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Astronomy at Ontario Campgrounds

|Nebulae|4 Comments

One of the best ways to enjoy astronomy under a dark sky is to go camping. Campgrounds are usually well away from city light pollution, meaning that you will be able to enjoy many more stars in the sky than you are used to seeing at home. In mid-summer, the sun sets very late at the campgrounds in Ontario, and most campers are settling in for cozy sleep in their sleeping bag. But if you’re anything like me, your night is just beginning

Astronomy at Ontario Campgrounds

Dark Skies at Ontario Provincial Parks

During the summer months, I like to leave my light-polluted backyard in the city and travel to some Ontario Campgrounds for some astronomy camping.  My two favorite Ontario parks are Rock Point Provincial Park and Selkirk Provincial Park.  They both offer fantastic dark skies looking south over Lake Erie.


Astronomy at Ontario Campgrounds

The Milky Way from Selkirk Provincial Park Campgrounds

Stargazing at Selkirk Provincial Park

I had the pleasure of spending a clear, moonless night under the stars at Selkirk Provincial Park in late July 2015.  Despite being in the middle of busy season, I was able to book a campsite with open views of the sky.  Because the park is located on the Northern shore of Lake Erie, the light pollution to the south is minimal.  

I decided to use my 3″ Explore Scientific triplet Apochromatic Refractor to image, as my 8″ Orion astrograph has been a bit of a headache for me lately, but that’s another story.

Selkirk Ontario Campgrounds

Dusk at the park. Clear skies in the forecast!

Astronomy at Ontario Campgrounds

It is important to book your campsite around the time of the new moon, to ensure that you are taking full advantage of the limited light-pollution from these areas.  You will also want to make sure that you book a campsite that has an open window to the night sky, and is not blocked by the surrounding mature trees.

A useful website for previewing each site at Ontario parks campgrounds is Ontario Parks Campsite Pictures.  This way you can have a look at each site before you book!

The sky-window from my campsite:

I was hoping to have clear views directly south from my campsite (Site 85), but I ended up having a larger window to the West than expected.  This changed my imaging target from Sagittarius, to an object high up above in Cygnus.  The wispy nebulosity in NGC 7000 – The North America Nebula captured my attention once again.  

I settled on an area that included the Pelican Nebula – an object have not yet given a fair attempt at before.

Astronomy at Ontario Campgrounds

Our tents and telescopes are set up for a night of deep-sky imaging

My modified Canon Xsi DSLR did a good job at picking up the bright pink and red nebulosity of the Pelican Nebula. I wonder how many more shutter actuations my old 450d can handle?  

That old DSLR has been through every type of outdoor condition you could think of – including being completely covered in ice in the heart of winter. If I had to guess, I would say that this camera has at least a 60,000 actuation shutter count.  Maybe much more!

IC 5070 - Pelican Nebula

IC 5070 – The Pelican Nebula – Photographed from Selkirk Provincial Park

Pelican Nebula – Image Details

Telescope: Explore Scientific ED80 with WO Flat III 0.8x FR/FF
Mount: Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro Synscan
Guiding: Meade DSI Pro II and PHD Guiding
Guide Scope: Orion Mini 50mm
Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Modified)
ISO: 1600
Total Exposure: 1 hour, 50 Minutes (22 x 300s)
Processing Software: Deep Sky Stacker, Photoshop CC
Support Files: 15 darks

As per my usual routine, I shot several exposures (In this case 5 minutes each) at ISO 1600. This is the max ISO for this camera, and does produce a fair amount of noise.  Luckily, most of this noise is cancelled out in the stacking process by using dark frames.  

Dark frames are simply exposures of the same length and temperature as “light” frames, but with the lens cap on the camera. I think of it as – Any data that the camera picks up with the lens cap on, is noise. There are no photons to collect.  

With stacking software (Like DeepSkyStacker), the isolated noise data is removed from the final image. There are several tutorials online to better describe this process.  I will go over the stacking process and workflow in a future post, for anyone interested.  For now, I will share a link to the software I use; DeepSkyStacker.

It is currently the only program I use, and I am very happy with it.

Reviewing Light Frames in Adobe Bridge

Stacking my exposures to create the final version of the Pelican Nebula image

Stargazing at it’s finest

The Milky Way was clearly visible to the naked-eye, a sure sign of limited light-pollution and dark skies.  Aside from astrophotography, stunning views of the summer constellations and Messier objects are within reach to anyone with a pair of binoculars or a telescope.  An amazing surprise we had that night was beautiful pink aurora overhead to the North!  

I heard reports from back home in St. Catharines that it was quite a show around 2am. Rarely do I see the Northern Lights from Southern Ontario, so it is always a treat. A lazy yellow waning crescent moon rose out of the Eastern horizon around 2am, and with that, it was time to get some much needed sleep!

Northern Lights from Selkirk PP

The Northern Lights as seen from our campgrounds

Selkirk Provincial Park is a great place to go camping with your friends and family in the summer.  What attracted me to this park was the dark skies to the South, and the proximity to my home.  It was just over an hour drive from St. Catharines.  

This was my second time to the park this year.  Our visit in late May was a very wet experience as their were intense thunderstorms the night we stayed.  This time, however, I got the trip I wanted with warm, clear skies all night long. If you are also looking to enjoy some astronomy at Ontario campgrounds, I should remind you to check the forecast and moon phase calendar first.  

This way you can appreciate the advantages of having darker skies than you are used to in the city.

Here are some astrophotography tips that will help you understand what it takes to get a decent photo of the night sky. 7 Astrophotography Tips

Deep Sky Astrophotos taken at Ontario Campgrounds

North America Nebula

The North America Nebula – Rock Point Provincial Park.

DSLR astrophotography example

The Andromeda Galaxy – Rock Point Provincial Park.

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Autumn Stars Arise

|Star Clusters|0 Comments
Autumn Stars - The Pleiades rises this season
M45 – The Pleiades

Autumn Stars – Pleiades Rising

Last Saturday I spent a very cold, but very dark and clear night at the RASC Observatory in Wellandport, Ontario.  There were 4 of us that stayed the night, and I think every one of us complained about being underdressed!  I began my night by shooting NGC 7293 – The Helix Nebula.  I have never tried to shoot this object before, and to be honest, I didn’t think it was possible from Southern Ontario.  I ended up with about 2 hours on it, but I think I will need to double that to really bring out the detail.  As you can see, my unmodified Canon 450d makes this object look rather bluish-purple.

NGC 7293 - Helix Nebula

NGC 7293 – The Helix Nebula

My main focus for the night was The Pleiades.  This wonderful star cluster is located in the constellation Taurus the Bull.  At this time of year, Taurus is just starting to rise high enough in the East to start photographing Messier Object 45, the Pleiades open star cluster. I imaged this object last year, and was relatively happy with it, but I have learned a lot since then!  The details of the above photo (of Pleiades) are as follows:

M45 – The Pleiades Photo Details

Also known as “The Seven Sisters” in the Constellation Taurus

38 x 210″ ISO 1600 Totaling 2 Hours 13 Minutes

Stacked with 16 darks, 16 flats, 16 bias

Explore Scientific 80mm ED Triplet Apo
Celestron CG-5
Orion 50mm Mini Guidescope
Meade DSI II CCD Camera
Canon 450d unmodded
Stacked in DSS
Processed in PS CS5

Removing Reflections in M45 image

Astrophotography processing The Pleiades

The autumn stars seem to shine extra bright as they bring in the winter constellations behind them. M45 can be surprisingly challenging to process, considering the inherent reflection issues that may arise.  The healing brush in Adobe Photoshop is helpful in removing the unwanted halos and reflections in your image.  You will definitely want to be careful not to remove any background stars or nebulosity in the process!

I will probably give it another shot once I have added more time.  I am looking forward to re-doing Orion once it stays up for a little bit longer.  Thanks for looking!

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