The Wizard Nebula, NGC 7380

The Wizard Nebula is located in the constellation Cepheus and is also known as NGC 7380. This was a challenging target because it sits in the middle of the Milky Way in a dense field of stars. I spent quite a bit of time and effort to knock down the stars in the image to better show the nebula itself.

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The Bubble Nebula, NGC 7635.

I originally shot and processed the Bubble Nebula a few nights ago, posting an image with a larger field of view that included M52, the Cassiopeia Salt and Pepper Cluster. From the start I knew I wanted to revisit that data and crop in on the Bubble Nebula itself to see what I could do. This is the result. One of the many new things I learned while processing this in PixInsight was how to do deconvolution. I wouldn’t claim that I’ve mastered it, but I did manage to improve the sharpness of the image using that technique.

Although I’m still a relative newbie to PixInsight, one of the script libraries I use frequently is the EZ Processing Suite. I use it for denoising, stretching, and now also deconvolution. I also use the Weighted Batch Preprocessing script (included with PixInsight) for doing all my calibration and stacking tasks. Seasoned users of PixInsight are already familiar with these scripts, but if you’re a newbie you may not yet have encountered them.

The Ghost Nebula, IC 63.

The Ghost Nebula (IC 63) resides in the constellation Cassiopeia, not far from the middle star of the “W” shape that makes Cassiopeia so recognizable in the night sky. I saw someone else’s image of this nebula several days ago on Instagram and decided that I needed to try shooting it for myself. I captured 7 hours of data on this nebula over the course of two nights (using the rest of my time over those nights to capture the Witch’s Broom Nebula). This is once again a narrow-band image using the Optolong L-Extreme dual-band filter, shooting with a ZWO ASI533MC Pro cooled color camera through a Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 f/5.5 apo refractor on an iOptron GEM45 mount. Processed using PixInsight, Affinity Photo, and Denoise AI.

The Witch’s Broom Nebula, NGC 6960.

After shooting the East Veil Nebula a month or two ago, I wanted to come back to more of the Veil Nebula complex in Cygnus and shoot other parts of it. I love the colors and the wispiness of this nebula, and my narrow-band filter does a fabulous job on it, IMHO. By the time I got back to this target, it was high enough in the sky at dusk that I could only shoot it for about four hours a night. I managed to capture a total of seven hours on this target over the course of two nights. This is once again a narrow-band image using the Optolong L-Extreme dual-band filter, shooting with a ZWO ASI533MC Pro cooled color camera through a Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 f/5.5 apo refractor on an iOptron GEM45 mount. Processed using PixInsight, Affinity Photo, and Denoise AI.

The Bubble Nebula (NGC 7635), along with the Cassiopeia Salt and Pepper Cluster (M52).

Clear skies and a new moon will find me capturing more photons, and a few days ago I was able to collect 8 hours worth of light from the Bubble Nebula (NGC 7635), along with the Cassiopeia Salt and Pepper Cluster (M52). This is once again a narrow-band image using the Optolong L-Extreme dual-band filter, shooting with a ZWO ASI533MC Pro cooled color camera through a Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 f/5.5 apo refractor on an iOptron GEM45 mount. Processed using PixInsight, Affinity Photo, and Denoise AI.

It’s pretty rare, it seems, that I can actually get 8 hours of good data in a single evening. Only a couple of the subs had satellite trails, and those were fairly minor so I just kept them and relied on the stacking process to get rid of them. N.I.N.A.’s autofocus worked flawlessly during the entire run–I generally let autofocus refocus every 15 images or so. I love it when everything works and the weather cooperates the whole night.

The Crescent Nebula, in the constellation Cygnus.

I few nights ago I was able to capture about six hours of good data on the Crescent Nebula, in the constellation Cygnus. This image was captured using my Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 f/5.5 apo refractor on an iOptron GEM45 mount with a ZWO ASI533MC Pro one-shot color camera and an Optolong L-Extreme dual-band filter. The image was constructed from 119 3-minute subs plus calibration frames, processed in PixInsight, Affinity Photo, and Denoise AI. A false/pseudo-Hubble color palette was used in processing.

I love all the nebulosity that’s present in this image. One of the challenges of processing this image was to reduce the impact of what is otherwise a pretty intense field of stars. PixInsight provides the Morphology process and also makes use of StarNet++ to help reduce the stars a bit. It doesn’t look much like a crescent to me, though–more like a brain, or as someone else suggested, a cosmic gallstone. Has kind of an eerie look to it, doesn’t it?

Back in March of 2021 I captured an image of the Seagull Nebula. The nebula is actually too large for me to capture in a single frame using my current equipment (A Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 f/5.5 refractor with a ZWO ASI533MC Pro camera) so I split the target into four separate frames and then used Microsoft’s Image Composite Editor (ICE) and Affinity Photo to combine the frames and create the final image. ICE is a really cool tool, capable of stitching together panoramas and mosaics almost effortlessly, and I’ve used it several times for different projects. I’ve also written previously about Affinity Photo and how it’s an excellent general-purpose image processing tool for a modest cost–an excellent alternative to the pricey Photoshop package. But I’m in the process of transitioning to PixInsight as my main tool for processing my astro images–it’s one of the most popular and powerful tools built specifically for astro image processing–and I wanted to learn how to create a mosaic using PixInsight. So I recycled my Seagull Nebula data from March to see what I could do.

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The East Veil Nebula, in the constellation Cygnus.

As autumn approaches here in the Colorado mountains, the number of clear evenings gradually increases. Such was last evening, when I was able to set up to capture the East Veil Nebula (NGC 6992) in the constellation Cygnus. I was able to collect 116 good 3-minute subs, plus the usual calibration frames (darks, flats, dark flats, and bias frames), and process the result using PixInsight and Affinity Photo. Subs were captured using an ASI533MC Pro camera with L-Extreme filter through a Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 apo refractor on an iOptron GEM45 mount. I’m decently pleased with the result.

The Cygnus Wall, a region of concentrated star formation in the North American Nebula (NGC 7000). Presented in false color simulating the Hubble palette.

Finally–after a summer of clouds and smoke, I was able to take advantage of the clear nights that we start to see in autumn here in the mountains of Colorado. I’d been chomping at the bit to capture some new data and was happy to begin with the Cygnus Wall. Right from the start, it was a challenging evening, but this result at least was worth it.

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The Rosette Nebula, processed using a false color palette much like many of the Hubble Space Telescope images.

The spring and summer here in the mountains of Colorado have been unusually wet and cloudy, and the summer has also brought smoke from distant wildfires. So there hasn’t been much gathering of new celestial photons. I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of autumn and better skies. In the meantime, I thought it would be a good time to work on my image processing skills. I’d always been curious about using PixInsight for doing my image processing, so I decided it was time to get my 45-day trial license and give it a whirl.

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