Chasing darkness on La Palma

All of my previous dark-sky expeditions were organized in summer-autumn part of the year. At this part of the year shines the galactic core of the Milky Way during the night (only if the sky is dark enough) and there are many deep space objects available. During my expedition to Milos I managed to capture huge part of the Messier catalogue. However, there are some deep space objects, which are badly visible from my home and which have to be captured in the spring. I was researching where can I spend few days, preferably somewhere south and even more preferably under dark skies. Googling yielded in brilliant idea – La Palma, Canary Islands. This island belongs to three most prominent spots on Earth for astronomy (together with Mauna Kea in Hawaii and European Southern Observatory in Chile). The observatory on La Palma is called Roque de los Muchachos and currently there is the largest optical, single aperture telescope on this Planet (The Gran Telescopio Canarias). The observatory is built on the highest mountain of the island at altitude nearly 2500 meters above the sea level. On the whole island there are strict rules for the street illumination, therefore the dark skies are not the privilege of the highest mountains, but nearly everywhere are the conditions great, maybe except two big towns – Santa Cruz de La Palma and Los Llanos. Dark sky is probably the same touristic attraction on La Palma like the beaches on Greek islands.


M83 Southern Pinwheel Galaxy

Messier 83 is a spiral galaxy located in constellation Hydra. It is one of the brightest and closest (15 million light-years) galaxies observable from Earth. On the other hand there are much brighter and closer galaxies, for example Andromeda is only 2.5 million light-years away and M33 Triangulum Galaxy is roughly 3 million light-years away.

Due to the fact that the M83 has very low southern declination (rises not far from horizon), thus it is very difficult to capture from light polluted Central Europe, I decided to take a trip to south. Specifically to La Palma (Canary Islands) and tried to photograph it from there. I had only one clear night out of ten, but together with M68 was this galaxy my primary target and I somehow managed. My plan was to capture more deep space objects, but the weather didn’t allow me.

Technical details:

TelescopeNewton 150/600 mm
Aperture150 mm
Focal length630 mm
MountAvalon M-Zero
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, Guidescope 30 mm
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-10°C
CorrectorExplore Scientific HR
FiltersAstronomik L-1 - UV IR Block Filter
Exposure87x300s, Gain 94, bin 1x1,
Date2019-04-25

M61 Galaxy

Spring offers the best conditions for photographing/observing of the galaxies. This is caused by the fact that the constellations Virgo, Leo and Coma Berenices are visible and there are galaxies anywhere you look. This year, I already captured M58 M88 M89 M90 M91 Galaxies, but there are still some galaxies missing, in order to finish Messier catalogue. One of them was M61 (upper left corner). This spiral galaxy is located in constellation Virgo, it has about the same size as our home galaxy Milky Way and it is approximately 52 light-year away from Earth.

Technical details:

TelescopeNewton 150/600 mm
Aperture150 mm
Focal length630 mm
MountAvalon M-Zero
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, Guidescope 30 mm
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-15°C
CorrectorExplore Scientific HR
FiltersAstronomik L-1 - UV IR Block Filter
Exposure74x180s, Gain 94, bin 1x1,
Date2019-04-06

M88 M91 Galaxies

Messier 88 (right) and Messier 91 are the spiral galaxies located between constellations Coma Berenices and Virgo. Both belong to the Virgo Cluster of galaxies and both are approximately 60 light-years away from Earth. The small galaxy at the very left is called NGC 4571.

Technical data:

TelescopeNewton 150/600 mm
Aperture150 mm
Focal length630 mm
MountAvalon M-Zero
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, Guidescope 30 mm
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-15°C
CorrectorExplore Scientific HR
FiltersAstronomik L-1 - UV IR Block Filter
Exposure47x300s, Gain 94, bin 1x1,
Date2019-03-30

M58 M89 M90 Galaxies


The spring has arrived and there are many galaxies, which yet has to be captured by me, in order to finish the Messier catalogue. This night I managed to capture tree of them in one shot. Messier 58 (upper left side) is a barred spiral galaxy, which is approximately 68 million light-years from Earth. This makes it the furthest object from Messier catalogue. Messier 89 (bottom middle) is only 50 million light-years from us and Messier 90 (right) is approximately 59 million light-years away.

Technical details:

TelescopeNewton 150/600 mm
Aperture150 mm
Focal length630 mm
MountAvalon M-Zero
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, Guidescope 30 mm
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-20°C
CorrectorExplore Scientific HR
FiltersHutech IDAS LPS-D2
Exposure90x180s, Gain 94, bin 1x1,
Date2019-03-29

M93 Open Cluster

Messier 93 is an open cluster located in constellation Puppis and it is about 3400 light-year away from Earth. The cluster is one of those deep space objects, which I cannot see from my home, therefore I had to pack the gear and enjoy starry night outside. Compared to my previous attempt, I took the laser collimator with me and waited sufficiently long the temper the telescope. Well I was surprised that the stars are slightly oval and there is blue halo on one side and red one on the other side of nearly each star. I was speculating if there is something wrong with the optics, but then I realized that this object has very low declination (it’s not far from horizon), therefore it’s exposed to atmosphere refraction/dispersion. This means that the light must pass through the thick layer of an air. In this case the atmosphere works as a lens and bends red and blue light differently. The effect is described here or here.

Technical details:

TelescopeNewton 150/600 mm
Aperture150 mm
Focal length630 mm
MountAvalon M-Zero
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, Guidescope 30 mm
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-20°C
CorrectorExplore Scientific HR
FiltersHutech IDAS LPS-D2
Exposure30x60s, Gain 136, bin 1x1,
Date2019-03-27

M76 Little Dumbbell Nebula

Messier 76 is one out of four planetary nebulae in Messier catalogue. It is one of the dimmest objects in this catalogue. The nebula is located in constellation Perseus and it is 2500 light-years away from Earth. M76 was discovered by Pierre Méchain in 1780 and in the same year was catalogued by Charles Messier.

The picture is a stack of 58 pictures, each 180s, which means nearly 3 hours of the integration time. However, the conditions were far from optimal, because the Moon was in first quarter and illuminating the skies.

TelescopeNewton 254/1000 mm
Aperture254 mm
Focal length1000 mm
MountGemini G53f
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, TS 60/240 mm
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-20°C
CorrectorExplore Scientific HR coma corrector
FiltersHutech IDAS LPS-D2
Exposure58x180s, Gain 94, bin 1x1,
Date2019-02-14

M41 Open Cluster

In order to complete the Messier Catalogue and capture all of its deep space objects, I have to pack the telescope, mount, camera, cables and batteries and set it up somewhere in the nature with better view. Most of the objects I am able to capture from home, but some of them have very low declination (not far above the horizon) and I cannot see them from my terrace, because there is a hill direction south.

Messier 41, open cluster in constellation Canis Major is one of them.  So, I packed my car and went to collect some photons. At least I got the opportunity to test my new mount Avalon M-Zero, which replaced my previous portable mount iOptron CEM25P. The old portable mount was working well, but due to conventional equatorial design, one needs a counterweight, which was in this case 5 kg. This means 1/3 of the total weight. M-Zero is basically single fork mount, which utilizes the weight of the motors and housing as a counterweight. Moreover, M-Zero uses belts and pulleys, which means zero backlash. I can confirm – it works very well. I can save few kgs in my case during my next travel expedition.

The night was cold and since I don’t do the astrophotography in the nature frequently, I faced some issues. First, the portable telescope lost the collimation and I didn’t have the laser collimator with me. Second, I started to photograph before the telescope reached the thermal equilibrium, therefore there was a focus drift. This is definitely not my best picture, but I can at least check another Messier object from the list.

Technical details

TelescopeNewton 150/600 mm
Aperture150 mm
Focal length630 mm
MountAvalon M-Zero
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, Guidescope 30 mm
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-20°C
CorrectorExplore Scientific HR
FiltersHutech IDAS LPS-D2
Exposure39x60s, Gain 136, bin 1x1,
Date2019-02-12

M37 Open Cluster

Messier 37 is the largest and the brightest open cluster in constellation Auriga. Visually, it has two deep space neighboring open clusters M36 and M38. The cluster was discovered by Giovani Battista Hodierna in 1654 and catalogued by Charles Messier in 1764. The cluster contains a lot of red giant stars and it is approximately 4500 light-year away from Earth.

This is the second deep space object, which I captured in a single night. The clouds rolled in, therefore I was able to capture only 30 pictures, 60 second each.

TelescopeNewton 254/1000 mm
Aperture254 mm
Focal length1000 mm
MountGemini G53f
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, TS 60/240 mm
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-20°C
CorrectorExplore Scientific HR coma corrector
FiltersHutech IDAS LPS-D2
Exposure30x60s, Gain 94, bin 1x1,
Date2019-02-08

M36 Open Cluster

Messier 36 is an open cluster located in constellation Auriga, not far from the bright star Capella. The cluster is approximately 4000 light-years from Earth and it has diameter 14 light-years. There are another two open clusters in the vicinity. Specifically it is M38 (north-west) and M37 (south-east).

The picture is a stack of 50 images, each has 60 s exposure time, which means less than hour of the integration time. Another Messier object was captures. I hope, I will finish the whole Messier catalogue this year.

TelescopeNewton 254/1000 mm
Aperture254 mm
Focal length1000 mm
MountGemini G53f
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, TS 60/240 mm
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-20°C
CorrectorExplore Scientific HR coma corrector
FiltersHutech IDAS LPS-D2
Exposure50x60s, Gain 94, bin 1x1,
Date2019-02-08

M46 M47 Open Clusters

Messier 46 (left) and Messier 47 are open clusters located in constellation Puppis. Visually, these clusters are quite close to each other and both fit in the field of view of my smallest telescope. Visual distance is not the real distance, because M46 in approximately 5000 light-years away and M47 is much closer, only 1600 light-years away.

M46 contains roughly 500 members and small planetary nebula called NGC2438 can be found there.

The picture is a stack of 22 pictures, 2 minutes exposure each, which means 44 minutes in total. Unfortunately, my telescope was not properly collimated, therefore the stars are elongated in the upper left corner. Well, I must say that this was the first and the last night in January without clouds, therefore I did not get the chance to recapture this deep space object.

Technical details:

TelescopeNewton 150/600 mm
Aperture150 mm
Focal length630 mm
MountAvalon M-Zero
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, OAG
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-20°C
CorrectorExplore Scientific HR
FiltersHutech IDAS LPS-D2
Exposure22x120s, Gain 94, bin 1x1,
Date2019-01-30

M79 Globular cluster

Messier 79 is a globular cluster located in constellation Lepus. This cluster is particularly interesting, because it can be observed/photographed only in winter and there is no other globular cluster in that part of the sky. Most of the globular clusters are visible in summer, when the galactic center is shows its beauty. This means that most of the globular clusters are close to the galactic center, but M79 is actually at the edge of our galaxy. Diameter of our own Milky Way galaxy is approximately 100,000 light-years. M79 is roughly 60,000 light-years far from galactic center and 42,100 light years away from earth. The study conducted in 2003 revealed the concentration of the stars in constellation Canis Major, which is neighboring constellation to Lepus and it was assumed that there is a dwarf galaxy there. Latest studies disproved this theory and the star concentration is assumed to be caused just by the spiral arm of the Milky Way.

This deep space object is extremely difficult to capture due to its very low declination if observed from Central Europe. Moreover, also the optics was not cooperating this night. I must admit it’s the worst picture of a globular cluster I have ever made. But if I want to complete Messier catalogue this year, I have to publish it as it is. I hope I will get an opportunity to recapture M79 next year.

Technical details:

TelescopeNewton 150/600 mm
Aperture150 mm
Focal length570 mm
MountAvalon M-Zero
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, Guidescope 30 mm
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-15°C
CorrectorTS MaxField
FiltersHutech IDAS LPS-D2
Exposure22x60s, Gain 134, bin 1x1,
Date2019-01-15

M78 Nebula


Messier 78 is a reflection nebula located in constellation Orion, visually not far from stars Alnitak Alnilam and Mintaka, which form the Orion’s belt. This nebula is one of the brightest reflection nebulas on the sky, due to reflection of the light coming from two bright stars called HD38563A and HD38563B.

My previous attempt to capture this nebula during my expedition to Schwarzwald was not that successful, due to the due problems, therefore I dedicated nearly 3 hours to this DSO. However, it looks like the picture would need longer integration time.

Technical details:

TelescopeNewton 254/1000 mm
Aperture254 mm
Focal length950 mm
MountGemini G53f
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, TS 60/240 mm
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-20°C
CorrectorTS-Optics 2" 3-element MaxField
FiltersHutech IDAS LPS-D2
Exposure50x180s, Gain 94, bin 1x1,
Date2018-12-13

M77 Galaxy


Messier 77 is a spiral galaxy located in constellation Cetus and it is approximately 47 million light-year away from Earth. Due to its diameter 170 light-year, this galaxy is one of the biggest objects of Messier Catalogue.

The galaxy in the bottom right corner is called NGC 1055, which together with M77 creates binary system.

The picture is a stack of 20 pictures, each 3 minutes long, i.e. only one hour of integration time. This is obviously not enough for such deep space object, but I wanted to capture another DSO this night. Moreover, I was not able to wait till 1 o’clock, when the street lamps are switched off, because at this time, this galaxy was nearly reaching the horizon.

Now it’s time to slew to M78 Nebula.

Technical details:

TelescopeNewton 254/1000 mm
Aperture254 mm
Focal length1000 mm
MountGemini G53f
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, TS 60/240 mm
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-20°C
CorrectorTS-Optics 2" 3-element MaxField
FiltersHutech IDAS LPS-D2
Exposure20x180s, Gain 94, bin 1x1,
Date2018-12-13

M103 Open Cluster


Messier 103 is an open cluster located in constellation Cassiopeia. With its distance 8500 light-year from Earth, this cluster is one of the most distant clusters from Messier’s catalogue.

The picture is a stack of 56 pictures, each 2 minutes long, i.e. nearly two hours of integration time. December is a month, which is rich with deep space objects, but it’s also rich with clouds. In whole December I got only single opportunity to take my telescope outside, therefore this is not the only deep space object, which I captured this night.

Technical details:

TelescopeNewton 254/1000 mm
Aperture254 mm
Focal length1000 mm
MountGemini G53f
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, TS 60/240 mm
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-20°C
CorrectorTS-Optics 2" 3-element MaxField
FiltersHutech IDAS LPS-D2
Exposure56x120s, Gain 94, bin 1x1,
Date2018-12-13

M35 Shoe-Buckle Cluster

Messier 35 an open cluster located in constellation Gemini. The cluster is approximately 2800 light-year far from Earth and it contains roughly 200 stars.

Second open cluster NGC 2158 is located in the background (upper right part of the picture). I didn’t know that there is another cluster in field of view. If I would know it, I would change the composition of the picture.

This cluster was the last one out of four captured during single night. In the early morning I slewed to M35 and went to sleep. The camera captured 56 exposures, 3 minutes each, before the dawn arrived. This means nearly 3 hours of total exposure time.

Technical details:

TelescopeNewton 254/1000 mm
Aperture254 mm
Focal length1000 mm
MountGemini G53f
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, TS 60/240 mm
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-20°C
CorrectorTS-Optics 2" 3-element MaxField
FiltersHutech IDAS LPS-D2
Exposure56x180s, Gain 94, bin 1x1,
Date2018-11-18

 


M38 Open Cluster

Messier 38 is an open cluster located in constellation Auriga. It has diameter 25 light-years and it’s approximately 3500 light-year away from Earth.

I managed to capture two open clusters this night already (M39 and M34) and there is still one to go (M35). Therefore I didn’t dedicate a lot of time on M38 – this means that the picture is an integration of one hour of exposure time.

Technical details:

TelescopeNewton 254/1000 mm
Aperture254 mm
Focal length950 mm
MountGemini G53f
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, TS 60/240 mm
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-20°C
CorrectorTS-Optics 2" 3-element MaxField
FiltersHutech IDAS LPS-D2
Exposure20x180s, Gain 94, bin 1x1,
Date2018-11-18


M34 Open Cluster

After capturing M39 I slewed the telescope to another deep space object. Specifically to an open cluster Messier 39. This cluster is located in constellation Perseus and it is approximately 1400 light-years away from Earth and it has diameter roughly 24 light-years.

The picture is a stack of 72 two minute subframes, which means 144 minutes of total integration time.

Technical details:

TelescopeNewton 254/1000 mm
Aperture254 mm
Focal length950 mm
MountGemini G53f
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, TS 60/240 mm
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-20°C
CorrectorTS-Optics 2" 3-element MaxField
FiltersHutech IDAS LPS-D2
Exposure72x120s, Gain 94, bin 1x1,
Date2018-11-18


M39 Open cluster

Messier 39 is an open cluster located in constellation Cygnus and it’s only 825 light-year away from Eartch. The cluster is visually located on the galactic plane of the Milky Way, therefore there are so many stars in the background.

I already captured M39 two years ago, but with different camera and different coma corrector. This time I used slightly bigger sensor and brand new corrector TS MaxField. This corrector should reduce the focal length by 5% and also due to the larger sensor I got bigger field of view compared to my previous picture. However, the corrector is not capable of eliminate the coma fully and in the corners are the stars elongated. I spent some time by adjusting the tilt, but this obviously didn’t solve the problem. This means that the only corrector which is capable of eliminating the comatic aberration fully is Explore Scientific HR CC.

Technical details:

TelescopeNewton 254/1000 mm
Aperture254 mm
Focal length950 mm
MountGemini G53f
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, TS 60/240 mm
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-20°C
CorrectorTS-Optics 2" 3-element MaxField
FiltersHutech IDAS LPS-D2
Exposure58x180s, Gain 94, bin 1x1,
Date2018-11-18

Here is the analysis of the curvature by CCD Inspector. I already adjusted the tilt by integrated push-pull screws on ASI071, but there is still some room for improvements.


Chasing darkness in Schwarzwald

My second expedition after the dark skies (this year) led us to Germany, specifically to Black Forest (Schwarzwald) in the state of Baden-Württemberg. We rented a small cabin for a weekend and I took the same equipment which I took to Milos, i.e. telescope newton 150/600 mm, mount iOptron CEM25P and ZWO 071 Pro camera.

As soon got dark, the Milky Way showed up. I measured SQM and it reached 21.1, which is not spectacular, but far better compared what I have at home.

The equipment was working perfectly, but the dew started to form on the secondary mirror, because the cabin is close to river Breg, which means a lot of humidity. I never had dew problems with Newtonian telescope up to now. Lessons learned – I need a dew shield. I managed to capture only M74 Galaxy and M78 Nebula.

Anyway, I also managed to capture wide angle photos with my Pen-F and Fish eye lens.

Here are the star trails – exposure 30x30s:

And here is the Milky Way – exposure 1x30s ISO 3200 f1.8: