Mars 2018 June 12

This was the start of my Mars observing campaign for the 2018 apparition. My method for coping with the very low altitude (no more than 17º) is to use the C-14 at native focal length (f/11), so obtaining a very bright image through an IR filter, and taking many thousands of very short exposure to stack (24,000 in this case). The seeing was very poor in this case, and I stacked only the best 12% of them. I used the 1.5x Drizzle function in Autostakkert! to enlarge the image.

NGC 2244 2016 January 15-16

The forthcoming BAA Deep Sky Section meeting prompted me to process one of my sets of deep sky data which has been hanging around. This is a wide-field Rosette, taken with a modified DSLR from Outer London over two nights in January.

The very large number of 2-minute unguided exposures has given a very smooth image from an old DSLR. Processing was with the free Deep Sky Stacker and Photoshop CS4, with gradient and light pollution colour cast removed using Gradient Xterminator. 40 flat frames and 140 dark frames were used. (The last is probably an unnecessarily large number.)

I had one problem with the processing, which I may describe as ‘dark worms’. These are not real features in space, but an artefact I guess caused by over-corrected hot pixels turing out dark in calibrated images and trailing with the stacking of slightly displaced unguided exposures. I blurred these ‘worms’ out by outlining them at 200% scale and then using Photoshop’s ‘Shape Blur’ function, but this is not a perfect treatment for them.

Click twice to see at full size.




I got this title from my friend Eric Emms (one of the organisers of the excellent Baker Street Irregular Astronomers), and when he came up with it on Twitter, I thought he has being rather rude about astro-imagers in general. All astro-imaging involves a good deal of processing and adjustment, and all astro-imaging is a kind of creative composing process. Generally, I take the attitude that ‘all is fair in love and war’, so long as what has been done, and the nature of the image, is clearly explained. However, outright fakery does sometimes occur, and this has come to my attention through recent events associated with APOD (NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day).

They featured on 2016 January 22 an image* purportedly showing the International Space Station transiting Saturn. This looked spectacular, but also odd and surprising to many experienced astro-imagers like myself. Detective work by various people has shown that this image is a fake. I won’t go into here the mountain of evidence for that, as it is extensive on the web now. The author of the image, Julian Weßel, subsequently deleted it from his website, and also made private a video which had previously been visible on his YouTube channel that purported to be the actual original video from which the image on APOD had been created.

However, I became more involved with this issue when I noticed that Julian Weßel also had on his site a purported image of the recent close conjunction of Saturn and Venus. I successfully imaged this on the morning of January 09, and my image, below, has been widely distributed on Twitter and elsewhere on the web. It is the only image of the event, so far as I am aware at the moment, that was taken.


So I took a close look at Julan Weßel’s claimed image of the same event:

Wessel-Venus-Saturn orig

Like the Saturn-ISS transit one, this ‘image’ can be shown to be an absolutely clear fake also, on many lines of evidence:

1. He posted it on Instagram  and Twitter  on the evening of January 8. This was about 10 hours before the closest conjunction that was visible from Europe, that I imaged, on the morning of the 9th.

2. If you compare my image with his, you will see he has the distance from Saturn to Venus wrong and the angle between the ansae of Saturn’s rings and the Venus-Saturn line wrong. His image could geometrically be a true representation of an earlier moment of the conjunction, as Venus was travelling away form Saturn, moving to the left (east) when I took my shot. But that moment would not have been visible from Europe, and there’s no evidence that he went out of Europe to take his ‘image’.

3. My image was taken in a very narrow, critical time-period of less than half an hour when the pair were high enough above the horizon to get any sort of recognisable image of Saturn, but the sky had not brightened enough to make Saturn disappear. The sky is very bright in my image (in fact I darkened it compared to the raw shot). The sky in Julian Weßel’s ‘image’ is dead black, as illustrated by an extreme levels stretch of his JPEG in Photoshop:


4. There is absolutely no way that the faint moons of Saturn were imageable in the bright sky in which the conjunction was visible, but there they are in Julian’s ‘image’.

5. The blotchy residues and colour blocks around the celestial bodies in the stretched image above makes it look likely that all the elements of his ‘image’, Saturn, the moons, Venus and the star above Saturn, have been pasted onto a canvas separately.


The Julian Weßel claimed image of the conjunction does not geometrically represent a view he could have observed, but his Tweet and Instagram post say:

Right now! Venus is only 5.1 Arch minutes seperated from Saturn. Nice to See how fast the movement between These two planets is.

This implies he was watching the event, but the Tweet was posted at 9:57PM, when the planets were below the horizon from Europe!

It looks to me like he got the orientation of the scene at the moment of closest conjunction (visible somewhere in the world) from a planetarium program and made a composition around that. The image of Venus he used looks like he might have taken it around that date, but the image of Saturn and its moons is totally impossible to have been taken this year from Europe (like his Saturn image with the ISS transit) as Saturn is currently too low in the twilight. It looks like he pasted in a Saturn image he took last year, or got from somewhere else, and rearranged the moons.

I am afraid to say it looks like with Mr Weßel we are dealing with someone who notes when close approaches of objects occur in the sky, then cooks up synthesised images of those events from available information and bits of his own imaging, and places them around the web with minimal information (such as date, time, location etc.) that would allow them to be verified or disproved, and with vague captions that imply he has witnessed and successfully imaged the event, but don’t (as in his Twitter and Instagram postings I have referenced) explicitly say he has imaged it, and don’t explain what methods he used.

I call this fraud. I expect his  image and video claiming to show a transit last year of the International Space station across the disk of Jupiter  is entirely fake as well.

There have been other occasions in the past of unacceptable practice in astro-imaging. An outstanding image of Jupiter by Damian Peach was altered by a fraudster a few years back and passed off as his own, but Damian detected the fraud. That was simple theft, but in this case we have images that could have been presented, and captioned, as ‘simulations’, based on genuine original pieces of astro-imaging, and would have then been acceptable, but have been misrepresented, probably for publicity or gain (as Mr Weßel trieds to sell prints of his picture from his website). This behaviour not only confuses the general public but harms the reputation of amateur astro-imaging in general and undermines the hard work of the vast number of excellent, dedicated, careful and conscientious amateur astro-imagers who go to great inconvenience and expense, get up at all times of the night, make themselves cold and uncomfortable, and dedicate huge amounts of time to the preparation, acquisition, processing and presentation of genuine and sometimes revelatory works of scientific representation. These are ‘creative’ works as well, in a general sense, but so long as we are clear exactly what processes lie behind them, we have scientific integrity.

Transgressions of this nature are therefore worth going to the trouble of exposing and publicising, as I am doing here. We should have no sympathy with anyone who breaks the trust vital to progress in our field  by passing off images as something they are not.

Parts of this text I published previously on Starship Asterisk* forum

*Update, January 26 00:15UT: NASA have now removed the offending APOD and all associated text from their site and replaced it with a completely different item for January 22.

Further update, January 26 15:00UT: Julian Weßel has now made an apology (at least from the ISS Saturn transit image) and stated he has “deleted all pictures from my Website etc at which it wasn’t clear where it’s from and how they processed”, which includes the Venus-Saturn conjunction image.

Jupiter 2016 January 01

This was my first image of 2016 and first of Jupiter this apparition. I had good seeing on the morning of the 1st, but transparency was rapidly falling when I took this, and there was a halo around the Moon nearby, so exposures were long (>50ms) and the result is not too sharp. Still it was nice to see the GRS again and the STB white ovals.

Before midnight, on New Year’s Eve, myself with a couple of friends in the observatory observed visually through the C-14. We saw the Trapezium, with the E and F stars visible, and the very unequal double of Rigel. (More recently I have established that this is clearly visible with a 100mm refractor.)


The Moon 2016 January 19

Here’s a hazy and low gibbous Moon from very early in the morning. Thanks to the magic of processing it comes out quite nice. This is just exactly the largest phase that can be fitted in in one go on a DMK 41 camera chip with a 600mm focal length scope; the full frame is given here. 900 frames stacked in AVIStack 2, sharpened in Registax 6 and adjusted in Photoshop CS4. (Click twice to enlarge)



The total lunar eclipse of 2015 September 28

It was a beautifully clear night here in Edgware, and the entire eclipse was visible, the first time this has happened since 4 March 2007. The eclipse was an extremely dark one, and it was apparent well before the first contact of the umbra. At totality the Moon was dull, eerie grey-red-brown, or a dark copper colour, shading brighter and bluer towards the south, as the Moon passed through the southern part of the umbra, and the sky was dark enough to do efficient deep sky observing. I looked at M31 and other objects with 10×50 binoculars, as well as at the eclipse.

The images are unprocessed, straight from a Canon EOS 350D camera at 800 ISO at prime focus of my Celestron 100mm f9 ED refractor, which is mounted with my C-14 on an Astro-Physics AP 1200GTO mount in the main observatory. Click the images to enlarge, then click on the dimensions (3456 x2304) to see at full-size.

Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) with M79 2014 December 28

I’d been trying to get this comet for some nights, desperately cutting down vegetation in my neighbour’s garden (with permission) to get low enough. I managed to capture it on the 28th, the same night as several other amateurs in the UK achieved the same, at an altitude of 14 degrees above the horizon, much affected by the London skyglow to the south of my observatory.

The single 30s exposure best shows the globular cluster M79. The stack of 17 images (stacked on the comet) shows the comet best; this image has been subjected to several stages of non-linear stretch and also had gradient and colour cast removal with GradientXterminator and noise removal with NeatImage. Also given is an inverted mono version stretched further to show the tail better. Click any image to enlarge.

2014q2_20141228_2359_ard2014q2_20141228_2341_ard 2014q2_20141228_2341_mono_ard