Back in the saddle!

It has been a long 76 days since the last time I pointed a camera at the night sky.¬†With the threat of possible rain later in the week, I decided to seize the opportunity last night to shake some rust off and get some practice under my belt. Only my second time out with the new monochromatic CCD, I was feeling the learning curve and ended up spending a lot more time on star alignment than I would have liked. The good news is, I remember going through a similar struggle when I started imaging with a DSLR off an equatorial mount too, so I’m sure this will pass with more practice. Another interesting challenge of using the CCD is the data acquisition time goes up by a factor of the number of channels you are integrating. To explain, on an OSC camera like a DSLR, your red, green, and blue channels are all captured at the same time. Let’s say you decide to capture an hour of data on a single target. To get “the same” hour of color data with a mono-CCD, you would need to capture an hour of red channel, and hour of green channel, and an hour of blue channel. There are a myriad of technical reasons to explain why those two images wouldn’t actually be the same, but for the purposes of illustrating time investment, you get the gist. The window between moonrise (1:17am) and when I finally was pseudo-focused and aligned wasn’t enough to really get what I needed on a target, so I just captured some Luminosity information on a well-known galaxy. I still struggle with focusing the CCD. Even with using TheSkyX focus tool and trying to be diligent and precise (visually) to get set up for an imaging run, I feel like the images are fuzzy or soft. I have questions like whether or not I need to refocus after changing filters and what is the best process for going about doing that without a RoboFocus. So the exciting part of the whole adventure was the location of the learning. Rather than drive an hour up to the HAAS (SHSU) Observatory in Huntsville or two hours to the Houston Astronomical Society Observatory in Columbus, I drove to the cul-de-sac in front of our new home location in Grimes county. There were a few active Chuck-will’s-widow, a Great Horned Owl, and various other critters weaving an ambient sound blanket under the stars. Depending on which LP map you reference, the area is yellow or green, but it is even still better than anything I see regularly where I currently live. I’m looking forward to being able to practice without the drive and to start accumulating some really deep data sets for creating (eventually) wall-hangers.

Whirlpool Galaxy
M51 – The Whirlpool Galaxy