Science

Stellar Photography

While we were up in the Adirondacks last week I pulled out my tripod and camera and gave it a shot, so to speak. The skies up there are quite dark (though not as much as you’d think), dark enough to see the Milky Way clearly though.

I set up my D300 with a 50/1.8 lens. With the f stop wide open and the shutter speed set to 30 seconds I got some nice things. After a little imagine editing for brightness and contrast, here’s the handle of the Big Dipper (aka Ursa Major), clearly showing the double star.

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Shooting upwards, I caught the great clouds of the Milky Way.

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And my personal favorite from that first day out, two star clusters!

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The next day I tried shooting south, and got some interesting things. But the streaking was much more pronounced. But the color is great.

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My plan for the next night was to target specific objects — Messier objects. But we had nothing but clouds.

Last night we tried to catch the Perseids. I only saw one, but I thought I’d give it a go to see what I could capture in a brighter suburban sky. This time I used my 18-55/3.6 lens set wide. Stupidly I forgot to set the fixed focus to infinity, but still:

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Now this covers a pretty big swath of sky, so let me try to describe what you’re seeing. The bright white star center-right is Vega, in the constellation Lyra. That grouping of five stars is the bulk of it. Notice the color of the two blue ones — that’s real.

Straight up from there is the constellation Cygnus, with the bright white Deneb and Sadr, and the more blue Al Fawaris. The group at the center-right is the head of Draco, and at left-center Aquila with the bright white Altair at its head. The little triangular patch of four red stars in between is Sagittarius.

I love how it captures the actual colors. Next time I’ll try the 50mm lens with a 15-second exposure to get rid of the star tracks.

Tom
Tom McGee has been building web sites since 1995, and blogging here since 2006. Currently a senior developer at Seton Hall University, he's also a freelance web programmer and musician. Contact him if you have the need for a blog, web site, redesign or custom programming!

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