Mike's Astro Photos

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Oct.23 2014

Galaxy NGC 7331

by , under Galaxies

Here’s the first astrophoto I’ve published since the spring. This is a spiral galaxy called NGC 7331 and its located approximately 40 million light-years away from Earth. This galaxy is similar in size and structure to our own galaxy and is sometimes called the Milky Way’s twin. The fuzzy dots surrounding the picture are also galaxies, there are three prominent ones that appear to be hovering above the main galaxy in this photo. In reality they are just much farther away and that’s why they appear smaller. There are several other galaxies scattered around the picture. These are just a few of the 200 or so billion galaxies in our Universe, each containing about 100 billion stars.

Galaxy NGC 7331 – October 20th, 2014

The image above was cropped in order to show the galaxy in higher resolution. The full un-cropped image is below.

Galaxy NGC 7331 – October 20th, 2014

Image Details for Galaxy NGC 7331
RGB: 3 hours each
Luminance: 6 hours
Total exposure: 3 + 3 + 3 + 6 = 15 hours!
Camera: Apogee U16M
Guider: SBIG 402 with MMOAG Off Axis Guider
Telescope: RCOS 14.5
Mount: Paramount ME
Location: Auberry, CA
Date: Over Multiple Nights in October 2014
Software: The SkyX, MaximDL, FocusMax, CCDAutoPilot, CCDStack, Photoshop

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Jan.23 2014

Super Nova in the Cigar Galaxy

by , under Galaxies

Was yesterday one of those days when you felt a disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced? Well it wasn’t just a feeling. As it turns out, a super nova was detected in the Cigar Galaxy yesterday. Super Novas are the largest explosions in the Universe and this one could be seen from over 11.5 million light years away! Don’t worry about all those souls that were vaporized in this cosmic eruption. It happened a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.

You can see the super nova in this image from this morning. Its the bright star near the bottom center of the galaxy just below the red gas outbursts.

Super Nova Inside the Cigar Galaxy

For reference, check out this image of M82 I took last spring. Clearly, that star was not there then. From what I have read, the Nova is expected to brighten over the next two weeks.

Here’s a single frame of the galaxy taken through a clear filter for future reference.

Super Nova in the Cigar Galaxy – Single 20 minute exposure through clear filter – January 23rd, 2014

This was a relatively quick exposure of just 40 minutes X red, green and blue and 60 minutes of Luminance. I blended in a few hours of luminance data from last year to help sharpen the details in the galaxy.

Image Details for Super Nova in Cigar Galaxy
RGB: 40 minutes each
Luminance: 1 hour + 4 hours of old data
Total exposure: 3.5 hours
Camera: Apogee U16M
Guider: SBIG 402 with MMOAG Off Axis Guider
Telescope: RCOS 14.5
Mount: Paramount ME
Location: Auberry, CA
Date: January 23rd, 2014
Software: The SkyX, MaximDL, FocusMax, CCDAutoPilot, CCDStack, Photoshop

 

 

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Jan.06 2014

Messier 1 – The Crab Nebula

by , under Nebula

The Crab Nebula is a great example of what a star looks like soon after it has run out of fuel, collapsed on itself and blown up in a super nova explosion — one of the largest and most violent releases of energy the Universe has to offer. Long before Charles Messier cataloged it, the ancient Chinese witnessed the super nova that created The Crab Nebula as it erupted, recording the phenomenon in their history books and detailing its location, brightness and longevity. The exploding star was so bright it could even be seen during the daytime.

Below is my first photo of the new year, Messier #1 — The Crab Nebula. It looks more like a sea sponge or luffa to me, but this object got its name from an early observer who described the fuzzy ball as looking like a crab. The image below is a long exposure photograph taken from my ground based observatory in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It’s a combination of 2 hours of Red, Green and Blue PLUS 7.4 hours of Luminance (clear) and 8.6 hours of Ha for a total exposure time of : 2 + 2 + 2 + 7.4 + 8.6 = 22 hours! To spice things up a little bit more, I added a layer of X-Ray data captured by one of NASA’s space based telescopes, The Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Note: the diagonal line on the bottom right of the Nebula is not a satellite but actually a refraction spike from a bright star nearby but off frame.

The Crab Nebula – With Chandra X-Ray Data – January 4th, 2014 – Credit Mike Hankey & NASA Chandra X-Ray Observatory

The Chandra X-Ray data reveals a neutron star in the center of the Crab Nebula that was hypothesized and later discovered in the 1960s. Below is an x-ray image of the Crab Nebula taken by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. I blended this X-ray photo as a layer with my final LRGB-Ha image.

M1 – The Crab Nebula X-RAY – Photo Credit: NASA Chandra X-Ray Observatory

You might be wondering how I knew where to put the X-Ray data or where it is inside my picture. I was subtle about blending it in, but to give you an idea of where the x-ray data is relative to the visual light data, take a look at this image of the Crab Nebula published by NASA using data collected from Hubble, Chandra and Spitzer space telescopes. (This was the guide I used to place the Chandra data on my picture).

Crab Nebula – Hubble, Chandra & Spitzer Space Telescopes – Photo Credit: NASA

Visit this link, if you are wondering what my Crab Nebula Image looks like without the x-ray data, or check out this animated gif showing my image of the Crab Nebula with and without the x-ray data.

As a final thought, The Crab Nebula is approximately 4,000 light years away, so if the Chinese saw it explode 1000 years ago, how many years ago did it actually blow up? This is a little bit of a joke, but I actually thought about that for a second and it got me wondering about how long the Crab Nebula has looked this exact way, and I wonder how it must have looked just a few days after the super nova went off. As it turns out, the gases in this nebula are still expanding and photos taken over a series of years actually show the clouds growing. Especially the x-ray images! Watch this movie showing changes in the Crab Nebula’s clouds over just six months or check out the Crab Nebula photos inside the Chandra X-Ray Image Archive to see how things have changed over the years.

Image Details for Messier 1 – The Crab Nebula
Narrow Band Ha – 8.6 hours
RGB: 2 hours each
Luminance: 7.4 hours
Total exposure: 8.6 + 7.4 + 2 + 2 + 2 = 22 hours!
Camera: Apogee U16M
Guider: SBIG 402 with MMOAG Off Axis Guider
Telescope: RCOS 14.5
Mount: Paramount ME
Location: Auberry, CA
Date: Over 6 nights in December
Software: The SkyX, MaximDL, FocusMax, CCDAutoPilot, CCDStack, Photoshop

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Dec.23 2013

Horse Head Nebula

by , under Nebula

When I first started learning about astronomy, there were three deep space objects that really captivated my attention: The Andromeda Galaxy, The Orion Nebula and the Horse Head Nebula. As time passes and I come back to these targets I appreciate things about them I never knew or noticed before. After getting involved with horses this year I started thinking about the Horse Head Nebula again and wanting to image it. Its not visible in the summer, but this past November, as soon as the conditions and time were right, I started working on it. I just finished up last week. Over 38 hours of exposure time through 7 different channels on more than 20 different nights contributed to this final picture below. Its a combination of light data collected through narrow band (Ha, Oii & Siii), RGB (Red, Green & Blue) and Luminance (clear) filters.

Horse Head Nebula – December 2013 – Click To Enlarge

Image Details for The Horse Head Nebula
Narrow Band Ha, Oii, Siii: 7.6 hours each
RGB: 3 hours each
Luminance: 6 hours
Total exposure: 7.6 + 7.6 + 7.6 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 6 = 37.8 hours!
Camera: Apogee U16M
Guider: SBIG 402 with MMOAG Off Axis Guider
Telescope: RCOS 14.5
Mount: Paramount ME
Location: Auberry, CA
Date: Over 20 nights from November through December
Software: The SkyX, MaximDL, FocusMax, CCDAutoPilot, CCDStack, Photoshop

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Dec.04 2013

Comet Lovejoy – C/2013 R1 Lovejoy

by , under Comets & Meteors

While I have been mourning the passing of Comet ISON I take solace in the fact that there is another great comet that can be seen and imaged right now. Here’s a photo of Comet 2013 R1 Lovejoy, a new comet discovered earlier this year.

C/2013 R1 Lovejoy – December 2nd, 2013

This image is the result of 5×120 second RGBL images tracking the comet and 1×30 second RGBL to capture the star background. Quite a bit of processing goes into making a pretty comet picture. Enjoy :)

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Nov.29 2013

Latest ISON Photos

by , under Comets & Meteors

Here’s the latest photo from SOHO today:

Comet ISON – November 29th, 2013 – SOHO LASCO C3 – Credit NASA/ESA

It looks like the comet has started producing a new tail.

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Nov.28 2013

Comet ISON Survived

by , under Comets & Meteors

Contrary to the initial reports that suggested ISON died a fiery death as it plunged into the sun, ‘something’ emerged from the sun later than planned. A dust trail without a nucleus was the first suggestion. Now it appears the dust cloud is starting to get brighter. Check out this animation from the LASCO space telescope showing ISON go around the sun.

Animation of ISON going around Sun – November 28th, 2013 – Credit LASCO / NASA

Here are the frames used to make this animation of comet ISON.

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Nov.27 2013

Comet ISON Today

by , under Comets & Meteors

Here’s a photo from NASA’s SOHO spacecraft. Comet ISON just entered its field of view today. The space ship should be able to watch the show as the comet goes around the sun tomorrow!

Comet ISON From SOHO Space Craft – November 27th, 2013 – Photo Credit NASA / SOHO

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Nov.19 2013

Reprocessed Comet ISON Photo

by , under Comets & Meteors

Here’s a reprocessed version of my comet ISON photo from Nov 15th, right around the time of the outburst. This image uses the Luminance channel. It was a bit of work to stack it all together, and it changes the color, increases the resolution but also dims some of the finer features. I think I like the original one better, but since the clouds on both coasts have kept me from imaging I figured I’d work with the data I already collected.

Comet ISON – November 15th, 2013

This photo is the result of 3×60 seconds exposures, one each through red, green and blue filters and 3×60 seconds of luminance or clear filter shots.

For more photos of comet ISON, check out my comet ISON images page.

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Nov.17 2013

Looking for ISON in November 2013

by , under Comets & Meteors

Due to clouds and high humidity I have not been able to observe Comet ISON the last two days. The window of opportunity to catch ISON in darkness from my California observatory, while the comet is still above the 15 degree viewing threshold, is almost over. I might have 1 or 2 days left at best. Moving forward my efforts will be focused on DSLR photography of comet ISON. For the next week or so of November, ISON will be visible right before dawn on the horizon in the south east. We will then have to take a break while the comet goes around the sun. At this point the comet will only be viewable by NASA and ESA space based telescopes, but don’t worry several of them will be pointed at ISON while it grazes the sun.  At some point in December, if the comet survives passage around the sun, we will start to be able to see it again in the western sky at and after dusk. If this happens it will be a spectacular sight potentially stretching across half of the sky.

Here is some information to help you observe comet ISON in November and December 2013. These ISON sky charts were created using the program Stellarium. Stellarium is a free planetarium software program that you can use to model the sky and solar system at your location. You will have to follow some special instructions to get comet ISON to show up in Stellarium. For power users, I have posted this information below.

Where is Comet ISON in November 2013 and what time will Comet ISON be visible in November 2013?

Most people interested in Comet ISON want to know where it is, what time it will be there, if they will be able to see it with their naked eye and what it will look like. Over the next week these ISON sky charts will help you find the comet while it is still visible in November.

This (Nov 18-Nov 25) is the last week to watch ISON before it passes the Sun! these ISON sky charts will help you over the next 6 weeks. To find it look in the East at 5:30 AM. 

On Monday, November 18th, 2013 the comet will be visible low in the eastern sky by 5:30 am. The best viewing time for comet ISON this week will be between 5:30 – 6:00 AM. Here is a sky chart with Comet ISON for reference.

Sky Chart for Comet ISON – November 18th, 2013

By the following Monday, November 25th, 2013, we will no longer be able to see ISON because it will be rising with the Sun. At this point we will have to eagerly wait to see what happens. I am thankful NASA has space telescopes that will watch ISON as it orbits the Sun.

Comet ISON Sky Chart – November 25th, 2013


How to show Comet ISON inside Stellarium?

The best way to plan out your Comet ISON observing session is the the planetarium program Stellarium. Once you download and install it, to add Comet ISON, follow these instructions:

  • Press the ‘Configuration Window’ button on the left
  • Press ‘Plugins’ Tab
  • Press ‘Solar System Editor’
  • Press ‘Configure’ Button
  • Press ‘Import Orbital Elements in MPC Format’
  • Press ‘Add Objects’ Button
  • Select ‘Comets’ Radio Button, then ‘MPC’s list of observable comets’, then press ‘Get Orbital Elements’ Button.
  • In the add objects search box enter ‘C/2012 S1 (ISON)’, select the check box and press the ‘Add Objects’ Button.
  • Now you will be able to search for ISON, see where it is inside stellarium for your location, and change the viewing data and time.

This is certainly the BEST way to know how to find ISON in the sky. Good luck and happy observing!

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Nov.15 2013

Comet ISON Still Shining

by , under Comets & Meteors

Capturing ISON was challenging again this morning, but I was able to sneak out one short exposure (1 x 60 seconds x RGB) in between clouds. It looks like it has changed again since yesterday.

Comet ISON – November 15th, 2013

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Nov.14 2013

ISON Really Bright Today!

by , under Comets & Meteors

What a surprise it was to image ISON this morning. I immediately noticed a significant brightness. I only had about 20 minutes of image time due to the sun rising and ISON’s current low elevation. This may be the last telescope photo of ISON I take before it goes around the sun. This image is only a 60 second exposure of RGB. The clouds ruined the viewing for most of the morning and this was the first and only set of frames I could get. Feeling lucky :)

Comet ISON – November 14th, 2013 – VERY BRIGHT!

Here is an alert email from Mike Kelly about ISON brightening this morning.

Dear Comet ISON Observers,

There are several reports of a dramatic increase in comet ISON’s
brightness this morning.  Total magnitude estimates, reported to the
Yahoo Comets Mailing List, are around 6.5 to 6.0.

Emmanuel Jehin (TRAPPIST) reports a factor of 8 increase in OH and
Afrho (dust) in the last 24 hours.  He also reports that there is not
yet an indication of disruption.

A nice set of images by Juanjo Gonzalez can be found at
http://cieloprofundo.files.wordpress.com .  Note the bottom two images
are taken the 12th and 14th of November.

Observations are clearly need to determine how long this trend
persists, if any fragments appear, or the nucleus disintegrates.  If
ISON is undergoing a fragmentation or disruption phase, expect another
ISON Alert!

Best,
Mike Kelley

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Nov.11 2013

Comet ISON Photos

by , under Comets & Meteors

I was eager to look at Comet ISON images this morning, but a little disappointed with the second tail as it actually seems fainter in today’s pictures than it did yesterday. I think this is most likely due to differences in seeing conditions between the two days (maybe a little hazier for me today). Either way here are my latest ISON photos from this morning. Here is a page with all of my Comet ISON photos.

Comet ISON LRGB – November 11th, 2013

Here is just the luminance channel. You can see the second tail a little more clearly in the black and white photo.

Comet ISON – November 11th, 2013

Image details: 15 minute luminance channel (5×180) and 3 minute RGB. (1×180) at 3×3 binning.

For more Comet ISON photos going back to September 2013 visit my Comet ISON Photo page.

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Nov.10 2013

Comet ISON – New Tail Feature?

by , under Comets & Meteors

I noticed a new prominent feature in the tail of Comet ISON while imaging it this morning. It looks like a thin jet towards the top.

Comet ISON – November 10th, 2013

Below is a comparison of today’s image with the last one I took just two days ago on November 8th. You can see the trail is just barely visible on the 8th.

Comet ISON – November 10th, 2013 vs November 8th, 2013

 

Here is an inverted version of the same picture. Its a little easier to see the features in the inverted picture.

Comet ISON Inverted – November 10th, 2013 vs November 8th, 2013

Here’s the color version of just the comet this morning.

Comet ISON – November 10th, 2013

And here is the color stacked with trailing stars. (I will come back another morning to image the star field and complete the final picture).

Comet ISON – November 10th, 2013

These images are the result of 5×3 minute exposures of Red, Green, Blue and Luminance at 3×3 binning on the morning of November 10th, 2013.

If you have noticed this feature already, please email me links to your most recent images. I’d love to compare. ;)

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Nov.08 2013

Comet ISON Observations

by , under Comets & Meteors

I’ve been diligently imaging Comet ISON each morning possible since mid September. It is changing nearly everyday, getting bigger brighter and a longer. Comets in general are challenging to image and each one has its own little quirks: how bright it is, how fast its moving, how much dark time there is available to image. For ISON we have only had about 1 hour each morning to image which doesn’t leave a lot of time for a long exposure. On a whim, I decided to combine 3 days worth of data together to get a better image. Here is a picture of Comet ISON that was taken over a three day period, November 2nd, 3rd and 8th.

Comet ISON – Composite Image from November 2nd, 3rd & 8th, 2013

Image processing is a big part of the challenge with getting a nice comet image. There are several different ways to process and look at the picture. The easiest thing to do is to just stack on the comet and have the stars trail like this image below.

Comet ISON – November 2nd, 3rd & 8th 2013

While you can get a good view of the comet, the background doesn’t look so nice. We see trails of red, green, blue and white because the telescope is tracking the comet with each exposure. When we combine the image centering on the comet, the stars don’t line up in the same place, leaving us with streaked multi-colored stars.

Its a time consuming process, but what you need to do is reject all of the stars out of the pictures while stacking the RGBL frames. This will give you an image of just the comet with no stars.

Comet ISON – November 2nd, 3rd & 8th, 2013

Once you have the comet isolated, you then stack just the stars or re-image the star background on another day (when the comet isn’t there). Then merge the 2 images (the comet only and the starfield) using the photoshop overlay feature and you will have a nice combination of a clear starfield and a well defined comet.

Image Details for Comet ISON
Shot With 30 minutes of RGB and 1 hour of LUM
Total exposure: 2.5 hours
Camera: Apogee U16M
Guider: SBIG 402 with MMOAG Off Axis Guider
Telescope: RCOS 14.5
Mount: Paramount ME
Location: Auberry, CA
Date: November 2nd, 3rd & 8th
Software: The SkyX, MaximDL, FocusMax, CCDAutoPilot, CCDStack, Photoshop

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