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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I’m a numbers guy. Being able to quantify something is very satisfying, because then it means I can assess it more or less objectively and try to improve it if needed. And I know I’m not the first person who does astrophotography to wonder how well my mount is performing. PHD2, a very popular software package for guiding during astrophotography, provides a very useful tool for exactly that: the Guiding Assistant.

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M81 imaged using my C6 OTA (with 0.63x focal reducer) on my iOptron GEM45 mount. About six hours of three-min subs using my ASI533MC Pro camera with a UV/IR filter, plus calibration frames. Processed using Affinity Photo, AstroFlat Pro, and Denoise AI.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my time taking astrophotographs using my Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 f/5.5 apo refractor, ZWO ASI533MC Pro camera, and iOptron GEM45 mount over the past several months. The Sky-Watcher has been a joy to use, yielding sharp views in a field of view that works well for nebula and other larger targets. But with the onset of spring, most of the best targets in the night sky are galaxies–spectacular, but smaller. So I decided it was time to give my Celestron NexStar 6SE a try. Not the mount, mind you–it’s an alt-az mount with a lot of backlash in the motor drives–just the optical tube assembly (OTA). The C6 is a 150-mm f/10 with decent optics. A 1500-mm focal length seemed like quite a challenge for imaging, though, so I added the Celestron 0.63x focal reducer to the mix.

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In astrophotography, using thousands of dollars of equipment to capture images of deep sky objects as you carefully track them across the sky is only part of the imaging process. Equally important is the task of combining and processing the captured images to produce your final astrophotograph. That’s where tools like Photoshop, PixInsight, Astro Pixel Processor, Siril, and even the Gimp would traditionally be put to work. But a new tool is gaining a foothold in the astrophotography world–Affinity Photo. Affinity Photo is just as capable as Photoshop for a fraction of the price. If that doesn’t make it attractive enough, the latest version (1.9) has added some astrophotography-specific capabilities, including the ability to stack astro exposures–a very important task in astro image processing.

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My imaging setup.

Modern astro imaging involves a lot of moving parts, and controlling those parts can be a daunting task for new imagers. For example, imaging a deep sky object involves taking multiple long exposures of the object with a camera that is being made to very precisely track the object while it is being imaged. Generally, the camera uses a telescope as its lens, and the telescope is mounted on an equatorial mount that is motorized and/or computerized so that it tracks the motion of the object very precisely as it moves across the sky from east to west. Thankfully, there are software packages available that will manage much of this complexity for you.

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UPDATE: The firmware appears to have been updated to fix this bug. See the note at the end of this post.

The other evening I was doing some imaging using my refractor on my iOptron GEM45 mount, and ran into a bit of a snag. I use N.I.N.A to manage my imaging runs, and I set up N.I.N.A and the iOptron ASCOM driver (iOptron Commander) together to handle the meridian flip needed during the imaging run. But while the meridian flip had worked just fine in previous imaging sessions, this time the meridian flip failed, and I had to manually intervene. But why?

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Post-processing astro images is probably one of the most challenging parts of the astro imaging process. So I’m always on the lookout for tools that can help me improve my images. One tool I recently added to the toolbox is Denoise AI from Topaz Labs.

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The Standard Desk Calcumeter, H. N. Morse circa 1910

A few months ago in a little consignment shop in our locality, I stumbled across something I’d never seen before. Stamped as “The Standard Desk Calcumeter,” it appeared to be some sort of calculating device. Since I have an odd fascination for such things, and since the price tag on it was only $12, I snatched it up. A little research confirmed that it was a cleverly-designed mechanical adding machine, where the digits were entered using the tip of a stylus on the rotating disks visible through the front plate. The Reset wheel on the far right side provided a quick and easy way to reset all the wheels to zero.

When I first obtained it, this machine was a bit on the grubby side, and the reset wheel was very difficult to turn. It was apparent that it had not been used in many years (unsurprisingly). It would be a bit of a restoration project.

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