Fireworks Galaxy

With some clear skies in the mid-week forecast an imaging buddy, Art Cole, and I headed out to the St. Croix Observatory  to capture a few images. SCO is the club observatory  of the Halifax  Centre of the RASC, a great facility about 40 minutes out of town with dark mag 6 skies.

I love imaging this time of year. It’s not so cold that you have to wear a parka, it gets dark earlier and there are no mosquitoes! We arrived with a bit of daylight left to make setup easier and as we were the only two at SCO that night we spread out a bit. I must say that the Esprit 120 is a joy to use, making setup much easier than my Newtonian. With the camera at the back end of the scope there is no need for a ladder in any observing position. After setting up my CGE Pro I waited a few minutes to let it get a little darker to start the alignment. Using live view and a grid displayed on the back of my Canon 60Da makes sky and polar alignment a snap. I’m not sure who came up with the all star polar alignment routine in the mount software, but after years of drift alignment he or she has my vote for a Nobel Prize! A few week ago I added a three port USB hub to my system and some Velcro strips for cable management. The combination allows me to control the whole setup, DSLR, auto-guider and scope from a single USB connection to my tablet. Adding Tight VNC to the tablet allows me to control the whole thing from my cell phone from the observatory warm room, a setup that will be very much appreciated once the temperature starts to drop.

With everything set up and darkness above I turned the scope toward NGC 6946, the Fireworks Galaxy, and started calibrating the auto-guider. Phd quickly calibrated and I started the exposure sequence. One reason for picking this target was to capture the rapidly fading supernova that was discovered in May. While my tablet took care of the data capture I set up a zero-G chair and toured the Milky Way with binoculars. After capturing 85 minutes of data I grabbed a couple of quick darks to use as a hot pixel map in my Images Plus workflow. The image was processed using a split star work flow with masked stretches to bring out the galaxy without overly bloating the stars. For details on the workflow please read the pdf from my main website.

After a bit of quality time spent with Images Plus I had a passable galaxy image with an open cluster, NGC 6939, in the upper left as a bonus.

Zooming in on the galaxy reveals a faint “star” that wasn’t there before May. The supernova is highlighted by the white arrow.

Compare this with an older and much poorer image taken several years before the supernova.

For more image details and to see a blink of the two galaxy images please visit my main website page for this image. It still amazes me that images confirming a supernova can be captured with a simple DSLR camera and a small amateur telescope. Galileo would be impressed with what his humble telescope has made possible.

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