Last saturday, after lots of garden testing and software checks, I've finally been able to drive to a dark place for a few deep sky shots.

The driving part itself was the most "scary", as I'm still new to driving in the "wrong side" of the road... Getting the hang of it, though..

I chose to go observing with the HantsAstro stargazing group.. they met in a quite dark site (at least for being not too far from London), and their website and facebook pages really did inspire me. I'm really glad I joined them, as it was a really pleasant evening, with lots of nice people.

My target for the evening was the center of the Cygnus constellation, between Deneb and Sadr. It's an area full of nebulae, perfect for a wide field lens. Technical data, together with stars and object names, can be found in the astrobin technical page.

Cygnus' heart

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I'm currently living in a house with a very nice backyard, right outside London. Still a lot of light pollution, but it can be manageable, and useful for testing my equipment before running to darker locations.

This was meant to be a (L)RGB shot, but light pollution and humidity made the blue and green channels pretty useless, while red channel produced quite good results

Last friday night the sky was finally very clear, so I made a few shots.

M 42, HorseHead, Flame Nebula

The brilliant Orion Nebula (M42) is very well defined, but also the Flame nebula (NGC 2024) is quite conspicuous on the left. And very close to the Flame nebula, a tiny Horsehead nebula can be spotted too.

For being just a test shot, I must say I'm very happy with the result, and can't wait for better conditions to try RGB.

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After rediscovering Siril, a nice astronomical images preprocessing tool for GNU/Linux, I wanted to give another try at processing a few test images taken this summer.

It’s surely not a masterpieces, but I’m not too disappointed either by what I could make of them, given that it was just a basic attempt, with no more than half hour total shoot time.

M42

Postrocessing was done using DarkTable.

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It’s been a long time since I last wrote about SkyPlanner development, but I still kept working on it, enabling lots of new features.
The Telescopes page has been redesigned to include also eyepieces and barlow/focal reduces, and therefore has also been renamed to “Optical Instruments” in your settings menu.

Instruments Page
Instruments Page

Adding at least a telescope and an eyepiece will show a new panel in the session pages, with all possible combinations, calculating magnification and field of view.
It will also add a new menu when clicking on a DSS preview image, that will show you field of view circles overlay.

Filters have been heavly improved. We have now lots of new filters, and the existing ones were redesigned to offer a better experience.

Now you can filter by object type, by magnitude, time of transit, altitude, constellation, previously observed objects, angular size, catalogue. Filters are available both in the main objects list and in the “Suggested Objects” panel, allowing you to fine tune SkyPlanner suggestions for planning your stargazing night.

The “Suggested Objects” list can now be sorted also by magnitude and time.

A new interesting feature is the post-session report: when reviewing a past session, you can mark as observer each object in your list.

After doing so, a “report” button will appear for that object, allowing you to write an extended description of your observation.

Finally, clicking the “Report” button on the top toolbar will display your report almost ready to be printed. You may wish to click the “Write report” button to write some notes about the whole session, instead of single objects.

Additionally, you can share your report. By default this is disabled, but clicking the “Share” button will make it publicly available.

You can share it with a few options: first, a web address, that you can embedd on your blog/website, or send via email. But you can also one of the predefined buttons for social sharing, on Google+, Facebook, Twitter.

But sharing is now enabled also for the regular session planning: in the “preview with images” section of a planned session you’ll see the same “Share” button.

Lastly, there were a few additions to the objects catalogues, most notably the Barnard catalogue of dark objects.

These were just a few highlights, to find out more just go to SkyPlanner home page and try it.

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I’ve been long waiting for sharing SkyPlanner source code in a public repository.

Problem is, I had to fix a few copyright headers, cleanup some stuff, and, you know, laziness.

Now I finally published them on my GitHub account: https://github.com/GuLinux/SkyPlanner.

It’s still missing a README file for compiling and all, but if someone is curious about how SkyPlanner works, this is a huge start for poking it.

Happy hacking!

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In the last few months I started again deditcating more time on astronomy and star gazing.

To better organize my star gazing sessions I started developing a software capable of suggesting celestial object from various catalogues, choosing them among the best visible ones for the selected date and place, and that’s how SkyPlanner got started.

SkyPlanner has many features useful for visual observations: it allows searching and even suggests many objects from many catalogues, such as Messier, NGC/IC, Abell, Arp, MCG, UGC; provides information about the star gazing session, for instance weather, sun and moon rise/set time, moon phase; allows you to set your own telescopes, automatically estimating each object difficulty for the selected instrument; downloads preview images of the object field from the Digitized Sky Survey Archive, presents additional catalogue information and allows you to set your own notes before and after the visual observation.

The objects list is automatically sorted by transit time, creating a printer-friendly star gazing schedule.

I hope this software will help many of you organizing your best star gazing sessions!

I’m open for suggestions, feedback and error reporting, both in my blog here, or through  SkyPlanner feedback form page. A more detailed features list and review is in this page.

A special thanks to Alessia, who helped in many ways, providing suggestions, ideas, testing, writing some catalogues importers.

Happy star gazing!

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