Monday, November 6, 2017

June Observing Report

June 16, 2017
The clearest night in weeks but still hazy and the mosquitoes are thick. At 2107 the temp is 82 F with 75% humidity with no breeze. Two changes since last session; a new HP Omen laptop and an auxiliary dew heater for the ASI071MC-COOL from ZWO.

In trials the new laptop collected > 70 frames without a drop so I'm hoping to avoid loosing frames as I have in past sessions. Also as the new laptop has HDMI output, I'm using a 4' VIZIO premium high speed HDMI cable to drive the HP w2338h monitor. I've ported most of my software over to the new laptop including, SharpCap, PhD2, AstroToaster, Deep Sky Planner, and Open Office with my observing diary. So off I go.

H 95-1 NGC 4214
The galaxy is elliptical with multiple bright regions or stars between it and earth. The galaxy is oriented NNW to SSE. In the NNW end there is a bright region (possibly 3 stars) that are to the W of the main galaxy axis. There are within the galaxy 4 bright regions along the axis. The galactic halo is roughly 6' x 4'. To the NNW about 9' and just to the W of the galactic axis lies a bright double star. To the SE there is a short line of 3 stars about 5' from the galaxy. The furthermost star in this line appears to be a double.

8 x 4 min., gain 400, chip temperature = -10C, dark frame corrected in AstroToaster

There was a dark triangular patch across the upper left of the image that faded with time. By image 6 it was greatly diminished and by frame 9 it was nearly gone. Not sure what this is as there were no clouds I could see. Unlike anything I've experienced before. That the object is in the west also hurts my contrast.

To compound the issues with this image, I neglected to engage the autoguider and that has lead to significant image shift in images 10 up. What frames I have will suffice for a good observation of the object but I won't win any photo contests with this one. On a positive note I had no dewing of the camera with the new auxiliary dew heater on.

While capturing the images for this object I noted that the camera counts only 1 sec beyond the exposure setting and then begins the next capture. With the old laptop the camera would go 10-20 seconds beyond the exposure setting. Clearly the new laptop's speed is paying off.

At 2301 it is 77 F with 87% humidity. Skymeter reads 18.97, better than I expected based on the cloudiness of late afternoon.

June 23, 2017
My Gemini software & firmware haven't been updated since I bought the mount in 2014 and there have been several updates published. The first step was to establish connectivity between my laptop and the Gemini system.  I set up the HP Omen laptop to talk to the Gemini system via ethernet cable through a Pluggable USB 2.0 Ethernet Adapter. No cross-over adapter was used. I had to assign a static IP address to the Ethernet adapter using the excellent instuctions on Tom Hilton's webpage; . Following the instructions for the “direct method” I was able to log onto the Gemini web interface. The ethernet connection shows up in the Network Sharing Center as “Ethernet 3”. To access the web interface, I used Chrome and in the address bar entered the address The web interface operates the mount and accesses the functions in the hand controller. There is no indication given on the hand controller that a computer is accessing the Gemini system.

I ran the GFU per the instructions at . The download failed at 20% and so I hit start again and the download seemingly froze at 71% for over 10 min. After some experimentation I determined that my internet speed was extremely slow. After relocating my WiFi bridge to get a stronger signal, I retried the GFU and it worked! As the instructions advised, the GFU did error out after the SRAM Reset. I cycled the power on the Gemini and it started flashing the hand controller. It worked !! Now my Gemini's firmware is updated - WooHoo !!

I closed and restarted the GFU to update the catalogs . The download does take a long time (> 15 min) for the Gemini to upload the catalogs to the hand controller. Now my catalogs are up to date also. It took a long time to resolve the internet connectivity issues, but I achieved the desired result. Now I just need a clear night so I can observe.

June 30, 2017
Came out a little after 9 pm on a warm, muggy night. The sky is reasonably clear for the first time in weeks. Will be my first time using the newly upgraded Gemini system. Installed the ASI071MC-COOL at prime focus with the Lumicon Deep Sky filter.

Slowly cooled down the camera to -10C but I got some distortions on the right side of the image and a small black crystalline shape near bottom center. There also appeared to be some darkening in the center of the FOV. I raised the temp to 10 C and it looks a bit better. The dewing/freezing issues with this camera are very frustrating.

H 584-2, NGC 6235
A smallish (~ 5 ') globular cluster (GC), roughly circular in shape, in a dense star field. The core is very compact with only a few discrete stars discernible. On the E side there is a long line of stars running from the SW to the NE. On the W side there is a semi-circle of 5 stars, one of which appears to be a double.
stack of 4 x 180 seconds, gain = 400, chip temperature = - 10 C, no dark frame subtraction

H 11-6, NGC 6284
A compact GC in a dense star field. The GC is roughly circular brighter stars in the S half. Stars in the center are not discrete but merged. Apparent size is ~ 4 '.
stack of 4 x 180 seconds, gain = 400, chip temperature = 10 C, no dark frame subtraction

H 48-1, NGC 6356
A circular GC with a bright core that is unfortunately blown out in my 120 second images. The GC sits in a dense star field of fairly uniform distribution. There are 2 larger stars in the FOV to the ENE of the GC about 10 & 20 ' distant.
Stack of 4 x 120 seconds, gain = 400, chip temperature = 10 C, no dark frame subtraction

At 2325 it is 78 F and 95% humidity. Sky meter reading is 18.38. Not a bad night given the heat, humidity, half moon in the W, and occasional clouds. Clouds became more prevalent after 2300 and I shut down at 2350.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

May 2017 Observing Report

May 1, 2017
Came out around 2130 on a clear warm night. Setup the scope again at prime focus using 4” of focuser rings and both the Lumicon Deep Sky and the Badder UV/IR filters. Used the SharpCap Bhatinov mask focusing aid to bring in the focus @ 35 mm and then synced the model on Arcturus. I cleaned both filters so hopefully I got rid of that dark circle in my images last night. Earlier today I down loaded the newest Sharpcap 3.0.3855.0 . Will see how it works tonight. At first look, it is virtually identical other than a few new options like flat creation and subtraction. Not thrilled that in order to do dark field subtraction I have to buy the license. At 10 British pounds / year it isn't that much money, but a trial period would have been nice.

H28.1-4 NGC 4038 & 4039 – Antennae galaxy (ARP 244) 
A wonderful enigmatic object.  Two interacting galaxies (NGC 4038 & 4039) in what looks like a larva with a circular head.  There are 4 bright regions in the tail section and 6 or more in the circular head.   There is only a hint of one of the wispy curving extensions that are shown in more detailed photos.  The FOV contains 2 bright stars and > 2 dozen fainter ones.  
Took a set of 4 min images. The light curve maxima is still only around 15%, so not a lot of signal even at 240 seconds.
Stack of 8 x 240 seconds, AGC = 400, camera at -10 C, dark frame subtracted

crop of above image

At 0049 it is 57 F with 98% humidity. Sky meter reading is 19.11.

H 587-2, NGC 6426
A smallish (~ 2 ') GC  in the constellation Ophiuchus approximately 67,500 light years from earth.  The GC is roughly circular shape.  There are only around 8 discernible bright stars in the GC core and many fainter ones.  The FOV is well populated.

stack of 5 x 180 seconds, gain = 400, chip temp = -10, dark frame corrected

crop of above image

This target would have benefited from longer exposures and more frames but even with targets that are 37 deg high and 110 in azimuth I am experiencing guiding performance in both axis!

I'm now getting a dark circle in the middle of the image that is obscuring the target !! ARGH !!! Turned cooler set point to 0 and then 10 to thaw it out. This is really frustrating. I know it is damp out but with the descant tabs the chip should stay dry enough to not fog over. I have the dew shield on the scope so the scope should not be fogging over.

H 72-8, NGC 6633
A nice bright OC in the constellation Ophiuchus consisting of about a dozen brighter stars and many fainter ones.  The central area is an oval in the SW to NE orientation. To the SW are 2 curving lines of stars; one curves to the WSW and onto the SE.  On the NE end of the oval is an a 5 dice pattern with a double star at the lower right position.  To the N of the cluster is a semicircle of 6 stars, concave to the cluster.  The star field is densely populated.

stack of 7 x 120 seconds, gain = 400, chip temperature = 0 C, dark frame corrected

I noted the guiding was much better on this target but still not great.

H 41-1, NGC 6514, Messier 20, The Trifid Nebula
A beautiful red nebula with dark lanes running through it.  Some faint blueish nebulosity (a reflection nebula) is visible W of the main red emission nebula where a bright star resides.    The star field is densely populated.  The main nebula is roughly circular and quite large.  I've seen this object before and imaged it with my Mallincam, but I've never seen it in this detail.  Luckily the guiding held the stars quite round for a stack of 11 x 3 min. The best looking image I've taken with this ASI071MC-Cool camera.  I didn't have a dark frame for 0 C, so there is some lightening along the bottom of the frame due to amp glow.
stack of 11 x 180 seconds, gain = 400, chip temperature = 0 C, no dark frame correction

This object is quite bright (apparent magnitude of 6.3) such that even a single 180 second exposure yields a reasonable image.
single 180 second image, gain = 400, chip temperature = 0 C, no dark frame correction

I shut down at 0243.

May 6, 2017
Came out at 2030 on a nice clear night. Hope to catch Jupiter and the GRS before it gets too close to the moon. Will be my first attempt at planetary with the ASI071MC-COOL camera. Set up at prime focus again with the Lumicon DS & Badder UV/IR filters on.  This setup yields a Field of View (FOV) of 40.4 ' x 26.8'.

I took several hundred images of Jupiter and stacked them in Registax, but the stacked images were no better than the singles.  The seeing just wasn't good enough for detailed planetary imaging.  I'll have to try again on a better night.

Resumed my Herschel 400 project. Camera still at prime focus with both filters in place.

H 19-6, NGC 5897
A GC with many discernible stars in the core.  Most stars in the core are of similar size but a few are larger.   The GC is roughly circular.   It resides in a densely populated star field with 1 bright star to the W of the GC.  To the SE of the cluster is a convex semi-circle of stars. 
Note the histogram on SharpCap couldn't be balanced so it is a bit greenish and lacking in red.  I haven't had this issue before.  Possibly influence from the near full moon.

stack of 7 x 3 min, gain = 400, chip temp = -10 C, dark frame subtraction

At 2327 readings are 57 F, 88% humidity, no wind. Sky Meter reading = 17.72 with a > 50% moon just past zenith.

H 280-1, NGC 6217
A small (approximately 3') galaxy in the FOV.  It appears to have a strong bar running NW to SE with a bright star just SE of the core.  No detail is discernible in the halo A well populated star field .  There is an asterism to the WSW of the galaxy that resembles the triangular shape of a pine tree.
stack of 10 x 3 min, gain = 400, chip temp = -10C, dark frame subtraction

Due to the size of this object, it would be better to use a barlow, but I doubt my seeing would have supported such magnification.  Stacking and cropping and then inverting the image, the shape of the galaxy is better viewed..
stack of 10 x 3 min, gain = 400, chip temp = -10C, dark frame subtraction, cropped & inverted

With NGC 6217 I'm still having a green hue to the images in SharpCap. I'm able to adjust in AstroToaster but I'm curious why this is happening.

H 215-1, NGC 5866, Messier 102
My observation matches the NGC 5866 pics and description in Wikipedia and other online sources but differ from what is in Deep Sky Planner and the DSS pic.  An edge on galaxy with a bright core region on both sides of the dust lane.  The galaxy is surrounded by 2 bright stars, one to the E and one to the W of the NW edge of the  galaxy.  The galaxy is in the constellation Draco and lies 50 mly from earth.

stack of 10 x 3 min, gain = 400, chip temp = -10 C, no dark frame subtraction
crop of the above image

H 195-2, NGC 6287, Melotte 163
A tight GC with a bright core.  Many individual stars are discernible around the core.   While the GC is circular, there are more stars to the NE & SW with fewer on the NW & SE sides.  The GC is in a very dense star field so its boundaries are had to determine.  It lies at a distance of 30,300 ly from earth.
stack of 7 x 3 min, gain = 400, chip temperature = -10 C, no dark frame subtraction

Shut down at 0211. The equipment worked well except for the greenish color hues apparently due to the full moon.

May 25, 2017
Tonight is clear and low (for SE LA) humidity and the new moon, so I had to come out for awhile.  Set up the ASI071MC-Cool at prime focus again with the Lumicon DS & Badder UV/IR filters on. This setup yields a FOV of 40.4 x 26.8 arc min.

My laptop is a Dell Inspiron 1764, CPU I3 M330, 2.13 GHz, RAM 4 GB, HD 454 GB, OS Windows 7 64 bit Home .  The USB ports are all USB 2 while the camera is USB 3.   I'm still having trouble with dropped frames and partially loaded images.  This is very frustrating, especially late at night.  I had the Turbo USB speed in SharpCap set at 40 but after some experimentation I increased it to 100.  With the Turbo USB at 100 I didn't suffer any dropped frames although I did have several that only partially loaded into SharpCap. Not sure if that is a camera or SharpCap issue.

H 165-1, NGC 4151
A small (~ 5') circular galaxy with a large bright core.  The halo extends 2-3 core diameters in all directions. There is no structure evident in the halo.  The galaxy is bounded to the E & SW by 2 stars of similar brightness & size.  There is a large reddish star to the S.  There is a smaller elliptical galaxy to the NE of NGC 4151.  It has a bright core and the halo extends 2 core diameters to the E & W and 3 core diameters to the N & S.  No structure is evident in the halo.  Unfortunately the images only partially loaded into the computer - ARGH !@#%&*#$  Will have to image this object again.

H 176-1/ H 177-1, NGC 4656/4657, The "Hockey Stick" galaxy
An intriguing galaxy that is long and slender running NNE to SW.  It is broader and fainter on the SW end and on the NNE end  the galaxy is bent NNW, hence the name "hockey stick galaxy".  The deformation is due to interaction with neighboring galaxy NGC 4631.  The Hockey Stick is slightly brighter near the middle but there is no discernible core. There is what appears to be a star near the middle SE side.  In the NE half there is a bright nodule at the point that the galaxy's "arm" bends N.  The star field is relatively spars in the immediate vicinity of the galaxy but there are stars surrounding it.
stack of 8 x 3 min, gain = 400, chip temp = 0 C, no dark frame subtraction, cropped

I didn't guide on NGC 4151 and yet the images looked fine. I did guide on NGC 4656 and the guiding was good, no spurious peaks.  At 2301 the sky meter reading was 18.96. It is 66 F and 83% humidity. A nice night considering it is nearly June. Shut down at 2310.

May 26, 2017
Came out a little before 2100 on a clear dark night with unseasonably dry conditions. I cleaned both filters well before this session to hopefully avoid the distortions observed last night. NOTE: this did work as the textile pattern was not observed even when greatly stretching the data.

I had to rebuild the mount model as I accidentally hit cold start on the Gemini hand controller– argh ! Amazing the download speed with the TURBO USB set to 100%. Rarely does an image go beyond a second or two past the exposure time.

Returned to NGC 4656 to capture a better image the first 3 min image was dropped - @@*&#%! Second image came up with a large black spot in the middle of the FOV ! Cooler is at -10, so I backed off the cooling to 0 and then 5 C. I had cooled the sensor down very slowly, irritating the difficulties I'm having with this.

I couldn't get to NGC 4656 without the camera coming too close to the pier, so I changed to M 57. The black spot has gone as I had warmed the camera to 5 C. I tried cooling it back to -5 and the spot returned so I went back to 5 C. I captured 2 light frames and then lost the next 5! Very frustrating! I don't know what to do about this other than get a laptop with a USB 3 input and hope that resolves the issue. I collected 10 light frames and 5 dark frames.

stack of 10 x 3 min, gain = 400, chip temp = 5 C, dark frame subtracted in AstroToaster

At Turbo USB = 100 I still see some redish lightening at the bottom of the frame, but not as bad as it was with Turbo USB = 40.

At midnight the sky meter reading was 18.82. It is 72 F & 99% humidity. Much more humid than last night. Clouds are gathering in the west.  Shut down for the night.