Deep Sky Astrophotography

 by Jordi Gallego

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2020 - 2023:  Remote operation of Fosca Nit Observatory (FNO)

In 2020, after almost four years of interruption of my astrophotographic activity, I retired and was able to put my observatory back into operation.

In October 2020 I completed the process of automating the observatory to be able to work remotely. This was nothing new at the time, as many colleagues at the observatories in Àger had already done it before, but for me it was a very welcome achievement: on the one hand, I had wanted to do it for a long time, and on the other hand, as I get older, it will help me a lot by saving me many hours of driving up and down the road.

The heart of the system is Talon6. Talon6 is a secure control system for the automation of observatories. It allows both manual and robotic control and automation of the moving roof of my observatory. I would like to point out that the system allows me to park my EM400 mount in all circumstances, even in case of loss of communications with the PC.

Achieving this with a Takahashi Temma2 mount, whose electronics do not have the ability to park the mount through its firmware, is by no means an easy task and for this, I thank the people responsible for Talon6 for their effort and success.

AAS Montsec observatories.

Images taken during this period can be seen here

2008 - 2015:  Fosca Nit Observatory (FNO) & SBIG STL-11000M

In the middle of 2007 I got one of the observatories included on 2nd phase of "Agrupación Astronómica de Sabadell Montsec observatories". I named it "Fosca Nit" Observatory (FNO). "Fosca nit" means "Dark night" in catalan, my mother tongue.

The Montsec observatories are located in Montsec Astronomical Park, a zone with special luminous protection rules. Sky background magnitude at zenith is around 21-22.
The observatories project was conceived and promoted by a group of associates, who had to fight against all odds to overcome skepticism (internal and external) and institutional bureaucracy in order to get the necessary permissions.
It was a very hard job and those who incorporated later, like me, have largely benefited from their efforts. I would like to take this opportunity to show them my gratitude.
The objectives of the project were to establish fixed astronomical installations in a closed and friendly area that would encourage development of team work. Initially 32 observatories were built, plus 20 concrete platforms (with electrical supply) for visitors equipment. In a second phase, 7 more observatories were built, along with a services building. 
The observatories are built on land belonging to the neighbor farm-house "Cal Maciarol" (the red building in the center of the photo at right): without their support, observatories could not have become a reality. Observatory owners and general visitors often eat and stay there.
AAS Montsec observatories.

Having a permanent observatory was my dream for many years and now has become a reality. In the photo you can see a partial view of the FNO.

In January 2008 and after many months of wasting time fighting against dark river problem with my 20Da, I gave up and purchased a SBIG STL-11000M camera. Having an astronomical CCD camera was also a long time desire that became reality.

Since January 2008 most of the images have been taken with STL camera.

Images taken during this period can be seen here

2006 - 2007:  Dark Sky & Canon 20Da

In 2006 I was first able to start imaging from dark skies. I also got a new camera, a Canon EOS 20Da, a limited version from the 20D, modified for astrophotography.

Combination of dark sky and new camera with extended capabilities in the hydrogen alpha line, immediately produced an improvement in quality of images.

At that time, equipment was the one shown in the right. The GM-8 mount was non-Gemini, that is without GOTO capabilities. And obviously, as in all non permanent setups, all equipment had to be unpacked, assembled, put into operation (and disassembled and packed) every night.

It has to be pointed out that since mid 2007, my 20Da camera started to progresively develop the so called "dark river" effect on images, 
that sometimes affects 20D series of cameras. That effect complicated a lot image processing.
I imaged from different locations on that period, but most of the time I stayed in a platform at "Agrupación Astronómica de Sabadell Montsec observatories" (see below) as shown in the right.

Images taken during this period can be seen here

2004 - 2006: "Bright Sky" & Canon 10D

In 2004 I started to work with digital astrophotography. For certain reasons during the first years I was only able to image from home, that is from a very light polluted sky. In the right you can see the south view from home
(15 s exposure ISO200 @ f/4,5).
Imaging deep sky objects under these conditions was a bit crazy, but was my only chance at that time and it was indeed a good school to learn how to handle gradients!
Anyway with the help of an IDAS LPS filter first and a Hydrogen alpha filter later, I was able to get some results.
My camera was a Canon 10D that was not modified, that is with very reduced possibilities on emission nebulae.

In order to image comfortably from home I prepared this kind of permanent setup. While not imaging, scope, column and mount were protected by a rolling wooden structure (not shown).

Images taken during this period can be seen here


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