Summer Challenges and Project Updates

As if this hobby isn’t hard enough by itself, sky conditions in the Midwest are rarely ideal for imaging. This past Summer was the hottest and most humid on record in the Chicago area. Despite a stretch of nearly a month without rain, consistently humid conditions left much to be desired in sky transparency. Along with a break in the heat came consistent rain and clouds, followed by smoke in the atmosphere covering almost all of the US and much of Canada from the devastating fires in California and Oregon. I’ve been able to image one night out of the last 30. There is a long stretch of clear nights ahead, but we’ll see if the smoke persists. I do have a couple updates.

Meade LX85 Mount Belt Drive

I first got really excited when opened up the mount to adjust the backlash in the RA gear and saw how much room was available inside. Thanks to 3D printer kits, a myriad of gear and belt sizes are fairly readily available. That said, I’ve still decided against trying to fit a belt drive to the LX85 mount for a couple reasons:

  1. I can get the parts fairly readily from China for about $25(USD), but it’ll take two months to receive them. If my math is off by one millimeter, it’ll take another two months to get the specific sized belt, or I’ll need to make it myself.
  2. I don’t want to start messing around with the mount still under warranty when my guiding is already accurate to .5-.7 arc-seconds. The resolution of my setup is 2.5 arc-seconds per pixel, so my error is about .25 pixels. There’s no point in tinkering with a mount that is already accurate enough for me to image with a scope at F10.

So it’s possible to do, and even have it fit under the existing covers, but I’m just not up to waiting for months to tinker with a system that is already outperforming mounts twice as expensive. You’ll benefit more from really learning how to tune out the backlash in a CG5-style mount and properly use PHD2 than you will from using belt drives.

Radian Telescopes Traid Ultra Quadband Filter – From OptCorp

Holy crap! When Zach at OPT told me that comparing the Optolong L-Enhance to the Triad Ultra was like comparing an old pickup to a Ferrari, I thought he was being a little hyperbolic. He wasn’t! The L-enhance is great filter, and obviously a more economical option than the $1000 (USD) Triad Ultra, but it has it’s place. That place is not in a Bortle 8/9 sky. I used the L-enhance in a Bortle 3 one time, with great results, but the quality of data dropped off significantly at home as the level of light pollution shot up.

I have a busy life – family, work, kids activities – and I enjoy sleep, so I automate my imaging quite a lot outside of a 15 minute initial alignment. For those reasons, and others, I haven’t moved over to a mono setup. I know it’s better from a sensitivity and resolution aspect, but as this past Summer has shown, it could be a month between nights out imaging for me. With the Traid Ultra filter I can pull in data from multiple bandwidths in one night. For example, the image below is only 3 hours of data (18×600″). The very narrow bandpasses allow me to take 10 minute subs, even in my severely light-polluted skies, greatly increasing SNR and reducing the time to obtain decent data.

More to come in video form about why this filter is worth the $1075 (USD) price tag for me.

Processing Multi-Narrowband Data in Photoshop

The Hubble palette images we all see can be breathtaking. A multi-narrowband filter for color cameras doesn’t quite allow you to duplicate the results, as Ha and SII can’t be separated, but there are still some very interesting palette choices such as HOO, Ha+Ha/O+O, Ha+Ha/O+O/Hb, etc. Combinations of these palettes aren’t limited to the Traid triband and/or quadband filters, but can also be used on the Hutech IDAS NB1, Optolong L-enhance, and other multi narrowband filters. It’s also not limited to PixInsight. I have used PixInsight, but Photoshop is where I live. I do ALL of my image stacking in DeepSkyStacker and all of my processing in Photoshop. Adobe’s Photographers subscription, which includes Photoshop and Lightroom for $10(USD)/month is an attractive option. Below is an example image is only two hours of data on the Rosette Nebula using the Hutech IDAS NB1 filter and an Ha/Ha+O/O palette. I’m looking forward to the Rosette coming back into view this fall so I can tackle it with the Triad filter and compare.

More to come on this also in a tutorial video of sorts. I have been using Photoshop for the better part of two decades, but processing astro-images required throwing out everything I knew and starting over. I am not the most advanced image processor, but I think I have some decent workflows to share. I’ve advanced quite a bit in the last 3 years and I’m learning more with every image.

Clear Skies, Bleary Eyes – KA

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