Discovering Astrophotography I

This week features a guest post from Xanthe who came over last week to get stuck into some Astrophotography with me. Here is what Xanthe had to say and some of the raw images we took. There will be a followup post on the power of image processing soon…

Hi everyone,

I’m Xanthe; some of you may have met me at school sessions late last year. I’m a photographer, currently studying fine art photography at the Victorian College of the Arts, this year being my final year.  I’ve been working the last 6 months or so on an art project that incorporates images of space as part of a bigger installation. I’ve been lucky enough to become involved with the Telescopes in Schools Program and with the help of Jacinta’s expertise and encouragement I’ve been navigating the early stages of understanding Astrophotography, a fascinating area of Astrophysics that you will all be experimenting with this year.

Last Wednesday I went to Jacinta’s place and took some photographs through the telescope of the Orion nebula and the Moon. Despite windy conditions we were able to get some good shots. This was the first time I’d actually connected my camera onto the telescope, i.e., the telescope takes the place of the lens. I was just using my own digital SLR camera, which is a Canon 550D, a reasonable camera but effective for Astrophotography specifically because it has ‘live view’ mode, which allows you to focus and frame your shots with greater ease. (Ed. Note: Canon have also released a modified camera, model 60Da, specifically for astrophotography if you are planning on getting very serious) We initially had the ISO set to 800; the ISO determines the cameras sensitivity to light and 800 is generally the middle setting for most Digital SLR’s. For the moon shot we got the best results with the shutter speed set to 1/1250, as seen in the moon image attached to this post.

Waxing Gibbous Moon on 20th Feb 2013

Waxing Gibbous Moon on 20th Feb 2013

Because Orion is not as bright as the moon when we moved on to focusing on Orion we set the ISO to 6400, (so the camera is letting in as much light as possible). We got the best results this time when we left the shutter speed open for 4 seconds, leaving enough time for the light to be captured without too much camera movement or interference, see the Orion image attached. Of course the next step is editing the image to make them look the best they can!

Orion Nebula taken with ISO setting of 1600 for one 4 second exposure.

Orion Nebula taken with ISO setting of 1600 for one 4 second exposure.

Orion Nebula taken with ISO setting of 800 for one 20 second exposure.

Orion Nebula taken with ISO setting of 800 for one 20 second exposure.

I learnt so much so quickly in one night just by experimenting with the camera and the seeing what worked, with Jacinta’s help it was a really enjoyable night! I’m excited to take some more images soon – it is a very rewarding experience being able to capture these amazing space objects we are seeing through the telescopes and in the night sky! One you will all hopefully be able to enjoy later this year.

Xanthe and I both had a great time and decided the mosquito bites were well worth the effort. We would love to hear which image was your favourite, personally the Moon stuns me for detail and beauty every time, but the colours in the nebula are truly amazing. Please remember that these are raw images at this point (so yes the colours are real!) and next time we will look at some processing techniques you can try to improve the image. Wait till you see the before and after shots!

Thanks again Xanthe for sharing your images and story with us, we look forward to seeing more of your work.

For everything you ever wanted to know about astrophotography, Jerry Lodriguss has it on his site.

If you are after a good site for explaining camera settings and techniques, try Photography Life


Online Astronomy

This is not a new idea and I have certainly written about a lot of online Astronomy resources and activities in the past and the best ones are listed on the Resources page. But I just wanted to take the time to let you know of some new resources that have popped up or some old ones I have just discovered. As always, if you have any I have missed, please let me know about them, as I would love to share these fabulous resources with everyone.

Firstly a reminder that the asteroid is passing by us tonight and if you want to see it live head to Ustream at Clay Centre Observatory at 10am Sat (Melbourne time)

Frustrated that you have to wait for a clear night or even night-time before you can do some real astronomy, as well as the Zooniverse site, Hubble now has it’s own Citizen Science site where you can help analyze real Astronomy data. You just need a computer, the internet and some time. I get a story almost weekly about a citizen having made a discovery, this could be you!

World Science Day (March 7) is coming up and as a part of that the IntoScience group are offering free access to their site to test your skill and knowledge of science. The competition is held over 5-7th March and you can register for free here. There will also be prizes!!!

I spent a little bit of time hunting around for apps over the summer and here is a list of those I can highly recommend;

  • Phases of the Moon App
  • NASA App
  • Cosmic Universe App created by Institute for Computational Cosmology
  • NOVA Elements App (Chemistry but way cool)

NASA also released two free e-Books over Christmas about the Hubble telescope and the new James Webb telescope which are sensational. Amazing resource and lovely to look at – makes me think we are going to miss coffee table books in the future, but I have heard of coffee tables with touch screens in them – maybe coffee table books won’t become extinct after all…(enough philosophy)

Some very cool and educational interactive sites for looking at astronomy (and Science) simulations I came across during my studies over the summer (more about that in a moment). These are also on the Resources page. PhET and NAAP Labs. Explore as there is much more than just these pages.

Not so much online, but plenty of multimedia – the Sleek Geeks Science Eureka Prize is now open for 2013. Do hop online and see what the past winners and notables have done – great Science Club project as well.

So, what did I get up to over the summer? I spent quite a bit of time exploring and learning about our Universe. From how to find things in the night sky to the evolution of our solar system, from the structure and life cycle of stars to cosmology. There was plenty of Newtonian and Keplarian Physics as well as a week on Relativity (Special and General).

Why? How?

This was a Coursera MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) presented by the wonderful Prof Ronen Plesser and assisted by Justin Johanssen at Duke University. I was one of 3000 people that watched all the lectures and one of 2100 students that passed the course. Not only did I learn a lot more about astronomy and astrophysics at a very rigorous level I was also able to follow and join in the journey of many of my fellow students through the discussion forums. At no point did I feel on the other side of the world from everyone, they were virtually sitting around my table sharing ideas every time I sat down to do my homework.

Nuts and bolts.

Course Name: Introduction to Astronomy

Length: 9 weeks (including a week off for Christmas)

Assessment: 16 Homework assignments (three weeks to complete each assignment, two assignments per week)

Committed time: 8-10 hours per week including watching videos and completing homework

cert_small copy

My Certificate of Completion!

Final word(s): Challenging, engaging, all-encompasing, free, satisfying, community. Not for the faint-hearted, but well worth the journey if you wish to take your astronomy beyond high school science.

Is there more? Professor Plesser will be offering the course again later in the year, our own Professor Rachel Webster will be part of a group offering a Coursera Course on Climate Change in August if you can’t wait that long.

Astronomical start to 2013

Happy New Year and I hope everyone had a safe one! I spent my summer studying, but I am going to save that for another post.

First up, a Christmas/Happy New Year present to get you inspired about observing again in 2013. Shane took these amazing images with his 8″ telescope in his backyard over the summer.

Last night was a good night as the Moon IO transited Jupiter nicely. In the three images you will first see a white dot (IO) on the bottom right, then in the second image its just passing the edge of Jupiter, then in the third its sitting out on its own. In each image you can see the shadow from the moon clearly on Jupiter.

The red spot is just visible on the left in the first image…then fully visible in the other two.

 These pictures were taken with my 8” Meade, using a thorlabs HD camera at 25fps and processed with Registax and Nero. Time was between 9.45pm and, so still not that dark. Quite a bit of turbulence in the air too last night.

Jupiter and Io 1

Jupiter and Io 1

Jupiter and Io 2

Jupiter and Io 2

Jupiter and Io 3

Jupiter and Io 3

The next image was taken with Shane’s new DSLR (Nikon 5100) just as a quick test. Imagine what he will do when he is serious!

Globular Cluster - that is a lot of stars!

Globular Cluster – that is a lot of stars!

All images courtesy of Dr Shane Huntington.

So much to tell you, but want to keep this sub-thesis size, so a quick update on what you can see in the sky at the moment and this year as there is some excitement brewing for this year’s astronomical events;

At the moment, we in Melbourne are getting a spectacular view of Jupiter (brightest object in the sky, other than the moon) to the North and just West of the Orion Constellation. South, as always, we have the Southern Cross (Crux) and at the moment we are able to see the Pleiades and Southern Pleaides Clusters. As the Milky Way creeps further into our sky, we are also able to observe more clusters and nebulae.

We have a few new additions to the sky this year as well.

There is currently an asteroid travelling right by us and during it’s closest path to Earth, you can watch a live feed of the asteroid whizzing by from 10am on Saturday the 16th Feb provided by Clay Centre Observatory.

There will be three bright comets in our skies this year. Two of these are best seen from the Southern Hemisphere.

Comet PANSTARRS is currently visible and will continue to brighten into March, possibly magnitude 2.

Comet Lemmon can also be seen now and will continue to brighten over March, possibly magnitude 3 but visible all night.

Comet ISON is expected in late November but will be best viewed in the Northern Hemisphere.

More information on comets can be found here.

There will also be a partial solar eclipse on the morning of May 10 2013. Thanks to Paul Floyd for this great pinhole camera and planner.

Please let us know if you have seen any of these objects to date!

Next up, an update on some digital finds and online resources I know you will love!