What is new at Jarek's Amateur Astronomy Site

Friday 8/7/2020

I am still VERY actively engaged in amateur astronomy, but in recent years I seem to have less time in general resulting in lack of updates in the news section (and other stuff not done either). I do post the images and update some articles. Last year I have travelled again to Australia for OzSky 2019, this time I took a mount (iOptron SkyGuider Pro) and my astronomical Canon T2i with 70-300 mm lens. I got a few nice pictures that are posted on the Astrophotography page, among them Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (at 70mm each), Eta Carinae Nebula (at 180mm), wide field images of southern Milky Way (at 8mm, here and here).

I was at BFSP last year too, this time doing some more imaging with camera (dust around Pleiades) and EAA with my C14. Of course I have watched comet NEOWISE this year and I got a couple of pictures of it (here and here). Hopefully I will be able to do even more in the rest of the year 2020!

Tuesday 5/8/2018

I am still actively engaged in amateur astronomy, but less frequently updating the website "news" section. For example I have been working last year with my new Starlight Xpress camera for Electronically Assisted Astronomy (Ultrastar Color) - you can see pictures here. I still need to work better color balance, but it is a good start.

This year started VERY big for my astronomy - a trip to Australia for OzSky 2018. I was following up last night with observing from my backyard observatory hoping to view a few objects I saw at OzSky from my usual location. The night was exceptionally clear so I pulled out my SQM and measured sky brightness. Guess what: it was best so far: zenith 21.33 mag/sq.arc.sec (equivalent limiting magnitude 6.30)! I followed with 45 degree angle towards all 4 directions: south 21.07 (6.16), east 21.13 (6.19), north 21.13 (6.19) and west 20.78 (6.00). Also very good - west is the worst, but it is expected, Ithaca lies in this direction. Of course it cannot compare with Coonabarabran best reading of 21.91 (6.59), but it is my backyard, and therefore much closer.

Tuesday 11/8/2016

Last night was good so despite of 50% Moon in the sky I tried Electronically Assisted Astronomy with a Lodestar and Canon 17-85 lens. The results are encouraging, I cannot wait to see it all in color when I finally get Ultrastar. 

Wednesday 10/19/2016

Since the last entry I was able to do more Electronically Assisted Astronomy, last night results from October 6 are especially good. I also tried to do some imaging if Blue Snowball Nebula (NGC7662), but the session was cut short by clouds and wind. I was able to produce an image, but not as good as I hoped. Last week I have refreshed and updated a lot of pages on the website so they are more current now with my setup and equipment.

Sunday 9/25/2016

After seeing Andrea's image intensifier I restarted my interest in Electronically Assisted Astronomy. This time it is live stacking using Lodestar and Starlight Live software. I must say that the results are extremely encouraging and it looks like this way of observing will help me a lot during cold winter months.

Friday 9/9/2016

Black Forest Star Party (BFSP) 2016 was wonderful! Weather was fantastic and lasted for almost a week, we came early (September 1st) and stayed later (September 6th) thanks to Labor Day. Many nights of wonderful observing all the way until 5am in the morning with friends is something that is impossible to describe. Waiting now for the next year BFSP ... See the pictures from BFSP 2016 here.

Thursday 9/29/2016

Tuesday September 27 was another great night with Electronically Assisted Astronomy. I was able to get the C14 Hyperstar going after fitting an adapter to Lodestar and I got a lot of great EAA observations. It is definitively a good way to add to visual observing, I will go ahead now and use my regular observing lists with EAA. Both 10" Newtonian and C14 Hyperstar are useful, some smaller objects are better with 10", some large and faint with C14. Now I really need to get a sensitive color camera ...

Sunday 9/25/2016

After seeing Andrea's image intensifier I restarted my interest in Electronically Assisted Astronomy. This time it is live stacking using Lodestar and Starlight Live software. I must say that the results are extremely encouraging and it looks like this way of observing will help me a lot during cold winter months.

Friday 9/9/2016

Black Forest Star Party (BFSP) 2016 was wonderful! Weather was fantastic and lasted for almost a week, we came early (September 1st) and stayed later (September 6th) thanks to Labor Day. Many nights of wonderful observing all the way until 5am in the morning with friends is something that is impossible to describe. Waiting now for the next year BFSP ... See the pictures from BFSP 2016 here.

Monday 5/9/2016

Mercury transit! Along with my friends I have been enjoying Mercury Transit 2016 - the weather was excellent for a change . Here are the pictures - I was able to make my first Ha picture of the Sun!

Thursday 11/12/2015

It is a long time again since I have updated my website. I have been keeping up with observing, but didn't have much time for imaging. Oh, well, life happens ... Now it is another time to try get back on track with imaging - I have chosen to finish M76 that I have tried twice in the past already - once (in October 2007) my session with T2i got cut short due to clouds, next time (in November 2013) I was only able to obtain luminance. Finally, this year I got both, not without some problems - color data was slightly out of focus and guiding for luminance wasn't perfect by far - but it is a passable result after so much time. Here is the picture! It is very remarkable that after that long time all the equipment worked as if nothing happened and I have resumed imaging after a month not almost two years ...

Friday 11/22/2013

I have tried to image Heart and Soul recently, and there were a few clear nights over last two weeks, but unfortunately each time the wind was way above any reasonable limit ... I am usually fine up to about 8 mph (best below 5), but this time it was more. I have added NGC3628 (old data from May 2012, the last of the unprocessed sessions), it is a bit dark, even with 32 5 minute exposures it was a borderline object for 10" Newt and T2i.

Sunday 11/10/2013

It is a long time since I have updated this blog. Last year was very busy, both at home and at work, and although I did do visual astronomy from time to time I didn't have time to do any imaging. I have even left some data unprocessed ... from Aril 2012. I am back to imaging, and I hope to review and update the website as well during next few months. I cannot count on too many good nights in December or January, it is Ithaca after all. The newest images are with 40D/50mm lens and C14 Hyperstar. I captured two large Fall galaxies in one frame: M31 (Andromeda) and M33 (Triangulum) with Canon 40D, you can see it here. I am amazed with the quality of this little lens, the enlarged part with M31 still looks quite good! The C14/Hyperstar captured lower part of Heart Nebula (IC1805) and almost all of Soul Nebula (IC1848), both in Cassiopeia. There is a lot of reflection nebulosity in the Heart Nebula picture, but it would profit some if I had a bit of Hα image mixed into R channel. When I have a chance I will try to get both Heart and Soul with 150mm lens, this should look very good.

The old images that I finally processed are M81/82 with Orion 10" Newtonian and luminosity for M100 (with C14 f8.8).

Thursday 6/7/2012

I was able to watch 2012 Transit of Venus with a group of friends in Wilson, NY. It is about 3 hours drive from Ithaca, but since Ithaca was clouded out we had no choice - it is a long wait for the next transit . The trip was fantastic, here is how it looked like

Tuesday 4/10/2012

The new images keep coming, so maybe this year will be better.  There was full Moon last week so I was only able to do imaging. There are not that many well placed narrowband targets at this time of the year, but fortunately there are some. I did Ha/OIII imaging with two nice planetary nebulae: M97 (Owl) and NGC2392 (Eskimo). With both I produced RGB images with synthetic green, and I think they resemble typical RGBs. I haven't come with a good narrowband targets for Orion 10" Newt, so I tried two open clusters, a bit low in the west, but still high enough: M35 and M37.

I got the replacement for Argo Navis, I have carried out initial setup and it works fine. Now I am ready for clear nights around the new Moon in April ...

Tuesday 4/4/2012

I have finished processing Comet Garradd images obtained with Canon T2i and C14 Hyperstar. I have made not only a still image, but also 8 second movie spanning 2 hours and 28 minutes of comet movement. I had some problems with equalizing brightness  between the frames, but in the end it worked.

My Argo Navis computer has died , a delayed effect of a battery that leaked 3 years ago. I am waiting for a replacement to arrive, hopefully I will get it before the next new Moon.

Monday 3/26/2012

It has been a year since I have updated this page ... It was a very slow year for astronomy, bad luck with weather and free time available. Years like that do happen, but nevertheless we do prevail! It was not completely bad, I went to Cherry Springs in August 2011, I have also collected some imaging data, but I wasn't even able to process it until after December 2011. It is hard to update the website when I don't actually do observing or imaging much, and if it happens rarely the website usually stays untouched. It is changing now. The number of images (and related objects) grew to the point it is impossible to manage them just using simple Javascript tables, so I wrote a Perl based data management system. It is more image oriented and allows for simple searches and filtering against object and equipment. It has been deployed today! Please go and check it out on the Astrophotography page. And please let me know of any problems - surely there are some bugs to fix ...

I did produce some images over last year. The first two from June were good: M51 with the supernova and M101 through 70-300mm lens. The next ones are from August or later. M27 narrowband RGB with synthetic green (also came our quite good),  M57 LRGB and Rosette LRGB were done with ST-8300M, Rosette is actually my first LRGB done with the Hyperstar (but it's been shot in 2012 already). I have done a few wide field shots with 50mm lens and 40D piggybacked on Orion 10" scope: Cancer, Gemini, PerseusTaurus, Venus/Moon and Orion (all February-March 2012). And finally I have traded my QHY8 for a new Canon T2i. I have self-modified it using Gary's online instructions and removed all the filters, it was quite easy and went very well. The first image with T2i is NGC7380, not yet as good as it should be.

My most recent images are focused on the Solar System: my first Venus, wide field view of Comet C/2009 P1 Garradd near Little Dipper and close up on the comet with C14 Hyperstar and T2i. I am working on a movie of comet Garradd movement, but i need to first figure out how to calibrate properly all the frames in Photoshop so I can process them with curves and levels automatically.

I have big plans for this year ... I will be also reviewing all pages on this website, updating information where need be. It will take some time, but in few months all information should be up to date.

Tuesday 3/22/2011

This winter has been awful for astronomy so far: my last observing and imaging session was on November 10th 2010 ... Since then it was either cloudy, or way too cold (generally I don't observe when below 10F), or I have been sick . Last time (in November!) I have started imaging M76, I collected luminance for it, which I dutifully processed soon after. And then I waited for the RGB part to happen, and well I guess now it won't happen until the fall 2011 . So I have published it now as black-and-white luminance image of M76, but I am not giving up - I will have RGB done one day! The weather is already improving, in Ithaca there is a 12-14% chance of clear night in January and February, but it is up to 27% in March and 34% in April. I hope I will have something new soon!

Sunday 9/12/2010

I have just returned from Black Forest Star Party 2010 in Cherry Springs State Park, PA (if you ever need to drive there with the GPS the address is 4682 Cherry Springs Rd, Coudersport, PA).  It was great! Amazing people, fantastic time! We had a good night on Friday - clouds cleared up just in the evening, but unfortunately Saturday night clouded out. Well, even one night was very good! I will go there again next year, for sure! I made a few pictures there (of people, not astro ), you can see them here. I have measured sky glow there and it came up 21.62 mag/(sq arc sec), which is equivalent to about limiting magnitude of 6.44 (added to my sky pollution map), it doesn't sound that high - there is a place near South Danby, NY which measured limiting magnitude of 6.43, but in Cherry Springs there are no light domes anywhere so the entire sky is as good as 6.44 ...

Monday 7/20/2010

I have finally finished processing all my Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC6543) data. I have previously obtained Hubble palette image of NGC6543 core, now I added NGC6543 outer shell , also in Hubble palette. The shell is very faint, and therefore the core is burned out on this image. The composite image done with layer masks in Photoshop merges the two: Cat's Eye narrowband composite. It was not easy to obtain, and probably I should spend more time collecting data, but the weather did not allowed that ... And now I would like to try the other objects too .

A couple of weeks ago I tried to shoot luminance part for M57 image. The evening was very hot, but later it started to cool down quite fast, I think the total temperature difference between the beginning and the end of the session was around 20F. It caused a significant shrinkage of my C14 tube resulting in a loss of focus. Instead of producing a beautiful luminance for M57 I produced a video of thermally induced defocusing of an SCT. Interesting study, but not what I had in mind. You can see the video on this page.

Sunday 7/19/2010

Last two months were quite busy for me and although I updated the site (especially imaging section) I did not update the news. SBIG ST-8300M continues as an excellent performer with Orion SteadySTar Active Optics guider, it is an excellent match. Orion released a new version of the software that performs even better. I did a high resolution luminance image of M95 , and it was done with the at about 5-7mph! My big project since then is Cat's Eye Nebula - a very small (18") planetary nebula, and therefore challenging. The goal is to show the core with all the details I can get plus the surrounding shell of gas ejected before the nebula was formed. The core in Hubble palette is ready: NGC6543, I used SBIG CCDSHarp program (Lucy-Richardson adaptive deconvolution) to bring up fine details. The data for the shell image is already collected and I hope to have it processed any time now.

Since I now use off-axis guider on my Orion 10" Newtonian imaging scope I don't need piggybacked refractor (C80ED) anymore. I am in the process of installing it on my Obsession as a wide field scope / finderscope. On the Newtonian I attached a mount for a camera and now I use my Canon 40D with my wife's lenses to do true wide field astrophotography. I use Losmandy 3-axis camera mount, it is a great, heavy duty mount, but it is not that easy to point it exactly in the place I want with the camera orientation that I want. It takes some time to figure out what combination of tilt and rotation works, and my advice is that buying single-axis or dual-axis mounts is a bad idea. I tried several regions with Canon 50mm prime lens and I am quite happy with the results. I tried a central Ophiuchus region with its share of globulars, it looks interesting but kind of empty compared to Cygnus. The neighbouring eastern Ophiuchus / western Sagittarius is a bit more intersting, with some dense star fields. The most interesting is Cygnus and its neighborhood. I started with Central Cygnus without any filters , then proceeded with Hα filter image and finally produced HαRGB version . The last of these images is Cygnus / Aquila region (no filters). I used a regular 2" Astronomik Hα filter in the front of the lens - it can be done with a Hyperion T-ring adapter (52mm for this lens) and a 2" Filter Front Holder (M48/M54), both from AlpineAstro.

In parallel to the above I have produced two nice images with QHY8 and 10" Newtonian: NGC6194 and NGC6823.

Monday 5/31/2010

I have spent most of the last two months working on my newest imaging setup: SBIG ST-8300M mono camera coupled with Orion SteadyStar Active Optics guider. It looks very promising, the camera is very sensitive and coupled with Teleskop Service 0.8x reducer/corrector it is ideal for high resolution imaging via C14. My first full LRGB image is NGC5005 , unfortunately RGB part was cut short by the clouds. The next part was M95 , this time post processed with CCDSharp - a SBIG implementation of adaptive Lucy-Richardson deconvolution algorithm. I was only able to get luminance - a try for RGB with 60% Moon did not yield satisfactory results. Nevertheless, it too looks very promising. The last high-resolution project is tri-color Hubble palette imaging of Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC6543), of which I was able to acquire OIII component so far. Funny thing is that NGC6543 was one of my first targets with Meade DSI camera 5 years ago (August 2005) - you can see it here. There is some improvement ! NGC6543 is very small, only 18" and I am quite happy to get so many details. It looks also possible to capture emission from large faint shell of gas surrounding the dense part of nebula ... But this needs to be done with much longer exposures (plus maybe binned 2x2? - it is large and faint so small details are not capturable anyway) and then combined.

I used Orion 10" Newt for imaging too, but being busy with C14 high-resolution work I didn't spend enough effort to make sure all is well tuned up there, and I ended up collecting useless out of focus, or misguided images a couple of times. A few images are worth presenting, but I am afraid they are below my average quality comparing to the previous year.  The images are NGC4725, M97/M108 and NGC4244. I did also Leo Trio, but somehow it did not came trough reasonably well. I will try to reprocess them when I have more time.

I had also problems with proper scaling of flat frames obtained for QHY8 camera - it looked like over- or under-correction depending on the image. It is possible to manually improve scaling of flats, but it is complicated, takes a long time and not always works well (you can scale/normalize intensities for both flats and images). Since I had no problems with ST-8300M I am quite sure that the culprit is the improper color balance of the light source (too red) in my light box. I have retrofitted it with white LEDs - see here.

I have also started using my Dell Axim x51v to control my Obsession 18" Dob via ArgoNavis, Astromist and AirCable (see bottom of this page for details). It works very well, so I converted my observing lists to AstroPlanner (v2) and then to Astromist. You can download them here.

Friday 4/9/2010

The website has been extensively revised. I have divided some lengthy topics into a few pages and I have added lots of info about my equipment, procedures and experiences. The web site now reflects fairly well the current state of my amateur astronomy pursuits . I will try my best to update it often so it stays this way, it was a shame that the previous version's equipment pages haven't been updated for years ...

Saturday 3/27/2010

Finally new images! I was able to get two new images using Orion 10": M106 and NGC2403. I am working on my new imaging setup for C14 with Orion SteadyStar and SBIG ST-8300M camera. Hopefully new images will result soon.

Sunday 2/14/2010

I have neglected updating this page for a while. It was busy time for me and not that many observing/imaging sessions happened. Nevertheless I succeeded in producing several narrowband images, two of them in Hubble palette! Hubble palette imaging took 3 nights during full Moon in September: Pelican and Crescent nebulae. Other interesting new objects imaged are M27, Veil Nebula, M16 (mixed mode), Cocoon Nebula, Gamma Cygni Nebula and Pacman Nebula. I was also able to image two objects low in the south: Sculptor Galaxy and Helix Nebula, this was only possible thanks to my new observatory. One unusual image I made is full Moon in full color - Moon image with the color enhanced such that is visible. My last image was Pacman Nebula - and it was acquired on October 3rd 2009. Since then - no luck.

Sunday 6/28/2009

Weather is still not as good as it used to be in the past years - maybe it is just a new observatory curse ? Nevertheless I was able to do some observing and imaging over last few weeks, but not many. I have both imaging scopes going now, especially Orion 10" is doing great, with a careful collimation it produces fantastic images. I have imaged with it 3 targets so far: M5, M8 (Lagoon Nebula) and M17 (Omega or Swan Nebula). The stars are round throughout the frames and image scale allows for quite tight stars as well. So far I used Orion 10" with Canon 40D only, I will try Q453-HR soon. My goal with C14 was to do some higher resolution imaging at f7, but it was very difficult due to some flexure in the system. Q453-HR allows for 10 minutes exposures at my location, and at this length the flexure became quite evident. I have installed C14 flop stoppers, tightened down C80ED focuser, but it still wasn't enough. Turned out Lumicon Giant Easy Guider was the culprit, the lens cell was moving quite a bit, and I wasn't able to tighten it up ... I went back to Celestron f6.3 focal reducer and finally 10 minutes exposures were within the reach. The last image I have done with GEG was M16 (Eagle Nebula), you can clearly see star elongation on the top of the image due to miscollimation, the next one was M20 (Trifid Nebula) and this one finally looks much better.

Sunday 4/5/2009

Weather has not been good since the end of March, the only new image I took at the very end of March and it is the Needle Galaxy (NGC4565), it came out better than M104, despite the problems with guiding and wind. I have finally found a way to stream a reasonably good video embedded in the web page - Comet Lulin animation is now available without downloading ...

Sunday 3/22/2009

I have finished my first Hα-RGB image on Friday - it is Christmas Tree Cluster: 2 hours of Hα and two hours of RGB. So far I think it is one of my best images . I have also shot my first image with CC-Labs Q8 (Q453-HR) camera - it is Sombrero Galaxy. It is OK for the first image, I will keep the gain lower next time. It is also my 100th image since I started imaging in Ithaca in the summer of 2005!

Wednesday 3/18/2009

As you can read below I had some technical difficulties to overcome before I could attend to regular imaging. Well, I imaged Comet C/2007 N3 (Lulin ) on March 4th, but it took me some time to process the data. Here is the image tracking the comet, while the stars are trailed in the background. I made also an animation of comet movement (over 2 hours period): compressed RealPlayer format (300KB), original AVI file (LARGE: 47MB) or streaming from Vimeo.

Saturday 3/14/2009

I have done some further experimenting with my H-alpha filter and tried to image Christmas Tree Cluster (NGC2264). Unfortunately the resulting image has these dreaded reflections as well ... I investigated more and it turned out that the reflections are only in green and blue channels, not in the red channel! So instead of just converting to mono I split the frames into the color components, and then used only R part. Here are the original single frame color components : R, G and  B.  And here is the final version (30x4min). The final one revealed that my collimation was a bit off, but certainly it doesn't have anything to do with the reflections ! So this solves my reflection problems for now and I am back into imaging .

Sunday 2/15/2009

I have just tried to image M42 with Hyperstar and Astronomik 13nm Hα filter. As you can see on M42 image there are big reflections around bright stars, they look like a defocused images of those stars, there is an example on the bottom of this page. So it looks to me that there was an out of focus image of these stars formed on the filter which was then captured on the image. Is it normal for H-alpha and Hyperstar (I hope not!)? Or my filter was fogged/frosted (it was 14 degrees)? I made an image of M42 last year with no filters and it didn't have such problems. I shot the Moon at the end of my imaging session through the same setup (Hyperstar/H-alpha/C14) and it doesn't show any reflections, which puzzles me a bit ... Here is the Moon shot, at least this one worked.

Tuesday 2/10/2009

Last Sunday I was finally able to come out and do some imaging! Unfortunately in the short time before the clouds rolled in I was only able to capture some high resolution Moon images. Full Moon is the most difficult time to image the Moon since there are very few shadows making the pictures quite flat ...

Saturday 1/23/2009

Finally I am back to my hobby! After the good beginning of 2008 with lots of new images and observing sessions I had a long break - from May to almost December. The biggest reason was the fact that we moved to a new house (also in Ithaca), but I also had to spent a lot of time at work. Well, although I wasn't able to practice amateur astronomy I was very well able to prepare for the new chapter. The new house is located much farther away from the city on a two acre lot, and for the first time backyard observatory was within the reach ... So the observatory has been built in September, and I also acquired a new imaging scope (Orion 10" Newtonian) as well as a new visual scope (Obsession 18" Classic Dobsonian). Of course with such a large investment it is to be expected that clouds will cover the sky for a very long time - and indeed that happened . I was able to us my new observatory exactly 2 times so far, but I am a patient man and I know the spring will come and the weather will improve, while the new observatory and new telescopes will wait. As for now I have bought most of the stuff I wanted in the coming days and months I will focus on using and enjoying them. I also hope I will be able to update this website often and write some more about the equipment, and hopefully publish new images.

I have updated several pages on the website, mostly under "Equipment", and of course I have added pages about my new observatory.

PS: Along with the other stuff I have also got a new TeleVue Ethos 13mm for use with Obsession - it is a fantastic eyepiece!