Nights on Mars Hill

NGC 1499 The California Nebula

NGC 1499 The California Nebula

NGC 1499 The California Nebula

Distance: 1,800 Light Years                            Telescope: Televue NP101 + .8 Reducer

Magnitude: 6.0                                                    Camera: QSI 683

Size: 150 x 50 Arc Minutes                              Mount: AP 900

Nebula  Type: Emission                                  Exposure: SII 30×1200, Ha 28×1200, OIII 30×1200

NGC 1499, also known as the California nebula, is a large emission nebula in the constellation Perseus. The nebula gets its name from the resemblance to the state of California. This large nebula resides in the Orion arm of our galaxy and is illuminated by the brightest star in the picture, Xi Persei. Xi Persei is also known as Menkhib on most star charts and is a very hot bluish white star whose temperature is about 66,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This is over 6 times as hot as our own sun. There is a very extreme stellar wind created by this star and it is illuminating the gas and dust that forms the shape of the California nebula.

Sources: NASA and SEDS

M33 The Triangulum Galaxy

M33, Triangulum Galaxy

M33 Triangulum Galaxy

Distance: 2.7 Million Light Years                                  Telescope: Televue NP101

Magnitude: 5.7                                                                    Camera: QSI 683

Size: 73 x 45 Arc Minutes                                                 Mount: AP 900

Galaxy Type: Spiral Scd                                                   Exposure: L 20×600 Bin 1, RGB 20×300 Bin2

M33, also known as the Triangulum Galaxy is located in the constellation Triangulum. It is a face on spiral galaxy that is part of our local galaxy group which also contains the Andromeda galaxy and 44 other smaller galaxies. The Triangulum galaxy is the third largest galaxy in our local group at about 50,000 light years across and is thought to contain around 40 billion stars. For comparison our Milky Way galaxy is thought to have about 400 billion stars and the Andromeda galaxy contains about 1 trillion stars. At a distance of about 2,700,000 light years it is roughly the same distance as the Andromeda galaxy. M33 is moving towards our solar system at about 24 kilometers per second but there is uncertainty if there will ever be a collision and even if it does occur it will happen in several billion years.

The galaxy has distinct spiral arms but appears to be partially clipped on one side and at first I thought my calibration routine may be at fault. The sudden change in brightness is seen on the left side of my image and almost takes the form of a hard line. I compared my image to some others on the internet and it appeared normal but I don’t know why there is this sudden change in brightness. There are several areas of Ha emission nebula where new star formation is occurring and the larger ones have their own NGC and IC names. The largest of these is NGC 604 and can be seen as a reddish glow in the upper left of my image. There are also over a hundred globular clusters that have been identified. These clusters contain many hot blue young stars and indicate that they are several billion years old. Other objects that have been observed include over 25 Cepheids and several supernova remnants. There was a also a black hole discovered at the center of the galaxy in 2007 and its size was estimated at about 15 times the size of our sun.

Info collected from Wikipedia and

Annotated version below.

M33 Annotated,Triangulum Galaxy

M33 Annotated

M45 The Pleiades

M45. The Pleiades, Messier 45

M45 The Pleiades

Distance: 440 Light Years                            Telescope: Televue NP101

Magnitude: 1.6                                                Camera: QSI 683

Size:  110 Arc-minutes                                 Mount: AP 900

Age: Approx. 100 Million Years                 Exposures: L 20×600, R 20×600, G 20×600 B 20×600

M45, also known as the Pleiades, is a bright open cluster with reflection nebula in the constellation of Taurus. There are several hot and bright blue stars in the cluster along with about 1000 other stars and they are thought to be about 100 million years old. The reflection nebula was once thought to be gas remnants from the star formation but it is now thought that the cluster of stars is moving through space and happened to cross through a neighboring dust cloud on its current path towards the constellation of Orion. The evidence for this is that the star cluster is moving at a different speed than the dust which shows as the reflection nebula.

Also known as the Seven Sisters from Greek Mythology, this open cluster is easily seen with the naked eye and is similar in shape to the Big Dipper. The nine brightest stars which are commonly seen are Sterope, Merope, Electra, Maya, Taygeta, Alcyone, and Celaeno all of which are named for the Seven Sisters and are daughters of Atlas (father) and Pleione (mother) the other two brightest stars. There are a few nebulous regions around some of the stars. The Maia nebula, NGC 1432 surrounds the star Maia and consists of stringy, hair like nebulosity. In between Maia and Merope lays two fairly bright horizontal lines that almost appear like a scratch across the lens. It is thought that these streaky lines are shaped by the magnetic alignment of the dust particles in the area.  The Tempels nebula, NGC 1435 is below Merope and is slightly different in color from the rest of the area.

There is a small galaxy to the right of Electra that I have never noticed before. It is marked as PGC 13696 and I made an annotated image so you can see it here.

M45. The Pleiades, Messier 45

M45 Annotated

IC 59 + 63


IC 59, IC 63

IC 59 + IC 63

Telescope: Televue NP101

Camera: QSI 683

Mount: AP 900

Exposure: Ha 20×1200 Seconds, SII 20×1200 Seconds

The above image was captured with my Televue NP101 refractor using 20 minute exposures with SII, Ha, and OIII filters. During processing I decided to omit the OIII data because it was very weak and just muddled the image using the SHO color method. I used a variant of the HOO method called HSS which is Ha assigned to the red channel and SII assigned to both green and blue channels.

IC 59 and IC 63 are two very faint nebulas in the constellation Cassiopeia. Both are emission and reflection nebula with the leading edge of each is the part showing the excited Hydrogen gas typical of emission nebula. The bluish part of the nebula is the reflection nebula and is very dim. IC 59 is the dimmer “W” shaped nebula and IC63 is the “V” shaped nebula. They are both illuminated by the bright star Gamma Cassiopeia that is just in front of the leading edge of the “W” and “V” shapes of both nebulas. This star is a very large variable star that is about 15 times as large as our sun but 70,000 times brighter. It is rotating so fast that it has an equatorial bulge and is discharging its own mass in to space. It is estimated to be near the end of its lifespan. [1]

[1] Courtney Seligman -> (my Astronomy teacher at LBCC)


The Elephant Trunk Nebula

IC 1396, Elephant Trunk Nebula

IC 1396 Elephant Trunk Nebula

This image was captured over three nights on October 15, 16, and 17, 2013 from my home observatory. This picture consists of 19×1200 seconds with the SII filter, 22×1200 seconds with the Ha filter, and 16×1200 seconds with the OIII filter for a total of 19 hours.

Click on the image for an enlarged view.

The Elephant Trunk nebula, also known as IC 1396 is found in the constellation of Cepheus and is about 2,400 light years away. IC 1396 is one of the largest emission nebula taking up about 3 degrees of sky and contains several star forming regions. The most prominent is IC 1396A which is the part that resembles an elephant trunk. IC 1396A is a dense, dark cloud of dust that is edge illuminated by a very bright nearby star that also illuminates the entire nebula. The bright star is HD 206267 and is a massive Type O. The radiation and winds from this star are thought to be the force behind the compression of gas and dust creating the star forming regions.

In the tip of the Elephant Nebula is a circular globule of dust that is open in the middle. Two stars are found here and they are newly formed stars that have cleared a section of the dust cloud as a process of their formation.  One of the stars is clearly apparent in my image but the other is partially obscured by remaining dust in the area.





It has always been a dream of mine to have a small observatory. Well actually a big observatory with room for two mounts and a conditioned space for a desk, bed, and small kitchenette. The large observatory will have to wait but for now I am building a small observatory that has a pier for my mount and an area for the laptop and other accessories. Prior to making my decision I looked at several websites that converted metal or plastic prefabricated storage sheds. There were others that had domes but I wasn’t interested in that type. There were still others that were modular roll offs but were North of $10,000. I decided I would build a wood framed observatory with a roll off roof but spend a bit more on nicer exterior finishes.

There were two potential issues to deal with in my city. The first was city permits and the other was HOA compliance. Fortunately the city did not require permits for structures smaller than 120 square feet and I was at 64 square feet. The HOA did not require approval but any structure detached from the house had to be 3’ from a fence and not be seen from the street. This limited me in height to about 7’8”. Not ideal but easily workable and still have a functioning observatory.

I used Autocad to come up with a drawing that showed elevations. This gave me a visual feel for the material needed and also dimensions to work from. I am not an architect, carpenter, roofer, or painter by trade but I have seen enough construction projects to understand basic structural principles and construction methods. By putting the design on paper I could create a bill of material and assign costs to the project. I did throw a couple hundred dollars for “unexpected” costs due to my inexperience with building an observatory. Another note, I chose a foot print size that would minimize waste of material. The size I chose was an 8’x8’ box. Why 8’x8’? Well the most common and economical wood framing material sold at Home Depot, Lowes, etc. comes in 8’ length so an exterior size of 8’x8’ would allow me to use 8’ long 4”x4” for perimeter floor support, 8’ 2”x4” studs for floor framing, 8’ 2”x4” for wall framing, 4’x8’ OSB for shearing, 4’x8’ OSB panels for roofing, etc. with minimal waste. All dimensions smaller than 8’ were minimal and used only for blocking and the door framing. Minimal waste and using common size lumber keeps construction costs down!

I had someone make me a 10” diameter steel pier that was 44” high. This diameter is perfect for my AP900 and G11 mounts. The tubing is ½” thick and has a base plate that requires four  ¾” anchor bolts to secure it properly. I dug a 3’ deep x 2’ diameter hole for the concrete footing and used ¾” x 18” anchor bolts for the tie in to the pier. To keep the bolts aligned I used a template made from wood and double nutted the anchor bolts to the template. I mixed and poured the concrete and then pushed the anchor bolts down until I had the proper bolt projection elevation. I let it set for two days and then installed and leveled the pier.

I was now ready to build the floor assembly. The area I chose for the observatory currently has artificial turf installed and lays on top of 1” of compacted DG  + 2” of compacted road base on top of the native soil so it would pass any 90% soil compaction test. The floor assembly sits on 2” thick concrete blocks. I then formed a square frame using 4”x4”x8’ pressure treated wood. Next I used 2”x4” x8’ pressure treated wood for the floor joists and attached them to the perimeter framing using joist hangers. I took special care when framing around the pier so that no sub framing or flooring would be in contact with the pier or its anchor bolts. By doing this I can walk around without worry of vibration affecting my images. After the floor framing was complete, I used 4’x8’x3/4” plywood for the flooring. The underside of the floor sits about 6” above the artificial turf and it is unlikely any water would reach the underside but I treated it with a water and insect repellent.

Next was the wall framing and I chose 2”x4”x10’ Douglas Fir studs cut to 5’ length. With the height of the piers, floor framing, bottom plate, and double top plate this left me a rough wall height of 6’. I chose to build a custom door with final dimensions of 3’wx5’h. Next I wrapped the entire box with 7/16” OSB sheathing. I chose OSB because I wanted to use wood siding as a finish material and the OSB served  a couple of functions, one was to add rigidity to the framing and the other was to provide an attachment base for the 15lb roof felt for water proofing required for the siding. The 6’ tall rough wall height allowed me to use (1) 4’x8’ full sheet and (1) 4’x8’ sheet ripped down to 2’. This allowed me to utilize the remaining 2’x8’ piece for another side. No waste!

After the walls were wrapped I moved on to the roof structure. Okay, this is uncharted territory because I have never built a roof that had to roll away from the structure. There were many decisions to make here such as what track/castor system to use, how best to keep the weight down but still be rigid enough to roll off by hand, etc. I calculated the roof to weigh approximately 400 pounds when finished so I needed a track that would not get bent or warped with repeated use yet not be so heavy or large to be overkill. I chose 1”hx2”wx1/8”thick steel “C” channel. I called a local steel distributor who I’ve used before for car restoration and they were very helpful selecting this channel and some rigid castors to ride inside the channel. The castors were rated for 150 lbs. each but since I am using 8 total this extends the weight capacity quite a bit. The cost for 30’of steel channel and 8 castors was about $120.00. I mounted a 10’ section of track on top of two of the walls and let the extra 2’ hang over the edge. I chose to mount the channel by drilling holes in the bottom of the track and then using a larger drill bit to carefully create a countersunk hole so the heavier gauge galvanized wood screw head would sit flush with the track.

Next was the actual roof frame and for convenience and expedience I built the roof on the ground.  I used 4”x4”x8’ Douglas Fir for the perimeter frame and then mounted the castors to the frame using ¼”lag bolts. I then used some 2”x4” Douglas Fir for the vertical riser to support the 2”x4” roof ridge. I then used 2”x3” material for the roof rafters and attached them using roof rafter hangers. Now I had a complete roof structure minus the sheathing so now was the time to lift this on to the track. Once on the track I sheathed the framing using 4’x8’x7/16” OSB. I should mention here that when I mounted the 10’ sections of track they weren’t exactly parallel and I discovered this when I tried to roll the roof. I had to jack up the roof on one side so I could unscrew and shift the track a wee bit. I secured the track in two places and tested the roof and this time I could roll it with one hand. I then jacked it up again and secured the track using all screw holes. Well now I have a rough framed roof structure fitted properly on to the track system so now I needed to continue the steel channel outside of the observatory on to the 4”x4”x8’ supports I chose to use.

Next was building the support for the roof when it is open. Installing the 4”x4”x8’ beams from the exterior OSB siding of the observatory out to the concrete piers for the vertical columns went surprisingly well. At the observatory exterior wall I attached a 2”x4” stud to the exterior wall for the 4”x4” beam to rest on. I then plopped an 8”x8”x8” concrete pier in place and nailed a 4”x4” column to the pier strap and rested the beam on top of the column. I used Simpson Ties for the connections at the column/beam. After a bit of leveling I nailed everything in place and repeated this on the other side. Next was installing the steel channel to the 4”x4” beam and this time I only used two screws on each side to temporarily hold the channel in place while I tested the full movement of the roof. I nailed it on the first try this time so I properly secured the channel and retested to be sure. I did notice that the 4”x4” column and beam system was not as rigid as I would like so I cut some diagonal bracing to lock everything in place.

Okay, now it is time for some finish work to complete the exterior of the wall structure. We recently upgraded our entire backyard with pavers, seat walls, bbq structure, etc. so I had to make this observatory fit in architecturally. First I decide to create a fake window to break up the appearance of the front wall.  I then decided to use tongue and groove siding with vertical trim pieces on the corner. I have never used tongue and groove siding before but it was very easy to install and I face nailed it to minimize any cupping. I chose a light stain for the finish to preserve the natural look of the wood.

By now I had a solid floor, walls, and roof structure. But what to do about those gaps between the top of the wall and the underside of the roof support structure created by the height of the castors? I knew from my initial drawing that the front of the roof assembly was the piece that I had no idea how to address. The sides and rear can be concealed using a simple side board attached to the roof support structure using some blocking to hold it away from the siding. But what about that front piece? It has to travel over the top of the wall and can’t hang down like the other sides. I decide to rig up a hinged board that lifts up to allow the front wall of the roof to slide over the observatory. The board is held open by a hook and eye assembly that is easily opened and closed. I also added two draw type latches on both side walls to hold the front board secure when it is closed. So when closed the gap is concealed and water tight.

Last but not least was the roof tile and I chose an asphalt tile roof product to keep the weight down. It calculated to about 3lbs per square foot and this method was by far the lightest of my desired options. There were several styles and colors of asphalt tiles to choose from but I chose a lighter color to reduce heat absorption. I know metal or aluminum are the lightest roof types but custom cut panels are expensive and I didn’t like the finish look. Concrete or clay tiles fit in architecturally but can weigh around 10lbs per square foot installed!

I added a switch for a light and several quad receptacle outlets inside for any power needs. I was not sure where I wanted the work top so I installed outlets on each wall. I can figure out the location once I get my equipment set up.

Next was the most exciting part of the entire build. I was stoked to get the gear installed and ready for the night. The weather report called for clear skies and they nailed it. I decided to start collecting some narrowband of the Bubble Nebula so I set up some 15 minute images and let ‘er rip. I will post the results when I collect enough data.

After all of the construction was finished I added some large 10 gallon flower pots next to the corners of the observatory to brighten up the most exposed sides. I even added some screw hooks for hanging plants to the underside of the 4”x4” roof track supports.

I have to say I was a little overwhelmed when I planned this project and I even called a General Contractor for a quote.  But after putting my ideas on paper and thinking the whole project through I decided it wasn’t as complicated as I first thought. I do have some construction knowledge and I am also good with my hands and this helped a lot. Planning is everything!

Total cost of the build: $2,276.32







Anza Trip September 2013

The month of September looked very promising as the new moon allowed back to back weekend trips just like August. However, a lingering storm from Baja Mexico stalled over Northern Mexico and SE California and that changed everything. The first weekend was a rain and cloud fest as predicted by several agencies so I did not even make the trip. The next weekend looked a bit better so I packed up and headed out but I was greeted with rain as I pulled off the highway and on to the dirt road that leads to the site. This happens at times but often the sky clears in the afternoon and stays that way all night. This was not one of those nights. I managed to capture three 15 minute exposures and finally gave up and went to bed.

I woke up at sunrise and it was beautiful, clear, and hot. I was thinking that the front had passed and we were in for a good weekend of imaging. Several hours went by and I decided to make the drive to town for some lunch. There were a few thunderstorm clouds to the East so I decided to cover my equipment and I’m glad I did because here is what I saw driving back to the site after lunch. The road was washed out so I stopped for a bit to let the water recede. During my 15 minute wait I decided to pack up and head home once the rain stopped. When the road cleared I finished the drive to the site and parked next to my equipment. Here is what I saw waiting for the rain to stop. After an hour or so I caught a break in the rain and tore everything down, packed up, and headed home.

There is always a risk of bad weather in the high desert. It doesn’t matter what a weather report or Clear Sky chart says even though they can typically be accurate. This weekend the reports happened to be wrong and I decided to cut my loss after 24 hours. I have done this before and have it clear up after I left but this time it was the right decision as it intermittently rained all weekend and the nights never cleared.


Anza Trip August 2013 Part 2

I was able to make it out to Anza again and that completed my back to back weekends for the month or August. The new moon fell on a Tuesday this month which made the trips possible. I was looking at the moon chart for September and it appears it will be possible for another back to back in about 3 weeks. Good stuff!

I did not want to change my imaging setup for this trip because I am getting comfortable with the new mount, electric focuser, and new guide scope setup. So, I was looking for a target that would cover my 2 x 1.5 degree field of view and I chose Vdb149, Vdb150, and LDN1235. Vdb 149 and Vdb 150 are reflection nebula and appear blue in the image while LDN1235 is a large dark nebula cloud that fits nicely between Vdb149/150. My plan was to get three nights of data or roughly 21 hours on this object.

I arrived Thursday night and all went well with setup, polar alignment, etc. I moved the telescope to my target and set up 20 minute RGB exposures and let it rip. I was tired that night so I went to sleep by 11pm but before doing so I set my alarm for 2am to do a meridian flip. The meridian flip went quickly and I was back to sleep in no time. I woke up and checked the exposures and everything looked great at first. What I mean by this is the objects were framed nicely, the focus was fine, and I didn’t lose any images. However, on closer examination I noticed the stars in all four corners had semi-circle elongated stars. Never experiencing this before, I thought maybe I forgot to tighten the camera and it rotated slowly during the night but this was not the case. I brought this up to a couple of the guys and they both thought that my guide scope wasn’t aligned properly with the imaging scope. I explained that I didn’t change anything since last week and all images looked great from that trip. They explained that my imaging target last week was near the celestial equator and the guide scope error was not showing up in this part of the sky. However, my target this week was near the North Pole and the guide scope error was more pronounced in this part of the sky. It made sense to me so I had a choice, align the scope at night or choose another target in a part of the sky that won’t reflect the error. I chose another target because I did not have any shims or washers to align the guide scope.

Friday night I decided to image the Helix Nebula. However, I had about a 1.5 hour wait until my target was high enough in the sky. Not one to let prime imaging time go to waste I decided to image some globular clusters so I chose M9 and M19. I usually take very short exposures of clusters so I went with 60 seconds in RGB.  I was surprised by the huge dust cloud near M9. I may revisit this target and go after some long exposures to see if I can bring out that dust cloud. By the time I was finished with the globular clusters the Helix Nebula was in a good location so I set up for 15 minute exposures in LRGB and let it rip. All went well that night and I was happy with the images when I examined them Saturday morning. No Field rotation! I am surprised that the guide scope alignment error has such a great effect close to the North Pole. I mean, it is not like the alignment error is that great. I can see the target star in the guide scope field of view when the same star is centered in the imaging scope. I learn something new each time out.

On Saturday night I wanted more data on the Helix Nebula but I had another 1.5 hour wait. I decided to do two more globular clusters, M22 and M28. I used 60 second exposures in RGB and everything worked well with these targets. M28 is right in the belt of the Milky way and the star field is really stunning. The Helix Nebula was well placed right after I finished with the globular clusters and again I went with 15 minute exposures in LRGB. I quickly inspected each exposure Sunday morning before packing up and all looked fine. After that I packed up and hit the road for home.

The data from Thursday night was a complete loss but I learned a valuable lesson about the orthogonality of all imaging items. I can fix this easily once I set up at the house. Friday and Saturday went well so the weekend was a success for the most part. Besides, any time away from the city is always relaxing! See you next month.



Anza Trip August 2013 Part 1

Anza Trip August 2013

The new moon falls on a Tuesday in August which means that I can plan for two trips to Anza this month. The first one was the weekend before the new moon and the second one the weekend after the new moon. This doesn’t happen often so I will take advantage of it.

On the first trip I arrived at Anza on Thursday afternoon and I needed to make an equipment change to my pier. My pier is set up with an adapter for my Losmandy G11 mount however I just recently purchased an Astro-Physics AP900 mount. I needed to remove the G11 adapter and then drill/tap the pier for the new AP900 adapter. Thankfully it went well and quickly as it was about 90 degrees with no shade where I was working. Buying new equipment is an exciting time but also a little challenging with the new learning curve. Not content with the new mount learning curve I also changed my guiding scope setup and added an electric focuser to my Televue NP101! I did get a chance to do some practice runs at the house but there is always a little nervousness with different setups at remote sites. During the test runs at home I imaged the Crescent Nebula using the Hydrogen Alpha filter and 20 minute exposures. The new mount was just awesome; it just worked and worked well. The new guide scope setup was rock solid and I did get it to work well after some tweaking of the settings in Maxim DL. I really like the FeatherTouch focuser by Starlight Instruments and the MicroTouch electric motor with control by FocusMax. The electric focuser was the last piece of equipment required to automate my imaging setup. I plan on trying the automation software in the next month or so and I will do a write up on that experience at a later time.

Thursday night looked to be a good night with clear skies and no wind, however looks can be deceiving.  I was not happy with my focusing statistics so I checked around with some buddies and they were having the same experience. The best focus I was getting was 3.48 FWHM and I usually get in the high ones or low twos. There was some atmospheric disturbance that was affecting the ability to get good focus. From past experience with this focusing issue I didn’t want to start imaging right away so I decided to do some image testing of two potential targets. I moved the scope to the Barnard Galaxy and did three 20 minute exposures in RGB and to my surprise I did get some good data. This is a dim irregular galaxy usually imaged with much larger telescopes but I wanted to give it a go. Satisfied with my result I decided to image this object the following two nights. Why not tonight? Well the combination of atmospheric disturbance and a dim object spelt a waste of an evening. The detail would not be there and the object would look fuzzy and washed out. Next I moved to the Helix Nebula and set up some 10 minute exposures. I chose 10 minutes as this is a much brighter object and initially I liked what I saw but I thought I could get more data with 20 minute exposures. But with the atmospheric disturbance still happening I made the decision not to image the Helix Nebula tonight using 20 minute exposures. However, I was not happy just shutting everything down and calling it a night so I set up a series of 10 minute exposures on the Helix Nebula and let it run the rest of the night. The next morning I started processing on the Helix Nebula and my hunch was right. I needed 20 minute exposures for more detail and the atmospheric disturbance caused the data I had to be soft and appear slightly out of focus. Oh well, not a total waste of a night because I now had a good plan for my two targets.

Friday night was just awesome. The atmosphere was playing nice so I moved to the Barnard Galaxy and set up for 20 minute exposures in RGB. I imaged for 6 hours that night and everything went smoothly with the new mount, focuser, and guiding setup. I woke up on Saturday and did a quick processing run and was happy with the results.

Saturday night was more of the same and I captured another 6 hours of data on the Barnard Galaxy using 20 minute exposures in RGB.

I like to get on the road early for the trip home so I packed up and was on the road by 6:30am. Excited to see my results I started processing my data shortly after I arrived home. Here is the result of 11 hours of the Barnard Galaxy.

Well the first trip of the month went well considering I was using a new mount, new electric focuser, and new guide scope configuration. The Astro-Physics mount is just a work horse that can handle a lot of weight and operate with precision that I did not see with the Losmandy G11. This is not a knock on the G11 as it is a fine mount and very capable of long exposure astrophotography. I have used the G11 for a year now and many of the pictures on this site were captured using this mount. It is just that the AP900 is in a different performance and price class. The new focusing motor has been a nice addition and it was very easy to install. I am using FocusMax in conjunction with Maxim DL to control the focuser and it was very easy to calibrate. I have not tried the temperature compensation feature yet but it sounds like a great feature if I can get it calibrated correctly. Finally, the new guide scope setup consisted of replacing the Orion mini guide scope on a mono point connection with my 65mm refractor on a dovetail and quick release plate. The dovetail plate and dual mounting rings on the 65mm scope are rock solid and have eliminated any flexure issues.

My target for the second trip will be the Helix Nebula using 20 minute exposures in RGB. I am using these parameters based on my testing from the previous week. I will do a brief write up when I get back.



Anza Trip July 2013

The 4th of July holiday fell on a Thursday this year which happened to coincide with the approaching new moon. I took full advantage of the long weekend and arrived at the Anza site on Wednesday afternoon. I was the only one there and thought nothing of it while setting up until I realized that I left my headlights on while the truck radio was playing. I had that sinking feeling as I walked around the truck. As expected, I heard that dreaded clicking sound as the starter struggled to turn the engine over. From past experience I hoped that the battery would charge enough to start the motor but as a backup plan I texted a friend who was coming out later and asked him to bring some jumper cables. After an hour or so I tried starting the truck and success, it started up! Obviously I was relieved but I couldn’t stop thinking about how earlier that morning I chose to leave my Die Hard 12v battery station at home for the first time. You know, because I never need it and have never used it! Oh well, the Die Hard just earned its place back on my Anza equipment checklist.

While the battery was charging I got the solar scope aligned and started imaging. There wasn’t a lot going on with prominences but a nice sunspot group was making its way across the surface. I captured a 6 panel video that I used to assemble a full disk mosaic. It is posted on the Solar page.

The patchy clouds from the late afternoon had disappeared and it was shaping up to be a great night for imaging. My first target of the weekend was the Cats Paw Nebula. My plan was to get two nights worth of data for this target in LRGB. I did the usual polar alignment, focus, and calibration routine and started imaging about 10pm. I wrapped everything up about 4am and hopped in to the back of the truck for some shut eye.

My sleep was interrupted by the instant 90 degree blast from the Sun coming over the hillside. Gotta love the high desert in Summer! After breakfast and coffee I turned to the solar scope and started imaging. Again, not much going on with prominences but the sunspot group was impressive. I posted the mosaic image on the Solar page.

Thursday evening was another great night for imaging. I was targeting the Cats Paw Nebula again and the imaging went smoothly, or so I thought. The next day I started to assemble my images and one thing jumped out at me, I had some elongation of stars on the edges of my image. Now, if I was imaging a smaller object this could easily be fixed by cropping. However, the Cats Paw Nebula filled my field of view and the elongated stars were right there for all to see. Well, there went two nights of data down the drain! I am using a new scope so the lesson learned: use the field flattener for large objects!

Still rattled from my mistake the night before and needing a confidence boost I fired up the solar scope. Everything went well and with confidence properly boosted I posted the result on my Solar page.

On Friday, there were mixed reports for solid cloud cover that night. The Clear Sky Chart said clouds from 10pm to 4am. The National Weather site said mostly clear. Who to believe? As it turns out it was clear until about 2am and then it clouded over. Not a total loss but a shortened night to be sure. Still dinged by my Cats Paw image results I went after a smaller target, M27. The thought of using the field flattener and re-imaging the Cats Paw did briefly cross my mind. However, I did not want to waste valuable dark sky time on the learning curve associated with new equipment. I captured about 3 hours of data on M27 this night.

Like most days at Anza, I turned to the solar scope and captured some more video. I like capturing the sun because the features change daily, hourly, and sometimes by the minute with some types of prominences. However, the last few days have been uneventful. The large sunspot group is still visible but the prominences were nothing special. I posted the image on my Solar page.

The plan for Saturday night was to collect more data on M27, however the sky didn’t clear until 11pm. I captured some good data after that and I was happy with the combined images from both nights. I posted the M27 image on the Nebula page.

Well, it wasn’t the most productive trip but I enjoyed the time away. I now have a good reason to test the field flattener and while I am at it I will also test the reducer and extender. Testing new equipment at home is always easier for me. I can take my time, take good notes, and tweak routines without the pressure of using valuable dark sky imaging time. Also on the to-do list is re-mounting my guide scope. There are a lot of items to attend to whenever a new telescope is added. Example, I noticed the first night that the Takahashi TOA-130 tube is not as thermally stable as my Televue NP101. The Takahashi requires a focus change every 1.5-2 hours. Let the testing begin!