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

 

M51 is a spectacular face-on spiral galaxy. It was the first 'spiral; nebula' to be identified by Lord Rosse. It has been disturbed by the nearby, but smaller, NGC5194 - the two are connected by a steramer of stars, dust and gas. I'm pleased with this image because it was taken in June, when it wasn't even getting fully dark. I hope to get more subs on darkler nights to add more detail and tease out the outer reaches of the nebula.The Whirlpool Galaxy, M51M51 the Whirlpool Galaxy and nearby NGC5195.

On the 9 May 2016 Mercury passed directly between the Sun and Earth. With the use of a special filter I was able to have some excellent views of the event and capture some nice images. There are two groups of sunspots near the centre of the disc, one much more obvious, as well as the crisp round disc of Mercury in this picture taken about a fifth of the way into the transit.

Mercury Transit 1

This animated image shows the first few minutes of the transit. First contact is just before the planet becomes visible, second contact is when it fully enters the sun's disc. The exact times depend on the type of equipment used as the sun appears larger when imaged in some narrow bands of light. The stretching and shifting of the image is caused by atmospheric turbulence. The earlier image is sharper because it is a stack of several images that average out this distortion.

Mercury Transit 4

The second photo is from near the middle of the transit, when Mercury appeared closer to the two sunspot groups. remeber, although it looks like it is on the surface, Mercury's orbit takes it between abjust over half to about 2/3rds of the way from earth to the Sun.

 

Contact 1 and 2

This is the equipment I used, nothing particularly expenxsive, but note the silver Baader solar film filter, just visible inside the end of the telescope. this reduces the sun's glare by about 99.99% Remember, looking at the sun without proper equipment will cause eye damage and even blindness.

It's even dangerous to use a small finder scope on the sun, so instead I made this special solar finder that uses a pinhole to project an image onto a small screen.

Solar Finder

 

Dr Jason Dale's PolarFinder is a great utility to help with polar alignment using a polar scope.

You can download it here.

One minor problem is that recently polarscopes are being supplied with a new, much more finely engraved reticle. This allows more accurate alignment, but 'translating' from Polarfinder to the new system can be confusing as it has 72 divisions instead of 24!

The fix is to download the new reticule file below:

New Style Reticle

Open your existing PolarFinder folder and rename the existing 'reticle.bmp' as 'reticle.bak', then copy the new 'reticle.bmp' file into the polar finder folder.

It should then work as before, but with the new display.

Happy polar-finding!

A screenshot of the new PolarFinder reticle:

Screenshot of the new PolarFinder reticle

M104 is known as the sombrero galaxy due to its visual appearance in telescopes. It has a very clearly marked dark dust lane around the galaxy. It lies in the consetllation Virgo, but is not part of the Virgo cluster.

M104 Sombrero Galaxy

M104, known as the Sombrero Galaxy, lies in the constellation Virgo.

M100 is a face-on spiral galaxy in the Virgo Cluster, althouigh it is technically placed in the constellation Coma Brenices. It has well-defined spiral arms and was one of the spiral galaxies listed by Lord Rosse. The image below also contains many smaller galaxies.

M100 spiral galaxy in Coma Berenices

M100 is at the right of this image, but several smaller galaxies are scattered across the image.