August 19, 2010

Hawaii Astrophotography Part 2: Mauna Kea

Where to start? While in Hawaii on a family vacation, I was able to go up to Mauna Kea. That's 13,796 feet above sea level and plenty of feet above the clouds. This makes it pretty much THE place for astronomy, since being so high up reduces the amount of atmosphere between you and the stars (less twinkling, more clarity) and being in Hawaii above the clouds means there's essentially NO light pollution. To save space on the blog, my favorites are up here in the gallery. But here are my two favorite star shots from the night. Only wish I could have gotten more!

The Milky Way through Sagittarius and Scorpius
180s f5.6 ISO1600

The Milky Way as it appeared to the naked eye (roughly)
120s f5.6 ISO1600

What did I learn? I wish I had higher ISO levels on my camera to get brighter stars (though more noise, but I'm sure there's a nice happy medium). I wish I had had a star-tracking mount (it would have been ridiculous to bring my telescope mount with me on the plane).

August 16, 2010

Hawaii Astrophotography Part 1: Oahu

Skies in Hawaii are good...IF you get on the beach and look away from the light pollution, as is the case with the third picture here. The first two I caught one morning waking up jet-lagged very early. The pollution was astounding, but I guess that's what you get for living in a city like Waikiki. I probably could have gotten some better pictures by walking on the beach, but a) I was tired and b) I didn't feel like being mugged by a homeless person (no seriously, they have a homeless problem there, somebody was stabbed the week before I got there).

Orion in the AM

Orion running across the sky in the AM,

Mars, Venus, Saturn at the Luau
More pictures here.

July 29, 2010

Wisconsin Road Trip Part #2: Indiana Dunes State Park - July 22nd, 2010

After picking up Danielle and traveling to Indiana, I took a good portion of the night after sunset to take a bunch of different pictures of different subjects. Here are some of my favorites:
Conjunction of Saturn, Mars, and Venus with the lights of East Chicago. Submitted this to Sky & Telescope - here's hoping they publish it!Second picture of the conjunction of Saturn, Mars, and Venus with the lights of East Chicago. Submitted this to Sky & Telescope, too - here's hoping they publish it!Big Dipper - best one I have so farLyraStar Trails (Polaris in the middle)I love the effect of moonlight lighting up the foreground, no matter how unfocused the shot is
More pictures from the night here

Wisconsin Road Trip Part 1: Ohio

Before catching up to Danielle, I stopped off at the Wayne National Forest in Ohio. Despite the family down the trail setting off bottle rockets, it was a good night to take some pictures. There was a good bit of light pollution from the gibbous moon, giving the background a bit of a blue hue.

I like how you can still see the stars really well even though there's light from the moon and clouds. Note Corona Borealis (Northern Crown) to the left of the center tree.Some decent star trails from a 10 minute exposure, though less moonlight would have made it darker.A good look at Hercules, though the background color is too gray.
More pictures (including some moon shots) here

Constellations @ Middle Creek - July 2nd, 2010

I was doing some observing with the AELC up at Middle Creek and I just opened up the camera in its widest angle and caught the following pictures. Nothing too great, but it's still pretty cool to see the different colors of the stars in the first one, and how much they move in in 5 minutes in the second picture.
Pictures here, too.

July 8, 2010

Summer Update: The Moon through the Refractor May 30th, 2010

The night after my birthday party I got to take out the Refractor and took some pictures of the Moon.
This first one is pretty good, especially since it's through prime focus (no eyepiece). It's much clearer than my previous looks with the 300mm zoom lens.

I also decided to put the 10mm eyepiece in the camera adapter to get some closer shots. My favorite is this one of the crate above. It still seems a bit unclear...perhaps because the Moon was still low on the horizon. So the Moon pictures have improved, but there's still plenty of room for improvement.

Summer Update #2957: April 25th, 2010

While up in Ohiopyle I took some pictures of the moon just using the Canon Rebel XS and a 75-300mm zoom lens on 300mm. I like the look of them, but when I crop or zoom in, the quality goes down significantly.
More pictures from the night here

July 7, 2010

Summer Update: First Night through the Refractor April 4th, 2010

I attached the T-ring adapter to the Canon Rebel XS, and then attached an Orion Universal Camera Adapter.
Started out with the Beehive Cluster in Prime Focus

Here's Saturn in Prime Focus as well, but it's a bit small

Here's Saturn with an Orion 10mm Plossl Eyepiece projection

Lastly, the crop of one of my Saturn pictures
More pictures here

July 1, 2010

Summer Update: March 20th 2010 - Moon & Pleiades

I tried getting the moon and the Pleiades together in a shot, and I was successful! Although, in most of them, the moon was overexposed and the Pleiades underexposed. Any thoughts on how to fix this?

Moon with Pleiades

Setting Moon

Some Star Trails

Overall, nothing spectacular, but good practice for learning the basics. I need to find somewhere that's not light polluted to take star trails.

More pictures from this night here

June 30, 2010

Summer Update: March 17th, 2010

So the next night I went out again, and found that a parking lot not too far from home provided me a great view of the western horizon. Same subject matter as last time, but much earlier in the night. I really liked the sunset colors in the pictures, but there wasn't much emphasis on Venus or the Moon, since they are really small compared to the local landmarks from my perspective.
Moon, Venus, and Applebee's

Some good Earthshine bouncing off the dark side of the moon here.

Summer Catch-up: March 16th pictures

So back in March I started taking some pictures just with the DSLR on a tripod with the 75-300mm lens. This was the first night I went out, which included a very young crescent moon. The pictures aren't spectacular, but I was happy to be able to fit Venus and a cool lookin' moon in one shot. (You'll have to open it up to see it in better detail.) I should find a better foreground for the pictures, and probably time it better so that the sunset colors come out.

March 23, 2010

What I've learned (focus)

It's darn hard to focus well - I've found that turning on the live view, and then zooming in on the moon works well, but not the best (Auto focus doesn't work). Even looking at RAW pictures, it's not as in focus as I'd like when I zoom in. I guess if I want good pics of the moon I'll attach the camera to one of my ultimate zoom lenses - one of the telescopes. More on that once I try it out.

Any other thoughts from anyone out there?

March 22, 2010

What I've learned so far (ISO)

May seem obvious if you've done SLR photography before, but to those of us who haven't...ISO determines how sensitive the chip is. ISO 100 means it's less sensitive, therefore the shutter needs to be open longer or the f-stop lower to allow more light in regular photography. In shooting pictures of stars...ISO 100 means you can take longer star trail pictures. ISO 1600 means it'll take less time for the light pollution to kick in and a shorter shutter speed. I hear the trade off in this though is that there is a lot more noise in with a higher ISO because it magnifies each signal the chip in the camera gets, including the random noise that we want so little of in astrophotography. So to summarize, ISO 1600 good for sports and ISO 100 good for astronomy (Yes, a broad generalization, but hey, I'm beginning...) Pictures coming soon...

February 28, 2010

Why THIS Equipment? (Camera)

Why did I choose the Canon 1000D (Digital Rebel XS)? Here's what I've learned from various sources about cameras:

What Kind of Pictures Do You Want to Take?
What's the Best Camera to Take Them With?
* Scenics - DSC or DSLR
* Planetary - Webcam
* Deep-sky - CCD or DSLR

Canon DSLR's are standard, then Nikon in second
Good points about the Canon 1000D (Digital Rebel XS):
Low noise (Canon is typically better)
High sensitivity
Good signal to noise ratio
Live-view focusing
Single-Cable operation

It'll double as a daytime camera that's much better than what I already have (cell phones have more megapixels)
I can start learning to take scenic astrophotos without the worry of telescopes and tracking, etc. and then upgrade to attaching it to a telescope.

So, for a modest $450, it fit the budget well, allowing me to take scenic pictures on a tripod and Deep-Sky images through the Celestron SCT. I'll probably try it through the EON refractor, too, just to see what happens. Most of the info came from
I did get a zoom lens as well, which will likely be used.

Needed: T-ring adapter for attachment to the scope
Adapter for >30 sec. exposure

February 15, 2010


So what's the plan for using this stuff?
  1. Use a tripod and figure out how to take pictures of sunsets (with the Moon and Venus, etc.) using the DSLR
  2. Get good at that
  3. Practice using EON refractor
  4. Take pictures of planets through the EON refractor using the DSLR
  5. Figure out how to process the images
  6. Take pictures of planets through the EON refractor using the CCD Cameras
  7. Figure out how to process the images
  8. Do the same with the Celestron SCT

Equipment List

So what do I have to take Astrophotos with?

Canon EOS Rebel XS (a.k.a. 1000D) SLR Digital Camera
18-55mm IS Lens

Canon Zoom Telephoto EF 75-300mm f/4.0-5.6 III Autofocus Lens
Canon EOS Camera T-ring for Astrophotography
1.25" Universal Camera Adapter

Orion StarShoot Solar System Color Imager III

Orion StarShoot Planetary Imager and AutoGuider

Orion Sirius EON 120ED EQ-G GoTo Refractor

Orion SkyQuest XT10i Computerized IntelliScope

and an old Celestron SCT that looks a lot like this...

January 28, 2010

First Entry: Purpose & Introduction

I teach astronomy to high school seniors. I am also an amateur astronomer...a very, VERY amateur astronomer.

I received an email today with some great links for places where students can get pictures without copyright issues. I looked for some pictures of the moon, planets, or stars and couldn't find any that weren't taken by satellites or major research telescopes.

I also just received a grant that allowed me to purchase astronomy equipment for our planetarium. As part of the equipment I purchased both a CCD camera and a DSLR.

I plan on learning astrophotography and then using that knowledge to teach some of my students about it. I will use this blog to track the progress that I make and I guess serve as an information source for others who are learning astrophotography.

For now though, I am just waiting for the go-ahead to order the equipment.

Next post will likely be an equipment list, etc.