The sky at night, away from the lights of city or town, is a beautiful, fascinating place. There is so much to see: the Moon and stars; constellations and the Milky Way; bright planets and meteors; maybe even a comet or the Northern Lights. And it changes from hour to hour, night to night, and season to season.
Unfortunately, sharing all this with groups — especially with children — is difficult. Bright lights, clouds, bugs, cold or heat, and the obvious fact that it all takes place at night (mostly after bedtime); all of these make it hard to plan for some time under the stars.
Seeing Stars is a service that aims to make exploration of the night sky easy and fun for schools, libraries, and other groups who are interested in What’s Up There.
Explore each of the pages of the site to find out more about Seeing Stars, or just to see more photos of objects in the nighttime sky, and, especially on this page, other photos I want to share. All were taken by me, Paul Kinzer, with modest amateur equipment, and most will show a larger version if you click on them! I’m glad to answer email questions at firstname.lastname@example.org .
April 3, 2013:
I went out tonight to take images of Comet PanSTARRS (officially designated C/2011 L4). It’s been in the news, and visible in the sky, for weeks now. For the past few — and next few — nights, it’s especially attractive because it’s passing in front of the Andromeda Galaxy (also known as M31). I had a hard time finding the two objects in the sky because first, they are large but dim; and second, they were already near the horizon, ready to set, by the time the sky got truly dark after sunset. But I managed to get ten images with my Canon T1i (500D) DSLR. Each image was 30 seconds at ISO 800. I had hoped to take more, at longer exposure times, but these were all I got before a hill got in the way.
I also took ten ‘dark images’, with the lens cap on, of the same length and ISO setting, right after I finished the ‘light images’. I then went home and loaded all of these on my computer and used a freeware program called DeepSkyStacker to process them. I’m not very experienced with it, and there’s a huge learning curve to get over to use it really well, but combining the images works to get rid of the noise inherent in long exposures on DSLRs. The result looks very much like what I saw through my binoculars. I converted it to black and white because the background color in the original is the orangy-pink of light pollution, which I’d rather not preserve.
I used a great Nikon lens on my camera (with an adapter): the 180mm f/2.8 ED. I had hoped to take more, at longer exposure times, but these were all I got before a hill got in the way.Lenses are not at their sharpest wide open, so astrophptpgraphers often stop them down a bit. A trick I read about said to do something else instead: screw a reducing ring, usually used for filters, on the front of the lens, taking it from 72mm to 55mm. This acts as a lens aperture, closing it down to about f/3.5. Apparently, the internal lens diaphragm, located at the back, acts to make stars round, but bloated. This trick really worked! Stars were very sharp.
March 31, 2013: Some Film Astrophotos Revisited
I went to the film astrophotography page at the Cloudynights website tonight, because I hadn’t been there in a while. Film is different from digital photography, and maybe nowhere more than for astronomy imaging. I won’t go into the details here, because I’m an expert in neither, and it would take a whole book to explain, anyway. In my own book, I do spend a bit of time on astrophotography, and since I wrote the book in 2006-7, and it came out in 2008, most of what I wrote had to do with film (though I deliberately kept it basic enough that the information would be useful for digital, too). DSLRs had not yet become the commonly owned cameras they are now. I took all the photos in the book, including the cover, and all but one were taken on film.
But all the photos in the book, except for those on the cover, were printed in black and white. So I’m going to put a few of them here, in color, and with the scans re-processed. I’ve become better at processing digital images, since I’ve owned DSLRs for several years now, and digital scans of film get processed in the same way.
I may add more of these as I re-process more of the scans!
My son and I went on a trip to central Nebraska March 12-14 (2013) to try to get a good look at comet panSTARRS. We chose the location, more than 500 miles from home, because it was the closest that had a forecast for possible clear skies. It also is the one place that you can visit for the spring staging of sandhill cranes. Half a million of them stop for a few weeks along a 50 mile stretch of the Platte River, to rest and fatten up before heading on to their nesting grounds, which can be as far away as Alaska, and even Siberia. It was a great trip, and I wanted to share a couple of photos.
Here’s a photo of the telescope I just finished building today (November 18, 2012), a 6-inch, f/10 (focal length 1500 mm) refractor with a lens made by Jaegers. They are no longer in business, but they made great lenses. I can’t wait for clear skies to actually test it.
Here’s a photo taken on June 5th, 2012, at the Kitt Peak National Observatory. This was the day that the planet Venus transited (crossed) the face of the sun; something it won’t do again until the year 2117: