Readers’ wildlife photographs

Reader Don McCrady sent a bunch of gorgeous astronomy photos. His notes are indented, and further technical and astronomical notes are at the links. Click to enlarge.

Now that the weather in Seattle has turned back to being typical Seattle weather, I’ve finally had a chance to process some of the images I took during August.  There’s 6 of them, so I thought I’d just drop them all into one big post.  After this batch, you might not hear from me for a while given the crappy weather I can look forward to for the next 7 months.

First, a batch of emission nebulae.  My astro-imaging system [JAC: have a look!] is optimized for these targets because I shoot from my highly light-polluted backyard, under the glare of 3 street lights.  Emission nebulae such as these respond well to narrow-band filters because they block out all light, including light pollution, except for a 3 nanometer wide strip of the spectrum corresponding to the emissions of ionized hydrogen (Hydrogen-α) and oxygen (Oxygen-III).  Since Hα sits in the red portion of the spectrum, I map it to “red” in the image; and since Oxygen-III lies very close to the blue-green boundary of the spectrum, I use it for both blue and green, thus making a 3-colour final image from only 2 source colours.  (I do add about 10% of the Hα to the blue channel since that element does shine weakly in that part of the spectrum.)  The result is a sort-of-close-to-true-colour image.
Here are 5 such emission nebulae.

M27 – the Dumbbell Nebula:  This planetary nebula offers a vision of what our own sun might look like when it has run its course and puffed off its shell of heavy elements formed in its furnace the preceding 10 billion years.  It lies about 1300 light years distant in the constellation of Vulpecula (the Fox), and is an easy visual target for amateur astronomers.

M27 is a planetary nebula, which like all planetary nebulae, offers a vison of what our own sun might look like when it has run its course and has puffed off its shell of heavy elements formed in its furnace for the preceding 10 billion years. It lies about 1300 light years distant in the constellation of Vulpecula (the Fox), and is an easy visual target for amateur astronomers. This was taken using a Stellarvue SVS130 and a SBIG STL-4020M camera using 3nm Astrodon Hydrogen-alpha and Oxygen-III filters. The red areas represent Hydrogen-alpha, while the blue/green areas are Oxygen-III. The image was processed in MaximDL and Photoshop, and then upsampled 2x.

The Elephant’s Trunk Nebula:  This is a portion of a much larger nebula known non-poetically as IC1396, which lies 3000 light years distant in the constellation Cepheus.  The bright blue star near the left edge of the image is HD 206267, and is responsible for the energizing the dust and glass in the area.  The stellar winds compress the molecular cloud into thin edges, and the intense radiation ionizes it forming bright filaments and fascinating structures.

This is the Elephant Trunk region of a much larger nebula known non-poetically as IC1396, which lies 3000 light years distant in the constellation Cepheus. The bright blue star near the left edge of the image is HD 206267 is responsible for the energizing the dust and glass in the area. The stellar winds compress the molecular cloud into thin edges, and the intense radiation ionizes it forming bright filaments and fascinating structures. This image was taken with a Stellarvue SVS130 telescope and an SBIG STL-4020M CCD camera. Hydrogen-alpha was used as the red channel, while the blue and green channels are Oxygen-III. The image was processed in MaximDL and Photoshop, and was upsampled 1.5x

The Pacman Nebula:  A whimsical name for a nebula more formally known as NGC281, which lies approximately 9500 light years away, toward the constellation Cassiopeia.

This bright nebula, which lies approximately 9500 light years distant toward the constellation Cassiopeia, is often whimsically referred to as the Pacman Nebula. Taken with a Stellarvue SVS130 telescope and an SBIG STL-4020M CCD camera. Hydrogen-alpha was used as the red channel, while the blue and green channels are Oxygen-III. The image was processed in MaximDL and Photoshop, and was upsampled 1.5x

Sharpless 2-188:  Sorry, but as far as I know there is no well-known whimsical name for this nebula, which is the 188th entry in the 2nd edition of Steward Sharpless’s catalog of emission nebulae.  It is a planetary nebula — the remains of a dying star — in the constellation Cassiopeia. It is unusual because of its asymmetry, and is thought to be much brighter in one segment because the central star is moving rapidly in that direction.

Sh2-188 is a planetary nebula -- the remains of a dying star -- in the constellation Cassiopeia. It is unusual because of its asymetry, and is thought to be much brighter in one segment because the central star is moving rapidly in that direction. Taken with a Stellarvue SVS130 and STL-4020M CCD camera. Hydrogen-alpha was used as red, and Oxygen-III was used as blue and green. Processed in MaximDL and Photoshop, and upsampled 2x.

The Eastern Veil and the Western Veil nebulae:  These two images are the eastern and western portions (respectively) of the Veil Nebula, a complex remnant of a powerful supernova explosion which occurred thousands of years ago.  The bright star in the Western Veil (also called the Witch’s Broom Nebula) is 52 Cygni.

Eastern Veil:

The eastern Veil Nebula (NGC 6992/6995) is just one part of a beautiful complex that is the remnant of a supernova that occurred thousands of years ago. It is a spectacular sight through a telescope eyepiece that has been fitted with an OIII or narrowband filter. Taken with a Stellarvue SVS130 and SBIG STL-4020M, with Hydrogen-alpha as red, and Oxygen-III as green and blue. Processed in MaximDL and Photoshop, and upsampled 1.5x.

Western Veil:

The Witch's Broom Nebula is also part of the famous Veil Nebula complex, this being the western portion. The entire complex is the remnant of a powerful supernova explosion which occurred thousands of years ago, sending elements forged in the destroyed stars core into space. The bright star is 52 Cygni. Hydrogen-alpha was used as the red channel, while Oxygen-III was used as the blue and green channels. Taken with a Stellarvue SVS130 and STL-4020M. Processed in MaximDL and Photoshop, and upsampled 1.5x.

The Triangulum Galaxy:  Finally, something that is not a nebula, although I worked hard to bring out the nebulae within this nearby galaxy, Messier 33.  This image was taken through wide-band red, green, and blue filters and thus is rendered here in “true colour”.  However, I did also take separate Hydrogen-α, which augments and highlights the active emission nebulae that are scattered throughout the galaxy.  Some of these nebulae have their own NGC designations such as the very bright NGC604 on the left edge of the galaxy.  Both the galaxy and some of its bright nebulae are easily seen through amateur telescopes, and although it has a low surface brightness, M33 can be seen with the naked eye from a dark location.

The Pinwheel galaxy, also known as M33, is one of the closest large galaxies to our own, and also one of the brightest. Although it has a low surface brightness, it can be seen with the unaided eye from a very dark rural site. The brightest HII region has its own NGC designation, NGC 604, and can also be easily seen in an amateur telescope at moderate power. The image is a combination of Red, Green, and Blue, augmented with a layer of Hydrogen-alpha to bring out the HII regions. It was taken using a Stellarvue SVS130 and an SBIG STL-4020M, and processed in MaximDL, PixInsight, and Photoshop. The final image was upsampled 1.5x.

18 Comments

  1. Posted September 1, 2016 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    They are so pretty!

  2. GBJames
    Posted September 1, 2016 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    It is hard to wrap my brain around these sorts of photos. They are incredible.

  3. Christopher
    Posted September 1, 2016 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    WOW.

    These are fantastic. A few look like you are viewing them through the old 3-D paper red/blue glasses(In a GOOD way). Almost unreal looking. Who knew dust and gas could be so pretty. Thanks for the explanations behind the imaging too, it makes the photos all the more impressive to know some of the science behind capturing them. If I had money, I could see taking this on as a very expensive hobby!

  4. rickflick
    Posted September 1, 2016 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    When I’m ready to die I want to spend my last few minutes gazing through pictures like these.

  5. Posted September 1, 2016 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    These are incredibly beautiful!

    I want an astro-imaging system!!!!

  6. Posted September 1, 2016 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Saltwater wells in my eyes…(Julian Lennon).

    Mike

  7. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted September 1, 2016 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Very good, Don!
    One of my goals is to see M33 with my humble reflector. I think I sort of saw it once, but as you say you need dark skies and I rarely have that in my backyard.

  8. Posted September 1, 2016 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Our home!

  9. jeffery
    Posted September 1, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    I do tend to grit my teeth when someone says, “a supernova which exploded thousands of years ago”. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that it was “observed” to explode thousands of years ago (even though no one may have actually observed it), being that the actual event may have possibly occurred millions of actual years ago, given the distance in light-years to the star?

    • Don McCrady
      Posted September 1, 2016 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      Not sure what you’re getting at here. It would be highly inaccurate to say that it was “observed to explode thousands of years ago” since we have no actual documentation or evidence that it was observed by anybody. It is, in fact, believed to have exploded thousands of years ago (according to Wikipedia it may have been 3000-6000 years ago). It certainly would not have been millions of years ago, because it would have cooled off and dissipated (or disturbed by other cosmic events) over that time period.

      • jeffery
        Posted September 8, 2016 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

        If that star is a million light-years away, it would take a million years for the light showing it exploding to reach us.

    • Posted September 1, 2016 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      A supernova remnant that looks like that will actually be quite close in astronomical terms. The wiki page gives it as 1500 light years away, which compares with an estimated time when the explosion would have been seen on Earth of 5000 to 8000 years ago. So adding on the light travel time would, in this case, not change the “thousands of years ago” phrase.

  10. Diana MacPherson
    Posted September 1, 2016 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Lovely!

  11. Glenda from Kelowna
    Posted September 1, 2016 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful work. THNX.

  12. cruzrad
    Posted September 1, 2016 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Spectacular! Thanks for sharing.

  13. ToddP
    Posted September 1, 2016 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic images, Don! Just gorgeous. Many thanks for sharing.

  14. Heather Hastie
    Posted September 2, 2016 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Just fabulous!

  15. Posted September 4, 2016 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    Don. These are truly wonderful photographs. I just got around to viewing them. I am especially impressed with your pictures of the veil nebulae. Incredibly sharp. I have tried to photograph them without much luck. But the again I do not have your astro-imaging system.


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