M42, Orion’s Nebula, and M35, the Shoe Buckle Cluster

It’s difficult to make Messier 42 look bad. It’s so incredibly photogenic, even just a few quick snaps can at the very least show its astonishing colours and contrasts. The problem is, getting even those few snaps can be beset with problems.

M42, Orion’s Nebula with, above it, the Running Man Nebula and above that, some nice twinkly stars

For once, the UK weather had decided to be kind, and I had an entire evening for photography. Bliss! I can’t remember when that last happened. Given that my previous shoot of the Flaming Star Nebula had gone without a hitch, I was confident that this would too.

How wrong I was. How very, very, sadly wrong.

First problem: run-time error 6 with plate-solving. That was a new one. Plate-solving usually works perfectly. I started looking for fixes (in the garden, in the dark, in the cold) and it seemed a simple case of downloading PlateSolve again and copying it over the old files. Didn’t work. By this time I was starting to turn blue and enter a dark tunnel, so I decided to go indoors and give up.

But I didn’t want to give up. It was supposed to be a full night, and I knew that, if I didn’t fix this, I’d be grumpy all the next day. And nobody wants that.

So, I had another go. I noticed that there were supposed to be two sets of indexes that PlateSolve references, but one of them was completely empty? Why? I dunno. So, I downloaded them and copied them across too. Still no joy.

After a while of staring into the distance and thinking about giving up astrophotography all over again, I suddenly had a thought: PlateSolve needs to know my telescope’s focal length to work properly. Could it be that APT had lost that detail? Indeed it had. One quick type of the focal length later and voila – I had platesolving again.

So, back outside. What is it now? EQMOD error 5.

This time I was prepared. I’ve had that before, and there are two fixes:

  1. Clear EQMOD’s settings and re-specify everything, painstakingly making sure you get latitude and longitude right, and other settings for it to work properly with PHD2.
  2. Copy the backup of all the settings that you made last time this happened.

A quick option 2 later, and that was fixed.

So, can I play yet? Nope. Error 99 on the camera. This is usually terminal. The last time I had it, I needed a new camera. Will it work if I turn it off and on again. Bingo!

And finally, a quick look at the Planewave website to see if there’s anything I should add to PlateSolve. Guess what? A 404 error on their site. I emailed them and it was fixed the next day but would you Adam and Eve it? Four consecutive errors.

This was a cautionary tale. It’s as important to know what to do when things are going right, as it is to fix them when things go wrong. I think pretty much every shoot, something has gone wrong. In fact, nowadays I say to myself, grimly, “Looks like we had our glitch for this mission.”

Still, I got there in the end. M42 came out gloriously, and the Shoe Buckle could do with a bit more exposure time to quell some of that noise.

M35, the Shoe Buckle open cluster

I just wish it looked more like a shoe buckle. I can’t see it. Can you?