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Star Cluster

Making the Most of it!

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Setting up my Astrophotography gear in the dark
Setting up my astrophotography gear at the CCCA Observatory using only red lights to preserve my night vision.
I had a long, eventful night at the CCCA Observatory this past Saturday. I wasn’t even planning on going, as a heart-breaking defeat of my Toronto Raptors at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets was fresh on my mind. I started packing up my astro-gear at 7:45pm. With the sun setting at 8:05pm, and a 45 minute drive ahead of me, I knew I would be breaking one of my own astronomy rules: Setting up in the dark.

By the time I arrived, it was pitch black, with only the stars and my red headlamp to light my way. I witnessed some amazing views of Mars and Saturn through my ED80 before setting my DSLR up for a night of astrophotography. I forgot a key element of any astrophotography imaging session, my guide scope. Forgetting something at home that is essential for imaging is always a frustrating experience. I knew my plans of taking 5 minute exposures of the Seagull Nebula were ruined.

Messier 3

Messier 3 – Globular Cluster

Messier 3 – Globular Cluster

I decided to take some 30 second unguided exposures of the globular star cluster known as M3. I have seen this cluster through a 20″ dobsonian telescope, and to this day, it is still my favourite sight through a large telescope.

The Sunflower Galaxy

Messier 64 – The Sunflower Galaxy

Next, I chose to image a galaxy in the constellation Canes Venatici known as M63, or, the Sunflower Galaxy. In hindsight, it was not such a great choice, considering it’s size and my limited exposure time.

The good news is that this was really a “bonus night” anyway, as the moon rose early at about 1:00am. By then, some friends had come to join me and were dazzled by views of Saturn.  The next 2 weekends are when I really plan to get some good imaging done!

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Autumn Stars Arise

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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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