Sunday, November 30, 2014

Finishing the Astronomical League Bright Nebula list anytime soon? Not very likely.

The ALBN requires 100 objects to be imaged, and I'm in need of 26 more to finish. There are 62 listed objects that I can choose from according to the published list. Let's see how that shakes out.

First eliminate the bogus object on the list, IC 425, although I'm tempted to image its supposed location and count that as one. This leaves 61 Objects.

Next, eliminate all the objects that are too low to image from the locations I plan to use. The southernmost locations are the Iowa and Nebraska star parties at 41.8 and 42.6 degrees north, respectively. As a guess, these allow imaging to about 40 degrees south declination. This eliminates five objects: IC 4628, Gum 12, NGC 2736, NGC 6164, and NGC 6188. There are now 56 objects.

Now let's assume I want to avoid imaging objects that require very dark sites, namely those with Lynd's brightness 6. This includes eleven objects (Sh 2-218, LBN 619, 1064, 683, 8, 10, 1091, 19, 70, 140, and 434). There are now 45 objects available. (Tossing out the brightness 5 objects eliminates another 12 objects, leaving 33.)

Let's see how far I could get just doing the brightest objects. Brightness 1 has 4 objects, 2 has 4, 3 has 5, and 4 has 7. The total without dipping into the 5s is 20. There are some objects without assigned brightness that could add some to this: NGC 2174, Sh 2-264, LBN 962, NGC 2149, NGC 2296, NGC 6357, NGC 6729, and IC 4812. These lift the total to 28! Only two objects to spare!!

Actually, LBN 20 and 22 (brightness 5) share a field, so there are three to spare.

A first pass at the optimum months for imaging these can be found using SkyTools3.

January: IC 2169, LBN 943, Sh 2-280, NGC 2296, IC 468, NGC 2359
May: LBN 1122
June: LBN 20, LBN 22, NGC 6357, Sh 2-12, Sh 2-13
July: IC 4812, NGC 6729, LBN 52, IC 4701
November: IC 360, NGC 1555, NGC 1579
December: LBN 945, NGC 1931, Sh 2-264, NGC 1999, Sh 2-240, LBN 962, NGC 2149, NGC 2174, IC 2162

This is where the bad news rears its ugly head. Sixteen (nineteen minus the three spare) objects must be imaged during the winter months. Given the terribly cloudy (not to mention cold) winters we've had lately, this becomes problematic. It's probably going to be necessary to dip into the dimmer objects that are available in spring and summer. These include LBN 683, 1088, 10, 1091, 19, 11, 8, 70, and 490. That's only 9, though, which means that at least seven of those winter objects will need to be imaged.

Conclusion: I might be at this for a couple of years yet!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Lens Happy

A visit to National Camera Exchange's used lenses page turned up a manual focus 200mm f/4 Olympus Zuiko OM lens. This should work with my ST-8300M, and old reviews suggest that it's got a chance of providing acceptable corner stars even when close to wide open. At a price of $40 it's worth a try. My impression is that the lens sells for $50-60 on the used market, which probably explains why it sat on NatCam's shelf for a long time at $90.

If you get the impression I've got a fixation with lenses, you're right. There have been too many objects that are a bit too large for my 422mm AT65EDQ, and I'm too impatient to make a mosaic for each of them. My telescopes currently give me a nice range of focal lengths:
  • 2350mm (C925 @ f/10)
  • 1480mm (C925 @ f/6.3)
  • 700mm (TV 102 @ f/6.9)
  • 422mm (AT65EDQ @ f/6.5)
These very roughly represent steps of two in scale. Extending these to shorter focal lengths with SLR lenses adds:
  • 135mm (Tamron OM @ f/5.6)
  • 70mm (Canon 17-70mm zoom @ f/5.6)
  • 50mm (Zuiko OM lens @ f/1.8)
  • 28mm (Tokina @ f/1.8)
The 200 mm lens fills the gap between scopes and lenses, taking the place of an old Tele-Astranar that won't reach focus with my CCD. Granted that these are a bunch of consumer-grade lenses I don't expect miracles from them.

The field of view of a 200mm lens used with an ST-8300 is huge: 5.1 x 3.9 degrees. Here are some objects that fit nicely into that field with a little room around the edges:
IC 1396, which is more extensive than Sky Tools depicts

Lagoon and Trifid Nebulae and vicinity.

Rho Ophiuchi Nebula and vicinity

Orion Nebula and vicinity

M 31 et al.

IC 1318 et al.

Rosette nebula
North America and Pelican Nebulae
The pictures represent the full field of a 200mm lens combined with an ST-8300 CCD camera as illustrated by SkyTools3.

There are more objects than these suitable for the 200mm lens, but this will make a good start!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A New Imaging Telescope, sort of.

Recently I've tried making a couple of mosaic images, but the process is slow. Given my circumstances it's typically a full night's work to make one piece of a mosaic. Wouldn't it be nice to use something that's fast with a much wider field of view?

One way to shoot wide fields is with a camera lens. Consumer-grade lenses tend to be mediocre imaging tools, though; their fields are not very flat and stars at the edges will show a lot of distortion unless the lens is closed down quite a bit. A good reference is Jerry Lodriguss' "Catching the Light" page about lenses. He recommends a number of lenses for imaging, some of which are within the reach of budget-minded imagers.

I'd like to add another lens, a fixed focal length Tamron 135mm Adaptall. It opens up to f/2.5, but it's actually quite decent at f/4. Here's what I mean:

400x400 Corners of a Tamron image
These are the four corners, each 400x400 pixels, from a stretched stack of 10-minute H-alpha exposures. The full frame is 3352x2532. The uneven brightness result from not applying a flat frame. Obviously it needs one!

For reference, here is the frame center:
Center 400x400 area
Center focus is sharp, and the corners are very good.

I originally purchased this lens back in the late 70's or early 80's for my OM-1 and it's been gathering dust since I went digital. Getting this mated with my SBIG ST-8300 was a minor adventure.

The Tamron was sold as a lens that can be used with a number of cameras. It was usually sold along with an adapter for the indended camera, in my case Olympus. SBIG sells a Canon lens adapter for the ST-8300 (A little pricey at $300, but it works). There are a whole bunch of adapter rings available to let OM-1 users put their lenses on their Canons, so the whole thing fits together: Adaptall lens | Adaptall to OM-1 adapter | OM-1 to Canon adapter | Canon adapter | ST-8300. Simple, right?

So now I can go wide. Instead of my AT65EDQ (422mm @ f/6.5) I can image with 135mm @ f/4. That's almost ten times the angular area with exposures that are a factor of 2.5 shorter. Nice.

Targets for this winter will be Barnard's Loop, Sh 2-240 (the Spaghetti Nebula), and whatever else the weather permits.

I'll also be testing an old 200mm lens I used with my OM-1. It only opens to f/6.3 and I suspect the optics are relatively poor. We'll see.