Baby Frogs…In Space?

10 mins read time

Sorry, what? Yes, there are actually tadpoles in space. Actually they’re a little bigger than your average tadpole. Those aren’t very big at all, and you can fit a fair few in one hand. The ones I’m talking about are around 10 light years long…each. Just to give you an idea of how big that is, let’s give you an example. Apollo 10 set the speed record for a manned space vehicle at 24,791mph. 10 light years is approximately 58.79 trillion miles. Doing some simple maths, that comes out at around 270,000 years to travel the length of this denizen of deep space. So, in comparative terms, they’re pretty big. But where do they swim?

Specifically in the pond of the constellation known as Auriga. At the centre of this sea of ionised hydrogen surrounding the tadpoles is the open cluster NGC 1893, an active area of star formation, much like the Rosette Nebula over in Monoceros. The cluster itself is only about 4 million years old, a mere baby in cosmic terms. Quite apt with the tadpoles nearby. They’re sculptured by the winds and energy of the nearby cluster stars, their heads outlined by bright ridges of ionised gas, as their tails stream away from the central cluster.


I’ve captured this across several nights, mainly from the Five Valleys in Gloucestershire, using my regular DSO (deep space object) setup of the SkyWatcher EQ5 Pro equatorial mount, SkyWatcher 72ED refractor telescope, Altair Hypercam 183C dedicated astronomy camera, together with the Altair Lightwave 0.8 flattener/reducer that brings me down from 420mm at F/5.8 to 335mm at F/4.6.

Also in the imaging train is the Askar Duo Narrowband Filter that has recently replaced my old ZWO one. Although they’re almost comparable as far as bandpasses go, the ZWO one suffered from some quite severe halos, something that I’ve so far avoided with the Askar one. Guiding was with the 9×50 finder and ZWO 120MM in PHD2, capturing 5 minute subs in APT at unity gain. Predominantly under delicious class 4 skies.

My DSO setup for the Tadpoles Nebula in Auriga


My first night on this went okay and I managed to capture 90 minutes before cloud rolled in to spoil play. There were some subs I had to throw due to a couple of tracking errors and passing cloud midway through the session, but I was quite happy with just the 90 minutes I managed to obtain, especially as the tadpoles themselves were quite distinct.

90 minutes on the Tadpoles Nebula

Although the image itself is quite noisy, that’s purely down to the lack of exposure time, but having quickly processed this as a faux SHO, I’m pretty happy with the direction this is going, and I’m sure more time on target will only serve to enrich it further and bring out some of the finer detail, even at 335mm. In fact the forecast for the week was extremely favourable and I was able to get some decent time in on this and other targets I’m working on.

Night 2

The second night on this I wasn’t expecting much. Although the forecast was pretty good for most of the night, it did its usual thing and clouded over after a few hours. Expecting to only have managed a couple of hours of usable data, I was pleasantly surprised to make it the round 3 hours. Holding faith in the forecast, I kept everything set up for a third night…

Night 3

Starting the sequence as soon as it was dark, it was straight back onto target. Being as it was sub zero temperatures I opted to merely check on the run every hour, settling down to watch Star Trek: Discovery in between. Yes I know it has its haters, but I’m actually quite enjoying it in all honesty.

I was going to go with just the three hours up until the meridian flip and then switch targets, but it was so clear at that point that I stuck with it, aiming for a full 8 hours of data in one session. Sadly, after going through the images I had some star elongation after the flip so I lost 4 hours worth of subs to that and passing clouds. Unperturbed, I was happy with the total of 8hrs 10mins I so far had, happy in the knowledge that I was going to (fingers crossed) get another two nights in this week. The image below is a quick RGB process of the 8hrs 10mins I have up to this point.

Quick look at the 8hrs 10mins so far. Very minimal processing. Pretty happy with this although it looks like potentially there’s a bit of high cloud in a couple of the frames looking at the bright star near the top

Night 4

No, it’s not imaging Orion, I just used that as a framing subject.

The plan was to collect another 4 hours tonight, but just over two hours in, the mount suddenly felt the need to dump its connection. A quick park and reboot solved it but as it was so clear and Friday night was looking excellent, I decided to forgo further data on this and switched to another project I’m working on for several hours before calling it a night, which also did the same two hours into its session. I’ve since gone through the night’s data and, bar three frames, all was good, bringing me up to 10hrs and 10mins total, ready for the 5th and final night.

Night 5

The final night went well, and I managed to capture another 2hrs and 20mins from the kids class 5 skies in Gloucester, bringing the total up to 12hrs 30mins exposure time. This final night was a tough one, in main because I had to stay with the rig as it was out in the front garden. Things go missing in Gloucester if they’re not tied down and I wasn’t prepared to risk that. I was already exhausted from a week of almost non-stop imaging anyway, which in itself is a rare enough occurrence. The fatigue that accompanies the long covid is pretty brutal, and I’m thankful that I was able to image most of the week without having to constantly strip everything down and reassemble it. If I hadn’t been able to do that then I’m certain I wouldn’t have been able to get half as much time in.

The Final Image

This is 12hrs 30mins in dual narrowband, processed in both the HOO palette and a faux SHO in order to highlight the detail in the dense clouds of interstellar dust. It’s unusual to be able to both start and finish a project in the same week, especially in the UK, but I’m happy I stuck at it. I hope you enjoy the final image as much as I enjoyed being out under the stars capturing it. Doubtless I’ll put some more time into this at some point, but for the time being, this is it.

Thank you for reading, and clear skies all.

12hrs 30mins in a HOO palette
Reprocessed as a faux SHO palette with the same data

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