Hits, Misses, and Challenges While Capturing a Nova – 12 June 2021

For every successful image taken on this night, there existed others that didn’t make the cut… But hey, I’ll still show them to you!

Date: June 12-13, 2021
Location:Cottonwood Spring, Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Time22:00 – 4:00 (UTC-7)
Weather mostly clear w/ high altitude clouds, calm, 85°-70° F (29°-21°C)
Bortle Scale3

Equipment Used

  • 8″ (203 mm) f/4.9 Newtonian Telescope
  • Orion 2″ Barlow Lens
  • Atlas II EQ-G Mount
  • Starshoot Autoguider
  • Nikon d5300

What Made The Cut?

What Did I Shoot?

ObjectCommon NameConstellationFrames
Layered
Combined
Exposure
V1405 CasNova Cassiopeiae 2021Cassiopeia845 mins
M 15Pegasus ClusterPegasus420 min
M 33Triangulum GalaxyTriangulum740 min
M 39 Cygnus842 min
MoonThe MoonGemini510 seconds

Notes:

Unlike other times where the night ran smoothly from start to finish, this particular night was interesting to say the least due to all the challenges and errors that kept happening. While the images shown above are definitely the highlights, there will be other images going forward that I’m not quite happy with, whether by circumstance, or due to conditions out of my control.

Because it was two days past New Moon in June, the waxing crescent moon was only two days old, and thus I knew it would make an interesting target due to it being the right time to display Earthshine.

Waxing Crescent Moon with Venus at the bottom and the Gemini Twins (Castor and Pollux) at the top

As the Moon got closer to the horizon, I wanted to get it setting above those rocks seen in the image, and even positioned my car in the parking lot to shine its high beams to try and light paint the distant hills. And while the Moon looked lovely in all the images, the landscape did not. So it took a lot of frames to get enough data to make the landscape look decent and less noisy, look like it blends with the sky, and reduce the noise around the moon.

So it’s essentially a few light landscape frames that are darkened to reduce the noise… above a couple of darker exposures showing the Moon. Had I kept the landscape lighter, it would be too noisy.

When it came to telescope imaging, it took quite a bit of time before I could get the polar alignment “good enough.” After getting the mount working and doing test shots on Vega the first time, the pointing accuracy suddenly got bad… perhaps I bumped the OTA without knowing! I tried going towards M107 but the accuracy was way off, and upon trying to 3-star align the mount went as far as saying I was off by 15 degrees?! How is that possible when Polaris was within sight of the polar scope?!

single 3 minute raw exposure of Vega

Then it took me almost an hour of readjusting the azimuthal and elevation knobs, and even resetting the handset software to factory settings before I could get the polar alignment “good enough” according to the mount’s software. I think in hindsight that I probably didn’t have the mount 100% level, and maybe a tripod leg got loose. But it took away a big chunk of imaging time. And considering in June I only get 6 dark hours to work with, that wasn’t a good thing!

Finally, I tried working on M17- the Omega Nebula. By this time, the camera sensor was probably too warm from it being on (probably because of me constantly using the live view for aligning bright stars in the telescope, and the noise levels showed. When I switched to a better battery, a mass of high altitude clouds began to cover up that section of the sky, leading me to move towards Cygnus where it was much clearer. I also wanted to get M11, but when I tried finding a guide star for it, the view showed it was still too cloudy in front of it.

Noise Polluted M17

Welp… that’s at least THREE objects I wanted to capture but couldn’t…

After getting a good shot of M39, I went after the Cocoon Nebula. But after gathering over 40 minutes of sub data, I realized a fatal mistake – I FORGOT TO TURN ON THE GUIDING!

a bad raw 6 minute sub of the Cocoon Nebula… remember to turn the guiding on!

But after those snags, I went after the region where I was told V1405 Cas, the Nova that made some headlines back in May was supposed to be. There had not been any recent updates on this object that I could find, but because it was in a spot that I could shoot both M52 and Caldwell 11 at the same time, I went after it not knowing if I’d capture it along with the two deep sky objects.

Sure enough, the distinct red glowing “star” helped me confirm that it was still glowing there, and made a good picture of it.

So in a night of challenges and snags, for every strike out that happened with me this night, I still managed to get a few hits! It happens to the best of us!

One thought on “Hits, Misses, and Challenges While Capturing a Nova – 12 June 2021

  1. I think every astronomer who reads this would have similar nights where things go crazy – but with experience one finds a workaround. One way or another, I was always determined never to go home empty handed.

    Well done for capturing that nova!

    Liked by 1 person

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