Astrophotography

This is really a relatively new endeavor for me. I first started "messing about" with astrophotography about January 2015. As it turns out--what a learning curve! Simply put, you are trying to photograph incredibly dim objects (that are themselves billions of miles away) buried in light-polluted skies when the platform you are standing on (the earth) is in constant motion. Yeah......

Since the earth is in constant motion relative to the sky, a tripod isn't quite cutting it, particularly through a telephoto lens (telescope). Instead the camera and lens (or telescope) goes on a motorized equatorial mount aligned with the earth's axis, that (ideally) rotates opposite to the earth's rotation--resulting in the object you are trying to photograph remaining stationary with respect to the camera, allowing long time exposures. Except no tracking mount is accurate enough for the long focal length lenses needed--so we have to resort to "auto-guiding." Here the wonder of computers comes into play, by using a second small telescope and small video camera hooked up to a laptop computer. Software monitors the position of a chosen guide-star and sends corrections to the telescope mount....theoretically this allows accurate tracking....but of course there is a learning curve with getting this all to work. Meanwhile, modern digital cameras give a huge advantage here relative to the "old days" of film. Still, with long exposures at high ISO settings, image noise becomes a serious problem. So, we then resort to "stacking"--basically using software to merge 20, 30, 50 or more individual exposures, lining them up and averaging the image on a pixel-by-pixel basis. Since the noise is basically random, but the object you are trying to photograph is constant, by averaging enough images together the noise begins to drop out, leaving behind an increcibly faint image. Careful processing can then bring that image out.....

The above is a simplified explanation of the basic process used in astrophotography. Of course, one of the biggest factors is light pollution--the "bleeding" of our urban and suburban lights into the night sky, drowning out the faint signals we are after. A "dark sky site" really helps in this regard. Fortunately, there are sites that are darker than surburbia, and by joining an astronomy club you can get access to these sites. I joined the Howard Astrnomical League: Howard Astronomical League--HAL and they have both public and private (members only) star parties at a few select sites that they have arranged to get access to. The images below are some of my efforts to date....I still have a way to go, but definitely feel I am making progress--and having a lot of fun doing it!

PleiadesFlaming Star NebulaSharpless 2-240Auriga Widefield

Heart & Soul w/ Double ClusterCygnus WallEastern Veil NebulaThe Elephant TrunkCepheusPacman Nebula

Lagoon & Trifid NebulasMars, Saturn and ScorpiusOrion over Death ValleyBirds of SummerEagle NebulaGlobular Cluster M13

Veil NebulaM81 and M82NGC869 & NGC884M33 Pinwheel GalaxyPleiades to CaliforniaRosette to X-mas Tree

M31 Andromeda GalaxyThe Heart of CygnusCygnus in H-alphaIC5146 Cocoon NebulaHAL Star PartyM101 Pinwheel Galaxy

M42 Orion NebulaRosette NebulaComet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2Globular Cluster M3Horsehead & Flame NebulaM53 & NGC5053

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All images, text and content Copyright © Bradley Sheard. All rights reserved.