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Sunday 23 March 2014



Another night of clear skies forecast for most of the night, however it was also forecast with some low temperatures around freezing point. With barely even seeing a star over the last week I was certainly determined to get out with all the gear and make the most of the night, even if it was work the following day.

The daylight is certainly starting to draw out now as Jupiter become clearly visible from around 19:00 and most views in the zenith to southern skies really do not pick up for another hour after that.

After my last success of capturing detail in Jupiter with the webcam I was keen to get out and see if I could improve. After spending around 20 - 30 minutes messing around with the cam and laptop I could barely see any detail at all. It may have been down to me or the skies were just not as clear as they looked on this cloudless evening. All was not lost as I was going to make the most of things until the cold told my feet to pack up.

With the scope reasonably polar aligned and the MD working well I could see Pleiades M45 still above the house soon to be out of site for the night. Back to one of my favourite parts and I sat the EOS 300D on top of the scope and lined up to M45 at a FL of 300mm. I set the intervalometer to take 15 second exposures with the usual gap of 12 seconds to allow for the RAW file to be written to the card and set it off. While the camera was clicking away I went back in the house and grabbed the 10x50 bins and tripod for some extra viewing.

Just a couple of days earlier someone had posted a question about sketches here which turned out to be a nice thread. This had got me in the mind of having a go myself. So grabbing a pencil and small sheet of paper I lined up the bins to Pleiades M45 as I thought that this may be a nice easy target for my first ever attempt at a sketch. I probably spent about 15 minutes back and forth between the bins and looking down at my piece of paper illuminated by my little pocket red torch hung from the tripod. It's certainly right what someone mentioned in that when you do a sketch you really do take in everything that is in the EP. Pleiades has always amazed me being so bright and a great little cluster ideal for the bins. My finished attempt at a first sketch can be found in the link below.

Pleiades - My First Sketch

By the time I had finished my sketching (attempt at a sketch that is) I went back to the camera and it had finished its run. Checking the last few images and M45 had already started to drop below the roof of the house. In the end when I checked them all later on and processed them I only had the first 15 lights usable to stack. Below is the link to what I got on the camera.

M45 15 Lights 20 Darks 20 Bias

With M45 gone out of sight it was time to move on to another target. I really wanted to try and catch as much detail as I could and was keen to get a star filled sky. Next target was Beehive Cluster M44. It was rather dim in the sky so decided to go for a more wide field shot and focused on a bright object before roughly lining up where it was. Being a shorter FL at 75mm and still on the scope with the MD running the exposure time was increased to 25 second exposures. I can't remember how many lights I took but I do know that I forgot to record any darks, so ended up using some darks from the others I created on the night even though the exposure times were different. I was a bit out on the alignment but when I processed it was amazed just how much detail I pulled out.

M44 Beehive Cluster

The feet were starting to send me a message that they were not happy with the temperature. So I decided to go for longer exposures. So far I've searched for M81 / M82 three times, the first two I just couldn't find in the scope, think I had spotted them with the bins but can't be sure. On the third time I had to sweep the sky in the rough area before I eventually found them. So this time I used the Rigel to point me where I thought they were and left the camera at the 75mm FL. With the scope now pointing right near the zenith the exposure settings were changed to 45 seconds and a gap of 15 seconds between exposures and 30 lights to be taken. Started the images running and nipped back in the kitchen to make a nice hot cup of tea (hopefully the feet may get some of that heat). Going back outside with a nice cup of tea really did help to keep me going longer. When the camera finally finished after 30 minutes, the lens cap was put on and another 20 minutes later for the darks to be taken. At this point I took my 20 bias images to cover for all the nights attempts. Now I wasn't expecting much other than hopefully a fully star filled sky. To my surprise when I processed the images right in the middle you can clearly make out M81 and M82. Link below is what I managed to record. Hopefully next time I can use a longer FL and line it up correctly again to get more detail.

M81 / M82 Wide Field

The one good thing about going from my EOS 300 film camera to the EOS 300D digital camera is that the crop factor on the DSLR is 1.6 making the 75mm lens actually go to a 120mm lens and the 300mm go to a 480mm. What isn't so good is that all my wide angled lenses are no longer wide.

It was around midnight that the feet finally sent the message to the brain they didn't want no more cold, so it was time to pack up. Everything back in the kitchen to air before packing away. The lens cover on the scope was actually iced over as I had left it on top of the kids trampoline, but everything else was pretty clear. The primary did take quite a while to clear after it hit the heat in the house, but was all dry when I went to bed.

Things all packed away so it was time to download the images and stack them all in DSS. All the results you have seen from the links above.

Looking to get out on the next clear night to do some more now.

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Your post was interesting to read: the image of the images were excellent, particularly the Beehive Cluster.

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