M42 The Great Nebula in Orion – My First Serious Astrophotography Target

Last July I bought a nice new telescope – an 8 inch  Meade LX-200 – but since then I’ve only really tinkered with it visually.  Tonight was a clear night, and I’ve been meaning for months to observe M42, so I set up the scope on the deck in the back yard and took a gaze.

It was beautiful!  I’d never seen so much detail before, and for the first time ever I saw all four stars of the Trapezium.  And then I thought, what the heck, I’ll take a photo of it.  It ought to at least be better than my previous photos.

So I attached my Canon 50D at prime focus, got the focus as good as I could get it, experimented with exposure times a little and settled on 5 second exposures.  I took 25 of them.  And I took 5 black frames as well because I knew I would need them for the Deep Sky Syacker image processing program I’d tinkered with a while back.

So after packing up, I downloaded the images from my camera and set Deep Sky Stacker to work.  I’ve never tried this before and I really don’t know what I’m doing, but as I played with the image I began to see amazing detail.  Behold, my first crude attempt at image processing.

Holy Haleakala!  (As the Bad Astronomer would say.)

Compare this to my previous best photo taken with a 500mm lens.

I had no idea my little off the cuff attempt at astrophotography could produce such an amazing result with so little effort!  To quote Casablanca, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”


A Visit From Saint Vanduul

A Visit From Saint Vanduul
The Night Before Orion

Twas the night before Orion and all through the kingship
Not a creature was stirring, not even AI chips.
The loot sacks were hung by the reactor with care,
In hopes that Saint Vanduul soon would be there.

The hatchlings were nestled all snug in their berths,
While visions of entrails filled them with mirth.
And Mama in her helmet, and I in my space socks
Had just started playing “EVA to the airlock”.

When out in the hangar there arose such a clatter,
I jumped from my bunk to see what was the matter!
Away to the gun rack I flew like a racer
Tore open the doors and grab a big laser!

The emergency lights on the newly patched bulkhead
gave a sheen of fresh blood so beautifully red.
Then what to my vengeful eyes should appear
but a minature Scythe, with eight missiles here.

With a little old pilot, so nimble and cruel
I knew in a moment it was Saint Vanduul.
More rapid than lasers his missiles they came
and he whistled and shouted and called them by name

Now Killer! Now Thriller!
Now Savage and Brutish!
On Vicious! On Ruthless!
Inhuman and Fiendish!
Blow up the porch!
Blow up the wall!
Now breach the hull! Breach the hull!
Blast away all!

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
so fell our guards in the blink of an eye!
Then up to the landing deck onward they flew
with the Scythe full of loot and Saint Vanduul too!

Then in a twinkling my heart filled with ire
As crawling and clawing my comrades expired.
I drew up my gun and started to aim,
When out came Saint Vanduul – his knife was aflame!

He was dressed all in armor from his head to his foot,
and his body was covered in guts, blood, and soot.
A bundle of bombs he had flung on his back
and looked like Hell’s maw all gaping and black.

His eyes how they glowered! His cheeks full of fury!
His nose was all crooked just like a rigged jury!
His twisted little mouth was drawn up in a snarl
Exposing his teeth, sharp, pointed and gnarled!
The stump of a hand from the bodies he picked him,
and chewed the remains of his most recent victim.
He had a broad face and little round belly,
but the rest of that corpse had been turned into jelly.

I fired and shot and tried killing that horror
but he dodged and turned and he filled me with terror.
A blink of my eye and a twist of his head
and his knife at my throat filling me with dread.

He spoke not a word but cast me aside
called me a weakling and bade me abide.
He filled all our racks with bombs and explosives
and said we should use some gasses corrosive.

He sprang to his Scythe, his engines he gunned,
and away then he flew, for he knew he had won.
But I heard him exclaim ‘ere he flew out of sight
“Happy slaying to all, and to all a good night!”

My eyepieces

Telescope eyepieces

These are all of my eyepieces.

Back row: Televue Panoptic 41mm, Televue Nagler 22mm, Televue Delos 12mm, Televue Nagler 9mm

Middle row: Celestron Plössl 32mm, Orion Expanse 15mm, Celestron Plössl 12.5mm, Orion Expanse 6mm

Bottom row. Meade MA 40mm, Meade MA 25mm, Meade MA 12mm

The TeleVue 41mm and 22mm have 2″ barrels. The Meade MA’s hae .965″ barrels, and the rest are 1.25″.

The TeleVue’s are the newest of the bunch – two of them have yet to see first light, even. I bought them to go with my new LX-2000 scope. The Meade MA’s are the curiosities of the group. Most .965″ barrel eyepeices were made very poorly to sell with the cheapest telescopes, but this series from Meade was made to a much higher quality standard. The 40mm in particular gives outstanding views, but alas, I haven’t had a need to use them in years. I hang on to them out of sentimentality.

First light with new telescope

This is a cell phone camera video taken through the eyepiece of my new telescope. It shows Mare Serenitatis at 222x maginfaction. You should probably mute it as the sounds is just the wind on the microphone.

As I get to know the equipment better I hope to start taking nicer pictures, so this is just a sample of what I hope will come in the future.

Death in the family

My mother died sometime yesterday while I was at work. When I came home it looked like she was asleep, and since she had trouble sleeping I didn’t want to disturb her. About 9pm my sister texted me asking me to check on Mother because she wasn’t answering her phone, and that is when I went downstairs and found her.

Here’s a link to her obiturary.

Marilyn Claudine Caffee

New toys!

I recently turned 50, and a couple of nights after my birthday, I tried to do something with my Orion StarBlast 4.5″ telescope and I had trouble with it. The RA setting circle just doesn’t work at all. I tried fixing it, but despite my best efforts I was unable to get it to work. So there I was sitting at my computer after a couple of hours of frustration, and I was looking at the Orion website at new mounts when suddenly it occurred to me:

  • I’m 50
  • 50 year old people are supposed to have mid-life crises and buy expensive things.
  • I’ve always wanted a Meade LX-200 telescope.
  • I have the money in the bank to afford one.

One trip to Land, Sea, and Sky later …

Behold! The Meade 8″ LX200-ACF Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope! Isn’t it beautiful? The GoTo controller has 142,000 objects preprogrammed so that once it is set up you can simply tell it to go to a specific object and the telescope will automatically point itself in the right direction. The first night I tried this I was gobsmacked by what I saw! I live in heavily light polluted skies, so “star hopping” from a known star to your destination is not an option since you can’t see the other stars along the way, and since my old scope’s setting circles didn’t work I could not even dial in the coordinates. But with the LX-200 I simply told the computer to take me on a guided tour of the nights best objects and it did so like a champ!

I saw a couple of globular clusters, open clusters, planetary nebula (including the Dumbell Nebula, which shows it’s distinctive shape in this scope), and Jupiter and Saturn, which were both high in the sky that night, and both just after opposition. The planets were particularly impressive, since I had some short focal length eyepeices I could use for high magification. I saw the Great Red Spot and the Cassini Division with my own eyes for the first time ever!

I am a happy little mid-life crisis nerd!

I also got a nice – and expensive! – TeleVue 41mm Panoptic eyepiece for wide field views, but alas, I am still waiting on an adapter to let me use it. Here it is next to my previous largest eyepiece. The TeleVue is a monster!

First Light-ish

Tonight I made my first photos using my new tracking mount for my camera. Alas! I live in the heavily light polluted skies of suburban Houston, so I could only do 30 second exposures before the image got too washed out. I also don’t really know my way in image processing, yet, but here are the results! Click the images to enlarge them.

Sword of Orion



Because of the short exposures, there’s no color really visible except a tiny bit in Great Nebula.

Tonight’s outing was really just a test run to familiarize myself with the new equipment, so even though the images are lackluster I am pleased with the result.