(My) Astronomy Picture(s) of the Day

I designed this part of my website to chronicle my journey into astrophotography / astroimaging. This main page, in fact, details the highlights of that journey (most recent images at the top), showing what can be accomplished with some very modest equipment and a Zenic passion for the Universe. The icons below are links to my best images organized by category. Almost all of the DSO images here were processed using free software called DeepSkyStacker (DSS), stacking only multiple 20 second exposures - no sophisticated guiding, no cooled camera, no equatorial mount or wedge - just an LX200R 10 inch SCT telescope on an alt-az mount, and a Canon Rebel DSLR. My goal is the same as everyone elses - to document this fantastically beautiful Universe from within. I hope you enjoy these images as much as I enjoyed taking them!



Mars Neptune Conjunction - by Terry Riopka Mars Neptune and Triton - by Terry Riopka

Not to sound too pretentious about this, but serendipity is something that interests me from a philosophical standpoint ...the way some things happen to people that is randomly relevant to their lives. Of course, coincidences do happen, but sometimes they're just a little *too* specific... Here's a picture of the Mars-Neptune conjunction, which occurred the night of Dec. 7, 2018 when I happened to be out with my telescope in Madison. One closer than this won't happen again until the year 2210. I just incidentally decided to take a picture of both Mars and Neptune (separately) while I was out looking for the comet, and "discovered" they were really close to each other (I can't believe I almost missed this!). The exposure on the left is 1 second using my Rebel T3i with focal reducer. You can clearly see the bluish-green disk of Neptune and a hint at the gibbous disk of Mars, only 87% illuminated due to its oblique position in orbit relative to Earth. The exposure on the right is about 20sec. If you look really carefully, you can see Neptune's moon Triton to the right really close beside it, 250,000 times fainter than Mars! That was unexpected for me....I really didn't think Triton could show up like that! More detailed imaging information is given here .


Supernova 2018ivc GIF - by Terry Riopka Supernova 2018ivc in M77 - by Terry Riopka

This supernova was discovered Nov. 24, 2018 in the galaxy M77, constellation Cetus. I show it here in a blinking GIF (left), produced by superimposing an image of M77 I took about 4 years ago, with one I took on Dec. 4, 2018 combining images taken between 4 and 5 UTC. The second image (right) is another image of the galaxy taken 3 days later, Dec. 7, 2018, again showing the supernova, but in a slightly clearer image. I used the Dec. 4th image because it better matched the quality of the one I took 4 years ago. M77 is a barred spiral galaxy in Cetus, and also the brightest known Seyfert Galaxy. It is about 47 million light years away with an active nucleus but a significant amount of interstellar dust, possibly obscuring the supernova burst. More detailed imaging information is given here .


Mars Opposition in 2016 video by Terry Riopka Mars Opposition in 2016 by Terry Riopka
Mars - Dark Blue Filter video by Terry Riopka Mars - Dark Blue Filter by Terry Riopka

Interesting side by side comparison of Mars oppositions in May 2016 (top) and August 2018 (bottom). Video images are shown on the left, and the corresponding stacked and post-processed images are shown on the right. Each video is about 2 minutes long, taken using a Celestron Skyris 132c camera through a Powermate 2.5X on a 10" LX200R Meade scope. Individual frames were extracted and stacked using a freeware program called Registax and then post-processed in GIMP. Note the clear difference in the atmospheric conditions associated with the acquired videos. You can see significantly more jitter and distortion in the top video as compared to the lower one. This is also reflected in the amount and clarity of the detail visible in the final post-processed images. The size difference between the two is also quite noticeable. The Mars opposition in 2018 (bottom) was a perihelic opposition, which means that the 2018 opposition occurred with Mars not only closest to the Earth, but also closest to the Sun, resulting in one of the closest oppositions since 2003! At the time of the image acquisitions (May 12, 2016 and August 7, 2018) apparent Mars diameters were 18.2" and 24.1" respectively, a difference clearly visible in the two sets of images. More detailed imaging information for the two stacked images (and their videos) are available here: Mars at opposition in 2016 and Mars at opposition in 2018.


Venus - First Time Capture  by Terry Riopka Mars-87PercentIlluminated - Dark Blue Filter  by Terry Riopka

Two unrelated images, except for the fact that they are both planets closest to Earth:) This was my first image of Venus taken Sept. 3, 2018, at only about 15 degrees altitude, and my very last video with my Skyris 132c camera. My Skyris camera flaked out on me soon after, making me go out and buy the ZWO ASI385 color camera. I decided on the ASI385 camera because it had the same pixel size as the Skyris, but a wider field and faster frame rate. The image of Mars on the right is one of my first planetary images using the new camera, taken the night of Oct. 14, 2018. I was able to get over 21000 frames out of a 2 minute video at over 200 frames a second! I used a dark blue planetary filter, which seems to bring out nice detail (as it did with my previous attempt using my Skyris camera here ). Not sure why, but the balance of colors in the Skyris image was less affected by the deep blue filter than it was in the ASI385 - could it have been the brightness of the planet at opposition...? or a difference in the spectral response of the camera? In any case, the south polar cap shows up nicely here. Mars is only 87% illuminated, due to its angle with respect to Earth and so shows quite a dramatic phase.


Mars - No Filter by Terry Riopka Mars - Yellow Filter by Terry Riopka
Mars - Dark Blue Filter by Terry Riopka Mars - Orange Filter by Terry Riopka

With Mars at opposition, it is so bright and large, it's a perfect opportunity to test out some planetary filters. Looks like the global dust storm on Mars that started in June has now subsided, thankfully. Here are four differently filtered versions of Mars taken the night of August 6, 2018. Clockwise from the top left are the following: un-filtered, yellow filter, orange filter and deep-blue filter. Normally my orange filter brings out the best contrast in Mars features for me, but with Mars so bright I was able to use my dark blue filter (which I rarely use) and still get a decent frame rate. I was pleasantly surprised with the wonderful detail this filter was able to extract. Usually blue filters are supposed to only enhance polar ice caps and limb haze, and generally obscure surface features. I've read that ocassionally surface features are darkened and made visible as well (as in this image!), although the phenomenon is not well understood. Links to more details regarding imaging details are here: unfiltered, yellow filtered, orange filtered, and dark blue filtered.


Mars-Jupiter-Saturn in one night - by Terry Riopka

Three planets in one night! The conditions weren't great, but I managed to get these three images the night of July 12-13, 2018 in Guilford, CT. I've been able to image each of these better in the past, but I couldn't pass up three in a row like this. I was a little disappointed with Mars, considering it was so close to opposition (wow was it bright!) but then I heard Mars was being enveloped in a global sandstorm that started June 20th and might continue into September! Sigh...I was looking forward to getting some nice images of Mars this time around. But looks like my Opportunity has been shut down (pun intended:). In any case, I used an orange planetary filter for Mars, which brought out some detail - I was surprised to see even that, but happy I was able to get something. I could not see any polar caps however. Conditions were poor so I couldn't even image Cassini's division all the way around - but it still looked beautiful as ever. I have more details about the actual imaging here for Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.


NGC1977 - Running Man Nebula  by Terry Riopka

I took this on a very cold night this month, Jan. 13, 2018, with my Canon T3i and a focal reducer, using my standard ISO1600, averaging about 80 20sec exposures for a total time of about 25 minutes. Very nice nebula, and the first time I've imaged it in Concord, primarily due the trees in my backyard blocking my view of the southern sky. However, much to my wife's disappointment, they have now been cut down (yay!) allowing me easier and more regular access to Orion! So, here is a diffuse reflection nebula - NGC1977, also known as the Running Man Nebula, found along the sword of Orion just north of M42, and located some 1,460 light-years away. Herbig-Haro 45, an area of protostar formation is visible bottom center, and the main center area is divided by darker lanes of red glowing ionized hydrogen gas which resembles a man or ghost. Most of the scattered blue light is caused by several bright young stars - one of them the bright star 42 Ori - and each only 2 to 4 million years old.


Total Solar Eclipse 2017 by Terry Riopka

Here's a gorgeous image of the total Solar Eclipse on Aug. 21st, 2017, taken from a mountain top in Chilhowee, Tennessee. I took this through BAADER AstroSolar? Safety Film 5.0 using 1/800 sec exposure and ISO200 on a Canon T3i with a 70-300mm USM telephoto lens set at 200mm. Go to the rest of my eclipse pictures here.

This was my first total Solar Eclipse. I had originally planned *not* to take any pictures, as I had heard many say that taking pictures detracts from your very first experience. However, I did some research and found an application called "Eclipse Orchestrator", a great program by Moonglow Technologies that automates the image acquisition process during the eclipse, freeing you to watch the eclipse as it was meant to be watched. I must say the anticipation of the event, without doubt, heightened the experience. The appearance of two sets of sunspots made viewing the partial stage that much more exciting. The temperature, which had been 101 degrees Farhenheit before the eclipse began, steadily began to decrease as totality approached. The most obvious impending sign of the climactic event was the gradual descent of an ethereal, subdued lighting over our surroundings. When the time finally came, the transition was extraordinarily fast (as you'd expect with the shadow moving at almost 1500 mph!). Suddenly, within mere moments, the shadow of the umbra flowed across the trees and mountains in front of us, darkening the world below us. In the distance, clouds were suddenly illuminated as if by the setting of the sun. Bailey's beads shimmered and totality began. The temperature had dropped to a mere 81 degrees Fahrenheit. I looked up, and saw a black hole in the sky: Mars a hand distance to the right, Mercury a hand distance to the left, Venus about three times that distance to the right, and Jupiter about twice that to the left. It was dark around the hybrid body with stars around, with the rest of the sky in varying shades of blue. I had originally planned to look at the eclipse with my binoculars, but I never got the chance. I stood mesmerized by the event with little time to take in what was constantly changing before me: fine coronal tendrils streaming from the surface of the Sun in flux as I watched without looking away. And before I knew it, totality came to an end. I must say I felt underwhelmed, after hearing so much about this life changing experience. Has it changed me? I can say this. As time goes on, the memory of that singular event continues to linger. My mind's eye continues to return to that brief moment in time to when a black hole formed in the sky and the sun was devoured by its negative image. The coronal tendrils continue to stream forth from the star that is my sun, and I can't seem to take my eyes off it.


IC4593 - White Eyed Pea Nebula  by Terry Riopka

This is an image of IC4593, also known as the White Eyed Pea Nebula in the constellation of Hercules. I took this on a partly cloudy, moonless night the evening of July 16th, 2017 in Rhinecliff, NY. I'm continuing my series of very small planetaries - this one is only about 12" x 10", one of the smallest ones I've imaged with my LX200R 10". Despite its small size, I'm still using my focal reducer to insure I have enough stars for registration. My image came out quite well for such a small planetary clearly showing an elongation in the NW-SE direction, with a bright white 11.3 mag central star and a light green nebulous halo. This is a relatively old planetary nebula about 0.7 light years in diameter and located about 6800 light years from Earth. The corresponding image in the inset is a Hubble image showing the extent to which my imaging was capable of extracting the shape of the nebula. Ok, but room for improvement! You can look here to see imaging details .


J900 - PK194+2.1  by Terry Riopka

J900 (also known as PK194 +2.1) in Gemini is another really small planetary which came out reasonably well. I took this on January 30, 2017 in Concord, MA with my 10 inch LX200R and Canon T3i using an f/6.3 focal reducer. I obtained this image by stacking 74 20sec exposures at ISO1600 for a total of about 25 minutes. You can see some tracking issues as evident by the color misalignment of the star in the zoomed image. Nevertheless, there is still some good edge definition in this small high-excitation nebula. Located about 20000 light years away, this nebula was first noticed by Robert Jonckheere of the Royal Observatory in 1912. It has been observed to have two lobes, both just barely visible in my image. Below the main image are three versions of the nebula. The first is an interpolated zoomed-in crop of the nebula in the original image above. The second is a Hubble image in N2, OIII and wide band green light. Finally, the third inset is an infrared image taken from an Astronomical Journal article called "The unusual morphology of molecular hydrogen emission in the planetary nebula J900". The boundary of the infrared image is (coincidentally?) remarkably similar to the visible light image taken by me. Nice detail for such a small nebula, despite the tracking! FYI, as usual, I tried to manually select only the best images for processing. Nevertheless, this time nothing I tried seemed to beat stacking the top 80% (according to DSS). I had a fairly consistent star elongation for all my images due to my tracking which I think resulted in consistent smearing of detail. Because of that, I wasn't able to improve the sharpnesss of the image but managed to signficantly reduce the noise by using the largest number of reasonably good frames.


Well, I waited about a year for this opportunity! I finally captured a picture of the International Space Station transiting across the surface of the Moon, on 6:07am on January 17, 2017! I normally use my web cam and telescope tracking to obtain images of ISS, but this time, all I had to do was focus on the Moon with my DSLR, then sit and wait. I managed to capture two images of the space station using 1/4000 sec exposure at ISO3200. My T3i only gets about 3.5 frames a second, so this was probably the best I could do. I must say, as far as experiences go, this probably sounds fairly mundane. However, I was quite surprised at the exhiliration I felt anticipating and then actually capturing these these images as the space station raced across the sky and across the Moon's disk...something about the realness and "beingness" of the event that makes you appreciate being alive...I know quite dramatic, but there are jewels everywhere if you know how to look for them. Anyway...if you're interested you need to check out CalcSky which can send out email notices about events like this to you, and of course, Heavens Above, a great site that can give you detailed times, coordinates and maps of all sorts of satellite events.


NGC7026 - Cheeseburger Nebula  by Terry Riopka

NGC7026, also referred to colloquially as the "Cheeseburger" planetary nebula, is a small planetary found in the constellation Cygnus. It's an intricate 11th mag bipolar planetary nebula located about 6000 light years away. As usual, I took this image with a Canon T3i and Optec Lepus focal reducer through my 10" Meade, stacking 65 20sec exposures in DeepskyStacker for a total exposure of about 22 minutes. I was able to acquire a very nice, sharp image of the lobed structure of this nebula, in the late evening of Oct. 8, 2016, Concord MA. Click on this link to see a blended movie clip of the Hubble image version of this nebula superimposed on my image. My tracking wasn't perfect, but the details of my image match up nicely with the Hubble image!


PK64+15.1 Planetary by Terry Riopka

This tiny planetary known as Minkowski 1-64, is the second ring nebula in Lyra, but only 18" in diameter and quite faint at 13.3 mag. It is very close to being circular with only a slight elongation, and no detectable central star. This image I took Aug. 3, 2016, shows the very small relative size of the planetary in the field of view of my focal reducer - barely the size of a star! If you click on the image, you'll see an enhanced version of the nebula at the center of the image. That image actually consists of only the best 19 out of 99 frames I had, noticeably sharper (but somewhat noisier) than the image I obtained using 75% of the best quality images according to DSS shown here. This shows you the slight advantage you get from hand picking the best frames vs. relying on DSS completely, sharper stars and improved detail within the nebula itself, despite the small number of frames. I have found that of all deep sky objects, planetaries seem to benefit the most from using only the best frames.


Mars at Opposition 2016 by Terry Riopka

The many different faces of Mars! Here's a composite view of several Mars images I acquired during this year's Mars opposition. Clockwise from the top left, we have May 12, May 21, May 26 and June 24 of this year (2016). I wasn't able to get quite the detail I did previous years...I'm not sure if it was the atmosphere conditions or a minor difference in my collimation. I have yet to learn to tell the difference! Nevertheless, some beautiful views of the next planet we will probably colonize:)


Europa Transit

Back to Jupiter after a long hiatus! Amazing what stacking several thousand images can do... even poor quality ones at that! I stacked over 4700 images to get this image, using almost everything I had because I had so few really good frames. Nevertheless, with more frames, and the higher magnification of my 2X Powermate and Skyris camera, I was able to pull out some impressive detail despite what I thought were very mediocre atmospheric conditions the night of April 15, 2016. There were multiple moon transits that night...I managed to just miss the Io transit, but managed to catch the beginning of a Europa moon and shadow transit and a nice view of the red spot! If you click on the following short GIF, you can just barely see Europa against the backdrop of Jupiter off its left edge. The moon brightens suddenly in the last frame of the 5 frame sequence. Ok images, but still waiting for better conditions...!


ISS Pass

I obtained this image of the International Space Station back in June. This was the first time I was able to track the station for several hundred frames compared to my usual 2 or 3! Unfortunately, without a video tracking system, the LX200R tracker is just not good enough to maintain centered tracking of the station. The result is that you need to constantly adjust the tracking to keep the station centered on the chip. This doesn't allow for any time to adjust brightness or focus during the pass - so it's important to get it right from the start! This image was one single frame taken out of a 5 minute video obtained by my Skyris camera and 2X Powermate using my 10" LX200R SCT.


M19 - NGC6273 M62 - NGC6266
NGC6544 - Starfish Cluster NGC6536

I fought off armies of mosquitoes to get these...several globulars in the -30 degree declination vicinity, clockwise starting from the top left: M19, M62, NGC6356 (in Ophiuchus) and NGC6544 (in Sagittarius). You can click on the names to get more picture info. They were all taken end of June, middle of July time frame. I normally shoot about 100 20sec exposures at a time, but due to the low declination, I ended up shooting tree limbs for more than half of them! However, I did manage to pull out some nice color - in fact - too much color...I wondered why, despite my attention to focus and tracking, my images still did not come out as clear as I would have liked them to, not to mention the overwhelming reddish hue of the stars. Red giants? - I don't think so - at least not that many! Of course, the reason is the same as why the setting sun appears red and blurry on the horizon. Seems obvious, but you don't usually think of atmosphere as affecting deep sky objects in that way (at least I didn't), but obviously it does. Nevertheless, the contrast between the blue and red stars in M62 is real and quite beautiful, as is the oblate shape of M19, an illusion caused by its stars being symmetrically obscured by interstellar dust and gas! As you can see, all globulars are *not* the same - they each have their own unique character, and all stunning in their own way.


Jupiter-Venus Conjunction

I got lucky with this shot! Just as the clouds came rolling in, I managed to take this image of both Venus and Jupiter on June 30, 2015, a mere third of a degree apart using my 10" LX200R with 0.62X focal reducer. Jupiter had to be enhanced separately, but with a little work, the composite came out great! If you look closely, you can see several bands on the planet, including a small reddish smudge, which of course, is the red spot! - I verified it wasn't an artifact of the processing by looking up the transit time of the Red spot - right where it was supposed to be. Pretty amazing considering the magnification and the resolution of the image! This image also shows that it *is* possible to get a reasonable image of both Venus and Jupiter in the same frame using a single exposure time (in this case 1/400s and ISO400), provided you can enhance Jupiter sufficiently. Regarding the image processing: Jupiter was taken from another frame with the same exposure time but only about 30 seconds after the first Venus/Jupiter image was. The Jupiter region in the second image was enhanced, then cut out and pasted over top of the Jupiter in the first Venus/Jupiter image, then blended around the edges to improve its appearance. Absolutely, creative license, and maybe too much, but representative of the reality at the time, and the end result was a quite pleasing, capturing the moment as I saw it. To me, that's what much of this is all about - preserving memories and capturing the Universe's best moments!


Jupiter - Logitech vs. Skyris

While at NEAIC and NEAF this year, the Celestron Skyris camera got recommended for planetary imaging. I was skeptical, thinking it was just an expensive glorified webcam. But...Chris Go seemed to think it was worth the $350 so I thought I'd give it a shot. Was it worth it? You can see for yourself above. I acquired two 75 second movies of Jupiter May 2, 2015, one with my converted Logitech 9000 webcam, and one with the Skyris separated by about 10 minutes. Top left is the result of stacking 1100 frames from my Logitech 9000 and top right is the result of stacking 2600 frames from the Skyris - the sizes are a little different because the pixel size on the Logitech is smaller (one advantage) but the image is definitely better with Skyris! The faster frame rate (higher sensitivity) with Skyris lets me get about 2-4 times the number of frames in the same time, so noise is reduced - nevertheless, I don't think that accounts for all the difference. In fact, I was actually surprised at the detail I was able to get, despite the pretty bad atmospheric conditions that night. I had to work *a lot* harder to get the enhanced image with the Logitech. The bottom image is an image of Jupiter I took May 23, 2015 stacking 4700 frames from the Skyris - conditions were pretty good, but definitely not as good as when I got this one about two years ago. Too bad I didn't have the Skyris then! Nevertheless, goes to show you how important atmospheric conditions are in the equation. Do you need to go to an even better camera for planetary imaging?...I'm not so sure...but then again, that's what I thought about my Logitech:)


NGC2024 - Flame Nebula

NGC2024 - The Flame Nebula in Orion: Finally got to this nebula! This emission nebula is part of the same molecular cloud as the Horsehead. It's located approximately 1200 light years away and situated just to the left of the lowest star in the belt of Orion. Apparently, out of the over 800 young stars in the center of this nebula, over 86% have circumstellar disks! This image was obtained by stacking 83 20sec ISO1600 exposures using a Canon Rebel T3i and my focal reducer at prime focus of my 10" LX200R on the night of March 9, 2015.


Comet Lovejoy

Finally!...Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy, taken on the (cold) nights of Jan. 10 and 13, 2015. The color of this comet is a beautiful and ethereal green - actually quite common - a result of carbon molecules fluorescing in ultraviolet sunlight. This is only my second comet...I wonder if most comets are this hard to image...Panstarrs seemed easier, but it was a daytime comet with a very bright tail. The tail on this comet, as yet, seems quite subdued, although it is clearly visible in two of the three images above. The top was taken using a 200mm Canon zoom lens at ISO800, showing the comet as it was placed in the sky on the night of Jan. 13th. The middle image is just a cropped version of the top one, but consisting of about 25 20second exposure images, stacked in DSS and aligned on the comet. The tail is clearly visible, and quite long, showing some distinct structure. The bottom image was taken the night of Jan. 10 at prime focus of my 10" using a focal reducer and a Canon T3i. Again, aligned on the comet stacking about 25 20 second exposures at ISO1600, the tail is just barely visible, but showing at least three "spokes" flaring off the top left side. Beautiful!


NGC7293 - Helix Nebula

NGC 7953, known as the "Helix Nebula" and also referred to as the "Eye of God", is located in Aquarius and is one of the closest planetary nebulae to Earth, a mere 700 light years away. Its apparent size is almost the size of the full moon! The hot bright central star is a sun-like star that after exhausting its hydrogen and helium, began to expel its atmosphere about 10000 years ago, and formed a white dwarf. Intense ultraviolet radiation from the white dwarf illuminates the nebula. I created this image Sept. 22, 2014 from two nights of images for a total of about 43 minutes of exposure time, using an unmodified Canon Rebel T3i. The nebula's low altitude in the sky makes it a difficult object to image, so extensive post-processing was applied to improve its overall visual appeal. See what this nebula looked like before I processed the image here. I don't usually like to over-process images like this, because it can create artifacts that detract from the reality. However, I made an exception for this one because it came out so damn nice:)


M20 - Trifid Nebula

M20, also known as the Trifid Nebula, is a spectacular combination of an open cluster of stars, an emission nebula (the red portion), a reflection nebula (the blue region), and a dark nebula all in one! In 2005, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope discovered 30 embryonic stars and 120 newborn stars invisible to the naked eye deep in the heart of emission nebula region. I grew up with a poster of this nebula in my room, taken by the 200 inch Hale telescope - it wasn't too much better than my image here:) This is an exposure on Aug. 25, 2014, of about 27 minutes consisting of about 80 20 second exposures @ ISO1600 with a Rebel T3i at prime focus. This is the first time that I saw a distinct improvement using dark frames, resulting in a noticeable enhancement in the extended darker rifts of the nebula. In the past, I would simply ignore the dark frames and enhance to get a comparable result. However, in this case, the extended nebulosity (with the frames) seemed to make the subtle dark rifts just jump out more readily.


NGC6207 - Seyfert's Sextet

NGC6207, also known as "Seyfert's Sextet", is a group of galaxies of which 4 out of 6 are truly interacting and about 190 million light years distant. The fifth (small, center) is a background galaxy almost 5 times further away, while the sixth (top, vertically elongated) is actually a "tidal tail" of stars torn from one of the galaxies. The four should coalesce billions of years from now into a single large elliptical galaxy. The galaxies range in magnitude from 14.7 to 16.8 and quite small, making them challenging to photograph. I combined about 170 images over two nights on July 21, 2014 using my unmodified Canon Rebel 3Ti and focal reducer. I've been using darks lately, which I find help to balance the color more than anything else. In addition, good focus here brought out some true color out of this beautiful but small cluster of colliding galaxies! How spectacular is that?


NGC4567-4568 Siamese Twins Galaxies

A beautiful pair of near interacting galaxies in an early phase of collision! NGC4567 and NGC4568, known as the "Siamese Twins" or "Butterfly" Galaxies, are roughly 120 million light years away. They are shown here in the same field of view as NGC4564 (top right) and a 14.4 mag galaxy named IC3578 (lower left). Accelerated star formation has been detected in areas where the pair of galaxies overlap, indicating the beginnings of a galactic merger. Our own galaxy is on a similar course to merge with the Andromeda galaxy in about 4 billion years! I think the color and focus came out really well for this pair. I shot this on May 31, 2014 at ISO1600 with raw frames using my Canon Rebel T3i and stacked almost 80 frames @ 20sec per frame. I've also started using dark frames (30 of them), although I have yet to see a major difference because of them. I anticipate the benefit will increase as the weather outside gets warmer.


NGC2419 - Intergalactic Wanderer

This remote globular cluster, NGC2419, was first discovered by William Herschel on New Year's Eve in 1788. Known as the "Intergalactic Wanderer" it's the furthest globular cluster in our galaxy, at an approximate distance of 280,000 light years, and orbiting us once every 3 billion years! Debate however, continues as to whether the globular is an extra-galactic object, or a relic of a dwarf galaxy tidally disrupted by our own Milky Way. In either case, its small apparent size and faintness belies its true nature as one of the brightest and most massive globular clusters in the galaxy. I was able to get it into really nice focus using my Bahtinov mask. Normally, I select a fairly bright star to do my fine focus. However, this time I used a much smaller fainter star that seemed to enable me to improve the accuracy of the Bahtinov pattern - which I think paid off! I took this in March of 2014 stacking about 80 20sec frames at ISO1600 using a Canon Rebel T3i, along with 30 dark frames. Not bad for a (cold) near-full-moon night in downtown Concord MA!


M42 - Orion Nebula

Revisiting an old friend! M42 - the Great Orion Nebula - a huge stellar nursery right in our own backyard only about 1400 light years away. Well...two years later and two years smarter gets you better pictures! I'd say that's a pretty general rule of thumb. I shot this on Feb. 10, 2014 at ISO800 with raw frames using my Canon T3i and stacked almost 80 frames @ 20sec per frame. Compare this with my previous attempt using JPG images here. The secret sauce is in the post-processing though...I used GIMP to first apply an unsharp mask sharpening enhancement, followed by some color balancing and non-linear contrast enhancement. And here it is! Beautiful isn't it?


M82 - Supernova 2014J

My first extra-galactic supernova! - Supernova 2014J in the galaxy M82 in Ursa Major shining at a near peak of approximately magnitude 10.5 on Jan. 29, 2014. The bottom right GIF image shows the supernova "blinking" by superimposing two images from different times. The pair of images on the first row shows M82 taken about 18 months earlier. I was able to reprocess my original attempt (top left) to get an image (top right) closer to my supernova image (bottom left). The original involved the use of JPG images, while my newest attempt made use of RAW as well as darks. Despite that difference, I was still able to reprocess the original to an image that comes very close to my newest attempt (bottom left). Clearly, my skills in image processing have improved:) but more importantly, it is interesting to note how much post-processing can accomplish. I think I am finally starting to reap some benefits from the use of RAW and dark images, but this does show that even *with* JPG images alone, it is still possible to get quite reasonable results.

My third attempt at the spectacular edge-on galaxy NGC891 in Andromeda, using almost an hour long exposure (157 frames @ 20 sec/frame and ISO3200). I took this a few nights ago on November 30, 2013 using a Canon Rebel T3i DSLR and my Lepus focal reducer. Focus looks dead-on, producing nice detail in the dust regions of the galaxy. You can clearly see numerous small tendrils in the central regions. The extra half hour compared to my previous attempt below definitely reduced the noise, but the benefits of the improved focus are also noticeable. Apparently this galaxy is very similar to what our galaxy would look like seen edge-on. You can see glimpses of that yourself on very dark summer nights looking into the center of the MilkyWay!


My first nova! This is a picture I took in the early morning on August 17th 2013 at around 1:00am. The nova was just after its (first?) peak at a magnitude of about 5 making it a naked eye object! I had to use at least binnoculars to see it here in Concord, MA, but I could swear I could also catch a glimpse of it with my own eyes!


Here are a few of my latest planetary nebulae...I've been trying to see how small I can get! All of these were taken without a focal reducer. Clockwise from the top left we have NGC6826 in Cygnus - 27"x24" in size, also known as the Blinking Planetary, next, NGC6818 in Sagittarius - 22"x15" in size and also known as the Green Mars or Little Gem Nebula , then NGC40, a 38"x35" planetary in Cepheus, called the Bow Tie Nebula, and finally, NGC7027 known as the Pink Pillow Nebula in Cygnus - a mere 18"x10" in size! Despite tracking issues due to a rather high altitude, NGC7027 still came out surprisingly well, revealing some intricate structure I was very happy to see. I used ISO1600 for all except NGC40 for which I accidentally used ISO6400, 20 second unguided exposures using a Canon Rebel T3i, stacking 80% of the best frames in DSS, followed by some unsharp masking enhancement and contrast stretching. All of these were taken Aug. 16, 2013, except for the Green Mars Nebula which was taken the night before.


Here are a few beautiful NGC galaxies...NGC4631, the "Whale Galaxy" in Canes Venatici worked out particularly well along with its companion galaxy NGC4627. It's part of group of galaxies that includes NGC4656, the "Hockey Stick Galaxy" shown below left, and the Mice Galaxies shown here. On the top right is NGC4565, a prototypical example of an edge-on spiral galaxy in Coma Berenices. Interesting note about this galaxy is that its relative location to us is analogous to that of Polaris (a marker for the approximate location of the north celestial pole), except that it is situated in the approximate location of our north galactic pole. Finally, on the bottom right is a beautiful spiral galaxy in Coma Berenices sometimes called the "Ring Galaxy" because of the circular ring around the galaxy core. Note the dust lane that (uncharacteristically for dust lanes) veers into the core somewhat. All of these images were taken late April/early May of 2013 using my OPTEC focal reducer and a Canon T3i at ISO3200, stacking approximately 75 frames at 20sec each.


A continuation of my mini-Messier marathon...Here are several galaxies with very distinctive dust lanes: On the first row, M102 or the "Spindle Galaxy" is a lenticular galaxy in Draco, NGC3628 is an unbarred spiral galaxy in Leo forming a triplet with M65-M66 below; on the last row, we have M64 (The Black Eye Galaxy) in Coma Berenices and M104 (The Sombrero Galaxy) in Virgo. All were taken end of April / early May of 2013, using a focal reducer and a Canon T3i with an ISO setting of 3200 and approximately 80 20sec exposures, stacked using DSS...a little bit better than my very early first attempts! I still have not been able to get dark frames to work for me, so these are all just processed using lights. I'm particularly proud of M64, coming out with some nice detail in dust lane itself! M64 is interesting in that its inner star regions rotate opposite to the outer instellar gas regions, suggesting a dramatic galactic collision in its distant past.


From the top, row by row, we have M87 and a closeup of its relativistic jet; on the next row: Hickson 61 - a structure known as "The Box" in Coma Berenices consisting of four galaxies arranged in a very precise looking quadralateral, NGC4676, known as "The Mice Galaxies" - a colliding pair of galaxies also in the same constellation; and on the last row, NGC4038/NGC4039 called the "Antennae Galaxies", for a reason unfortunately not apparent from my picture, and lastly, a slightly longer exposure of the center of the Coma Cluster - nearly all of objects shown are actually galaxies! I thought I would try my hand at some significantly smaller and fainter galaxies in and around the Coma Berenices cluster. I was pretty happy with the results, given my rather limited exposure time of 20sec per frame (except for the Coma Cluster which was done at 30sec per frame). The following comments probably apply only to short unguided exposures like the ones I use for all of my pictures. There doesn't seem to be much benefit in handpicking frames - it helps for planetary nebulae (see below) - but for galaxies, the overall exposure time seems to be the more important factor. I'm guessing that because planetaries tend to be generally bright, you can afford to be more selective with respect to quality - in other words, it pays to have fewer sharp frames, than more blurry frames. On the other hand, for galaxies, with such short exposures it pays to just have more of them. Any loss in detail can often be overlooked because the detail is difficult to see anyway! Nevertheless, I was able to pull out some interesting small scale features even so, using about 80 frames each at ISO 3200 for M87, but ISO6400 for all of the others. All of these were taken on the nights of May 4th and 5th, 2013.


NGC6543 (Cat's Eye Nebula in Draco) and NGC2392 (Eskimo Nebula in Gemini) - two small bright planetary nebula, both about 3000 light years away, looking like hazy blue planets in the sky. The Cat's Eye was the first planetary nebula to be analyzed by a spectroscope and is actually one of the most complex of such nebulae ever found - astronomers suspect the central star may actually be a binary star system. The Eskimo Nebula is one of the youngest known planetaries, a ghostly remnant of a nova only about 1700 years ago. I think this is a challenging pair of planetary nebulae for a 10 inch un-guided scope to image, given their relatively small size. Good focus is critical (near the limit of the Bahtinov mask I think). The high surface brightness of the nebulae allows a lower ISO setting (1600) for better noise suppression, and a shorter single exposure time (20sec), which translates to better tracking. Both were imaged without a focal reducer using a Canon T3i on March 30-31, 2013. I stacked 54 and 21 frames for the Cat's Eye Nebula and Eskimo Nebula respectively in DSS, using 2X drizzle for the Cat's Eye. If you click on the this link, a small movie will open up that superimposes a Hubble image on the image I took, showing the underlying structure of the nebula. (I actually got the idea for this from someone else's website, but lost the link to it, so I couldn't properly cite them. Thanks to whoever that was!).


M108 and M97 - This pair in Ursa Major, used to be one of my favorite telescopic views. My very first telescope - an 8-inch Edmund Scientific Newtonian, enabled me to see both of these ethereal objects in the same field of view, using a 28mm RKE eyepiece and a magnfication of only 38x. The first time I saw this pair I had been looking only for the Owl Nebula and magically "discovered" M108 just over 1 degree away! In the dark skies of Georgian Bay, they were a truly magnificent pair. Both of these were taken on March 17-18, 2013 with a Canon T3i and an f/6.3 focal reducer, using ISO3200 and 25 second exposures, stacking 74 and 56 frames for M108 and M97 respectively. Only a minor improvement for M97 over my last attempt.


Barnard 33 - The Horsehead Nebula in Orion! This is a beautiful dark nebula located just south of the leftmost star of Orion's belt - part of a stellar nursery located about 1500 light years away! I've wanted to photograph this object for over 30 years, ever since seeing it in Burhnam's Celestial Handbook oh so many years ago. I remember naively looking for it on cold winter nights with what was then my new 8 inch Edmund telescope - always defeated, but never daunted by this wondrous enigmatic object. So here it finally is. Only the Horsehead itself is visible here - even *with* a focal reducer this was the largest FOV I could get. This exposure consisted of 87 frames @ 30sec taken using ISO3200 with a Canon T3i and an f/6.3 focal reducer, for a grand total of 43.5 minutes exposure over 3 different nights (the last on Christmas night, 2012). Not nearly enough, but I was losing patience with the weather lately and decided to put them all together to get this! I am not done with it - not by a long shot. There is so much beauty here left to capture, and my meager talents as a photographer do not do it justice. FYI, the Horsehead is actually (barely) detectable in a single 30sec frame shown here using my configuration.


Jupiter and Europa - one of my best images of Jupiter yet, taken November 19-20, 2012 in Concord, MA using a modified Logitech 9000 web cam - 1006 frames stacked using Registax 5.1. The conditions that night were exceptionally clear and rock steady (for Concord) and I was able to get some nice crisp images. You can see the small red spot, the Great Red Spot and a swirling white storm just above it, as well as several dark disturbances on the upper belt. If you click on the image, a small WMV should pop up, consisting of six frames generated from over 5000 images. I wish I could have taken more images that night, but unfortunately I neglected to put my dew cap on and frosted over in only two hours! I've still seen better pictures from others, so I'm not done trying. Nevertheless, I'm pretty happy with these. My previous attempts (1, 2 and 3) were ok, but it does go to show you though, that atmospheric conditions play a huge role in the quality of your results, even with excellent collimation and optics.


M1 - The Crab Nebula in Taurus (again). On Nov. 9, 2012, I tried ISO3200 and added these images to my ISO6400 stack below. Using DSS, I managed to stack 59 additional ISO3200 frames for a total of 84 frames (or about 35 minutes total exposure). This is also the first time I used 2X drizzle processing. Part of the reason drizzle works well with a larger number of images is the reduced noise in the final drizzled image. I found that a low pass filter followed by a medium pass sharpening filter smooths the smaller detail noise but enhances larger scale texture. I also think the colors came out very nicely in this version!


M1 - The Crab Nebula in Taurus. This is my first serious attempt at M1, taken Oct. 25/26, 2012 using ISO6400 with a Canon T3i and an f/6.3 focal reducer. Using DSS, I managed to stack 25 sharp RAW frames @ 25 sec per exposure. The ISO setting was definitely too high (or the number of frames much too low), limiting the detail I could extract from this beautiful supernova remnant. My next attempt will incorporate both a lower ISO setting AND my first serious use of dark frames - can't wait to see the results! FYI, this famous nebula was the first "non-comet" object that Messier categorized, ultimately leading to his famous Messier list of deep sky objects. The colossal explosion resulting from this supernova left a fast spinning neutron star only 12 miles in diameter, rotating at a phenomenal speed of 30 times a second! I find it fascinating that "pulsars" like this one spin so consistently and precisely that they can be used as cosmic GPS-type markers for spacial navigation. In fact, plaques on the two Pioneer and Voyager spacecrafts show the position of our Sun relative to 14 pulsars in space so that aliens finding our spacecraft can precisely pinpoint our Sun in space and time. By comparing pulsar rates with what they were when we sent out the spacecrafts, aliens can potentially calculate how long ago the spacecrafts were sent from our planet!


NGC7009 - The Saturn Nebula. This is a very bright, blue-colored planetary nebula in Aquarius, whose name is derived from its similarity in size and shape to the planet Saturn. Roughly 3900 light years away, its central hot bluish dwarf radiates strong ultraviolet radiation that powers this nebula's bright fluorescent glow. Only about 1.4' x 0.4' in size, my attempt on Oct. 12, 2012 was really meant to explore the limits of my own DSLR prime focus imaging. I was curious to see how well such a small object could be imaged (unguided). Due to the brightness of the nebula, I could use a lower ISO speed of 1600. Despite my use of a Bahntinov mask, I still think my focus was a little soft, giving me problems during DSS registration. Stacking JPG images was difficult, requiring extensive manual filtering of images to get registration - finally registering 10 frames (@ 20sec per exposure). However, using RAW images I was able to stack 23 frames with no problems at all! I am as yet unclear why the difference, but I think I'll be using RAW images from now on. The final results were ok, but had I had better focus, I think I could have pulled out even more detail out of the center of the nebula. Overall not bad, but room for improvement. Beautiful rich color though!


Here's my first attempt at Neptune's twin planet Uranus!...Only about 1.4' from 44 Piscium on September 23, 2012! It looks like a beautiful multi-color double star. If you click on the image, a 30 second video clip should appear showing you what it looked like through my telescope. We showed this view at a public star night put on by the Skylight Astronomical Society of Stow, MA - it was a fantastic opportunity to challenge observers to actually see the difference between a planet and a star. Think of the yellow giant star being almost 500 light years distant, compared to the planet only one light day away!


M57 - the Ring Nebula in Lyra - my second attempt...taken September 15/16, 2012 using a Canon Rebel T3i DSLR at prime focus. This is the first time I used RAW images for DSS processing with the final result consisting of 34 light frames (@ISO 3200, 25 sec exposure each). Surprisingly (for me), not so surprisingly for veteran astrophotographers, there was a noticeable difference over using JPG images. I could especially see a possible benefit for low light level objects that need significant enhancement. For some reason, the color response was also a little different...not sure why. Anyway, you can definitely see more texture detail in the ring (compared to my first attempt below) - the arrogance of me to think I couldn't significantly improve on a previous try! It's fascinating to see how far technology has progressed...click here to see an image of M57 taken by the 200 inch Hale Telescope at Palomar back in 1959!


M31 - the Andromeda Galaxy - taken September 9/10, 2012 using a Canon Rebel T3i DSLR and 300mm telephoto lens. This image is my second attempt, consisting of 94 light frames (@ISO 1600, 30 sec exposure each) stacked using DeepSkyStacker. This galaxy contains about a trillion stars and is the farthest object in the Universe visible to our naked eye, about 2.5 million light years distant. It will collide with our galaxy about 4.5 billion years from now (about the time our Sun will run out of fuel). One of the oldest recorded sightings of this galaxy was by a Persian astronomer named Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi around 964, describing it as a "small cloud".


NGC891 - one of my favorite edge-on galaxies, located in the constellation of Andromeda - taken September 2 - 3, 2012 using an f/6.3 focal reducer and a Canon Rebel T3i DSLR. On the left is the result of approximately 60 frames (@ISO 3200, 20 sec exposure each) stacked using DeepSkyStacker. It was a near-full moon night, so it's not great, but as my second attempt it's getting better. On the right, I've annotated a faint companion galaxy to NGC891, which is just barely visible in the photo. I love this stuff:)


M82 - the Cigar Galaxy in Ursa Major - taken August 13/14, 2012 using a Canon Rebel T3i DSLR and an f/6.3 focal reducer. The final image consisted of 49 light frames (@ISO 3200, 30 sec exposure each) stacked using DeepSkyStacker. It's known as a "starburst" galaxy because of its huge number of young recently born stars, which are being born 10 times faster than in our own galaxy. There's also a recently discovered strange object near the center of it that appears to be traveling at a superluminal speed of 4 times the speed of light!


M92 - a beautiful globular cluster in Hercules, often overshadowed by its larger upstart M13 - taken on July 30/31, 2012 using a Canon Rebel T3i DSLR and an f/6.3 focal reducer. The final image consisted of 44 light frames (@ISO 3200, 20 sec exposure each) stacked using DeepSkyStacker. The stars in this image are somewhat sharper as compared to the stars in M13 (see below), which I took not yet using my Bahtinov mask for focus!


M101 - the Pinwheel Galaxy in Ursa Major - my first deep sky photo taken over two different nights July 8/9 and 9/10, 2012 using a Canon Rebel T3i DSLR and an f/6.3 focal reducer. The final image consisted of 57 light frames (@ISO 3200, 30 sec exposure each) stacked using DeepSkyStacker. This was also the first time I used a Bahtinov mask for fine tuning focus. I cannot tell you how much simpler and elegant it is to use this very simple device to improve imaging focus. It really *is* easy to use and DSS will never give you problems again!


Some jewels I collected while vacationing on Nantucket. Clockwise from the top left: M8 (Lagoon Nebula), M27 (Dumbbell Nebula), NGC6960 (the Veil Nebula) and M20 (Trifid Nebula). All of these are spectacular to look at with your own eyes. M8 and M20 were taken the night of June 14-15, 2012 while the others were taken the following night using a Canon Rebel T3i DSLR, @ISO 3200, and an f/6.3 focal reducer. It was rather windy, so I was only able to use an average of about 15 frames out of 80 for most of the stacking.


Clockwise from the top left corner: M64 (Black Eye Galaxy), M65, M84+M86+NGC4488, M105+NGC3384+NGC3389, M104 (Sombrero Galaxy) and M99 - taken April 19-20, 2012 from North Bridge in Concord, MA. Most of these are single frames (except for the Sombrero Galaxy which was 13@35sec stacked using DeepSkyStacker) using a Canon Rebel XS DSLR @ISO 1600. Note the spiral structure of M99 visible in a single frame!


M97 - the Owl Nebula in Ursa Major - taken May 18 - 19, 2012 using a Canon Rebel T3i DSLR, approximately 25 frames (@ISO 6400, 30 sec exposure each) stacked using DeepSkyStacker.


M51 - the Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venatici - taken May 18 - 19, 2012 using a Canon Rebel T3i DSLR, 16 frames (@ISO 6400, 30 sec exposure each) stacked using DeepSkyStacker.


M57 - the Ring Nebula in Lyra - taken April 19 - 20, 2012 using an f/6.3 focal reducer and a Canon Rebel XS DSLR, approximately 30 frames (@ISO 1600, 30 sec exposure each) stacked using DeepSkyStacker.


M13 - the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules - taken April 16 - 17, 2012 using an f/6.3 focal reducer and a Canon Rebel XS DSLR. On the left is the result of approximately 21 frames (@ISO 1600, 20 sec exposure each) stacked using DeepSkyStacker. On the right is the result of 28 stacked frames, with a slightly different enhancement, including a saturation stretch to bring out the differences in star color. Isn't it amazing what a difference a little post processing can make? Also, notice the stars are not as sharp as the ones in my more recent M92 image - the added value of using a Bahtinov mask!


Mars - near opposition, taken March 20-21, 2012 in Concord MA, using a modified Logitech 9000 web cam - approximately 1600 frames stacked using Registax 5.1.


M42 - the Great Orion Nebula - taken January 29 - 30, 2012 using an f/6.3 focal reducer and a Canon Rebel XS DSLR, approximately 30 frames (@ISO 1600, 20 sec exposure each) stacked using DeepSkyStacker.


M42 - the Great Orion Nebula - taken December 11 - 12, 2011 using an f/6.3 focal reducer and a Canon Rebel XS DSLR, single frame (@ISO 1600, 20 sec exposure). This was one of my very first deep sky photos taken with a DSLR. Amazing what you can get in a single frame exposure!


An (almost) Full Moon - taken December 11 - 12, 2011 using an f/6.3 focal reducer and a Canon Rebel XS DSLR, from a two image composite (@ISO 1600, 1/1000 sec exposure each).


A trio of Jupiter pictures - taken November 5 - 6, 2011 in Concord, using a modified Logitech 9000 web cam, showing the progress of an IO shadow transit right over top of the Great Red Spot! Also are shown a serious of small dark storms along the lower belt. For some reason, I couldn't get the colors exactly right for the series, but they look amazing nonetheless!


Clockwise from the top left, all pictures taken at prime focus using a modified Logitech 9000 web cam: 1. My very first picture of the space station, 12 hours after the last undocking of the space shuttle Endeavor, taken May 31, 2011. 2. The space station taken August 30, 2011. 3&4: Two frames of the space station on June 27, 2011, showing the space station rotating as it traverses the sky.


Saturn - taken April 21-22, 2011 in Mystic, CT using a modified Logitech 9000 web cam - 346 frames stacked using Registax 5.1.


Jupiter - taken October 9-10, 2010 in Orleans, MA using a modified Logitech 9000 web cam - 101 frames stacked using Registax 5.1. The conditions in Orleans that night were really good. You can see the four Galilean moons, a white spot and half of the Red Spot, including some beautiful band structure.


Jupiter - double-moon transit of Europa and Ganymede, taken October 23-24, 2010 at North Bridge in Concord, MA using a modified Logitech 9000 web cam - between 100-200 frames images stacked per movie frame using Registax 5.1. You can see both moon shadows clearly, along with Ganymede in the upper right. Europa is a little harder to see against the surface of Jupiter, but noticeable. Only 3 frames, but I love movies:)


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