Sunday, August 8, 2021

More HyperStar Fun

Yes, more HyperStar fun!

Thursday night, we finally had clear dark night. It was worthy of putting the HyperStar on the Cat. It was worthy of taking a vacation day from work on the following Friday in order to catch up on the night's lost sleep.

Here are some images of the highlights:

M31 The Andromeda Galaxy

This galaxy is huge.  It is six times the width of the full moon and is naked eye visible under a dark sky.  Its size and the relative brightness of its core make it a challenge to image.

The dust lanes of M31 are a fun thing to see.  Also visible in this image are companion galaxies, M110 and M32.

Most of the observing session, however, was spent peering at nebulae. 

This one was particularly fun to see:

 NGC6302 The Bug Nebula

Click to make the images larger... This nebula resembles a bug or butterfly.  It's in the constellation, Scorpius.

The remaining images are much easier to see.  They are good targets for the wide field of view that the HyperStar gives.

NGC6960 Western Veil Nebula

Also referred to as the "Witch's Broom."  I can see that, can you?

A narrow band filter for hydrogen and oxygen would really tease out the details, but this all of the light captured through the HyperStar.

It stands to reason that if there is a "Western Veil" nebula, there ought to be an "Eastern Veil" nebula.  There is... and I almost didn't image it.  I missed seeing it on my observation list on my first pass through it.

NGC6992 Eastern Veil Nebula

The wispy filaments of the Eastern Veil Nebula are a part of a larger overall network of nebulae in this area of the sky, called the Cygnus Loop.

It also would benefit from being imaged through narrow band filters.  Maybe I'll add these filters to my Christmas wish list.  Oh, and then I'll need a filter tray for the HyperStar.  And then, I'd want it to be motorized.  I better start saving my pennies.

This is the time of year when the constellation Sagittarius is in the sky most of the night.  Two of the most well known Sagittarius nebulae are these:

M8 Lagoon Nebula

According to Wikipedia,  in the Battlestar Galactica (2004) season two episode "Home", M8 was identified as a guide to Earth.

It is a pretty pink color, as captured by the imager.  It is gray to the eye when peering through binoculars or a small telescope, however.  Human vision has poor low light sensitivity.

M20 Trifid Nebula

In 1967, the original Star Trek series broadcast an episode called The Alternative Factor. In it, a pair of characters repeatedly cross from one dimension to another, an event always signified by the repeated flashing of a photo of the Trifid Nebula.  Apparently, M20 is an inter-dimensional doorway!

This last image is one of my favorite type of nebulae.  It's a planetary nebula. The term originates from the planet-like round shape of these nebulae observed by astronomers through early telescopes.  They are usually small, sometimes dim, and usually a challenge to image.

M27 Dumbbell Nebula

The Dumbbell Nebula has a fairly bright core.  To bring out the darker gases on its edge requires capturing many frames and stacking them over time.

Click to make bigger...

HyperStar Fun?  Stay tuned for a future HyperStar centric post entitled "Even More HyperStar Fun."

Clouds willing.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

HyperStar Fun!

Early December last year, I contemplated buying a HyperStar for my Cat. 

I made certain that it was compatible by looking in the obvious place.  The secondary mirror gets replaced by the HyperStar.  There ought to be some indication there, right?

Check. It says "fastar compatible" right in front of the cover that hides the collimation screws.  Fastar is Celestron's predecessor to the HyperStar, now manufactured by Starizona.  

I took this photo early December.  See the reflection of the Christmas tree lights on the corrector plate?

I placed the order and then waited weeks for it to arrive.  The clouds didn't actually arrive until the HyperStar did, getting my hopes up for an easily had first light!

Here is the HyperStar, fresh out of the box.

Installed on the corrector plate.  This required removing the secondary mirror, disconcertingly exposing a big gaping hole until the HyperStar was rotated into place.

With the ZWO ASI294MC imager installed, the HyperStar is heavy, requiring a weight on the other end of the Cat to keep things balanced.

The weight is inserted into the one and a quarter inch eyepiece interface on the visual back.  Pretty scary, huh?  It is very sturdy, though.

Note that in this configuration, this is no such thing as "visual astronomy."  Putting the HyperStar on the Cat is making a commitment to use the imager for the duration!

This weekend was the first opportunity of this year to bring the Cat out and use the HyperStar under a clear, moonless sky with good transparency.

It was an opportunity to experience the wide field view that the HyperStar brings to the Cat.  The field of view with the combination of the ZWO ASI294MC and the HyperStar on my CPC-1100 is 2.04 x 1.39 degrees!  The HyperStar brings the focal ratio or "speed" of the Cat from an F/10 to an F/2!

It was cold and windy, but a star party was had anyway.

The following images are highlights from the observing session. Each of these images are the results of live stacking using SharpCap.  Not astrophotography quality, but only required a few minutes of integration time . . .  Click to make bigger.

I always take a peek at these two.  To be able to see them requires the sky to have good transparency and this lets me temper my expectations for the night.

The Horsehead and Flame nebulas

The constellation Leo, has a number of delights to see.  Here is the Leo triplet, also known as the M66 Group.  It consists of M65, M66, and NGC3628. 

The Leo Triplet

NGC3628 is also known as the "hamburger galaxy."  Yum.

The constellation Virgo was also in the sky, begging for me to take a peek at "Markarian's Chain," in a very busy part of the sky.

Markarian's Chain

How busy is this part of the sky? I submitted this image to for plate solving.  It returned this, with all of the objects that it could see circled and annotated.

Busy sky

Another favorite of mine, gravitationally interacting, M81 and M82.  

M81 and M82.

And, how could I not point the Cat at the namesake of this blog, Mars?

Mars, really!

Really, no kidding, this is an image of Mars through the HyperStar, many months after opposition! It's a little tiny red-orange dot.  

Mars was having a conjunction with the Pleiades.   The Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters, are always gorgeous! 

The Pleiades

HyperStar Fun! See what I mean?  More HyperStar images to follow throughout the year, clouds and moon willing.

Shoo, clouds!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Great Conjunction of 2020

This was something that I was looking forward to all of last year.  The conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on December 21st, 2020, of course.

In the early part of the year, somewhere in my Internet travels on the astronomy sites, I read that Jupiter and Saturn were going to get really close to each other.  I confirmed it for myself using SkySafari.  I dialed in the date and took a look.  This is what SkySafari showed me!

The rectangle in this screen capture represents the field of view of my Cat, with the 0.63 focal reducer, and the ZWO ASI294MC imager.  How exciting!  Jupiter and Saturn in the same field of view with a bunch of Jupiter's and Saturn's moons in the mix!

Three things came to mind, though.  The planets would be really low on the horizon shortly after sunset.  This meant that there would be a lot of atmospheric murk through which to peer.  And Jupiter is really bright while Saturn, not so much.  Would I be able to see Saturn with the imager's gain turned down to avoid overexposing Jupiter?  Would I be able to capture any of the moons with the imager?

I made a note to be sure to not forget to take a peek at these planets as the conjunction approached.  It turns out that the note was not necessary... Everyone, even normal people, became excited to see the conjunction, aka, "The Christmas Star."  Reminders were everywhere.

At the beginning of December, you could see the conjunction happening in slow motion.  Each night, Jupiter and Saturn creeped closer and closer in the evening sky.

I captured this image on December 5th with my smartphone, a Google Pixel 5.

Saturn is above and just to the left of Jupiter. In this gorgeous image, it is clear that the trees are going to pose a problem.  On the 21st, I'll need to set up the Cat at the far edge of the driveway for optimum tree avoidance...

On the 21st, the day of the closest coupling of the two planets, it rained.  Of course.  Not just a simple rain... It was a day of torrential downpours.  That really sums up the entire astronomy session experience for 2020,  doesn't it?  Rain and clouds on critical event days.

On the 22nd, however,  we could actually see the sky again.  The separation of the planets didn't increase much from their closest approach.

Before dusk, I had all of the equipment out and waited for darkness.  Aligning the Cat was amusing.  I used an educated guess for true north and since there were no alignment stars, I used the moon for a point of reference for CPWI's sky model.  I needed a good alignment so that the Cat would track and the planets would stay in the field of view.

 At 526 pm, I framed Jupiter and Saturn in the imager's field of view.  I captured hundreds of gigabytes of data and this is the resultant image. (Click to make bigger.)

You can see bands of Jupiter's clouds and Saturn's rings.  Also dimly visible are the Galilean  moons, from left to right, Europa, Callisto, Io, and Ganymede.

Planets, when viewed through the eyepiece, are always beautiful.  This view was especially gorgeous.  I'm really happy to have been able to capture it with the imager.


Sunday, November 8, 2020

Farewell, Mars! See Ya, Next Time Around!

This opposition of Mars was actually more challenging than that of 2016. 

It's always about the clouds, isn't it? With the last opposition, Mars had a global dust storm that made it really hard for us poor Earthbound astronomers to see any of its surface features. The entire planet was coated in a dust cloud. 

This time, though, no dust storm. It was Earth's water vapor clouds and upper level winds that made observing Mars difficult. At least for me from my Central Virginia, Bortle 4/5, backyard observing spot. 

Last night was different, however. It was to be a clear dark sky with above average seeing. Mars was to be at the meridian by 2230. I could easily have all of the equipment outside and a couple of cups of coffee consumed by then. 

 But what could I expect to see? The online Mars Mapper had the answer.

I put my planetary imager, the ZWO ASI224MC, on my Cat and captured 5 minutes of video to a .ser file and processed the thousand of frames with AutoStakkert3.  I kept only the best 20 percent of the frames for the resultant image. 

Mars, 11/08/2020, at 0300 UTC
I think there is a really good match between the model and my image.

We are a few weeks past Mars' opposition.  It is interesting to me to see how much smaller Mars appears in the sky since my last image of it.

Here is what I captured on 10/22/2020 using the same equipment and settings.

Mars, 10/22/2020, at 0403 UTC

Fun fact:  The bright spot in the lower right of this image is Olympus Mons, which is a very large shield volcano.  It has a height of over 21 km (13.6 miles).

Deep Space Bonus Image

Well, it's not Mars, it's an image that I captured while waiting for Mars to reach the meridian.  It's a deep space object known as NGC 40.  It's pretty and I like it.

NGC 40  (Click to make it bigger)

It is also known as the "Bow-Tie Nebula" and is composed of a hot gas around a dying star.

More deep space objects to come as I turn my focus away from planetary objects and start to enjoy Winter deep space sky!


Sunday, October 4, 2020

Mars or Bust

Clear sky last night.

Predicting seeing?  Just average.  Well, that is much better than not being able to see the sky at all, I suppose. Shoo, clouds!

When I pointed the Cat at Mars, I saw the typical, for average seeing, slightly boiling in atmospheric shimmering, face of Mars.  Bright red.  Brighter than Jupiter, now that it is at opposition.

Features were visible, when viewing through the eyepiece.

I put my planetary imager, the ZWO ASI224MC, on the Cat and captured tens of gigabytes of data, hoping to have some success via "lucky imaging."

Here is the resulting image:

Hello, Mars, God of War

Yep. The image captured some surface features on Mars' face, but what are they? To answer that, I like to get a frame of reference by comparing my images with other sources.

Recently, I stumbled across a, new to me, tool that provides a model of what one should expect to see when observing Mars.  I decided to use last night's observing session to test it.

It is a web app provided by the British Astronomical Association and with last night's date and time, it provided this:

The face of Mars, 10/03/2020, at 2306 EST

I think the model and my image line up pretty well with each other!

Now that Mars is at opposition, I'll be keeping a keen eye on the "seeing" forecasts.  It has been months since we've had good or excellent seeing.  We are overdue, aren't we?

Sunday, September 27, 2020

A Window to Mars

Yet another week of clouds and rain.

As I usually do each morning, I checked the astronomy forecast at Astropheric.  It has been pretty tough to find a clear night with steady seeing that lines up my schedule, but I'm always hopeful.

Yesterday, Astropheric presented me with this forecast:

A Window of Above Average Seeing!

It didn't look like much, but Astopheric was forecasting a brief amount of time when the sky would be clear and the seeing above average. 

I went outside at 2030 (EST) and took a look at the sky.  Humidity was really high, but the sky looked promising.  I brought out the CAT, leveled it, and attached the imager and waited.

The humidity was high, equipment was wet, and fog was threatening.

I'm glad I persevered.

This is the Mars image for the night.

Hello Mars!
It was captured at 2309 (EST) using my planetary imager, a ZWO ASI224MC, attached to my Celestron CPC-1100.

Fog started to roll in shortly afterwards and everything was drenched... Except for the corrector plate on the CAT.  The dew strip and shield did their job.  This session was a really good test.

Bonus Image

While waiting for Mars to rise high enough to get out of turbulence of the lower sky, I played with the imager while focused on Jupiter.

Ganymede was nearby, so it was captured, as well.

Hello Jupiter and Ganymede!

It was a fairly success astronomy session, even though the viewing window was so narrow!



Monday, July 27, 2020

Super Powers? I'm Waiting.

When Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) was a morning object, I managed to observe it by taking a trek down the road and peering around the neighbor's monster magnolia trees.

It was naked eye visible, without averted vision, and was beautiful through binoculars.

I kept an eye on its progress through several mornings, and even captured a nice image of it with my Google Pixel 3XL Android phone.

Click here to see my blog entry!

So, now that Comet NEOWISE is an evening object, what does that mean to me?

Super powers!

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Yes, more HyperStar fun! Thursday night, we finally had clear dark night. It was worthy of putting the HyperStar on the Cat. It was worthy o...

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