AstroPixel Processor 1.072 Released

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The latest version of Astro Pixel Processor has been released.

Lots of support for Sony cameras has been added.

Improved Drizzle/Bayer Drizzle.

Lots of changes and improvements to

  • Image EXIF data,

  • console panel

  • progress monitors

  • Improved loading for frames

  • fixed some memory issues

  • dynamic distortion correction.

  • Improved star analysis

  • GUI frame panel scrolling

Head over to the APP website to get the latest version. Take a look at the full update notes here.

KStars/EKOS 3.1 is released!

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An update to my current favorite imaging platform has been released. In this release there’s a bunch of 3.0 fixes as well as a hand full of new features.

  • Fixes to the scheduler to cover some multi-object multi-night scheduling.

  • Ring-field focusing, an improvement to star selection methods for focusing.

  • Updates to the meridian flip code.

  • Huge updates to the official documentation.

  • Polar alignment routines for non-GOTO mounts.

  • Live view for DSLR’s so you can now focus easier.

  • A host of other random fixes and improvements.

Get the updated file at the Kstars download site.

Quick note for Mac users: there’s a bug with offline plate solving in this release, and is expected to be fixed soon.

Revisiting IC 417 on the ES 102mm

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I decided to revisit IC 417 but this time with a wider field of view. The image was previously taken with my AT6RC, and it focused primarily on IC 417. But this time I was able to frame it such that I also got the open cluster NGC 1907, as well as the smaller nebula below IC 417, NGC 1931. I’m really happy with how it turned out.

Imaging details

Imaging telescope or lens:Explore Scientific ED102 FCD-100 CF

Imaging camera:ZWO ASI1600MM-Cool

Mount:Celestron CGX

Guiding telescope or lens:Stellarvue F050G

Guiding camera:ZWO ASI290MM Mini

Focal reducer:Stellarvue SFFR102-2

Software:Kstars/Ekos,  Astro Pixel Processor,  PixInsight 1.8 Ripley

Accessories:Moonlite High res stepper motor and Mini-V2 controller,  MoonLite CF 2" Focuser

Resolution: 4432x3235

Dates:Jan. 4, 2019,  Jan. 5, 2019

Frames:
Astrodon Tru-Balance H-a 5nm: 125x180" (gain: 200.00) -15C bin 1x1
Astrodon Tru-Balance OIII 5nm: 112x180" (gain: 200.00) -15C bin 1x1
Astrodon Tru-Balance SII 5nm: 80x180" (gain: 200.00) -15C bin 1x1

Integration: 15.8 hours

Darks: ~50

Flats: ~50

Bias: ~50

Avg. Moon age: 28.56 days

Avg. Moon phase: 1.31%

Bortle Dark-Sky Scale: 6.00

Astrometry.net job: 2454319

RA center: 82.351 degrees

DEC center: 34.736 degrees

Pixel scale: 1.380 arcsec/pixel

Orientation: 92.987 degrees

Field radius: 1.051 degrees

Locations: Home Observatory, Pearland, Texas, United States

Data source: Backyard

Narrowband Imaging IC410 and IC417

IC410 imaged on the Explore Scientific 102mm FCD100 APO refractor.

IC410 imaged on the Explore Scientific 102mm FCD100 APO refractor.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve had 3 imaging nights. KStars & EKOS 3.0 were released which fixed a ton of long standing issues with the scheduler. In addition to that nice software update, I got a Celestron CGX for Christmas! So, those two things combined and I set my sights on the only northern region available to me from the back yard and imaged IC417 on my AT6RC, and IC410 on my Explore Scientific 102mm FCD100 scope.

Here’s a recent photo of the setup.

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So far it’s worked great. Average RMS has been between .6 and .8. My AVX was hovering between .8 and 2.0 RMS. I think I can get the CGX tuned a little more in guiding to get those numbers even lower, but have not attempted any adjustments. These are the numbers I’ve been getting without changing any of the default guide settings.

IC 417 imaged on the AT6RC from Astro-tech.

IC 417 imaged on the AT6RC from Astro-tech.

KStars/EKOS 3.0 released with new features

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The team behind KStars and EKOS have been busy wrapping up a new version of their imaging software just in time for the holidays. There’s a lot of new features in this one.

The first major feature is the XPlanet solar system viewer developed by Robert Lancaster. It’s a significant upgrade over the built-in viewer.

Robert also created a new interface for the FITS viewer which can how show you all the data of your images in a new side panel which features the FITS header info, Histogram, Statics, and recent images.

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Additionally, Eric Dejouhanet dedicated time to a huge scheduler rewrite. The scheduler system previously allowed for scenarios where you could have conflicts in operations, but with the rewrite all this has been fixed and numerous improvements have been added:

  • Dark sky, which schedules a job to the next astronomical dusk/dawn interval.

  • Minimal altitude, which schedules a job up to 24 hours away to the next date and time its target is high enough in the sky.

  • Moon separation, combined with altitude constraint, which allows a job to schedule if its target is far enough from the Moon.

  • Fixed startup date and time, which schedules a job at a specific date and time.

  • Culmination offset, which schedules a job to start up to 24 hours away to the next date and time its target is at culmination, adjusted by an offset.

  • Amount of repetitions, eventually infinite, which allows a job imaging procedure to repeat multiple times or indefinitely.

  • Fixed completion date and time, which terminates a job at a specific date and time.

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A few other enhancements are a new scripting and DBus system allow for 3rd party applications to take advantage/control of features with EKOS which will open up the system for more options down the road.

Other improvements and new features can be found on Jasem’s (lead developer) website.

Here’s a few more screens of the rest of the updated interface panels.

13 Panel Mosaic of the Moon

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Yesterday, I had a few hours of clear sky, and got out my AVX along with my Celestron C5, and ZWO ASI224MC camera. I was determined to get a few shots of the moon. I initially tried a Powermate 2.5x, but the seeing just wasn’t there. I ended up shooting everything at prime focal length 1250mm.

I used Planetary Imager on the Mac to capture everything, then merged them all together in Photoshop using it’s photo merge feature.

Below you can see the individual frames that make up each part of the mosaic.


HD 14771 and Galactic Friends

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I managed to produce a neat image over the last two nights. I centered the star HD14771 to place NGC 891 in the lower right and a galaxy cluster in the upper left. After two nights of imaging, I had around 13 hours. I placed it all together today. Turns out that the galaxy cluster was only a few of the total galaxies in this image. In all, there are 79.

Captured in EKOS/Kstars

Integrated with slight processing in Astro Pixel Processor

Completed processing in PixInsight and Photoshop

Overlay done in Observatory


Equipment used and shown in photo:
Imaging telescope or lens:Astro-Tech AT6RC
Imaging camera:ZWO ASI1600MM-Cool
Mount:Celestron Advanced VX
Guiding telescope or lens:Orion 60mm Guide Scope
Guiding camera:ZWO ASI224MC
Focal reducer:Astro-Physics CCDT67
Software:Astro Pixel Processor
Filters:Astrodon Tru-Balance Blue E-Series Gen 2 31mm, Astrodon Tru-Balance Green E-Series Gen 2 31mm, Astrodon Tru-Balance Red E-Series Gen 2 31mm, Astrodon Tru-Balance Luminance E-Series Gen 2 31mm
Accessory:MoonLite CSL 2.5" Focuser with High Res Stepper Motor

In this overlay, done in Observatory on the Mac, you can see all 79 galaxies highlighted.

In this overlay, done in Observatory on the Mac, you can see all 79 galaxies highlighted.

Here’s the scope that took the image. The AT6RC with CCDT67 reducer and ZWO ASI1600MM-C camera.

Here’s the scope that took the image. The AT6RC with CCDT67 reducer and ZWO ASI1600MM-C camera.

iObserve gets a new release, now with Mojave Dark Mode support

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A little over a year ago, iObserve saw its last update. The developer (Cedric Follmi) had put the Mac iObserve application on hold to devote time to an online only web version over at arcsecond.io. But after a year or so of developing efforts on the website, he put up a poll online asking users what development path they would like to see going forward. Continue the website? Update the Mac app to be compatible with Mojave? Make an even better Mac app longer term? Given those choices, people voted, and now there’s a new Mac application.

What’s new in iObserve 1.7.0?

  • Added full support for macOS 10.14 Mojave with a complete update of the app internals (especially about network requests and dates).

  • Dropped support for all macOS versions before High Sierra (10.13).

  • Mojave Dark Mode

  • Suppressed the large title bar to adopt a more modern and compact look .

  • Suppressed the ability to submit new observatories by email, and explain that Arcsecond.io is the new home for observatories.

  • Fixed the failing downloads of the sky preview image (available when clicking the icon to the right of the object name in the right-hand pane).

  • Fixed an issue that prevented the app to complete the import of a Small Body.

  • Fixed an issue that prevented the user to select a Small Body in the list when multiple ones are found for a given name.

  • Fixed the failing downloads of 2MASS finding charts.

  • Fixed various stability issues.

Get the latest version directly from the Mac App Store.

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How to take easy flats using an inexpensive light source.

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Here’s my setup at 5:30 am this morning. Taking good flats is key. I had been using the dawn sky to shoot flats for some time. EKOS has a feature where it will shoot flats of any desired ADU value. I’ve found that a median ADU value of 22,000 is perfect for my setup. I found this value through trial and error, by taking flats ad different ADU values, then calibrating with them to see what the results were. Anything above 24,000 overcorrected, and anything less than 20,000 under corrected, so I’m right in the middle now.

I recently discovered this really awesome and inexpensive light source for flats. It’s worked like a charm.

A3 Light Box by AGPtek - currently $47.99

First off, A3 is large enough to cover the front of most large scopes. It’s 11.69” x 16.53” and it’s a flat evenly lit LED panel with three built in brightness settings. It can be powered by the A/C plug it comes with, or through USB plugged into your laptop.

In the photo above I have it plugged into the laptop, and am taking my flats through EKOS. This makes capturing flats quick and easy.

Within EKOS, I build a camera sequence for all my filters, 50 images each, auto exposure set to ADU value 22,000. Then I run the sequence. Within seconds it measures the light from the frame, and knocks out 50, then switches filters, measures the light again, and bangs out another 50 frames. In about 2-5 minutes I can capture all my flats in one go.

Below are the two sequences I captured for the evening (Double Cluster, and M33). While short at under 2 hours each, you can see that they are clean and well calibrated thanks to the easy flats system I’ve been using.

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Pacman Nebula captured with EKOS, and processed in PixInsight.

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I managed to get a few clear nights last week. Just two in fact. So, knowing I had only two nights to image, I focused on getting another bi-color nebula image. My earlier Pacman nebula imaging attempt was at F9 on my RC with a one shot color camera. It didn’t quite come out with the detail I could achieve on this particular image.

This one was imaged on my Explore Scientific 102mm FCD-100 scope. I captured about 8 hours per filter (Astrodon 5nm HA, and OIII) using the ZWO ASI1600MM-C camera using the EKOS imaging platform on the Mac.

I did the initial image integration and calibration with Astro Pixel Processor, then took each final filter’s image HA and OIII into PixInsight for final processing. In PixInsight, I processed each image to maximize the brightness and contrast of the nebula without destroying the stars. I tried a pixel math combination into RGB with the goal of keeping the nebula as natural looking as possible with good star colors. I find that the following combination is good for that R=HA, G=OIIIx.6+HA*x.4, with B=OIII. I think the final image turned out great.

UPDATE: I added some SII data now, for a new pallet based on the Hubble coloring. This new image is a total of 24 hours of data.

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Tutorial for Astro Pixel Processor to calibrate and process a bi-color astronomy image of the Veil Nebula

The final result of processing the Veil Nebula in Astro Pixel Processor on the Mac.

The final result of processing the Veil Nebula in Astro Pixel Processor on the Mac.

To get started, you'll need to have taken a full set of light images to process. In addition you will need darks, flats, and bias for calibration of those light images. The calibration process is going to remove any artifacts caused by dead pixels in your camera, and correct for lens dust and uneven illumination caused by your image train. Starizona has a great page detailing why you would do image calibration.

If you don't have Astro Pixel Processor, you can download an unlimited 30-day trial at the website. If you like the process, and find the program easy to use, it's fairly affordable in comparison to some of the other tools out there.

Loading your images into Astro Pixel Processor

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When you first open the program, you'll be asked to choose a working directory. I typically make a folder on my desktop called Processing, and put all my images neatly organized into folders within. I label them Light, Darks, Bias, and Flats. Inside each folder there are more folders for each filter. For this particular image, I have HA and OIII images of the Veil Nebula, so there is a folder for each in the light folder, and a folder for each in the Flats folder. Bias and Dark can be shot as a single set (the filter doesn't matter since the frames are dark) and used to calibrate both HA and OIII.

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From here, I need to go to the Load tab on the left panel in APP. I'm going to check off a setting here for Multi-channel/filter processing since I'm processing two channels/filters at once. You do both at once here, because you want them to register the alignment of all stars across all images at the same time.

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If I had shot the same filters over multiple nights, I could select Multi-Session processing, which allows you to do day 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. of each filter and use a different set of flats for each day of the same filter. This is especially useful if you re-image an object over multiple nights throughout a year, you can keep adding data to improve your image. But in this case, I shot all my images for each filter on a  single night.

NOTE: If you have a One Shot Color (OSC) camera, and need to make some modifications to the images as they are processed, you would go to the RAW/FITS tab and you can select debayer options there before you load your lights in.

On the load tab, you will now select the Light button, navigate to your first lights folder and select your first set of images for the first filter. In this case, I'm selecting my HA images. You can select the first image in the list, scroll to the last, hold shift, and select it. This will multi-select all images in the window, and you can then press OPEN to import them.

When you add them, it will ask you which filter these light images are, be sure to select the correct filter. In this case they are Hydrogen Alpha images. I select that, then you'll see that there are a bunch of images now associated with the Light button on the left pane. Press the light button again to add the second filter's images. This time go to your OIII light directory and select all OIII frames. Open them, and choose Oxygen III for the filter.

Now your light frames are loaded. You'll do the same for flats, being careful to assign HA flats to HA filter and OIII flats to the OIII filter. This insures the right frames get calibrated with the right flats. Now add your Darks and Bias frames. For both of these when it asks which filter to choose, pick the top options to apply the Darks and Bias to all filters.

Calibration options

Now, we're going to set one calibration option, and that's to have the program create a bad pixel map. You'll press tab two "Calibration", scroll down and find the check box "Create Bad Pixel Map". This will create a map of all bad pixels on your camera sensor, and correct for them when processing the final image.

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Integration options

This is a very straight forward simple process just to give you an idea of how the program works. We're only going to set a few things in this tab.

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We're going to integrate per channel under the Multi-Channel/Filter options setting since we're processing multiple filters of light data. We're also going to stack all 100% of the images, because I've already gone through them and removed any images where clouds or airplanes came into the frame. You could lower the % to integrate if you want the program to automatically remove the worst images based on a percent of overall images. I'm going to also set "weights" to quality. This is going to look at all the images in my set, and integrate lower quality images with a lower weight than higher quality images.

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I'm going to set "Outlier rejection" to "Windsor clip" and leave the rest of the settings to the default. This is going to average out satellites and other stray objects that get into the frames.

Finally, we now have all settings ready to go. It's time to start the integration process.

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You'll press the integration button, and now APP will run through your entire set of images creating master bias, dark, flats, and bad pixel map. It will then apply them to all your light frames to calibrate them, then it will align all frames using the registration process, and finally integrate them into two light images, one for HA, and one for OIII.

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Once complete, you should have a folder that looks something like this:

These image thumbnails were generated with a finder plugin that came with Observatory on the Mac.

These image thumbnails were generated with a finder plugin that came with Observatory on the Mac.

Processing your calibrated images

From here, we're going to load integrated light frames in order to process them into a final image. If you look at the bottom of your files window in APP, the last two files on there should be your Integrated HA and OIII images.

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The first thing we're going to do is remove any light pollution that came from either the moon or any nearby lights (or city glow). Even narrowband images can be affected by light pollution, but it will not be quite as bad as RGB images.

Open the tools tab (Tab 9), and double click the first integration image, this loads the image into the viewer, and you can now press remove light pollution on the tools tab to open it for editing.

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With your image loaded into the light pollution removal tool, you'll take your cursor and draw boxes over any area that is sky only. Be careful not to draw boxes over any area that has nebulosity or image data in them. It's OK if you include stars. Once you have a good set of boxes covering most of the area, press the Calculate button. This will remove the light pollution based on the boxes you have currently.

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Once you see how this has an effect on your screen, it might reveal some hidden nebulosity that was covered by the light pollution. You should now be able to add a few more boxes to finish refining the light pollution removal. Once complete you can check by pressing calculate again. If you're happy with the results, press OK & Save. Rename your file here to remember which version this file is. Each time you process an image with APP it will have you save that image. You can continue to save over the previous image, but I always find it best to rename it different after each save. I use HA-LPR in this case. Keep the format as FITS.

Now you can process your other channel the same way.

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Don't worry about the edges of your frame. Due to the different alignment of each frame (assuming you used dithering curing your image capturing) you will have a few pixels on each side of your frame from the registration process. It's not necessary to try and remove any light pollution from here as you'll just crop it out in the next step.

Cropping your frames is a little tricky. You can load them one at a time using the batch modify tool and manually draw a box around each one. But that's imprecise. You might accidentally crop each frame differently. In order to do both at the same time with the same crop, you'll need to NOT load an image before choosing "batch modify". So press Batch Modify, tell it not to load an image, and it will then ask you which files you want to batch modify. Select your two frames that have light pollution removed. It will load the first frame. Draw a box around it, and press the Crop OK button. This will crop both frames at this location you've indicated.

You'll now see two frames at the bottom of your list that are both cropped.

Combine RGB

This is the fun part of the process. We're now going to take your two individual frames and combine them into a single color image. 

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Now you'll choose Combine RGB in the tools area of APP (left Tab 9). It will open a new area with nothing in it. From here we're going to add in our images using the Add button. We'll pick the cropped HA image, choose HA channel. Then we'll pick OIII and choose OIII channel. Then, since a full color image actually consists of three channels Reg, Green and Blue, we need to add the OIII frame again. On the left column, you should now have 3 channels listed, each with a few settings underneath them. From here, we can assign which color we want each frame to be colored. 

Take the slider under Hydrogen Alpha labeled R (for red), and slide it to 100%. Then make one of the OIII channels B (for blue) 100%, and the last channel of OIII G (for green) 100%. Now press the calculate button at the top of the column. This will process the three channels into an RGB image, and you should see the results in your main window.

Now press the create button, save it as your RGB integration (any name you choose), and keep the format as FITS.

Background calibration

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We're now going to use the background calibration tool on our new RGB image. This is going to make sure that the black in the background is a true neutral color. If we had just a little bit too much red, or blue, this will knock it out and make sure the black background is true black.

Load your image using the Background Calibration tool (tab 9). Draw your boxes around only background area that is black sky and stars. Do not get any of your nebulosity in the boxes, because we don't want it to neutralize your pretty colors. Press calculate to see the results. If it looks good press OK & Save. Name your file and pick FITS again for the format.

Star calibration

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Because we're making a false color image with two filters, our star colors are going to be exaggerated a bit. I like to use the star calibration to bring them more in line with the typical star color temperature they should be. 

The calibrate stars tool is is also in the tools menu (tab 9). Select the image where you calibrated the background. Load it into the calibrate stars tool. And draw your boxes around large sets of stars. Press the calculate button, and this will process the image. You'll notice your bright red stars drop down to a more normal color. The stars are now in a proper temperature color range. But you'll notice that we also lost a little color in the nebulosity. We're going to bring that color back in the next step. Save your image, and again name it and pick FITS for the format.

Final processing

In this last step, I'm going to process the final color in another app that I'm more familiar with. These steps can be done in APP using the tools always shown to the right of the image. But for me, I can achieve the results faster by using an app I know better. In this case, I'm going to use Photoshop, but the same tools I'll use here are also available in a number of other apps on the Mac. GIMP, which is free has these tools, as well as Acorn, Pixelmator, and others.

First things first. We need to get the last image we did out of APP and into a regular image format for use an a standard image editor. In the upper right hand corner of APP, you'll see a Save button.  Load your last star color calibrated frame, and then press the save button.

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Keep the stretch option checked, and it will export the image as you see it in the viewer. If you uncheck this, and export, you'll have to stretch your image in your other image app instead. I find the default stretch here to be adequate. When saving, make sure to pick a format you can read in your image application. I picked 8-bit Tiff, but you can also pick JPG if you want a smaller file at the expense of a little bit of quality.

I now load the image into photoshop and apply some Curves to darken the blacks, and brighten the lights.

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I also add some saturation here to make the colors more vibrant. With those two things done, I'm ready to save my final image and complete the process.

This tutorial is provided to show the basic steps in processing with APP. It is capable of so much more, and I only touched the surface with this tutorial. To achieve the best results, experiment with all the tools to see what you can achieve. 

The final processed Veil Nebula image

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Astronomy and astrophotography planning with AstroPlanner on the Mac

Overview of AstroPlanner

AstroPlanner is a complete system for tracking observations and planning out nightly viewing or imaging sessions with your equipment. It also offers computer scope control from within the application.

Upon launching the software you'll need to start populating it with your user information. You'll provide your observing locations, this can contain your current location, as well as offsite locations that you visit for observing. AstroPlanner can access a USB GPS device to give you pinpoint accuracy for your site location. This should allow you to plan for those remote visits before you travel, so that you can be prepared with the equipment you require for the objects you plan on viewing or imaging.

The filter resource. (Add your filters here on this tab, and AstroPlanner will show you the visible wavelengths your an view or image with.

The filter resource. (Add your filters here on this tab, and AstroPlanner will show you the visible wavelengths your an view or image with.

In addition to your location, you can add each telescope you own, any eye pieces you have, optical aids like Barlows or reducers, camera or viewing filters, the observer (yourself or a buddy who might observe with you), and any cameras you might utilize for imaging.

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Once you've added all your equipment, you can start to add objects to the observing list. There are four primary tabs for objects. The objects list, the observations tab to add observations, the field of view tab which shows you how your image will look using the selected equipment, and finally the sky tab which shows the nights sky chart and allows you to view where the object you selected lies in the night sky, as well as other objects that are visible.

The Objects view in Astro Planner

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This is the main view within AstroPlanner. From here you add objects by using the Plus symbol in the lower left corner fo the screen. You get a search function to find the object and add it to the list. You an also browse by what is visible currently in the sky, and filter those choices by object type (open cluster, galaxy, nebula, planetary nebula, etc.). Across the top of your screen, you get a readout for the current date and time, sidereal time, Julian date, GMT, and GMST. On the second row below that information you can select the telescope you intend to view your object with. Next to that, you can see the sun and twilight time, what the current moon looks like, as it's helpful to know how much of an impact the brightness of the moon will have with imaging. Then next to that is your site location, and a clock which you can set to show the object at different time intervals.

On the next row of information you see the ephemeris of the object during the night and month. This allows you to see the objects elevation during the darkest part of the night between sundown and sunrise and it's visibility over the month. Next you see see altitude and azimuth indicators from due north. This gives you an idea of how you will need to point your telescope to see the object, in the above image it's indicating you need to point east and slightly above the horizon. Lastly there is a tiny indicator of where the object is in the night sky.

At the bottom of the screen you see your object list, as well as the local sky chart (showing the object constellation where your object is. You can switch the sky constellation chart to show images from several astronomical databases like the Hubble Space Telescope raw images.

The Observations view in AstroPlanner

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This tab highlights observations for the currently selected object. From here you can put in seeing and transparency conditions, note your field of view, and add any observations you made of the object during this particular time and date.

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Additionally, you can add attachments to your observations. In this case, I added an image I took with my telescope of NGC7000. I left an observation note listing out the focal length and equipment I used for this session.

Field of view in AstroPlanner

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This tab allows you to select all of your equipment for the viewing session. In this particular instance you can see I picked the AT6RC scope, with a CCDT67 reducer, and the TeleVue Delos 4.5 eye piece. With the current object M33 selected, and a Hubble Space Telescope image loaded, I'm able to see what it would look like in my telescope's view had I been looking through that particular set of equipment. You can choose additional display options in the lower right hand corner and it will overall known stars, object names, etc into the view.

The Sky view in AstroPlanner

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In this final object view screen, the Sky tab, you can see a sky chart of where your object is in the night sky. You can turn on and off planets, stars, galaxies, etc using the display options to the right to fine tune the view and make it easier for you to spot your object in the night sky.

I hope this gives you a good indication of the use and benefit of having a detailed planning tool. AstroPlanner is available here and is priced at $45, which doesn't seem like that much for all the features that it offers.