“Exploration is in our nature. We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers still. We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars.” – Carl Sagan
Why do people like me take images of the night sky? Why do people like me spend countless hours, often in cold and inhospitable conditions in an effort to capture something so elusively distant? For me, it’s not about bragging rights. If it was then I’d have better equipment. For me it’s about looking for that connection with the past, and losing myself in the splendor of the stunning beauty of the stars. The night sky is my church, my religion if you will. I don’t take the images I take JUST because what’s up there is beautiful. There’s plenty of beauty down here on earth. When the rigours of living this earthly life, especially right now, become too much, it’s the one place I can go where it’s all placed into a cosmic perspective. We are but one species, existing on a ball of rock, orbiting around an insignificant star, in a remote part of the galaxy, that I know in my heart of hearts is teeming with life that we know nothing about.
I’m not talking about statistics when I say that, or even about having a belief in that other life out there. It’s more profound than that. It’s a KNOWING that goes far beyond simple belief or faith.
After finally finishing off the Rosette Nebula, I was hunting around in Stellarium for something new to shoot that was in the same relative area of sky. As it is, the constellation Gemini is next door to both Orion and Monoceros (more or less), and also in the vicinity of Taurus (home of the Pleiades.) The FOV (field of view) that I felt was looking the best was with the DSLR as opposed to the ASI178MC, which is what I would’ve preferred to use. As you can see from the Stellarium image below, it’s quite a pleasing view in that it doesn’t fill the frame and leaves some space around it for it to “breath.”
I took a test exposure of 60 seconds using Miranda and the modded 450D. The amount of the nebula that was visible just off that one exposure convinced me to put some time into it properly.
That first night I took just over 2 hours worth of data, although I ended up only keeping 90 minutes worth. Although I was guiding on the Star Adventurer, recent modifications to Miranda’s configuration meant I’d pushed too hard on the weight limits, so I was having to restrict myself to 60 second subs as she was straining too much beyond that. As it was, even 60 seconds was on the cusp, but I was keeping more subs than I was binning and that for me is a win!
Processing that first session’s data, I was convinced I was on the right track, so decided the next clear night a week later to get some more time in, and ended up doubling the integration time to 3 hours, plus full set of calibration frames. For a change I’ve opted to stop gathering data on it with the current setup, although I have little doubt that I will return to it again at some future point.
To process it I loaded all the frames into DSS first in order to work through them and pull the bad frames. This left me with exactly 3 hours worth of usable data, which I loaded into APP for the stacking and initial crop, light pollution removal and star colour calibration. After saving that as a 16bit (can’t see the point in saving as a 32bit if the first thing we do in Photoshop is to convert it to 16bit anyway) TIFF file and then import it into Lightroom for cataloging and confirming the crop, From there I select “edit in Photoshop” and choose “Edit copy with Lightroom adjustments.”
Once in Photoshop I create a duplicate layer, and then go through a series of levels and curves adjustment layers, doing each one on a per channel basis. What this means is that for every levels or curves adjustment layer, I alter each of the RGB channels separately. It’s a longer process but it allows for greater control.
When I’m happy with those I’ll flatten the layers and then repeat the process but with the astronomy tools action set. If you don’t have these then I can highly recommend them as they make a lot of complicated processes a LOT easier. To be honest I’d be lost without them. As an example I’ve been in the habit of doing a fair bit of star reduction and colour blotch removal as well as DSO enhancement. Without the action sets it would be a lot harder to do than merely pressing a button. For each action I create a new layer and once I’m happy with that result I’ll again flatten the image layers. The whole time I’m messing about with these layers I’m also keeping a close eye on the histogram, being as careful as as possible not to clip the data in either direction.
Once I’ve made the final edit and flattened the image, I save the result and come out of Photoshop to return to Lightroom. There I’ll do a couple of little tweaks for saturation and vibrance (not gotten into the habit yet of doing those in Photoshop) and I’ll export the end result, both as a PNG (for upload to the book of many faces) and as a JPG.
It’s quite satisfying when you look at the original stacked image, which is (to me at least) pretty unimpressive, and by the time you’ve finished stretching and processing the data, ending up with something that makes you stop and stare in wonder that something so beautiful exists in what is for many a hidden universe. I feel privileged and humbled in equal amounts to be able to do what I do and to share it with you all. Even then, I’m not sharing it to say “hey guys, look how clever I am.” Far from it! I share it for you all to see the hidden and immense beauty that is around us all, waiting to be discovered.
When we say “we’re all of the same earth, under the same sky,” it goes much further than that. We’re ALL of the same stuff, existing in the same universe. We’re born of the stars, and we will return to the stars, and we’re all a part of that natural beauty. For us all, that adventure is just beginning.
So for now I leave you with IC443, the Jellyfish Nebula. Many thanks for reading and clear skies all!
Capture Date: 050221 / 100221
Capture Location: Gloucester, UK
Sky Quality: 5
Target: IC 443 Jellyfish Nebula
Right Ascension: 06h 17m 13s
Declination: +22° 31′ 05′
Apparent Magnitude: N/K
Estimated Age: N/K
Estimated Distance: 5,000 LY
Mount: SW SA
Guidecam: ZWOASI120mm (mono)
Guidescope: 9×50 finder
Imaging Device: ED72
Focuser: Crayford 11:1with DC AF
Capture Device: Modded Canon 450D
Filters Used: Astronomik 1.25″ CLS
Focal Length: 420mm
Sub Length: 180 x 60 seconds
No of exposures: 180
Total Integration Time: 3 hrs
Capture Software: APT
Stacking Software: APP
Editing Software: APP, LR & PS
Playlist: Country via iTunes
Notes: Would like more data but I’m really happy with this for now