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Wizard Nebula through 80mm Telescope

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The Wizard Nebula through my 80mm Telescope

Clear August Nights

More consecutive clear summer nights have allowed me to put in some serious time on the Wizard Nebula!  In fact, this is the most amount of exposure time I have put into any object!  Over 7 Hours! Truth be told, I would have hopped over to a new subject, but this attractive nebula is in the sweet spot of the sky right now.

View an updated image of the Wizard Nebula using my current astrophotography equipment.

Wizard Nebula 80mm telescope

The Wizard Nebula using an 80mm Refractor Telescope

NGC 7380 – Wizard Nebula Details:

Total Exposure Time:  7 Hours, 15 Minutes (87 x 5 Minute Subs)

Telescope Mount: Skywatcher HEQ-5 Pro Synscan
Camera and Telescope: Modified Canon 450D through Explore Scientific ED80

Guided with PHD Guiding
Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker
Processed in Adobe Photoshop CC

NGC 7380 (also known as the Wizard Nebula) was discovered in 1787 by Caroline Herschel.  It is an open cluster located in the constellation of Cepheus.  The large nebula is extremely difficult to observe visually!

Travel Astrophotography Equipment

I have recently moved into an apartment, so I cannot image from home. To get my imaging fix I have to set up my scope in a friend’s backyard across town.  I leave it unattended all night long and cross my fingers everything worked out in the morning!  It’s a bit nerve-racking thinking about my expensive equipment running all night with no supervision, but I have my procedure down-pat and can count on good results now.

View my updated portable astrophotography setup

explore_scientific_ed80_telescope

I have been using my small refractor a lot lately because it is just so darn easy to transport and setup!  Not to mention that there is no need to collimate it like a Newtonian.  My Orion 8″ Newtonian Reflector is in desperate need of collimation at the moment (Oval stars!).  Until I can use a friends laser collimating tools, I will continue to shoot wide-field shots with the ED80.

Orion has started popping up in the mornings now, a familiar sign that summer is coming to an end.  I am excited to shoot one of my favorite winter objects (M78) with the 8″ Orion!

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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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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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IC 1848 – The Soul Nebula

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My Attempt at the Soul Nebula

ic1848 Soul Nebula

IC 1848, The Soul Nebula Imaged Weds., Oct 2, 2013
 32 subs 4 Minutes Each totaling 2 Hours, 8 Minutes

PHOTO DETAILS

Updated Version: The Soul Nebula


Scope: Explore Scientific ED80 with WO Flat III 0.8x FR/FF
Mount: Skywatcher HEQ5 Pro Synscan
Guiding: Meade DSI Pro II and PHD Guiding
Guide Scope: Orion Mini 50mm
Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Stock)
ISO: 1600
Exposure: 2 hours 8 minutes (32 x 240s)
Processing Software: Calibration and Stacking in Deep Sky Stacker, Levels/Curves/Enhancements in Photoshop
Support Files: 15 bias, 30 darks

Okay, I realize that the image above isn’t very impressive. My darn unmodded Canon Xsi isn’t picking up the reds the way an astro-modded one would. I think another 2 hours would really help.  It’s always a delicate balance between pulling out data and keeping noise under control when processing an astro-image.

Thanks to a friend at my Astronomy Club, (RASC Niagara Centre) I have been given a few invaluable tips to progress my astrophotography knowledge further.  Namely by using the Backyard EOS software for acquiring images in the field.

Currently, I use Canon EOS Utilities to run my camera and has been working fine, but Backyard EOS has features catered towards astrophotographers.  The main feature I am interested in is dithering.

Another thing I am excited to try is stacking my raw files in photoshop rather than deep sky stacker. I have recently upgraded to Adobe Photoshop CC, and so far I am loving it. The updates to  Adobe Camera Raw (ACR 8.2) and improvements to the sharpening tools are outstanding.

Trevor Jones looking through a 20 inch dobsonian telescope at the CCCA Observatory

 

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IC 5070 – The Pelican Nebula

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To view my latest image of the Pelican Nebula, have a look at the version captured using a dedicated astronomy camera (ZWO ASI294MC Pro). Narrowband filters can make capturing faint emission nebulae like the Pelican Nebula easier from the city, as it separates the light wavelengths associated with the target from a washed out sky.

IC 5070 – The Pelican Nebula

is5070 Pelican Nebula in Cygnus taken by Trevor Jones

Above: IC 5070, The Pelican Nebula Imaged Tues., Sept 4, 2013
17 subs 5 Minutes Each totaling 1 Hour, 25 Minutes

PHOTO DETAILS

Scope: Explore Scientific ED80 with WO Flat III 0.8x FR/FF
Mount: Skywatcher HEQ5 Pro Synscan
Guiding: Meade DSI Pro II and PHD Guiding
Guide Scope: Orion Mini 50mm
Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Stock)
ISO: 1600
Exposure: 1 hour 25 minutes (17 x 300s)
Processing Software: Calibration and Stacking in Deep Sky Stacker, Levels/Curves/Enhancements in Photoshop
Support Files: 15 bias, 15 darks

Thanks to my IDAS LPS filter, I have been able to image in my backyard in the city with decent results. Before I had the filter, a 3-minute exposure would be so washed out, that I could not make out the subject I was imaging until making a levels adjustment in Photoshop. Now, I can take 5-minute exposures at 1600 ISO with minimal effects of light pollution.

Emission Nebulae like the North America Nebula, Pelican and California really don’t show up well with a stock camera, but I have tried my best to pull out as much nebulosity as possible anyway. As the nights get cooler and longer, I will be switching my focus to fall objects in the coming weeks:)

North America Nebula dn Pelican Nebula taken by Trevor Jones

North America Nebula & Pelican Nebula

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