Images representing different hobbies

Astrophotography

You are never too old to learn, and one of the thing that has opened my eyes  has been discovering the quality of astronomical images that can be produced by amateurs with very modest equipment. By using digital cameras and image processing software it's a realistic ambition to produce images that compare favourably with those produced by the world's biggest telescopes fifty years ago - right in your back yard!

This website does not showcase the best astronomical pictures on the internet! It's a selection of pictures I have taken myself with basic equipment and free software. Producing images like these below, or even better ones, is within your reach!

Most importantly, you don't have to spend a fortune. My scope, mount and tripod coast £180 on Ebay. I spent £40 on a more solid tripod, and about £200 on various bits and pieces including books and an ancient Canon EOS DSLR and a seconhand Microsoft HD Webcam. The results shown before are  some of my best so far, and will be updated from time to time.

Perhaps the easiest target in the sky is the moon. You can get good pictures with any long or zoom lens, this is a 'stack' of six pictures taken with an ordinary bridge camera:

A Gibbous Moon photographed over thr Isle of Skye in near-poerfect seeing conditions

A gibbous moon photographed on the isle of Skye.

Follow the links below for introductions to some of the other things you can image in the night sky:

The Moon

The Sun

The Planets

Messier Objects

Star Clusters

Nebulae

Galaxies

Constellations

Meteors

Have a go!

I hope I have convinced you to have a go at photographing the night sky - these photos may not hold a candle to some of the work of professionals like Damian Peach or even dedicated amateurs, but I hope you are surprised what can be done with kit that has cost me well under £500.

There are lots of places to find out more on line, but perhaps the easiest place to start is the StargazersLounge webiste.

As well as the subjects covered above there are all sorts of other things to look out for - comets, asteroids, meteors, aurorae, noctilucent clouds and various metereological effects such as sundogs and lunar halos. And sometimes there are just picturesque events such as this near conjunction of the Moon and Venus.

Conjunction of Moon and Venus seen ona slightly misty night, with teh moon partly behind trees

A Conjunction of Moon and Venus

 

Here's the home of 2018's 'Image of the Month' pictures. Enjoy!

See the 2017 images here.

See the 2016 images here.

See the 2015 Images here.

Image of the Month for March 2018: The Horsehead and Flame Nebulas in Ha

 Horsehead and Flame nebulas in Hydrogen Alpha (Ha) light

This is a 7nm hydrogen alpha narrowband image taken using a cooled and astromodified Canon 450D with a special Baader filter.

Image of the Month for February 2018: The Rosette Nebula

Rosette Nembula in Ha plus OSC

Revisiting one of the most remarkable objects in the sky, blending a 7nm hydrogen alpha narrowband image with a one-shot colour image, both taken with the modified and cooled Canon 450D. Using the Ha layer reduces the stars (small ones disappear) and highlights the nebula which is composed of hot hydrogen.

Image of the Month for January 2018: The California Nebula

California HaOSC

 The California Nebula, a narrowband Ha image combined with a one-shot colour image.

See the 2017 images here.

See the 2016 images here.

See the 2015 Images here.

Tracker Tester is a simple BBC BASIC for Windows utility for testing telescope tracking and guiding setups using a laptop computer.

Simply extract the exe file from the zip folder and save it in a sensible place.

Just click the exe file and it will introduce itself, then change to a black screen and ask you for the screen width in millimetres and the distance of the screen from your scope.

The star will appear as a single white pixel at middle left, just in from the edge. Focus your scope on the 'star'.

When you are ready press a key and the star will move across the screen at approximately sidereal rate as seen from the scope. Depending on screen size and distance it should take half an hour to an hour to cross the screen.

To exit the program, press ALT-F4 (the screen will carry a message to remind you of this).

DOWNLOAD TRACKER TESTER

Tracker tester comes with no warranty of suitability for any purpose whatsoever.

One of the big challenges in astrophotography is achieving really accurate focus, easiest and fastest way of doing this is with a Bahtinov Mask. there are amny ways of making your own masks, but a robust, accurate and convenient solution is 3D printing.

 

3D printed Bahtinov Masks

 

See THIS PAGE for details of how to use a Bahtinov Mask.

Here are STL files to allow you to 3D print your own Bahtinov Mask for some popular sizes of lens and telescope:

Mask.stl for 130mm reflectors with a roughly 150mm/6" tube, such as the Skywatcher 130P and 130P-DS.

Small-Mask.stl for telephoto lenses (catadioptric and conventional) with a 76mm end diameter.

Tiny-Mask.stl for short telephoto lenses such as the Zeiss 135mm F.3.5 'Sonnar' which take a 48mm filter and have an external diameter of about 52mm.

The largest mask requires two M6 nylon screws about 30mm long to be threaded into two holes, these allow it to be 'hooked' onto the end of the scope.

The smaller masks have an 8mm collar which is an easy fit over the end of the lens. if your scope/lens is a slightly different size, scale the X and Y dimensions (but not the Z-dimension) of the nearest-size mask to fit.

Masks can be used directly on a scope or on the end of a dew shield. They are not a close fit, they just 'hang there' so as not to disturb the focus/pointing when you lift them off.

These print best with quite a dense fill (30-40%) and thicker outer layers than normal.They don't need to be black, just opaque.

My masks were printed on a Prusa i3.

Don't forget to remove the mask before taking photos!

 

 

Here's the home of 2017's 'Image of the Month' pictures. Enjoy!

See the 2016 images here.

Image of the Month for December 2017: Orion's Sword

M42 with trapezium

M42, the Great Nebula in Orion, together with de Mairan's Nebula and the Running Man Nebula.

Image of the Month for November 2017: Copernicus Crater

Copernicus Crater

The crater Copernicus, named for the astronomer who set the sun at the centre of the solar system. It has three central peaks, clearly distinguished in this image.

Image of the Month for October 2017: Andromeda Widefield

Andromedas Galaxy Widefield

I know I've shown Andromeda before. This shows what you can achieve with a £20 second-hand lens off eBay, a Tokina 300mm, giving a rather wider view than my previous images.

Image of the Month for September 2017: The Sadr Region

Sadr, the bright star at the heart of Cygnus

Sadr is the star at the centre of the huge 'Northern Cross' making up most of the constellation of Cygnus in summer skies. It is surrounded by nebulosity as well as the rich starfields of the Milky Way.

Image of the Month for August 2017: The Bubble Nebula

 

Bubble Ha RGB

This image combines one-shot colour with an astro-modded DSLR from 2016 with narrowband Hydrogen Alpha (Ha) from 2017.

Image of the Month for July 2017: Saturn

 

Saturn 17 June 2017

The challenge this year is that from the UK Saturn is approaching its lowest elevation for the next thirty-two years. Next year it will be slightly lower again, and it will be around 2021 before it rises high enough to make imaging easier.

Image of the Month for June 2017: Jupiter, Io and Europa

Jupiter Io Europa 25 May 17 Winjupos
 
Image taken using a Skywatcher 150PL with a ZWO ASI 120MC camera.

Image of the Month for May 2017: M86 Galaxy and Markarian's Chain

Markarian Chain

 

Image of the Month for April 2017: M51 The Whirlpool Nebula

M51 Whirlpool Nebula

 

Image of the Month for March 2017: The Rosette Nebula

Rosette Nebula

 

Image of the Month for February 2017:The Flaming Star Nebula

The Flaming Star Nebula in glorious Stub-O-Colour

 

Image of the Month for January 2017: The Jellyfish Nebula, a supernova remnant in Gemini.

The Jellyfish Nebula in Gemini
 

 

 

 

 See the 2016 images here.

Sometimes (perhaps always!) you can go back and take a second look at your images and get more out of them. At the very least it pays to save the stacked but unprocessed data, if not all the RAW images.  In December 2015 I took what I thought were some very beautiful but rather sparse images of M42 and the Running Man nebulas in Orion. the nebulosity was mostly purple in colour.

Since then I have found out about ways of making the fainter parts of a nebula appear in an image, and also got better at balancing colour. This has enabled me to find the browner dust clouds in M42 while still controlling noise. Here's the reprocessed image, with a smaller version of the old one for comparison. Which do you prefer?

orion nebula reprocessed

The 2016 reprocessing of older data for M42 and the Running Man (at top)

orion nebula reprocessed deconvoluted filtered

This is the smoother and purpler original version.