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Chris Kennedy
British freelance photographer, amateur astronomer, traveller and barman!
British freelance photographer, amateur astronomer, traveller and barman!

Chris's posts

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Messier 82 - The Cigar Galaxy

This galaxy sits some 12 million light years away in the constellation of Ursa Major (The Big Dipper/Saucepan/Plow), North of the star Dubhe (this is one of the two stars I use to find Polaris).

This galaxy is a starburst galaxy, due to interaction with the nearby M81 galaxy, it is making new stars within its core 10x faster than the entire of the Milky Way, indeed it’s 5x brighter than our own galaxy and at its core 100 times more luminous than our galaxies core.

I first photographed this galaxy back in February 2014 using my old LX90 mount and Nikon D300 SLR camera, it was a photo I considered great at the time, I could see structure and the recent supernova.

I then photographed it again in September 2015, learning how to use my new ATIK414ex mono camera and mount, by then the supernova had well and truly faded away, but I got more detail, less noise and again was happy enough with the image.

This image, is the culmination of what I have learnt over a year since getting a new mount and camera, learning more about processing, guiding and really developing the patience required to do justice to these objects.

Defeating flexure with using an Off-Axis Guider (OAG) has made a big difference, learning how to use PHD2’s software drift align, has helped get my guiding within 0.5” of movement, rather than the 4-16” I used to get.

Processing improvements, mostly have been a dark art, but being gentle with the adjustments, relying on a principle of “less is more”, and just getting more data per channel has made life easier.

Still a great deal to learn, but really loving the process.

With this image, I want to get H-alpha data, to show the hydrogen gas jetting out from both the top and bottom of this galaxy and add a little bit more blue data in, as I was short by six subs.

This was tricky to shoot, whilst the red channel was done easily on a clear January 3rd night, with no clouds at all, the green and blue data took considerable effort, shot January 4th-5th - clouds, haze and a lovely, yet annoying Moon made my efforts span from 8PM to 4:30AM

Technical Info:

Location: Nottinghamshire, England.

Conditions: Sub-urban light pollution, light breeze, cloud banks and haze on the second night.

Equipment: Meade LX90 8” SCT, reduced to f/6.3, ATIK414ex mono CCD, cooled to 20c +/ 0.5c, ATIK Electronic Filter Wheel, OAG with ASI120mm mono guide cam, Filters, Baader CCD RGB set.

Software, EQMOD, PHD2, Artemis Capture, Photoshop CC 2017

Data: RGB, Flats, R 30 x 300s, G 30 x 300s, B 24 x 300s – 7 Hours Capturing.

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November 2nd and 8th I did battle with clouds and worked on acquiring this photo of the Horsehead - this is made from 30x720 second exposures, giving me six hours of acquisition time, I actually shot 51 exposures, but scrapped 21 due to quality.

Now just for a break in the weather so I can shoot the OIII data. 

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The Crab Nebula s a supernova remnant and pulsar wind nebula in the constellation of Taurus.

This is the remnant of a supernova that Chinese astronomers saw in 1054. The nebula is some 6500ly away and is expanding outwards at some 1500km/s or 0.5% the speed of light.

At the center of the nebula lies the Crab Pulsar, a neutron star 28–30 kilometres across with a spin rate of 30.2 times per second, which emits pulses of radiation from gamma rays to radio waves. At X-ray and gamma ray energies above 30 keV, the Crab Nebula is generally the strongest persistent source in the sky.

The pulsar in the center is so powerful and the material around it dense enough, that using Hubble, astronomers can make out ripples around the star.

Photographed this last night using my rig, not super happy with the result, but for a "quick" image at only four hours, not too shabby I guess.

Ha x 20 @ 360s
OIII x 20 @ 360s
Total exposure, 4 hours, taken using my ATIK414ex attached to my LX90 8" SCT via an f/6.3 focal reducer.

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The Elephant's Trunk Nebula

Gorgeous nebula found in the constellation of Cepheus has been the focus of my attention and the attention of my tiny little scope for the past few weeks, work, clouds and the fading end of light skies from British "summer" have been all against me.

This is now a complete "bi-colour" image of this impressive nebula, with Sulphur II mapped to Red and Hydrogen Alpha mapped to Blue.

This image is a stitch of three panels, each panel made from 20x480s Ha and 20x960s SII, all taken from my suburban garden using a Meade LX90 8" SCT reduced to f/6.3 and captured via an +Atik Cameras 414ex mono.

Guiding was via OAG/ASI120mm with PHD controlling that side of things.

Once the data was grabbed, I stacked in DSS, using a preset selection of reference frames and then the mosaic is put together in Microsoft's "ICE", or Image Composite Editor - which is far simpler than "Hugin" and more consistent than Photoshop's "photomerge" feature.

After that, it goes in to Photoshop for channel mixing and levels, almost nothing else done to it, I like the palette here as it's not the albeit more accurate blend with Ha as red, but a more ghostly blue.

So what next, well....just need 16 hours of clear sky to get that OIII data in and make this a full Hubble Palette photo!

Hardest part of astrophotography for me, is going back over old images, thinking "that needs more data", "should have used longer exposures", "urghhh the stars aren't perfect", "urghhh that's not complete".....

One day, one distant day, I will sit down and go "that's spot on", though by that point I may actually have moved country just to avoid the clouds! :P

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Finally got to complete my SII data set of 20x960s and added it to my Ha set of 20x480s, which hasn't eliminated all the noise yet, but I have enough detail for me to consider OIII and the other panels for the first version of this image.

This is the tip of the Elephant's Trunk Nebula, and I've mapped Ha to blue, SII to red for this palette.

Taken using my Meade LX90 8" SCT, f/6.3 focal reducer and ATIK 414ex mono camera.


Hmm high cloud is scattering too much Moonlight, my Sky Backgound % has shot up, washing out detail, so that's 4x960s exposures binned - knew my luck would run out! by my math, I've got another 32 hours of imaging time to complete my data run on the Elephant's Trunk Nebula - is there that much clear sky in the entire year?!

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Technical Overview:

Meade LX90 8" SCT
f/6.3 Focal Reducer
ATIK414ex mono
Baader H-Alpha Filter

Exposure Length: 8 minutes (480s)
Sensor: -20c
Panel 1 (Top): 20x
Panel 2: (Mid): 20x
Panel 3 (Bottom): 14x

7.2/8 Hours Imaging time (Last panel needs 6 more shots)

Follow through:
60 x Ha (480s)
60 x O3 (Unknown, presume longer than Ha)
60 x SII (Unknown, presume longer than Ha)

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Mmmm guiding is good tonight, so good!
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