NGC 253 – The Sculptor Galaxy – one year on…

sculptor_final_2_32

It has been almost exactly one year since I first shot NGC 253, and I’ve managed to acquire some new hardware and software in the past year that has made a huge difference. What better way to test my new gear and software than to re-shoot one of my first targets!

Registration and stacking was performed in DeepSkyStacker, post processing in PixInsight, and some tweaking in Photoshop.

  • Date: 17/10/2014
  • Location: Adelaide, South Australia
  • Camera: Canon 450d w/ IR filter removed, GSO coma corrector
  • ISO800 & ISO1600
  • Mount: HEQ5PRO
  • Scope: GSO 8″ f/5 Newtonian
  • Autoguider: Orion Starshoot AG
  • Imaging: BackyardEOS w/ PHD dithering
  • Guiding: PHD2
  • 50 bias frames, 20 flat frames, 28 light frames (300 second ISO 800, 150 second ISO 1600)

The original from a year ago:

sculptor

NGC7293 – Helix Nebula

helix_nebula

Twenty-seven 5 minute frames stacked using DeepSkyStacker, processed using PixInsight

  • Dates: 21/08/2014 & 27/08/2014
  • Location: Adelaide, South Australia
  • Camera: Canon 450d w/ IR filter removed, GSO coma corrector
  • ISO800
  • Mount: HEQ5PRO
  • Scope: GSO 8″ f/5 Newtonian
  • Autoguider: Orion Starshoot AG
  • Imaging: BackyardEOS w/ PHD dithering
  • Guiding: PHD2
  • 50 bias frames, 20 dark frames, 20 flat frames.

This is my first planetary nebula! I’m not counting NGC6565 since you can’t see it in that image. Once again I utilised TGVDenoise in PixInsight, which improved the image quite a bit.

To focus I used a Bahtinov mask:

bahtinov

M8 – Lagoon Nebula – Take 2

m8-august

Nine 5 minute frames stacked using DeepSkyStacker, processed using PixInsight

  • Date: 14/08/2014
  • Location: Adelaide, South Australia
  • Camera: Canon 450d w/ IR filter removed, GSO coma corrector
  • ISO800
  • Mount: HEQ5PRO
  • Scope: GSO 8″ f/5 Newtonian
  • Autoguider: Orion Starshoot AG
  • Imaging: BackyardEOS w/ PHD dithering
  • Guiding: PHD2

I’ve shot this target before, but this time I’m using a coma corrector. If you compare this shot with the previous one, it’s upside down! This is because my first attempt was done when M8 was quite low in the eastern sky, whereas this time it had passed the meridian and the mount has gone through a meridian flip.

I also did noise reduction in PixInsight using a relatively new tool called TGVDenoise, it takes a bit of trial and error but the results are great!

M17 – Omega Nebula

M17

  • Taken on 06/08/2014 – Moon was about 70% illuminated.
  • Ten 3 minute exposures
  • ISO800
  • Skywatcher HEQ5PRO Mount
  • GSO 8″ Newtonian f/5
  • Canon 450d w/ IR filter removed, GSO Coma Corrector
  • Orion starshoot autoguider
  • Imaging: BackyardEOS
  • Guiding: PHD2
  • PHD dithering switched on in BYE

Initial registration and stacking performed in DeepSkyStacker. The image is then saved in FITS format, and opened in PixInsight. I then followed some of this tutorial to do the post processing.

IC4628 – Prawn Nebula

ic4628

  • Taken on 06/08/2014 – Moon was about 70% illuminated.
  • Ten 5 minute exposures
  • ISO800
  • Skywatcher HEQ5PRO Mount
  • GSO 8″ Newtonian f/5
  • Canon 450d w/ IR filter removed, GSO Coma Corrector
  • Orion Starshoot autoguider
  • BackyardEOS to control the DSLR
  • PHD2 to handle autoguiding
  • Dithering switched on in BYE

Initial registration and stacking was handled by DeepSkyStacker. After that I saved the image as a TIF and imported that into PixInsight. All of the post processing was done in PixInsight – I really need to use it more, the results are worth the effort!

On the higher resolution image the focus looks a little off. I suspect the focus may have shifted slightly due to the dropping temperatures, or I just did a bad job of getting the image into focus.

Astrophotography Software

Software I use for Astrophotography

Here’s a list of the software I use for imaging, processing, and analysing

PHD – Push Here Dummy

PHD is the one stop piece of software for autoguiding. It’s super simple to set-up and use, and combined with a correctly set up autoguider it will enable you to take very long exposures. If you have an autoguider, you NEED this software.

Orion Starshoot autoguider owners should download the software from Orion to make PHD and the Starshoot play nice!

BackyardEOS

If you’re shooting with a Canon DSLR, you cannot go past BackyardEOS for setting up your imaging session. BackyardEOS can also talk with PHD to perform dithering by moving the mount every shot. BYE has live frame and focus support, including support for various focus aids.

Plenty of options for assisting you in taking your flat, dark, and bias frames too.

Pixinsight

Advanced astro-image processing software that will confuse newcomers. This is one very powerful piece of software, it runs on Linux, Windows and OSX, and once you learn how to use it you’ll start doing everything you can with it. I’m not quite there yet, I often turn to DSS (next heading down) for the initial registration and stacking of my images. I think this is mostly due to familiarity and ease of use.

There are many, many tools to aid with processing images in Pixinsight. Each one of the many tools available has many options within, and be warned, there isn’t a huge amount of official documentation. Your best best here is to Google it, or ask around on reddit.

DeepSkyStacker

Free! Also very, very easy to use. You can get some very quick results using this fantastic piece of software, and it won’t take you very long. It gives you suggestions on what options might be best for certain images, and it does a good job of aligning shots.

Photoshop

This is a bit of a given – it has been the go-to software for photo processing for a long time now… and I’ve been using it for quite some time so I’m somewhat familiar with it. If you have a very recent camera and the latest version of Photoshop you shouldn’t have any problems reading the RAW images. Older versions of Photoshop might lack support for the latest camera RAW images. Or just use DSS/PixInsight to process the RAW images :)

GIMP

The free open source alternative to Photoshop – I sometimes find myself preferring GIMP over Photoshop for image processing. For the most part, this is a perfect replacement for Photoshop.

Stellarium

Excellent open source planetarium software. Not only can you see a simulation of the night from any location on Earth, you can control your telescope! When set up and connected correctly, you can find an object in Stellarium, press ctrl+1, and the telescope will slew to the co-ordinates. Easy!

astrometry

Very cool open source software that will process your images and provide an annotated result. You can run the software yourself if you like, but it isn’t easy for a beginner to pick up. They provide a web interface that can process images but I haven’t tried it.