Colorado Skies

One of the things I enjoy about Colorado is the night sky, and at 8500 feet we do have stars. Here’s an unguided, tripod mounted shot using a Canon 5D Mk2, 30 seconds at ISO 800, of the Milky Way ‘north’ of Sagittarius, using an EF-L 80-200 2.8 last summer on the back deck.

Unguided image at house

If you sit out on the deck with all the lights off for about a half hour, the naked eye picks up maybe half this detail. Still, pretty neat. Below, this is my imaging rig. The red box on the end of the scope is an SBIG astro-cam with a motorized filter wheel attached. Eight filters in there, very specialized things like hydrogen-beta and O-III.


And here’s another shot of the set-up, with a bud from the local Astronomy Club helping me set up some of the electronics.


The scope is sitting on a Software Bisque Paramount MX+, this on a Pier-Tech electric pier, so height can be adjusted to image targets close to the horizon. Other scopes used for different types of targets are stored in the dome, including two used for solar imaging, seen below the chap’s hand. The mount is controlled by a separate laptop PC, and you click on a target in a program called The Sky X – and the scope slews (moves) to the target, and a device in the camera, called an auto-guider, locks onto a guide star in the frame and the mount then tracks along, everything neatly centered, for hours at a time. We’ve managed to make a few 3-4 hour long exposures, but most often long exposures are divided into 15-20 minute long chunks of time, each chunk using a different type of filter. Incidentally, the camera has built-in two-stage cooling, so in summer the chip is cooled to -60C. The resulting images are stacked, or combined, in 2-3 different programs (Pix-insight and Photoshop, by and large).


Here’s a calibration run from last summer, at a nebula in Sagittarius, using a Takahashi FS-60C. Stars aren’t quite pinpoint yet, but this was an early run before we nailed polar alignment. Colorful, though, and the different filters allow different gases in nebulae to render ‘accurately,’ though this is somewhat of an artistic choice too.

Anyway, this is what I do what I’m not writing, kind of like Gee, what did you do over your summer vacation…

Happy trails.

9 thoughts on “Colorado Skies

  1. Very cool stuff. Once knew a family in Nevada who built their home with 3 floors and a dome as cap. They home schooled and astronomy was an integral part of the curriculum. History, past cultures, mythology, classics, all included with accompanying “sky studies”. One project the children shared and could not stop talking about for years was tracking where on the perimeter interior walls the time and location around the circular dome the sun first touched a fixed elevation. The hash marks with the times tracked the orbit on the walls. They started with a fairly primitive telescope, by the time the last of their 6 children flew the nest they had gone through several upgrades. When the parents decided to downsize and move on themselves it was interesting to hear them explain to prospective buyers what the unusual top room had been used for and why there were little notations all around the walls.
    The stars are fascinating. Thanks for sharing.


    • What’s fun is the notion of our abiding interest in the night sky. Walking among the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, the El Caracol, the observatory with it’s alignments keyed to Venus and her path across the sky – in use at the same time as Galileo in Italy was beginning to study the wanderings of what we would one day call planets. Thoughts rooted in loneliness, perhaps, the sky was once the realm of creators, now we look up and wonder not if we’re alone, but when we’ll make contact. Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell’s cryptic notes re ongoing alien contact notwithstanding, the stars are where human destiny will play out. If we can only make the first step…
      Anyway, that’s another story.


  2. I wonder sometimes, what the thoughts of a lonely Roman legionnaire standing watch upon a Limes somewhere on the border of the empire were as he gazed on the night sky above him. Not too far off, I reckon, from those of a lonely Marine looking at the night sky as he pulls watch on a remote fire base.


    • When you study history, really come to terms with it, an awareness dawns on you – how much alike we are – through time. The differences are subtle, but there. But we are all so very much alike. I walked Hadrian’s Wall a few years ago, camped near Roman settlements, slept where some son of Rome might have. How far from home he was, how lonely. How much he wanted to be home, not standing watch in the cold and the rain.
      And through it all, all that time, the stars look down on us, unaware.


      • My late father in law got drunk on night, and told my wife and I a tale of a only son of a Midwest farmer who joined the army to escape the life on the dairy farm. Of being rushed through OCS, and shipped off to Korea, where he was given a carbine, a .45, and the remnants of a platoon on top of an isolated hilltop. He told us that his strongest memory of that first night was how overwhelmed he felt, and how strange and cold the stars looked there.


      • I wonder what it is like to feel emptiness under the stars. Perhaps because some people spend so much time with them, I look at them everywhere I go and feel comfort in the patterns that seem like familiar friends. I think hundreds and thousands of years ago this was more the case. We seem to have blown away from these things.


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