Thursday, February 10, 2022

Beyond Messier backstory (Halifax)

There's an interesting (I think) backstory to the images Chris used in his Beyond Messier column in the March-April SkyNews.

It all started on 23 Dec '21 when Chris texted me.

I've got an idea to image a galaxy with Burke-Gaffney for my Mar-Apr Beyond Messier column.  It would be similar to your Finest NGC images, but this one's not in that list.  It culminates around 5 am right now.  Is B-G operational?

I told him the BGO was up and running (with the new mount). Happy to help. I knew the robot. More importantly, I knew the human...

Chris then messaged our editor.

Said he wanted to showcase four terrific non-Messier galaxies, three of which were RASC Finest NGC objects. He shared that I had already imaged the FNGC targets with the Burke-Gaffney Observatory and he proposed we use my data. We just needed to capture his fourth objective, NGC 3486, in a similar way to produce a collage of all four. 

This would also allow a mention of the awesome BGO service.

Chris liked my luminance frames for a couple of reasons. He thought the views were visually similar to those in the eyepiece of a regular amateur telescope (colourless galaxies). Also the field of view was like a common 8-inch Dobsonian with a 6mm Plössl.

We discussed bagging the new galaxy. The Moon (grrr) and weather (ugh) were factors. He asked Allendria how late he could submit the last captured image.

We might need a Christmas Miracle?

elevated status in request queue

In the meantime, I submitted a job (from John Max with the Windows app). Then I pinged Dave Lane. He replied quickly and bumped up the priority for us! He said, "It may run tonight if the weather holds and the new mount handles the cold :-)." I updated the group and asked about the preferred format.

Then I started reworking the NGC 3521 data to remove the gradient. Ah. One of my first images with the robotic 'scope at SMU.

That evening, we watched the tweetie. I excitedly told Chris the 'scope was running. The target would rise at 11:00 PM and reach 45 degrees elevation around 1:30 AM EST (Chris forgot at first about the time zone). I noted the transparency was above average.

I asked Chris if he had examined the shared Google Drive folder. He had and he liked my revised 3521.

Christmas Eve, I relayed the bad news from Mr Lane. The job was not queued due to a software constraint: "the Moon is too close." (But I did collect more Rosette data. That's another story...)

I checked the numbers. "The Moon was 16° [away] last night; would be 18 tonight." Dave said the software restricted the target to 25 degrees. He temporarily changed the global setting to 15° and warned of a big gradient.

And then the human cautioned of the wind. Dave shared:

Last night it was 50... gusting to 80km/h!  Don't know [about oscillation] with the new mount.  Images last night that faced the wind direction were blurred.

And we waited...

Sadly, I heard from Dave at 6:18 PM AST. 

I had to shut it down - too dangerous.  The wind was gusting over 90km at times!

Dang. I conveyed the unhappy news to Chris. He was bummed and started considering his Plan B.

On the evening of 25 Dec, I texted Chris: "Tonight doesn't look great but tomorrow the 26th might be good for BGO." And it came to pass!

On 26 Dec, Chris texted me: "BGO has started imaging your first target! 😁" Indeed. I grabbed the text from Twitter. "At 01:21:08 (AST) #bgosays A special observation of NGC3486 (ID 16996) for Blake Nancarrow is starting..." Grabbed the Clear Sky Chart: cloud cover: clear; trans: below average; seeing: poor 2/5; Moon alt. 11. Later I received an automated email from the 'bot, at 1:49:57 AST 27 Dec. "#bgosays I have taken your special observation of NGC3486 (ID 16996)." Yes!

The next morning, I messaged, "dude, we've got some data!"

Given the limited software at my Mom's, I'm remoted into my desktop and did the processing there. Uploaded a PNG to the shared folder.

galaxy NGC 3486 in luminance

Luminance only, 60 second subexposures, 10 stacked shots. FITS Liberator 3, Photoshop. North is up; east is left.

At 11:40 AM EST, Chris said, "Amazing! **"

28 Dec, I submitted another job for NGC 3486, just in case.

29 Dec, Allendria chimed in: "Thanks, you two!!"

30 Dec, Dave followed up and I thanked him for his support.

On 3 Jan '22, Chris and I worked the caption for the images.

The second (backup) image was captured on 5 Jan at 1:49:08 AM AST. Not as good. Below average transparency again. Bad seeing (1/5). And the ECMWF predicted 37% cloud then.

So, an interesting journey. And a team effort.


Both Chris and I feel the printed images are too dark, unfortunately. Emissive vs. reflective media. Damn.


Pinged Mr Lane on 13 Feb. Reminded him to check his SkyNews magazine.


The Finest NGC images were:

Thanks for lookin'.

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