A bright pairing in the evening sky 
Recently it's been exceptionally good for seeing planets in the night sky. Mercury has now sunk out of sight but a few weeks ago you could see that planet plus Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and if you were willing to wait up a few more hours, Saturn - all in the same night.

The recent pairing of Jupiter and Venus even made the TV news since they are two very bright objects in the sky. Here is a more common pairing, that of the crescent moon with Venus. Since Venus is closer to the sun than Earth, when Venus is high in our sky and the moon is in an early phase, they often appear close together after sunset.

When the moon is a slim crescent you will often be able to see the rest of the lunar globe dimly lit by "Earthshine" or the light reflected back from the Earth. Such light has been reflected twice on its journey from the Sun to your eyes - from the Earth to the Moon, then back to you on Earth. This is also known as the Moon's "Ashen Glow", or "The New Moon in the Old Moon's Arms".

This picture was taken with a Canon 300D Digital SLR using a cheap Optomax 300mm lens (found on Ebay for 10). The image was converted from Raw mode using RawDrop, then contrast was tweaked slightly before presentation here. Click the picture to see the full-sized image.

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Jupiter and Ganymede 
The weather cooled significantly here in England recently and the sky cleared for a couple of days. I was able to get this picture of Jupiter on Saturday night. I captured 4000 frames using my Orion SPX 250 telescope and used Registax 6 to stack the best 1400. The image was enhanced using that program's wavelets, and further tweaked using The Gimp.
Just off the edge of the disc of the planet in this picture is Jupiter's moon Ganymede, That is the third moon out from Jupiter and was one of the original four identified by Galileo. Ganymede orbits in about 7 days.
Here is the image, click for bigger version:

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Jan Timmermans: 1941 - 2012 
On Wednesday 4 January I was saddened to receive the news of the death of amateur astro-imager Jan Timmermans.

Jan was an active member of several online groups and in the amateur astronomy community. I first came into contact with him in 2004 via the QCUIAG (QuickCam and Unconventional Imaging Astronomy Group) on Yahoo (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/QCUIAG) and soon discovered his amazing website "The Firmament" (http://www.thefirmament.nl) documenting all his efforts in the astronomy field. We met at the two QCUIAG conferences in 2004 and 2006, when he travelled from his native Netherlands to England to meet his fellow astro-imagers.
Jan was a huge inspiration. From humble beginnings (astronomy-wise) imaging the moon and planets with a webcam and relatively cheap TAL telescope, he progressed, making many pieces of equipment himself - using such things as drawer handles, plumbing tubes, and pieces of metal and nuts and bolts from the local D.I.Y store, through to deep-sky pictures using a modified camera and a Meade LX200 scope, then more recently extremely impressive hydrogen-alpha solar imaging, frequently accompanied by a favourable comparison with the corresponding image from NASA's SOHO probe (http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov).
Jan was always helpful and frequently offered advice about pictures I shared, even when not asked! When advice was sought on the various internet groups, Jan was usually there with a pointer to a relevant page on his site, which contains an extensive set of tutorials and highly detailed descriptions of everything from his home-made focus aids, SLR lens clamps, and dew heater, accessories he bought and made, software he used, "outreach" to his local community and so-called "special conjunctions", that is, meetings with fellow astronomers, and even the local weather and current universal time.
Of course in addition to all of this, "The Firmament" contains practically every astro-image that Jan ever made, up to his last solar image in November 2011. Each in his standard form, carefully catalogued, with description and details of when it was captured, and how.
It was shocking news when Jan revealed his diagnosis with cancer in August 2010 but in characteristic fashion he didn't immediately retreat or withdraw but instead documented his progress and treatment on a new "My Health" page, at one stage admitting he had revealed perhaps too much detail. Optimistic to the end, at least to outside observers, Jan commented on 16 December 2011 that he was unable to reply to emails but welcomed receiving them, and maintained his Christian faith that perhaps helped him keep going so strong, longer than the doctors originally suggested.
My thoughts go out to his close friends and family at this time, and although Jan will be very much missed I hope that his memory via his work in the amateur astronomy community will live on for many years to come, as will his legacy in the many amateurs that he inspired, myself included

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Spots on the sun 
It's been a while since I imaged the sun. The last time was in fact the ISS-Crossing in August 2010.
Today the sun is much more active than back then, and there are quite a few spots on the sun.
Click the image to enlarge it!

To identify all these sunspots I looked at This Image from the SOHO daily image which revealed that Active Regions 1338 to 1346 are visible in this image.
The picture was captured using the TouCam Pro at prime focus of my Megrez 80 Super Apo telescope (fitted with a filter made with Baader solar film), which results on a bigger image than the camera sensor, therefore this is a composite of four separate images, each stacked and sharpened in Registax 6 and put together using IMerge.
The image is not perfect and there are some artifacts of the slightly cloudy sky and of the imaging process. The colour is as it came from the camera, which for Baader-filtered images should normally be monochrome, but which came out as a pleasing sun-like colour.

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Jupiter with Great Red Spot 
After a lot of cloudy nights, I got a clear sky before the fog came down on this November night.
I captured three sequences of frames using my TouCam Pro and this was the best after stacking in Registax and processing with The Gimp.

Click the picture to see it full-sized.
In this picture you can see various details in the clouds including the dark spots in the northern equatorial belt and what looks almost like another spot next to the GRS.
It is interesting to compare this with this earlier image to see the development of that cloud feature.

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GRS at last 
You have probably seen many images of Jupiter with the Great Red Spot prominent. This huge storm has been raging for hundreds of years (it was observed in the 1600s) and is large enough to fit the entire planet Earth within it.
However most of my images in this blog so far have not included the GRS. Why? Timing. Jupiter rotates once every 9.9 hours and you have to catch it at the right time to get a decent image of the red spot.
Tables of GRS transit times, the times when the spot is visible in the centre of Jupiter, are published, or you can use a page such as this one to calculate when the GRS will next be visible.
Last night I was prepared for the moment of transit and captured three sequences at various camera settings. The best was this one, using the TouCam camera at 15fps with 1/33sec exposure time.
The innermost moon Io is also visible, as it often is in these images.

Click the picture to see the full sized image.

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Jupiter and Io 
No...not that Jupiter and Io but the planet and its innermost moon.
These two pictures were taken within 15 minutes of each other a few days ago on the night of 7 October.
Click the pictures below to see them in full size.

Each one is the result of stacking 3000 webcam frames captured with K3CCDTools. I stacked them in Registax 6 and processed further with The Gimp.
Some artifacts of the capture and stacking process can be seen around the edges...the infamous "ringing" that often shows up in stacked images of Jupiter. However plenty of genuine detail did show up on this occasion.

Captures of Jupiter have to be done in a short time due to the fast rotation of the planet. You can see the movement in the two images above. Capturing for too long a time would result in blurred pictures.
For the same reason, the USB 1.1 webcam is best at 15 frames per second, allowing more frames to be captured (and therefore a better result after stacking) than using potentially higher quality but fewer frames when capturing at 5 fps.
My captures were limited to 3000 frames at 15fps which takes 3 minutes, limiting the motion due to rotation to a tiny amount.

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Tranquility Base 
It may be a long time since I got a decent image of Jupiter (see previous blog entry) but it's even longer since I did one of these. A mosaic of the lunar surface.
This image was composed of four sections covering Mare Tranquilitatis, Mare Crisium, Mare Fecunditatis, and part of Mare Serenitatis.
For each part I captured and stacked 1000 frames using a TouCam Pro on my Orion Optics SPX 250 telescope. Stacking was done in Registax 5, and the mosaic was put together in Jon Grove's relatively ancient but still excellent iMerge.

Click the image to see the full picture.

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Jupiter is back 
After a long gap, I have made a reasonable picture of Jupiter again, and with the Galilean satellite Europa, too. I have had a few tries recently but the weather here has been pretty bad and even when it was clear it was very windy, leading to very bad astronomical seeing.
I captured this one on the night of 17 September, actually it was 18 September by the time Jupiter was high enough. I captured 4000 frames and stacked 1200 of them in Registax 5, with some final finishing in The Gimp.

Click the image above to see the full photo.
This picture was captured using my Orion Optics SPX 250 Newtonian telescope on my new mount, a Losmandy GM-8, of which more later.

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First full narrowband - M42 in Hubble Palette 
I recently acquired an S-II (Ionised Sulphur) filter, to go with my Hydrogen Alpha, and O-III (Doubly-Ionised Oxygen) filters. I can now do tri-colour narrowband imaging, assigning each of red, green, and blue to those three filters.
I imaged the Orion Nebula using the new S-II filter, and combined it with H-alpha and O-III images from January 2009.

Click the image to see the full-sized picture.
I decided to use the "Hubble Palette" for this image, which assigns the S-II image to Red, the H-alpha to Green, and the O-III to Blue. I also used the H-alpha for luminance.
There is a lot of H-alpha in this image, which is why there is quite a lot of green.
Due to bad imaging conditions, the S-II image is not as good as the others, but this shows the principle.
Images were captured using an Atik 16HR camera, with Baader filters as described above. The telescope was my William Optics Megrez 80 Super Apo.

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