Impressive early efforts of a beginning telescope user

M42 - The Orion Nebula - by John Burkett

M42 – The Orion Nebula: Two exposures, “…a minute at 400 ISO and a minute at 100 ISO. One each. I just erased the center from the ISO 400 on top of the ISO 100 layer.” – John Burkett

CAA member John Burkett writes about how he, a person who says he has used a telescope only six times in his life, created images that would be the envy of many a veteran amateur astronomer.

Wanting to do astrophotography for many years, I could never justify the expense if I rationally totaled the equipment costs; clearly, the only solution was to be irrational.  Feeling time-pressured in July ’17 to acquire a longer DSLR camera lens for the {total solar} eclipse, I bought a used Stellarvue 130 instead. 

The first time I used the goto mount, I didn’t know if it was polar-aligned or not, and gave up at 3 AM.

The second time, I had acquired a magical device called PoleMaster.  It says “click on Polaris”, but how do I know if I’m clicking on Polaris or not? 

The third weekend, I was more confident of the polar alignment but only then realized the need to know names of stars to align the mount. After an hour or so with an app, I found Altair and confidently  pressed “enter” on the hand controller. Wow, this was exciting, the mount started moving, the scope is spinning around and when it stopped, the telescope  was pointing below the horizon. I spent an hour or two, staring at the equipment wondering if I put something together backwards or selected the wrong hemisphere, or broke it. I released the clutch and pointed it at the moon so I could say I captured something.

The 4th time I set up the CGEM, I went through the motions of a three-star alignment, repeatedly. This took all night, since I didn’t know any star by name yet.

Photo: Horsehead Nebula (Barnard 33) in Orion. Photo by John Burkett

The Horsehead Nebula (Barnard 33) in the upper-right, is located just to the south of the star Alnitak in Orion’s Belt, and part of the much larger Orion Molecular Cloud Complex. The large glowing cloud to left of center is NGC 2024 – the Flame Nebula. Photo by John Burkett.

Finally, on the 5th CGEM weekend, being frustratingly entertained, I was able to align everything. I selected the Dumbbell, took a shot and captured it. I continued to do the tour of random DSOs (deep-sky objects). I noted the same length of trails in a six-minute exposure as in a two-minute exposure.  The camera body to mount had uncorrectable play, so I determined its natural sitting and wrapped the intervalometer cable around the camera so that it would dangle in the desired direction, using its weight to avoid the unintended motion of the less than ideal mounting.

Just in time for some use-it-or-lose-it vacation, I wanted to spend a week at this. To be honest, I’ve been a self-described night sky [amateur] photographer for many years, so once I had the mount figured out, exposing and {image editing} was second nature.  As in DSLR camera photography, I shot both over and under exposures, choose the best two and just erased the over-exposed center of one layered image, on top of the other image in Photoshop. And that is my beginner M42 with a DSLR on a goto telescope adventure. I think I’m going to enjoy contributing and learning astrophotography.

Burkett notes that his digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR) is a Nikon D810 not modified for astrophotography. He shot the images from Kissimmee, Florida in February 2018. And yes, we are among those awestruck at his first efforts. — ed


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I am Webmaster for the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association. I also participate in outreach programming in public observing and occasional presentations on behalf of the CAA and a local college.
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