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  • Justin Pickens

The Leo Triplet

Last night was the first clear night we've seen in Central Texas in a couple of weeks. The night's target was the Leo Triplet made up of M 66, M 65, and NCG 3628. The triplets are about 31-35 million light-years from earth. Clustered together, they are a pretty easy target to locate and photograph.

NGC 3628 is the longer unbarred spiral galaxy among the triplets which is deliciously called the Hamburger Galaxy. The galaxy is seen from it's side and the most noticeable feature is a long dust cloud along the outer arm of the galaxy which transects our view of the galaxy from Earth.

I setup my equipment before dusk while the kids played in their sandbox. This is the second time I have used my new surveyor tripod. I've got to say this thing is built like a tank and is certainly overkill for this little tracker and scope. I setup my Raspberry Pi with Astroberry and balanced the mount while it was still light out.

Once the kids were down I was able to go out and get everything polar aligned, focused properly, and framed the target. Here's is where I ran into the first hiccup of the night. I lost two hours of integration time because I though my camera was communicated just fine with the Astroberry. But it turns out it was not actually saving the images. Whomp Whomp.

After I got that sorted out it was getting late. I had to settle for 60 light frames at 90 second exposure duration, took 30 darks, and 30 lights. I already have a library for biases at ISO 800 so there was no need to do it again.

The second hiccup came when I tried to take flat calibration frames. Reaching for the declination knob, I accidentally turned the focus knob. So I put the bahtinov mask back on the scope and tried to refocus it back to roughly where it was. Packed everything up and went to bed to process everything the next day.

The Leo Triplet

Technical Details:

Telescope: Apertura 60mm FPL-53 /w x1 field flattener

Camera: Sony a6300

Mount: Sky Watcher Star Adventurer Pro 2i

Guide Scope: ZWO ASI120MM Mini

Guide Camera: ZWO 30f4 Mini Scope

360mm, f/6, ISO 800

60 lights @ 90 seconds, 30 darks, 30 flats, 50 biases


Crop (x=1297, y=1378, w=3635, h=2206)

Photometric CC

Asinh Transformation: (stretch= 100.0, bp=0.02000)

SCNR (type=0, amount=1.00, preserve=true)

Background extraction (Correction: Subtraction)


Stretched histogram, ACR adjustments to sharpening and noise reduction, luminance mask to reduce background noise and saturation, final stretching to taste.


Final sharpening and noise reduction.

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