WolvAS Outing to Dark Skies

First off, I’m sorry it has taken me nearly two months to do a blog post. The weather in the UK has been utterly terrible during September and October, and I haven’t been able to get out at all. However, with the start of November comes the cooler, longer, clearer nights, so hopefully I will be more active as we head into winter.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a new-ish member of the Wolverhampton Astronomical Society. I joined the society during the first COVID lockdown to increase my astronomy knowledge, and this will be my second season as a fully paid-up member. Like all societies, we were hit hard by the lockdown, but we’ve been fortunate enough to go entirely online using Zoom (the dreaded piece of software that I’m sure we’re all accustomed to by now).

Anyway, on the 1st of November the society was able to hire a local village hall out in the countryside, and fortunately enough it had electricity available to power my rig, albeit through a window. Luckily I have invested in a 15m camping hook-up cable and 13A adapter, so had plenty of reach to be able to set up far enough away from the building.

My AZ-EQ6-GT & 130PDS Setup

The week previous, I was asked to run a presentation on ‘My Astrophotography Journey’ to the society members, in which I described all the trials and tribulations of starting my journey. Within that, I described in depth my setup, including the Intel NUC and how I run a N.I.N.A. session via Remote Desktop. So therefore when we all met in person on the 1st, I was inundated with interest and questions about my rig. It was the first time that the members of the society had seen my full rig and was probably the largest equatorial mount that some members had ever seen – it is a very substantial mount, and much larger than my old EQ5 Pro.

It was also the first time that I have been able to fully test the new ‘3-Point Polar Alignment’ in N.I.N.A. After checking that I was sending the scope to clear section of sky, it slewed, plate solved, re-slewed by 20º, and repeated the process twice more. It finished by telling me what adjustments to the mount were required to be perfectly polar aligned. And an advantage over the QHY Polemaster, is that Polaris doesn’t even need to be visible to the user, so it’s perfect for people who have not got a north view. In the end, with a couple minutes tinkering, I was able to get my alignment error to less than one Arc-minute. I was really happy with this for a first attempt, especially for a quick imaging session such as this.

Red lights everywhere!

Overall, there were around 15 members at any given time, each with numerous rigs and cameras dotted around the carpark. The night started off with wisps of cloud, but it soon cleared up which allowed me to make the most of the dark Bortle 5 skies, and capture Messier 31 – Andromeda Galaxy.

Single 5-minute Exposure

The entire galaxy is just that bit too large to fit in the entire FoV, unless I rotate the image slightly to allow it to fit corner-to-corner. Using the manual rotator and the ‘Slew, Centre & Rotate’ command, I was able to get it to fit perfectly.

My guiding was of a usual figure – around 0.5″-0.6″ RMS Total – which made sense as it wasn’t 100% clear to begin with, and as the evening went on the cloud slowly started to creep in unfortunately. Over the period of 2 hours or so that I was able to image, I was only able to capture 35-minutes due to one reason or another. The last two frames were clouded out though, so I only had five frames at my disposal, giving me a total exposure of 25-minutes.

I wasn’t treating the evening as true imaging session though, so I wasn’t too bothered about the lack of data. I was really treating it as an outreach project for the members of the society, to show them what the difference is between looking through an eyepiece attached to a 10″ newtonian and a much smaller 5″ newtonian and a camera. Even so, I was asked to stack the data to see what was possible…but never expected it to turn out like this:

Messier 31 – 25-Minutes Exposure (Darks, Bias, No Flats)

Overall, for less than half an hour of exposure, I’m over the moon (excuse the pun) with the final result. It makes me want to go to a much darker bottle area and re-capture this target for many many hours, or even do a two-panel mosaic. So many plans!!!

Hopefully I won’t leave it another two months till my next post, but we shall have to wait and see!

Till next time, clear skies!

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