Patrick Moore’s Practical Astronomy Series
For other titles published in the series, go to
www.springer.com/series/3192
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Ruben Kier
Ruben Kier
Orange, CT 06477
USA
ISSN 1431-9756
ISBN 978-1-4419-0602-1
e-ISBN 978-1-4419-0603-8
DOI 10.1007/978-1-4419-0603-8
Library of Congress Control Number: 2009928623
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009
All rights reserved. This work may not be translated or copied in whole or in part without the written
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Printed on acid-free paper
Springer is part of Springer Science+Business Media (www.springer.com)
To my parents, Pearl and Ralph, in celebration of
their 60th wedding anniversary:
For the nights when you would fall asleep in
the car waiting for me at the local observatory,
to your support and encouragement of my
education, and your enthusiasm about my
astrophotography, I am eternally grateful.
To my children, Melanie and Shelley, through
whose eyes I have rediscovered the marvels of the
cosmos; may you never abandon your sense of
wonder at the miracles of nature.
And to my wife, Stephanie, who by her example
has motivated me to become a better citizen,
physician, teacher, parent, and spouse.
P
reface
A picture tells a thousand words. Some of the astronomy’s best communications and teaching tools are its rich legacy of images. Astroimaging began
in 1840 when American astronomer John W. Draper took a 20-min exposure of the Moon through a 5-in. Newtonian reflecting telescope. Since
then, professional and amateur astronomers, nature photographers, and
ordinary people with cameras have created millions of celestial images.
Some of these photos have led to important discoveries.
In 1888, a photograph of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) revealed its
spiral structure. In 1919, a picture taken during a total solar eclipse
confirmed Einstein’s theory that massive objects bend starlight. In 1930,
American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto on a photograph
of a starry region in Gemini. And in 2004, the Hubble Space Telescope took
a million-second-long exposure of a seemingly empty region of space in
the constellation Fornax and revealed thousands of distant galaxies.
Likewise, amateur astronomers have made important contributions.
Some of their images have shown previously unknown comets, asteroids, and supernovae. Most amateurs, however, image celestial objects
for the sheer joy of it. They produce impressive results using techniques
unknown to astronomy only a decade ago.
Like a telescope, astroimaging encompasses two aspects. Most people
picture a telescope as a long tube through which you view celestial objects.
But the optical tube assembly is just half of a high-quality telescope. Without the accompanying mount, the tube would be of little value.
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Preface
So it is with astroimaging. If all it took to be an astroimager was to
sit for long hours at a telescope, many amateur astronomers would be
great at it. But there is another facet to producing excellent images –
postprocessing. This includes everything that happens after you acquire
the raw data, which, in many instances, does not look all that appealing.
Astroimagers spend years developing and refining their techniques.
A high-quality image will show intricate detail, have a wide dynamic
range, and exhibit the correct color rendition.
As Photo Editor of the world’s best-selling astronomy magazine,
I receive thousands of images each year. Of those, we publish perhaps
100. Ruben Kier’s images are well represented every year.
By following his instructions, you, too, can produce equally beautiful
astroimages. When you do, be sure and send them to me for the magazine.
Send your very best work. Remember, you will be competing with Ruben.
Senior Editor/Photo Editor, Astronomy magazine
Michael E. Bakich
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I would like to thank my editors at Springer, Maury Solomon and John
Watson, for supporting my interest in producing this book. Their advice
and guidance have been invaluable in bringing this project to fruition.
This book is a compilation of many influences. I first became interested
in CCD imaging after hearing Robert Gendler speak at the Connecticut
Star Party in 2001. Since then, his lectures on luminance layering and
hybrid imaging have influenced my processing routines, and the images
in his book, A Year in the Life of the Universe, have been an example of what
I aspire to create with more humble equipment. Ron Wodaski’s book,
The New CCD Astronomy, served for several years as my basic text for
CCD techniques. Mike Rice, at the New Mexico Skies Guest Observatory,
provided me with invaluable hands-on training. Neil Fleming has helped
me to streamline my focusing routines. Scott Ireland’s textbook and Jerry
Lodriguss’ CD on Photoshop techniques have improved my processing
skills. Stephen O’Meara’s observing guides have helped me understand
more about my celestial targets, and his Hidden Treasures have helped me
select some of the more obscure targets in my book. Robert Burnham’s
Celestial Handbook has provided valuable background detail on many
of the Best Targets. Most of the object data was compiled either from
Robert Strong’s Sky Atlas 2000 Companion or from CCDSoft’s program
TheSkySix. Jay Pasachoff and Alex Filippenko’s college textbook, The
Cosmos, has been a resource for clarifying many of the more difficult
concepts in astronomy. Ray Gralak has kindly provided data on the
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Acknowledgements
periodic error of several mounts. Finally, I thank Michael Bakich, Photo
Editor for Astronomy magazine, for selecting many of my favorite images
for the Reader Gallery over the past several years. Each inclusion reinforces
my interest and enjoyment of this exciting hobby.
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Preface ..................................................................................................
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Acknowledgements .............................................................................
ix
Introduction ........................................................................................ xvii
Section 1
Best 100 Astrophotography Targets
Chapter 1
January: Mostly Nebulae ...............................................
January 1: Spiral Galaxy IC 342 .....................................
January 2: Pleiades Open Cluster ...................................
January 6: California Nebula ..........................................
January 21: Witch Head Nebula .....................................
January 24: Flaming Star Nebula ...................................
January 26: Tadpole Emission Nebula ...........................
January 27: Open Cluster M38 with Open
Cluster NGC 1907 ...........................................................
January 29: Crab Nebula Supernova Remnant .............
January 29: Orion Nebula and Running
Man Nebula .....................................................................
January 31: Horsehead and Flame Nebulae...................
Chapter 2 February: Clusters and Nebulae ...................................
February 1: Reflection Nebula M78 ...............................
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Contents
February 2: Open Cluster M37 ......................................
February 6: Angel Nebula ...............................................
February 6: Open Clusters M35 and NGC 2158 ...........
February 9: Jellyfish Nebula ...........................................
February 12: Rosette Nebula and Cluster ......................
February 14: Cone Nebula and Christmas Tree Cluster .....
February 24: Thor’s Helmet ...........................................
February 27: Medusa Nebula .........................................
February 27: Eskimo Nebula ..........................................
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Chapter 3 March: Clusters and Galaxies .......................................
March 1: Open Clusters M46 and M47 .........................
March 2: Spiral Galaxy NGC 2403 .................................
March 20: Ancient Open Cluster M67.......................................
March 30: Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 2903...................
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Chapter 4 April: Galaxy Pairs and Groups .................................... 81
April 5: Galaxies M81 and M82 ..................................... 82
April 10: Little Pinwheel Galaxy ..................................... 87
April 11: Hickson 44 Galaxy Group ............................... 90
April 17: Galaxy Pair M95 and M96 .............................. 93
April 24: Owl Nebula M97 with Galaxy M108 .............. 96
April 26: Galaxy Trio in Leo ........................................... 99
April 26: Hamburger Galaxy NGC 3628 ....................... 102
April 30: Galaxy Pair NGC 3718 and NGC 3729 .......... 105
Chapter 5 May: Diversity of Galaxy Shapes ..................................
May 6: Galaxy M109 .......................................................
May 11: Silver Needle Galaxy .................................................
May 11: Galaxy M106 .....................................................
May 12: Galaxies M100 and NGC 4312 .........................
May 13: Markarian’s Chain ............................................
May 16: Needle Galaxy ...................................................
May 17: Sombrero Galaxy ..............................................
May 17: Whale Galaxy and Hockey Stick Galaxy ..........
May 19: Ringed Galaxy NGC 4725 ................................
May 19: Spiral Galaxy M94 ..................................................
May 21: Black Eye Galaxy M64 ......................................
May 24: Sunflower Galaxy M63 .....................................
May 29: Whirlpool Galaxy M51 .....................................
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Chapter 6 June: Globular Clusters and More Galaxies ................ 149
June 1: Globular Cluster M3 .......................................... 150
June 6: Pinwheel Galaxy M101 ....................................... 153
Contents
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June 25: Splinter Galaxy ............................................... 156
June 26: Globular Cluster M5 ...................................... 159
Chapter 7
July: Just Globular Clusters......................................... 163
July 17: Great Hercules Cluster .................................... 164
July 18: Globular Cluster M12...................................... 167
Chapter 8 August: Planetary and Emission Nebulae ................
August 5: Cat’s Eye Nebula ...........................................
August 6–7: Trifid and Lagoon Nebulae ......................
August 7: Lagoon Nebula .............................................
August 10: Eagle Nebula ...............................................
August 11: Swan Nebula ...............................................
August 15: Globular Cluster M22 ................................
August 18: Wild Duck Cluster ......................................
August 19: Ring Nebula ................................................
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Chapter 9 September: Autumn Assortment ................................
September 1: Barnard’s Galaxy .......................................
September 5: Dumbbell Nebula ....................................
September 8: Crescent Nebula .......................................
September 14: Fireworks Galaxy and Cluster
NGC 6939 ...............................................................................
September 17: Veil Nebula, “Witch’s Broom”
of Veil .............................................................................
September 19: Eastern Loop of Veil:
The Network Nebula ....................................................
September 18: Pelican Nebula...........................................
September 20: North American Nebula ......................
September 20: Fetus Nebula .........................................
September 21: Iris Nebula ............................................
September 28 and 29: Globular Clusters M15
and M2 .............................................................................................
September 30: Nebula IC 1396
and the Elephant’s Trunk..............................................
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Chapter 10 October: Halloween Treats..........................................
October 4: Cocoon Nebula ...........................................
October 9: Wolf ’s Cave and the Cepheus Flare ...........
October 13: Helix Nebula .............................................
October 14: Stephan’s Quintet .....................................
October 15: Deer Lick Galaxy Group ..........................
October 19: Flying Horse Nebula.................................
October 20: Cave Nebula ..............................................
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Contents
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October 26: Bubble Nebula and M52 Cluster ............. 255
October 27: Blue Snowball Nebula ................................. 258
Chapter 11 November: The Great Galaxies ...................................
November 1: Andromeda Galaxy and Companions ...
November 2: Skull Nebula and Galaxy NGC 255 .......
November 17: Sculptor Galaxy ....................................
November 18: Pacman Nebula .....................................
November 25: ET Cluster .............................................
November 29: Triangulum Galaxy ...............................
November 30: Spiral Galaxy M74 ................................
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Chapter 12 December: Celestial Potpourri ...................................
December 1: Little Dumbbell Nebula ..........................
December 5: Nautilus Galaxy NGC 772 ......................
December 10: Double Cluster..............................................
December 11: Outer Limits Galaxy.................................
December 11: Barred Spiral Galaxy NGC 925 ............
December 14: Heart Nebula and December 18:
Soul Nebula ...................................................................
December 18: Spiral Galaxy M77.................................
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Section 2 Getting Started in CCD Imaging
Chapter 13 Equipment for Astrophotography .............................
First and Foremost, the Mount ....................................
Beginner Scopes for Imaging ...............................................
Choosing a Camera.......................................................
Autoguiders ...................................................................
Investing Wisely in Software...............................................
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Chapter 14 Acquiring the Image ....................................................
Siting the Telescope .......................................................
Polar Alignment ............................................................
Choosing the Target ......................................................
Calculating Your Fields of View and Scale ...................
Finding, Centering, and Framing the Target ...............
Focusing ........................................................................
Autoguiding ..................................................................
Exposing ........................................................................
Dark Frames ..................................................................
Flat Fields ......................................................................
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Contents
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Chapter 15 The Order of Image Processing ..................................
Image Reduction/Calibration.......................................
Optional Steps ...............................................................
Aligning Images ............................................................
Combining Images........................................................
Deconvolution...............................................................
Color Combining ..........................................................
Histograms and Curves ................................................
Luminance Layering .....................................................
Color Enrichment .........................................................
Image Sharpening and Blurring ...................................
Dealing out Gradients ..................................................
Final Cleanup ................................................................
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About the Author ................................................................................ 355
Index..................................................................................................... 357
Introduction
How This Book Differs
from Observing Lists
Over 200 years ago, many of the celestial treasures on the following pages
were cataloged by Charles Messier and William Hershel using telescopes
primitive by today’s standards. These catalogs have formed the basis of
most amateur astronomers’ targets for observing. The most famous is
Messier’s Catalog of 109 objects. Despite their popularity with visual
astronomers, Charles Messier’s choices were neither the brightest nor
the most beautiful through the eyepiece. His list was compiled to define
objects that might be confused with comets by other comet hunters – in
other words, a list of potential mistakes. Entire regions of the sky, which
fell outside of the area where comets might be found, were excluded from
his list. This may explain how several bright deep sky objects such as the
Double Cluster in Perseus were excluded.
In this century, the growth in quality and accessibility of amateur
telescopes has driven an explosion of observing lists. The Herschel 400
list, compiled more than 30 years ago by the Ancient City Astronomy
Club of Florida, includes objects selected from Herschel’s General Catalog that would “challenge” observers with telescopes 6 in. or larger. In
1995, Patrick Moore published the Caldwell list (his legal last name is
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Introduction
Caldwell-Moore) of 109 objects, which includes both bright and dim
objects excluded by Messier. His selection includes some small and
challenging targets, not just the crowd pleasers. Most recently, in 2007,
Stephen O’Meara published a list of 109 “hidden treasures” that seeks to
fill in the gap left by the Messier and Caldwell lists. Like the Caldwell list,
O’Meara’s list dips deep into the southern hemisphere.
These famous lists are excellent for visual astronomy but can be disappointing for the astrophotographer. For example, a sparse open
star cluster sparkles at the eyepiece but can be uninspiring as an
image. A small planetary nebula may be striking visually but may be
too small to show interesting detail in a photograph. On the other hand,
many nebulae that are faint to the eye can have striking texture and
hue on long exposures. Spiral galaxies blossom into a rich diversity of
shapes and colors.
How the Targets Were Chosen
This book showcases the 100 best targets available to backyard astrophotographers in the Northern Hemisphere. These selections include 48
Messier, 28 Caldwell, and 13 O’Meara objects, plus several others cited in
catalogs by Arp, Hickson, Sharpless, and Barnard. Almost a third of the
targets can be framed to include multiple objects. The criteria for inclusion were simple:
•฀ Does฀the฀image฀inspire฀the฀viewer?
•฀ Is฀ the฀ object฀ bright฀ enough฀ to฀ image฀ with฀ a฀ backyard฀ amateur฀ telescope,฀an฀average฀CCD฀camera,฀and฀2–3฀h฀of฀exposure?
•฀ Is฀it฀large฀enough฀to฀show฀detail,฀usually฀5฀arcmin฀or฀more?
•฀ Can฀ it฀ be฀ photographed฀ successfully฀ from฀ northern฀ latitudes?฀ (This฀
usually requires a declination above –25°.)
Other features favoring inclusion are:
•฀ Among฀similar฀objects,฀is฀it฀the฀easiest฀to฀image฀because฀of฀declination,฀
size,฀color,฀or฀brightness?
•฀ Can฀the฀object฀be฀framed฀with฀a฀second฀object฀to฀create฀a฀more฀dynamic฀
image?
The images on the following pages represent what an average amateur can
expect to accomplish with some practice and effort. In some cases, with
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