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  1. 70 x 300s H-alpha, 16 x RG&B, 300s each, no darks (hot pixel removal in Astroart instead). Subframes were stacked in Astroart, the outputs converted to TIF files and then colour-composited in PaintShop Pro. The colour data was a bit of a pig to process with the software I have. First of all it became apparent that 300 second subs probably weren't long enough. I had to stretch the resultant stacks quite a way to get any decent detail, which introduced more noise than I really wanted. Then the blue colour stack turned out to be a slightly different size to the others, despite all being full frame without any need to resize. I always refocus between filter changes as the colour correction on my old Vixen 114 ED refractor is not brilliant, so I guess this was the cause, particularly on the blue channel. This made it difficult to stack the images for colour composition. I did my best to manually rotate and resize in PaintShop, but the stars still show some odd haloes where the channels didn't quite line up. I made two colour images, one created by the addition of green and blue channels (20 x 300s subframes for each) to the H-alpha image above, which was used as the red channel for an RGB composite. This was a rather violent red, as anticipated, so I blended it with an HaRGB stack, which was the usual washed-out pink. The blend gave a reasonable depth of colour. The blue brilliance of the brighter stars in the cluster has led to some reflection flaring around them. I find the effect quite pleasing, however. The “Fox Fur Nebula” (Sharpless 273) can be seen below S Monocerotis in the above image. Its resemblance to road-kill is quite remarkable, even in this modest image. The bluish area arises from the reflection of starlight from dust in the region. Some images show this reflection nebulosity to be much more extensive than seen here, probably because I did not compensate for the poorer blue sensitivity of the CCD with longer blue subs. The Christmas Tree Cluster is visible to the naked eye in good conditions and appears quite striking in binoculars. The stars forming the Christmas tree shape, along with dozens of other tiny bright stars within the cluster, are a magical sight as seen in my VC200L with a 25mm eyepiece. None of the associated nebulosity is visible however, at least, not to me.
  2. After such a long wait.... two nights in a row. This time I had just over an hour and a half. I started my evening in Monoceros by locating NGC 2264, the Christmas Tree cluster. I was unable to see any hint of nebulosity but the cluster is attractive none the less. The sky looked reasonably transparent so I turned slightly to the South to look at the Rosette cluster NGC 2244. Out came the 8mm eyepiece with the UHC-s filter in hope to see a little more but to start with I could only see the stars of the cluster. After a minute or so, I started to sweep across the whole area and began to notice that the centre was darker than its surrounding. The milky radiance of NGC 2237 (Caldwell 49, the Rosette Nebula) was most noticable beyond the stars HD46106 and HD46149 (to the North...ish) but could be detected all around the cluster and the darker centre. The outer edge of the nebula's halo was impossible to discern however, due to its more gradual dimming. I was stunned that I managed to pick anything up at all. My next target was the second brightest planetary nebula in Gemini, (NGC 2371 and NGC 2372). The area was reasonably easy to find but the nebula did not come through until I had the filtered 8mm eyepiece trained on it. Initially I could just detect a condensed fuzz but as I stared at it, I seemed to detect a figure of eight shape to it with averted vision. I then turned my attention to Leo. A pair of galaxies equidistant between Zeta and Gamma Leonis with an asterism as a clear marker. They looked quite similar to eachother in the same 8mm eyepiece field of view and were moderately difficult to see. NGC 3190 was slightly easier to view than NGC 3193, as the latter was very close to a ninth magnitude star which added a minor distraction to its observation. My final target was NGC 4214 in Canes Venatici. This was very tough, despite its recorded magnitude of just 9.8. Beyond 6 Canes Venaticorum lies the diffuse ellipse of NGC 4244 and beyond that with ever fewer and feinter marker stars was a quite large circular ghostly glow of the target galaxy. By this time the cold had set in and so I called it a night. Very happy with my new finds, both tonight and yesterday. ____________________________________________________________ Observing Session: Tuesday 2nd April 2013, 20:50 hrs to 22:25 hrs BST VLM at Zenith: 5.2 New - Revisited - Failed
  3. 1st February 2016 (9:00/9:30pm CET) Clear night, semi rural skies in South Spain (my patio). Binocular TS Marine 15x85 with tripod. Nice view today with clear skies of NGC 2264,the large brilliant open cluster with the stellar pattern of a Christmas tree. Amazingly, this very young cluster (only 3 million years) was never included in the Messier list. Nearly all of of its 20 stars are visible in medium size binoculars. 15 Monocerotis is the brightest star of the cluster, and it marks the half-degree base long of the tree, pointing to the North. Through 15x85 binoculars the 8.2 mag orange star on the East side of the tree is easily visible. The wedge-shaped Cone Nebula (invisible through medium size binoculars) forms the apex. Although the southern stars form the tree’s top, they don’t belong to this cluster. That is, they’re not moving through space with the main cluster. 3 degrees North from the Christmas tree, in the same FoV of stars Alzirr and 30 Gem, there is a small asterism (see image). I never read before about this asterism, but this little Christmas tree just jumped in my FoV. It’s formed with just 4 stars, shining at 5.9, 7.6, 8.1 and 8.5 mags. The asterism distinctive stellar pattern reminds a little Christmas tree, mainly after observing the big one. The brightest star HIP 31876 is actually a double star with a companion shinning at 9.3 mag separated just 10 arc seconds. Both of them form the apex of the Christmas tree. Overall, this asterism looks like a nice “little Christmas tree”. The last Christmas tree is just NGC 2232. It’s perfect 45 arc min conic shape reminds another Christmas tree. The blue-white central star is10 Monocerotis, which shines at 5.1 mag. Most of its other 20 stars range between 8th and 10th magnitude. This is one of the nearest open cluster to us. Only about 10 of the 1500 open clusters in our galaxy are closer. In summary, we should enjoy three Christmas seasons per year.
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