30 second subframes. Full Size

This is a crop from a single 30 second monochrome frame

And here is the colour image, stacked on the comet head. RGB 10 each x 30 seconds binned 2x2

Summer is not the best time to be deep sky imaging in NE England! Apart from uncertain weather this summer (2007), June and July never get full dark.. But a clear night gave me an opportunity to take advantage of a brief period of full darkness in the early hours of 8th. August. Unfortunately with a fairly bright Moon. With an Ha filter the Luminance frames were ok for this faint object, but normal RGB colour, particularly binned 2x2 as I attempted, ended up with bloated stars and muddy background when stretched enough to show the nebulosity. So monochrome (for now!)

SH2-129 faint emission nebula in Cepheus. 15 x 5 minute subframes, self guided on TMB 105 refractor.

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The following night was again reasonably clear, the Moon fainter and the target brighter! So this time the RGB colour frames were (just) usable.

Ced 214 in Cepheus. Luminance 12 x 5 minutes Ha, RGB each 5 x 2 minutes binned 2x2. Self guided on TMB 105 refractor.

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Although the Summer has been poor in 2007, at last a clear night appeared with the Moon setting around the onset of Astronomical twilight. On August 22nd. I targeted UGC 10822, the Draco Dwarf galaxy. This is a large but very diffuse galaxy, relatively close to us, and a rather disappointing target, filling the frame with a seemingly unrelated field of stars. The small distant edge on galaxy is PGC 140771.

The colour information was not worth using, so here is the monochrome image. SBIG ST8XME with LX200R at f7, 9 x 5 minute subframes.
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After the late night with the Draco Dwarf, I had another clear night on August 23rd., although the work was interrupted for around 3/4 hour by a band of cloud. But a very satisfying result of the beautiful NGC 6946, spiral galaxy in Cepheus. This galaxy has a low surface brightness and is very difficult visually, but the CCD camera reveals its full glory. The supernova of 2004 has now faded - captured then with my MX716 camera.

This image featured in The Sky at Night BBC TV programme, August 2012

SBIG ST8XME with LX200R at f7, Luminance 8 x 5 minutes, RGB each 4 x 5 minutes. Full Size

Three nights imaging in a row - almost unheard of! Clear sky again on August 24th. albeit with a couple of cloudy periods which limited the number of subs I could capture, but enough data for this image of the Planetary Nebula NGC7008 in Cygnus. Rather a lumpy object with a definite blue colour. Not one I've seen or imaged before. This is cropped from the full frame - it was off centre due to positioning a suitable guide star.

SBIG ST8XME with LX200R at full 3048 mm f10, Luminance 6 x 5 minutes, RGB each 3 x 5 minutes. Full Size

I've attempted this target a few times without much success, but in early Autumn with Cassiopeia high, it seemed worth trying again. And the night of 31st. August 2007 although moonlit had good transparency....

IC 63 in Cassiopeia is classed as a reflection nebula, but most people seem to image with at least H-alpha as luminance. So with the moonlight to contend with, narrowband was the way I went. It's a faint object, so I binned everything 2x2. The camera was rotated a bit to find a bright enough guide star for the narrowband imaging.

SBIG ST8XME binned 2x2 and LX200R at f7. Luminance 12 x 5 minutes, Colour Ha, O3, S2 each 5 x 5 minutes (obviously I used some of the luminance Ha)



A lovely clear night on September 6th. 2007 but with a bright gibbous waning Moon. But as always the magic of narrow band filtering means I can take advantage of moonlit skies, so the night was a long one for me, trying out my SBIG ST8XME on my William Optics ZS66 SD (the camera is almost as heavy as the telescope!) I wanted to see if I got a flat field with the AP reducer - looks ok from the results!

A two section mosaic of the Veil Nebula in Cygnus - something I've fancied for a while. A bit of tweaking in Photoshop to bring up the strange narrowband colours, and I think the junction of the two sections is fairly well hidden! West section 11 x 5 min Ha, Colours each 4 x 5 min Ha O3 S2. East section 8 x 5 min Ha, Colours each 3 x 5 min Ha O3 S2 (clouds finally stopped me at 3.30 am!)

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A beautifully clear night on September 10th. 2007 right down to the horizon, so an opportunity to try for a finer detailed Helix planetary nebula, NGC 7293 in Aquarius, previously attempted with the MX716 and TMB refractor.

This has low surface brightness and although the sky was clear, at the very low 15 degree maximum altitude the seeing was poor, making guiding difficult, particularly in Declination where air currents had a marked effect, necessitating some star repair work! But ultimately a reasonable image.

SBIG ST8XME, Mirage 8 at f7, Luminance 12 x 5 minutes, RGB each 4 x 5 minutes

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The Kelling Heath Star Camp in September was blessed with fine dry weather for the first week of the event. I was there from Wednesday 12th to Monday 17th, and only experienced a brief shower on the Sunday night, with most nights being cloud free for much of the time. More details here.

I was camped beside some trees, and my sky was limited to the 180 degrees Eastern section. So although M16 in Serpens was reasonably high, by the time it was dark enough to image it had crossed the meridian and was rapidly approaching the trees. Always worth a try tho' and I managed to squeeze in 8 x 3 minute IR luminance and 2 each x 3 minute RGB before it disappeared. SBIG ST8 and Mirage8 at f6.3. Full size

On the other hand, Pegasus was well located for the bulk of the evening and NGC 7331 (in the so called 'Deer Lick' group) is always worth a visit! I collected data over two nights, and this is the result. How many galaxies can you see in this image? (Hint - more than 12!) Luminance 16 x 5 minutes, RGB each 5 x 5 minutes. SBIG ST8 and Mirage8 at f6.3 Full Size

This image and the above M16 image appeared in the October 2007 issue of Practical Astronomer. This image also featured in the October 2011 BBC Sky at Night television programme.

The Saturday night was particularly fine, and by the time I'd collected more data on NGC 7331 Ursa Major began to rise above the trees. M81 was the choice, and again I was able to accumulate a reasonable amount of data, although eventually cut short by the onset of twilight. The faint dispersed galaxy UGC 5336 is just visible left of centre. Luminance 9 x 5 minutes, RGB each 3 x 5 minutes. SBIG ST8 and Mirage8 at f6.3 Full Size

The nights of 21st and 22nd September 2007 were clear, so I had another look at the whole of the Veil nebula in Cygnus, this time with the SBIG ST8 and a 200 mm camera lens, which encompassed the whole area in one frame. All the data was using narrow band filters, but although I had some SIII data, in the end for the colours I used H-alpha for Red, OIII for blue and for green an artificially produced colour using Noel Carboni's actions. I felt this gave the nicest looking version.

Luminance 10 x 10 minutes Ha, OIII data 5 x 3 minutes binned 2x2

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The night of 1st. October 2007 was particularly clear, so despite a bright waning Moon I visited a galaxy group within the square of Pegasus with a variety of different types in a small area. NGC 7769 - the large galaxy to the right is a 12.8 magnitude medium wound spiral class Sb. I seem to have detected a faint outer arm - this needs further investigation on a fully dark night. The bright edge on galaxy is NGC 7771, a 12.3 magnitude barred tight spiral class SBa. Just below 7771 is NGC 7770 a peculiar 14.4 mag SO/a type galaxy. The small galaxy at the top of the picture is 15.8 mag. PGC 72612. The only classification I have found is Sbc - a loosely wound spiral. But it looks on my image more like a loose barred spiral. The faint blob in the centre is mag. 16.9 PGC 214992 and the small edge on galaxy to the right of 7771 is mag. 17.3 PGC 214993

A useful starting point for galaxy classifications can be found here

ST8 with LX200R at f10 (3048 mm focal length). Luminance 11 x 5 minutes, RGB each 4 x 5 minutes, all binned 1x1

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The 'peculiar' galaxies catalogued by Halton C. Arp are generally small, faint and certainly unusual. Often difficult to image successfully.

One group I have been chasing for a while is Arp 295 in Aquarius. Quite low down for me, never rising above 31 degrees, but very interesting - the galaxies A and B (the upper of the two) have suffered a close encounter at some time in the distant past with a consequential scattering of stars over a very long path.

The faint tails are tricky, and UK skies are rarely clean enough to allow sufficient contrast. A superb APOD image here shows the full glory. But a decent night on 6th. October 2007 was just good enough for me to capture enough data for this monochrome image. I hope to better this if possible!

SBIG ST-8XME, 12" LX200R at f10, 10 x 10 minute sub frames.

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On the night of 2nd. October 2007 I obtained monochrome data on the magnitude 10.4 slightly barred spiral galaxy NGC 2336 in Camelopardalis. But cloud intervened before I could get colour data, and I had to wait until 16th. October to complete the image. This attractive galaxy is one of the nearest reasonable sized galaxies to the North Pole, lying only 10 degrees from it, so accessible all the year round for Northern observers. Luminance 11 x 5 minutes, RGB each 5 x 5 minutes. SBIG ST8 with 12" LX200R at f10

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Following the capture of the colour data for NGC2336, I turned my attention to Stephan's Quintet in Pegasus, which although past culmination was still high in the sky. Not centred because of the need to find a suitable guide star. Luminance 9 x 5 minutes, RGB each 4 x 5 minutes. SBIG ST8 with 12" LX200R at f10. 'Mouseover' the medium size image for labels.

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The third week in October 2007 continued clear every night - almost unheard of! On 17th. I targeted the small but interesting barred spiral galaxy NGC 1073 in Cetus. Although listed as magnitude 10.8, it proved difficult at its relatively low altitude around 35 degrees, the problems compounded by slight mist and bad seeing. But a reasonable attempt - maybe I'll visit this one again!

Luminance 9 x 10 minutes, RGB each 5 x 5 minutes. SBIG ST8 and 12" LX200R at f10 For what it's worth, Full Size

As the week continued, so the Moon brightened, setting later every night. But around midnight on 18th. October 2007 I decided to forgo long focal lengths and relax with less stringent guiding with the SBIG ST8 and Astrophysics 0.7 reducer fitted to my little William Optics ZS66 SD refractor. M31, the Great Galaxy in Andromeda was the target, with this pleasing result.

Luminance 21 x 3 minutes, RGB each 7 x 3 minutes.

This image appeared in the October-December 2008 issue of the SPA magazine.

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Yet another clear night (20th Oct. 2007) but I was out for the evening and didn't get started until midnight. I first imaged IC1613 in Cetus with my Artemis 285. Here.

Then with the sky still decent overhead although I was struggling to keep awake, a go at the Flaming Star Nebula (IC405) in Auriga, and nearby NGC 1893 (the one with the tadpoles). Reasonably framed with the SBIG ST8 and WO ZS66 with AP reducer. Luminance 15 x 5 minutes Ha, Colour Ha Red (used 8 of the luminance frames), 8 x 5 mins O3 Blue, Green synthesised. This image appeared in the October-December 2010 issue of Popular Astronomy magazine.

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The night of 7th December was forecast to be clear. And boy, was it! Apart from a bit of hazing over around midnight, it was a beauty, particularly later on when it was crystal clear - Holmes just was there for the naked eye - no averted vision or searching. So I got a couple of shots of the comet, see that page, and some deep sky before packing in when it started to mist over in earnest approaching 5 am!

I first tackled NGC 772 in Aries, sometimes known as the Fiddlehead Galaxy for obvious reasons. I'd imaged it a few years ago with my MX716, but wanted something better. SBIG ST8 with 12" LX200R at prime focus. L 10 x 10 minutes, RGB each 5 x 3 minutes binned 2x2. Suffered slightly from the early haze, but still a considerable improvement on my previous image.

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I definitely haven't imaged the planetary nebula NGC 2371 before. In Gemini, near Castor, but usually passed over for the better known Eskimo Nebula. Same exposure details as for 772. Very interesting bipolar shape, definitely reminds me of a toffee in purple wrapping out of a Quality Street tin. I hereby name it the Purple Toffee Nebula. It's cropped out of the full frame - it was off centre to get a decent guide star.

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After visiting Comet Holmes on the night of 11th/12th December I turned my attention to the nearby planetary nebula, M76 - the 'Little Dumbell' in Perseus, and obtained this image. Cropped from the original frame. SBIG ST-8XME and 12" LX200R at f10. Luminance 15 x 5 minutes, RGB each 5 x 5 minutes.

This image appeared in the October-December 2008 issue of the SPA magazine 

Also see 'Hubble Palette' version.