Viewing Report 10/11th December 2021

Unusually it was a clear Friday evening. I did plan to be ready to go as soon at the pole star was visible but my imaging PC insisted on updates and the local hard disk was running at 10MB/s (replacement SSD on the way).

By the time I was ready, mount setup, polar aligned and balanced it was already late. I decided not to use the latest SGPro or NINA beta but just use the existing SGPro version. I was delayed starting as I was having issues with SGPro hanging when it couldn’t talk to the SQM (ASCOM Conditions Observing Hub) on a previous COM port, I need to report this back to the devs as a bug.

At this point Peg-Leg Dave joined me on a video call and we discussed imaging M45 in different modes on the QHY268C OSC. So we moved the scope to Alp Ari and proceeded to plate solve in SGPro, sync’d the scope Cartes Du Ciel and calibrated OpenPHD2.

Using the SGPro framing and mosaic wizard to decide on the framing for the target sequence I wanted as much of the reflection nebula as possible rather than being dead center.

M45 – SGPro Framing Wizard (FSQ85/QHY268C)

I’ve used the multi-star guiding in OpenPHD2 since it was first released in an earlier beta and I know Dave is looking forward to using it when he moves from using an OAG on his 12-inch RC to a 90mm guide scope to make it easier to get more guide stars or even one star.

Multi-Star Guiding in OpenPHD2

Whilst trying some mode/exposure tests the guiding started acting up in RA, so parking the mount and disengaging the clutches I redid the balance of the scope. It was only marginally off but it was enough to cause issues for the CEM60 …. it is not forgiving !

We decided to increase the Gain/Offset to 15/75 and use the Extended Full-Well mode (#2) of the QHY268C, testing the star brightness levels of various exposure times we opted for 180 seconds as that was under the maximum brightness level.

As I currently have no IP camera outside I like to see the mount position using GSPoint3D as I like to view where it is especially during meridian flips. NINA has this built-in now in the recent version 2.0 betas. As SGPro lacks this functionality I can use the view via this is standalone version that connects to the ASCOM mount.

Mount/Telescope virtual view
M45 – Pre Meridian Flip

SGPro paused the guiding just prior to the meridian flip. Following the automated flip, the guider and the imaging sequence automatically restarted after a plate solve and auto centering were performed.

Inverted shot of M45 (180s) – Post Meridian Flip

It gradually got cloudier just after midnight and the quality of the subs declined so I decided to stop acquiring data even though we really wanted over 4 hours of exposure.

I proceeded to take calibration frames. Using a target ADU of ~23,000 the SGPro flat wizard on the Pegasus FlatMaster (100%) gave an exposure time of 9.68s for the Optolong L-Pro filter, 25 flat-frames were taken followed by 25 dark-flat frames of the same exposure time and finally 25 dark frames of 180 seconds.

It was at this point that I realised that the FITs header showed a gain level of 0 and not 15, the offset was correct but I can’t be sure if the EFW mode was used as it’s not in the FITs headers. Only when using the native driver in NINA can you set the mode within the sequence, in SGPro the mode is set in the external ASCOM driver when the camera is not active in SGPro even though though it’s in the ASCOM API as the Camera.ReadoutModes property.

Also for some reason the default setting in the QHY driver is to NOT disable the overscan area which means I have black borders on my images which will make processing the data in Pixinsight a challenge !

I actually got to bed after 3am even though I had planned to stay up until the dawn. Next morning I noticed that my counter-weight had slipped and rotated on the bar. This may have also caused some of the issues with the guiding so I need to set-up earlier and check things more thoroughly in future to avoid these mistakes.

So although it’s not the data we planned it will be worth processing over a wine. The evening was a really a useful experiment and hopefully lessons will be learned …. if I remember the next time.

FSQ85 Flattener & QHY286C CMOS

I’ve taken the plunge and dipped my toe into the CMOS world. Since I didn’t have any OSC experience I chatted with DSW (has a QHY186c) and decided on the QHY286C. This I purchased from Bern at ModernAstronomy who has always provided excellent service.

The issue with APS-C sensors when coupled with the Takahashi FSQ85 is that the edges start to show signs of star elongation, I already see this on my Atik460. This can be corrected with the FSQ-85 flattener (ordered from FirstLightOptics) which has the effect of slightly increasing the focal length but also reduces the back focus from the native 197.5mm to 56mm.

Effective Focal Length455mm (f/5.4)
Image Circle Diameter44mm
Metal Back Focus56mm
FSQ-85 EDX with Flattener 1.01x

This means that I can’t use my existing Atik OAG->Atik EFW2 and Atik460 because it’s total distance is 59mm (22mm+24mm+13mm) so it’s out by 2mm even once you include the filter effect on the back focus. Note – This is also true for my Starlight Xpress configuration.

I do not understand why Atik could not have got to within the 55-56mm range by shaving off a mm here and there 🙁 I may need to replace all Atik gear when I convert to mono CMOS or replace the OAG with a guide scope.

So onto the QHY268C, the OSC CMOS unfortunately has a CAA tilt adapter instead of a direct thread connection. This wastes 11mm of precious back focus giving a total distance of 23.5mm whereas the recently released QHY286M CMOS has a 12.5mm back focus !!!!

Also the QHY268C does not have an IR/UV cut filter in place so you need to buy an additional filter and holder and add that to the cost and factor in the adapter and distance needed …. I’m starting to regret this purchase more and more !

Source – QHYCCD.com

Back to the Takahashi Flattener (TKA37852), the back focus is 56.2mm but we add on the filter thickness as it changes the light path (2mm/3=0.66mm) so ~57mm (56.9mm), the imaging train is as follows :


Adapter
Distance (mm)Accumulated Distance (mm)Connector
OU03122M54(M) -> M54(M)
QHY 02077046M54(F)
QHY Spacers14.420.4screw
QHY OAG-M1030.4screw
QHY 0200552.532.9screw
inc filter0.633.5
QHY CAA adapter639.5screw
QHY268C CMOS17.557screw
FSQ85 Flattener to QHY268C imaging train

The combined weight is 1365g so I may need to adjust the balance of the scope a little as it heavier than my Atik460/EFW2/OAG setup at 1080g.

Completed – Imaging train ready for first light

I may have to adjust the spacers a little but I won’t know until I have received a 2-inch Optolong L-Pro light pollution filter which is currently on back order from FLO.

Transmission chart for Optolong L-Pro

QHY268M

The recently released mono version of the QHY268 looks like it has a proper screw face plate with a more acceptable back focus of 12.5mm. This is more reasonable and would allow me to couple a filter wheel and OAG as well not requiring a IR/UV cut filter.

Like SyedT on StarGazersLounge I could go back to using a guide scope and ditch the OAG and then the imaging train could incorporate a rotator :

ComponentDistance (mm)
QHY268M CMOS12.5
QHYCFW3M-US17.5
M54 (M) to M54 (M) adapter2
Pegasus Falcon Rotator18
M54 extension ring5
M54 (M) to M54 (M)2
Total57
FSQ85 Flattener/QHY268M Imaging Train – Credit SyedT

I was thinking of a rotator for the remote Esprit120 which has a generous back focus of 76mm so I should have no problems there but that will be another adventure for the future !

Viewing Report 13th June 2020 – IMT3

23:31 – 04:02

So I opened the dome late this evening as it was not due to be clear. However an opening in the cloud meant I could test guiding again on the 12″, especially whilst it was light in the late Spring weeks.

The first job was as always to focus which brought me to a reading of 61944 at 19.83℃.

Focus run

Another small job was to sort the guider FoV out. I went ahead and used M92 to align the guider.

Aligning guider FoV using M92

The final FoV settings are here for completness.

FoV for guider

Set AS1600 to Gain and Offset 10 due to cluster being very bright and I needed to set a standard of 60 seconds minimum exposure. Gain 139 and Offset 21 gas saturated unless I selected 15 seconds, Gain 75 and Offset 12 saturated at 30 seconds so hence 10 and 10 which came in about 58k ADU.

I then performed a slew to a nearby star so I could centre the scope, there platsolve completed successfully and I updated TSX and the FoV for the 12″ with the new angle.

Platesolve

The first image of 60 seconds came down and was out of focus, I then realised changing the profile SGPro forgot the autofocus setting, so I had to stop the run, delete the images and set the original focus point then rerun.

M92 out of focus
M92 in focus

Next I ran a few images but then to my horror I had the same guiding issue, where the star moves being dragged up and down in a periodic way. I slewed elsewhere and tried again and the problem did not occur. I was near M92 and just East of the Meridian and quite high up. Not sure why that is a problem.

Near the Meridian

I could not resolve, I waited a while then performed a meridian flip and low and behold the problem went away, again not sure why. I still have this terrible noise coming from the RA motor/gear area. I decided to bite the bullet and take off various caps on the scope listening and looking inside. I decided it was not after all, the through the mount cabling but coming from the RA gear itself, so I looked for the MEII guide for removing the worm block and then followed the instructions to take off the RA cover.

RA gearing and belt noise

This gave me instant feedback on what the issue was, the belts driving the axis were making a noise. On looking through forums on Bisque.com I found a few people with similar issues and needing to grease the belts, they were told Lubriplate was a good grease. This is an American grease so I will find a similar here and then apply, I will ask Bob first for his suggestion.

So the night wore on and the LRGB frames of M92 I thought I would take whilst testing guiding progressed. At one point the imaging stopped due to cloud. I just caught the dome before it closed to change the safety sensor due to cloud. When it cleared it never really cleared, with the sky temperature reading about -14℃.

Not very clear

Nearing the end of the imaging session, I had caught about 15 frames of each of the filters.

Good guiding and imaging

The guider was behaving mostly with he odd funny jolt. By 3:30 am the sky was lightening very quickly.

3:30am and bright

By this time I had stopped guiding and imaging. I closed the dome, slewed the scope to the flat panel and proceeded to take a set of LRGB flats for Gain 10 Offset 0 and also Gain 139 and Offset 21 as request from the previous nights imaging.

Image Processing Notes for CMOS Using Flat Darks

I thought I ought to document this so that I remember this is now the new normal for making a flat master for my CMOS camera, the ZWO ASI1600MM. The problem I found again after not processing images for some time, was that the normal way of processing without Flat Darks produces a master flat with embossed, so raised doughnuts across the image.

Batchpreprocessing – > Darks tab -> Optimization Threshold -> move from 3 to 10 – > this removes the dark entirely and also removes the amp glow but introduces loads of noise so clearly not right at all. So I contacted my friend Dave Boddington who is a bit of an expert on this topic and he gave me some good advice that has of course worked.

So first let’s detail what I am calibrating. On the 20th April 2020 I took a set go Ha frames of M84, these were 300s exposure and with a Gain of 193 and I believe an Offset of 21, however we had some changes over the previous week so driver the Offset is no longer stored in the FITS header. It was when we were using the ZWO native driver. The temperature of the cooler was set to -26℃. I have 8 of these frames.

M94 300s light

I also have a set of 10 darks at the same settings. However when using the Statistics tool Dave noticed the Mean of the image was 800 and the Mean of the Ha frame was 353. This is in a 16 bit notation. The camera however is a 12 bit camera and this means the Mean for the dark is 50 and the Mean for the Ha is 22, so a difference of 28 in 12 bit and 447 in 16 bit. I will come back to this later.

Mean of Ha 300s light
Mean of Dark 300s

First I created a Master Dark for the Ha frames using the normal ImageIntegration settings. I did not calibrate darks with Bias as you do not need bias with a CMOS cooled camera. Next I created a Master Flat Dark for the Flat frames using the same ImageIntegration settings.

Single 300s Dark with hot pixels and amp glow

Then I found the Ha images did not need to have the flats applied so I skipped that step for the narrowband images. Next I Calibrated the Ha lights with ImageCalibration and because of that discrepancy above which looks like it was induced by having the Offset for the darks set to 12 and the Offset for the lights set to 21 I added 600 as suggested by Dave Boddington to the Output Pedestal in the Output files section of ImageCalibration. I made sure Evaluate Noise was ticked and that both Calibrate and Optimise were unticked in the Master Dark section. Master Bias was unticked and so was Master Flat for the narrow band images as mentioned.

Calibrating Ha lights with Master Dark

This created a clean set of calibrated Ha lights that did not require flats to be applied.

Calibrated 300s Ha light with Master Dark

Next I had some issues in Star Aligning the frames. The error I received was ‘Unable to find an initial set of putative star pair matches’, due to the frames being very sparsely filled with stars and the background being quite light compared to the stars. A quick look on the PI forum showed increasing the Noise Reduction in the Star Detection section from 0 to 4 sorted the issue, with all but 1 frame being aligned. I was then down to 7 x 300s Ha lights. The final frame was very light due to cloud.

7 x 300s Ha Calibrated with Darks, Aligned and stacked

I then integrated these 7 frames together. I had a challenge with trying to get the hot pixels in a few areas to disappear using Cosmetic Correction and pixel rejection during stacking so I will remove these after by hand before combining into the larger set

hot pixels not removed

So in essence what I have learnt is that I need to have really clean filters and camera glass. That all the doughnuts are on the those surfaces and not anywhere else. That the flats must be between 22k and 26k for the CMOS cameras, although this has some tolerance either way. That I need to set the camera to the right Gain, Offset and Temp as the lights and that I need the right flats for the right lights!

Viewing Report – 9th May 2020 – IMT3 – Dark frames, filter

22:05 Frame and focus on 9.26 and 7.64 magnitude stars used before moving to M61 to capture some Lum frames for calibration of flats to solve the doughnut embossing.

22:18 Slewed to M61, performed Solve ‘n’ sync, slew here for centring the object, ran four Luminance subs of 300 seconds each (Bin1x1) at Gain 139 and Offset 21. This was completed by 22:38.

22:45 Chief TOSA then warmed up the CMOS camera, set the filter wheel to the empty slot position, powered off and disconnected the camera and filter wheel. This was so the ASI1600MM and filter wheel could be detached and a blanking filter installed into the empty filter wheel slot position without having to open up the filter wheel. The idea is that we move to the blank filter position when taking Dark subs to prevent light leakage on the Officina Stellare 12-inch.

22:55 Everything was back online and the SGPro profiles were modified to reflect the new blank filter location.

23:13 Unfortunately a dust mote was introduced onto the CMOS sensor window so we sent Chief TOSA back out to the dome to do the job properly this time 🙂 This meant parking the mount, warming up the camera, powering off the camera, remove it, clean the sensor and reattach the camera.

23:24 All reassembled and powered back on, slewed to NGC 4147 (Globular cluster) ready for a a 60 second Lum filter test which showed that a decent cleaning job had been done ….. about time too !

23:40 As it was getting hazy/cloudy it was decided to collect some calibration frames, in this case 25×10 minute dark subs at Gain 39 Offset 21 using the new blank filter.

23:50 We logged off from the remote session and left the dark frame sequence running until it was due to finish in the early morning.

Viewing Report 7th May 2020 – IMT3

20:01 – 01:00

Opened dome early switching the safety for the brightness on the new AAG. The first thing to do tonight was to calibrate a little but more the infrared sensor which informs the cloud coverage. This was suggesting it was Cloudy, borderline Overcast and given it was very clear with a hint at wisps of cloud I adjusted the couple of figures for the sensor, from -17 for Clear to -14 and from -14 for Cloudy to -12.

I then set about taping up the USB and power for the SX camera on the Esprit. This is because the connectors supplied are clearly not in tolerance as I have tried many cables and they call fall out. The tape should suffice for the moment and now the camera reconnects to the NUC computer running SGPro.

Tape for USB cable

GingerGeek and I started to have a look at the sky around 9pm. The sky was not totally clear with some wisps of cloud. We tried to get to a point where we could test guiding the 12″ through the Esprit, however as ever the clouds rolled in. However, during setting up the SX814 camera on the Esprit as the guider and performing a darks calibration run we got an error on the USB bus again (we get lots of USB errors) which not only kicked out the SX814 but also the AAG weather station. The problem was it almost killed the AAG software and we had to cancel the process running to resolve. This meant we lost all the settings in the AAG so we have tried to rebuild as per the new screen shots below.

AAG Weather Station New Settings

So instead we re-ran the Flats Calibration Wizard for the OS with the camera set to Gain 139 Offset 21 and also another run at Gain 75 Offset 12. The reason for re-running is that I suspect the flats we have are ever so slightly over exposed at 30-32k rather I prefer them to be at 22-23k.

We also created 2 new profiles that were simply named so we can see them in the list and simplify the naming convention and amount of profiles needed. We will choose the guider on the night within one of the two profiles created. We will also look to review and simply the other profiles for the two additional OTAs tomorrow and delete the remains profiles given the large number we now have.

Two new simpler profiles at the bottom

Viewing Report 1st May 2020 – IMT3

On opening the dome I slewed to Venus hoping to catch it before it disappeared below the horizon. I took a 1s Frame and Focus image just to confirm it was in the centre of the FoV and was puzzled by the resulting image.

At first I thought the 12″ was still covered so called Dave to check. He didn’t think the cover was in place as the last thing he’d done was to take some Flats. Dave confirmed that the cover was not in place but reported that I might be trying to view Venus through the trellis on the fence so I abandoned Venus and slewed to NGC3628 in Leo as it had just crossed the Meridian and I wanted to try and setup a profile to use my Tak FS-102 as a guide scope for Dave’s OS12″.

Previous attempts at guiding the OS with the QHY5 and MiniGuideScope combination had proved worse than imaging with the mount unguided.

Although I suspected we knew the root cause we hadn’t our research 🙁 which soon became apparent. I found a couple of rules of thumb, the first stated that ‘image scale in arc-seconds x 400 = max exposure time is seconds when guiding with a separate guide scope’.

For the ZWO ASI1600MM (3.8um pixel size) on the OS 12″ (2500mm fl)

((3.8/2500) x 206.265) x 400 = 125s

We can do better than that unguided.

The second ‘rule of thumb’ I found stated that the ‘Guide to Main train pixel ratio should not exceed 10:1.

Unfortunately the QHY5 MiniGuideScope to OS12″ ratio is close to 17.8:1, not good.

The QHY5 + MiniGuideScope scale is (3.75/130) x 206.265 = 5.95 arc-sec / pixel.

The OS 12″ + ZWO ASI1600MM scale is (3.8/2500) x 206.265 = 0.31 arc-sec/pixel.

The Tak FS-102 with the QHY168C scale is (3.75/820) x 206.265 = 0.94 arc-sec/pixel

So if we try the OS 12″ with the Tak as the guide scope the ratio is closer to 2.8:1 which sounds like a better proposition.

to be continued …

IMT3 Tak QHY Camera Clean

Bob had noticed a lot of dirt on or near the sensor on the QHY168C camera that forms part of the imaging train on the Tak FS102. Today I took the camera off for a little spring clean.

The first thing was to mark the rotation angle of the camera so that it goes back on exactly. 21 degrees is the rotation angle as measured through an actual image.

Taping up position angle on QHY camera

Next I took the camera off loosing the 3 screws holding it in position and then took a look at the CMOS chop glass cover for dirt.

Inspecting QHY168C for dirt on glass cover

There was really only a couple of pieces of dirt on the cover so I removed them with the blower.

Rocket blower

Next I took off the extension tube with which has the glass UV lens inside. At this point I forgot to mark up the position angle when I took the extension tube off. So when I reattached I look at the image train photo to adjust. Hopefully it will be very close and will only require minor adjustment.

Tak FS102 QHY168C imaging train

Looking at the UV filter it was instantly visible that there was plenty of dirt and dirt on the glass lens, however it transpired to be on the inside of the lens toward the OTA. O removed the filter to clean with the rocket blower.

UV glass filter dirt and dust

I then reattached the filter, the camera and reset the angle. I followed up by feeling for any play in the Tak OTA bracket that piggy backs it on the OS12″ OTA. I could not feel any. I was checking due to a shift on the FoV when Bob was recently imaging. Again the next time out we will need to readjust.

Tak FS 102 piggy back bracket

Viewing Report 3rd March 2020 – Travel Scope

Viewing time period – 19:37 – 22:35

Back out again tonight for a short period to look at guiding again. So with everything setup and a longer USB 2 cable in use I am now sitting in the warm Orangery. I will try again with the PHD2 software to guide and EzCap to acquire images from the QHY168C. I have set the Gain to 7 and Offset to 30 as previously used on my other QHY168C when used in Tenerife.

I polar aligned using PoleMaster. Then set about syncing the scope with Betelgeuse. It was only off slightly. The sync worked fine tonight. I then slewed to M35 and started the PHD2 guider software, selected a guide star and calibrated the guider. This worked well first time proving my new step size of 4 using a small ms time for the pulse worked.

Then I started guiding and very quickly realised the same problem as yesterday with DEC drift upwards. No amount of fiddling with the setting such as Hysteresis or Aggressiveness changes the constant upwards drift. I then remembered that I could calibrate the settings as the other night under Guider Assistant. I ran this made the changes but still the upward drift.

I then remembered that on the Paramount MEII in the dome I had to drift align with PHD2 to get it properly polar aligned and that PoleMaster was only good enough for short exposures or rough guiding. So I set about drift aligning.

PHD2 Drift Alignment

The first thing to note is that the polar alignment was out by a fair bit to get the accuracy I require in both azimuth and altitude. I have now adjusted both and the graph seems a lot smoother.

So in all it took me around 1 hour to drift align and just as I was about to test the clouds rolled in!

Clouds start to roll in

IMT3 ASI1600mm Camera Analysis Part 1

So the main approach here was to start testing the ZWO ASI1600mm on 5min images and decide which is the best Gain and Offset to use. As the object is a planetary nebula I have used my Astrodon 5nm OIII filter to bring out the faintest parts of the nebula. To be thorough, and this will take time, I plan on running the tests for all 7 filters I have.

I have done extensive reading on the topic of image analysis and hope to apply here what I have learnt. Given then camera is running 12 bit, I have a maximum pixel value of 4096 which represents saturation and then any further response is non-linear. Once I have completed 5min testing I will try for 10, 15 and 20 mins. I will then perform further testing by taking a sample set of 10 images to stack and see how that compares with similar total exposure times across the frames.

Amp glow is a particular problem with CMOS. Despite the ZWO site suggesting that amp glow is virtually removed in the Pro Cooled camera, it is clearly not, as can be seen in single 5 min subs. The good thing is a dark will remove it effectively. What I need to make sure is that the amount glow does not swamp the image so much that it overpowers the signal from the faint nebula.

Increasing the gain and offset value from left to right you can see a marked increase in the amp glow. The image slices below are taken from the far right of each frame.

The offset figures in relation to the gain figures have been taken from my reading of various material. The median values are that of the background and the maximum values that of the stars. You can see on this 5min exposure that by the time I reached a gain of 300 one or more of the stars are saturated. In fact the brightest star in this slice is SAO 22510 which is mag 9.53.

Another way to visualise the saturation effect is looking at the raw unstretched image, whilst a star is visible in the image using gain 139 and 200, on close inspection within PI and looking at the values of the pixels of the star they are not saturated. However gain 300 is. The purpose of this is that an unstretched image is not the defect for telling if parts of the image are saturated as some texts describe, but one can see the increased brightening of the star by gain 300 to know it is a problem.

So whilst I have seen the clipping a a few stars at the highest gain I have tested, what about the planetary nebula itself? From the below stretched image one could assume that the brightest part of the nebula was fairly bright and heading towards saturation, but don’t be fooled! Also there is a noticeable increase in the background brightness as the gain increases.

Again as for the amp glow, the aim is to balance the ability to amplify the faintest parts of the nebula without swamping them with the background brightness.

Again here are the values of the settings for gain and offset against the central section of the image.

So how bright did the background get? The graph below shows a section of the background free from stars and charts the increase of brightness from a mean figure of 9 ADU with the gain set to 0 and a mean figure of 104 with the gain set to 300. So a large increase but but at least up until gain 200 not a problem, as we will see when we look at the faintest part of the nebula later.

This graph looks at the bright star SAO 22551 (HIP 8063) which is mag 6.66 and the brightest star in the image. Again as previously seen in the right hand slice of the image the star is saturated by gain 300. All figures are the maximum pixel values.

Now let’s focus on the nebula itself and go back to using the mean ADU figures. The picture below shows the section of the nebula I will use for analysis. In particular I focused in on the brightest lobe of the central portion of the planetary nebula and the faintest portion of the left arc.

So looking at the faintest nebula within the left arc we can see that it is not very bright at all and the brightest it gets at gain 300 and offset 65 has a mean figure of 96 ADU. Each and every image at the different gain setting and offset setting is seemingly just below that of the background, which in itself is interesting as the nebula seems to be fainter than the background. So more analysis was needed.

However I then went back and looked at a selection of areas of the background across the image to find that the original background selection to the bottom left of the image was brighter than other areas. Below you can see the image of gain 200 and offset 50, this time with 5 selection boxes. Preview 6 is the nebula as recorded before is mean 56 ADU. Preview 5, so the sky right next door to it has a mean figure of 55, so just below the nebula, hence it is only barely visible. Preview 1 is 54 ADU and Preview 4 is also 54 ADU. So there is brightening on that bottom left corner of the image, so had the nebula fallen at that spot then it would be swapped by the background.

There is only 1 ADU between the nebula and the background adjacent to it at gain 200 offset 50. If we looked at the same to regions in the image of gain 300 and offset 50 then you get a 2 ADU difference. The image with gain 300 and offset 65 gives a 3 ADU difference. So the results show that both gain and offset both help increase the contrast between the background sky and the faintest part of the nebula.

Various previews can be seen to analyse the background vs nebula brightness

The final image below shows the brightest part of the nebula. At gain 300 and offset 65 you see a mean value of 544 ADU which compares to 96 ADU for the faintest part of the nebula and an adjacent background of 93 ADU.

The final piece of information pertains to the camera/chip specification and performance. The graphs below are from the ZWO website and clearly show as expected the more you increase the gain the read noise is lowered but unfortunately so is the full well maximum (the amount of electrons you can store in a pixel) and the lower the dynamic range, which for deep sky objects is a required.

1600 Gain RN DR FW vs gain

So from this first piece of testing what have we learnt? Whilst there seems to be a good sense for increasing the gain and offset to help with the SNR especially between the background and the faintest part of the nebula, the increase in amp glow, decrease in dynamic range and reduction in the well count are all factors. Stacking as we will see, will undoubtably help the situation without necessarily setting a high gain. You can see why people say use Unity Gain, so the setting where 1 electron on the sensor = 1 ADU potentially gives the best result from a tradeoff point of view.

Viewing Report 22nd September 2019 IMT3 ASI1600mm Camera Tests – Part 1

Viewing time period – 19:18 – 23:59

I have spend over 4 hours today reading about the Gain and Offset settings for the ZWO ASI1600mm Pro Cooled mono CMOS camera I have on the back of the 12″ Officina Stellare 305 RiDK f/7/9 telescope.

ZWO ASI1600mm Pro Cooled on Officina Stellare 305 RiDK

In particular the posts by Jon Rista and the images with a similar setup from Glen Newell have led me to a handful of setting I will now try from my location and on M76, the Little Dumbbell planetary nebula that I had started to image recently. I must also comment that Kayron Mercieca also had some useful information pertaining to testing your camera and OTA imaging train for exposure times. See link here

Discussion on exposure times and setting – Cloud Nights

So I have already taken a set of images on the 8th October, 14 of them and they were at a Gain and Offset of 10 (I believe these settings are less than perfect) and an exposure of 1200s, so 20mins through an Astrodon OIII narrowband filter. My location is on a good night in the Orange Zone as per the charts borrowed from the forum discussions and when referring to broadband imaging. For narrow band as per my test here I am between the purple and blue zones.

Broadband minimum exposure table – ASI1600mm
Narrowband minimum exposure table – ASI1600mm

Inspecting the original frames I took you can see slight amp glow from the right of the image, the background has a median of 10 ADU at 12bits. None of the stars are saturated or clipped. The brightest star is 1,854 ADU our of a dynamic range of 0-4,095 ADU. The faintest nebula I can see is 11 ADU so just above the background and the brightest part of the nebula is 77 ADU.

M76 – 1 x 20min OIII Gain 10 Offset 10 – ASI1600mm Pro Cooled

So I will attempt to take a set of images at the following settings across 4 exposure times of 300s, 600s, 900s and 1200s at or after astronomical night at 20:56 onwards if the clouds hold off.

  1. Gain 0 – Offset 10
  2. Gain 75 – Offset 12
  3. Gain 139 – Offset 21
  4. Gain 200 – Offset 50
  5. Gain 300 – Offset 50
  6. Gain 300 – Offset 65

So after several false starts of broken cloud disrupting my ability to keep the dome open, I managed to grab the first 6 frames of 300s as above. Here is an animated GIF of all the images in order of Gain lowest to highest. (Click the image to animate or right mouse click and download)

In my next blog I will look at the analysis of the first 6 frames whilst I take the other frames to compare.

Image processing notes for travel setup

So I managed to go out and quickly bag a few images of M13 to test the travel scope on the night of the 1st to the 2nd September. It was relatively cool and clear. The main aim was could I take images that were not overexposed on stars whilst capturing the fainter stars at the same time. Also I wanted to make sure I could process an image too.

So all in I took 10 x 5 minute exposures but unfortunately I had not read the Skywatcher manual and had not locked up the focus tube. This meant that the first 3 frames were out of focus so I tightened the locking latch and then took the other 7.

On processing the image I noted the black (white) band to the top and right of the image where I had not switched off the setting for Overscan. I could not PixInsight to recognise it properly so I simply pre-processed the image and then cropped it out before processing.

Overscan area present

I managed to get Photometric Colour Calibration working which helped get the colour just right. I then processed in my usual way using the following workflow.

Photometric Colour Calibration Results
Photometric Colour Calibration Settings
  1. Calibrate with Flats and Darks only no Bias as it is a CMOS camera
  2. Integrate the frames
  3. Align
  4. Perform Cosmetic Correction
  5. Debayer
  6. Crop
  7. ABE
  8. Background Neutralisation
  9. Platesolve
  10. Photometric Colour Calibration
  11. Histogram Stretch
  12. TGVDenoise
  13. ACDNR
  14. Curves
  15. Dark Structure Enhance
  16. Exponential Transformation
  17. 2nd set of Curves
  18. SCNR for green

The final image was ok for the short amount of data I obtained and proved my capture setting and workflow worked

M13