First Light: Losmandy G11 Gemini 2 Mount

Losmandy g11 Gemini 2 Mount

After imaging for the past 2 years with a Celestron CG-5 Advanced GoTo Mount, I finally took the plunge and treated myself to a Losmandy G11/Gemini 2 mount that I happened upon on Astromart.  I actually was not in the market to buy one but I was actively looking and one Sunday back in April, I saw a local listing pop up and I had to seize the opportunity.  Luckily, the mount was located just 1/2 hour from my house so I met the seller and we closed the deal.  He showed me how to set it up and use it and I took it home that same day.

Flash forward to September 2014.  Realizing that the mount was going to be too heavy for me to simply haul out to the backyard, I needed to order a Scopebuggy.  After finally receiving the buggy, I was ready to assemble the G11, get it wired up, and test it out for its first light.

Losmandy g11 Gemini 2 Mount 3

My target for a test run was the Andromeda Galaxy and I remember the skies called for clouds so I quickly set up to test it out before the clouds rolled in.  One great aspect about the Gemini 2 system is that you can connect to it via an Ethernet cord so I was able to use the Astrotortilla program to plate solve and center the object so I could start imaging.  Initial tests of the mount via 10 minute sub exposures on the Andromeda Galaxy yielded very promising results.

Andromeda Galaxy First Light Losmandy G11

It was not until xxx 2014 where I had a true first light on a complete imaging session...

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ScopeBuggy Mini for a Losmandy G11 Mount


Back Story

I started out imaging deep space using a Celestron CG-5 Mount, which was an excellent starter mount. It was light, easy to set up, and was able to carry my Takahashi Sky90 refractor with ease.  As I got more experience imaging, I realized that I needed a second telescope to reach more distant galaxies and get up close to parts of Nebulae that were spectacular.  I purchased a used Celestron C9.25 and quickly realized my CG-5 mount was unable to carry the load.  I then went on the hunt for a Losmandy G11 mount and quickly found a local astronomer who was selling his.  Seizing the day, I drove over to meet him and I purchased a ‘like new’ Losmandy G11.

Enter the ScopeBuggy

Now having a Losmandy G11 mount in my possession, I calculated the weight of just the mount along and it came to 92 pounds.  I quickly figured out that this setup was going to be way too heavy for me to just simply haul outside so I went in search for a solution to this issue.  I came across the ScopeBuggy webiste and found the solution for me!  A ScopeBuggy is a specialized T-bar with large rubber wheels designed to make your astronomy equipment mobile.  What an ingenuous idea!  There are feet that the tripod legs securely sit on Scope Buggy and a nice handle to maneuver the rig around any obstacle.  It has a really nice turning radius too (if you are into that sort of thing like me).  The proof was in the putting at this point!  At first light, I wheeled the ScopeBuggy out to my backy...

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A Partnership with Lost in Space Jewelry

Horsehead Elephant Trunks Nebula Necklace

Horsehead Elephant Trunks Nebula Necklace by LostInSpaceJewelry

In July 2014, two creative, interstellar minds came together with the spirit of the Universe as their common passion.  The talented jewelry extraordinaire, LostInSpaceJewely, discovered me on Twitter as I started posted my images of deep space on the social media giant.  One of my astrophotography image tweets recently caught her attention and a fun new friendship emerged.  Melissa, a jewelry designer who creates unique pieces out of space images, reached out to me to see about using some of my images in her jewelry designs.

How did LostInSpaceJewerly come to be?  Like the Big Bang, it seemed to happen pretty quickly.  Melissa is a jewelry designer, who one night during a bout with insomnia, envisioned a necklace design in her head using the Earth and the Moon.  The next day, she turned her vision into a reality and her obsession with all things cosmic was born!  To her, space is the universal language of awe.  As it turns out, not only are Melissa and I both passionate about what we do, we are also neighbors living in the same county.  Melissa used of my images – The Horsehead Nebula and the Elephant’s Trunk Nebula –  to create a beautiful, reversible jewelry.

It was a pretty amazing amazing story of two people sharing the same passion finding themselves through Twitter.  We started tweeting each other and sharing more of our creative arts and it became apparent that we should be working together...

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Imaging the April 2014 Lunar Eclipse

Blood Moon

Luckily, this time around, the Lunar Eclipse was West Coast friendly and started around 11pm so I could stay awake for the entire event, until the clouds obscured my view.  This was my first time viewing a total Lunar Eclipse as the last eclipse I caught back in June 2012 was a partial.  This was also the first time I watched the moon turn a very nice strawberry color towards the end of the eclipse.  I put together a montage of phases of the Eclipse.

Lunar Eclipse Phases April 2014

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M94: First Light with the Celestron C9.25

M94 Spiral Galaxy in LRGB

I just bought a new (to me) Celestron C9.25 SCT and finally got all of the parts to get the sucker image ready. This is my first venture into imaging with a larger focal length and a different type of telescope. My only issue at the moment is that this OTA with all of the goodies attached to it maxes out the weight capacity of my CG-5 mount. The telescope was out of balance too and I did not have an extra counterweight. So, on the way home from work, I thought of a good use for my wife’s 2.5 lb ankle weights…I bet you probably know where this is going. I went to the garage, grabbed some bungee cord and wrapped the ankle weights around the counterweight bar and balanced my telescope. I wanted to see how bad (or good) the guiding could be when the CG-5 mount was maxed out. To my surprise, it wasn’t terrible (not good either) so I ran 3 minute subs on M94 to see what the result looked like. The stars are not perfectly round and the focus could have been better but it was a fun test and maiden voyage of the C9.25. I also forgot to enter the new details of the OTA in the Astrotortilla program so I could not center the object either but that did not stop me. Here are the details:

C9.25 @ 1481mm f/6.3
ST-10XME w/ Astrodon Gen 2 LRGB
Guided with the SSAG

L: 10 x 3 mins
R: 6 x 3 mins
G: 6 x 3 mins
B: 6 x 3 mins

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Imaging the Supernova in M82

M82 Supernova SN2014J

Back on January 21st, 2014, a group of amateur astronomy students discovered a Supernova in the M82 Galaxy.  The weather up here as not been great in the last couple weeks so when I get a break in the weather, I like to take advantage of it.  I was trying out new autoguiding software and a guide scope during this time so I was only able to grab a single, 5 minute exposure in Luminance back on January 31st.

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The Evolution of the Andromeda Galaxy

Evolution of Andomeda

While the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) has been evolving for the last 9 Billion years, my tenure as an Astrophotographer has only been evolving for the last 1.5 years.  I got the Astrophotography bug when I first snapped a photo of the Moon back on April 7, 2012.  Fast forward to August 2012 where I took my first deep sky image of the Andromeda Galaxy with my Nikon D7000 DSLR through a Takahahshi Sky90 telescope.  I remember being blown away by being able to “see” light from galaxies millions of light years away.  Ever since then, I possessed the desire to learn everything I can about astro imaging.  After shooting deep sky objects (DSO’s) with a digital camera for a few months, I wanted to learn how to shoot with a CCD (Charge-Couple Device), which is a specialized camera for Astrophotography.  I purchased a used SBIG ST-2000XM CCD with a 5 position filter wheel that had Luminance, Red, Green, Blue, and a Hydrogen Alpha filter in it so I could teach myself techniques to get even more detail out of the DSO’s I was shooting.  After I got over a steep learning curve, I was able to work on one very important principle, which was quality over quantity.  With Astrophotography, you need to invest a great deal of time taking multiple exposures to bring out the detail in the amazing objects that are out in space.  This principle is evident in the 4 images of the Andromeda Galaxy that span 1.25 years of learning how to image objects I can’t see with my own eyes...

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Giving CCD Blooms the One-Two Punch with MaximDL and the NewAstro DeBloomer Plugin

When imaging with a CCD camera with a high quantum efficiency (QE), such as the SBIG ST-10XME with the KAF 3200ME chip, you sometimes have to deal with some very nasty blooms.  Due to the ST-10XME lack of antiblooming gate, light from bright stars overwhelm the full well capacity (electron holding capacity) of the pixels on which they are being collected, resulting in excess electrons spilling over into adjacent pixels.  In other words, the light-gathering pixel exceeds its capacity to hold captured photons which yields stars that have irregular diffraction spikes, as seen in the image below.

Blooming Example Pelican Nebula

Sometimes, the blooming can get so bad that you must take special care to preserve the stars and the detail.  During bloom removal, sometimes the excess electrons can spill over onto other stars and destroy them, ruining your star field.  I use MaximDL’s bloom removal tool but sometimes that tool removes more than just the blooms.  There is also an DeBloomer Plugin for MaximDL created by Ron Wodaski, which contains both automatic and manual tools that remove blooms.  The nice aspect of the DeBloomer plugin is that it performs a batch process on all your images.  I recently learned, while processing subs from M31, that the MaximDL bloom removal tool was not sufficient enough to preserve the stars when the blooms from an adjacent star spilled over onto it.  Here is an example:

Here is a two step process for dealing with these types of blooms while preserving adjacent stars using ...

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LED Flat Frame Astrophotography Light Box on the Cheap

LED Flat Frame Light Box

LED Flat Frame Light Box

Call it an impulse purchase but as I checking out at Walmart, I saw this small pack of Christmas Wreath lights as I was putting my items on the counter.  As I looked closer, I saw that it was a single string of 18 small LED lights.  It was only $3.99 and it came with its own power supply, requiring 3 AA batteries.  I thought to myself that this would make a very inexpensive way to power a flat frame astrophotography light frame box.  I had orginally specked out purchasing LED’s and buidling the powering mechanisms from scratch but this system was already complete and I did not even have to solder any of wires.  Having extra foam core from when I created my first light box using an Electroluminescent Panel, I broke out the Exacto Knife and began cutting panels.  As I cut my first panel, I envisioned how this LED light string could be used.  Here is how I created a Flat Frame box using this simple 18 LED string of lights.  Here is what I did:

1.  I cut a piece of foam core to the size I would need for my 90mm Refractor and then I used a hole punch to create a pass through where I could feed the wires and the LED lights through the back of the panel.  I left some slack and some extra cord hanging out of the back of the panel so that I could attach the power supply to the light box using Velcro.



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Imaging Comet ISON C/2012 S1 with an SBIG ST-10XME

Comet ISON C/2012 S1

Going off of a tip from seasoned astrophotographer, Michael Caligiuri, Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) was in a great position to capture this ancient relic of the solar system in October.  Comet ISON, at this moment, is not visible to the unaided eye.  Starting its journey 10,000 years ago when it broke away from the Oort Cloud out past Neptune, this is its first trip to our inner Solar System. If this comet survives its trip around the Sun, there’s a good chance that it will be incredibly bright and easily visible with the naked eye in the Northern Hemisphere. In early December, it will be seen in the morning, low on the horizon to the east-southeast. In late December and early January, it will be visible all night long.  The image above was captured with an SBIG ST-10XME in the wee hours of the morning on October 17th 2013 and represents a 20 minute total exposure through the Luminance, Red, Green, and Blue Astrodon Gen 2 filters.  Mars (to the right) and Regulus (to the left) made this comet a tricky one to capture with a highly sensitive CCD.  Although the composite image is supposed to produce color, I chose to convert the capture into a monochrome image to preserve the details of the comet.

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