My article and image of IC1396 in Skynews magazine Mar/Apr 2019

IC1396 in Skynews
IC1396 in Skynews

Very pleased to have my image of IC1396 and short article featured in the “Parting Shot” section of the March/April issue of Skynews Magazine. It’s always an honour to have your work recognized like this.

IC1396 and Elephant Trunk Nebula
The image of IC1396 that is featured in Skynews

I imaged IC1396 (the Elephant Trunk Nebula) in the Fall of 2018 using the Skywatcher Esprit 100 Triplet Refractor, Moravian 16200EC CCD and Optolong filters. All riding on an EQ6 mount and Skyshed pier. 

This issue of Skynews is of particular interest to me because it deals with light pollution. A growing problem that is not just the bane of amateur and professional astronomers. It’s becoming quite the problem and this issue covers some of the particulars of it.

I’ve been a dark sky advocate since 2008 and have provided a lot of information and knowledge on the topic of light pollution to my city officials and staff. I also input on our LED street light conversion.

Light pollution is very easy to fix. In fact out of all the pollutants, it’s by far the simplest to reduce and even stop.

Flip that switch and turn of lights over night. Shield lights down to the ground so the light (and energy) is wasted up into the night sky. If you are going to use LED, look for 2700K or lower lights. Amber is better (1750K-2200K) and is now becoming readily available. It also looks much nicer, more warm and cozy than bright harsh white LEDs.

Check out my section on light pollution here. You can also read more about IC1396 in my post of it here.

Thanks for reading and clear skies!

My Article and Images in Skynews Magazine Nov-Dec Issue 2016

Featured astrophotography article in SkyNews magazine by Shawn Nielsen

Super exciting to have my Skynews Magazine astrophotography article featured on a 4-page spread in the November-December issue. While I’ve known about this upcoming for several months, it’s always exciting to see your work in print and circulated around the Country to subscribers and on news stands.

NGC 3372 Eta Carina NebulaThe skynews magazine astrophotography article is entitled “Eta Carinae from Canada” discusses my adventures in remote internet astrophotography. It’s something I contemplated trying over the last few years and just this year took plunge.

Part of the motivation to expand into remote internet astrophotography was the cloudy season that besieges southern Ontario from late November to March typically. That combined with friged -20 or more temperatures when it was clear, had me take another look.

skynews astrophotography articleI captured some amazing images and even a once in a lifetime image of a nebula and comet pairing. The images were taken with fabulously expensive telescope and camera equipment from pristine dark sites at high elevations around the world. I even had the opportunity to share the data with a colleague and together we enjoyed processing a couple of the images on a cold snowy night this past February.

If you’d like to read more about my story and experiences with remote internet astrophotography, please visit to get your digital copy of the Nov/Dec issue or visit your local news stand/magazine rack near you.

Clear skies!

Return to M20 the Trifid Nebula

M20 the Trifid Nebula

Featured Astronomy Magazine online Picture of the Day, Sept 8th, 2016. 

M20 by Shawn Nielsen featured Picture of the Day at Astronomy Magazine online. September 8th, 2016.

Also featured in Amateur Astrophotography E-Magazine Aug 9th, issue #31

It’s been several years since I imaged M20 the Trifid Nebula. I decided to begin collecting new data on it in May 2016 using the remote 16″ ASA astrograph at Siding Springs Observatory. It took about two months with poor weather conditions and time. I did however manage to gather more data recently which has allowed me to at least put this image together. I’m intending to add more data to it but for now I’ve moved on to other deep sky targets.

M20 the Trifid Nebula

M20 is in the constellation of Sagittarius, the teapot. It’s approximately 5000 lightyears away from Earth. Discovered by Charles Messier on June 5, 1764.

The data used to create this image consists of narrowband (H-alpha and O3), luminance and red, green, blue colour channels. Processing was performed in Pixinsight.

The Trifid Nebula is well known among observers and astrophotographers. It’s a unique region of space that has emission nebula, reflection nebula and dark nebula all in one. Also known as M20, this H II region is located in the constellation of Sagittarius and was discovered by Charles Messier on June 5, 1764. Its name means ‘divided into three lobes’.

astrophotography image processing
A look behind the scenes as this image of the Trifid Nebula M20 was being processed in Pixinsight. Shown is the separate luminance master and the NBRGB master.

All frames were auto calibrated by the imaging system. Cosmetic correction was then applied to all frames within a group. All H-alpha frames were run through cosmetic correction, all O3 frames, all luminance and so forth. Cosmetic correction allows you to remove unwanted hot and cold pixels that may not have been entirely removed by the calibration process. This tool also allows for the removal of bad columns sometimes associated with CCD cameras.

Once cosmetic correction was done, each data set was aligned. The drizzle data was created at this point as well for later use.

Drizzle can improve your stars and image resolution when data is under sampled.
Drizzle can improve your stars and image resolution when data is under sampled. Shown is before (left) and after (right).

The next process was image integration. This stacks all of the aligned images in a data set. Once the stacking process was completed the drizzle data was applied using the drizzle integration function. Drizzle allows for correction of undersampled data. It greatly improves stars effected by pixelation and increases overall resolution.

Once all of the master stacks were created I could begin assembling the data and processing it.

The Dynamic Background Extraction tool was used to further remove any remaining gradients. Deconvolution was used to compensate for atmospheric blurring of the image details. This technique is also used for images taken with the Hubble Space Telescope.

An RGB master was created using the channel combination tool. Then the NBRGB combine script was used to integrate the RGB master with the H-alpha and O3 masters. The Luminance master was then applied to the NBRGB master.

Using the Historgram Transformation tool I went to work bringing out the appearance and details of the Trifid Nebula. This process turns an otherwise dark looking image with nothing in it, to a vibrant and pretty image of the deep sky object.

I created a range mask so only the core of the nebula could be worked on. I applied some HDRwavelet to this area of the image which helps reduce washed out areas and restore detail.

Colour saturation was applied to taste. A little curves adjustment was made to darken the background a bit more and brighten the Trifid Nebula features.

Tada! A finished imaged that required 4 hours of data acquisition and 10+ hours of processing. They do say astrophotography is one of the most difficult and demanding forms of photography and I believe them.


UPDATE, January 2019:

Since I first processed this data in 2016 I’ve learned a lot. So I went back and re-processed this M20 image. My main goal was to reduce noise better than I had. I was successful. I applied new knowledge of noise reduction in Pixinsight using the Multiscale Linear Transform tool and the TGVdenoise tool.

Here’s the newly reprocessed image…

M20 nebula re-processed Jan 2019

and this is before and after of the noise reduction…



Imaged from iTelescope remote T33 telescope at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia.

16″ F/3.5 Astro Systeme Austria (ASA) Astrograph mounted on a Paramount ME. The OTA is coupled with a large format main imaging camera and guided with a Starlight Xpress Lodestar using a custom made Off-Axis adapter.

16 megapixel Apogee Aspen CG16070 Class 1 CCD paired withan Apogee FW50-9R 9 Position Filter Wheel.

87 x 58 arcmin FoV at an image scale of 1.07 arcsec/pixel.

240min total of Hydrogen-Alpha, Oxygen III, Luminance, Red, Green and Blue channels.

Processing: Pixinsight




Comet sails past the Helix Nebula

Comet C/2013 X1 (PanSTARRS) passing near the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293)

This image was published in Skynew Magazine (Canada), Nov/Dec 2016 issue.

A truly once in a lifetime opportunity. I was able to capture this image of Comet C/2013 X1 (PanSTARRS) passing near the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293) on its cosmic journey through space. While the comet appears from our perspective to be passing near the nebula they are in fact separated by great distance. The Helix Nebula is some 700 light years away from us.

Comet C/2013 X1 (PanSTARRS) passing near the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293)View high res PNG image here

C/2013 X1 was discovered in 2013 by PanSTARRS (The Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System). It consists of two 1.8 m Ritchey-Chretien telescopes located at Haleakala in Hawaii that watch the sky the night sky for moving objects on a continual basis.

The comet is expected to reach it’s peak brightness in June and July 2016. It could reach 6th magnitude and be visible in binoculars if it does continue to brighten. When I took this image the comet was around magnitude 8.29 and has a bright green coma surrounding it along with an unusual split blue ion tail that is faintly visible in my image. (more data would be needed to reveal this tail better)

This is a collaboration image with fellow astrophotographer and friend Ron Brecher. I collected the data and Ron processed it. I imaged the comet and Helix early morning June 5th, 2016, from the New Mexico iTelescope remote imaging platform T20. This event was very popular with many astro-imagers from around the world. The two nights Comet C/2013 X1 would be closest to the Helix Nebula (June 4 and June 5) the scheduling was booked solid for the widefield imaging telescopes.

I was up early around 5:30am EDT on June 5th, and did my usual check-in of the iTelescope launchpad which displays among other things all of the telescopes around the world and their availability as well as weather (all sky cams) and a large day/night map. As chance would have it the T20, Takahashi FSQ106 with SBIG STL-11000M, had just completed an imaging run for someone else and it showed as available. Morning twilight was coming fast though for New Mexico which is 2 hours behind my EDT time. The race to beat dawn was on!

I quickly created a script which tells the telescope where to point, how many and length of exposures to take, what filters to use and so forth. Given the slim timing I had, I went with an 8min total data of LRGB. While it’s not a lot of data to work with for astro-image processing it certainly yielded a pleasing result, IMO, given the circumstances.

Once the telescope had finished the imaging run, and the data files were uploaded to the iTelescope server, I was able to download them. I passed these files on to friend Ron Brecher who I thought would enjoy a quick and easy process of this astro data and a very unique event in the night sky.

It’s fantastic to have access to telescopes around the world like this. Where I’m located in Kitchener, ON, it was cloudy and raining the morning I took this data from New Mexico. If it wasn’t for these remote imaging setups, I’d have missed the opportunity to capture this moment in space and time. A wonderful image to add to my (and Ron’s) ongoing adventures imaging the visible dark.

Clear skies!

Globular Star Cluster Omega Centauri NGC 5139

Omega Centauri NGC 5139

This image was published in Skynews Magazine (Canada), Nov/Dec 2016 issue.

A spectacular globular star cluster of the southern hemisphere, Omega Centauri NGC 5139 is located in the constellation of Centaurus and was first identified by Edmund Halley (of Halley’s Comet fame) in 1677.

Omega Centauri NGC 5139

We’re starting to have more clear nights here in southern Ontario now that Spring has arrived and with temperatures that are accommodating to being outside. While I’ve had the opportunity to roll out my own astrophotography gear and do some imaging of M81 (it is galaxy season after all) I’ve also found myself still lured to the dark “under” side… of Siding Springs Observatory in Australia… during stretches of cloudy nights.

This time I used the iTelescope T32 17″ Planewave CDK astrograph coupled with an FLI Proline 16803 16mp mono CCD. Now I’ll admit to be being one of astrophotographer Ron Brecher’s friends who gives him the gears about his love for and images of globular clusters. Are they really that spectacular as Ron proclaims? lol – It’s an ongoing debate with lots of good ribbing!

Well folks I may have egg on my face now. It was in talking with Ron one night about southern hemisphere objects, that I had the urge to set up an imaging script on the 17″ Planewave and take a few exposures of the largest globular star cluster in the Milky Way – NGC 5139. It didn’t disappoint!

It’s a fantastic result for a mere 18min of data. But that is the beauty of imaging clusters, you don’t necessarily need hours and hours of data to achieve a wonderful image. The shorter imaging time needed can even make it possible to enjoy imaging several clusters in the same night.

At a distance of 15,800 light years, Omega Centauri is the largest globular star cluster in the Milky Way with a diameter of 150 light years and contains approximately 10 million stars.

The Omega Centauri globular star cluster is one of the few visible with the naked eye. It is bright enough that when viewed from a dark rural area it appears to be almost the same size as the full Moon in the night sky.

Having egg on my face now within the debate between Ron and myself, since I imaged Omega Centauri, it was pointed out to me by Gary Seronik, Editor of Sky News Magazine (Canada) that as the theory goes I may not have imaged a globular star cluster after all, but the core of a disrupted dwarf galaxy! Ha! LOL. That is one speculation within the astronomy community that Omega Centauri maybe the core of a disrupted dwarf galaxy and the other yet confirmed theory is that of a massive black hole is at the center of NGC 5139.

The data for this image was collected on March 23, 2016 using a remote 17″ Planewave telescope located at Sidings Spring Observatory in Australia.



Planewave 17″ CDK (Corrected Dall-Kirkham Astrograph)

2912mm focal length, F/6.8

Planewave Ascension 200HR mount

FLI Proline 16803 CCD (16mp)

Maxim DL Pro 5 for camera control, acquistion and guiding. Focusmax.

3 x 2 Red, 3 x 2min Green, 3 x 2min Blue | Ron Brecher’s “SynthL technique” applied |  18 minutes total data

Processed in Pixinsight

Location: Sidings Spring, Australia. iTelescope


M31 The Andromeda Galaxy

Awarded – Skynews POW Contest Winner: 9th Annual.

The M31 Andromeda Galaxy is visible with the naked eye away from city lights in darker areas on a clear night. Of course with the naked eye it doesn’t look like it does in photos, but rather a diffused, grey patch in the sky, and even more evident when using binoculars.

This image was taken from a dark site between Conestoga Lake and Listowel, Ontario, in August of 2010. It was winner of the Skynews (Canada) magazine annual Astrophotography contest (2010/2011) for best deep sky image with a DSLR camera. It has been used by Skynews many times in ads promoting their contest. It also won in the best overall deep sky image for the KW RASC 8th annual Astrophotography awards.

The Andromeda Galaxy is actually challenging to process as images go. There are a number of areas around and within it of varying brightness and contrast. It is easy to “blow out” certain areas such as the core and outer two small galaxies. This effectively washes out any detail. Having been doing astrophotography for less than 2 years at the time I took this one, I did have some difficulty controlling the blow out within the core.



  • Equipment: Skywatcher Equinox 80mm APO ED Refractor piggybacked on a Celestron CPC800 SCT (EQ wedge mounted), William-Optics 0.8x RR/FF, Canon (modified) 350XT DSLR.
  • Software: Nebulosity 3 for acquisition, calibration and alignment. PHD for auto guiding.
  • Exposure: Total of 2 hours and 40 minutes / 5min subs.
  • Processed in Photoshop.

This image acquired from a dark site NW of Conestoga Lake, Ontario, Canada.