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HaRGB Astrophotography

|HaRGB|6 Comments

Right now is the absolute best time of the year for backyard astrophotography.  The days are warm and the nights are clear, summer star gazing is here!  The core of our Milky Way galaxy has returned to our night sky here in the Northern Hemisphere, and with it comes many celestial delights such as the colorful nebulae located in and around the constellation Sagittarius.  For me, Summer astrophotography means pointing my telescope right where the action is – in the core of the Milky Way, soaking in as much exposure time as possible.  These days do not last long!  We have but a brief window to capture glorious deep-sky objects such as the Lagoon Nebula, Trifid Nebula, Swan Nebula, and Eagle Nebula.  All four of these glorious Messier Objects are worthy of several sleepless nights in the backyard.

Camping and Star Gazing

The warmer weather also means astronomy camping, to seek out darker skies and spend all night under the stars.  Spending time with family and friends around the campfire with my telescope collecting photons in the background is my idea of a good time!  My camping gear would not be complete without all of my astrophotography equipment coming along with me.  This includes everything from my tracking mount to my laptop!  I always book my camping trips on or around the new moon phase, and with a campsite that has a clear view to the South.  Luckily for me, there are many fantastic campgrounds located on the North shore of Lake Erie, which creates a vast dark area directly south of our location.  I recently spent a night at Selkirk Provincial Park for some astronomy camping on a warm, clear night in early June.

 

Camping and Star Gazing

The Big Dipper from our Campsite

 

Photography with the New APO

I am excited to announce that I am the proud new owner of an Explore Scientific ED102 CF astrophotography telescope.  This is a portable, light weight triplet apochromatic refractor – built for deep-sky imaging.  The increase in aperture is a welcome change from my now departed ED80 telescope I enjoyed for the past 5 years.  I have now had this refractor out a few times, and could not be more pleased with it.  I am thrilled with the fact that I can produce images with deeper, and more detailed results due to the increased size.  Going from 80mm to 102mm may not seem like a large increase, but when it comes to astrophotography, 22mm makes a BIG difference!

 

Explore Scientific ED102 CF

My new Explore Scientific ED102 CF Telescope

 

My first imaging session with the new Explore Scientific 102mm CF was on June 8th.  My deep-sky target of choice was the beautiful Eagle Nebula, an emission nebula in  the constellation Serpens.  I managed to capture just over 2 hours on this object from the backyard.  It was a weeknight, and I got about 2 hours of sleep before work the next morning.  WORTH IT!  I made a video about the dedication to this hobby, a small pep-talk if you will.  Despite the videos mixed reviews, I am still proud of this wacky, short little astrophotography video.

Speaking of YouTube, my channel has over 500 subscribers!  I cannot believe the response generated from my astrophotography videos.  It turns out that I am not the only one obsessed with photographing stars in the night sky.  If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do!  I can promise you many more useful astrophotography tutorials, vlogs, and equipment reviews in the future!

Astronomik 12nm Ha Filter

To add to the excitement, I have also added a new Astronomik 12nm Ha filter to my growing list of astrophotography equipment.  This is my first time diving into narrowband imaging, something I’ve been interested in for years.  This clip-in filter blocks out almost all wavelengths of light and only allows the light produced from emission nebulae and starlight to pass through.  What makes this feature so powerful t astrophotographers is the fact that it allows to image under heavy moonlight and light-pollution.  For a backyard astrophotographer such as myself, it is an absolute game-changer.  This means I can image twice as often, and produce more vivid and detailed deep-sky photos by adding Ha (Hydrogen Alpha) data to my existing RGB images.

 

 

Astronomik Ha Filter

Filter Purchased (For use with my Canon DSLR)
Clip-Filter (EOS) with ASTRONOMIK H-Alpha-CCD 12nm

Bought online from OPT Telescopes and shipped to Canada

 

HaRGB Astrophotography

Combining the RGB data with Ha for a stronger image

HaRGB Astrophotography

M16 – The Eagle Nebula in HaRGB

Anyways – about the Eagle Nebula.  I noticed the increased detail in M16 using the new telescope right away.  The super-sharp, high contrast images I have come to expect using a triplet apo were also evident right away.  I captured my RGB data of the Eagle Nebula on June 8th (About 2 hours), and returned to the subject on June 14th to photograph it using the Astronomik Ha Filter.  Because I use the filter ring adapter for my IDAS LPS filter on my Canon Xsi, the Astronomik 12nm Ha clip-in filter would not fit into the camera without the stock interior.  To make life easier – I captured the Ha data by clipping the Astronomik filter into my Canon 7D body.  This is the first time I have used the Canon 7D for deep-sky astrophotography.  I must say that I was impressed with the increased image resolution.  This makes me want to upgrade my aging 450D.  It never ends!  Here is my image of the Eagle Nebula combining the RGB data with the Ha:

 

Eagle Nebula in Ha + RGB

M16 – The Eagle Nebula in HaRGB

Photo Details

RGB:

Total Exposure: 2 Hours, 9 Minutes (43 frames) 
Exposure Length:  3 Minutes
ISO: 1600
Telescope: Explore Scientific ED102 CF
Camera: Canon Rebel Xsi (modified)
Filter:  IDAS Lps 

 

Ha:

Total Exposure: 1 Hours, 40 Minutes (20 frames) 
Exposure Length:  5 Minutes
ISO: 1600
Telescope: Explore Scientific ED102 CF
Camera: Canon EOS 7D
Filter: Astronomik 12nm Ha

 

Using H-Alpha as a Luminance Channel

Creating a HaRGB image in Photoshop

I still have a lot to learn about processing HaRGB images using a DSLR.  However, my early results are very promising!  I really love the way the H-Alpha data brings out the nebulosity without bloating the surrounding stars.  The common processing method of combining the Hydrogen Alpha data is to add it to your existing RGB data as a luminosity layer in Adobe Photoshop.  This is the method I have chosen to use, although I am still learning how to best accomplish this task.  You can read a simple tutorial on the process from Starizona.com.

 

Ha luminance layer

The H-Alpha (Ha) Layer of my image

Dark Sky Camping Trip

Camping Trip with Telescope

Our campsite at Selkirk PP

I wanted to take advantage of the dark skies at Selkirk Provincial park by imaging the Swan nebula from my campsite.  I had everything all ready to go including a perfect polar alignment, and my autoguiding system with PHD running smoothly.  The only problem – MY BATTERY DIED!  I captured one amazing 5 minute frame on the Swan Nebula before my battery pack’s low-power alarm sounded off.  What a heart breaker.  Normally this battery is enough to power my astrophotography equipment all night long, but I didn’t charge it long enough before we left.  Lesson learned!

To make the most of a bad situation, I decided to turn my attention to some wide-filed landscape astrophotography using my Canon 70D and tripod.  The moon finally set, and the sky was incredibly dark after midnight.  The milky way could easily be seen with the naked eye as it stretched across the sky.  This is something everyone should witness at some point in there life.  There is something about it that makes me feel connected with our universe.

 

Camping Milky Way

The Milky Way from Selkirk Provincial Park

 

As always, thank you for your interest my website, and this incredible hobby.  I’ll do my best to answer your questions so we can continue our journey together.  Please follow my Facebook Page for the most up-to-date astrophotography information.  It’s a great way to connect with me and other backyard astrophotographers chasing the same feeling.

AstroBackyard is on Facebook

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Screen Calibration

|Image Processing|5 Comments

When I purchased a new laptop computer back in 2016 for image processing and video editing and was quickly reminded of the importance of having a well-calibrated computer monitor.

The brightness of my new laptop screen was intense. It appears to be about 25% brighter than my well-calibrated 23 Inch external IPS monitor.  

When it comes to editing and viewing astrophotography images, the screen you’re using can really change the appearance of your results. If it’s too dim, you may not see all of the hidden imperfections in your data.

This results in astrophotography images that are less than pleasing to the eye. I’ve had to re-process many of my own photos in the photo gallery after discovered that they did not look the way I intended them to on different screens.

Screen Calibration for Astrophotography

If you have been processing your astrophotography images on a dim monitor, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise when you see them on a bright screen for the first time.

This can be a bit of an unsettling moment, especially if you’ve never been through this exercise before.

When you upload your image to the web, you have to accept the fact that people from all over the world may view your work on monitors and screens that display images MUCH different than yours.

Having a monitor that is too bright will show all of the impurities in your background sky.

One of the most extreme examples of the “bright screen effect” is to view your image on a mobile phone with the brightness tuned all the way up. Most people do not leave their mobile screens at this intense level at all times, but its interesting to see a potential worst-case scenario.

astrophotography tutorial

A common tactic beginners use (myself included), is to decrease the brightness or contrast of the image to “hide” the imperfections present in the background sky.

Noise, color blotches, and a generally poor signal-to-noise ratio turn to black. Unfortunately, this method degrades image quality and you lose an incredible amount of detail in your image. Don’t hide your sky!

It is wise to make sure your computer screen is giving you an accurate rendition of the image you worked so hard to capture. There are many ways to calibrate your computer monitor settings, including online tools and dedicated devices that can match specific color profiles.

The device below (Spyder5 Colorimeter), helps you share and print your images with the look you intended.

colorimeter

The Dataclor Spyder5Pro color accuracy device

A colorimeter will usually have a room light sensor that measures the lighting conditions of your room. If there has been a change in lighting in the room, it alerts you to modify your calibration settings for optimal color accuracy.

This creates a unique color profile for each of your monitors, and it can help you get a better match between your photos on screen and in print.

Why should you calibrate your monitor?

By spending a little time adjusting the calibration settings of your monitor, you can help ensure that the colors and brightness of your astrophotos are represented accurately.

I’ve never used a Colorimeter myself, but I have spent a lot of time adjusting settings manually to find the right balance. When I decide to start printing my photos, I think the Colorimeter is a good idea.

In terms of photography, screen calibration can have a dramatic effect on your online experience whether you are processing astrophotography images or not. You can ensure that you are seeing the images displayed on screen as they were intended to be viewed.  

This is especially important for creative professionals such as Graphic Designers, Photographers and Video Production teams.  

The idea is to have your monitor conforming to a preset color benchmark such as the sRGB or Adobe RGB color space.

screen brightness for astrophotography

 

How do your astrophotography images appear on other screens?

How to Manually Calibrate your Screen for Astrophotography

The first step towards adjusting your computer monitor display settings is by using the interface on the unit itself. Some models have more in-built control options than others. 

If you use an external monitor like me, it will have a set of controls, usually at the front and under the screen.

My ViewSonic LED monitor has the typical bare-bones contrast, brightness, and color mode. You’ll want to make sure that you do not have any ambient lighting in the room affecting your views, so close the blinds and turn off the light.

Do not calibrate your monitor in a bright, sunlit room, or with reflections appearing on-screen.

For accurate results, face your screen head-on, with your eye lined up with the top of the screen.

Calibration Tools and Adjustments

It is necessary to have some reference material on-screen that will let you know if you’ve pushed your settings too far one way or the other.  See the grayscale chart from APCmag below:

screen calibration tool

You should be able to distinguish between each shade of white/black

Using the Color Calibration Feature in Windows 10

If you are using Windows 10, they have a nifty color calibration walk-through that is great for making adjustments called Display Color Calibration.  

It will take you through a number of tests to see just how far off your display is.  They call it “color” calibration, but it’s really an overall screen calibration test.  

You can get to it by following this command path:  Start Menu > Settings > System > Display > Advanced Display Settings > Color Calibration.  The following calibration images are used in the Windows color calibration test.

Have you Checked Your Gamma Today?

“Gamma defines the mathematical relationship between the red, green, and blue color values that are sent to the display and the amount of light that’s ultimately emitted from it.”

Adjusting the gamma on your screen

In the image above, you should not see any overly obvious “dots” within the circles.

The Brightness Effect

As I stated earlier, having a display that is too bright can absolutely wreak havoc on an astrophoto that has been stretched too far. I know about this phenomenon all too well, as I like to stretch my data to its full potential (and sometimes go too far).

The tell-tale signs of an astronomical image that has been stretched too far, or with serious gradient and vignetting issues – is a muddy, green/brown background sky.  

The sky may appear to have a nice neutral dark grey or black on your dim monitor, but on your nephews brand new ultra-backlit iPhone, it’s a multicolored mess. 

Even images on APOD can appear to diminish in quality under the scrutiny of an overly bright display.

Here’s an image you can use as a guide.  You should be able to distinguish between the mans shirt and the background.  The black “X” in the background should be barely visible.

monitor calibration test

 

Contrast – Don’t Overdo it

Using the image below, adjust the contrast settings of your monitor so that the background appears black and not grey. If you have lost details in the white shirt the man is wearing, such as the buttons and creases, you have pushed the contrast too far.

adjusting contrast

My Best Advice

My advice is to process the image on image on a screen that has been calibrated as best as possible.  If you have access to an overly bright, unforgiving display – maybe have a look at your image on that as well.  

It can be useful to see an exaggerated version of your subject and fix any issues that really jump out at you.

It may be helpful to view your processed image on several different screens (including your phone) to get a feel for the middle ground. I usually preview my images on at least 3 monitors before posting online.

Take a look a few example astronomy photos taken by professionals on Astronomy Picture of the Day. Use the color, levels and background sky you see in their photos as a guideline. Chances are, the photos you see here will look great, no matter which display screen you view them on.  

Horsehead Nebula

This is because they have taken the precautions needed to ensure that their images are an accurate representation of scientific data, including screen calibration.  Many of these astrophotographers have dedicated calibration tools to help them keep their displays accurate.

I have had many issues with uneven sky backgrounds in the past, primarily due to the lack of using flat frames.

The dim monitors hide this messy background making the sky to appear a nice dark grey or black. There is value in viewing your images on a variety on screens to learn how to better process your images.  

I hope that this write-up has opened your eyes to the importance of screen calibration when processing astrophotography images.  

As for getting your night sky photos printed? I’ll save that for another post.

Watch my Astrophotography Image Processing Tutorial (Photoshop)

 

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Selective Processing for More Detail

Staying Inside – Image Processing

The unseasonably cold weather and precipitation we have experienced here in Southern Ontario have given me the perfect opportunity to go through my old astrophotography images and reprocess the data.  I have been advancing my image-processing skills by studying current astronomy images taken by the pros.

Being a creative professional myself, I have always understood and appreciated the power of inspiration. I am always interested in new image-processing techniques, Photoshop tutorials and new software that can enhance my work.  Through selective processing, I have been able to squeeze out the most amount of detail from my astro images.

Western Veil Nebula

The Western Veil Nebula – I reduced the stars to show more contrast in the nebula

My latest take on The Swan Nebula is my favorite version yet. Through selective processing, I was able to tame the background stars, while intensifying the gorgeous pinks and reds in the nebula itself.  

I also recently reprocessed my wide-field image of the Western Veil Nebula, with a focus on reducing star size, and overall image contrast and color. The “witch’s broom nebula” is a tough process, especially if you have to deal with a severe gradient behind all of those stars. After assessing the gradient in Photoshop, (mostly due to heavy light-pollution) I can easily even out the sky background using the Gradient Xterminator plugin.

I am quite pleased at my latest results of the Eagle Nebula as well. I went through my astrophotography folders from the past 4 years (like I said, it’s been cloudy!)  and found a set of almost 2 hours of frames on M16 that I had not previously used!  

I combined all of the data together from May 2012, and May 2013 in DeepSkyStacker to create an image with over 3 hours of exposure time.  I decided to keep the extremely wide-field view captured by my 80mm telescope, rather than cropping the photo around the nebula.

This image really benefited from the selective processing technique. By reducing the stars on a separate layer, I was able to keep all of the detail found in the nebula.

Eagle Nebula - 80mm Telescope

Wide field image of the Eagle Nebula with my 80mm telescope

Image Processing Techniques

One of the processing techniques I have been implementing into my photos is to process different elements of the image separately. By this, I mean to process the background, the stars and the nebulosity on their own.  

I am able to do this by selecting each element of the image and stretching the data without affecting the other areas. For example, I can boost the vibrance and saturation of the nebula or galaxy without adding additional noise to the background of space and stars.

As I have stated many times, I prefer to tame the stars in the image to be as small as possible. Normally, I would run the “make stars smaller” action to the entire image in Photoshop.

This actually starts to diminish the precious detail in your deep-sky object that you worked so hard to capture! Many other actions that are intended to correct issues with the background space and stars can take away from your subject as well.

You can also manually Remove the Stars Completely from your image using photoshop.

Swan Nebula - 8 Inch telescope

My latest version of the Swan Nebula

Selective Processing

There are several ways to accomplish the selective processing technique to your astronomy photos.  You can create multiple adjustment layers of your image in Photoshop, and apply the various actions to each element of the image on a separate layer.

I use the Select and Mask tool to refine my selections before applying effects. This ensures that each new adjustment layer is blended naturally into the final image.

 Once you have applied your desired settings applied to each layer, you can use layer masks to combine all aspects of the photograph into one.  This means you will likely have layers for:

  • The Background Space – With a balanced black-point set

  • The Background Stars – Small, sharp and with lots of accurate colour

  • The Brighter Stars – Soft, or with Diffraction Spikes and Color

  • The Deep-Sky Object – Full of luminance, color and detail

  • The Core or Brightest Area of the DSO – reduced to show detail, not blown out

Selective Processing - Astrophotography

Processing the nebulosity separately from the background stars in Photoshop

You can also process the selected elements of your images as separate documents.  Sometime I prefer to do this to really focus on achieving the best possible result for my focus area, without the temptation to poke around at another feature.  

Once you have processed each version of the image with your focus area maximized, you can then combine the images using layer masks.  The blending and layer masking is definitely the most delicate stage of the process.  You can really make a mess of an image by failing to inspect all areas of your image before flattening.

I find it helpful to use a reference image of your deep-sky target. This is the best way to make sure you have not overstretched your image data, and that your colors and details are an accurate portrayal of that particular deep sky wonder. I often look for inspiration on APOD!  

To stay connected with me and my latest astrophotography images, please follow my Facebook Page.  I hope you are all excited about the wonderful deep-sky targets that will be gracing our night sky the coming months, I sure am!

Resources:

Astrophotography for Beginners – The Basics

How to choose an Astrophotography Camera – My Advice

Top 5 Telescopes for Beginners – My Advice

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Astrophotography by Trevor Jones

|Blog Updates|3 Comments

What is Astrobackyard.com?

This astrophotography blog creates an outlet for me to share images, information and tips about my favourite hobby. I received lots of help when I began this hobby in 2011, and it’s my turn to pay-it-forward to the next wave of astrophotographers. I have watched the hobby grow in the short years that I have been involved. There are more options and information out there now than ever before. The one aspect that does not change is a love for the night sky. The story behind the sites name is that the backyard is where I began my journey, and where I still spend the most time under the stars. Travelling to new locations around the continent with much darker skies is great, but happens only once or twice a year at max. My backyards is my personal window to the heavens, and it’s where I connect with the universe.

 

Lagoon Nebula by Trevor Jones

The Lagoon and Cat’s Paw Nebula by Trevor Jones

Why should I come back?

If you’re anything like me, you enjoy reading about a fellow astrophotographers experiences.  You enjoy hearing stories from someone who shares the same love for astronomy that you do.  If you use similar camera and astrophotography equipment, you might even learn a thing or two from my mistakes.  Maybe you just like to sit back and enjoy the hours of hard work I have put into each and every one of my photos.  Whichever reason you choose, I sincerely appreciate your company.

What to expect

I have recently overhauled my site to it’s current design. Astrobackyard.com is now set to become an authority in the astrophotography community.  You can expect more astronomy related news and events, more astrophotography tutorials and equipment reviews, and of course, all of my astrophotography adventures from the backyard, and beyond.  I plan to share astrophotography processing techniques that have helped me pull the absolute most detail out of my images.  Later this year I will be creating a video tutorial series on youtube that should cover the basics of my current workflow.  I am not an professional photographer, image-processor or scientist, but I am dedicated to improving my skills.  I am an active member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, as the current webmaster and newsletter editor for the Niagara Centre. Please follow me on Twitter for the absolute latest news.

@astrobackyard on Instagram

I post new and old astronomy photos in Instagram quite regularly.  Feel free to connect with me over there!

 

Astrobackyard on Instagram

 

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M42 – The Gorgeous Orion Nebula

|Nebulae|3 Comments

Located below Orion’s Belt, the Orion Nebula is now gracing our skies each night

The skies were clear in Niagara last weekend, so I set up my telescope for a night of astrophotography imaging. There are so many great imaging options at this time of year. The Pleiades, the Pacman Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Triangulum Galaxy and the Dumbbell Nebula are all on display right now, to name a few.

I settled on the Orion Nebula because it’s an “all-nighter” object from my backyard viewing area. I set my trusty Canon 450D to capture 60 three minute exposures while I slept. The focusing, framing and camera control was all accomplished with my new favorite piece of astronomy software, Backyard EOS.

I find that I am able to achieve an extra tight focus on this deep-sky object because of the 4 stars (Trapezium) located within the Orion Nebula. They seem to be the perfect size for my cameras live-view preview screen at 10 X view. I may use this “focus-test” for imaging nearby objects in Orion such as the Rosette Nebula and M78. I’ll calibrate the mount, hop over to M42 for a tight focus, and then frame the new object up afterward.

I decided to include the Running Man Nebula (NGC 1973, NGC 1975 and NGC 1977) because I feel that it completes the image and fits so nicely in my field of view. A larger telescope would be more suited for an isolated shot of Messier 42 on its own.

Orion Nebula - Astrophotography Image

M42, NGC 1973, NGC 1975, NGC 1977

PHOTO DETAILS

50 x 3 min frames @ ISO 800
Total Exposure Time = 2 Hours, 30 Minutes
20 Dark Frames Subtracted
Canon Xsi Camera through 80mm APO Refractor

Learn how I process my images in Adobe Photoshop (Tutorial)

How to find M42 – The Orion Nebula

If you want to locate this glorious nebula, you will first have to locate the Orion constellation in the night sky. It is very easy to spot, if you’re looking at the right time of year. The winter months in The Northern Hemisphere are the perfect time to get familiarized with this exquisite creation of the Heavens. The constellation is unmistakable once after you spot the three medium-bright stars in a short, straight row that make up Orion’s Belt.

The Orion Nebula is perhaps the best deep-sky target for a beginner. Here are some general tips for getting started in astrophotography:

Beginner Astrophotography – How to Get Started and What You Need

Under dark skies, you should be able to find the Orion Nebula quite easily below Orion’s Belt. A careful observation with the naked eye will reveal a curved line of stars “hanging” from the three stars of Orion’s Belt. This collection of stars represents Orion’s Sword. Look for Orion Nebula (also known as M42) about midway down the Sword of Orion. Your eyes will see it as a small, hazy white spot. A long-exposure photograph like the one above brings out substantially more detail than can be observed with the naked eye.

The constellation of Orion

Observing the Orion Constellation this Winter

M42 is a wondrous sight through a pair of binoculars. Start by locating the three stars in Orion’s Belt, and move downward towards Orion’s sword. You will know when you have found the Orion Nebula because it is one of the most rewarding celestial treasures one can observe.

This enormous cloud of gas and dust lies approximately 1,300 light-years from Earth. This giant nebulous cocoon is giving birth to an estimated 1000 stars. The four brightest stars located within the open star cluster included in the nebula, are known as the Trapezium and can be distinguished when looking through a backyard telescope.

field of view

The Orion Nebula imaged through a Meade 70mm APO telescope.  

I plan on observing and imaging this brilliant winter constellation over the next few months. I hope I have inspired you to get out with your binoculars or telescope and enjoy the beauty of the night sky with your family!

Orion Nebula Video Close Up

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M27 – The Dumbbell Nebula – Find it in Binoculars or Photograph it

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Photography of the Dumbbell Nebula in the night sky

M27 – The Dumbbell Nebula

The Dumbbell Nebula is well photographed by professional and amateur night sky photographers alike. It was one of the first deep-sky objects I imaged way back in 2011. A member of the astronomy forum I was a part of suggested that I give it a try, as it is a very gratifying object to image due to it’s brightness. Sure enough, there it was! Even a 30 second exposure was enough to make this interesting planetary nebula “pop” on my display screen. I have re-imaged this object several times since that first night, and realized that it takes hours of exposures to increase the detail in this nebula. My 4 hour exposure looked disappointingly similar to my 1 hour shot! This photo is an oldy, and I can’t wait to image it again this fall once I get my 8″ Orion Astrograph back up and running. I should also note that this was taken back when I was using my beloved Celestron CG-5 mount.

Now that my Canon Xsi is modified to increase the sensitivity to the colour red and the H-alpha wavelength, I can pick up much more detail around the edges of M27. The increased focal length of my larger scope (800mm) is also better suited for this rather small target. 


PHOTO DETAILS

M27 – The Dumbbell Nebula
Imaged Saturday, July 28th, 2012

 
Telescope: Explore Scientific ED80 with WO Flat III 0.8x FR/FF
Mount: Celestron ASCG-5
Guiding: Meade DSI Pro II and PHD Guiding
Guide Scope: Orion Mini 50mm
Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Stock)
ISO: 1600
Total Exposure: 3 Hours, 30 Minutes (60 x 210 seconds)
Processing Software: Deep Sky Stacker, Photoshop CC
Support Files: 15 dark frames 



 
The Dumbbell Nebula was the first planetary nebula to be discovered by Charles Messier in 1764. Not surprising, as this object has a visual magnitude of 7.5! (Thanks Wikipedia!) It is easily visible in binoculars and small telescopes if you know where to look. It is located in the constellation Vulpecula, at a distance of about 1,360 light years. The human eye will only perceive this nebula as a white, two-lobed structure. 

Where to find Messier 27
Location of Dumbbell Nebula – Source Wikipedia

Location of the Dumbbell Nebula

To find it begin at Altair and navigate back towards Deneb in Cygnus, right through the summer triangle.  About one quarter of the way back to Deneb, you will find a bright orange star (Y Sagittae). Continue to connect the line between Altair and Y Sagittae by another 2°, and you should come to a barely visible naked-eye star, 14 Vulpeculae. Messier 27 is right next to this star and will look a cloud-like object through your telescope or binoculars. Below you will find a handy star-chart I made using one of my wide field photos of the night sky from my backyard. 

Star-Chart
 

Star chart to find the Dumbbell Nebula

 

Did you notice the www.astrobackyard.com watermark?  That’s right, I am transitioning into a brand new website with advanced features and one that is much more professional and user-friendly. I am very excited about this move and have been waiting for this moment for a very long time!  Thank you to all of the regular visitors of this blog and your continued support!

  

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Photographing the 2015 Perseid Meteor Shower

|Meteor Shower|3 Comments
2015 Perseid Meteor Shower

I captured one Perseid meteor from my backyard – better luck next year!

2015 Perseid Meteor Shower

Above photo taken August 13th, 2015 – 12:22am

I was not able to travel to a pretty location to shoot the Perseids last night, so I just set up shop in the backyard! I planted my Canon 7D firmly on my tripod, and aimed above my house towards the constellation Perseus, and above. Using Backyard EOS, I set the camera to shoot 200 – 25-second exposures, at ISO 800. Then I went to bed!  Unfortunately, my battery died after 160 exposures. Luckily though, I didn’t end up empty-handed as this meteoroid streaked through the bottom left of the frame above at around 12:00am:)
 
I used some “creative” processing for the photo above. You may feel that the image is just a tad heavy on the blue! The light-pollution over my house produced a nasty gradient, and an even-black sky really pronounced this. Since the focus of this image is the tiny Perseid meteoroid on the bottom left anyway, I decided to enhance the blue levels to create a more pleasing, although somewhat unnatural looking night sky. Normally, I prefer my RGB black point to be set at roughly 32-32-33.
Backyard astrophotography

So many frames, so few meteors

About the Perseid Meteor Shower

The Perseid meteor shower is traditionally the most spectacular and most-reliable show of the year. The evening of August 12th through the morning of August 13th is the peak time for sky watchers.

Before all else, the biggest factor in a successful image (or viewing) of the Perseid meteor shower for 2015 is dark skies! This means getting away from the bright city lights that wash out the night sky, and prevent us from seeing all but the brightest of meteoroids. An unobstructed view of the North-Eastern sky and overhead is also ideal. This year’s display could be the best since 2010 due to that fact that we have the advantage of having a moonless sky. Experts predict anywhere from 75-100 meteoroids per hour at its peak under the right conditions! Realistically, you can expect to see a streak of light every few minutes or so.

Perseid Meteor Shower

The Perseid Meteor Shower of 2013 – Photo by Trevor Jones

 
I captured this photo in 2013, when the Perseids peaked 5 days after the new moon. Notice the streaking cosmic particle at the lower right of frame. You can also just barely make out the California nebula above the streaking meteoroid!  I have learned a lot since this photo was taken 2 years ago, I hope to get a great shot tomorrow night. This year will be even darker, with a chance to see more “shooting stars”.

Photographing the 2015 Perseid Meteor shower

Make sure you can find the constellation Perseus in the night sky. It is located below the recognizable constellation of Cassiopeia, which I always think of it as a big “W”. You will want attach your camera to a sturdy tripod and aim it roughly towards that constellation.  A nice wide-field lens would really help increase your chances of getting a great shot. This year, I plan on using the widest lens I own, my Canon L series 17-40mm. A kit lens that goes back to 18mm will also work just fine. Make sure you stay up nice and late, so Perseus is nice and high in the sky. Have a look at the handy reference photo provided by Sky and Telescope.
 
Where to look for Perseid Meteors

Radiant point of the Perseid Meteor Shower

While in manual mode on your DSLR, try setting a slow enough shutter speed to increase your chances of a meteor streak, but not so slow that the stars begin to trail themselves. I prefer to have pinpoint stars with the streaking meteor blazing through them. For the photo above, I used a shutter speed of 20 seconds, an ISO of 1600, with my lens aperture set to F4. Keep in mind that I was away from city light pollution.

I sat next to my tripod and continuously pressed the shutter button for a period of about one hour (fun eh!?) in hopes of catching a real burner.  An automatic timer or camera control through a laptop would make things much easier. Just look at what is possible when you have the right equipment, conditions, and creativity:

 
Photo of a meteor shower by Ken Brandon
Perseid Meteor Shower photo by Kenneth Brandon

The meteor shower occurs when earth travels through a debris-stream of comet particles, in this case, Comet Swift-Tuttle. The reason this annual meteor shower is called “The Perseids” is that the “shooting stars” appear to originate from a single point (or radiant) in the constellation of Perseus.
The best part about meteor showers is that you don’t need any optical aids like binoculars or telescopes to enjoy them, just your eyes. Okay, a lawn chair might come in handy, so make sure you have one of those! Most importantly, make a night of it with friends or family! Enjoy the excitement of the 2015 Perseid Meteor Shower, and watching the night sky light up with each other.

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Black Forest Star Party

The unspoiled dark skies of Cherry Springs State Park in Pennsylvania are a real treat to stargazers who attend the Black Forest Star Party.  Now, this is what our night sky is supposed to look like! 

Whether you’re a visual observer or an amateur astrophotographer, it’s hard to find a place as special as Cherry Springs State Park

black forest star party

Black Forest Star Party

Although I have been to Cherry Springs State Park several times, I attended my first Black Forest Star Party (BFSP) in September 2019. The Black Forest Star Party has been running since 1999 at the Cherry Springs State Park and is hosted by the Central Pennsylvania Observers.

The following video takes you along for the ride as I travel from Ontario, Canada, to the Black Forest Star Party.

The skies at Cherry Springs State Park are absolutely incredible. The Milky Way stretches across the park from end to end without any intrusion from city lights.  They have a strict policy about white light, which really helps preserve your night vision throughout the night.

As I mentioned to a fellow amateur astronomer at the park, the Black Forest Star Party is like a “car show” for telescopes. People from all over the US and Canada bring their prized astronomy gear and show it off.

20″ Dobsonian telescopes were commonplace at the park, and there are often telescopes with 30″ of aperture or more.  Giant refractors, heavy-duty mounts, and expensive CCD cameras as far as the eye can see.

I am always very impressed by the behavior of all the guests. It’s a little strange to be outside with almost 500 people all night without any loud music or yelling. It’s just a big group of people who have traveled many miles for the same reason, dark skies!

Dobsonian telescopes

A look at some of the large Dobsonian telescopes on the observing field. 

Where is the Star Party Held?

The location of this annual stargazing event is Cherry Springs State Park, which is one of the darkest sites in the state of Pennsylvania. It has even been designated as a Dark Sky Park by the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

Cherry Springs State Park is an International Dark Sky Association (IDA) Park, and one of the best places in the eastern United States for stargazing. The park sits 700 m above sea level in the Susquehannock State Forest and offers largely unobstructed views of the night sky in a 360-degree field of view.

In the light pollution map below, you can clearly see why this location is so dark. The red and white areas are the brightest in terms of light pollution, and the blue areas are the darkest. Cherry Springs State Park is a Bortle Scale Class 2 site. 

light pollution map

The location of the Black Forest Star Party.

When is Black Forest Star Party?

The Black Forest Star Party is usually held in the early Fall at Cherry Springs State Park. To find out when the next BFSP will happen, you can visit the official website

There, you will also find directions to the park, as well as frequently asked questions and star party rules. Each year, this event hosts a number of interesting speakers. In September 2019, I was lucky enough to be one of them!

Astrophotography

The image of the Andromeda Galaxy below was captured under the pristine skies of this location. I set up my Canon EOS 60Da DSLR camera and William Optics RedCat 51 telescope on a Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro tracking mount. The photo includes 100 x 2-minute images at ISO 3200. 

Andromeda Galaxy

The Andromeda Galaxy captured at the Black Forest Star Party, 2019. 

Here is a photo of the Triangulum Galaxy I captured at the Black Forest Star Party in 2019. Broadband galaxies are some of the most difficult targets to shoot effectively from home, which is why I tend to give them a lot of attention when I am at a dark sky preserve. 

Triangulum Galaxy

The Triangulum Galaxy captured at the Black Forest Star Party in 2019. 

Cherry Springs Star Party

Not to be confused with the Black Forest Star Party, the Cherry Springs Star Party takes place at the same location as the BFSP, but at a different time of year. This annual stargazing event happens when the core of the Milky Way is beginning to rise high overhead. 

Here is a photo I captured of the Milky Way from the Cherry Springs Star Party in 2018:

The Milky Way

The Milky Way from the Cherry Springs Star Party.

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