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After some trial and error I'm getting some very good guiding results with PHD2 now. 60mm guidescope and ASI290MM mini camera. The M42 image taken late March was 12 x 15 second exposures taken manually with my dslr / C8 and a stopwatch. Stacked in DSS and played with a bit in GIMP. On the night I couldn't get APT to register the camera - turned out to be the mini USB cable (although later trials point to the socket in the camera being a bit loose too).
Bought an iOPTRON iPOLAR that arrived on Friday and had a play with that which has resulted in near perfect polar alignment. 2 star alignment and an additional 2 calibration stars on my Advanced GT mount means I'm getting very accurate GOTOs now and PHD2 (through the ST4 port on the ASI camera) seems to be guiding very well. Last night after more cable faffing I managed to get everything working together to the point where I felt confident enough to leave it running by itself for an hour and a half (45 minutes of 180 second exposures plus 3 minutes each exposure to save the file - I've since found out I shouldn't have noise reduction switched on in the camera - DOH!) so M51 is 15 x 180 second @ ISO 800 lights and 5 x 180 second darks. A little manipulation in GIMP and I think it's come out very well. Obviously still have a lot to learn and I'm going to have to start taking much longer exposures but I'm quite pleased with these 2 pictures.
After a day of mixed weather skies looked very clear Thursday 11/3 so headed out around 9pm to take advantage of a moonless night.
Walking in straight from bright lights seeing & transparency were looking good - double cluster & beehive were naked eye visible with direct vision and some Messier dustiness in Auriga with an averted view. I had a vague plan to have a proper go at the Leo Triplet & had spent a bit of time on stellarium to plan how to star-hop in via Chertan & L73. First though I North aligned SynScan on Sirius and Mars (the top 2 suggestions thrown up by the app) & slewed to the the Pleiades to check alignment, which was good. Couldn't resist having a look at the double cluster from there which was so crisp and deep, then via M34 also looking good, to M42 (of course).
The Orion nebula was the best I've seen it yet, looking directly at the Trapezium I could see 5 stars & real cloudy swirls above and below, panning upward there was a hint of dust in the running man area, couldn't discern the running man shape, but haven't seen this much before. Moving on up, Sigma Orionis was such a perfect little system & I toyed with the idea of binning galaxy hunting altogether and going after some close Doubles - Sirius even looked quite steady. I resisted as dark adaption was by now starting to work, before leaving the area though I had a quick go at finding M79, a low-down globular in Lepus most of which constellation was just about visible merging into the LP above the centre of town to the South. I keyed it into the GoTo & was surprised by a short slew to the E. Looking in the eyepiece I saw...something, very faint, grey glow around two dim fuzzy stars with a hint of dark lane between, not the expected Globular - checking again it turned out that I had entered M78 by mistake but there it was, a bonus nebula - not visually spectacular but nice to find & fascinating to look-up later. I made a quick sketch to confirm and tried for M79, but no, far too low by now.
I figured night vision was by now good enough to have a crack at the Leo Triplet and took a GoTo to Regulus & centred. I had manually added Chertan and 73 Leonis to the app and duly centred them to get the best possible local alignment. Putting L73 in the top L of the field I should be able to pick up M66 bottom right. I couldn't be sure so moved in a pattern around & picked up a fuzz patch. Small adjustments gave me a field with two luminous patches to L & R with a star at the top, I couldn't work this out and they were faint enough to be on the borders of imagination. Everything passed behind a bank of thin cloud for a few moments and I used the time to sketch (incredibly roughly) what I had seen so far. As the cloud cleared away it weirdly helped confirm that the two luminous patches were absolutely real & I gave them a bit more concentrated attention with averted vision. As I did so a third area top R of field made itself vaguely apparent. My expectation management on galaxies is now starting to get a bit more realistic so I let this one sit for a while and added its general position to my sketch. Still baffled by the field related to what I was sure was L73 I made as good a sketch as I could of both the EP & finder fields for later confirmation ( struggling with glasses on/off, red headtorch & not wanting to fire up the bright phone app as magnitude was so marginal).
I took a last long look and resolved to figure it out with the atlas & app back home. I later realised that what I had done is, after panning around, manage to confuse the star L73 with a fainter close by star (HD98388-apparently) and had absolutely been looking at all three galaxies in the Leo Triplet - the sketch, although crude, gave me no doubt that I had landed in the right spot this time, just the satisfaction was deferred until I was back inside - something I am fast learning goes with the territory of galaxy hunting with a small scope!
36 Million light years though, a new personal space-travel record
I moved on to other Leo Messier galaxies & took a quick look at M95 & M96 which I found relatively easily, a dim pair of headlights but no detail, then wandered across to Makarian's chain and marvelled at the sheer number of little fuzzy signatures that wouldn't resolve to points. Concentration was waning a bit by this stage so I decided to save trying to identify precisely what I was seeing to another night when I could be out later and see them higher out of the murk.
I finished with the Mak back on M81 & 2 which looked bright by comparison and gave hints of some spiral & shading detail on this night of exceptional transparency - amazing crisp view with them both in the widest field the Mak can deliver (just over 1 degree with a 24mm Baader Hyperion fixed, 63x).
As I packed up the scope the naked eye panorama was just fab and seemed after so much dim fuzzy concentration, incredibly bright. I finished with a 15 minute tour of open clusters with a pair of 10x50s that was really stunning. So many stars in the double cluster, the Alpha Perseii , Pleiades, Hyades & Orion's belt just gorgeous whilst the Beehive lived up to its name like a swarm of fireflies.
Starting to enjoy galaxy hunting for its own sake but for sheer beauty the binoculars had it tonight. A great couple of hours that left my mind in time & space for a long while after I got back.
I shot luminance for this trio of galaxies in December and after two clear nights in January I managed to get RGB as well.
Larger image can be found in my blog: https://www.evenfall.space/post/galactic-waltz
SkyWatcher Esprit 100mm f/5.5
EQ6 guided with ASI224MC
TS Optics LRGB filters. L: 196x120s, R: 60x120s, G: 72x120s, B: 60x120s. Total integration time approx. 13 hours.
2020 hasn’t been a great year for anyone, but we’ve had a good comet, and some clear nights. I haven’t been the most productive, or even a very good imager this year, but I’m quite pleased with what I’ve learnt, narrowband has been a revelation . So I thought I would share a few of my images, and a video I put together or them. Thanks for all the great images and tips that have been posted. Wishing you all a happy Christmas and a great 2021.
M65, M66 and NGC 3628 - The Leo Triplet. Photographed on May 14. Skywatcher 150P with a Nikon D3200 at prime focus. EQ3-2 mount with RA motor drive (no guiding).
19 subs at ISO 800 - 30s each. Aligned and stacked in Deep Sky Stacker to give resulting 4min 30s exposure. Processed in Startools to crop, bin, stretch and colour balance.
This was my second time around to process this image - starting to get the hang of Startools now.