Astronomy Report – 2021-10-08 through 2021-10-10 – Imaging and Naked Eye Observations

The weekend promises to be clear every night and with little to no moon.  I put down the pathway stones and marked the location for the tripod legs.  The first night, I did a polar alignment with NINA and marked the home position on the mount.  Setup should go extremely quickly from this point forward.  During the three-day session, I decided to use Astrophotography Tool (APT) as my main app.  The developers have plans to implement a polar alignment routine in the next version according to their forum.  NINA has been giving me some issues with sequencing and slewing using it’s built in Sky Map database.  The version is a preview version and does appear to be more robust than APT, however, I like the simplicity of APT and it does everything needed.

While I was running an imaging session of the Elephant Trunk Nebula that first night, I was looking around the sky and starting to learn what was what.  I noticed above and to the left of the area where Andromeda hangs out there was a twinkle in the Perseus constellation, not that I could it due to LP.  Using Stellarium on my phone, I discovered Mirfak, the brightest star in the constellation of Perseus, also known as Alpha Persei.  It’s a variable star.  As I watched it climb the sky, I looked over to the east where my wife caught another bright object in the sky.  She asked what it was.  It seemed to move up like a star would as the evening progressed; however, it also was moving left to right erratically so it wasn’t a star or a plane. It turned out to be a weather balloon.  With that discovery I saw a vague splotch of light nearby that turned out to be M 45, The Pleaides, also known as the Seven Sisters. Once the imaging session of the Elephant’s Trunk was completed, I moved to The Pleiades and started another imaging run.  Then I stared back at Mirfak and decided to do an imaging run on it the next evening.  Half way through the run on The Pleiades, the mount started slow flashing indicating that power was low, this was about five hours.  I’m using the Orion Dynamo Pro.  It’s powering the mini-PC which is also powering the guide camera via USB, the mount and the Canon. I ran it for about another half hour then figured that I could plug in the battery and deliver full power to the mount, however in the process I kicked the tripod leg way out of whack.  I became intimately familiar with the bonging noise of PHD 2 when it lost the guiding star.  Oh well, it was late and I was up early that morning so I broke everything down and called it a night.  I figured I would get more data on the Seven Sisters the next evening.

When I set up again the next evening polar alignment went quickly using Jupiter, I slewed to the first target of the evening and took one 120 second sub.  Stars weren’t quite as round as they should be.  So I reran TPPA and the RA axis with off by a couple of arc minutes.   I reran the TPPA process using the default coordinates and things tightened up quite nicely.  I started another imaging run of the Elephant Trunk then moved over to the Seven Sisters to finish what I didn’t get from the previous night.  After that I moved to Mirfak.  While all this was going on I discovered Betelgeuse in the south east sky.  In that same area I caught another vague blotch of light that became visible in the early hours of the morning.  That area has a lot of light pollution (LP) from the casino so it was up higher before I could see it.  In Stellarium there appears to be what looks like a ghost nebula and it looks upset.  I learned M 41 and M 42 are also in that area of blotchy light.    I have a book by Alan Hall, Messier Astrophotography Reference, that I plan on becoming intimately familiar with. And so, begins my journey of learning and imaging the Messier catalog.  During the final few images of Mirfak, PHD 2 indicated that the mount failed to respond to a pulse command and that guiding was most likely affect.  I saw in APT Preview that the stars were still tight but the image had shifted slightly.  That happened twice, now I wonder what caused that? I figure I will become intimately familiar with the PHD 2 logs later this week.  I was out for close to nine hours and by the end of the night, the equipment was dripping with dew.  When I came in, I noted that humidity was about 88%, that was about 04:00.  Dew heaters are the next investment, luckily, I won’t need to worry about the PC, it generates enough heat to keep the dew off of it.

I set up the mount and tripod in the home positions I had marked out on the previous day for the final the final night of the weekend.  Now, we’ll see just how far off the polar alignment is.  I don’t plan on being out for more than a few hours as it is a work night, the focus is the reinforcement of the skills learned so far, Polar alignment, camera focusing, star alignment and image acquisition. I started TPPA using the default coordinates which is almost pointed at the NCP for this session instead of Jupiter like I have been in the past.  Polar alignment was about 30 minutes off but it didn’t take me long to correct it to a 41 second total error.  I picked the y Cas Nebula in the Cassiopeia constellation for the target tonight and snapped a 120 second sub, the stars weren’t quite as round as they should be, so I checked TPPA alignment again and it the results were about a two and half minute total error with most of the error being in the RA axis.  I reran the process using the same default coordinates again and the stars tightened up.  I did note that when I start TPPA pointing at Jupiter and would rerun the process after slewing the total error would be in the low teen double digits.  So, it is definitely better to start TPPA pointing in the norther hemisphere and rerun it after doing an initial star alignment.

I slewed back to the y Cas Nebula and began my imaging run and sat back and waited for my new found friends to show up.  Mirfak showed up twinkling behind the tree line and the Seven Sisters showed up not too much later.  Unfortunately, I wouldn’t get to see Betelgeuse this evening as he doesn’t show up until the early hours of the morning and my angry ghost nebula even later, I’ll do some research this week and find out what the nebula’s name is.  The weather balloon showed up this evening around 23:00.  The imaging run finished with no issues from PHD 2 around 23:30, I took some calibration frames that took about another hour then broke everything down and called it an evening.  I didn’t want to as the sky was clear but it was a work night and I was out until about 04:00 the previous night.  Oh well, I have a lot of data to work with over the next few days.

Clear Skies!

Leave a Reply