After trying out some astrophotography with the Celestron NexStar 8SE, I hankered for something better. While the NexStar got me started, the alt-az mount isn’t really sufficient for long-exposure imaging, which is the key to capturing faint objects like galaxies and nebulae. So I invested in an AstroTech AT6-RC (a 6-inch Ritchey-Chretien) on an Orion Sirius EQ-G equatorial mount. Not top-of-the-line, but still a good setup that would last a while.
Obviously, as soon as I got it, we had a straight week of cloudy weather, very uncommon for the time of year. When it finally cleared up, I spent several hours setting everything up. Unlike the NexStar, which is quite automated, the AT6 + EQ-G requires more setup in order to make sure things are aligned and tracking well enough for imaging. The two things I was most worried about, polar alignment and guiding, were actually not as bad as I had feared and I was ready to go.
For my first target, I had been seduced by the fantastic Hubble image of Fireworks Galaxy (NGC 6946), which was in prime position in the night sky. Unfortunately, it also happens to be one of the more fainter and harder objects to image. It took a lot of processing to bring out the very faint spiral arms. At first, not knowing how difficult this object was, I was slightly disappointed with the quality of the final image. Once I learned more about it, I wasn’t too unhappy with what I got for my first attempt.
My next target was one that I’d always wanted to image, the gorgeous Veil Nebula. The diaphanous curtain of gas always stirred something in me. The only problem was that I shot it too early in the evening, when it was too low in the sky. It meant I had to fight light pollution in trying to bring out the faint nebula.
Next I went for something a lot easier (something I should have started with in the first place), Cigar Galaxy (M82). Shot for only 1 hour, but got quite a clean image.