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 first serious scope, mount and tripod cost £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 on the isle of Skye.
Follow the links below for introductions to some of the other things you can image in the night sky:
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.
A Conjunction of Moon and Venus
I'm cautious about including the sun - too many people have blinded themselves looking at the sun through telescopes or even camera viewfinders.
If you want to know how to view or photograph the sun, there are safe ways to do it (some cheap, some very expensive but giving amazing results). The easiest way is projecting its image onto a sheet of paper or a screen.
Sunspots on the face of the sun
One other way, however, is to wait for a very foggy day when the fog is extremely even and thick. Sometime after sunrise it will be impossible to see the sun, but at some point you will probably see the sun as a faint disc. You must NOT look at the sun through a telescope in such conditions, but it is possible to photograph it with a digital camera using high shutter speeds. This picture is a stack of 25 full-frame shots and shows several spots. This is effectively in natural colour, although the image has been 'histogram stretched. There's another great bunch of sunspots HERE.
Sunspot groups AR2415, AR2418 (the big one) and AR2419 (the small one), on 20 September 2015
I have never seen a total eclipse of the sun, but I have seen a few partial eclipses. It's essential to use special viewing glasses, but if you do you can expect to see views like this.
The near-total eclipse of the sun in 2015.
- Category: Astrophotography
Our closest companion in space, the moon, is the easiest astronomical object to observe or image. Any digital camera with a reasonable zoom can give good results.
The moon, a day before full. At this stage very little crater detail is visible, except at top right (the image is inverted), but the 'rays' of ejected material from some of the huge impacts are particularly clear. Right click and 'view image' to see more detail.
The full moon, imaged through a 6-inch telescope
The above photo is a stack of 21 photographs taken using a 6" telescope. PIPP was used to pre-process the image, which was stacked in Autostakkert!2, tweaked in Corel Paint (any basic imaging programme would do, many use GIMP), and sharpened in Astra Image.
Naturally a telescope does let you get more small detail, though. The curving groove near the bottom centre of this pictuire is Hadley Rille - those of my generation will recognise the name as the landing site of the Apollo 15 ilunar mission. The landing site is about 1/4 of the way up and just right of centre. Stacked from about a minute of webcam video, captured with Sharpcap and -sharpened with Registax.
The Apollo 15 landing site near Hadley Rille
- Category: Astrophotography
Charles Messier (1730-1817) was a French astronomer who had an obsession with comets. Getting fed up with 'discovering' fuzzy blobs that turned out to be distractions, he made a catalogue of things to avoid in the night sky. His assistant and friendly rival Pierre Mechain assisted him in this task, and eventually he came up with a list of 103. Later astronomers added another 7 he listed (although number 102 was arguably 'bogus') and he was also aware of M110. So, 109 'Messier Objects' numbered 1-110, got it? Do keep up at the back...
Well that's almost ten times as many objects as comets, and the irony is that Messier's comets faded back into the obscurity of the outer solar system, while his list is a favourite guide to many of the best sights in the night sky!
The list includes several types of object, mostly globular clusters, open clusters, planetary nebulae and galaxies. Most are telescopic objects, but several can be seen with the naked eye, especially from 'dark sky' sites.
the first Messier Object I photographed was the Hercules Cluster - M13, a massive ball of stars, within our galaxy and bound together by gravity, just visible to the naked eye. My favourite image so far is the Pinwheel Galaxy, M101, because although it is big it is faint and real challenge to image well.
M101, also known as the Pinwheel Galaxy
My ambition is to photograph and observe as many of the objects as I can - and each time I 'tick off' another object I will post its image up here.
The numbers below link to a page for each Messier object, they range from missing, through poor to images I am very proud of. Some smaller globular clusters and most open clusters (typically among the lower numbers) tend to make less spectatcular images although they often look great through a scope! My favourites are the galaxies!
- Category: Astrophotography
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