I’m up at the crack of dawn for work. Most mornings, it’s dark. Recently it’s been dark and wet. But this morning, there was a little more light in the sky than there has been of late. I was intrigued and when I looked out of the window I could see the sky was cloud frees, and there was a faint glow on the eastern horizon.
But better than a clear sky, there was the moon and Venus close together. I abandoned thoughts of breakfast and grabbed my camera. I spent 10 minutes snapping away.
After breakfast, and just before I left for work, I took another series of photos. The difference in the brightness of the sky was dramatic.
I varied the exposures on both sessions. The moon is a sunlit landscape so I manually set the exposure to record that. But in one photos, you can see I’ve exposed for the earth shine – the glow of the earth’s reflected light on the moon. The crescent lit by the sun is over exposed, as is Venus.
It’s stargazing season again. The temperature drops, the skies clear for a tantalising few seconds, some stars pop their heads up to see who is watching them, and away we go.
I was tired last night so I didn’t spend long at the telescope but I did set a camera up to try and get some crude shots of the Andromeda galaxy. Given that its 2 million lightyears away, it’s not a bad shot.
But we should be careful, because the Andromeda galaxy is heading our way. In a few years (quite a few years, actually) it will collide with our galaxy to form… well, a pretty chaotic thing to be honest. But on the way it should get easier to photograph.
I also managed to catch the Milky Way – our galaxy – above the house. I last showed you this from Crowcombe. It’s rare that I see the Milky Way at home because of all the light pollution from street lighting and the city.
Every year on or about 12 August, the earth barges its way through the debris left behind by comet Swift/Tuttle. The result is a spectacular meteor shower know as the Perseids (because of the apparent location from which the meteor trails appear to originate, in the constellation of Perseus). Also, around the same time, cloud cover almost always prevents me from seeing them. This year I went out early to try and catch a few on camera – two days early.
Rufus and I managed to see a couple and I’ve uploaded a couple of pictures below. I’ve also included an image of a satellite and a plane passing overhead.
Driving home last night, I was conscious that I was following Jupiter and Orion for most of the journey. The sky was clear and the temperature was close to freezing. I decided to have another go at getting some images of the Andromeda galaxy.
I was using my 150-500mm lens and it’s notably heavier than the set up from last time. This came over in the blips as the telescope mount motors tried to smooth out the tracking motion. I must have spent over an hour taking photos ands this time I set up a second camera to take a long exposure of stars circling the pole star.As a result of the blips only a few frames were usable.
I’m really pleased with the image of Andromeda. In the picture on here, you can make out two almost parallel dark dust lanes in the bottom part of the galaxy. The slightly fuzzy ‘star’ at about 11 o’clock is the companion galaxy M110 (proper stars in this image have a more defined edge). Further away at about 7 o’clock is M32.
I think this is the limit of clarity I can get from the back garden as there is a significant amount of light pollution evident in the final images – hence the conversion to black and white. The next move will be to find a dark sky site and start again.
By fortune, I popped my head out of the door last night to see clear sky. It only lasted a short while as fast moving clouds scudded past. The moon was up and very bright. But despite all this, I managed to get a few photos of the stars that I was pleased with.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to get long exposure photos of the stars without getting trails. I have a motorised telescope mount but attaching the camera to the telescope makes the combination too heavy for the motors to track properly. In work yesterday, I was thinking about the problem whilst working hard and remembered an old tripod mounting plate I had. So when I got home, I dug it out, fitted it to the camera and then attached it to the telescope mount. Then fortune smiled and the skies cleared.
I used an old 180mm manual focus lens I’ve had for a while. It’s a lovely lens, but very heavy. I focused on the moon before moving to my chosen targets. The sky was quite bright with light pollution and the original images are a light pink in colour., I’ve converted them to black and white and adjusted the levels to boost the contrast and bring the blacks back.
Success! Of the 15 images, 11 worked well. I’ve added three in the slide show below.
I’ve been particularly keen to capture the Andromeda Galaxy. I’m really pleased with the result below, mainly because I have proved the camera mount works and I know I can improve on the picture. It’s great to have captured the smaller galaxy M32 as well (it’s more prominent in the original uncompressed image).
(Andromeda is 2.3 million light years away from us. The Pleiades are 400 light years distant and the nebula in Orion is 1,500 light years away.)
Just got back from a couple of chilly hours on Cefn Bryn, where I had originally gone to take some photos of the trails of light left by cars as they driver across the North Gower road. But when I parked up, the night sky was so magnificently clear that I abandoned the plan and set about taking some photos of the stars instead. I used long exposures of up to 10 minutes at a time and played around with the settings on the camera and came away with a set of photos I was very happy with.
The Milky Way, a concentration of stars as we look through the plane of our own galaxy.
The glow from Swansea's street lighting silhouettes a car on Cefn Bryn. Jupiter is the bright light on the right.
Star trails centred on Polaris, with the glow from Llanelli lighting up the horizon.
We’ve had a couple of clear nights recently so I decided to get the telescope out again and have a look at Jupiter. It was very clear and on two nights in a row I was able to use quite a high magnification to see a lot of detail on the planet’s surface. The four Galilean moons were clearly visible and on the fist night, one of them, was silhouetted against Jupiter’s disc as it passed between the planet and me.
On the second night, I got the CCD camera out and plugged it on to the laptop. I spent about an hour recording video and this time I was even able to record two of the four moons visible. In the photo, you can see Europa on top and Io beneath it.
Jupiter with Europa and Io
In my previous post about Jupiter, I said you could see the red spot on the planet’s surface in the photo. I was mistaken and that blemish seems to be something to do with the images I took. In this photo, you can clearly see a darker blob in the lower cloud band but I’m still not 100% sure it’s the spot.
The spot is a storm that has been blowing for at least 200 years and should be visible from earth based telescopes. It’s a massive storm – 25,000km by 15,000km but it varies over time.
It revolves around the planet once every 12 days, so I may have been unlucky when observing. I shall keep trying.
I’ve just spent about half an hour staring into the night sky through the telescope at Jupiter. It’s the brightest object in the sky at the moment, almost due East and well above the rooftops. Clearly visible in a line and coinciding with Jupiter’s equator were the moons Calisto, Io, Europa and Ganymede. I could even see the two prominent bands of cloud either side of Jupiter’s equator. No red spot, though. It was around the other side of the planet tonight.
The haze and air quality prevented me from seeing more detail and higher magnification, and it was very windy so the telescope was moving about quite a bit. But I am still captivated by this planet, possibly more so than I was with Saturn when that was visible.
Last night, as I was going to bed, I spotted Jupiter from my bedroom window. The weather has been poor recently and clear skies have been rare so I decided to get the telescope out to have a look. The viewing was really good; I was surprised at how clear the planet was despite the haze that had been around all day. I could clearly see the two main cloud bands either side of the equator, and the four Gallilean moons, Ganymeade, Io, Callista and Europa.
There was no sign of cloud in the sky, so I decided to have a go at imaging the planet too. I’ve only just started trying to photograph the planets through the telescope and it’s not a simple process. Recording the image is only the first step. There’s a lot of processing involved because the image is captured as a series of video frames – this helps to eliminate the effects of the Earth’s atmosphere. Each frame is then aligned and stacked to form the final image.
There are a lot of parameters in the software and I’m still coming to grips with them. Nevertheless, I’ve added my first attempt here . One detail on the picture that I didn’t see through the eyepiece is the red spot, although it appears as a faint dark blue blob at about 9 o’clock in this image. I’m not sure what caused the blue tinge. I suspect it’s something to do with the atmospherics as it appeared like this on the screen as I was capturing it.
Jupiter is between 400 and 576 million miles from Earth. My image doesn’t compare with the published photos in magazines or on the net, but I’m pleased with it as a first stab.
Last night was the first truly clear night for a long time. And we were still in the middle of the Perseid meteor shower. So I took the opportunity and went out to look. I set the camera up to record a series of 30 second exposures with an interval of a couple of seconds. At first the sky was still quite light but as the night went on, it got darker and more and more stars became visible.
I love looking up at the night sly and wondering. I was rewarded last night with several aircraft flying high, a satellite passing over head and one spectacular meteor. It was relatively slow and burned a gorgeous deep orange colour. Near the end of it’s passing, it split into three and two pieces trailed behind the larger leading piece. The camera failed to record it. I thin it was pointing in slightly the wrong direction, Typical.
Roses in the Moonlight
The moon was nearly full and as it rose at the front of the house, the garden became bathed in its gentle white light. Moonlight has a different, ethereal quality and I took some long exposure photos of the roses against the night sky. Eventually, the moon started to drown out any faint objects in the sky.
It was a work night so I couldn’t stay up as long as I would have liked and the bright moon gave me the excuse I needed to get some sleep.
I was pleased that I’d seen one meteor, though. It made it all worthwhile.