Richard Nolthenius - Astrophotography Gallery

I've got many photos on film, mostly wide field pictures. These will (maybe) some day be scanned and added to the web page. However, in 2005 the astronomy department aquired some quality astrophotography gear suitable for taking to prime dark sky sites, away from light-polluted Cabrillo College. I've really enjoyed learning how to use the new SBIG ST2000XCM single-shot color CCD camera. For smaller objects, the instrument of choice is our flourite Megrez 80mm f/6 refractor. For wider fields of view I use my Olympus Zuiko lenses; 100mm, 50mm, and 24mm. All are autoguided on our Losmandy GM8 mount. I continue to learn new little tricks for getting the most out this set up. In the interests of saving server space, all photos have been jpg'd from the original tif's. I'll be stalking more photos, and to guide me, here's my list of favorite deep sky astrophoto subjects. And here's a target list still being assembled. Other links: the Best NGC Objects. If you're looking for software to plot the sky, including deep sky objects and - most important - the actual boundaries of nebulae, try Carte du Ciel. It's free! Below are some of my better shots... In the descriptions, Astronomy Tools ver. 1 Photoshop Actions commands are described as AstroTools and given single quotes; e.g. 'make stars smaller'.

All taken with the SBIG ST2000XCM CCD Camera, or ST4000XCM CCD camera

The Orion Nebula. 1/30/06 from Coast Rd reservoir. 80mm Megrez refractor. 15+3x5+3x1min stack in Registax, curved and cropped in Photoshop 7.

Andromeda Galaxy. 10/29/05 @ Bonny Doon Airport.80mm Megrez refractor. sRGB + gamma, single-shot color processed in CCDOPS5, 6x5min stacked in Registax3, then curved, color balanced, saturation adjusted, and unsharp masked in Photoshop 7.

The Pelican Nebula in Cygnus - 10/29/05 Bonny Doon Airport.80mm Megrez refractor. RGB color processed in CCDOPS, 9x5min stacked in Registax3, standard wavelet processing, then curved, sized, and cropped in PhotoShop 7

Rosette Nebula - 10/29/05 @ Bonny Doon Airport. 80mm Megrez refractor. sRGB+gamma, single shot color processed in CCDOPS, 14x5min stacked in Registax3, curved and unsharp masked in Photoshop 7. Some twilight in last 2 frames.

The Veil Nebula. 10/29/05 @ Bonny Doon Airport.80mm Megrez refractor. 2x30min images, sRGB single-shot color processed with both the red and blue channels heightened slightly. Stacked using Photoshop layers, cropped, rotated, and leveled.

The Flame + Horsehead Nebulae. 10/7/05 @ Mercey Hot Springs. 80mm Megrez refractor. 4x5min stacked and wavelet filtered in Registax3, brightness, saturation adjusted in Photoshop 7. Autoguiding was not working.

The Cone Nebula -12/03/05 @ Carrizo Plain. 80mm Megrez refractor. sRGB single-shot color processed in CCDOps5. 5x5min shots stacked in Registax 3, then stacked w/ 2x30min shots, total of 85 minutes. Curved and cropped in Photoshop 7.

The Eagle Nebula. 10/22/05. 80mm Megrez refractor. 17x1min stacked in Registax3. Tracking was poor. Small adjustments to brightness and contrast, and unsharp mask in Photoshop 7. The .tif image looked much better before "save for web" in Photoshop.

The Helix Nebula. 20x1min. 80mm Megrez refractor. stacked in Registax3 and curved in Photoshop 7. Tracking was good, after I figured out the calibration command. No wavelet adjustments made. To fill the frame here, the original image was strongly cropped. You can click to see a larger image... but I wish you wouldn't. It's just 20 minutes, and this nebula has a notoriously low surface brightness; it requires several hours to do it justice.

The Plieades. 10/22/05. 80mm Megrez refractor. @ Andy's in Bonny Doon. Single 5min through cirrus clouds. Tweeked in Photoshop 7.

Comet Pojmanski. 3/8/06 from Upper Meadow at UCSC/Wilder Ranch at 4:52am PST. 80mm Megrez refractor. Single 5min shot, at 19 deg altitude through light cirrus. Way underexposed, but the sky would not cooperate.

Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 and the Ring Nebula. 5/7/06 Upper Meadow UCSC. Single 5-min shot, w/ Megrez. DDP single-shot color processing in CCDOPS 5. Levels, cropped in Photoshop 7.

Dark Nebula above M7 in Sagittarius. 7/02/06 - Sequoia Nat.Mon. 3x5min stack of a dark nebula above M7 in Scorpius, through the Megrez

The Lagoon Nebula. 7/02/06 - Sequoia Nat.Mon. 5x5min stack of the Lagoon Nebula. ST2000xcm CCD camera at prime focus through the Megrez

Open Cluster M6. 7/03/06. Sequoia Nat. Mon. Single 60 second exposure through the Megrez refractor

Globular Cluster M22 in Sagittarius. 7/02/06 - Sequoia Nat. Mon.. 2x5min stack, Megrez refractor. DDP single shot color processed in CCDOPS 5, unsharp mask, saturation, and cropped in Photoshop 7.

The North America and Pelican Nebulae 7/03/06 - Sequoia Nat. Mon. 2x5min stack, chip temp = -30C. 50mm f1.8 Zuiko lens stopped down to f/5.6. Contrast and saturation adjusted in Photoshop. No cropping.

The Scutum star cloud setting behind firs on the edge of the meadow. 7/02/06 - Sequoia Nat. Mon. Very short exposure - note the sharpness of the tree on this autoguided shot, and note the resulting digital noise

The Trifid Nebula, Sagittarius. 7/02/06 - Sequoia Nat. Mon. 8x5min stack of the Trifid Nebula, through the Megrez. sRGB+gamma single shot color processed in CCDOPS5. Levels, cropped in Photoshop 7.

Antares and Rho Ophiuchi Area. 7/19/06 - Bonny Doon. 3x10min stack. 50mm f/1.8 Zuiko lens stopped down to f/4. sRGB single-shot color processed. Levels, a bit of extra color saturation, and unsharp mask in Photoshop 7.

Lagoon/Trifid Nebulae Complex, Sagittarius. July 19, 2006 - Bonny Doon. Single 10min shot. 50mm f/4 Zuiko lens + ST2000XCM around and north of the Lagoon Nebula. CCDOPS5 sRGB+gamma single shot color processed. Unsharp mask, levels in Photoshop

Open Cluster M7 and tail of Scorpius. 7/19/06 Bonny Doon. Single 2min image 50mm f/1.8 Zuiko lens stopped to f/4. The low altitude reddened the stars.

The R Corona Australis star formation region, and the globular cluster NGC 6723 (mag 7.3). 7/29/06 Bonny Doon. 7x5min stack (35min) through the Megrez. Only 16 deg altitude. Color rebalanced towards the blue, unsharp mask, levels, and enhancement of both blue and red in Photoshop 7. This is a dim nebula at low altitude - it needs more like 2-3 hours to begin to do it justice.

The Dark Horse Nebula in Ophiuchus. 7/29/06. The hindquarters and back leg is also called the Pipe Nebula. 3x5min stack (15min) with 50mm f/1.8 lens stopped to f/4. Levels, unsharp mask, and color balance shifted towards blue to correct for atmospheric reddening.

The Eagle Nebula. 80mm Megrez refractor. 8x5min stack (40min) 7/31/06, from Andy's Lot in Bonny Doon. Levels, unsharp mask, and cropped in Photoshop.

Gamma Cassiopeiae Nebula. 8/17/06. 80mm Megrez refractor. 17x5min (85min) stack, chip T=-29C. Several of the exposures were affected by light cirrus which extended the halo around Gamma Cass itself. Levels, unsharp mask in Photoshop 7.

The Heart and Soul Nebula (IC 1805 & 1848) in Cassiopiea. 8/19/06.12x5min stack at T= -35C from Barcroft Labs with ST2000XCM and Zuiko 100mm lens at f/4.5. Focus was not good, and lots of bright speckles which I have not been able to remove. Photoshop CS2: AstroTools 'enhance DSO & reduce stars', 'deep space noise reduction', reduce stars, Levels, "smart sharp", unsharp mask in Photoshop CS2. The stars showed a noticable core/halo structure, due to lens imperfections, amplified since I had to pull like crazy to get this faint nebula to show up.


Galaxy M33. ~12x5min stack, from Grandview.80mm Megrez refractor. This image shows the danger of doing reductions in a hypoxic state.. I dark subtracted and flat-fielded the component images while carrying on a conversation with fellows at Barcroft Labs after 3 all-nighters and at 12,500 ft. I subtracted with the wrong dark frame, using the -35C frame instead of the -29C frame, meaning I only subtracted about 40% of the noise I should have. Photoshop CS2: Astrotools 5x'make stars smaller', 2x'reduce color blotching',5x'deep space noise reduction', then 400% smart sharpen, color saturation +15.

The Bubble Nebula and open cluster M52 in Cassiopeia. 80mm Megrez refractor. 11x5min stack on from Grandview. The individual frames had an alarming amount of color speckling. Why? enhanced cosmic rays at high altitude? But the 55 minute stack reduces this greatly. Rotated, cropped, unsharp masked, curves, brightness and contrast adjusted in Photoshop 7

The Snake Nebula in Ophiuchus. 80mm Megrez refractor. 9x5min (45min) stack at Tchip= -29C from Grandview campground. An unusual amount of color speckling. I used Photoshop CS2's de-speckle to minimize. Low altitude and less attention to clamping the camera in the draw tube, led to a tilted image plane and soft focus towards the bottom. Cropped, 'smart sharp', levels in CS2.

The California Nebula in Perseus (NGC 1499). 8/19/06 from Barcroft Lab. 80mm Megrez refractor. 8x5min stack with ST2000XCM and Zuiko 100mm lens at f/4.5 and chip T=-35C. Levels, "smart sharp", cropped, despeckled in Photoshop CS2.

The North America Nebula. 9/17/06 at Coast Ranch Resevoir. 80mm Megrez refractor. 12x5min at T= -20C, using a median'ed set of 3 dark frames. Levels, curved, no cropping, brightness, contrast, and unsharp masking applied in Photoshop 7.

AE Auriga Nebula. 80mm Megrez refractor. 14x5min stack through the Megrez and ST2000XCM camera under perfect skies Saturday night 9/23/06 at Pinnacles Campground on the Astro 27 trip. Click here for the full description of the processing.

Comet M4 SWAN, Oct 24, 2006.10x5min stack with ST200XCM and Meade LXD75 8" f/4 scope. Stars badly out of focus towards lower left. Head is badly over exposed (there must be some way to get around the CCDOPS5 conversion of the raw image to color using only 8 bits). Image scale is around 40% less than with the Megrez and the comet moved significantly during the hour and a half of exposures, resulting in the banding seen at top. Registax had a hard time centering on the saturated comet head so the star tracks are uneven and the tail details are blurred. Lesson - shorter exposures!

IC 1396 Nebula near Mu Cephei. 11/23/06 from Coast Rd Reservoir. 8" f/4 LXD75, 9x5min stack (Registax3), and post-processed in Photoshop CS2: Curves, AstroTools actions - 5x 'make stars smaller', 'enhance DSO and reduce stars', brightness, contrast. No cropping. This is a small part of this 3 degree wide nebula - it is the region closest to Mu Cephei

The DumbBell Nebula (M27) in Vulpecula. 10/16/06 from Coast Road Reservoir. 4x5min stack using the ST2000XCM and Megrez refractor, sRGB+gamma/single-shot color processing in CCDOPS5, stacked in Registax3. Levels, "smart sharpened", unsharp mask, despeckled, and severely cropped in Photoshop CS2.

Moon - Mare Imbrium Area, Nov 29, 2006. Single 0.015sec image, dark subtracted, through the 8" LX10 scope. Single-shot color with DDP processing in CCDOPS. Photoshop CS2: Levels, unsharp mask, reduced color saturation, AstroTools "local contrast enhancement", brightness+contrast

Comet McNaught, Jan 11, 2007. From Hort Hill at Cabrillo College. Single 0.01sec exposure through the Megrez refractor in bright twilight and post-storm clouds in a clean cold sky, 2 degrees above the horizon. DDP single-shot color processing in CCDOPS. Severe color balance changes and levels adjustment in Photoshop CS2 to bring out the tail.




Western side of the Plieades. Jan 18, '07. sRGB single shot color processed in CCDOPS5, then 8x5min stack in Registax4. Photoshop CS2: AstroTools 'make stars smaller', smart sharpen, levels, AstroTools 'deep space noise reduction' then 'space noise reduction'


M65/M66/NGC 3628 in Leo. Mar 17, 2007. 9x5min (45 min total) stack in Registax 3 (Registax 4 repeatedly failed to stack properly). Photoshop CS: levels, smart sharpen, AstroTools 2x 'reduce stars', 2x 'sky noise, 2x 'local contrast enhance', levels, color balance (redden central bulge, blue enhance the galactic disks). I'm tempted to work with the High Dynamic Range command, but for now this is good enough.

The Flame Nebula in Orion. Mar 17, 2007. 7x5min (35min total) ST2000XCM on Meade 8" LXD75 and GM8 mount. Stacked in Registax 3 (Registax 4 failed to stack properly). Photoshop CS2: Levels, AstroTools 2x 'make stars smaller', 2x 'deep space noise reduction', then levels, unsharp mask, saturation, and cropped.

M101 in Ursa Major - May 12, '07 from BD Airfield w/ ST2000XCM on 8" f/4 LXD75 on GM8 mount. 13x5min stacked in Registax 4 (ver 3 couldn't do it). Photoshop CS2: AstroTools 'deep space noise reduction' , 'space noise reduction', unsharp mask, 'enhance DSO/reduce stars', levels, crop.Strong smoke/haze made for a bright sky background and this low surface brightness galaxy was hard to pull out of the sky.

NGC 4631 & 4656 in Coma - June 6, '07 from Coast Rd Reservoir. ST2000XCM + Meade 8" f/4 + GM8. 12x5min stacked in Registax 3. Photoshop CS2: AstroTools 'make stars smaller', 2x 'space noise reduction', smart sharpen, saturation, levels. No cropping.

The 13% waxing moon in the Plieades, April 8, 2008 from Cabrillo Observatory. 12sec w/ 100mm Zuiko lens at f/8 w/ UV/IR filter and no UV/haze 49mm filter (which crashed/burned during setup!). DDO single-shot color in CCDOPS ver 5. Note the red 6.8 magnitude star which disappeared at the very end of this exposure.



Jan 13, 2008 ~10:30pm from Oak Ridge Observatory. 10x3min stack through the 8" f/4 LXD75. For the first time, I got good results by applying the Astronomy Tools 'light pollution removal'. The real problem was very low altitude (14 degrees) in the darkest direction of a light polluted site (compared to Santa Cruz area sites). Then 'space noise reduction', 'enhance DSO/reduce stars', levels, crop.

IC 348 in Perseus,Oct 7, 2007 at Pinnacles . This beautiful reflection nebula in an extremely young cluster, next to Omicron Persei, includes a large amount of dust which only faintly reflects, and hides stars on the right side of the image. 9x5 min stack. 3x 'make stars smaller', 2x 'space noise redux', 'deep space noise redux', Then saved, and resaved at different levels, combined using the HDR option, 32->16bit conversion by exposure/gamma, then the 16bit version adjusted further with levels, saturation, 'local contrast enhancement'. No cropping.

M77 Seyfert and NGC 1055 in Cetus Oct 7, 2007 at Pinnacles. M77 is the brightest active galaxy in the sky, and NGC 1055 is an edge-on spiral. 4x5min stack. Photoshop 2x 'make stars smaller', 'space noise redux', 'deep space noise redux', 'local contrast enhance', levels.

NGC 891 in Andromeda. Oct 7, 2007 at Pinnacles. 9x5min stack. Photoshop 3x 'make stars smaller', 2x 'space noise redux', 'deep space noise redux', 3x 'local contrast enhance', levels. This galaxy is only 13' long (only 1.8 times the length of NCG 1055 in the previous picture) and the frame is severely cropped. An 8" f/4 at prime focus doesn't have the magnification to do this properly.

The Whirlpool Galaxy, Apr 29, 2008. 9x5min stack on M51, from Cabrillo Observatory. 8" f/4 LXD75, under clear moonless skies with post- cold front seeing. Very cropped, and the usual digital magic.

Comet Broughton and NGC 2733 in Lynxx, Dec 2, 2008. 6x10min stack from Cabrillo Observatory. The galaxy is 13th magnitude, on the right.

Dumbell Nebula M27, Sept 2, '08 3x5min stack, at Cabrillo, with the ST2000XCM #2, chip T=-20C. sRGB+gamma single shot color. Stacked using multiple stars in Registax4. Photoshop CS2 - levels, cropped, AstroTools 3x 'make stars smaller', space noise reduction, then back to Photoshop CS2 - levels, despeckle, saturation, jpeg'd.