Astronomy

I've always considered myself just another "Blind Watcher of the Sky" (see book by Rocky Kolb). The night sky has always intrigued me with mystique and beauty. On the one hand it shows me how small and insignificant I am, but on the other hand how there is order and beauty in everything.

Below are some of the astronomy photo's I've taken. Unfortunately the limited space on the host server does not allow me to load the full size images.

Post-CGEM Photo's with Celestron Nightscape

In December 2013 I bought a dedicated astronomy CCD camera. A Celestron Nightscape 8300, which is a 8.3MP cooled, color CCD. Also bought a Celeston 6.3 focal reducer, which reduces the f-stop from F10 to F6.3, allowing for shorter exposures and an increase in FOV.

I mainly use MaximDL for my deep space calibration/stacking and RegiStax for my planetary stacking. Then I use either PaintShop Photo Pro or PhotoShop for any post production enhancements.

[27-05-2017] 60 x 60 sec exposures (1 hour) of NGC 4755 (Jewel Box), with Sony α77 with Sigma 18-250mm lens and CGEM-1100.

I took these photos with my Sony mounted on the CGEM telescope for tracking. Took the photo's at 250mm/F10 and ISO 1600.

I was amazed at how accurate the predicted FOV was in Starry Night 7. I've included the FOV image from Starry Night. The orange box if the predicted FOV with my Sony and the lens at 250mm/F10.

NGC 4755 Jewel Box Cluster (Sony/Sigma)
NGC 4755 Starry Night 7 FOV

[20-06-2012] 66 x 60 sec exposures (1.1 hours) of M17 (Omega Nebula), with the Nightscape, Focal Reducer and CGEM-1100.

First time I've imaged this nebula with the Nightscape. Much more of the nebulosity is visible in this image.

I've pictured this nebula before so you can find the full description of the Omega Nebula below.

M17 Omega Nebula (NightScape/CGEM-1100)

[30-05-2015] 359 x 1/400 sec exposures of the moon, ISO 100 (Sony α77 with Sigma 150-500mm lens).

I took the photos using a tripod and with my lens at 500mm zoom. The photos where cropped in PaintShop Photo Pro and then I used RegiStax to stack the photos.

I also tried out a new tool, PIPP - Planetary Imaging PreProcessor, which you can use to automate the conversion of raw images and the centering of the object of interest in each image. It can even look for features in the images and center that. It can also extract images from video. This works very well with RegiStax.

Moon (Sony/Sigma)

[27-04-2014] 30 x 30 sec exposures of NGC5139 (Globular Cluster Omega Centauri), with the Nightscape, Focal Reducer and CGEM-1100.

I've pictured this nebula before so you can find the full description of the Globular Cluster Omega Centauri below.

NGC5139 Globular Cluster Omega Centauri (NightScape/CGEM-1100)

[27-04-2014] 60 x 30 sec exposures of NGC5128 (Hamburger Galaxy), with the Nightscape, Focal Reducer and CGEM-1100.

I've pictured this nebula before so you can find the full description of the Hamburger Galaxy below.

NGC5128 Hamburger Galaxy (NightScape/CGEM-1100)

[27-04-2014] 30 x 30 sec exposures of NGC 4755 (Jewel Box), with the Nightscape, Focal Reducer and CGEM-1100.

I've pictured this nebula before so you can find the full description of the Jewel Box below.

NGC 4755 Jewel Box (NightScape/CGEM-1100)

[19-01-2014] Lens vs. Telescope Zoom.

A number of people have asked me just how much my telescope zooms. I took the follow set of pictures, with my Sony α77, to demonstrate the difference between my camera lenses at different focal lengths and my telescope.

The sequence of photos are 1) Sigma 18-250mm lens at 18mm (x 0.64), 2) Sigma 150-500mm at 150mm (x 5.32), 3) Sigma 18-250mm at 250mm (x 8.86), 4) Sigma 150-500mm at 500mm (x 17.73), and lastly 5) my telescope with a focal length of 2,800mm (x 99.27). You can't even see the tree on the first photo, and just an indiscernible spec on the next three!

Zoom Test Sigma 18-250mm @ 18mm Zoom Test Sigma 150-500mm @ 150mm Zoom Test Sigma 18-250mm @ 250mm Zoom Test Sigma 150-500mm @ 500mm Zoom Test Celestron CGEM 1100 @ 2800mm

[05-01-2014] Relative sizes of the DSLR and CCD photos.

Out of interest, I thought I will include an image to show the relative angular sizes covered by my DSLR and the CCD cameras. These relate to the three of the photo's I've taken of the Orion Nebula and surrounding area.

The red box is the area covered by my Sony α77 using the Sigma 150-500mm lens, at a 150mm focal length. This covered about 8° 58'. This correlates to the photo taken on the 9th of January 2013.

The green box is the area covered by my Sony α77 connected to the CGEM-1100 telescope. This covered about 29'. This correlates to the photo taken on the 17th of December 2011.

The orange box is the area covered by my Celestron NightScape 8300, with the 6.3 focal reducer, and the CGEM-1100 telescope. This covered about 35'. This correlates to the photo taken on the 31st of December 2013. (Without the focal reducer the area covered would be smaller)

I did not include the reference to the photo I took with my Sony α77 using the Sigma 18-250mm lens, at a 18mm focal length (on the 1st of January 2012). The area covered is so large, that you would not be able to see the two smaller boxes. It covered about 74° 50'.

The image of the sky, which I used as a reference, is from the planetarium software Starry Night Pro Plus.

Relative angular sizes of DSLR and CCD photos

[03-01-2014] 12 x 5 min exposures of NGC2024 (Flame Nebula), with the Nightscape, Focal Reducer and CGEM-1100.

The Flame Nebula, designated as NGC 2024 and Sh2-277, is an emission nebula in the constellation Orion. It is about 900 to 1,500 light-years away.

The bright star Alnitak (ζ Ori), the easternmost star in the Belt of Orion, shines energetic ultraviolet light into the Flame and this knocks electrons away from the great clouds of hydrogen gas that reside there. Much of the glow results when the electrons and ionized hydrogen recombine. Additional dark gas and dust lies in front of the bright part of the nebula and this is what causes the dark network that appears in the center of the glowing gas. The Flame Nebula is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, a star-forming region that includes the famous Horsehead Nebula.

NGC2024 Flame Nebula (NightScape/CGEM-1100)

[31-12-2013] 15 x 2 min exposures of M42 (Orion Nebula), with the Nightscape, Focal Reducer and CGEM-1100.

After endless nights of clouds, I finally had a brief cloudless evening. This time the telescope was properly aligned and I used the autoguider.

Having a dedicated CCD makes a number of things easier. You can now do the focusing and positioning of the frame from your laptop, with a much bigger screen than a DSLR. I do miss the live view of my DSLR, but it only take a few seconds to download the photos to the laptop. The fact that the CCD is cooled also ensures that I have to deal with a lot less noise.

But one of the biggest advantages, at least for me, is that CCD software stores the photo's in a format which is native to all the astrophotography programs (FITS). This contains all the details on the object that was being photographed, exposure length, CCD temperature, etc. Even though MaximDL finally did support the Sony RAW format, it took must longer to process those images. Since the format is now native to the software the processing time is significantly shorter.

I've pictured this nebula before so you can find the full description of the Orion Nebula below.

M42 Orion Nebula (NightScape/CGEM-1100)

[27-12-2013] My telescope configuration as it is today.

The top photo shows the full setup (excluding the Celestron PowerTank and all the cables), with tripod, equatorial mount, optical tube assembly (OTA), counterweights, and guide scope.

The middle photo is a close-up of the CGEM computerized equatorial mount, and hand controller.

The bottom photo is a close-up of the 11" OTA, the 80mm guide scope with the NextGuide auto guider attached, and the Nightscape 8300 mounted at the back of the OTA (with a 6.3 Focal Reducer attached). You can just make out the 9x50 finder scope on far side. Also visible, on the near side, is the universal mounting bracket. I use this for when I want to mount my camera with its own lens.

The OTA has a Schmidt-Cassegrain optical design, 280mm aperture, a focal length of 2,800mm and focal ratio of 10.

My Celestron CGEM-1100 configuration
Close up of the Celestron CGEM computerized equatorial mount, and hand controller
Close up of Celestron 11" OTA, 80mm guide scope, NextGuide auto guider, and Nightscape 8300 CCD

[22-12-2013] 30 x 10 sec exposures of M42 (Orion Nebula), with the Nightscape, Focal Reducer and CGEM-1100.

This was a quick test to see if the Nightscape is working correctly. I did not align the telescope properly for this test.

All the image combining of the frames and the related Bias and Dark frames were all done with the bundled Astro FX software. I did some basic post processing with PhotoShop.

First image with Nightscape 8300, of M42 Orion Nebula (Nightscape/CGEM-1100)

Post-CGEM Photo's with Sony α77

In November 2011 I've upgraded my Sony α700 to the α77, which has a 6000x4000 pixel sensor and no longer uses a flip mirror. I also bought a Celestron NexGuide autoguider and guide scope in October.

I mainly use MaximDL for my deep space calibration/stacking and RegiStax for my planetary stacking. Then I use either PaintShop Photo Pro or PhotoShop for any post production enhancements.

[18-08-2013] 135 x 1/500 sec exposures of the moon, ISO 200 (Sony α77 with Sigma 150-500mm lens).

I took the photos using a tripod and with my lens at 500mm zoom. The photos where cropped in PaintShop Photo Pro and then I used RegiStax to stack the photos.

Moon (Sony/Sigma)

[09-01-2013] 45 x 2 min exposures (1.5 hours) of the Orion Nebula and Orion's belt , ISO 400  (Sony α77 with Sigma 150-500mm lens).

For this photo I used my camera with my Sigma APO 150-500mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM lens at 150mm and F5. I piggybacked the camera on the telescope, so I used the telescope just for tracking. The results were pretty good, except for significant chromatic aberration from the lens which I had to take out in post processing.

M42 (Orion Nebula) and its structure is clearly visible as well as the Running Man Nebula (NGC 1973, NGC 1975 and NGC 1977) just left of Orion Nebula. The Flame Nebula (NGC 2024) is visible just below the bottom most star of Orion's belt (Alnitak or ζ Ori). You can just make out the purple haze to the right of Alnitak, which contains the Horsehead nebula.

The Flame Nebula, designated as NGC 2024 and Sh2-277, is an emission nebula in the constellation Orion. It is about 900 to 1,500 light-years away. The bright star Alnitak (ζ Ori), the easternmost star in the Belt of Orion, shines energetic ultraviolet light into the Flame and this knocks electrons away from the great clouds of hydrogen gas that reside there. Much of the glow results when the electrons and ionized hydrogen recombine. Additional dark gas and dust lies in front of the bright part of the nebula and this is what causes the dark network that appears in the center of the glowing gas. The Flame Nebula is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, a star-forming region that includes the famous Horsehead Nebula.

M42 Orion Nebula and Orion's belt (Sony/Sigma)

[11-09-2012] 30 x 10 sec exposures (5 min) of the Milky Way, ISO 1600  (Sony α77 with Sigma 18-250mm lens).

The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains the Earth. This name derives from its appearance as a dim "milky" glowing band arching across the night sky, in which the naked eye cannot distinguish individual stars. The term "Milky Way" is a translation of the Classical Latin via lactea, from the Hellenistic Greek γαλαξίας κύκλος (pr. galaxías kýklos, "milky circle"). The Milky Way appears like a band because it is a disk-shaped structure being viewed from inside. The fact that this faint band of light is made up of stars was proven in 1610 when Galileo Galilei used his telescope to resolve it into individual stars. In the 1920s, observations by astronomer Edwin Hubble showed that the Milky Way is just one of many galaxies.

The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy 100,000–120,000 light-years in diameter containing 200–400 billion stars. It may contain at least as many planets, with an estimated 10 billion of those orbiting in the habitable zone of their parent stars. The Solar System is located within the disk, around two thirds of the way out from the Galactic Center, on the inner edge of a spiral-shaped concentration of gas and dust called the Orion–Cygnus Arm. The stars in the inner ≈10,000 light-years are organized in a bulge and one or more bars. The very center is marked by an intense radio source named Sagittarius A* which is likely to be a supermassive black hole. The Galaxy rotates differentially, faster towards the center and slower towards the outer edge. The rotational period is about 200 million years at the position of the Sun. The Galaxy as a whole is moving at a velocity of 552 to 630 km per second, depending on the relative frame of reference. It is estimated to be about 13.2 billion years old, nearly as old as the Universe. Surrounded by several smaller satellite galaxies, the Milky Way is part of the Local Group of galaxies, which forms a subcomponent of the Virgo Supercluster.

The Milky Way (Sony/Sigma)

[11-09-2012] 60 x 14 sec exposures (14 min) of Antares, ISO 800  (Sony α77 with Sigma 18-250mm lens).

Antares (α Scorpii, α Sco, Alpha Scorpii) is a red supergiant star in the Milky Way galaxy and the sixteenth brightest star in the nighttime sky. (It is sometimes listed as 15th brightest, if the two brighter components of the Capella quadruple star system are counted as one star.) Along with Aldebaran, Spica, and Regulus it is one of the four brightest stars near the ecliptic. It is the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius, and is often referred to as "the heart of the scorpion". Antares is a slow variable star with an average magnitude of +1.09.

My first attempt at piggybacking my camera on my telescope, and taking a wide angle photo. You can't miss the bright yellow Antares close to the center. To the far left of Antares you can clearly see M4 / NGC 6121. A bit more difficult to spot is NGC 6144, which a small fuzzy patch below and left of Antares.

The seemingly starless area below and right of Antares is the edge of the diffuse nebula IC 4606.

Antares (Alpha Scorpii), M4/NGC 6121, NGC 6144 (Sony/Sigma)

[24-06-2012] 57 x 2 min exposures (1.9 hours) of M8 (Lagoon Nebula), ISO 800 (Sony α77).

This time I recorded a longer total exposure, which brought out more of the nebulosity as well as more detail. I also used my autoguider (Celestron NexGuide).

I've pictured this nebula before so you can find the full description of the Lagoon Nebula below.

M8 Lagoon Nebula (Sony/CGEM-1100)

[18-06-2012] 126 x 60 sec exposures (2.1 hours) of M17 (Omega Nebula), ISO 800 (Sony α77).

This time I recorded a longer total exposure, which brought out more of the nebulosity as well as more detail. I also used my autoguider (Celestron NexGuide).

I've pictured this nebula before so you can find the full description of the Omega Nebula below.

M17 Omega Nebula (Sony/CGEM-1100)

[11-06-2012] 60 x 60 sec exposures (1 hour) of M4 (Cat’s Eye Cluster), ISO 400 (Sony α77).

Messier 4 or M4 (also designated NGC 6121) is a globular cluster in the constellation of Scorpius. It was discovered by Philippe Loys de Chéseaux in 1746 and catalogued by Charles Messier in 1764. It was the first globular cluster in which individual stars were resolved.

M4 Cat’s Eye Cluster (Sony/CGEM-1100)

[26-05-2012] 136 x 60 sec exposures (2.26 hours) of M83 (Southern Pinwheel Galaxy), ISO 1600 (Sony α77).

Messier 83 (also known as the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy, M83 or NGC 5236) is a barred spiral galaxy approximately 15 million light-years away in the constellation Hydra. It is one of the closest and brightest barred spiral galaxies in the sky, making it visible with binoculars. Six supernovae (SN 1923A, SN 1945B, SN 1950B, SN 1957D, SN 1968L and SN 1983N) have been observed in M83.

This time I used a higher ISO and an autoguider (Celestron NexGuide). The high ISO brought out more detail, but also introduce more noise, so I had to work on my post processing techniques to resolve this issue. The autoguider worked well, after finally getting a star bright enough for it to track on. I think it also helped that I finally got around to setting up my telescopes PEC (btw, using the autoguider to record the PEC with Celestron's PEC tool, works very well).

I've pictured this galaxy before so you can find the full description of the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy below.

M83 Southern Pinwheel Galaxy (Sony/CGEM-1100)

[14-04-2012] ±2000 frames of Saturn (Sony α77).

I used my Sony, with the Celestron, to capture a 1 min AVCHD video of Saturn. I then used Free Video to JPG Converter to extract about 2000 frames, which was then stacked with RegiStax.

Saturn (Sony/CGEM-1100)

[01-04-2012] 198 x 1/400 sec exposures of the quarter moon, ISO 400 (Sony α77).

The focus was on the area around the Tycho and Clavius craters, therefore the Mare Nubium appears a bit soft.

The photos where cropped in PaintShop Photo Pro and then I used RegiStax to stack the photos.

Moon up close (Sony/CGEM-1100)

[01-03-2012] 123 x 1/400 sec exposures of the quarter moon, ISO 400 (Sony α77 with Sigma 150-500mm lens).

I took the photos using a tripod and with my lens at 500mm zoom. The photos where cropped in PaintShop Photo Pro and then I used RegiStax to stack the photos.

Quarter Moon (Sony/Sigma)

[24-02-2012] 30 x 30 sec exposures of NGC3532 (Wishing Well Cluster), ISO 400 (with Sony α77).

NGC 3532, also known as the Wishing Well Cluster, is an open cluster in the constellation Carina. It got the name because through a telescope's eyepiece it appears like dozens of silver coins twinkling at the bottom of a wishing well.

About 1,321 light years distant and consisting of approximately 150 stars of 7th magnitude & fainter, NCG 3532 was the first target ever observed by the Hubble Space Telescope on May 20, 1990. Mimosa (Beta Crucis) & Delcrux (Delta Crucis) in the Southern Cross roughly point to NCG 3532 and it lies between the Southern Cross constellation and larger but fainter “False Cross” asterism with X Carinae the nearest star right next to the cluster but not a member and Eta Carinae & its famous nebula not too far away along with a bunch of other nearby deep sky objects. (3372, 3293 & I.2581.)

NGC3532 Wishing Well Cluster (Sony/CGEM-1100)

[07-01-2012] 48 x 1/500 sec exposures of the nearly full moon, ISO 200 (Sony α77 with Sigma 150-500mm lens).

I took the photos using a tripod and with my lens at 500mm zoom. The photos where cropped in PaintShop Photo Pro and then I used RegiStax to stack the photos.

Nearly Full Moon (Sony/Sigma)

[02-01-2012] Conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter, ISO 400 (Sony α77 with Sigma 150-500mm lens).

Jupiter is shown in close conjunction with the Moon in this photo. The inset is a 3x zoom of Jupiter and its moons, in which Callisto, Europa, Io, and Ganymede are clearly visible.

I used three photos to get this combined photo. The first, to get the detail of the moon and the position of Jupiter, was a 1/400sec exposure at 150mm zoom. The second, to pickup Jupiter and its moons, was a 1/5sec exposure at 500mm zoom. The third, to get the detail of Jupiter, was a stacked picture taken on the 17th of December 2011 through my CGEM.

Moon and Jupiter in conjunction (Sony/Sigma)

[01-01-2012] 108 x 5 sec exposures of Orion Constellation, ISO 800 (Sony α77 with Sigma 18-250mm lens).

This picture was taken with my sigma lens at 18mm zoom. Since these photos were unguided, you will note the movement of the stars on the edges.

The Orion constellation is a prominent and beautiful constellation in the summer skies in South Africa. Betelgeuse, Orion's belt and sword (with the Orion nebula) is clearly visible in the night sky. I have attached an annotated version of the photo showing the key stars, of the constellation, with their magnitude and distances.

Orion Constellation (Sony/Sigma)

[17-12-2011] 22 x 120 sec exposures of M42 (Orion Nebula), ISO 400 (Sony α77). - UPDATED - Used some new PhotoShop techniques to improve the photo.

The Orion Nebula (also known as Messier 42, M42, or NGC 1976) is a diffuse nebula situated south of Orion's Belt. It is one of the brightest nebulae, and is visible to the naked eye in the night sky. M42 is located at a distance of 1,344 ± 20 light years and is the closest region of massive star formation to Earth. The M42 nebula is estimated to be 24 light years across. It has a mass of about 2000 times the mass of the Sun. Older texts frequently referred to the Orion Nebula as the Great Nebula in Orion or the Great Orion Nebula.

The Orion Nebula is one of the most scrutinized and photographed objects in the night sky, and is among the most intensely studied celestial features. The nebula has revealed much about the process of how stars and planetary systems are formed from collapsing clouds of gas and dust. Astronomers have directly observed protoplanetary disks, brown dwarfs, intense and turbulent motions of the gas, and the photo-ionizing effects of massive nearby stars in the nebula. There are also supersonic "bullets" of gas piercing the dense hydrogen clouds of the Orion Nebula. Each bullet is ten times the diameter of Pluto's orbit and tipped with iron atoms glowing bright blue. They were probably formed one thousand years ago from an unknown violent event.

M42 (Orion Nebula) (Sony/CGEM-1100)

[17-12-2011] ±1800 frames of Jupiter (Sony α77).

I used my Sony, with only the 500mm lens, to capture a 3 min AVCHD video of Jupiter. I then used Free Video to JPG Converter to extract about 1800 frames, which was then stacked with RegiStax.

The result is truly amazing!

Jupiter from video (Sony/Sigma)

Post-CGEM Photo's

In 2011 I decided to take the plunge and buy a proper telescope. After long deliberation I decided to buy a Celestron CGEM 1100. This is a 11" Schmidt Cassegrain telescope on a motorized German Equatorial mount.

During this time I've also gained a much better understanding of astrophotography and as well as how to properly use the various pieces of software for calibration, stacking, and post-production.

I mainly use MaximDL for my deep space calibration/stacking and RegiStax for my planetary stacking. Then I use either PaintShop Photo Pro or PhotoShop for any post production enhancements.

My new scope all setup.

Celestron CGEM 11" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope with a computerized mount. Over time, I also added a Celestron 80mm finder scope with a Celestron NexGuide auto guider.

Celestron CGEM-1100

[21-09-2011] 71 x 30 sec exposures of M6 (Butterfly Cluster), ISO 800.

The Butterfly Cluster (cataloged as Messier 6 or M6, and as NGC 6405) is an open cluster of stars in the constellation of Scorpius. Its name derives from the vague resemblance of its shape to a butterfly.

The first astronomer to record the Butterfly Cluster's existence was Giovanni Battista Hodierna in 1654. However, Robert Burnham, Jr has proposed that the 1st century astronomer Ptolemy may have seen it with the naked eye while observing its neighbor the Ptolemy Cluster (M7). Charles Messier catalogued the cluster as M6 in 1764. It was not till the 20th century that star counts, distance, and other properties were measured.

M6 Butterfly Cluster (Sony/CGEM-1100)

[03-09-2011] 60 x 1/125 sec exposures of the Moon, ISO 200.

Since I could not fit the whole moon into a single shot, I divided the moon into 4 quarters and took 15 exposures of each quarter. Each quarter was then separately stacked and processed with Registax. After this, I stitched the 4 quarters together with Kolor Autopano Giga.

The Moon (Sony/CGEM-1100)

[28,29-08-2011] 118 x 60 sec exposures of M8 (Lagoon Nebula), ISO 800.

The Lagoon Nebula (catalogued as Messier 8 or M8, and as NGC 6523) is a giant interstellar cloud in the constellation Sagittarius. It is classified as an emission nebula and as an H II region.

The Lagoon Nebula was discovered by Guillaume Le Gentil in 1747 and is one of only two star-forming nebulae faintly visible to the naked eye from mid-northern latitudes. Seen with binoculars, it appears as a distinct oval cloudlike patch with a definite core. A fragile star cluster appears superimposed on it.

M8 Lagoon Nebula (Sony/CGEM-1100)

[24,25-08-2011] 63 x 60 sec exposures of M16 (Eagle Nebula), ISO 800.

The Eagle Nebula (catalogued as Messier 16 or M16, and as NGC 6611) is a young open cluster of stars in the constellation Serpens, discovered by Jean-Philippe de Cheseaux in 1745-46. Its name derives from its shape which is resemblant of an eagle. It is the subject of the famous "Pillars of Creation" photograph by the Hubble Space Telescope, which shows pillars of star-forming gas and dust within the nebula.

M16 Eagle Nebula (Sony/CGEM-1100)

[20-08-2011] 78 x 30 sec exposures of M17 (Omega Nebula), ISO 800.

The Omega Nebula, also known as the Swan Nebula, Checkmark Nebula, Lobster Nebula, and the Horseshoe Nebula (catalogued as Messier 17 or M17 and as NGC 6618) is an H II region in the constellation Sagittarius. It was discovered by Philippe Loys de Chéseaux in 1745. Charles Messier catalogued it in 1764. It is located in the rich starfields of the Sagittarius area of the Milky Way.

The Omega Nebula is between 5,000 and 6,000 light-years from Earth and it spans some 15 light-years in diameter. The cloud of interstellar matter of which this nebula is a part is roughly 40 light-years in diameter. The total mass of the Omega Nebula is an estimated 800 solar masses.

An open cluster of 35 stars lies embedded in the nebulosity and causes the gases of the nebula to shine due to radiation from these hot, young stars.

The Swan portion of M17, the Omega Nebula in the Sagittarius nebulosity is said to resemble a barber’s pole.

M17 Omega Nebula (Sony/CGEM-1100)

[24,29-07-2011] 72 x 60 sec exposures of M83 (Southern Pinwheel Galaxy), ISO 800. The exposures were taken over two nights.

Messier 83 (also known as the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy, M83 or NGC 5236) is a barred spiral galaxy approximately 15 million light-years away in the constellation Hydra. It is one of the closest and brightest barred spiral galaxies in the sky, making it visible with binoculars. Six supernovae (SN 1923A, SN 1945B, SN 1950B, SN 1957D, SN 1968L and SN 1983N) have been observed in M83.

M83 Southern Pinwheel Galaxy (Sony/CGEM-1100)

[21-07-2011] 57 x 60 sec exposures of M20 (Trifid Nebula), at ISO 800.

The Trifid Nebula (catalogued as Messier 20 or M20 and as NGC 6514) is an H II region located in Sagittarius. Its name means 'divided into three lobes'. The object is an unusual combination of an open cluster of stars, an emission nebula (the lower, red portion), a reflection nebula (the upper, blue portion) and a dark nebula (the apparent 'gaps' within the emission nebula that cause the trifid appearance; these are also designated Barnard 85). Viewed through a small telescope, the Trifid Nebula is a bright and colorful object, and is thus a perennial favorite of amateur astronomers.

M20 Trifid Nebula (Sony/CGEM-1100)

[07-07-2011] My first attempt a lower ISO level to reduce noise. 98 x 30 sec exposures of NGC 3372 (Carina Nebula), at ISO 800.

The Carina Nebula (also known as the Great Nebula in Carina, the Eta Carina Nebula, or NGC 3372) is a large bright nebula that surrounds several open clusters of stars. Eta Carinae and HD 93129A, two of the most massive and luminous stars in our Milky Way galaxy, are among them. The nebula lies at an estimated distance between 6,500 and 10,000 light years from Earth. It is located in the constellation of Carina. The nebula contains multiple O-type stars.

The nebula is one of the largest diffuse nebulae in our skies. Although it is some four times as large and even brighter than the famous Orion Nebula, the Carina Nebula is much less well known, due to its location far in the Southern Hemisphere. It was discovered by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in 1751–52 from the Cape of Good Hope.

Within the large bright nebula is a much smaller feature, immediately surrounding Eta Carinae itself. This small nebula is known as the Homunculus Nebula (from the Latin meaning Little Man), and is believed to have been ejected in an enormous outburst in 1841 which briefly made Eta Carinae the second-brightest star in the sky.

NGC3372 Carina Nebula (Sony/CGEM-1100)

[03-07-2011] 74 x 30 sec exposures of NGC 5128 (Centaurus A), at ISO 1600. It is also sometimes referred to as the Hamburger Galaxy, due to the dark band which runs through it.

Centaurus A (also known as NGC 5128) is a prominent galaxy in the constellation of Centaurus. There is considerable debate in the literature regarding the galaxy's fundamental properties such as its Hubble type (lenticular galaxy or a giant elliptical galaxy) and distance (10-16 million light-years). NGC 5128 is one of the closest radio galaxies to Earth, so its active galactic nucleus has been extensively studied by professional astronomers. The galaxy is also the fifth brightest in the sky, making it an ideal amateur astronomy target, although the galaxy is only visible from low northern latitudes and the southern hemisphere.

NGC5128 Hamburger Galaxy (Sony/CGEM-1100)

[25-06-2011] With my alignment a tracking a bit better I managed 8 x 3 min exposures of NGC 3324 (Gabriela Mistral Nebula), at ISO 1600. This really starting to look like something!

NGC 3324 is a star cluster at the northwest corner of the Carina Nebula (NGC 3372), home of the Keyhole Nebula and star Eta Carinae.

NGC3324 Gabriela Mistral Nebula (Sony/CGEM-1100)

[24-06-2011] 7 x 59 sec exposures of NGC 3918 Blue Planetary Nebula, at ISO 1600. The small blue dot in the middle.

NGC 3918 is a bright planetary nebula in the constellation Centaurus, that is called the "Blue Planetary" or "The Southerner". It is the brightest of the far southern planetary nebulae. This nebula was discovered by Sir John Herschel in March 1834, and is easily visible through small telescopes. The round or even slightly oval diameter is telescopically between 8 to 10 arcsec, though deep images extends this to about 19 or 20 arcsec. More surprising is the beautiful rich blue colour that looks much like the coloured images of Neptune taken by Voyager 2 in 1989..

NGC 3918 Blue Planetary Nebula (Sony/CGEM-1100)

[24-06-2011] My second night out. The alignment is still a bit off, but I managed 8 x 59 sec exposures of NGC 4755 (Jewel Box), at ISO 1600.
The inset is an earlier photo of the Jewel Box (see below), taken with my Sony and its 500mm Sigma lens. It is scaled to show the difference in appearance through my 500mm lens and my telescope.

The Jewel Box (also known as NGC 4755, the Kappa Crucis Cluster and Caldwell 94) is an open cluster in the constellation of Crux. As Kappa Crucis, it has a Bayer designation despite the fact that it is a cluster rather than an individual star.

It is one of the finest open clusters discovered by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille when he was in South Africa during 1751–1752. This cluster is one of the youngest known, with an estimated age of only 7.1 million years. It has an apparent magnitude of 4.2, and is located 6,440 light years from Earth and contains around 100 stars.

This famous group of young bright stars was named the Jewel Box from its description by Sir John Herschel as "a casket of variously coloured precious stones," which refers to its appearance in the telescope. The bright orange star Kappa Crucis contrasts strongly against its predominantly blue, hot companions. Kappa Crucis is a very large (hence very luminous) young star in its red supergiant stage, which paradoxically indicates that its life is drawing to a close. The cluster looks like a star to the unaided eye and appears close to the easternmost star of the Southern Cross, (Beta Crucis), so is only visible from southern latitudes.

Another cluster, NGC 457, has also a jewel-box-like appearance and lies virtually diametrally opposite this one in the sky in the constellation Cassiopeia.

NGC 4755 Jewel Box (Sony/CGEM-1100)

[23-06-2011] This photo of NGC 5139 (Globular Cluster Omega Centauri) was on the same night as the Sombrero Galaxy below. It is a stack of  28 x 10 sec exposures, at ISO 1600.

Omega Centauri (ω Cen) or NGC 5139 is a globular cluster in the constellation of Centaurus, discovered by Edmond Halley in 1677 who listed it as a nebula. Omega Centauri had been listed in Ptolemy's catalog 2000 years ago as a star. Lacaille included it in his catalog as number I.5. It was first recognized as a globular cluster by the English astronomer John William Herschel in the 1830s. ("Omega Centauri" is a Bayer designation, even though the object is a cluster.)

Orbiting the Milky Way, it is both the brightest and the largest known globular cluster associated with our galaxy (1.6 Em). Of all the globular clusters in the Local Group of galaxies, only Mayall II in the Andromeda Galaxy is brighter and more massive. ω Centauri is so different from other galactic globular clusters that it is thought to be of different origin.

It is located about 15,800 light-years (4,850 pc) from Earth and contains several million Population II stars. The stars in its center are so crowded that they are estimated to average only 0.1 light years away from each other. It is about 12 billion years old.

Omega Centauri is one of the few globular clusters visible to the naked eye and appears about as large as the full Moon. Kapteyn's star, which is currently only 13 light years away, is thought to originate from Omega Centauri.

NGC5139 Globular Cluster Omega Centauri (Sony/CGEM-1100)

[23-06-2011] This photo of M104 (Sombrero Galaxy) was one of my first attempts at astrophotography with my new telescope. The alignment was not very good, but I managed 10 x 30 sec exposures, at ISO 1600.

The Sombrero Galaxy (also known as M 104 or NGC 4594 ) is an unbarred spiral galaxy in the constellation Virgo. It has a bright nucleus, an unusually large central bulge, and a prominent dust lane in its inclined disk. The dark dust lane and the bulge give this galaxy the appearance of a sombrero. The galaxy has an apparent magnitude of +9.0, making it easily visible with amateur telescopes. The large bulge, the central supermassive black hole, and the dust lane all attract the attention of professional astronomers.

M104 Sombrero Galaxy (Sony/CGEM-1100)

Pre-CGEM Photo's

The photos below were taken, either with my Sony α700 (and previously a Minolta Dynax D7) on its own or with it connected to my Meade ETX125 telescope.

[16-06-2011] This was taken during the total lunar eclipse of the 16th of June 2011. It is a combination of a number of exposures during each stage of the eclipse. Each of these were stacked separately with RegiStax and then combined afterwards in PaintShop Photo Pro to get this sequence. All the exposures were with my Sony and its 500mm Sigma lens.

Lunar Eclipse (Sony/Sigma)

Jupiter and four of its moons. From the top it is Callisto, Europa, Io, and Ganymede (see annotated version). I've also added a close up of Jupiter, so that you can see the bands more clearly. I stacked 26 exposures of Jupiter (using Maxim DL) and then superimposed a single, longer exposure, to show the moons. All the exposures were with my Sony linked to the Meade.

Jupiter with Moons (Sony/Meade)

This is a shot of the Southern Cross with my Sony. The new camera resulted in a number of failed attempts until I finally got all the settings correct, but the end result was worth it with a lot more detail and less noise than my old Minolta.

On the larger photo you can also make out the colours of the stars. Yes, they are not all just white, but have slight yellow and blue hues. I've also attached an annotated version where the Jewel box is highlighted. You can easily see this cluster with binoculars.

The photo was taken with my Sony and a 105mm lens. This is a stacked image (using MaximDL) of 149 x 2.5 sec exposures at ISO-1600. It was taken on the 27th of April 2009.

Southern Cross (Sony)

This is a wide angle photo of Jupiter (centre) and the surrounding area.

You can just make out the milky way running through the top left hand corner. You can click here to see the same image as generated from Starry Night software. Careful examination reveals two emission nebulas (IC4703 and Sh2-45), one globular cluster (M22), and one open cluster (M25). An annotated image is available.

The photo was taken with my Minolta and a 28mm lens. This is a stacked image (using MaximDL) of 72 x 10 sec exposures (in total 12min exposure) at ISO-400. It was taken on the 1st of August 2008. Unfortunately the light conditions are very poor at home and you can make out the haze from Pretoria at the bottom part of the photo.

Jupiter wide angle (Minolta)

This photo was taken of the Orion Nebula (M42 or NGC 1976), in the sword of Orion, with my Minolta and the 500mm lens. This is a stacked image (using MaximDL) of 78 x 0.6 sec exposures at ISO-1600. This was taken on the 10th of May 2008.

Orion Nebula M42 or NGC 1976 (Minolta)

This photo was taken of the Jewel Box Cluster (NGC 4755), close to the Southern Cross (Crux), with my Minolta and the 500mm lens. This is a stacked image (using MaximDL) of 71 x 1/2 sec exposures at ISO-1600. This was taken on the 7th of May 2008.

With this fairly simple technique I was able to photograph stars down to magnitude 9 and even pick up the colors of the stars!

Jewel Box Cluster NGC 4755 (Minolta)

My first ever comet!! I think everyone in the world was amazed by the appearance of comet McNaught in 2006. In January 2007 it became visible with the naked eye in the Southern Hemisphere.

This was taken on the 18th of January at about 20:00, with my Minolta and a 500mm lens. It is a stacked image of about 25 exposures.

Comet McNaught (Minolta)

This was my first attempt at taking a planetary photo. The target was Jupiter and three of its moons. From the top it is Europa, Io, and Ganymede.

Due to the fact that Jupiter is significantly brighter than its moons, I had to combine a couple of photos. The first consisted of stacked images of about 50 exposures of Jupiter. Then I did a long exposure to get the moons. I then cut the over exposed Jupiter out of the moon photo and combined it with the stacked Jupiter image (using Paint Shop Pro).

All the exposures were with my Minolta linked to the Meade.

Jupiter with it's moons (Minolta/Meade)

This photo was taken of the moon with my Minolta linked to the Meade. This is a stacked image (using RegiStax) of about 70 exposures.

Moon (Minolta/Meade)