Sunday, November 23, 2014

Massive Improvement in M42 with Orion EQ-1 Motor Driven Mount

I've been making incremental improvements over the past 2 years, but this was my first time imaging the Orion Nebula (M42) with my motor driven equatorial mount. I did a quick alignment (still trying to figure that out) but was able to get up to about 13 second exposures without star trails. Here is the resulting image:

orion nebula m42 with canon t5i 300mm
Canon T5i on EQ1 mount stacked in DSS, 159 subs, 28 darks, 25 bias, 20 flats, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 300mm, 13 sec, total exposure time about 27 minutes
I did most of my curves in DSS, even though I hear doing curves in Photoshop is a lot better. I just can't get it, but I keep trying. I used Photoshop for a bit of contrast and saturation. I was so pleased with the original color that remained even after stacking in DSS.

improvement in orion m42 photography
It feels amazing to look back on my improvement over the years - I remember being excited about each of these images at one point and now they seem so basic!

I have a lot to learn in processing, but I did make some major progress using flats at my EQ mount for the first time on Orion. Yes that's right! Flat frames! I found this article by BudgetAstro to be the most helpful, because I didn't realize the goal of flat frames is to get the histogram in the middle - unlike dark frames where you just slap the lens cap on and use the exact same settings. I tried using flats before but just used the same settings like dark frames and massively over-exposed my flats, which is pretty pointless because then no gradient or vignette remains.

flat frames
Me taking flat frames in my family room, trying to get the histogram just barely to the left of center. Adjusted exposure time and kept f-number, focus, and ISO the same as my light frames.

flat frames
Tried to get the screen as close to the lens as possible, and moved it around slightly while snapping frames to try to get even lighting
I had massive hot spots in the center of my deep sky images last time, and with the flats this time I didn't have that issue with vignettes. Not saying I had a perfectly gradient-free field, but it was way better than a right gray hot spot.

More gray November skies in the forecast, maybe I'll get some more time to practice my Photoshop curves - but either way I'm extremely proud of my big leap forward in M42!

canon t5i on orion EQ1
A rather blurry shot of my setup, Canon T5i on Orion EQ-1 mount

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Ring Around the Moon, Rainbow Lunar Halo Tonight

Tonight there was a ring around the moon, a rainbow lunar halo (a 22ยบ halo to be exact). As light passes through hexagonal ice prisms in the upper atmosphere, no light leaves the prisms at an angle less than 22° making a distinct light/dark boundary with a radius of 22° radiating out from the moon.

I believe this is my third time photographing a lunar halo - my first time was most impressive visually but faded when I went back inside to get my camera. My second time was a bit better last November in Brownsburg.

This time my lunar halo wasn't broken up by a contrail, and was clear enough to see the rainbow (or 'moonbow') effect of the light splitting into different wavelengths. These lunar halos can happen throughout the year, because the upper atmosphere can be cold enough for ice crystals even when the temperature below is much warmer - but I've only ever seen it in the colder months.

ring around moon tonight halo
Single frame with Canon T5i, ISO 800, 18mm, f/4, 2.5 sec

halo ring around moon iphone
Lunar halo with iPhone and NightCap app

lunar halo moonbow 55mm
Close-up of the lunar halo moonbow, single frame with Canon T5i, ISO 1600, 55mm, f/5.6, 3.2 sec, saturation and contrast tweaked in iPhoto

Friday, November 7, 2014

Download & Install EOS Utility Without CD on Windows 8

I want to use Canon EOS Utility with my Canon T5i, but my laptop doesn't have a CD drive - so even though I have the CD to install EOS Utility in hand, I can't get it onto my computer! I went to the Canon website to try to download the software, but they only have an updater and not the actual application. What the heck!

Luckily there is a work-around that I found online. This video was super helpful (there's also one for OSX), but I can't stand tutorial videos because they always take forever and I just want to see some quick screenshots to guide me through the process. I guess it's just a personal preference. In any case, here are the steps - worked like a charm!

install eos utility
Go to the Canon website and click on 'Service & Support' and enter your camera model...

install eos utility
Under 'Drivers & Software' click on Software and check the box next to EOS Utility Updater for Windows, then click Download...
install eos utility
Download and open the ZIP file...
install eos utility
And launch the updater program... What do you think will happen?
install eos utility
It tries to locate the original software to update it, and then it looks for the CD to be in the CD drive... but I don't have a CD drive! So here comes the trick... Go ahead and close this window...
install eos utility
Search for 'regedit.exe' and run the application... You'll get a warning asking if you want to allow changes to the Registry, so hit yes...
install eos utility
Expand the folders 'HKEY_LOCAHL_MACINE' and 'SOFTWARE'...
install eos utility
Click on the folder within 'SOFTWARE' called 'Wow6432Node', right click and create a new Key...
install eos utility
Name the new key 'Canon' and then create a new Key within this new Canon folder you just made... Name this Key 'EOS Utility' and type carefully.
install eos utility
So that's HKEY_LOCAHL_MACINE > SOFTWARE > Wow6432Node > Canon > EOS Utility... leave the new folders empty and go ahead and close the Registry editor...
install eos utility
Now when you run the updater application you downloaded you get a window that says 'Extracting Files' instead of the search CD window...
install eos utility
Success! It's the install window and you didn't even need the CD!
camera hooked up to laptop
Presto! Now I just need a longer USB cable that goes to my camera...

Sunset Over Indiana November 7, 2014

There was a pretty amazing sunset over Noblesville, and probably the rest of Indiana, this evening - Friday, November 7, 2014. I took these handheld, and tried to pin my elbows against my body to keep the camera as stable as possible. I'm pretty pleased that I was able to stay still at 1/13 sec, usually around 1/60 it starts to show. The wider 18 mm lens definitely helped!

november 7 sunset
Single frame, Canon T5i, ISO 100, 18mm, f/6.3, 1/13 sec, handheld
indiana sunset november 7
Single frame, Canon T5i, ISO 200, 35mm, f/6.3, 1/60 sec, handheld
november 7 indiana sunset
Single frame, Canon T5i, ISO 100, 55mm, f/6.3, 1/15 sec, handheld

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Deep Sky Imaging with Canon T5i on Orion EQ-1: Pleiades and North America Nebula

star trails over observation site
50 frames stacked in StarStaX each at ISO 800, 6.2mm, f/2.7, 15 sec

I set up my telescope and Canon T5i on the Orion EQ-1 mount (with motor attachment) on my back patio. It was a super clear night, and nice and dark with the exception of the waxing gibbous moon. I attempted to take a long stack of images for Andromeda, since last time was just a test with 14 light frames.

back patio observing with telescope
Patio setup, complete with candle and coffee. Tripod just barely on the patio to spot Polaris.

With my camera and tripod on the very edge of my patio, Polaris is just barely visible above the roofline. We're talking JUST BARELY - here is a photo to prove it, you can see the blurry gutter in the foreground!

polaris over roof
Polaris just barely visible over the roofline with a blurry gutter in the foreground, but I was able to keep my tripod on firm concrete without going into the yard.

I tried to slew to Andromeda and ran into a little problem. Actually I ran into the motor with this little metal pole on the side of the mount. It's the casing for the declination slow motion control screw rod thing. I messed with it for a little bit, but the cold was getting to me so I moved on to select a new target.

motor EQ-1 stuck in the way
EQ-1 motor getting in the way!

In hindsight, all I had to do is turn the declination axis around 90° to point the screw casing the other direction and let the smaller side pass by the motor. Another solution would be to spin the RA axis around the other way and turn the camera upside down - there are lots of ways to get to where you want to go on the sky but they're not always easy with a camera viewfinder.

I took stacks of both the Pleiades and the North America Nebula. the North America Nebula (NGC 7000) easy to find but tricky because it's not in my Stellarium catalogue. It's very close to Deneb (a bright star in the Summer Triangle) so in that sense it is very easy to find. I ended up using an asterism of 7 stars to help tell if I was in the right place - it's sort of like a sideways Orion right in front of the "Gulf of Mexico" part of the North America Nebula, so that's a good spot to aim for.

I had a real problem with a center hot spot in the middle, a vignette that turned the center of the image lighter gray even in the absence of actual nebula dust clouds. I tried to subtract this vignette to show what dust clouds are really there, but it's difficult to tease them apart. I need to do more of these to really up my processing skills. Really the three things that make a good deep sky photo are dark skies, good equipment, and processing skills -- if any of these is your weak link you can expect mediocre results.

north america nebula canon t5i 300mm
Canon T5i on Orion EQ-1 motorized, 154 subs, 40 darks, 90 bias, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 300mm, 15 sec, total exposure time around 40 minutes

sideways orion asterism in north america
The group of stars that helped me identify the right area near Deneb

north america nebula compare
Comparison between my image and a much nicer image by Ignacio Rico Gualda shows some faint light and dark patches around the "Gulf of Mexico" portion of the nebula, and some general-ish light patch in the middle. Just barely!

Next up, the Pleiades, "Seven Sisters," or M45. I've stacked the Pleiades before, but never really got much nebulosity. I've seen plenty of photos, always with some wispy blue clouds around the stars, but I was never sure if I really captured it or not.

The stack from last night puts that ambiguity to rest, with some clear wisps in the right places when compared to a Hubble image. I had a major problem with vignettes creating a hot spot right in the center of the frame. I tried to remove the gray circle in the middle while leaving the nebulosity, but it's a bit like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

pleiades with canon t5i 300mm
Canon T5i on Orion EQ-1 motorized, 44 subs, 40 darks, 90 bias, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 300mm, 15 sec, total exposure time around 11 minutes

pleiades with wisps
Close up crop comparing my image to a Hubble image of the Pleiades shows a couple wisps around the stars

So there you have it! Light polluted skies in Noblesville, Indiana and some free time on a Saturday night produced some pretty faint fuzzy blobs - but when you compare to the 'actual' appearance of the deep sky objects, some faint similarities do emerge. This comparison technique helped me confirm my first Milky Way capture, so I think these objects definitely count!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

November 2014 Indiana Astronomical Society Novice/Urban Observing List

indiana astronomical society observing list
Phil Dimpelfeld from the Indiana Astronomical Society creates a Novice/Urban Observing List each month for newbies like myself with not-so-dark skies and not-so-powerful equipment. Phil splits the list into different levels based on difficulty. Level 1 objects are relatively easy to find, and Level 2 and 3 are fainter and therefore more challenging to spot. To complete the monthly challenge, you must observe at least 6 objects regardless of the difficulty level.

I haven't done an observing list challenge since June when we were busy getting ready to move and getting set up in the new house. But now that the nights are getting longer and my schedule is calming down a bit, I think I can get back into it - especially since M31 is on the list and I've been meaning to take a longer stack of Andromeda since testing my motorized mount with only 14 light frames a few months ago.


M31, the “Andromeda Galaxy”, 00h 42.7m, +41° 16', mag = 4.4, size = 180' x 63' (can be seen with binoculars!)

Eta Cassiopeiae, double star in Cassiopeia, 00h 49.1m, +57° 49', mag = 3.4, 7.5, sep = 12”

Psi 1 Piscium, double star in Pisces, 01h 05.6m, +21° 28', mag = 5.6, 5.8, sep = 30"

NGC 457 (Caldwell 13), the “E.T.” Cluster, open cluster in Cassiopeia, 01h 19.1m, +58° 20', mag = 6.4, size = 13.0'

Gamma Arietis (”Mesartim”), double star in Aries, 01h 53.5m, +19° 18', mag = 4.8, 4.8, sep = 7.8”

NGC 752, open cluster in Andromeda, 01h 57.8m, +37° 41', mag = 5.7, size = 50.0'


M32, satellite galaxy to M31, 00h 42.7m, +40° 52', mag = 9.0, size = 8’ x 6’

NGC 663 (Caldwell 10), Open Cluster in Cassiopeia, 01h 46.0m, +61° 15′, mag = 7.1, size = 16’ (How did Messier miss this one?)

Uranus, planet currently in Pisces, 00h 49m, +04° 33’, mag = 6.1, size = 3.7”


M110, satellite galaxy to M31, 00h 40.4m, +41° 41’, mag = 10.0, size = 17' X 10'

M33, the “Triangulum Galaxy”, 01h 33m, +30° 39’, mag = 5.7, size = 73’ x 45’. (Best seen from a dark site; hard to see in light polluted skies due to its large size/low surface brightness. Try looking with 15x70 binoculars!)

M76, the “Little Dumbbell Nebula”, planetary nebula in Perseus, 01h 42.4m, +51° 34′, mag = 10.1, size = 163” x 107”


Note that the surface brightness of M110 is much fainter than M32, although these two satellite galaxies have the same magnitude. Tip: study the photographs of M31 to locate M32 and M110 relative to the core of M31. It will be easier to find M110 if you know the general area to look in. Moving the scope makes it easier for your eye to pick up this faint object.
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