Santa Cruz Astronomy Club Star Parties at Bonny Doon Airfield - Mar 10th and 17th, 2007

My first chance to do some photography this lunation. Chris Angelos was game for also trying to nab his first asteroid occultation success. Sigelinde occulted a 12.1 star at 3am Mar 11. Tough - this is the faintest asteroid occultation I've yet tried. Chris had along his 16" Orion dob, I planned to return to Cabrillo Observatory and get a second chord. I drove back to Cabrillo and got a successful 6.1 second occultation. Chris got a chance to climb a bit higher on the learning curve. But in the meantime, it was a Saturday night and imaging to be done. Orion's mix of great objects is about to disappear for the season, so my first goal was a wide angle shot of all of Orion, with Barnard's Loop to supply the main interest. The 24mm Zuiko lens mated to the ST2000XCM on the GM8 mount was the choice of weapons.

Orion. 12x5min (1hr total) with 24mm f/2.8 Zuiko lens stopped down to f/4, on the ST2000XCM camera. Stacked in Registax3. I used a wide aperature to maximize signal for this very faint nebulosity (in skies with occasional light cirrus drifting and lit by the lights of Santa Cruz). Led to strong comatic aberration needing heavy post-processing in Photoshop CS2. Lots of blue and green faint stars were fixed with liberal use of the replace color command. Then AstroTools 'make stars smaller', 'deep space noise reduction', then PS smart sharpen, levels. I'm a little disappointed, but realize that those awesome shots on the web are shot with H-alpha filters which dramatically isolate Barnard's Loop vs the stars. It's VERY faint.

Flame/Horsehead/M42 complex in Orion. 100mm lens. 9x5min stack. Stars in the upper left have a core/halo optical defect; This lens has.... issues.


Mar 17. The following weekend, I spent all day Saturday judging at the Santa Cruz County Science Fair. Great experience! Some really smart young people in this county. Aftward, I drove up to BD Airfield where a few SCAC'rs were doing the Messier Marathon (which can only be done in mid March - getting all the 111 Messier Objects in a single night). I focused on getting just two good pictures - of the Flame Nebula in Orion, and of the M65/66/NGC 3628 triplet of galaxies in Leo. Clear, dry, and fog over Santa Cruz made for an outstanding imaging night. I used the ST2000XCM on the Meade LXD75 and SN8, still with the funky original focuser. The new Moonlite focuser should arrive this week.

The Flame Nebula in Orion. 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.

M65/M66/NGC 3628 in Leo. 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.