Surveying the night sky is one of my favorite activities now and I am usually sitting here outside with my templatized astrophotography gear, flask, and equipment. I live in a heavily populated area surrounded by houses and businesses that brings a lot of light pollution. I usually wait for a couple of hours post-sunset to start imaging since I see the views get progressively clearer through the night. I also have a relatively limited field of view from my backyard so can follow an object for a few hours before it hits a tree or a building.
I absolutely love my Nexstar 5SE as it has been a great starting point giving me rewarding visuals, but at the same time wasn’t too intimidating. I could plant the mount in my backyard, level it, do a 3 star align and get to imaging in a matter of minutes. Using a planetary camera meant I had to work with a laptop which limited my mobility a bit, but it wasn’t bad at all.
After a few nights of imaging planets, as much as I loved seeing/imaging the great red spot on Jupiter, the Cassini Divisions on Saturn and mountains on the moon (like Montes Appeninus), I realized that I was craving for more, which was some deep sky action. Having seen some mindblowing visuals from the likes of Astrobackyard (Hat-tip to you, Trevor, if you’re reading this – You’re the reason, Im, pursuing this hobby!) I knew that I was in a totally different league and had a really long way to go, but I wanted to take baby steps.
I realized that I would get star trails with my alt-az mount for anything over 10-15s exposures. In good atmospheric conditions, I would get as much as 30s, but usually, I would stick to a 10-20s view. It was essentially like trying to look at a pebble at the bottom of the pool! With my f/10 scope, it meant that I could capture very little light in a 10s span. Stacking a LOT of 10s subframes could get me some views and that is exactly what I did for several nights, with a lot of failures. Often times, I would end up getting my alignment incorrect and notice that I kept imaging the wrong spot in the sky! Or in other cases, I would get star trails even for very short exposures. And there were other nights where I set everything up but would forget to charge my DSLR batteries. I fumbled through this phase for many nights and eventually got a recommendation from one of my Instagram friends to use a pixel tw-283 intervalometer.
This enabled me to program a sequence of captures without needing to be physically present to click each image. I used this approach to click about 30-40 minutes worth of data on my initial few deep-sky targets, like the dumbbell nebula and the ring nebula.
While the processing on pixinsight or photoshop has been a steep learning curve, I was quite pleased with my first captures. Considering that these were captures I got from a stock Nikon DSLR from my heavily light polluted backyard, with ‘0’ experience in doing this, was incredibly exciting and fulfiling. I was literally speechless the first time I saw the final stacked images of the dumbbell nebula show up on my screen.
I knew I had a long way to go but I was mighty impressed with my first few deep sky images with a mount that wasn’t necessarily meant for deep sky astrophotography!
Then again, I hit the limits of my trusty Alt-Az mount very soon and realized that I had to go for a GEQ mount to do any more deepsky astrophotography.
The Ring Nebula or Messier/M57 in the constellation Lyra is one of the most recognizable deep sky targets relatively high on the horizon and easy to spot. This image is about 40 minutes of exposure time with 10s subs
The Dumbbell Nebula or Messier/M 27, a planetary nebula in the Vulpecula Constellation is a common deep-sky target since it is relatively bright and close at 1360 light years. This image is 45 minutes of exposure time with 10s subs
Here is a quick challenge for a flat-earther. Just literally sit in your backyard and chill for a few hours looking at the night sky, and you will see objects moving in a predictable pattern around the earth every night, proving that the earth is a sphere. Then again, who am I kidding?! Its all a conspiracy and NASA has a giant LCD in the sky a la The Truman Show 😀