"Equipped with his five senses, man explores the Universe around him and calls the adventure science" - Edwin P. Hubble

07/01/19 - Previous dark sky site near Riley Ks.  Moved from there to Wichita several years ago and into moderately-heavy light polluted skies (Bortle 7).  I'm setting up two imaging platforms that can easily roll out onto my driveway and can be up-and-going in a matter of minutes.  Now it's a matter of learning how to deal with the light pollution which introduces a variable and unpredictable gradient.  It's clear that good flat-fields are a must, as is settling on a good post-processing method to remove the light pollution gradient.

07/15/19 - Finally completed both telescope carts & I can now roll these out and be up and imaging pretty quickly.  I also tweaked the DEC worm gear to resolve back-lash issues and now my little Meade LXD-75 is guiding surprisingly well for not being specifically designed to guide.  I'm using the ASCOM/INDI driver for classic Meade LXD-75 through PHD2 or through Astroguider™ to send guiding signals.

*Orion 100mm (FL=600mm) Achromatic Refractor @f/6.0 w/Orion 50mm StarShoot autoguider • Meade LXD-75 Mount
SBIG ST-8300m CCD w/Nautilus 4x2" Filter Wheel & LRGB Filters

MaximDL, AstroImager image acquisition/processing & PHD2 guiding software

07/24/19 - Settling on the simplified set-up pictured to the left.  Seems to be the best combination of performance & convenience that I have.  I added a V-Block filter to the guider which helps to make the stars in the guiding image very small and point-like.  I also use a Bahtinov mask to get very good focus on both the Televue main imager and the guider.
†Televue 102mm (FL=880mm) Apochromatic Refractor w/0.8x focal reducer/field flattener @f/6.9
Orion Atlas EQ-G Mount • SBIG ST-8300m CCD w/Orion Nautilus filter wheel & 2" LRGB Filters
Orion 80mm (FL=400mm) Achromatic Refractor @f/5 & Orion StarShoot Autoguider w/V-Block filter
MaximDL, AstroImager image acquisition/processing & PHD2 guiding software

08/28/19 - Configuring and testing another set-up.  This is the AstroTech 8 IN (Imaging Newtonian) w/SBIG 8300c camera and Orion 50 mm StarShoot Autoguider.  I've always had trouble with its primary mirror easily going out of collimation.  I found that it was the push/pull, spring loaded adjusting bolts that were "sticky" and just needed aligned and secured.  Seems to be holding a collimation relatively well now.  This set-up might have the necessary light gathering power to compliment the SBIG 8300c's lack of sensitivity.

This orphan has been adopted by Dr. Luke Schmidt of Texas A&M!!  Thanks Luke for providing a good home :-)

05/03/20 - Ordered a ZWO CMOS camera and a dual narrow-band filter...  05/09/20 - CMOS camera arrived and I installed it onto the Televue 102mm without the TV focal reducer for a focal length of 880mm.  This gives me a nice field of view for smaller objects like galaxies and planetary nebula.  Imaging with the CMOS, which is much more sensitive than the SBIG CCD camera, is a very different experience than the traditional "long exposure, dark-sky with very good tracking" imaging that I am used to.  Basically, one uses relatively short exposures (5s to 2 min) and live-stack many images to develop a high resolution, high signal-to-noise ratio, one-shot color image of your target.  An example of my first image test can be found above for M13.  The resulting image is very different from the grey-scale, washed out, images that I've previously been able to get of globular clusters and is a much better representation of what a globular is really supposed to look like:  very old, yellow stars that are distinguishable one-from-the-other.

Light Pollution as a function of f/
(Click on image for a larger view)

05/13/20 - In the never ending fight against light pollution vs image quality I found these three links very helpful:  The first is a very good analysis of the optimum length for sub-exposures as related to read noise and light pollution by Dr Robin Glover (LINK), the second is a discussion on how f/ ratio affects the signal and therefore the exposure time (LINK) and finally this handy page of formulae (LINK).  Unfortunately f/ ratio affects the amount of light pollution a chip sees since a fast telescope (small f/ ratio) grabs more light per unit time, including unwanted light pollution.  So,  f/ ratio and sub-exposure time are linked.  Fortunately as amateurs we're mostly concerned with getting the best images that we can reasonably get in a relatively short period of time (maybe ~ 2 hrs).  That means we can make some dramatic simplifications to the calculations and still end up with some very nice results.  Let's assume that your CCD or CMOS is of typical pixel dimensions (~ 4 to 6 µm pixel size), that you're binning 1x1 and that you are willing to accept a 5% increase in noise over the ideal, noiseless image.  Then:
t ~ 10(R2/Qp)

where R = read noise (electrons/photon), Q = quantum efficiency of camera (electrons/photon), p = light pollution (electrons/photon•second) and t = time per sub-exposure.  Read the approximate light pollution as a function of f/ ratio and Bortle scale from the chart to the left, plug in your read noise and quantum efficiency into the above equation and you have a rough idea of the time per exposure.  That's it!  Always remember: The more exposures you have in your stack the better.

As an example let me calculate the expected sub-exposure times for my cameras, one a CCD camera and the other a new ZWO CMOS camera, on the same f/8.6 telescope:  At f/8.6 in my Urban skies (Bortle ~7) the light pollution is p ~ 9. That would be the same value for both calculations but the cameras have vastly different read noises and quantum efficiencies.  For the SBIG ST-8300 its read noise is about R = 9 and its quantum efficiency is about Q = 0.4 (40%) and the ZWO ASI533's read noise is about R = 1.5 (with proper gain settings) and its quantum efficiency is about Q = 0.8 (80%).  The results are remarkable:

tSBIG = 225 seconds (3.75 min)
tZWO = 3 seconds

Both times are doable since my tracking is good but the major difference is that in an expected 2 hr (7200s) session and switching between the LRGB filters on the SBIG that only gives me a few images to sum-stack with each filter.  Conclusion:  It is really only feasible to image either monochrome or in a single (or at least few) filters with the CCD camera whereas the one shot color ZWO CMOS camera can stack literally hundreds to thousands of images in the same time. 

NOTE: Some quick-and-dirty (and highly simplified) corrections to sub-exposure time:
1) If you're using RGB filters or a color camera multiply by 3.
2) If you're using Narrowband filters:  12nm bandwidth multiply by 25 and 3 nm bandwidth multiply by 100
3) Divide by the binning factor.  Example: divide the time by 2 if binning 2x2



05/13/20 - Switching the 102mm Televue to an 8in Orion Newtonian for a tight Field of View rig with the ZWO ASI533MC camera and Orion 60mm helical scope / ASI120MM Mini guider .  The Televue needs to go back to its home where it belongs.

05/21/20 - Tested a 4.5" Orion Newtonian @ f/4.0 w/50mm Orion SS autoguider on the Meade LXD-75 & the ZWO ASI533 camera last night.  I wanted to see how well the whole set-up worked and how much coma was present on such a fast newt.  As you can see from the links to the left there is pretty significant coma although the central object is pretty nice.  These are 30s images stacked with ASILive and processed using Apple Preview.  The Meade guides very well connected to my Macbook Air / PHD2 through the INDIGO Server from Cloudmakers.  The ZWO is very light and its built-in USB hub is very convenient.  My testing has shown that this little rig might be a viable set-up but it will definitely need a coma corrector to be usable... on to the next equipment testing.
Markarian's Chain 34 x 90s

M57 25 x 60s

05/27/20 - Tested the Optolong CLS Light Pollution filter last night on Markarian's Chain using the 100mm Orion Achromatic refractor @ f/6.0.  It definitely cuts down on the murky haze and makes images much clearer and with higher contrast - unfortunately the test image to the left clearly shows significant chromatic abberation on the bright stars in the image.  I don't think that little refractor will be of sufficient quality for me to image with.  I'll try out the 4.5" Newt once the Baader MPCC Coma Corrector comes in.  Next, I'll put this filter and the ZWO ASI533 on the 8" Newtonian to see what it does there.

05/28/20 - Tested the 8in Newtonian with the Optolong CLS Filter and ZWO ASI533 last night.  Seems to be working pretty well.  The Newtonian does show some coma and the filter boosted the contrast so there's still a little work to do to get things optomized.  I still need to install the Shoestring Astronomy FCUSB focuser and get some good Bias, Darks & Flat frames to calibrate.  A test image of M57 is linked to the left.

05/29/20 - Superb night last night... for here.  Nabbed 8 Messier targets and was pretty pleased with the Orion 8" performance.  The addition of the computerized focuser helped a great deal.  I got pretty decent darks, flats and bias frames before the session using the "white t-shirt method" . I did very little processing with the images just some level adjustments in Apple Preview.

05/30/20 - Another good testing night.  Got the Crescent Nebula (NGC6888) & the Fox Head Cluster (NGC 6819) with the 8" Newtonian "Narrow Field" imaging set-up and CLS filter.  There is a slight amount of coma that I'll need to correct for,  likely with another Baader MPCC coma corrector.  Still waiting on the guidescope & ZWO guiding camera to complete this rig.  Also tested out the Baader MPCC coma corrector on the 4.5" StarBlast Newtonian.  It seems to have helped a great deal with the coma.  Initially, I couldn't get front focus with the Baader and it's 55mm back focus requirement but the stop ring on the Baader can be removed and the entire coma corrector and spacing adapters can slip INSIDE the telescope's focusing tube.
Antares Region

NGC-7000 (North American Nebula)

Sadr Region

06/01/20 - Put the 4.5" modified Orion StarBlast to the test last night.  Got the guider dialed in pretty well and the addition of the Optolong CLS filter and the Baader MPCC coma corrector turn this little "cheapie" into a decent imaging platform.  The main modification that I've made is to replace the stock, plastic focuser with a low profile Crayford.  I'll next work on getting its focusing computerized and, at some point, upgrading the camera from the ST-8300 to something like the ZWO ASI294.  A few example images are linked to the left.  These were all simple 4x300s images guided on the LXD-75.
Another Antares Region

Rho Ophiuchi Region

06/10/20 - Another nice evening to test the 4.5" StarBlast.  I flocked the inside of the OTA and it dramatically increased contrast.  The sample images to the right are 6x300s with the Optolong CLS filter & clearly show some of the nebulosity in the region.  I have this little imager dialed in pretty nicely - it gets decent monochrome images and guides very nicely using my MacBook Air & PHD2.  I'll soon get an electronic focuser on it to complete the package.  The guidescope and guide camera for the 8" came in today and should be up and going soon.

Neowise Portrait

07/23/20 - COMET NEOWISE!!!!  Had an epic night!  Still tweaking a bit with the 8" but getting it all dialed in.  I decided to hunt up comet Neowise to see if it would image well - what a nice surprise.  It imaged beautifully and I was able to capture its motion.  Check out the links to the left & below :-)
Motion Pic

QuickTime Movie

QuickTime Movie

Optolong L-Pro

Optolong CLS

10/24/20 - Very nearly have my two imaging systems finished.  I've added light pollution filters to each rig (L-Pro to the 8" & CLS to the 4.5") and  flocked both telescopes.  The flocking is from FPI-Protostar (link here) and is very simple to install.  The flocking eliminates almost all of the internal reflections inherent in the OTA and provides a velvet-like, jet-black surface that should increase the contrast in my images significantly.  I should get the CMOS camera for the 4.5" soon, as well as, the ZWO EAF focuser.  I've also began to use SiriL (link here) to post-process images.  It seems to be a pretty user-friendly and cross-platform software that can do some nice things like remove light pollution gradients.

11/02/20 - Tested the effectiveness of the Optolong L-Pro last night and it definitely helps with the light pollution.  It does increase the time for sub-exposures but not too badly.  I now have three filters (shown to the left & below) that I can use for various targets:  The two Optolong wide-band, light pollution filters for targets like galaxies, clusters and reflection nebulae & the dual, narrow band to accentuate the H-alpha and O-III in emission nebulae.

ZWO Dual Narrow-Band

Unprocessed image

Processed, Stacked Final Image

11/04/20 - I've been working on my post-processing skills using the free, open-source software SiriL.  I'm not a big fan of using software to basically "paint" the image as one would like, instead SiriL just does the essential processing that I would normally do on an image but automates and enhances some capabilities.  I use SiriL in a 4-step process that takes just a few minutes to produce a pretty nice result.  A raw, unprocessed, single image and the final result are linked to the left.  These images of NGC 6960 (the Western Veil Nebula) were taken by Todd from his backyard in Manhattan, Ks under Bortle 5 skies.

1) I use a supplied script that "pre-processes" all of the images by applying dark, bias & flat frames, rejecting unacceptable (blurred) images, aligning, normalizing and sum-stacking.

2) Next, I color calibrate using SiriL's photometric calibration if possible or manually if necessary.

3) Then, SiriL has a nice little routine for getting rid of the light pollution gradient where it selects a hundred or so small regions in the image that don''t include a star or anything else (like nebulosity) that significantly changes intensity from neighboring pixels and calculates what a common background level should be and applies that.

4) Finally, I use the Asinh and histogram to adjust the image so I get a nice, pleasant looking result.  Any further cosmetic "touch-ups" I want I do in Apple Preview to boost color saturation or change overall brightness of the image and convert it to a jpeg so that I can post in on the web-page.

10/05/21 - I've settled on two upgraded imaging telescopes/mounts:  The wide-field AT72ED II on the Meade LXD-75 and the narrow field TPO 6" RC on the Orion Atlas.  Both seem to guide well and can take pretty good images using the ZWO CMOS cameras.  The light pollution is pretty bad here (~Bortle 7) but I can still image lots of targets, as long as they are relatively bright and/or emission nebula.  To get dim, non-emission type objects like most galaxies, planetary nebulae and reflection nebulae, I have to travel to darker skies.  My next project is to locate two dark sky sites where I can conveniently travel to get the more difficult targets.  One potential location is several miles south of Beloit, Ks and the other is in northeast New Mexico.  We're (my brother and I) are going to evaluate these sites over the next few months - Road Trip!

11/01/21 - Finished the imaging train of both telescopes. On the refractor, I added an ATRF72 0.8x Focal Reducer/Field Flattener that takes the effective focal length from 430 mm down to 344 mm.  Not only does it reduce the focal length, and therefore f ratio (f/6 to f/4.8), but it significantly flattens the field and eliminates the field curvature inherent in such a short focal length refractor.  On the RC, I installed the Astro-Physics CCDT67 set at 0.79x focal reduction.  This took the effective focal length from 1370mm, which was a bit too much for my mount and skies, to 1079mm.  I really like this field of view for the RC (~ 36' x 36') and seems to be working pretty well.

L-Pro vs LED

02/17/23 - It's been a couple of years since last I entered any "blog-like" information.  I've been having pretty good success with my two imaging rigs and getting better at my imagining and processing routines.  However, I've noticed that my imaging of broad-band objects like galaxies & planetary nebulae are much more difficult and my light pollution filters are less effective than they used to be.  This has corresponded to the city installing all white LED street lights.  I think LED street lights are great for many reasons but they really make imaging certain objects much more difficult.  It seems the best solution is to become more mobile and simply go to dark skies more often.

As can be seen in the images to the left, the output of the white LED street lights (white background with blue data) superimposed onto the band-pass of the both the CLS and L-Pro filter show that the LEDs are really bright in the wavelengths that the filters pass.  I might experiment around a bit and see if I can come up with some acceptable solution.
Todd & 16" Lightbridge

Me w/8" Dob

03/20/23 - Messier Madness 2023!  We held another Messier Marathon on Saturday, Mar 18.  The night was very clear and transparent but bitterly cold.  My brother Todd and I bagged 103 targets!  We did this entirely visually with Todd's 16" LightBridge™ and my 8" Dob.  It became apparent that the 8" was slower and more troublesome than I would've expected.  It was very difficult to definitively tell if I was indeed seeing one of the targets, especially the dim, small galaxies.  In the end I abandoned the 8" and Todd & I worked together for the rest of the night.  We had a blast and have decided that we're going to continue the festivities.  In the future, instead of doing a one night affair, we're going to split it up into two half-marathons which will be much more manageable & perhaps elicit broader participation.  Staying up all night in 5˚ weather really takes it out of you and takes a couple of days to recover :-)

• Last Updated: 02/17/23