Astrophotos – 1-3-2016

I had just received my iOptron SkyTracker back from the manufacturer to correct a tracking defect and was anxious to see if the repair was successful. On the night of January 2/3, 2016 I finally got the combination of clear skies, no moon, a working star tracker and a weekend (meaning no work the next day!) to enable a good night of astrophotography and testing of the tracker.

My targets for the night were the galaxy M-33 in Triangulum, the Horsehead Nebula, the Orion Nebula (M-42) and the Pleiades (M-45). The equipment I used for the night is as follows:

Canon 1K Mk IV camera equipped with the Canon A/C adapter (so I don’t have to worry about battery drain all night)
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS lens
iOptron SkyTracker
Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod (with 10lbs of weight hanging for stability)
66′ USB cable
BackyardEOS v3.1.5 software for camera control and image acquisition
Deep Sky Stacker (DSS) v3.4.4 software for image stacking
Adobe Lightroom v6.1.1 for additional post-processing
Lots of Diet Mountain Dew

Camera mounted on iOptron SkyTracker. The yellow rope is holding two 5lb weights from the tripod to aid in stability.

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The first target of the night was the galaxy M-33 in the constellation Triangulum. I had taken a single image of this galaxy a year earlier and wanted to capture multiple subs (exposures) to stack in the DSS software to get a much better final image. For the night I captured 30 images of M-33 and ended up having 13 keepers; the bad images were due to tracking errors resulting in trailing images. The keepers were all 120 second exposure at f/2.8, ISO 1600 at a focal length of 200mm.

Here is a shot of the BackyardEOS software, which is at the start of obtaining ten 120 second exposures of the M-33 galaxy. This is a huge time saver as I don’t have to sit and perform exposures one at a time. As the images are obtained, they are saved directly on the laptop as well as on the CF card inside the camera.

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Here is an example of a single M-33 image straight from the camera without any post-processing or cropping:

Notice the low contrast and very bright background due to the light pollution at my location about 25 miles southeast of Indianapolis and 5 miles northwest of Shelbyville, Indiana.

Stacking and processing the M-33 images in the DSS software:

Here is the final result after stacking all of light and dark frames and post-processing in Lightroom to adjust the contrast, levels, saturation and cropping:

The same process was used for all of the other targets for the night and here are the final results:

Horsehead and Flame Nebulae in Orion:

The Pleiades, M-45, with nebulosity:

The Orion Nebula, M-42. The central part of the nebula is overexposed due to the somewhat long 90 second exposures at f/2.8 and ISO 1600. This isn’t the best result as I still need to really work on my post-processing technique as most of the edits in Lightroom were fairly basic and quick adjustments.

For comparison here is a single 30-second image of M-42:

One thing I really did notice was since the Orion constellation sits over the equator, there are a ton of very faint satellite trails in all of my M-42 images. Here are some closeups of some (look for the 3 short lines below the nebula – one is at the far right center of the image):

Here is a closer look at a few more satellites:

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