Monday, 08th Feb 2016

Dec 15 2015

Comet C/2013 US10 (Catalina)

Comet C/2013 US10 (Catalina)

This past weekend (December 12-13) I headed out with some friends to a dark sky location in the Alps at almost 2000 m elevation. We spent two nights imaging/observing, which were partly ruined by thin cirrus clouds rolling over Northern Italy for most of the time.

Needless to say, Comet C/2013 US10 (Catalina) was one of my planned targets, but it turned out to be harder than expected to image, because of the cirrus clouds and the comet being quite low (~ 20°) above the eastern horizon. That’s why even a 50-minute exposure (guided on the comet’s head) barely shows the two tails: the ion tail (pointing at about 11 o’ clock) and the dust tail, pointing at about 4 o’ clock.

The image is B/W only because I concentrated on the luminance given the poor observing conditions: BTW, the raw frames are plagued by quite strong gradients. Some data: 5 x 10 min = 50 min. total acquired with a Moravian G2 8300 FW CCD through a Pentax 105 SDHF refractor; more data available in the caption (click on the image to bring up a slightly bigger version and the caption).

Nov 12 2015

Avalon M-Zero Mount and StarGo Motor Drive

mzero-15 German Equatorial mounts are probably the most popular type of mount, available in a wide range of builds, load capacities and price. This wide variety is somehow “reflected” in performance, but the basic features and principles are pretty much the same.

Not many alternatives to the German model are available, mainly in the form of the traditional double-arm fork mount. A few years ago, Avalon Instruments, an Italian-based astronomical equipment maker, came up with a sturdy single-arm fork mount, the Avalon M-Uno, which has had good success. The concept of a single-arm fork per se is certainly not new, but is nevertheless not so common in the mid-range market sector.

In early 2014, a more compact version of the M-Uno came out, called M-Zero. While Avalon mounts were previously based on the Skywatcher Synscan system, the M-Zero was the first model to be natively equipped with Avalon’s own motor drive, the “StarGo”. This new drive and mount combo caught my curiosity, so it was not long before I came up with the idea of doing an in-depth test. My proposal was keenly accepted by Avalon’s owner, Luciano dal Sasso, who provided me with a sample.

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Oct 06 2015

The Total “Supermoon” Eclipse of September 28, 2015

sept-2015-mosaicIt’s been almost four years since a Lunar eclipse was visible in Western Europe (June 2011). Therefore, the one of September 28, 2015 was most welcome after such a long abstinence :mrgreen: . Moreover, it was particularly interesting in that it would take place just around perigee, with the Moon at its largest possible apparent size.

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Sep 26 2015

Overhead ISS Transit

On September 24th, 2015, it was a crystal clear night over Northern Italy. The day before I had come across the news (wonders of Facebook :mrgreen: ) that a transit of the International Space Station (ISS) would take place almost overhead during the morning twilight. The ISS was expected to cut straight across the entire sky dome, passing very close to the local zenith, for a total transit duration of about six minutes (from 6:23 to 6:29 CEST).

Had I known about it beforehand, it would have been a terrific opportunity for some hires space station imaging. Unfortunately it was too short of a notice, because the weather had not been favorable on the previous day(s) and my mount’s pointing model was too old (i.e. not accurate enough) and therefore had to be rebuilt from scratch.

So, I had to make do with wide-field imaging. To this end, I got up around 6:00am and set up my camera on a fixed tripod in my backyard. I used my 8-mm Samyang fisheye lens for the widest possible field of view (almost 180°).

Needless to say, the transit started perfectly on time. The ISS popped up from the NW, zipped across the autumn and winter sky: Andromeda, Perseus, Auriga, Gemini, Canis Minor, and then headed SE, quickly plunging into the morning twilight. Judging from the trail, the ISS reached a maximum altitude of about 78°.

Here’s a photo showing the whole transit, which is actually a composite of 22 x 15 s exposures taken with my Canon 500D DSLR at 400 ISO and the fisheye lens stopped down to f/5.6. Also available is an annotated version of the photo. Click both images for a larger version with all the relevant technical details.


ISS Transit of September 24, 2015 over Northwestern Italy

The International Space Station (ISS)

Annotated version of the above image

The International Space Station (ISS)

Sep 08 2015

M31 The Andromeda Galaxy

M31 The Andromeda Galaxy

Here’s an old and evergreen deep-sky classic… M31, aka the Great Andromeda Galaxy, taken during my 2014 stay at Colle dell’Agnello, a pass in the Italian Alps on the border with France, located at a whopping (at least by European standards :mrgreen: ) 2700 m elevation.

Worth noting is the fact that this picture was made with a PC-less, fully stand-alone setup: Canon 6D + Pentax 75 OTA riding an Avalon M-Zero mount, autoguiding and exposure timing with a Lacerta MGEN stand-alone camera. Processing was done in Pixinsight and Adobe Photoshop.

In my opinion, this image has one important flaw: the galaxy’s core is burned out because I forgot to take some short-exposure shots :mrgreen: . On the whole, however, I’m quite happy with the result, which is way better than the one I took back in 2008.

Click the above image for a larger version. Enjoy!

Jul 02 2015

Close Encounters in the Summer Sky

Jupiter and Venus

Close conjunction of Jupiter and Venus on June 30th, 2015

In late June 2015, Jupiter and Venus (together with the Moon) put on a really nice show with a breathtaking multiple conjunction. Around mid-June, the two planets were already quite close to each other. Around June 20th, they formed a really nice triangle with the crescent Moon, fitting in a circle of just a few degrees.

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Apr 28 2015

The Partial Solar Eclipse of March 20th, 2015

Partial solar eclipse of March 20th, 2015

On March 20th, 2015 a solar eclipse took place, with totality visible only from the North Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic Ocean. It would touch land only at two remote northerly locations: the Faroe Islands and the Svalbard Archipelago, stranded amid the Arctic Ocean at about 800 km north of NordKapp (Norway). From the rest of Europe, including Italy, this eclipse would just be visible as partial, with obscuration of the Sun increasing from SE to NW.

Since for several reasons I could not travel all the way to the totality zone, my plan was to observe the partial eclipse from home. However, the day before (March 19th), the weather prospects for my area (province of Varese, Italy) weren’t really good. Therefore, I resolved to get up in the wee hours of eclipse day and make a last-minute decision on my destination.

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Mar 17 2015


cedic15_03The fourth edition of CEDIC was held March 6th-8th, 2015. CEDIC is short for “Central European Deepsky Imaging Conference”: as its name suggests, it is a very specialized conference devoted to deepsky imaging and related topics: imaging and processing techniques, equipment, special use cases, etc. This conference saw the participation of a number of amateur astronomers from, some of whom are really top-notch, and some equipment dealers who also sponsored the event.

he conference took place in Linz, Austria, in the “Ars Electronica Center” (, a futuristic-looking building located along the banks of the Danube river, at about 1 km from the city center and 2 km from the main railway station. The AEC hosts a permanent multimedia exhibition and is equipped with state-of-the-art multimedia equipment. The “Deep Space” multimedia room, in particular, is big enough to host the plenary sessions, and can boast an array of 4K digital video projectors for 3D multimedia presentations.

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Mar 02 2015

Jupiter in February 2015


The best observing conditions for Jupiter in 2015 were expected to take place in February, as it would reach opposition on the 6th. Currently the gas giant is roaming constellation Cancer at a declination of about 17°, which produces rather favorable observing conditions for northern hemisphere mid-latitudes with a maximum altitude above the horizon of about 62°. Unfortunately it is heading towards the descending part of the ecliptic, so that the situation is bound to gradually worsen over the next years. However, the conditions will still be quite favorable in 2016 and for Southern Europe probably in 2017 as well.

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Jan 20 2015

Comet Lovejoy Again

Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy-forpublication

Here’s another image of comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy: I’ve got more of them on my processing backlog but I picked this one because it’s the one with the longest sub-exposures. It was taken from my backyard, in a heavily light-polluted area close to Varese, Italy.
Longer sub-exposures tend to show the comet’s tail better, but at the expense of a sky background that’s way more difficult to tame because of light pollution. And indeed, it turned out to be a pain to process, but I think the result is rather pleasing. I did my best trying to bring out the faint wisps and jets in the comet’s tail. Hope you like it!
Exposure info: 78 x 90 s taken on January 11, 2015 with a Canon 6D DSLR through a Pentax 105 SDHF refractor; processing with Maxim DL, PixInsight and Photoshop. Click on the picture for a larger version; more details available in the caption.

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