Welcome to my Astrophotography Blog!

This is a journal of my adventures in astrophotography -- taking images of distant celestial objects. Please look around and feel free to add your comments, questions, and critique to any of the entries by clicking the "comments" button on the bottom of each entry -- or just say "howdy!

And don't forget to click on the images for a larger view!

So choose either the Red pill or the Blue pill and follow me down the wormhole....


Comanche Springs Star Party

Comanche Springs Star Party
Doin' my thang at the Comanche Springs Astronomy Campus (where I often become a "red ghost")

Dallas Sky

Rancho Venado Sky

Atoka Sky

Camanche Springs Sky

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Geminid Pair

Well, my astrophotographic offerings have been relatively slim the last few months. It seems whenever I have a chance to image, the weather reports LOOK good, but then it all falls apart as soon as I drive several hours, set up all my gear, then hit "start". Right on cue the clouds roll in -- just a run of bad luck : (

I went to the ranch for 3 nights of imaging AND to see and photograph the Geminid meteor shower. The weather reports looked good, skies were clear, the shower started, I got my new Nikon D700 rolling... 40 minutes later at the peak the sky was TOTALLY cloudy! Man, this hobby can be frustrating. But that's the way it works -- we are at the whim of fickle ol' Mother Nature.

Anyway, I at least captured 2 of the Geminid meteors before shutting down. Not the most spectacular image, but it keeps me in practice and provides me with a "momento". Too bad, the shower was getting pretty active and fun to watch. Maybe next year!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What a bunch of BULL!!!

Taurus, that is! Here is a shot of the Taurus constellation taken a couple of weeks ago at the 3RF Astronomy campus near Crowel, TX.

This field stretches from Orion's head (the red patch in the lower left called Sharpless 264) up to the Pleiades in the upper right. I used the new Star Spikes Pro to enhance the Taurus stars a little bit for better viewing.

Canon XSI @ ISO 800
28mm Sigma Lens f/4
AstroTrac mount
10 x 5min
DeepSkyStacker, CS4, Star Spikes Pro

Monday, November 30, 2009


No, this is not M45, the "ACP" Nebula. This is my latest piece of astronomical gear, a Kimber 45 ACP Pro Carry II TLE.

"Why" you ask? I'll explain...

Doing astronomy means hanging out in very dark places, very late at night. In my wanderings I have encountered feral hogs and many packs of wild dogs (as well as all sorts of other odd creatures). But recently I added "gangbangers" to my list of nocturnal visitors.

My buddy Trey and I went to local park in Garland, TX to test out my new TEC 140 scope. I had all my gear set up and we were digging views of the moon when... BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! Five shots rang out from a passing car about 15o yards from us. Moments later, a carload of gangbangers pulled into the dark parking lot with us. As they appeared to size us up, Trey and I stealthily (and quickly) broke down my gear and split! I really did think we were going to have some drama, but we bolted without incident.

Anyway, I hate having to think about protection while enjoying the peaceful and awesome views of the heavens... but I also hate the idea of being attacked by marauding creatures (four-legged OR two-legged).

Hmmm... I wonder how my new gun would look with a scope?

Monday, November 23, 2009

M11 and Dust

Here is one last image from Okie-Tex. In fact, it is the last image I took there, on the last night. I did not have much time as the target was dropping over a hill. In fact, I ran out of time and did not collect ANY Green channel data. But I was able to create a "synthetic Green" from the Red and Blue channels. It actually worked pretty well.

M11 is the star cluster in the upper left, with several Barnard dark nebulae towards the right.

By the way, this image is severely cropped (because I actually DID photograph the top of the hill as this one dropped low).

FSQ 106Ed f/5
STL-11000M -20
LRB (100,20,20)
Synthetic Green from RB
CCDStack, CS4

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sharpless 129

Yep, that's what this one is called -- number 129 in your Sharpless catalog. The nebula is a very large area of Hydrogen Alpha emission. It looks to me like a supernova remnant, but I cannot find info to that effect. Anybody out there know?

This is another image I shot during Okie-Tex star party in September. I finally got around to processing it (been gone a while). But I am finally about to get after some more photons as I head to the 3RF Astronomy Campus in West Texas for a few days of imaging!

In other news, I have added a new "baby" to my telescope family... a TEC 140 refractor!
Still waiting for a robofocus bracket, but I should be able to try it out soon. Watch these pages for first light pictures from this neato hunk of glass : )

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

All hands on Deck!

Astrophotography from the deck of a moving cruise ship leaves very few options. Since the ship is constantly pitching, one must use a fast shutter speed to eliminate blurring. Of course, that pretty much limits you to the sun and moon. But what's not to love? The sun and moon are awesome, particularly out at sea.

Just a couple of shots while cruising through the Atlantic a week ago. Kim and I cruised from Montreal down the St. Lawrence river, then down the East coast to Miami.

I'm still rocking...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Comet Hunter

This is an image of the Horse Head/Flame and M42 in Orion (the Hunter). And if you look closely you will see a "wanderer" passing right between them -- Comet 217P/Linear.

Although not a big and bright comet, it does sport a small tail and is particularly beautiful for the path it has chosen!

I noticed the comet was well placed last Monday morning, so I decided to have an adventure and make the drive to the Atoka dark site to shoot this composition. I took a nap, got up and left about 1:00am, started shooting by 3:30am, finished and headed home about 6:30am as the sun was coming up. Okay, maybe a little crazy but I think the photo was worth it.

AstroTrac mount
Canon XSI ISO 800
Nikon 180mm f/4
24 x 3min
Maxim DL, CS4

Be sure to click on the image for a closer view!

P.S. -- I hope somebody got my "play on words" with the title : )

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Perseus Wide Field from Okie-Tex

I went back to the Okie-Tex Star Party this year in the Black Mesa area of Oklahoma (were Oklahoma, Colorado, and New Mexico come together). I camped for 8 nights and had a blast, even though the skies were cloudy much of the time this year. Even so, I did manage a few good nights of imaging.

Here is the first photo from the trip -- a wide field in Perseus that stretches from IC348 in the upper left to NGC1333 in the lower right. LOTS of dust and nebulosity in between!


FSQ 106EDX f/3.64
STL-11000M -20c
LRGB (200,50,40,60)
CCDStack, CS4

It took several nights to image between the clouds, but I am happy with the results.

See? Just look how happy I am (or maybe that's the Scotch).

Kim even toughed it out and met me for the final 3 nights. She could not drive with her broken foot, so she flew to Amarillo and took a bus to Boise City (where I picked her up). What a trooper!

Thanks to my new buddy Clayton for the pics : )

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Soul Rises

This is IC 1848, otherwise known as the "Soul Nebula" since it is right next to the "Heart Nebula" (get it? Heart & Soul). Whereas the Heart Nebula does indeed look like a heart, the Soul Nebula looks more like a foetus to me. So I kinda think of this composition as the foetus rising from the mist in the lower right -- sort of like a prenatal genie.


This wonderful open cluster and huge emission nebula is located in Cassiopeia. I imaged this critter over 2 nights during my stay at the 3RF Astronomy Campus near Crowell, Texas (a fantastic facility).

FSQ-106EDX f/5
STL 11000M -10c
HaLRGB (180,140,60,50,60)
CCD Stack, CS4

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My first published photo

Okay, I admit I got a little excited when I found out Astronomy Magazine would be publishing one of my images in their October issue (on news stands now)! For me, this as kind of a milestone.

About a year and a half ago, I picked up a magazine called "Beautiful Universe". It is an annual magazine published by Sky & Telescope and features the best astrophotography of the year. The issue I bought was devoted primarily to "amateur" astrophotographers. I was stunned by the images. I was equally stunned to learn these images were indeed being taken by amateurs -- hobbyists. Amazing. At that moment I decided I HAD to try this.

After taking my first image (M42), I was instantly hooked. THIS was something I wanted to learn and try to get good at. If only I could take pictures like the ones I saw in that magazine...

Well, after a year and a half of spending MANY hours learning this art it is very rewarding to see a photograph I took being published on a full page in a magazine. A big deal? Not in the grand scheme of things. Big bucks? Are you kidding?! But it is always nice to receive some amount of recognition, but even BETTER to actually have a venue to share your work with others. That's one reason I started this Blog.. I've gotta do SOMETHING with my photos!

Here is the image of mine they chose -- Scorpius:

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dirty Snake

The little "S" shaped dark nebula is Barnard 72, otherwise known as the Snake Nebula. It is located towards the heart of our galaxy. As such, there are TONS of stars in this field! These Dark Nebulae are very dense areas of dust and gas that are silhouetted by the dense star fields. The Milky Way is filled with these objects.

I took this image last week at the Three Rivers Foundation, an astronomy campus located near Crowell, Texas (about 4 hours NW of Dallas). That place is AMAZING! It literally looks like a state park, but is filled with state-of-the-art astronomy gear for public use. I spent two nights there and helped out with a Star Party that 3RF sponsored -- about 100 people showed up (mostly boy and girl scouts). I demonstrated Astrophotography (what else?)

The skies at 3RF were very dark indeed, and the desert-like climate is very dry. I certainly plan on going back!

FSQ-106EDX f/5
STL-11000M -10c
LRGB (70x20x20x20) color binned 2x2
CCD Stack, CS4

Friday, August 7, 2009

Spinning in Dust

This colorful "Cocoon Nebula" is spun from dust and gas in the Constellation Cygnus. The pink/red/blue cloud is a star forming region, while a huge dark nebula can be seen stretching away from it.

Since this object resides along the Milky Way, the field is populated by BUNCHES of stars!

This object was imaged last month at the ranch:

FSQ 106EDX f/5
STL-11000M -10C (still up against the Texas heat)
CCD Stack, CS4

And here is another dark and dusty object, Barnard 142 & 143, otherwise known as Barnard's "E".

This interesting dark nebula resides in the constellation Aquila. But who is this cat "Barnard" you ask? And why is he making a list of these things?

E. E. Barnard was a turn of the century amateur astronomer who loved imaging the wide fields of the Milky Way. He became so good, he was offered a job at the Lick Observatory as a "real" astronomer. Even though he had access to powerful scopes, he still loved the wide fields that smaller apertures gave, and he commissioned his own photographic telescopes to continue his wide field studies. Read more (and see his plates) here: http://www.library.gatech.edu/barnard/index.html

Stats for the "E"

FSQ 106EDX f/5
STL-11000M -10C
(lume binned 1x1, color binned 2x2)
Maxim, CCD Stack, CS4

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Canadian Skies

Last week I went on a fishing trip to Pine Island Lodge. The lodge is located on a small island on the Winnipeg River in Canada. Although the main focus was fishing with the family (it was great fishing, I caught a 39" Northern Pike and Kim earned a Master Angler certificate for Smallmouth Bass), I also realized the skies were going to be dark and with no moon. So naturally I brought my "grab & go" astrophoto rig -- the Canon XSI and AstroTrac mount.

My travel rig fits neatly into a backpack and into the overhead bin on the plane, while the tripod stows in the checked bag. Fortunately, I was not given any grief by security (the AstroTrac might take some explaining).

One thing I learned about being this far north in the summer -- it only gets dark between about 12:30am to 3:30am. So I woke up around 1:30 and shot for about an hour. I wanted to get the Milky Way over the Winnipeg River, so I fought mosquitoes to get this single exposure (2 min) shot.

I then noticed the Big Dipper parked nicely over one of the cabins, so I shot another 2 min exposure.

Once I got home I got a big surprise...

Notice anything interesting about these shots? Although they were too faint to see naked eye, I picked-up the Northern Lights! They were faint but definitely there. I processed the Milky Way image first and thought the odd green cloud might be the aurora but was unsure. But when I saw the cabin image it was obvious.

Anyway, a really great trip and a nice surprise upon returning home!

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Here is my image of the Cave Nebula in the constellation Cepheus. Why is it called the Cave? Hell if I know. Apparently somebody saw a "cave" in here somewhere. I'm expecting there to be a whole slew of Michael Jackson nebulae catalogued soon.

Anyway, I shot this image last month (the same trip as my previous 2 images). I did not really have quite enough data to pull all of the detail I wanted, but it is still pretty. I must adopt a bit more patience and spread my imaging of these faint targets over several nights. But it is hard! The sky is filled with so many cool objects I want to see more! Ah, but just looking at some other images of this target with 8 hours of data (compared to my measly 4) is motivation for patience -- they are very impressive.

My stats:

FSQ 106EDX f/5
STL-11000M -10C
Maxim, CCD Stack, CS3

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Inside Rho

The Rho Ophiuchus area is HUGE, and this is only a "small" piece of it that fits in my field of view. As such, it almost feels like we are inside of it.

You may recall (or not) that I imaged an extremely WIDE field of this area along with the entire Scorpius constellation back in April -- my "Scorpius Rising" image. Anyway, this is a much tighter shot that focuses on some of the incredible dark and dusty nebulosity found there.

I had some issues collecting the data for this image (clouds, trees, gradients, tequila) but after a bit of processing I was able to arrive at something I like. Heck, I love it! Space is just so damned neato (feel free to quote me on that).

For fans of stats...

FSQ 106 EX f/5
STL 11000M -10C
Maxim, CCD Stack, CS3

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Trifid & Lagoon

I know, I know... it sounds like a cop show. But this is actually the Trifid and Lagoon nebulae in Sagittarius, one of the summer highlights in the Milky Way. At a dark site, you can actually see these two naked eye (as little white smudges). But with longer exposure their colors burst forth!

This was my second outing with the new STL camera. Okay, I am officially impressed. Now I know why this camera has been a staple in astrophotography for a number of years. It is a tank and creates fabulous data.

I am still experimenting with my processing workflow, but seem to have hit a sweet spot by calibrating/aligning in Maxim, then data rejecting/combining in CCD Stack (and of course putting it all together in Photoshop CS3).

Here are da stats:

FSQ 106EDX f/5
STL-11000M -10C
Ha, L, R, G, B
Maxim, CCD Stack, CS3

Don't you love stats?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Gama Cygni -- First Light!

Well, I went and done it -- I went ahead and bought a "true" astro camera to compliment my FSQ scope. After learning the ropes with my little QHY8 one-shot color camera (a really nice little camera by the way) I decided to step-up to the "big league" with the STL-11000M camera from Santa Barbara Imaging Group.

The STL is mono large chip (11 megapixel) that images through a built-in filter wheel to record color data in a series of passes. Why mono? Well, the mono chips are much more sensitive, and separate color passes provide much greater fidelity (think composite video vs. component video). Also this camera has much deeper wells than the QHY8, which translates into increased dynamic range, for resolving all those faint details. It also has programmable cooling and other features.

Processing the LRGB images (separate Luminance, Red, Green, Blue) is much more daunting than simple one-shot color. There is at least 4 times as much data, and additional calibration frames are a must. But the end results speak for themselves. Although this image is a quick test, I am already excited about the differences I am seeing in the data (and you know you're a nerd when "data" excites you).

This image is from the Gamma Cygni region in the Cygnus constellation. It is a large complex of Hydrogen Emission nebulosity. Hence, I shot my luminance data through the HA filter of my new camera (another boon to this type of camera -- just program the filter wheel to whatever filter you want, then bang away).

Anyway, this is my "first light" image -- the first time this camera has seen starlight. This is also my first attempt at using a new program to process my data (CCD Stack), and of course the first time I have tackled a LRGB image. But I must say, I am very happy with my progress thus far (and yes, it is also a bit nerdy to say "thus").

Image stats:

FSQ 106EDX f/5
STL-11000m -13C
CCD Stack, Cs3

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Milky Way Over Atoka

The Texas Astronomical Society had a "work party" at their dark site in Atoka, OK about a week ago to do some maintenance. I went up to lend a hand (and eat some damn fine pork ribs).

It was hot during the day, but cooled off nice at night. There were high clouds, but once the moon set (around midnight) the clouds disappeared and the skies were awesome.

It is always worth the trip to a dark site to see the Milky Way rise. That bright "star" on the horizon is Jupiter. I got some great views of the ol' gas giant through a club member's TEC 160 refractor -- nice!

This image is a simple 60 sec exposure taken with my Nikon D80 on a fixed tripod.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My Mexican Hat

Here is the famous Sombrero Galaxy (also known as M104). This galaxy was discovered in 1781 and has been a favorite for generations. It is a great example of a "lens-shaped" galaxy and has a dense accretion disc that is beautifully silhouetted by over 400 billion stars.

I captured the light of these 400 billion suns at the recent TSP.

LX200 10" f/6.7
QHY8 camera
21 x 10 min
Maxim, CS3

Monday, May 25, 2009

Space Claw! (aka Barnard 84)

A very cool dark nebula in Sagittarius! This is a dense star field, being near the hub of our Milky Way galaxy. The yellow Globular Cluster to the left is NGC 6440 and there is a small planetary nebula in the upper left (tiny pink "box") called NGC 6445. But the "star" of this show is the claw-like Barnard 84. I love how it appears to be reaching towards us from deep space -- yipes!

I imaged this last week from the ranch. The weather was beautiful last week in the Hill Country. I was shooting this target one night until about 5a.m.

FSQ 106ED f/5
QHY8 camera
9 x 15 min
Maxim, CS3

Friday, May 22, 2009

IRIS -- take 2

Here is this years attempt at the Iris nebula. I imaged this last year but was not too happy with it. I love this object and wanted to do better. I think I did (you can find my earlier attempt looking back at last July).

Although I am excited to see myself improving, I was humbled by another Astrophotographer who took my data and created an even better image in about an hour (it took me MANY hours to process mine).

Ah, well... that's actually exciting, too. It just means I still have a long way to go to get where I want to be. And as they say, it really is about the "journey"!

This image was taken at the Texas Star Party.

FSQ 106ED f/8
QHY8 camera
16 x 10 min.
Maxim DL, CS3

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Blue Horsey

Here is an image of a wonderful reflection nebula in Scorpius. It is called IC 4592, but I like to think of it as a horse. I really love this object. It is faint, but very large. In fact, I'm just catching a piece of it.

The clouds of dust are being illuminated by the star that makes up the horse's "eye". Reflection nebulae typically have a blue color because as light scatters through the dust it shifts to the blue end of the visual spectrum (the same reason our daytime sky is blue).

I took this image at the Texas Star Party (yes, I was busy at the TSP)!


FSQ 106ED f/5
QHY8 camera
9 x 15 min
Maxim, CS3

Thursday, May 7, 2009


This is IC 443, otherwise known as the "Jellyfish" nebula (but I think it looks more like a monocular brain creature). This object is a supernova remnant -- material ejected from an exploding star. It is almost entirely Hydrogen Alpha emission so I imaged this through an HA filter a couple of months ago at the ranch, but I did not image "normal color" for the star field until the recent Texas Star Party. So here at last is the final composite : )
FSQ 106ED f/5
QHY8 camera
9 x 20m HA
3 x 10m Color
Maxim, CS3

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Needle in a Haystack

Here is The Needle Galaxy -- another image taken at the recent Texas Star Party.

NGC 4565 (aka "the Needle") gets its nickname from the obvious needle-like appearance. This galaxy is actually a disc shaped spiral (not unlike our Milky Way), but since we see it "edge-on" it does indeed resemble a needle. You can easily see the dark dust lane of the spiral arms silhouetted against the larger glowing central core.

You can also see at least two other edge-on galaxies in this field.

Image stats:

LX200 10" f/6.7
QHY8 camera
14 x 10min
Maxim, CS3

More TSP images to come, plus pics from the star party : )

Monday, April 27, 2009

Scorpius Rising

Hey! I just got back from the Texas Star Party near Fort Davis. It was a blast! Kim and I spent all last week there and had a lovely stay in one of the motel rooms (cabins really) at the Prude Ranch that hosts the event each year. I had 4 beautiful clear nights out of 5, so I am quite happy. We also had many other adventures in the area (McDonald Observatory, Alpine, Marfa, etc.). I will write an "official" report soon...

But for now, here is the first processed image from my trip -- the constellation of Scorpius, rising with the Milky Way. This awesome sight appeared each night about 3 a.m. and was definitely something worth staying up for!

I imaged this target over 2 nights, collecting data with both a 28mm lens (for the entire constellation) and a 85mm lens (for the detail around the Rho area in the upper middle). The image data was collected with my Modded Canon XSI, f/4, ISO 1600. I used the AstroTrac for unguided tracking. Total exposure is a bit over 3 hours.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Big Bite of Auriga

Well, I've been putting together a new "grab and go" imaging rig that I can travel with and set-up quickly. I wanted something that could be carried in a small backpack and fit into airline overhead storage. So I have chosen an AstroTrac and a Hutech Modded Canon XSI camera.
I will post images and a full review of this new rig soon. But for now, here is an early test image of this new rig.
This is a very wide field that captures about half of the Auriga constellation. There are many objects here including -- M36 and M38 (the two star clusters towards the top of frame), IC 405 and IC 410 (the red nebulae in the center), and the bright star Elnath at the left. Be sure to click on the image for a LARGER view.
Canon XSI (Hutech Modded)
Nikon 85mm lens
ISO 800
28 x 3min

Monday, April 6, 2009

Galaxy Season Continues

Why so many galaxies this time of year? Well, it is partly because at night during this time of year, we are looking away from our Milky Way's galactic core and out into deep space. During the summer, our views are populated by the vast rivers of stars, dust, and nebulae from the spiral arms of our own galaxy. But looking away from our galaxy in the Spring reveals the great desert of space, populated by millions of other "tiny" galaxies that are unobstructed by our Milky Way.
Every star and large nebulae we see are part of our own Milky Way. This is why there are not too many wide field targets in the Spring, since we are looking away from them.
Anyway, here is a shot of M81 & M82. They are a lovely pair in the northern sky and one of the few wide field targets available at this time (framing them together).

Here are the stats:

FSQ 106 ED f/8
QHY8 camera
13 x 15 min
Maxim, CS3

By the way, you may recognize M81 as an image I took (by itself) at Christmas time with my LX200 scope (with a lot more magnification). Here it is for comparison :

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Just Passing By...

Looking at close-up shots of these HUGE celestial objects can be very abstract -- there is no easy way to relate to them. Okay, mentally picure the distance of 25 million lightyears. Did your brain explode? Well mine does. So I am interested in somehow showing the relationships between these massive objects so that I can start to develop a better sense of them.

A few days ago, the Moon passed very close to the Pleiades. So I took the opportunity to try to image the two icons together. I used a new rig (an AstroTrac with a modified Canon 450D, Nikon 85mm lens, and mixed with some higher res data taken with my Takahashi FSQ scope). This was an interesting blend of gear and technique. As you can imagine, there is a HUGE dynamic range between the incredibly bright moon and the relatively dim Pleiades, so processing this image was tricky.

At any rate, I hope you enjoy it. I'm pleased with the results and look forward to capturing other interesting "fly-bys".
Image taken on 3-30-09

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A galaxy called M63

Well I finally have an new image to share. I have experienced some technical difficulties (my NEW laptop had a system crash) and flaky weather has been a problem, but I managed to get this galaxy imaged and processed.

So you are asking yourself, "what is the deal with those funky names for galaxies and such"? Well, the "M" stands Messier... Charles Messier. Who the heck is that?

Well ol' Chuck was an 18th century French astronomer who really dug comets. I mean this guy just looked and looked for comets. Sometimes he would find a bright fuzzy object in his telescope and get all excited, then he would would discover it was NOT a comet and get all pissed off, record its position, and give it a number -- that way nobody would be fooled again! After a while he had a whole catalogue of "not comets". This catalogue is now refered to as the Messier Catalogue of objects and contains some of the best and brightest deepsky objects (nebulae, galaxies, star clusters).

So here is my image of the "not comet" M63 -- a beautiful galaxy (also known as the Sunflower Galaxy).

Vital Stats:
FSQ 106ED f/8
EM 200 Autoguided
QHY8 camera
13 x 15min

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Something Old... Something New...

So while I'm waiting for some clear dark skies and my next imaging opportunity, I thought I would do a little "human interest" story...

Last October I was at the ranch doing my usual "dark of the moon" imaging run, when this old Model T pulled up next to my FSQ imaging rig.

The Model T belongs to a real interesting fellow named Gale O'Keefe. Gale is an elderly gent (in his 80's) who lives on a nearby ranch with a dog, named "dog". Gale is something of an inventor and a real sharp dude. He used to restore old Model T cars when he was a kid and hit the old farm roads, going hunting and fishing with his brother.

Well, Gale found this rusting old Model T truck in a pasture where it had sat for decades. When he contacted the rancher about it, the guy told Gale he could have it if he would haul it off. So Gale brought it home and began restoring it, just like when he was a kid (more than 60 years ago). His goal was to finish it and get it running in time for his brother's visit so they could go riding the country roads in a Model T like they did when they were kids.

Gale finished in time and the two brothers had their ride.

So when Gale parked the old Model T next to my new FSQ telescope, I was struck by the contrast -- both beautiful designs, state-of-the-art in their own time. Somehow they fit well together, so I took this photo.

Who knows? Maybe 40 years from now I'll restore an "old" FSQ telescope and some young guy will park his futuristic hovercar next to it and take a picture... keep watching this Blog : )

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Island Universes

This is Abel 779 -- a galaxy cluster of dozens of "Island Universes" in the Lynx constellation. The bright fuzzy galaxy in the center is NGC 2832.

The concept of other galaxies, like our Milky Way, is relatively new. In fact, until 1929 astronomers thought these faint fuzzy objects were nebulae located right here in our own Milky Way. But Hubble (the man, not the telescope) proved that the stars in the Andromeda "nebula" were actually FAR outside of our galaxy -- Andromeda was another galaxy, like ours!

Until this time, it was thought the Milky Way WAS the universe. Suddenly, overnight, the universe grew to immense proportions and other galaxies ("Island Universes") began popping up everywhere. Our Milky Way went from being the universe to being just one tiny minor part of a much bigger picture!

This image was taken at Rancho Venado in 2/09

LX 200 10" f/6.7
QHY8 camera 10 x 10min
Maxim, CS3

Friday, March 6, 2009

Death Owl

Here is my shot of the Owl Nebula, taken at Rancho Venado last month.
This nebula is called a "Planetary Nebula", although it has nothing to do with planets (except it is round like one).

These types of nebulae are the products of dying stars. As the star uses up its fuel, it loses mass and begins to collapse, ejecting material into space (in this photo, all of the material is emanating from the tiny star in the center of the Owl). But the death is not sad. Like everything else in the universe, new life springs from death (the ol' circle of life thang). The ejected material will eventually join more material, group together by gravitational attraction, heat up, and create a new star -- an endless cycle.

I took this with my newer LX200 10" scope. Here are the stats:
10" LX200 ACF f/6.7
QHY8 camera
13 x 10min Maxim, CS3

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Barnard 30 (and friends)

Here is an interesting field around Barnard 30, a star forming region just north of Orion's "head". Emission, dark, and reflection nebulae all mingle about in this dusty field. The nebulosity is pretty faint. At just under 3 hours total exposure I really had to dig hard to pull out the data lurking under the noise -- took me 3 days!

Taken at Rancho Venado on 2-21-09 FSQ 106ED f/5 EM 200 autoguided QHY8 camera 8 x 20min Maxim, CS3

And if you flip the image over, it looks like a Klingon Bird of Prey on fire!
Okay, maybe I stared at this image too long (that, and I am a complete nerd).

Monday, February 23, 2009

Comet Lulin

This is Comet Lulin which is currently passing close to the Earth as it makes a lap around the Sun. I was down at the Ranch last weekend and Lulin was bright enough to see naked eye, including a faint tail. While not as spectacular as 2007's Comet Holmes or 1997's Hale-Bopp (that one was incredible), Lulin was fun to find and is the first comet I have tried to image.

I took several images, using various exposures and techniques, but this image sequence blew me away! I took 8 x 10 min exposures while guiding on the comet head (so the FSQ telescope tracked the comet's movement, thus the streaking stars). Once I saw the sequence animated I flipped -- you can easily see great plumes of material ejecting from the head of the comet, opposite the tail. Man, I wish you could see my hi-res version : )

More Lulin images on the way. In the meantime, go catch it if you can. It is at its brightest point right now and the moon is dark.


Here is a link to a B&W crop that I believe gives a better view of the ejecta...


Monday, February 9, 2009

A Seagull for Pauline

A good friend of mine, Bob Eggleton, lost his mother last week. Bob called to tell me the news and as we spoke he mentioned in passing that his mother always loved seagulls. It was a theme with her. Ironically, I had just returned from an imaging trip where I shot IC 2177 -- the "Seagull" nebula. Hmmm...

Although I shot 4 hours worth of exposure, I intended to record more image data through a Ha filter to grab much more hydrogen emission detail and really do this object justice. But Kim and I were going to go to Providence for Pauline Eggleton's memorial service (which was actually one of the best memorial services I've seen) and I wanted to take something to Bob I felt he would appreciate more than just flowers or the usual tokens. See, Bob is a professional artist who has painted many fantastic space scenes and, well, this just felt "right". So I tried my best to process what I had and create a print to honor Bob's mother.

This one is for Pauline -- Godspeed.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Look what came out of my GIRAFFE!

My local astro club (the Texas Astronomical Society) is studying the constellation Camelopardalis, otherwise known as the "Giraffe". They challenged me to image some deep space objects from the region, so last week I shot 3 targets...

The first is Barnard 8-11

These dark nebulae are seldom imaged and I could not find any reference for them, so I was literally shooting in the dark -- but it looks like I found them.

Next one up is IC 342
This is a small spiral galaxy behind a dense star field. In fact, it looks like somebody fired a celestial shotgun full of rock salt at it! I tried to de-emphasize the stars to see the galaxy better.

And finally, here is NGC 2403
Another beautiful spiral galaxy. It is in a less populated star field. I love how two of the faint spiral arms terminate in a conjunction with the two colorful stars.
All of these images were taken with my TAK FSQ 106ED and QHY8 camera, approximately 3 hours each.
For the two galaxies I used (for the first time) an Extender Q lens that converts my TAK scope to a longer focal length F/8. I was VERY impressed with the job it did!
I had beautiful clear skies last week at the Ranch and shot many more targets. The only bad thing is Kim and I lost one of dogs -- little Ponce. He ran after a deer and got lost. We stayed all week but never found him.
I make it a point to stay "on topic" in this blog, but Ponce is a member of the family and I wanted to mention it for those that know the little rascal. We're still looking...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Mood Ring

Actually a Moon Ring (but it is kinda moody).

This was a huge 22 degree ring around the moon here in Dallas on Sunday night. I have seen small halos around the moon, but never anything as large as this! This type of ring is created by ice crystals that form in the upper atmosphere. All of the ice has the same crystaline structure and refracts the moonlight like a giant lens, creating a very impressive ring.

I took these images in the park across the street from my house, using my Nikon D-80 and Nikor 10.5mm Fisheye lens. It is a 3 second F/7 exposure at ISO 800.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

My Wide Cone (and HVN)

Here is another image I took from the Ranch over Christmas. This is the Cone Nebula, otherwise known as NGC 2264. Actually, the Cone is seen as the small conical nebula at the bottom of the larger red dust complex. This entire complex (and associated star cluster) is referred to as the Christmas Tree -- so I of course had to image this over Christmas!

I really like this field -- lots of red emission nebulae, but also blue reflection and dark nebulae. Also, there is an additional treat -- Hubble's Variable Nebula (HVN).
The HVN is that small triangular white cloud in the lower right, almost to the edge of frame. It is called a variable nebula because the star that illuminates this patch of dust is a variable star -- pulsing in magnitude and causing the nebula to change shape and brightness over time. A bit of trivia -- this was the first object to ever be imaged by the famous 200" Hale Telescope at Palomar. So if you get the Astronomy version of Trivial Pursuit you are all set : )

Sunday, January 4, 2009

How Does Orion Keep his Pants up?

With his Belt!

The Orion constellation is the most identified group of stars in the heavens. It also filled with tons of "eye candy" -- the most noted being M42 (the great Orion nebula) and the Horse Head nebula. But Orion is actually FILLED with all sorts of intersting objects.

Orion's Belt is easily recognized by naked eye as three bright stars close together in Orions "mid-section". For this image, I wanted to focus on this belt and bring out all the dusty bits around this area. There is a LOT to see here!

You will notice the Horse Head and Flame nebulae are in the bottom left corner. They were the focus of another recent image I took. But this time all focus is on the Belt.

This image was taken over the Christmas holidays at Rancho Venado. It is 3 hours of exposure with the Takahashi FSQ 106 ED at F/3.64

I am hoping to continue plundering Orion's treasures and create a large mosaic of the area.