Chris Hendren's Night Sky Photography


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For my visual observations and sketches, I prefer my Astro Sky 12" Truss Dobsonian telescope built by James Grigar of Lake Charles, LA around a Hardin 12" f/5 Primary mirror and a Parks 2.6" Secondary.  The optics in the scope are extremely sharp - having been refigured by Alan Raycraft to 1/14 to 1/16 wavefront.  The scope's central obstruction is 22%, yielding excellent contrast on planets and globular clusters at over 300 -400x (on still nights.)  With this scope, I've completed the Messier catalog visually and seen the central star in the Ring Nebula, the "Pillars of Creation" in M16, and the Horsehead Nebula from dark skies.
Astro Sky 12" Dob
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Losmandy G-11
My current mount is the Losmandy G11 with the Gemini GoTo system.  This medium-duty mount has a weight capacity of 60 lbs - sturdy enough for almost any scope I could imagine imaging through in the future. With its large 5.625" gears and high torque motors, the mount barely even notices my 11 lb TSA-102. 

The GoTo system menus are easy to navigate and are similar in structure to a Meade Autostar.  Unguided images of up to 5 minutes are possible, and far longer images are possible using CCD Autoguiding.
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Unistar Mount and C8
My current medium focal length  imaging scope is the Takahashi TSA-102S Triplet Apochromat.  The scope is gorgeous visually at f/8 (816mm), and tack sharp edge to edge in its imaging configuration at f/6.3 (640mm) using the Takahashi TOA Reducer / Flattener.  The scope is  perfect match to my FLI ML8300 CCD camera and my Losmandy G-11  Gemini mount.  With practice, I can now routinely get 15-30+ minute guided images with less than 1 pixel tracking error in any direction., and there is absolutuly no false color to be seen anywhere in the image.  The scope is built like a tank, too!
I also own a Universal Astronomics Unistar Heavy Alt-Az mount for quick visual astronomy trips.  A heavy duty wooden surveyor's tripod and beefy aluminum head allow me to mount my Takahashi TSA-102S with ease and swap scopes in seconds using the universal Losmandy dovetail system.  Light (15 lbs tripod and 7 lbs head), portable,  and with a 30 lb carrying capacity, it's definitely a keeper.
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My wide-field imaging scope is the Takahashi Epsilon 130 Hyperbolic Astrograph.  This scope is an imaging monster at 430mm, f/3.3 - capturing the night sky at an amazingly fast rate.  With my FLI ML8300 camera, I get a big FOV of 2.4 x1.8 degrees square and pinpoint faint stars to the corners (with very cool diffraction spikes on the brighter ones!)  Plus, its tube colors are like a crazy School Bus / Battleship, only less subtle...
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My CCD camera of choice is the FLI Microline 8300 monochrome camera with FLI CFW-1-5 filter wheel and Optec HaLRGB filter set.  The camera has an 8.3 megapixel sensor with small pixels - 5.4 microns - but a high QE of 60% peak and 48% at the H-alpha line.  The chip is both antiblooming and microlensed, making it quick and easy to capture high-detail images.  The microline body has a 3-stage peltier cooler capable of cooling the camera to -55 to -60 degrees C below ambient air temperature.  I expect lots of great images from this camera.
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M63 - Sunflower Galaxy
03-29-09 Mount Laguna, CA
Losmandy G-11 Gemini, Takahashi  
TSA-102, FLI ML8300
Lum 90 min at -35 C acquired in MaxIm DL
Processing done in Photoshop CS2 and Maxim DL
04-05-09: It's that time again: time for this month's Star Party info.

We ended up with around 15 people out at Mt. Laguna last week, and everyone had a great time!  The two newest images in the gallery were shot that night, although I had to cut the M63 sequence short when the clouds finally showed up a bit after midnight.

We've got two trips this month -
Ortega Hwy on the 18th and Mt. Laguna on the 25th.  Hope some of you can make it out!
04-09-09: New gear time! Star Party bump!

I just picked up a used
Takahashi EM-200
Temma 2 Jr.
mount in trade for my Losmandy
G-11 Gemini and some other astronomy gear.
My mount is not the low latitude version, as it
was originally sold in Japan, and the Temma 2
Jr. has slower slewing than the Temma 2 listed
(150x sidereal at 12V vs. 300x) - but otherwise
the mount in the link is the same as the picture. 

With the short SE-L wooden tripod, it is very
compact and stable - and really, really short!  I
didn't buy this mount for visual use, though - I
bought it because the
tracking and guiding accuracy is 2-3x as accurate as what I was getting with the G-11! With galaxy season upon us, I wanted to avoid having tracking errors that cost me resolution and detail and forced to to use a bunch of Photoshop tricks in order to get round stars in my images.

I'm not really knocking my old mount, but
with the TSA-102 and my FLI ML8300 camera I am shooting at a resolution of 1.3 arcseconds per pixel - that's barely over 1/1000 the diameter of the moon seen from earth.  Nailing shots at that scale without movement showing up are a bit outside the specs for a G-11.

This will have to be my last mount upgrade for quite awhile, though.  Except for the difficult to obtain AP Mach 1 mount at nearly $7000 (with tripod), the EM-200 is the best mount in this size class, so unless I get a much larger scope over 40 lb, there is really no need for me to ever get anything bigger.
Star Trails - Orion and Taurus
04-10-09
Taken 03-21-09 near Williams, Ca
Canon 450D XSi, Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens at 17mm f/2.8, fixed tripod
4 min 30 sec at ISO 400
Processing done in Photoshop CS2
M53 and NGC 5053
04-16-09  Laguna Niguel, CA
Takahashi EM-200, Takahashi  
TSA-102, FLI ML8300
LRGB 70:15:15:15 min at -35 C acquired in MaxIm DL
Processing done in Photoshop CS2 and Maxim DL
Leo Trio - M65, M66 and NGC 3628
04-18-09  Ortega Hwy, CA
Takahashi EM-200, Takahashi  
TSA-102, FLI ML8300
Lum 120 min at -35 C acquired in MaxIm DL
Processing done in Photoshop CS2 and Maxim DL
M13 - Great Hercules Cluster
04-19-09  Ortega Hwy, CA
Takahashi EM-200, Takahashi  
TSA-102, FLI ML8300
LRGB 90:30:30:30 min at -30 C acquired in MaxIm DL
Processing done in Photoshop CS2 and Maxim DL
M81 / M82 region with Integrated Flux Nebula MW3
04-25-09  Mt. Laguna, CA
Takahashi EM-200, Takahashi  
Epsilon 130, FLI ML8300
LL(bin2)B 60:60:60 min at -35 C acquired in MaxIm DL
Processing done in Photoshop CS2 and Maxim DL
*New*
Gamma Cygni and Butterfly Nebula in H-alpha
05-22-09 Camp Oakes, CA - RTMC
Takahashi EM-200, FLI ML8300, Nikon 180mm f/2.8 at f/4, Optec 8nm Ha filter
Ha 120 min at -35 C acquired in MaxIm DL
Processing done in Photoshop CS2 and Maxim DL
*New*
Rho Ophiuchus region - Luminance
05-23-09 Camp Oakes, CA - RTMC
Takahashi EM-200, FLI ML8300, Nikon 180mm f/2.8 at f/4
70 min at -35 C acquired in MaxIm DL
Processing done in Photoshop CS2 and Maxim DL
05-26-09: I spent the last weekend working up at RTMC (the Riverside Telescope Makers Convention) for my job, and man am I sunburned!  My manager Eric and I decided to collaborate on several pictures over the course of the weekend, and so the data I have put up so far in the gallery is still waiting for the color he shot with his Canon 20Da.  We both used Nikon 180mm f/2.8 lenses, though my ML8300 camera has smaller pixels, a slightly smaller field of view, and was rotated 90 degrees as compared to the DSLR - so the final images will be kind of a "best fit" scenario.

Hopefully, I'll be able to put up the completed images soon!
*New*
*New*
M16 and M17 - Eagle and Swan Nebulae in H-alpha
05-24-09 Camp Oakes, CA - RTMC
Takahashi EM-200, FLI ML8300, Nikon 180mm f/2.8 at f/4, Optec 8nm Ha filter
Ha 100 min at -35 C acquired in MaxIm DL
Processing done in Photoshop CS2 and Maxim DL
M8 and M20 - Lagoon and Trifid Nebulae in H-alpha
05-25-09 Camp Oakes, CA - RTMC
Takahashi EM-200, FLI ML8300, Nikon 180mm f/2.8 at f/4, Optec 8nm Ha filter
Ha 100 min at -35 C acquired in MaxIm DL
Processing done in Photoshop CS2 and Maxim DL
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