Monday, July 11, 2016

A solid week of Mars

Since Mars only makes a good appearance every other year, I tend to get a bit crazy when it comes around.  This season was pretty cloudy and rainy but from June 7th to the 13th I had a personal record 7 days outside with the scope.  I'll try to give you a quick review of the weather for each image as well as my favorite aspects of each.

On the 6/7th TS Colin FLEW across NC leaving in the morning.  That evening had poor transparency with some high winds aloft and many small passing clouds.  This only netted me a single good image...  My favorite thing about day 1's image is seeing Valles Marineris: The Grand Canyon of Mars (

By the 2nd night out, the 8th, the seeing was best for the week, 4/5 and nearly perfect 5/5 transparency.  There was some rapid cooling but also VERY dry.  My favorite thing about this image is the peak of Olympus Mons poking out of the morning haze!

The 3rd day, June 9th, was fairly average 3/5 and hazy clouds early.  My favorite thing about this nights image are the frilly spikes around the Xanthe region in the middle.  It's always so varied and fun to stare at!

On the 10th, or 4th night out, I shot in some above average conditions.  I think I was lucky as I lured my fellow Triangle observer, +Tim Jensen out and he had some bad clouds whereas I didn't, go figure.  My favorite thing about this night's image was getting Sinus Meridiani (

On the 11th, or 5th night out, I started to get a bit weary and the conditions didn't get much better with the seeing mostly average and just average transparency.  Much warmer than previous nights, but still a 'sleep with the windows open' night!  My favorite thing about this image is the strong contrast around Sinus Meridiani and the small morning clouds around the Tharsis region.

Night 6 was June 12th and saw much warmer, windier conditions and below average conditions.  I was still able to eek out a decent image using the higher frame rates of my AS174MM camera!  While not much to look at compared to the previous ones, my favorite thing about this image is the stark plains of Arabia in the lower left area.

The 7th day, June 13th jumped up in seeing quite a bit, perhaps due to an oncoming front, I don't know why.  Seeing was about 3.5/5 and the clouds were murky with rapid cooling but clear and nearly steady at moments!  I only was able to get a single image with no derotation, but my favorite two things in this image are the dark Syrtis Major on the upper right limb, just about to set into the evening darkness and the clouds over Mare Acidalium (

Thank you for taking the time to read all my details and I hope you enjoyed my week long tour as much as I did!

For details on my telescope please ask +Akule 

For capture details please look here and I will be releasing major updates soon, so please come back!

If you really can't get enough I made the previous season's photos into a mug:

and a few others into various things like iPhone covers and pillows over at redbubble:

Monday, May 30, 2016

Spring Planets

Last week I was able to get a rare FOUR nights out with my telescope named +Akule.  In the prime part of the night Mars and Saturn are rising in Scorpio.  Both are quite low for me at 35° North Latitude and I have to work around the trees of my house.

Firstly is my favorite of the bunch and that was Mars on Friday, May 27/28, 2016.

with details and more moderately sized...

The week started with clear skies but quite poor seeing. I didn't care much as it had been so long since the last imaging session. I recorded at a really high frame rate and was able to eek out a decent image.

I did it again Tuesday...

A short animation comparing the same place on Mars 24hrs apart, Monday vs Tuesday.

... and another shot that got even better on Wednesday...

Chasing after Mars in the sky is Saturn. Since the seeing was so good on Wednesday I tried for Saturn but wasn't happy with the results.  Thursday had a small chance of rain and too many clouds to try, but on Friday the skies rocked.  Buffered by TD Bonnie, which is soaking us badly right now, the skies were a rare 4/5 for seeing!  Shortly after taking the Mars photos at the top, I swung over to Saturn and got this beauty.

For more photos of this and past seasons, deep sky photos and some how to's of how I made these images, please visit my homepage at



Thursday, January 7, 2016

My widefield Horsehead, Flame, Running Man and Orion Nebulae

I tried something new that I have not done before and that was to piggy back my 200mm lens with the Canon 60Da camera onto the 14".  I had planned on guiding but the coldness of mid 20*F kept me from that extra bit of setup.  I found that the 200mm at f/4 and 1600ISO on the 60Da did pretty well up to 2min unguided and even roughly aligned.

Here's a 1900x1200 HD version that will fit your screen pretty well

Here's the monster full res version of 5200x3400, from the camera's resolution!

Next time I will try guiding but I think there might be a portion of my finder in the lower areas of the frame that is reflecting some light into the lens.  I'd like to look at resurrecting my old 6" with 4" guide scope onto a new mount for these types of shots as it is VERY fun and rewarding to use a one-shot color camera on nebula.  Nextime I will work harder to mask the brighter areas of the Orion Nebula too, as it's a bit washed out in some areas.

Thanks for looking,


Monday, December 28, 2015

2015 Solar System Bests!

Every year since 2008 I have assembled my own images in a mashup format.  Inspired by +Mike Salway  ( I have tried to pick the best images I took of planets during the calendar year.  A couple of years ago I got into comets and asteroids and have been trying to contribute to the Minor Planet Center's research (  My previous best of's are all here:

This year found a drop off in imaging from 71 nights in 2014 to 33 in 2015.  While I have a growing addiction to my favorite video game +Destiny the Game I also know that this year was the rainiest and cloudiest I've seen since moving to North Carolina in 2003.  Last year was probably busier because of the Mars opposition. This year the slack of one less planet would have been taken up with additional Deep Sky work, but those partly cloudy nights just weren't worth the effort.  Perhaps with Mars a partly cloudy night may have been worth a peek through some thin clouds but not faint fuzzies.  For those wondering I keep my astro logs in a great open source program called Observation Manager

Ok, on to this year's image, 1st with labels.... full resolution (1920x1200) on imgur

...and for you wallpaper weenies like me, the unlabeled version ... full resolution (1920x1200) on imgur.  I tagged the image

This year still had no Mercury or Pluto but I did get Eris. Which is seen in the lower right taken on three consecutive nights in early October.  I was amazed at how bright it is to have only been discovered in 2003!    Here's an animation in gifv format...

Here's to a decent 2015 and let's get more clear skies in 2016!  

Happy New Year!


Thursday, December 17, 2015

First Mars of the 2015-2016 season

My novice eyes notice some interesting clouds on the morning limb around the areas of Tempe and Tharsis.  Just south of the North Polar Cap I spy some clouds over Mare Acidalium.  There also seems to be some interesting brightness around Cydonia.  Overall I was quite pleased with the way this image came out given it's very early and still quite low this apparition.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

New approach to processing moon photos.

I took a series of 20 shots of the moon with my DSLR the other night.  Normally I choose the best 'one' and process it.  I have known for a long time that picking the top of the set, say X% and stacking them in Registax or AS2 would give much better results.  I've always struggled to do so.  I'm not sure if it's because I used the Canon raw (CR2) file format or because DSLR have massive resolution, but stacking has never worked well for me.  This time in particular I really struggled to get the photos to line up as I kept moving and recentering.  I took a cue from fellow CN'er zAmbonii (  and added a few of my own twists.

  1. Open photos in Adobe Bridge all at once and crop all, painfully and individually.
  2. Save as tiff with no compression
  3. Use Adobe Bridge to open all tiff files as layers in single image
    1. Select all cropped photos
    2. In Bridge select the menu "Tools -> Photoshop -> Load Files into PS Layers"
  4. Auto align using
    1. Select all layers
    2. Edit / Auto-Align Layers / Auto
  5. Then after some waiting most all the layers are 'really close' to being 'stacked'  At this point you can either
    1. Set all layers but the bottom to 50% opacity and call it day.
    2. Export as tiff using
      1. File / Scripts / Export layers to file
  6. Once exported as uncompressed tiff you can open them in Registax and have a MUCH easier time stacking as you normally would!
  7. After saving a stack of 14 and another of the full 20...
  8. I sharpened in AstraImage
  9. Opened in PhotoShop again for
    1. Denoise with Topaz
    2. High Pass Filter with contrast
    3. Saturation
Thanks and enjoy some new tricks!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Bright spots on Neptune

Back in mid July of 2015 it was brought to the attention of several amateur astronomers like myself that there are bright spots on the cloud surface of Neptune.  A request was made by professionals to help observe these spots in red or narrowband IR.  I have had a string of poor weather and didn't have a chance until mid September.  On September 20th, I had some moderate conditions to try.  My method was to shoot wide field with the CCD as seen here.  I've superimposed an high-res RGB image on top to help identify Neptune.  The brightest and closest 'star' to Neptune is about the 7 o'clock position (lower left) and is actually the largest moon, Triton.

If you read the stats, Neptune was 241.3 light minutes away at the time of this photograph.  That's just over 4 light hours away.  For fun here's a size comparison via the wikipedia page.

At that distance Neptune is only 2.4 arc minutes in size and the top image that I took is fairly close to what you might see in a moderate telescope at medium magnification.

After some wide-field CCD shots, I put in my high-res planetary camera and took some LRGB as well as Infra-Red (742nm) shots.  Here's the aesthetically pleasing composite consisting of all 5 filters that also includes a Triton.

Finally for the detail oriented here's the full layout, including the sub channels used in derotation.

Also here's the alignment reference from the Neptune Ephemeris Generator (

Thanks for reading and please do some well wishes for more clear skies for me, they've been far and few between.

If anyone is interested all source tiffs, sharpened files and WinJupos measurements are on my public Google Drive share located here  and contained in a 30+MB .zip file - >

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About Me

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Loving husband, proud father, computer geek, astro freak, music lover, sports nut and general fun-loving guy

I think I'm the kind of person who doesn't like strong opinions.  It doesn't matter if I agree with your opinion or not, it's not factual, it never will be 100% factual and I don't care for it.  That's probably why I hate politics.

I've always loved facts, provable facts of nature and things concerning science.  

Over time, I found that most facts are mostly reference and it was the creation of and discovery of new things that intrigued me.

"A good friend once told me you are our memory
without them we equal nothing
And all I can see is the place I wanna be
Suddenly my life was so free
Leaves at my feet, blown to the ground
their echoes are reaching my ears
Nights coming fast, suns going down" - A7x