This august I was able to go with our astronomical group to our usual appointment at Colle dell'Agnello in Italy, very close to France border.

The place is very dark, but the weather can often be a problem. Sometimes too windy, clouds covering the sky pretty quickly, sometimes even surrounding us (massive humidity, lens and mirrors getting wet).

During one of these nights I tried to get NGC7000, only to get inside a cloud right 5 minutes after finishing setting up everything and starting exposures.

It lasted a while, and I didn't have much time left, so I decided to get a quick shot at an old classic, M31.

Here's the result:

M31 from Colle dell'Agnello

Roughly 2 hours of exposure (discarding a good portion of frames, so I stacked slightly more than 1 hour).

Setup:

ASI1600mm (non cool) TS Photoline 60mm F/5.5 (with reducer, fl=260mm) Star Adventurer Processed using Pixinsight I'm not 100% happy about both the shooting and the processing, stars don't look very good when zooming in, but I quite like the fact that the core is not saturated, and some nice details can be spotted too.

Instead, the best result of this holiday was probably the timelapse of our days (and nights) at the shelter:

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A classic astrophotography subject, startrails can show how much the celestial sphere rotates in just a few hours (in this case, 4).

This one in particular also highlights how many airplanes wander above our heads, you can see lots of them quite clearly, straight intermittent lines striking the perfect circles drawn by the stars.

City star trails

This simple yet effective tecnique also has the side effect of allowing to build a timelapse using the very same set of images.

Technical data: Canon EOS 700d, Tokina 11m-16mm (at 11mm, F/3.2). ISO 1600, exposure 3 seconds, I also used a star adventurer mini to get pinpoint stars, although with this focal length it might have been a bit of an overkill.

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I recently needed a cheap 2 in 1 laptop, both for having a smaller lightweight astrophotography laptop, and for general usage. I chose the iOTA 360, currently on Amazon for less than 200£.

It was a bet, since looking around I couldn't find anyone claiming a successful GNU/Linux installation on it, but with some work I managed to get pretty much everything working.

The following guide should help you installing any recent version of Ubuntu on the iOTA 360.

A lot of these instructions/tools (including EFI 32bit bootloader, and Screen Rotator) can apply to other 2in1 laptops as well

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This is the first of a series of articles. As I'm always experimenting and tuning my setup, I'm not sure how many more articles I'll be writing.

A few years ago I began to introduce myself to astrophotography. I had some fairly nice equipment back then: a SkyWatcher HEQ5 mount, a Meade ACF 8", guide scope and camera, a borrowed reflex, laptop, 12v car battery.

Although this is pretty much entry level equipment, barely sufficient to getting started, it had been already quite expensive (almost 2000€ just for scope and mount, even though the scope was second hand), bulky and heavy. I ended up barely using it, both because of a relatively steep learning curve and because I honestly was getting tired of carrying around 20/30KG of equipment with barely any tangible result.

Then a few things happened: the mount was stolen, I sold the optical tube, and ended up moving to London, where I embraced a new "astronomical philosophy": the lighter, the better.

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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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Last week, a CalSky alert email reminded me about a close passage of the International Space Station to the bright Arcturus, in the Bootes constellation.

Alessia was here, so we catched this opportunity to do some "garden astronomy" together, watching the passage while also trying to record it on camera.

My assistant
My assistant

Setup ready
            <figcaption>Setup ready</figcaption>
</figure>
Jupiter, Spica, and Arcturus
Jupiter, Spica, and Arcturus
Work in progress
Work in progress

The idea was to do two shots: a wide field, with my large sensor ASI1600mm and an 85mm lens, and a narrow field with the telescope.

It was a beautiful, almost hot evening. Unfortunately, not everything went as planned: the ISS was passing a bit further then expected, since I forgot to update my location coordinates in CalSky, so the telecope shooting was missed, and a few technical issues, plus me choosing the wrong recording duration on the shooting program, almost made me miss the passage itself even on the wide field.

But after a few minutes, without even knowing if the recording was actually successful, looking the frames I was able to spot this bright strip moving through the stars. Although this was meant to be just a "backout shooting", it's still a good catch. We also recorded a hint of a plane passing through the field, at the end of the passage.

IIS passing by Arcturus

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As I wrote on my previous post, an exceptionally good weather kept me outside pretty much every night just when Jupiter was at its best.

On April the 7th, during its opposition, I was able to capture a sequence of 4 sets of video captures, each one in RGB. I tried to optimize as much as possible my timings, in order to keep rotational differences between frames under control. This will probably be even easier on a future Planetary Imager release, when I'll implement a scripting interface.

The results are even better than the previous evening.

I was able to take 4 images, and create an animation displaying Jupiter's rotation and its satellites.

Jupiter mini animation, 07/04/2017

Click here for a webp animation: much higher quality, but right now working only on Google Chrome.

These are the best two frames of the animation, so you can better view the features:

During the following night I optimized even further my capture speed, so I could take much more frames (up to 15). Unfortunately I couldn't use all of them due to the usual tree in front of my garden, but the result is still pretty good. The resolution is possibly a little bit worse, maybe for worse seeing or focusing issues, but the animation is much more smooth now.

Jupiter animation - 09/04/2017

Click here for a webp animation: much higher quality, but right now working only on Google Chrome.

And here again a few interesting frames of the sequence

And finally, a little treat for Alessia, who wasn't with me, but she would have liked to, particularly given this little incursion by a curious fox

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A few more summerlike days, and a few more astronomical shots.

It was sunny, and with a very good seeing from Thursday to Saturday night, just in time for Jupiter's opposition, when it's closer to Earth, and then bigger and easier to capture.

But since I wasn't very happy with my previous Jupiter shots, the first of these three nights I mainly took pictures of the moon.

I began by using my newest camera, an ASI 1600mm: it's more of a deep sky camera, not very suitable for planets and moon: 3.8 µm pixel size instead of 2.4µm of my other camera, an ASI 178mm, and bigger pixels means lower resolution. It also has a much wider sensor, which slows down capturing (and fast framerates is a key element to get high resolution images), but this is also an advantage from another point of view: I was able to capture the whole moon disk in just a single shot, instead of the usual mosaic.

This is the result, in my opinion one of my best looking images ever:

Moon, 06/04/2017

Please click the "Original version" button to get the high resolution image.

But after a couple of full moon shots, I also wanted to see the difference in resolution with my ASI 178mm, so I swapped camera, and started capturing frames near the terminator.

After stacking and stitching everything, this is the result:

Moon - HD Mosaic, 06/04/2017

Of course, the previous image looks a bit better aestetically: having the full disk is surely more eye pleasing, and it's also a bit less grainy, due to the lower resolution.

But if you look at both at them at full size (again, open the "Original version", and zoom at 100%) this second image mosaic is clearly showing a lot more details.

Again, I am quite happy about the result. It surely might have been better if I had taken more images to cover the full disk, and there are some stiching issues here and there in the image (I'll try reprocessing it soon), but for such a small telescope (a 5" maksutov) I couldn't have hoped for better images.

Finally, when Jupiter raised a bit more, I decided to stay outside a little longer, despite having work the following day, and tried an RGB shooting, although it was still very low on the horizon (only 25°). While shooting the images didn't look bad at all, but I wasn't quite ready to the result I was gonna have after processing the RGB set:

Jupiter, 06/04/2017

Again, for such a small scope, and such a low object, the amout of details is impressive, particularly compared to my previous jupiter shot. It's almost as good as the images taken with my 8" telescope back in Milan, but with colour this time!

During the evening I also asked my neighbours, a pleasant young couple from New Zealand, to have a quick look through the eyepiece... It's always nice to see reactions of someone watching for the first time the moon through a telescope, sometimes you're able to feel their wonder and awe.

Happy about the results, I then decided to try a full weekend of imaging, weather permitting. And I was lucky. I took lots more pictures during Friday and Saturday nights.

But I still have to finish processing them, so stay tuned until the next post... :)

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This weekend weather in London was quite amazing: sunny, a bit too windy, but sky almost perfect. Seeing forecast was also encouraging, so on Friday evening I took a chance to shoot at Jupiter.

It was a bit of an unlucky evening: firstly I discovered that I forgot my red dot finder on, so the battery was totally drained. After struggling for a while trying to align my GoTo mount without it, I decided it was worth to leave the telescope alone for a few minutes (my garden is easly visible from the street... I didn't want to do it unless absolutely necessary) and got back inside to find new batteries.

After everything was aligned, and I was ready to observe and record my images, I noticed that the image wasn't exactly satisfying at the eyepiece. When I replaced the eyepiece with the camera, the very unfocused image revealed me why: some tree branches were in the way, and of course the image was deteriorated from the interference!

I looked around me to see if I could find a better spot to place my scope, but with no luck. I decided to try anyway, taking multiple shots, so maybe in some of them I might get an almost clear picture.

This is the best result I could get:

Jupiter, 25/03/2017

Of course, the difference with my previous shots taken with a bigger 200mm SC is pretty visible, but I think with better conditions this new telescope can do much more.

Since I made four sets of images, spanning a bit more than 40 minutes, I was also able to an animation showing Jupiter rotation:

Jupiter rotation animation
Jupiter rotation animation

Shots data:

  • Celestron Nexstar SLT 127 Maksutov
  • ZWO ASI 178mm with LRGB filters
  • Software: my Planetary Imager for shooting, Autostakkert!2, Registax, Siril and GIMP for image processing.

Luminance channel: 4500 frames, best 20% used. R/G/B channels: 1000 frames, best 40% used.

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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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