Saturday, May 19, 2018

Waiting for Mars

Monsoon season again this week.

It's not likely I'll be able to bring the scope out for an astronomy session this weekend.

This will never work

Well, I guess I could take the optical tube assembly (OTA) outside, point it up, squirt some dishwashing soap on the mirror, and take advantage of the naturally distilled water pouring from the sky.  As a technique for cleaning the primary mirror, however, that seems fraught with peril . . . 

I think I'll just leave the mirror alone for now and continue with my planned posting of a little about what I do while waiting for Mars to rise.

Deep space object (DSO) images ahead!

Local Mars rise time is about 0100.  It doesn't get high enough in the sky to clear the neighbor's house and trees until around 0230.

The OTA requires at least an hour to thermally equalize with the outdoor temperature.  No need to peer through air thermals flowing internally, if I can avoid it.  So, to be ready for Mars, I need to have the scope outside by 0130.  For good measure, I'll start bringing equipment out around midnight -- this will give me time to get everything setup; The scope mount needs to be leveled and it needs to be aligned so the Goto and tracking will be accurate.  

Sufficient coffee needs to be consumed so I'm awake and alert.

I usually try to plan ahead and create an observing list with SkySafari (iOS, Android).  When I'm outside observing, I'll put SkySafari in night mode and bring up the list and use it to point the scope.

When I don't have a list, I'll just slew the scope around the sky and see what I can see.  

I usually try to keep one eye dark adapted and one for using the laptop.  It's a difficult balancing act trying to do visual observing while also using electronically assisted astronomy (EAA) techniques to really bring in details on the faint fuzzies. 

The images below are some of what I saw and captured with SharpCap over the past few observing sessions while waiting for Mars to rise.

M57, The Ring Nebula

ZWO ASI224MC, Gain 464, 33 exposures x 4 seconds each 

I love M57.  I always take a peek at it when I'm observing.  With this session, I was rewarded with good conditions and was able to see the central stars in the nebula and some of the wispiness and color of the ring itself.

M51, The Whirlpool Galaxy

ZWO ASI224MC, Gain 479, 25 exposures x 8 seconds each 
M51, near the "handle" of Ursa Major, is fun to watch as SharpCap adds and stacks frames in real-time.  With each new frame, more detail becomes visible in the spiral arms.

NGC 4676A and NGC 4676B, The Mice Galaxies

ZWO ASI224MC, Gain 479, 23 exposures x 8 seconds each

I'm really pleased at how the Mice Galaxies appear in this image.  They are awfully dim at Magnitude 14.1, but clearly visible with the ZWO imager.  See their tails?  These galaxies are dim enough that I couldn't see them visually in my Class 4 Bortle sky.  Here is the image inverted and annotated for reference.

Inverted and annotated Mice Galaxies

NGC 4490, Cocoon Galaxy

ZWO ASI224MC, Gain 479, 24 exposures x 8 seconds each

Also visible alongside the Cocoon Galaxy, is its companion, NGC 4485, Magnitude 11.93.  These two appear as just faint smudges visually.

These images aren't astrophotography quality images, but I think they are pretty decent for the equipment used to gather them.  A 10" Dob usually isn't thought of as a useful scope for anything but visual observation.  The added tracking and Goto are nice, but the ZWO imager and SharpCap really make the difference.  

Take a look at my Google+ community if you want to see more images captured with this configuration.

There are a lot of objects in the sky to see while waiting for Mars to rise.  I'm sure I will revisit this topic in the future.



  1. You got a nice image of the ring nebula. M57 is my favorite. Thanks for posting, and I hope your skies clear up soon!

    1. M57 makes a good visual target, too. Through averted vision, you can see the ring.

    2. M57 is definitely a looker! :)

    3. And, it is an easy to find planetary nebula. Right between two stars in the constellation Lyra.


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