Category Archives: AstroCamp

The Pinwheel Galaxy (M101)

The Pinwheel Galaxy (also known as Messier 101, M101) is one of the largest disk galaxies known with a visible diameter of 170,000 light years. This grand-design face-on spiral galaxy is located at a distance of 27 million light-years from us in the constellation Ursa Major

A unique feature of M101 is the high population of extremely bright star-forming regions (called H II regions) scattered across its spiral arms. Observational evidence indicates that close gravitational interaction with companion galaxies created waves of high mass and condensed gas which continue to orbit the galaxy centre. These tidal forces compress interstellar hydrogen gas, which then triggers strong star formation activity. The lopsided asymmetric structure of M101 is also due to the tidal forces from these local gravitational interactions.

Right ascension: 14h 03m 11.88s | Declination: +54° 21′ 00″ | Distance: 27 Million Light Years | Field of view: 37.4 x 24.9 arcmin

Camera: SBIG STL-6303E
Telescope: PlaneWave Instruments CDK 12.5 F/7.9
Guiding: External 80mm F/4 guidescope with an Atik 314L+ for guiding
Mount: Paramount PME
Filters: Astrodon Series E LRGB
Exposures: Luminance (34 x 5min), Red (12 x 5min), Green (14 x 5min), Blue (13 x 5min)
Binning: Luminance 1×1, RGB 2×2
Total exposure: 6 hours
Image composition: LRGB
Scale: 0.73 arcsec/pixel
Image acquired: Over 8 nights during May & June 2013

Image capture with MaxIm DL, FocusMax, ACP; Image processed with MaxIm DL, PixInsight, Photoshop CS4

M17 – The Omega Nebula

M17-v2hpLocated in the rich star fields of the Sagittarius area of the Milky Way, the Omega Nebula is one of the brightest and most massive star-forming regions of our galaxy. The visible nebula is illuminated by the massive stellar cluster NGC 6618. The core of the cluster is exceedingly rich in massive young stars and may contain up to 100 “O” and “B” type stars which illuminate the nebula although the stars are heavily obscured by dense and dusty foreground clouds.

Right ascension: 18h 20m 48s | Declination: -16° 11′ 04″ | Distance: 5,500 Light Years
Field of view: 57 x 38 arcmin

Camera: SBIG STL-6303E
Telescope: PlaneWave Instruments CDK 12.5 F/7.9
Guiding: External 80mm F/4 guidescope with an Atik 314L+ for guiding
Mount: Paramount PME
Filters: Astrodon Ha (5nm), OIII (5nm), SII (5nm)
Exposures: Ha 24 x 10 min; OIII 24 x 10 min; SII 21 x 10 min
Total exposure: 9.5 hours
Image composition: Colour Mapped Narrowband SII:Ha:OIII (Hubble Palette)
Scale: 0.73 arcsec/pixel
Image acquired: 16-30 July 2013 from AstroCamp, Nerpio, S.E. Spain

Image capture with MaxIm DL, FocusMax, ACP; Image processed with MaxIm DL, Photoshop CS4, FocusMagic (Hubble Palette Colour Mapping following method by Bob Franke)

M16 – The Eagle Nebula

M16-v3The gas columns of M16 are illuminated and eroded by the massive star cluster (NGC 6611) which is visible at the centre of the image.  The cluster was born during a recent star burst period beginning some 2 million years ago and contains approximately 460 stars including about a dozen of spectral type O that emit huge amounts of UV radiation and which have created the surrounding field of ionised interstellar gas.  The flood of ultraviolet radiation from the young star cluster is effectively boiling away the surface of the gas columns by a process of photoevaporation in which less dense gas is slowly evaporated from the surface of the pillars.  This exposes denser material deep within the globule-like structures and produces the fascinating three dimensional shapes that are visible at the centre of M16.

Right ascension: 18h 18m 48s | Declination: -13° 47′ 04″ | Distance: 7,000 Light Years
Field of view: 57 x 38 arcmin

Camera: SBIG STL-6303E
Telescope: PlaneWave Instruments CDK 12.5 F/7.9
Guiding: External 80mm F/4 guidescope with an Atik 314L+ for guiding
Mount: Paramount PME
Filters: Astrodon Ha (5nm), OIII (5nm), SII (5nm)
Exposures: Ha 6 x 10 min; OIII 15 x 10 min; SII 15 x 10 min
Total exposure: 6 hours
Image composition: Colour Mapped Narrowband SII:Ha:OIII (Hubble Palette)
Scale: 0.73 arcsec/pixel
Image acquired: 1-8 July 2013 from AstroCamp, Nerpio, S.E. Spain

Image capture with MaxIm DL, FocusMax, ACP; Image processed with MaxIm DL, PixInsight (DBE), Photoshop CS4, FocusMagic (Hubble Palette Colour Mapping following method by Bob Franke)

The Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) from Nerpio, Spain


A classic spiral galaxy in the constellation Canes Venatici – it is 30 million light years distant and 60 thousand light years across with an estimated mass of 160 billion solar masses.  One arm of the galaxy is interacting with a smaller galaxy (M51b or NGC 5195).  The very pronounced spiral structure of the Whirlpool Galaxy is believed to be the result of the gravitational interaction between it and its companion galaxy.

This image represents something of a departure for me as my emphasis to date has been on narrowband imaging.  The dark clean skies at AstroCamp in Spain now open up the possibility of capturing high quality broadband colour data.  Image reduction and luminance deconvolution was carried out using MaxIm DL.  PixInsight was used for further pre-processing and colour calibration, LRGB composition, noise reduction and sharpening.  Final processing and jpeg creation for publishing on the web was carried out in PhotoShop CS4.

Right ascension: 13h 29m 53.88s | Declination: +47° 12′ 00″ | Distance: 30 Million Light Years
Field of view: 37.4 x 24.9 arcmin

Camera: SBIG STL-6303E
Telescope: PlaneWave Instruments CDK 12.5 F/7.9
Guiding: External 80mm F/4 guidescope with an Atik 314L+ for guiding
Mount: Paramount PME
Filters: Astrodon Series E LRGB
Exposures: Luminance (30 x 5min), Red (21 x 5min), Green (21 x 5min), Blue (21 x 5min)
Binning: All filters 1×1
Total exposure: 7.7 hours
Image composition: LRGB
Scale: 0.73 arcsec/pixel
Image acquired: Over 9 nights during April & May 2013

Image capture with MaxIm DL, FocusMax, ACP; Image processed with MaxIm DL, PixInsight, Photoshop CS4

Autoguiding with the Atik 314L+


I use an external guidescope and camera to guide the PlaneWave CDK 12.5 at AstroCamp.  The initial set-up using a 60mm F/3.8 guidescope and Lodestar guider did not provide enough precision to guide the CDK 12.5 operating at F/8 with a resolution of 0.73 arcsec/pixel.  When autoguiding with MaxIm DL it is recommended that the guide camera has a resolution of 1/10th of the main camera.  The resolution of Lodestar and 60mm guidescope was 15.2 arcsec/pixel.

The image shows the upgraded guiding system now in use at AstroCamp.  It uses a Telescope Service 80mm F/4.1 mini-refractor and Atik 314L+ guider.  Note the flexure-free mounting using ADM hardware and hose clips – thanks to Steve Cannistra for the idea.  The resolution of this set-up is 8.1 arcsec/pixel – much closer to the 1/10th plate scale ratio difference recommendation.  The Atik 314L+ CCD makes a great guider.  It has set point cooling, very few hot pixels and a larger field of view than the Lodestar which guarantees picking up a suitable guide star.  When guiding with MaxIm DL and ACP using the Atik 314L+ it is necessary to use a custom ST-4 compatible guide cable to switch the X and Y axes.  A wiring diagram for this custom cable can be downloaded here.

Cosmic Tadpoles – IC410

Ha image of emission nebula IC410 acquired using my system at AstroCamp, Nerpio, Spain. Comparing this with the image of IC410 (below) taken using my ST-10/Megrez 120 system in Bristol shows the benefit of the dark skies at AstroCamp enabling an equivalent image in terms of signal-to-noise ratio to be acquired in less than a third of the total exposure time. The higher resolution of the STL-6303E/CDK 12.5 system at AstroCamp can be seen although it is not as significant as might be expected. This is probably explained by a combination of poor seeing at AstroCamp over the three nights of acquisition and the high precision guiding by the Starlight Xpress Active Optics unit attached to the system in Bristol.

Right ascension: 05h 22m 44.17s | Declination: +33° 24′ 45.2″ | Distance: 12,000 Light Years
Field of view: 37.4 x 24.9 arcmin

Camera: SBIG STL-6303E
Telescope: PlaneWave Instruments CDK 12.5 F/7.9
Guiding: External 80mm F/4 guidescope with an Atik 314L+ for guiding
Mount: Paramount PME
Filters: Astrodon Ha (5nm)
Exposures: Ha 10 x 10 min
Total exposure: 1 hour 40 minutes
Image composition: Monochrome Ha
Scale: 0.73 arcsec/pixel
Image acquired: 7&8/01/2013; 29/01/2013

Image capture with MaxIm DL, FocusMax, ACP; Image processed with MaxIm DL, Photoshop CS4, Focus Magic, Silver Efex Pro 2

Emission Nebula in Cassiopeia (Take 2) – IC1795

First published image from my remote telescope hosted with AstroCamp at Nerpio, S.E. Spain (aka iTelescope T18). It has taken me almost a year to prepare and get the system fully working for integration into the iTelescope.net global telescope network. Thanks to the AstroCamp and ITelescope teams for all your help. It is fantastic to see the system working hard every clear night. The clear dark skies at AstroCamp enable OIII and SII images with good signal-to-noise to be acquired in less than half the time it takes from my suburban observatory in Bristol.

Right ascension: 02h 27m 05.32s | Declination: +62° 02′ 07″ | Distance: 6,000 Light Years
Field of view: 37.4 x 24.9 arcmin

Camera: SBIG STL-6303E
Telescope: PlaneWave Instruments CDK 12.5 F/7.9
Guiding: External 80mm F/4 guidescope with an Atik 314L+ for guiding
Mount: Paramount PME
Filters: Astrodon Ha (5nm), OIII (5nm), SII (5nm)
Exposures: Ha 24 x 10 min; OIII 12 x 10 min; SII 12 x 10 min
Total exposure: 8 hours
Image composition: Colour Mapped Narrowband SII:Ha:OIII (Hubble Palette)
Scale: 0.73 arcsec/pixel
Image acquired: 4-6 January 2013 from AstroCamp, Nerpio, S.E. Spain

Image capture with MaxIm DL, FocusMax, ACP; Image processed with MaxIm DL (Fat Tail Deconvolution), Photoshop CS4

PlaneWave CDK 12.5 operational at AstroCamp

I am just back from a four day visit to the AstroCamp observatory in the mountains of S.E. Spain where I finalised the installation of my PlaneWave CDK 12.5 telescope. The system is now ready to Go Live on the iTelescope.net network later this month. The system specification is presented below.

Instrument Package:
CCD: KAF-6303E (NABG)
Pixel Size: 9um square
Resolution: 0.73 arc-secs / pixel
Cooling: Set to -25°C
Array: 3072 x 2048 (6.3 Megapixels)
FOV: 37.41 x 24.94 arc-mins
Filters: Astrodon Series E LRGB, Astrodon 5nm Ha, SII, OIII, Photometric V

Telescope Optics:
OTA: Planewave CDK
Optical Design: Corrected Dall-Kirkham Astrograph
Aperture: 318mm (12.5”)
Focal Length: 2541mm
F/Ratio: f/7.9
Guiding: External 80mm guidescope with Atik 314L+ guider
Mount: Paramount PME

The system is hosted by AstroCamp – a remote telescope hosting facility set up in 2009 by a group of Spanish astronomers. The observatory is situated at an elevation of 1,660 metres above sea level near the village of Nerpio in Albacete, S.E. Spain. It is surrounded by the mountain ranges of Granada and Murcia and the Cazorla National Park with no big towns or cities with 200 km radius. Consequently it offers very dark skies with a Sky Quality Meter (SQM) reading of ≥22 magnitude per arcsecond squared and over 200 clear nights per year.

Pickering’s Triangle and Witch’s Broom Nebula – NGC6960

This is the western portion of the Cygnus Loop – a large supernova remnant in the constellation of Cygnus. The image was acquired remotely using the iTelescope.net T16 telescope located at the AstroCamp observatory, Nerpio, SE Spain.

Right ascension: 20h 48m 02s | Declination: +30° 57′ 36″ | Distance: 1,400 Light Years
Field of view: 75.4 x 113.1 arcmin

Camera: SBIG STL-11000M
Telescope: Takahashi TOA-150 iTelescope.net T16
Filters: Astrodon Ha, OIII
Exposures: Ha 13 x 10 min; OIII 17 x 10 min
Total exposure: 4 hours
Image composition: Bi-spectral Narrowband [Ha] [OIII] [OIII 75% + Ha 25%]
Scale: 1.69 arcsec/pixel
Image acquired: 16 & 23 August 2012 from Nerpio, Spain

Image capture with MaxIm DL, FocusMax, ACP; Image processed with MaxIm DL (Fat Tail Deconvolution, DDP), Photoshop CS4