Monday, December 31, 2007

Out With The Old, and In With ...

Hi All!

Here are a few photos to round out the year. I've been busy the entire month and haven’t been able to write any BLOG entries.

My star gazing opportunities have been few and far between because of cloudy nights.

Photo 1 is Comet Holmes taken December 14th with a jet flying through my field of view while I was taking the shot.

Photo 2 is the Constellation Perseus portion of the Milky Way Galaxy. The star field is very dense in this portion of the sky. You can see Comet Holmes in the upper-right portion of the picture.

Photo 3 is M42 "The Great Orion Nebula". The Pinkish-Purple colors are the actual colors of the nebula. Some photographers doctor the colors, but you'll not see that with my pictures. I believe in showing what can be seen with the naked eye through a telescope or binoculars.

Photo 4 is M31 "The Andromeda Galaxy. It's our closest neighboring galaxy. The fuzzy spot just below Andromeda is M32, and just above Andromeda is M110, two dwarf galaxies.

Photo 5 is uhmmm ... Mars. It's the best I could do with a shaky camera tripod. I got a new camera tripod for Christmas, but haven't had a chance to use it yet.

That's it for this entry. I've been studying visible constellations for this time of year and am planning some star gazing sessions to locate new (to me) galaxies and other deep space objects.

See you in 2008!

Star Pilot

P.S. – Comments are always appreciated.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Newest Member of the Family

Say hello to the newest member of my family. No, not my Son-in-law or Granddaughter. I'm referring to the tall, black tube beside them.

Give a heartfelt "Hoooooowdy!" to the Celestron StarHopper 8" Dobsonian Telescope. It has an 8" reflector mirror that allows excellent viewing of dimmer deep space objects.

I bought it for $50 on CraigsList. I had no idea it was so large until I picked it up from the buyer. When I saw it, I said: “Cool!” When my wife saw it, she exclaimed: "Holy Crap!" (It’s all a matter of perspective.) :)

My wife wanted to know if I planned to spy on the angels. Hmmm!

It's not the best thing for taking pictures, but it sure is great for observing Solar System and Deep Sky objects.

This is going to be fun!


Latest Observations

The weather is getting colder, but viewing of celestial objects is getting better with lowered humidity in the atmosphere.
Images 1 thru 5 are some of my latest astronomic observations.
Image-1: I'm glad to see Mars rising earlier in the evening. I should have some opportunities to view the ice-capped poles and if I'm lucky view some terrain features. More to follow in a future post ...

Image-1 was taken on 11-16-07 at 9:04PM.
Weather: Partly Cloudy, 50F
Method: Piggy Back on ETX-125
Camera: Nikon D80
ISO Speed: 400
Lens: 50mm
F-Number: F/1.8
Exposure: 8 Seconds

Image-2: M45 Pleiades is the most brilliant open cluster that can be seen with the naked eye. I hope to capture more pictures of this Messier Object in future photo sessions.

Image-2 was taken on 11-16-07 at 9:45PM.
Weather: Partly Cloudy, 50F
Method: Piggy Back on ETX-125
Camera: Nikon D80
ISO Speed: 400
Lens: 50mm
F-Number: F/1.8
Exposure: 8 Seconds

Images 3 & 4: [Image 3 is an untouched picture of the constellation Orion. Image 4 was a modified image of the same picture to include boxes around major stars and objects in Orion.]

The constellation Orion is one of the easiest objects to identify in the sky. Orion contains M42 (Orion Nebula) IC434 Horsehead Nebula, along with M43, M78 and NGC2024 (Flame Nebula). The Orion nebula gas field is the most active star forming region in our stellar neighborhood. If I get some good viewing/imaging sessions, I’ll dedicate an entire BLOG post to Orion.

Here’s a link to the Wikipedia entry for the constellation Orion:

Images 3 & 4 were taken on 11-27-07 at 9:45PM.
Weather: Clear, 29F
Method: Piggy Back on ETX-125
Camera: Nikon D80
ISO Speed: 800
Lens: 50mm
F-Number: F/2.8
Exposure: 8 Seconds

Image-5 is my latest photograph of comet 17P Holmes. The bright star below the comet is Mirfak, which is the brightest star in the constellation Perseus.

Images-5 was taken on 11-27-07 at 9:32PM.
Weather: Clear, 29F
Method: Piggy Back on ETX-125
Camera: Nikon D80
ISO Speed: 1600
Lens: 70-300mm @ 155mm
F-Number: F/4.8
Exposure: 30 Seconds

Hope you're enjoying the pictures!

Star Pilot

Monday, November 26, 2007

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night ...

... so I had nothing better to do than raid my astrophotography archive to find pictures to post.

[Image 1] is a picture of Comet 17P/Holmes taken 11/23/2007. The comet is washed out because there was a Full Moon and my neighbor's flood lamp was shining directly at my telescope.

The image was produced using:

Camera: Nikon D80 (Piggyback onto ETX-125)
Lens: Quantaray 70-300mm (@300mm Focal Length)
ISO Speed: 200
F-Number: F/5.6
Exposure time: 48 Seconds
If you want to find out more about Comet 17P/Holmes, here are some excellent links:
Now lets have some rainy night fun ...

[Image 2] is a wide field picture I took of the constellation Sagittarius in August 2007.
[Image 3] is a 'film negative' view of Image 2.
[Image 4] is star chart of the constellation Sagittarius I found on

Using Images 4 as a guide, see how many Messier objects you can identify in Images 2 &3, and if you can link the visible stars in the constellation. Actually, connecting the dots (stars) will help you find the Messier objects.

The dense starfield in Sagittarius is the Heart of the Milky Way Galaxy. (This constellation and its many celestial treasures are what hooked me on Astronomy and Astrophotography).

Helpful Star Gazing Hint: In the light pollutes skies of Northern Virginia, I often take wide field pictures of portions of the sky and study them on the computer to learn my constellations and other celestial objects.


Star Pilot

P.S. - Please excuse the formatting problems. Blogger's editor has a mind of its own.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Comet 17P/Holmes ...New Images

Finally got some clear weather after a cold front passed through. I took these images of Comet 17P/Holmes tonight (11/22/2007) with my Nikon D80 using a Quantaray 300mm zoom lens.

I tracked Mirfak (bright star just below the comet) with my ETX-125EC telescope and piggybacked my camera on top of the telescope.

Mirfak is the brightest star in the constellation Perseus. When the comet clears Mirfak and the Moon doesn't cause problems, I'll be able to get better pictures of the 'Coma' (big dust bubble) and 'Nucleus' (bright center).

17P/Holmes is now bigger than the Moon and I heard is approaching the size of the Sun.

The pictures have a some noise in them caused by a near full moon.

The pictures of 17P/Holmes aren't as good as what observatories produce, but their telescopes cost hundreds of thoudsnds of dollars. Mine cost $500 used.

Keep the Clear Skies Comin'

Star Pilot

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

In These Desperate Times ...

... you take what you can get, and that applies to pictures of celestial objects too.

It was cloudy again tonight, so in desperation I took a few pictures of the Moon and the Constellation Perseus peeking thru the clouds.

Pictures are as Follows (Click on picture for larger image):
1. Cloudless Moon
2. Halo Moon (behind clouds)
3. Another Halo Moon
4. Constellation Perseus Peeking Out From Clouds
5. My Neighbors Flood Lamp that Shines In Our Bedroom Every Night.

Still Hoping for Clear Skies!


Monday, November 19, 2007

Cloudy Days & Cloudy Nights...

...and Comet 17P/Holmes is nowhere in sight. Sighhhh!

The above picture has been the view from my observing sight for several days (and nights). I heard the clouds will part today (11/19/2007) so I may be able to get a few shots of comet 17P/Holmes before the clouds return during mid-week. If I'm successful, I'll post them here.

Side Note: Yesterday, (Sunday 11/18/2007) I bought a used Quantaray 70-300mm F/1:4-5.6 lens for my Nikon D80. I intend to use the lens to take close-up astrophotography images of celestial objects. If the weather cooperates tonight I'll try the lens out on M45, M81 and comet 17P/Holmes.

Cool Link: Check out my son-in-law's blog to view his astrophotography and other blog entries.

Hoping for Clear Skies!!


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Comet 17P/Holmes ... First Sighting!

On Saturday, November 3rd, I had a chance to scan the heavens with my ETX-125EC.

Using the Electronic Controller to guide the scope manually, I took a tour of The Pleiades (M45). The open star cluster was breathtaking, as always. Since the night was dark and humidity low, I navigated my way to what I thought was the Andromeda Galaxy (M31).

But this fuzzy spot didn't look eliptical and was much brighter than my previous observations of M31. Hmmmmm!

I piggy-backed my Nikon D80 on the ETX-125 and took several long exposures of that region of sky using a 50mm f/1.8 lens.

The next work day I showed the exposures to a fellow backyard astronomer. He too was baffled why I was only seeing the core of M31 and not the entire elliptical starfield. We discussed different ways to set the camera to get additional shots.

Later that day I received an email from my oldest daughter that featured a Yahoo story on Comet 17P/Holmes, which had recently erupted. Amateur astronomers observed the comet changing from Magnitude-15 to Magnitude-2 in less than an hour. WOW!!!

One glance at the picture in the story told me I had photographed 17P/Holmes without realizing.

Following are a few pictures of comet 17P/Holmes taken from my 'light polluted' front yard in Northern Virginia.

Hope you enjoy the pictures. Later this week I'm going to attempt to track the comet and take some prime focus pictures. That should be fun.


Wide Fleid View of Comet 17p/Holmes

Cropped Image of Comet 17P/Holmes

Super Cropped image of Comet 17P/Holmes

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Observation Log 09/18/2007

Observation Log: 09/18/2007
Location: Backyard Observatory
Weather: 50F and Clear

The Moon (Prime Focus Photo)

Polaris and Star Trails (7 Minute Exposure)

Sagittarius (Heart of the Milky Way Galaxy)

Sagittarius (Heart of the Milky Way Galaxy "Inverse Image")

How have my observation experiences gone thusfar, you may ask ?

I bought the ETX-125EC in July, got one night to view the sky and then haze & humidity moved in for 7 weeks.

A cold front came thru on 09/18/2007 and sent the humitidy packing. I was able to view several objects that night, including:

- Sagittarius
- Ursa Minor
- Cephus
- Cassiopeia

Solar System:
- Moon (1/3 full) [See Photo - "The Moon"]
- Jupiter (four moons visible)

Deep Space:
- Milky Way Galaxy [See Photo - "Sagittarius ..."]
- M8 (Lagoon Nebula)
- M21, M22 & M22 (Star Clusters)

- Polaris (Had a difficult time finding Polaris because Ursa Major and Ursa Minor were hiding behind trees in my backyard. To confirm the position of Polaris, I took a wide field view of that region of space using my Nikon D80 fitted with a 50mm f/1.8 lens. [See Photo - "Polaris and Star Trail"] (Polaris is the stationary star in the photo.)

Messier Objects:

- M7, M8, M21, M22 & M23 are visible in the 'normal' and 'inverse' photos of the Heart of the Milky Way in Sagittarius. [See Photo - "Sagittarius..."]

Hint: Search "sagittarius constellation" in to view a star chart that will help identify the Messier objects in the "Sagittarius..." photos.

Check back soon for more photos.


Obeservatory Equipment & Photography Methods

Andromeda Galaxy (M31) is the bright fuzzy object (left side of picture).

You may ask: "What's needed to become involved in backyard astronomy ?"

Short Answer:
A star chart, your eyes and clear, dark skies.

Long Answer:
Binoculars or a telescope are needed, especially if you want to view fine details of solar system or deep space objects.

What's the Attraction to Amateur Astronomy?
Many amateur astronomers like to keep it simple and merely observe the wonders the heavens have to offer, while others like to photograph their observations. Others still spend their time studying certain classes of objects, (i.e. - The moon, planets, nebula, star clusters, galaxies, binaries, etc...). I've even met astronomers that dedicate their time to the study of 'one' object.

What's the Cost ? A few hundred to several thousand dollars.
Some are satisfied buying a $300 90mm telescope, and occasionally viewing the moon and planets. Others spend tens of thousands of dollars on mini-Hubble observatories that can rival some professional observatories. The cost reflects what you want to do.

If you plan to observe the heavens one or more night a month, purchase a telescope from a reputable dealer (Celestron, Meade, Orion or Vixen) and buy a motorized mount that has GOTO capability. Make sure the Optical Tube Assembly (OTA) has an aperture of at least 125mm. Stay away from department store junk that measures telescope performance as 40x or 120x power. They are not quality instruments and you will quickly lose interest in astronomy.

Here's the equipment I use:
- Meade ETX-125EC Telescope with Meade #884 Field Tripod
- Autostar #497 Handbox
- Meade Electronic Controller
-Meade Series 4000 1.25" Eyepieces (6, 9, 12.5, 15, 20, 26, 32 and 40mm)
- Nikon D80 D-SLR camera
- Black & Decker "JumpStart" portable battery starter.

Astrophotography techniques:

Prime Focus: I use the telescope's OTA as the lens on my D80 camera. The connection is made using a Nikon T-mount and Meade T-Adapter.

Piggy Back: I mount my D80 onto the ETX-125EC's OTA and use a standard camera lens to photograph a desired region of the heavens. This method works well I want to track an object in space for long exposure astrophotography.

Wide Field (with Tripod): The D80 is mounted onto a camera tripod. The drawback here is that exposure times for each photo must be short (5 - 15 seconds or less), otherwise noticable star trails can be seen. Here's my basic rule of thumb:

50mm Lens - Star trails noticable after 15 seconds of exposure.
100mm Lens - Star trails noticable after 8 seconds of exposure.
200mm Lens - Star trails noticable after 5 seconds of exposure.

Check for several astrophotography tips and techniques. (Hit the back button to return to my BLOG)

Happy Star Gazing!


Why BLOG ?

Welcome to my Blog. I'm a 'very amateur' Backyard Astronomer that is just getting into the hobby. I plan to use this BLOG to post celestial observations from my humble backyard observatory (i.e. - my deck)