Waiting on a break in the weather.

So there’s this thing with astronomy geeks… whenever one acquires new gear, it angers the weather gods, and cloudy nights follow.  Even though I’ve managed to part out the CPC 1100, the fact that I acquired upgrades for my gear means I’ve been socked in for a while.  We’re heading out to Luray caverns this weekend, and there’s an astronomy ‘Night Skies’ event on Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.  It’s planned for this weekend because it’s new moon, and the skies should be quite dark.  Except that they’re calling for possible thunderstorms Friday night.  Yay.

In any case, the last time I was able to sneak the scope out between cloud banks, I managed to capture nearly an hour of the Whirlpool Galaxy, Messier 51.  With the autoguiding setup working pretty well, I’m getting 5-minute exposures at much lower ISO than before, which means my SNR has gone up significantly for the same  length of integrated exposure.  Which means I can start shooting at fainter and fainter targets.  With a visual magnitude of 8.4, it is significantly dimmer than other things I’ve shot.  For example, the Great Orion Nebula (M42) at a visual magnitude of 4.0 is ~20x brighter, and The Pleaides (m44) are over 100 times brighter.  What this means for those objects… is that I should get some crazy-good images once they come around later in the year.

I originally stacked the image up in Deep Sky Stacker, but doing so made it nearly impossible to pull the colors apparent in each of the sub-exposures back out once they got stacked.   Not satisfied, I stacked them again in Photoshop, and use the color from that stack as an overlay on the DSS stack, which had better fine detail.  In the end, I managed this:

There are definitely better shots of M51 out there, but I’m very happy with this one.  Now if the clouds would just. Go. Away…

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