Monday, July 17, 2017

March Observing Report

March 15, 2017
I setup with the same optical train as last time; the VRC 10", with the Mallincam 2” 0.75x Focal Reducer and the ASI071MC-Cool. The 2” Lumicon Deep Sky filter is on the front of the FR. I set the camera cooler to -10C and turned on the dew heater. The camera gain is set at 400 to minimize exposure times.  I opened the roof to a cool, clear night.

I started off the night with Jupiter.  I've never had much success with planetary images.  I blame it on the high humidity and the resultant poor seeing in SE Louisiana, but I'm sure my technique is also to blame.  From what I've read I might do better stacking planetary frames in Registax.

Started the autoguider and began an image of the Orion Nebula. Wow, at 30 & 60 second images were wonderful, albeit noisy until several are stacked. Sharpcap hung while changing the exposure duration.  The autoguider keeps the image rock steady. This is the first time I've captured the arching structure of M43 in my images.  The below image is 6 x 60 seconds at gain of 400.  The Trapezium region is blown out.  A larger number of shorter exposures would likely yield a nicer image.

Messier 42, the Great Orion Nebula, is approximately 1,344 light years from earth.  The region includes clouds of neutral and ionized gas, dust, star clusters, and reflection nebula.  The much smaller Messier 43 is 1,600 light years from earth and is separated from Messier 42 by a dark dust lane.

I noted that when stacking in SharpCap, that many frames appear to be dropped. I went in the house to get coffee and was gone 10 min while stacking 1 min images. When I returned it showed only 2 stacked!  I think this is because in the stacking routine I asked it to align the frames. I'm not sure why SharpCap was rejecting so many frames.  That coupled with frames that failed to even load greatly slows down data collection.  I turned the align feature off and it is then stacked fine but some frames were still dropped.

At 2240 the temp is 42 and humidity is 80%. Sky meter reading is 18.60. Sky looks very clear but not my best sky meter reading.  Shut down at 2346.
March 18, 2017

Came out at 2100 on a nice night with scattered clouds, 67 F, 96% humidity and no wind.  I set up the ASI071 at prime focus with 4” of focuser rings and no extensions or focal reducers. I do have the 2” Lumicon DS filter on the end of the camera's nose piece.  I achieved focus at 35 mm on the focuser with this setup.  Note for this setup I had to significantly adjust the scope on the mount's dove plate to achieve balance

H 205-1, NGC 2841
Is a galaxy in the constellation Ursa Major (the big dipper) and it approximately 46 million light years from earth.  The galaxy is tilted away from us by 20-30 degrees.  The galaxy is surrounded by a nice star field.  Four minute single images didn't tease much structure out of the galaxy.  I need to stack but my camera is close to hitting the mount so I can't go any longer on it.

I noticed that with the ASI071MC-COOL camera in the focuser with the writing upright, the mount directional arrows work in reverse from the Mallincam.  I uploaded a single 240 second image (gain = 400) of NGC 2841 to to measure the field size.  It reported 40.5 x 26.9' with a pixel scale of 0.491 arcsec / pixel. This measurement allows a calculation of the reduction provided by the 2" 0.75x Mallincam Focal Reducer was 0.771.   This compares very favorably to the 0.770 observed reduction previously measured with my Mallincam Extreme.

 The report also showed that "up" is at – 88 degrees so the camera's orientation is a bit off.  I suspected based on the mount directional keys that it would be closer to 180 degrees.  In the future I'll mount the camera in the focuser with the writing on the camera's back upside down to reverse the slew direction to what I am accustomed to.

At 0043 it is 63 F and 98% humidity. Starting to get dew on some surfaces.

H 43-1, NGC 4594, Messier 104, The Sombrero Galaxy
A very nice galaxy nearly edge on, turned towards us by just a few degrees.  It has a bright core and the full top half of the galaxy is illuminated.  The galaxy is oriented N-S and a prominent dust lane is evident.  It appears to be approximately 8 ' long.  The galaxy is in a rather sparse star field.

  The above image is a stack of 10 x 120 seconds at gain = 400.  Stacking done in SharpCap.  There is a little illumination (amp glow?) on the bottom of the image, especially on the left.  I'm running the camera at -10 C.  A longer exposure would have been better to pick up more details.

H 78-1, NGC 2985
This is a nice spiral galaxy in Ursa Major located 64 - 67 million light years from earth.  I took a stack of 5 x 240 seconds at gain = 400 and with the camera operating at -10C.  

I've been seeing issues with ice formation on the chip at temps more than the -10 C setting. However tonight I'm getting a big circle of dark hazy nature so I have to turn the cooler off to make it go away. This isn't a good thing as it hurts the image and increases the noise level. Perhaps I need to add the auxiliary desiccant tablets to the camera.

Since I couldn't discern any detail of the galaxy, I didn't count this observation towards my Herschel 400 project.  Similarly I tried H 168-1, NGC 3184 but had similar issues with distortion of the image.   At 0148 clouds rolled in and ended the session. Learned some more about the camera & SharpCap

March 23, 2017
Came out a little before 2000. It is clear with a slight breeze and 72 degrees with 88% humidity. I installed the ASI071MC-COOL upside down to match the orientation with the mount's controls. No FR, prime focus with the Lumicon DS filter.  After taking a few dark frames I noticed that the 
winds brought in clouds at 2026.   By 2200 the sky looked a little better with the sky meter reading was 18.43. Better than I expected with the clouds rolling through. It is somewhat clear now but high thin clouds are in parts of the sky.  As I've been hunting Herschel objects in Ursa Major, I decided to give Messier 81 a try with the new camera.

Messier 81, NGC 3031, Bode's Galaxy
The clouds held back and I got several 2 min exposures of M81. The raw subs were captured and included dark frame subtraction. The stacked exposure with 10 x 2 minute exposures (gain = 400, camera temp -10 C) looks pretty good but little detail in the galaxy's arms is evident.  This is a spiral galaxy about 12 million light years away

I had more issues with large dark circles forming on the images.  If I turn the camera's cooler off or at least set it to above 0 C, the circles disappear.  However they reform once I turn the cooler back on.   Clouds rolled in and ended the observing session at 2300 hours.

March 25, 2017
Surprisingly the skies are clear after heavy afternoon thunderstorms. The humidity is high so the seeing isn't great, but no clouds. Came out a little after 2000.  ASI071MC-COOL setup at prime focus with the Lumicon Deep Sky filter (2”). After about 30-45 min, I started getting the dark circle in the center of the ASI071MC-COOL's FOV. Cooling was on -10, so I turned it off and the circle disappeared.  At 2305 it is 62 F and 99% humidity with no wind and clear skies. Sky Meter reading = 18.92. Everything is wet!

H 160-2, NGC 3686
This is a small face on galaxy in the constellation Leo and is ~ 53 million light years from earth.   In the FOV with at least 2 other galaxies.  The image is 21 x 180 seconds at gain = 400.

The subject galaxy is nearly circular with a prominent bar running NS.  Off the N end there is an arm circling to the E and back around to the S.  From the S end of the bar is an arm circling W and back around to the N.  The second galaxy is a faint eliptical around 20 ' away to the ESE.  THis galaxy has no discerable core.  This is NGC 3691, a mag 12.4 galaxy that is 1.4 x 1'.   The third galaxy is also eliptical with a brighter core. It is ~ 15' to the NE.  This is  NGC 3684, a mag 11.4 galaxy that is 3.1 x 2.1 ' in size.  Galaxy cluster Abell 1264 is also in this frame but would require much more magnification to resolve.

H 21-1, NGC 3810
A face on spiral galaxy in Leo that resides approximately 50 million light years from earth.  The core is not overly bright.  Multiple 4 minute exposures was insufficient to pull out any detail.  I do note that the stars are a little elongated so apparently my guiding was lacking a bit.  Also the camera cooler was off as I was having issues with a dark circular region forming due to the high humidity.  The image is 8 x 240 seconds at gain = 400.  I'll have to try this object again to see if I can pull out any hint of the detail shown in the Hubble image.

March 31, 2017

Based on feedback from ZWO, I installed the auxillary desiccant tablets onto the camera a couple of days ago.  Hopefully that will dry out the air in the chamber housing the chip and avoid dew or ice formation.  They also advised to cool down the camera slowly.  I setup the ASI071MC-COOL at prime focus with the 2” Lumicon DS filter. I started the cooler at mild cooling 16 c and will stair step it down.

I tried to get M81 & 82 in the same frame but they were too close to the edge of the FOV, so I'll need to use the 2” FR to get both. For now I'll concentrate on M-81.  At 2318 sky meter reading was 18.94. Temp is 62 F with 96% humidity

Messier 81, NGC 3031, Bode's Galaxy
Decided to try this object again to see if I could pull our a bit more detail.  The image below is 5 x 360 seconds at gain = 400 and the camera is operating at -10 C.    The frames were stacked in SharpCap.  Uncharacteristically I used GIMP to adjust the brightness and contrast, which yielded an improved image. Perhaps I'll try using AstroToaster instead of SharpCap's to stack and adjust brightness and contrast next time.  I had no issues with dew or ice formation in the camera.

Poor tracking ruined my attempt at M-101.

Messier 13
I got a reasonable image of this magnificent cluster.  The image is 11 x 60 seconds at gain = 400 and the camera was operating at - 10 C.  

I suffered a lot of dropped frames,  ~ 50% during this session.  Very frustrating.  Shut down at 0200

Saturday, June 3, 2017

First light for the ASI071MC-Cool

March 3, 2017

Came out a little after 8 pm on a cool(58 F), dry (40%), and clear night. First order of business is to test my Mallincam and ensure it is working. Then I'll hook up the new camera and give it a whirl.

I hooked everything up and the Mallincam was working and then it died. I noticed the dew controller showed low voltage also, so it appears to be my battery. I hooked everything up to AC power and it worked fine. I had just recharged the battery so either my battery charger is bad or the 6 year old battery is dying.

I'm using the Mallincam with only the 2” 0.75X focal reducer and Lumicon DS filter. This setup yields a 14.8 x 11.1 arcmin field of view (FOV).  I failed to install the heat sink so there is no cooling on the camera.   I took a 2 min image of M65 in Leo when it was 44 degrees up and it looked noisy but otherwise good. I stacked 5 x 3 minute images to reduce the noise. The autoguider is working wonderfully, no image shift or enlongated stars ! The stacked image is pretty good with some detail in the galaxy visible. If I had the fans of to cool the sensor it would be a bit cleaner. Now to switch to the new camera.

Setup the ZWO ASI071MC-Cool camera with the 2” 0.75x focal reducer and 2” Lumicon DS filter.  I found focus at 37 mm.  I fired up SharpCap and setup with a gain of 400 and focused on Denebola. I then went to M65 and took a 120 sec image with no cooling,

WOW, a really nice image for first try.   The FOV is enormous and the corresponding image scale is small.  As a result you can't see as much detail in the new camera's image.  I uploaded the image to and it calculated a FOV of 52.4 x 34.8 arcmin.   This is 3.4 X larger FOV than with the Mallincam.   I played a bit with the image adjustments in SharpCap, but I have more to learn in this area.

I turned on the cooler and set it to -20 C. It quickly achieved this temperature. I can't really tell any significant difference in the noise.  I took 3 x 5 minute exposures and stacked them in SharpCap

The images are blue despite my adjustments of the histogram. I need to learn to better use the white balance & hue adjustments. The stack of 5 min exposures doesn't reveal as much detail as the Mallincam did until you zoom in.  This camera is quite impressive.

More perplexing than the blue tint of the image is the black triangular structure on the left side of the image and the cross-hatched pattern through the image.  These appear to be related to the cooling.

I moved the scope over a bit to see if I could capture the Leo Triplet.  With my Mallincam I could never get this FOV to catch this collection of galaxies.  With the gain still at 400 and the sensor cooled to -10 C, I took 3 minute exposures and centered the galaxy trio.  There they were; M 65 at the bottom left, M 66 at the top left, and the edge on NGC 3628 at the top right.   I was able to adjust the white balance and histogram to get a nice black field.  I then stacked 8 x 180 second exposures.  What a nice image !  It is wonderful to have the resolution to enable significant zooming in to reveal added details.  This is why I bought this camera. measured this image as 52.3 x 34.8 arcmin.

I'm not sure what causes the band at the top of the image.  Actually it appeared as a lightening at the bottom of the frame in the SharpCap preview.  I'll experiment with this more next time.  I shut down at 1:30 am – a nice first night with the new camera.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

New Camera !!

I've had my Mallincam Extreme II for nearly 5 years and it has provided me many fantastic views of the universe.  Without it I probably would not still be interested in astronomy as viewing faint, colorless, fuzzy patches through an eyepiece is not very interesting to me.   As chronicled in this blog, the Mallincam coupled with a Lumicon Deep Sky filter, has enabled me to see many iconic celestial objects from my light polluted suburban backyard with ~ 4.8 Naked Eye Limiting Magnitude.

My astronomy interests are still aligned with video astronomy / electronically assisted astronomy.   I enjoy sitting out with my scope and viewing objects in near real time.   I have no ambitions to be an astro imager as spending hours post processing images is not my idea of fun.  I have desired to improve the quality of my images so I could discern more details in the objects I view.  So I started studying new cameras.  My criteria were;

1.   One Shot Color
2.   Cooled to reduce noise
3.   Decent sensitivity to see DSO with exposures < 4 minutes
4.   Sufficient resolution to provide detailed views (I arbitrarily set minimum of 6 megapixels)
5.   Large chip to provide a good field of view (at least 20 x 15 arc minutes at prime focus)
6.   USB camera for both control and image download with 1 cable
7.   2" aperture minimum
8.   Price of <= $ 1,500 US

I looked at several brands and quickly focused in on the new offerings by Mallincam, Atik,  and ZWO.  After reading posts on Cloudy Nights and the Video Astronomy Forum I zeroed in on the new ZWO ASI071MC-Cool.   It hit all of my criteria and my wife purchased it for me as a retirement present.

On March 2, 2017 I received a ZWO ASI071MC-Cool today from Agena Astro.  It looks to be a beautifully made camera.  Pictures of the unboxing were uploaded to my Flickr account.  I downloaded version 2.9 of SharpCap and installed the camera's native driver from the website. I fired up SharpCap and plugged in the camera into a USB port and the camera was sensed by the software where I could select it. I was able to take a couple of dark images (lens cap on) of varying lengths.  I cracked the lens cap and saw light in the image, so I know that the camera is talking to the software. I look forward to first light for the new camera in the observatory.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

February 2017 Observing Report

Feb 16, 2017
Has been quite cloudy and stormy of late so I haven't been able to view. This is a work night but this weekend is not projected to offer good weather and tonight does, so here I am. It is cold and dry with temps in the upper 40s and humidity in the 55% range.  I will setup again with the full MFR-5, 50 mm ext tube, 1”focuser ring, and 2-1-1/4” reducer for a F 4.43.  This setup give my Mallincam XT-418 a 20.6' x 15.45' FOV.  I may try adding a spacer or two later on to test the FOV change and vignetting & coma effect.  Standard setup, AGC = 6, APC = 0 , ATW, Gamma = 1.0, cooling set to -5C.  I have the Lumicon Deep Sky filter on.

My tracking is horrible with image shift after 40 sec images.  I found the w azimuth lock bolt was loose so I tightened it.   I need to spend some time polar aligning and getting my guiding scope operational.  However for now I want to knock out a few objects.  The constellation Cassiopeia is nicely oriented so I'll concentrate on the Herschel 400 objects in that constellation.

Herschel object H 35-6 (NGC 136) is a small tight cluster of ~ 15 stars in nearly circular pattern The SE corner has a straignt line of 3 stars running NNE to SSW that are brighter than the other stars in the cluster.  The cluster looks almost like Scorpius with the 3 stars and then to the NW is a curving tail that bends to the SW.  Following this line of stars to the SW .

H 78-8 (NGC 225) is a large OC of around 2 dozen stars that are much larger and brighter than the background stars.  The stars are arranged in an amorphous pattern with a 6 star wavy line at top running E to W.

H 159-1 (NGC 278) is a small face on spiral galaxy.  At only 2 arc minutes in size, the image scale is rather small.  I would do better without a focal reducer and perhaps with a Barlow.  I am only seeing the object at ~ 1' in size.  It is however unmistakable as a galaxy.  I would note that even the Deep Sky Survey image of this galaxy reveals little structure. 

H 64-8 (NGC 381) is an open cluster in a rich star field.  There is a line of over a dozen stars running ENE to SSW.  The cluster is comprised of > 3 dozen stars and one that is brighter than the rest & larger

H 45-7 (NGC 436) is a small triangular shaped cluster of around 2 dozen stars.  
The triangle points to the center star of a 3 bright star line to the NW.   The line runs NNW by SSW. There are long curving lines of stars extending from the cluster to the SW, SSW, and S.

H 42-7 (NGC 457) is a bright cluster consisting of two quite bright stars and a spinal run of stars with appendages off to the top and bottom.  
The spine consisting of 15 - 20stars runs NW to SE.  The top "eye" star is the largest and has 5 small stars arranged into a square to the star's E.  The third brightest star in the group is in the top appendage, which runs N.  The southern appendage "arm" or "wing" is 2 stars wide and curves to the W.  Whether you see a dragon fly or ET, this is a nice cluster.  First a short exposure to show only the bright stars of the cluster.

and a longer exposure for a deeper view.

H 48-7 (NGC 559) is 
a broad convex line of stars running SW to NE through the FOV.  In the SSW is a line of 6 stars running NW to S.  The cluster is roughly spherical and sits near the apex of the convex line.  It is comprised of a couple dozen stars,  many fainter than the stars comprising the convex line.  The surrounding star field is rather sparsely populated.

H 49-7 (NGC 637) is 
a cluster with hard to recognize boundaries.  There are 4 brighter stars and 10-16  smaller stars in a roughly circular patter.  There is a line to the E that curves toward the SE that is comprised of around 15 stars.  At the end of the line is a concave semi-circle of 5 stars.  The FOV includes 2 bright stars to the NNW of the cluster and one to the SE.  There is also a larger star just on the edge of the FOV to the WSW.  is rather sparse of stars but there one to the SW that is bigger than any in the cluster

H 46-7 (NGC 654) is 
a bright large star with a cluster of > 2 doz much smaller stars to the SE.  From the bright star there is a z shaped line that leads to a long line of 9 stars extending to the NNE .  There are few stars to the E of the cluster, but to the W is well populated.

H 65-8 (NGC 659) is another cluster with hard to discern boundaries as it is in a rich star field.  9 bright stars litter the core of the cluster with many faint stars surrounding.  There are many other stars to all directions.

H 31-6 (NGC 663) is a broad cluster of nearly circular proportions comprising some    20 or more stars. The star field is sparse to the E of the cluster but full in all other directions.  

With a shorter exposure depicting only the brighter stars you can see 4 "rays" emanating from a point on the southern edge of the cluster.

H 66-8 (NGC 1027) is a cluster comprised of around 10 bright stars in a very dense star field.  There is a central star that is much larger and brighter than the others.  As is often the case with me, I have insufficient artistic abilities to describe a shape in this cluster.

I completed all the Hershel 400 objects in Cassiopeia !  A very productive night.   It is late for a work night and I'm shutting down at 2326.

Feb 22, 2017

Came out at 6:45 on a warm clear night, very unusual for February. Set up with the Mallincam at prime focus and worked on getting the polar alignment better. Using standard camera settings: AGC = 6, APC = 0, gamma = 1. Got the scope polar aligned with the polar scope as best I could and then performed a drift alignment on Mirzam (front foot of Sirius) and then Mirach.

I left the camera at prime focus (11.4 x 8.5 arc min FOV) with no filter and jumped into viewing Hershel objects in Leo. First object NGC 3227 and I'm seeing significant image shift between 1 minute exposures. Very disappointing.  Apparently my drift alignment procedure is not as sensitive as imaging.  I had hoped to avoid guiding in my setup but it looks like that will be needed, especially at prime focus.  I'll hit a few of the brighter targets tonight and work on the autoguider and software next session.

H 29-2 (NGC 3227 & 3226) is a pair of interacting galaxies (ARP 94).   The two galaxies have cores of similar size and brightness but the galaxy on the lower right (NGC 3227) is more face on, bigger, and elliptical.  The long axis is towards the smaller galaxy. The smaller galaxy (NGC 3226) appears to be more circular.  I can't discern the outer edges of the two galaxies at this exposure level and tracking is insufficient to allow a longer exposure.  Would be a good object to revisit when I get the autoguider going.

H 50-2 (NGC 3607 and 3605) is another pair of galaxies although these two are not interacting.  The larger one (NGC 3607) is elliptical  with a halo that is a couple of core diameters wide.  The smaller galaxy (NGC 3605) is at the 2 o'clock position to the larger one  It appears to be more elliptical.   NGC 3608 is just out of the FOV to the S of NGC 3607.

Packed it in around 10:45. Next time I'll fire up my Orion Awesome Autoguider to address the poor tracking

Feb 25, 2017
Set up with the 2” FR + MFR-3 for a FOV of 18.6 x 13.9' and F 4.91 and the 2” Lumicon DS filter. I also setup the Orion guide camera tonight to see if I can improve my tracking.   After climbing the learning curve with the autoguider &PhD2, I found the guiding to work quite well as I was able to take 120 second images and stack them with well shaped stars.  This is a huge improvement in my capability to capture faint details in objects.  Continuing with the Herschel 400 object hunt.

H 27-1 (NGC 3412) is a nearly face on elliptical galaxy oriented NW to SE.  There is a bright core and the halo extends 1 core diameter to each side and 2-3 diameters to the NW & SE. No details in the halo are discernible.   The galaxy resides in a nice star field of all similarly sized and brightness stars.

H 44-2 (NGC 3190) is a near edge on galaxy oriented Nw to SE with a bright core visible on the SW side.    there is a prominent dust lane running just below the visible core.  A remarkable FOV with 2 other galaxies visible and another just at the southern edge of the FOV.  This is the Hickson 44 compact group.  

Sky meter reading at 0048 = 18.97 at 55 F with 50% humidity.  Shutting down for the night.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

January Observing Report

Jan 7, 2017
First observing session of 2017 on a very cold (34 F at 1900 ) and clear night. Will see how long I can last in the sub-freezing temps forecast for tonight. I logged into the Gemini with the web browser before plugging in the Mallincam and I appear to have retained connection, although I haven't fired up the Mallincam yet.

Setup the Mallincam with the MFR-5 and no spacers and the 50 mm ext tube & Baader 2 to 1-1/4” reducer. Turned on Mallincam and still have Gemini connectivity. Fired up Miloslick MallinCam Control version 3.3b,   The new version has blank menus and appears not to communicate well with the camera. It won't read settings but will display color bars and a live image from the camera. Even after restarting the program. Shut down the Gemini interface and unplugged the USB hub. Restarted Miloslick MallinCam Control, no change. Reinserted the USB hub and reestablished the Gemini web interface.  Fired up MallinCam Extreme Control version 2.8b and it talks to the camera just fine. Apparently a bug in the new Miloslick version. Took some screen shots to share with Bill tomorrow. While the Gemini web interface appears to be talking to the mount it won't initiate a slew to a target either from the hand controller window or the catalogs menu. Argh !! Shut down the web interface and but left the Ethernet cables hooked up. Will use the handset. Realized I had left the handset at the startup menu. Once I told it to do a warm restart, the web interface works fine. !! Yea!!  While I don't mind using the handset to control the mount, I would like to control via computer.

This time of year the Orion area is an irresistible target.  I took a series of 20 second,  AGC 6 captures of the Orion nebula

Took a series of 90 second,  AGC 6 captures of the running man nebula but they the exposures weren't long enough for the nebula to clear.
At 2309 sky reading was 18.64 and the temp is 31 F with 69% humidity, 22 dew point, and winds out of NNE at 3 mph.   Stephan's software hung up twice. The second time at 2336 and I quit for the night.

Jan 13, 2017
Earlier today I uninstalled Miloslick 3.3b and reinstalled 3.1.3, which is the next newest one on the website.  Came out at 10 pm to find the clouds had cleared after being cloudy all day. Nice surprise. It is 64 F, with 98% humidity, dew point of 63, and no wind. Will setup again with the full MFR-5, 50 mm ext tube, 1” ring, and 2-1-1/4” reducer for a F 4.43 and a 20.6 x 15.45 FOV.

Interesting, I'm having the same issue with version 3.1.3 of Miloslick in that it displays the camera's image but wont control the camera. I wonder if the serial to USB adapter is broke. Probably not as the Mallincam Extreme Control software worked last time. I unplugged the USB to Ethernet adapter and the camera started responding. I plugged the Ethernet adapter back in and the camera control died again. So obviously I have some kind of conflict that I'll work on in the day time. For now I'll use the Gemini hand controller and unplug the Ethernet adapter. 

Continuing my Hershel 400 observing list with H 3-8 (NGC 2251) in Monoceros. A nice cluster with 4 segments.   To the SW there is a row of 4 bright stars and several fainter ones running SE to NW.   Perpendicular to the southern most star in this line to the NE is a is a semicircular cluster of 5 bright stars and many fainter ones. There is a dark lane running between these two clusters at this magnification. Then SE of the second cluster is an elongated inverse ? of about 14 stars.  Then NW  of the second cluster is a single bright star with 2 somewhat fainter stars further to the NW and many fainter stars in the region.  

H 27-6 (NGC 2301), also in Monoceros is a sprawling cluster nearly 20 ' across.  To the E are 4 bright stars in an arc.  In the center is a cluster of 3 bright and many fainter stars.  To the W is a vertical line of 3 stars with a fourth star to the NW of the top star.  Further W of the southern star in the line is another bright star.

Continuing in the constellation Monoceros we come to H 60-8 (NGC 2311).  At the S end is a V of 6 stars with the opening back to the NNW.  The central cluster is oval in shape and composed of roughly 2 dozen stars  The surrounding star field is rather sparse.  Sky glow from the nearly full moon is becoming apparent as I'm not using a filter.

H 38-7 (NGC 2324) is in Monoceros.  Looking towards the full moon with no filter my contrast on the image was poor but sufficient to bag this cluster.  To the SW is a slight arc of 4 stars and 2 parallel star to the NW.  To the NE is a region of stars all of nearly the same intensity that forms the shape of a sword pointing to the NW the blade is about 5 ' long.  there are blade guards extending from the base of the sword to the SW and NE and then a handle composed of two small circles of stars.  Very nice object.

The cluster H 31-8 (NGC 2286) is hard to pick out.  I located it by finding the 3 bright stars to the E with the 4 star line arcing away to the S.  The main part of the cluster is due W from the star trio.  It is oval in shape and comprised of at least 2 dozen stars.  Looking near the full moon without a filter so my contrast is quite poor.

Moving onto the constellation Lynx we find H 200-1 (NGC 2683).  A spiral galaxy at an angle, nearly face on.  It is oriented NE to SW. A bright core is visible but no structure of the rings is evident with such poor contrast.  The star field is sparse in the immediate vicinity.

Moving over to Ursa Major we find H 242-1 (NGC 2681).  It is a small face on galaxy with a very bright core.  I can't make out but a hint of the halo extending about 1 core diameter in all directions.  I'll need to visit this object again and take longer exposures to pull out the structure.

Over in constellation Coma Berenices is globular cluster H 19-1 (NGC 4147).  It is a small faint GC in a relatively sparse star field.  The cluster's core is packed with few individual stars that are discernible.   Some stars to the NW can be picked out but they likely are more than  individual stars. Another object I need to revisit to pull out more detail.

 At 1 am it is down to 58 F and 99 % humidity. Everything is wet. Sky meter reading is a dismal 13.98 with a full moon nearly at zenith. Shut down at 0144.

Jan 23, 2017
Binocular viewing on a cool clear night with no moon. Observed the Orion nebula region and then spent some time in the interesting region around Mirfak (see the Cosmic Pursuits article Attendants of Mirfak.  Later I took in the Pleiades, Hyades, and NGC 457.   A relaxing evening under the stars.  I really enjoy using the Orion paralleogram binocular mount. It provides good stability to the binoculars and is easy to move between targets and to make small adjustments.

Jan 28, 2017
Came out a little after 10 pm after the clouds finally cleared. It is a cold, dry night: 48 F, 49% humidity, with no wind and no clouds. Will setup again with the full MFR-5, 50 mm ext tube, 1” ring, and 2-1-1/4” reducer for a F 4.43 and a 20.6 x 15.45 FOV. I may try adding a spacer or two later on to test the FOV change and vignetting & coma effect. Standard setup with Miloslick software; AGC = 6, APC = 0 , ATW, Gamma = 1.0, cooling set to -5C. Running the mount from the HC as when I plug in the USB Hub with the Ethernet socket, I lose control of the camera in Miloslick. Need to work on this during the day time.
Earlier in the week I installed the Belleville washers that Michael Herman sent me on the azimuth lock knobs so first order of business will be to check the polar alignment via drift and lock it in.  It wasn't too far off and the washers seem to give a tighter lock down.  Will see how it holds as the mount is used.

In the constellation Leo I found H 56-1 (NGC 2903).  It is a nice barred face on spiral approx 3 x 2 '  a bright nucleus   Bar is running NE to SW arms are trailing clockwise and more visible on the Bottom (S) than the top.

H 114-1 (NGC 2964) is a A smallish (2 x 1.5 ') face on spiral galaxy.  Elliptical in shape  One arm visible to the South, the North region is diffuse.  The core is rather elongated in the N - S direction.  There is smaller galaxy (NGC 2968) at the 7 o'clock position about 5' from the core

Continuing to browse the constellation Leo we find H 13-1 (NGC 3521).  It is an elliptical galaxy of approx 3' x 1 ' in size  angled toward us around 45 degrees.  It has a large bright core around 45 '' x 30 ''.  No arm detail can be made out .  It is in a star field populated by 4 largish stars and numerous dimmer ones.

Continuing in Leo, H 28-2 (NGC 3226) is a dwarf elliptical galaxy that is interacting with the spiral galaxy NGC 3227.  NGC 3226 is face on with a bright core and little other distinguishing features.  It is approximately 1' in diameter.  NGC 3227 is more elliptical measuring  2 ' x 45'' and running NW to SE.  Its core is about 2 ' from the first galaxy's core.  The star field features 10 bright stars and a relatively sparse field of dimmer stars.

H 17-1 (NGC 3379) in Leo is a circular galaxy with a large bright core.  The diameter is roughly 1.5' in diameter  with the core measuring approx 45 '' in diameter. There is no visible detail in the halo .  This object is also known as Messier 105.  In the FOV are 2 other galaxies.

Elliptical galaxy H 18-1 (NGC 3384) that is roughly 3 ' x 1 '  and it is core is about 7' SW of NGC 3379.  No detail in the halo is evident.

Also in the FOV is the much smaller NGC 3389.  It is a roughly 1.5 ' x 45 " in size and is around 9 ' SE of NGC 3379 and about 6' ESE of NGC 3384.   These 3 galaxies make a nice field.

H 8-5 (NGC 3628), also in Leo, is a large edge on galaxy with a dust lane roughly 6 ' long.  It is oriented nearly due N & S.  There is no detail evident in the dust lane or the halo, which is brighter near the center West side.  At its widest point it is approx 45 ".  I can see the galaxy is larger than 8 ' but the edges are very diffuse and hard to make out the boundaries

Sky meter reading = 18.99 @ 0155 and it is 44 F and 53% humidity with no wind and no clouds.  I shut down at 0200.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

November - December Observing Report

Nov 19 2016
     First night out since the DSSG. A cold clear night with low humidity. At 9:23 pm it is 54 F with 55% humidity, dew point 38 F, breeze out of the NNE ~ 4 mph. I had the mount on the pier but I had to polar align the mount and then install the scope and other gear.  I setup with the 2” 0.75X FR + the MFR-3 and 1-1/4” Lumicon deep sky filter. Only the Baader 2” → 1-1/4” adapter in the optical train other than the 1” focuser ring. This should give me a field of 18.6 x 13.9 arcmin for a reduction of 0.613 and a F ratio of 4.91. Settings on the Mallincam are AGC 6, ATW, contrast 80 – 90, brightness 10 – 50% depending on object.  I continued working on the Herschel 400 list.

Herschel 17-6,  NGC 2158

Tracking and/or polar alignment is off as exposures > 30 seconds result in significant image shift and star trailing. Too tired to mess with drift alignment tonight. Shutting down at 1140. Sky meter reading = 18.95 .

Nov 25, 2016
A few high thin clouds tonight and 62 F,  83% humidity and no wind. Came out after 9 . My goal is to improve my polar alignment and then perhaps do a little viewing. Since I'm working mostly on polar alignment, I set up the Mallincam with no focal reducers at prime focus with an 1” focuser ring, an 80 mm extension tube, and a 2->1-1/4” adapter. No filters or focal reducers.

Went to Menkab in Cetus @ 2302 and centered the star with AGC dropped down to 2. 
 Iteratively tweaked the azimuth, re-centered the star,  and watched the drift.   After multiple adjustments I had it holding 5 minutes with the star is still dead center and approximately 1/3 the diameter down.Went to Procyon. It is a bit above the eastern horizon but I don't see any stars lower due to clouds that have built in form the East.  At 5 minutes there was no left/right drift evident only a down drift by ½ diameter. Locked down the azimuth locks. Went to Sirius, centered and started tracking.  At 5 minutes the star was still ½ diameter below the line but centered left to right.  That should have the alignment of the mount good enough for EAA observation.   I shut down for the night due to persistent clouds.

Nov 26, 2016
Came out a little after 8:00 on a cool night with temp around 49 and 88% humidity with no clouds in sight and no wind. Plan is to continue my Hercshel 400 hunt so I'll setup the Mallincam with the 2” FR + the MFR-8 for a reduction of 0.533 which has the scope operating at F 4.3. This gives me a FOV of 21.4 x 16.1 arcmin. I do have the 2” Lumicon deep sky filter installed. 

After fussing with my system for a bit, I finally came to the realization that the dust cap was still on!  Note to self: remove dust cap from scope before starting observing session.   I went on to hunt down a few Herschel objects until clouds rolled in around midnight.

 Shut down at 12:20.  Frustratingly I am still seeing some image shift. 

Dec. 9, 2016
A cold clear night with few clouds. Thankfully the wind has died down. At 2000 hrs it is 45 F with only 52% humidity, so dew shouldn't be an issue tonight. The moon however is near zenith and just past half so it will be an issue to the South.  I setup the Mallincam with the 2” 0.75x FR + the MFR-8 for a reduction of 0.533 which has the scope operating at F 4.3. This gives me a FOV of 21.4 x 16.1 arcmin. I'll use the 1/14” Lumicon deep sky filter tonight.

H317-2, NGC 2371-2372

At midnight a sky meter reading was 18.53 due to the > ½ moon high in the SW. The temp is still 44 F with 58% humidity.  I knocked out the Hershel objects in Gemini, Orion, and Canis major . I've now completed 30 objects on the Hershel 400. Shutdown ant 0109.  Frustrated that I'm still getting significant image shift after only 40 seconds or so. 

Dec 29, 2016
A front finally blew through and cleared out the skies, mostly. There are some high thin clouds around but the sky is pretty clear. Temp is 54 F and falling with light winds out of the North. The good news is the dew point is 36 F with only 52% humidity, so if the clouds will clear the transparency should be good. I setup with the 2” 0.75x FR + the MFR-8, with the 1-1/4” Lumicon DS filter.  The camera is setup with AGC=6, White balance = ATW, Gamma = 1.0, APC = 0,0, Cooling = off. Note I did not put the fans on the camera tonight.

At 0135 I took a sky meter reading of 18.74 . The temp is 49 F with a dew point of 35 and there is a slight N wind. No noticeable clouds since 10 pm. I knocked out some Herschel objects in Cassiopeia but it was getting pretty low so I moved up to Perseus and checked off all the objects in that constellation and then moved on to Auriga. I snagged 16 objects in total, a good night. I shut down at 0225 after a very productive night.