Friday, July 11, 2008

I am bad

Two or three of you might notice that there's been no installment of MEMORY this week. Yeah, I noticed that, too. And I have absolutely no excuse. Instead of writing in the evenings, I've been playing with my telescope--good seeing, bad seeing, it makes no difference. If there's a glimmer of starlight out there, I'm setting it up and scanning the skies. I'm also learnin' myself astrophotography, which dovetails into my overall photographic fixation of late. My early success last weekend spoiled me, as ensuing efforts on my part haven't shown the same dramatic levels of success. Case in point, M11, the "Wild Duck Cluster," which I shot last night (as opposed to writing):


Unimpressive, isn't it? This single-image shot is wholly unremarkable save that it documents my very first Deep Sky Object captured via astrophotography. Sky conditions were decent, with mild temperatures (for Texas in July, at any rate), humidity in the upper 60 percentile and clear skies. Unfortunately, continued strong light pollution in my neighborhood (street lights and residential flood lights) coupled with a bright half-moon and gusty wind severely limited my already-suspect ability to take any useable long-exposure images. Not to mention all the light pollution made it extremely difficult to focus.

Normally for DSO astrophotography, one takes a series of images--the more, the better, actually--and then stacks them using some software such as Photoshop, Deep Sky Stacker, Registax etc. Stacks of 20-100 images aren't uncommon, and the accumulated time of the exposures adds up to brighter, sharper images. Unfortunately, the wind was so strong that none of my images would register, that is, overlap each other with all the stars atop each other. Lots of doubling of stars, and squiggles and such. This is on top of my poor focus. The good news is that my slap-dash polar alignment was good enough to give me images with no noticeable star trails on 20-30 second exposures. There were definite trails on the 1 minute exposures I did, however. Out of all my shots, this one was the only one remotely salvageable.

M11 looked really cool through the eyepiece alone, however...

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