John McDonald

Website archive 1995-2013

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John has used a Nikon Coolpix 995 point-and-shoot as well as a Pentax ist DS dSLR for astrophotography, but now uses a modified Canon T1i (500D) dSLR equipped with a variety of lenses. Processing software includes ImagesPlus, Photoshop and Neat Image. He uses a William Optics 105mm apochromatic refractor or a 10" Newtonion, both mounted  on an HEQ5 for both visual and photography.  John McDonald's Personal Astronomy Website

For current images, please refer to John's Zenfolio Online Gallery (see above slideshow)
Please note: the page below contains an archive of John's images dated from mid-2007. John's Gallery covering 1997-2006

Costa Rica Southern Sky Fiesta - February 2008

Attending the 2008 Southern Sky Fiesta tour with my wife Wendy was a truly memorable event for both of us. Wendy was mostly a day person and went hiking and horseback riding. I did some daytime activities (boat tour of a mangrove swamp, hike in the rain forest and a tractor ride over the Ensenada farm). However, I spent most nights out till dawn and was thrilled with the views of the southern sky. I saw the LMC, Crux, the Coal Sack, Omega Centauri and much more for the first time and it was great. Gary Seronik led the tour and provided excellent talks and binocular sky tours. Wendy tells me we are going again next year and who am I to argue?

Below, please find two time-lapse movies of the southern sky at night as well as our images of day activities and the night sky as found at La Ensenada, located 10 degrees north of the equator on the Gulf of Nicoya in Costa Rica.

John & Wendy's Costa Rica 2008


Crux and Coalsack

Crescent Moon

Crescent Moon

Large Magellenic Cloud

Eta Carinae

Crux-Eta Carinae region
The Moon and Jupiter from near Canmore, Alberta - June 2007

Here are some images taken from the deck of our condo in Canmore. One is of the moon over one of the Three Sisters and looks like the moon is trying to find a landing spot. The other shows Jupiter over the same mountains in the evening light. If you blow it up three of the moons are evident. They are from left to right Callisto, Europa and Granymede.

M101 - June 11, 2007

Last night after I lost the NGC objects in the clouds and trees, I could see that M101 was still out of the clouds. Transmission was poor and the location was in the direction of city light pollution so the results are not great. Still, I had never imaged this one before so I am pleased to have something. I am looking forward to trying this one again when I have a really dark sky.

Date and location- morning of June 11, 2007 - backyard in Fairfield.
Equipment- Williams 105mm with modified Canon 350D on HEQ5 mount.
Exposures- used 50 of 51 lights and 25 darks all 58s at ISO 800. 25 flats were also used in the calibration.
Processing- Stacking and digital development in ImagesPlus with additional processing in Photoshop.


NGC5466 & NGC5053 - June 10, 2007

Last night was very mixed for sky conditions with some clear periods with some wind and increasing cloud and lowered transmission in the am. At the suggestion of Jim Nemec I had a go trying to capture NGC 5053 and 5466. Bill Weir had warned me that these objects need a good dark sky and and noted that 5053 is really difficult so I was not expecting great results from my backyard. Still, I like the challenge of seeing what I can image from my urban location and it is possible to see both of them in the images (barely in the case of 5053). I could not really be sure
5053 was in the frames while I was shooting but I positioned M53 at the edge hoping that would put 5053 in the frame. It worked although the framing is not the greatest. You should be able to see 5053 on the left side and M53 is clearly shown at the upper right.


NGC 5466
Date and location- June 10/11, 2007 in backyard, Fairfield, Victoria.
Equipment- William Optics 105mm with modified Canon 350D on HEQ5 mount.
Exposures- used 52 of 60 lights and 25 darks all 58s at ISO 800. 25 flats were also used in the calibration.
Processing- Stacking and digital development in ImagesPlus with additional processing in Photoshop.

NGC 5053 and M53
Date and location- June 11, 2007 in backyard, Fairfield, Victoria.
Equipment- Williams 105mm with modified Canon 350D on HEQ5 mount.
Exposures- used 11 of 13 lights and 25 darks all 58s at ISO 800. 25 flats were also used in the calibration.
Processing- Stacking and digital development in ImagesPlus with additional processing in Photoshop.

NGC 5466

NGC 5053 and M53

M16 Eagle Nebula - June 8, 2007

Finally, I got a really clear sky that I was waiting for overnight on Thursday. It was cloudy early in the evening but cleared as the night progressed and turned into the best night I have had this year for imaging. The temperature was 12 degrees, transmission and seeing very good and no wind. I had been wanting to try my modified Canon 350D on a target with lots of H-alpha nebulosity and the Eagle Nebula seemed like a good bet. It was up high enough to be above the trees and in clear air by midnight and the moon did not rise until after 1:30am. I am quite pleased with the result and especially the amount of nebulosity that shows up in and around the core of this nebula. I think the image is a keeper.

Date and location - June 8 between 12:04 and 1:32am in my backyard in
Fairfield, Victoria.
Equipment - Williams Optics 105mm refractor and Canon 350D camera on Skywatcher HEQ5 mount.
Exposures - Used 57 of 62 light frames each 58s at ISO 800 plus 25 dark and 25 flat frames.
Processing - Stacked in ImagesPlus, stretched and enhanced using Photoshop and Astronomy tools.

M13 Hercules Cluster & M92 - June 7/8, 2007

While I was waiting for the Eagle Nebula to get high enough on Thursday night I spent some time on clusters to get good focus. I ended up taking some frames of M13 and M92 and the attached shows what resulted. The one of the Hercules Cluster (M13) goes deeper than I had managed before and as a result it shows more stars. M92 is dimmer and smaller and had less exposure but still came out fairly well.

Date and location - June 7/8 in my backyard in Fairfield, Victoria.
Equipment - Williams Optics 105mm and Canon 350D camera on HEQ5 mount.
Exposures - M13-Used 24 of 29 light frames each 58s at ISO 800 plus 25 dark and 25 flat frames.
Exposures - M92- 13 light frames each 58s at ISO 800 plus 25 dark and 25 flat frames.
Processing - Stacked and digitally developed in ImagesPlus. Additional enhancement in Photoshop.

M13 Hercules Cluster


M27 Dumbell Nebula - 2006 & May 24, 2007

I have been putting together the results of three sessions on M27 and the attached is the result. Two of the sessions were from last July at Observatory Hill using a Pentax on the Williams Optics 105mm and the third was last Thursday at Cattle point using a modified Canon 350D. I only managed to get 17 light frames of 58s each with the Canon and the transparency was bad but even so, I got quite a bit of color, especially some nice reds from H alpha light. The Pentax sessions had a total of 138 30s light frames and gave a more detail as a result of the longer exposure.

Processing details:
Aligned the results of the 3 sessions using ImagesPlus. Because the 2006 sessions were done with a focal reducer and Thursdays session was done without it I aligned using the "translate/rotate AND SCALE" command. Amazingly, the images came into excellent alignment despite the different optics and cameras used. The aligned images were blended together in Photoshop. The Canon image was used as the base or background and I used a "color screen blend" for one of the Pentax session images and a "lighten blend" for the other

M5 & M10 Globular Clusters - May 22, 2007

In the bits of clear air I had a go at M5 and M10 last night from my back yard. I am fascinated with globular clusters because of their age and the puzzle of how they formed and have lasted so long. I am pretty happy with the image of M5. M10 could use more exposure but I ran out of clear sky.

Location and date- Backyard in Fairfield, Victoria May 22/23
Equipment- WO 105mm with Canon 350D camera
M5 - 50 light, 25 dark and 25 flat frames
M10- 14 light, 25 dark and 25 flat frames
Processing- ImagesPlus and Photoshop

M104, Sombrero Galaxy - May 17, 2007

After capturing comet Lovejoy last evening, M104 was well situated for imaging and the skies got fairly clear as well. There was still quite a bit of sky glow so I decided to use ISO 400 with 58 sec exposures. I am attaching a full frame wide field image and the cropped version.

Location and date - Backyard in Fairfield, May 17/18, 2007 Equipment - WO 105mm with modified Canon 350D and 0.8x focal reducer Exposure - 61 58s lights, 25 Darks and 25 Flats at ISO 400 Processing - ImagesPlus and Photoshop

Comet Lovejoy C/2007 E2 and NGC 6015 - May 17, 2007

After sending out my first attempt at Comet Lovejoy, I thought it might be fun to measure the angular velocity of the comet from its track on my image. I also had several more light frames from initial shots when I was adjusting the scope to get the frame set. Since, I could not really see the comet, I had spent some time checking my pointing as best I could. It turned out that all of my frames had the comet in them and I was able to use them all to get a bit longer track and less noise. I also took some more dark frames to reduce noise from that source and put more care into the processing. The result is less noisy and the track is longer (see attached). The exposures covered the period from 10:57PM to 12:03AM PDT and the track measures 2.80 arcmin (+/- 10%). so the comet was moving at a rate of 2.55 arcmin/hr (+/- 10%).

Location and date - Backyard in Fairfield, May 17, 2007 Time of exposures - from 10:57PM to 12:03AM PDT Equipment - WO 105mm with modified Canon 350D and 0.8x focal reducer Exposure - 43 - 58s lights, 25 Darks and 25 Flats at ISO 800 Processing - ImagesPlus and Photoshop
Moon-Venus  Conjunction - May 19, 2007

Jim Cliffe got a lovely image of the conjunction earlier this evening. The view from the parking lot at the CU was also nice tonight at 10:20PM when I took this image. Clouds everywhere except for the Moon and Venus. Pretty lucky!

Tripod mounted Canon 30D with 300mm F4L lens Exposure f/7.1, for 1/20 sec. at ISO 100.
Processing in Photoshop included a slight enhancement of local contrast and mild sharpening.

Comet Lovejoy C/2007 E2 and NGC 6015 - May 17, 2007

The comet was so dim in the raw frames that I thought it would not be possible to align on the comet itself so the previous processing just used star alignments. That resulted in the comet image being a track of the comets path rather than a sharp image of the comet itself.

Last night I thought of a way to align on the comet and the attached is the result. I think I can see a bit of the tail stretching off to the right now but you can judge this for yourselves.

For those that want to know how it was done here are the details:

1) Convert and calibrate Raw images as usual.
2) Stretch using digital development the individual frames from step 1).
Normally digital development is used after aligning and stacking but the comet could not be seen well enough to align it without stretching first.
3) Align using translate and rotate on stars first. I needed this step as there was some rotation during the period when I was centering the target.
4) Align again but this time on the comet.
5) Combine aligned frames as usual.
6) Finish with some additional smoothing and enhancing in Photoshop.

NGC 7000, North America Nebula - May 9/10, 2007

I have been trying to refine my image processing and the North American Nebula is my deepest image to date so I am using it to try things on. The attached image show the best I have done so far As you will see, I have been able to tease out quite a bit more detail compared with my previous image (see below).

For anyone interested in the details, the main differences in processing are described below.

This image is the latest and was processed using some ideas from Ron Wodanski. Instead of using Digital Development in ImagesPlus, it uses a series of stretches using the "curves) routine in Photoshop. Wodaski's technique is not as easy or automatic as Digital Development but it does seem to offer more control. I also used the "local Enhancement" routine from Astronomy Tools to provide some fine tuning to the contrast.

The image below used the same processing techniques that I have been using for recent images - ImagesPlus Digital Development routine to enhance the image and Photoshop to bring out the nebulosity.

Finally, A bit of smoothing of the darker parts and sharpening of the brighter ones has been applied to all of all the images using Photoshop.

I like the latest one best. The extra detail in the nebulosity is nice to see and the reds are not quite so overwhelming.

NGC 7000, North America Nebula - May 9/10, 2007

Last night after the RASC meeting, Charles suggested we go to Cattle Point and stay late as it looked like a good night. As the night progressed some of the objects that are rich in H-alpha came up giving me a chance to try my recently acquired 350D camera. This is one with a modified filter to pass H-alpha light. I tried the North American Nebula and got the attached result. The modified camera appears to be quite sensitive overall and especially good in the red as expected. Next, I want to try it with my 105mm refractor.

By the way, it was a long night as I did not get to bed until 3:30am. How does it go again "..........light years to go before I sleep..."

Location and date: Cattle point 2007-05-09/10
Camera: Canon 350D modified with Baader UV/IR filters by Hap Griffin
Lens: Canon 80-200 f2.8L operating at 200mm fl and f3.5
Mount: Skywatcher HEQ5
Exposure: 69-58sec light frames at ISO 800
Calibration: 23 Dark and 25 Flat frames
Processing: Stacking and digital development in Images Plus with some additional processing in Photoshop

M64, the Black Eye Galaxy - April 14, 2007

M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy - April 15, 2007

Here are some more images from Saturday night in my backyard. While Charles was shooting his wonderful ultra deep field of the Coma region, I focused on two galaxies, M51, the Whirlpool and M64, the Black Eye. I did M64 first and planned to stop as the clouds kept obscuring the target but it got better after midnight so I had a go with M51 until 2:30AM. I'm glad I did as there have been few nights as good recently.

Location and date - Backyard in Fairfield, Victoria April 14/15 Equipment - WO 105mm refractor, Canon 30D Camera and 0.8x focal reducer Exposure - 47 and 54 light frames were taken for M51 and M64 respectively, each 58s at ISO 800. 25 dark, 15 flat and 15 bias frames were used for calibration.
Processing - ImagesPlus and Photoshop

M63 Black Eye Galaxy

M51, Whirpool Galaxy

Venus and M45 Pleiades - April 14, 2007

Charles and I met in my backyard last night to do some imaging and Joe dropped in as well. It was a strange night with some good clear periods followed by fast and slow moving clouds nearly totally obscuring the sky at times. I tried imaging Venus and Pleiades first and the attached are some of the results.

Image 1- (1642) - Tripod mounted Canon 30D with 17-50 mm Tamron f2.8 lens at 50mm fl Exposure f3.2, 2s at ISO 200
Image 2- (1664) Tripod mounted Canon 30D with Canon 80-200 mm L lens at 155mm fl Exposure f2.8, 1s at ISO 800 Both images processed in Photoshop

Saturn - April 11, 2007

It is tough to find a hole these days but I managed to get some clear air for a while last night. It was quite moist but the seeing was not bad and I got my personal best image of Saturn before it socked in at 2AM. I like the color which is just as it came out of the camera.

Telescope:- Skywatcher 8" Newtonian on HEQ5 mount
Camera:- Nikon Coolpix 995 coupled afocally to a 6.4 mm eyepiece Camera settings:- VGA(640x480px) continuous drive mode and max. zoom
Exposures:- Used the best 24 of 73 1/4s exposures at ISO 200
Processing:- Aligned, graded, stacked, stretched and sharpened (using the Richard Lucy algorithm), all in ImagesPlus

Leo Triplet of galaxies M65, M66 and NGC 3628 - Mar 21, 2007

Last evening the usual clouds were missing and I took the opportunity to do some imaging from my backyard. The transparency was not great and there was some wind at times but it was better than most of the recent nights.

Location: Backyard in Fairfield, Victoria, BC
Date and time March 20/21 2007 between 11:59PM and 12:56AM.
Equipment: Williams 105mm scope and 0.8x focal reducer with Canon 30D on Skywatcher HEQ5 mount.
Exposures: 50 light frames and 25 dark at ISO 800 for 58s each with an additional 10 Bias and 10 Flat frames for calibration.
Processing: ImagesPlus and Photoshop.

M81, M82, NCG3077 - Jan 11, 2007

It was pretty crazy to go up on the hill on such a cold night but on Jan. 11 Charles and I had to do it as we were suffering from clear sky deprivation. The sky was not as dark from the lower parking lot as we would have liked and the transparency was not wonderful but it was the best night we had seen for some time. Temperature was -4deg C with a nasty wind chill. As you will have seen, Charles Banville got stunning images of the Pleiades and M42. I concentrated on testing my new Canon Camera on M81/82 and the attached images are the result.

Equipment: Williams 105mm with 0.8x focal reducer and Canon 30D camera on HEQ5 mount.
Exposures: 78 60 sec. light, 17 Dark and 10 flat frames.
Processing: ImagesPlus and Photoshop

Comet McNaught C2006 P1 - Jan 11, 2007

Wow, it is a beautiful comet. I went to Moss Rock at sundown today and got several images of the comet. Here is a sample.

John's Gallery covering 1997-2006

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