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   Astrophotography...

The art of quality amateur astrophotography takes years to master and requires relatively expensive equipment, particularly the telescope mount, tracking drive and guiding apparatus, all of which must work in concert to allow the telescope to perfectly track its target for long periods of time without even the slightest vibration. It also requires great skill and patience as well as an almost sublime knowledge of film emulsions and developing techniques. Finally, it requires photographing from a very dark site far away from city lights on a clear night and even then there are relatively few nights when upper atmosphere air disturbances are at a minimum.

My telescope, a Celestron C5+ Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, and its mount are not quite up to the challenge. Nor do I yet have the skill or experience, let alone access to a dark site. Nevertheless, these photographs represent my first attempts at astrophotography. They are embarrassingly poor in comparison to the quality astrophotographs that many amateurs can capture. (see below)

Click on any photo to enlarge.

Lunar Photos:

Half Moon

Three Quarter Moon

Full Moon

Fully Eclipsed Moon

Lunar images taken at prime focus (camera attached to the back of the telescope without an eyepiece -1250mm, f/10) on Fuji X-tra 800 speed film and exposed for 1/125, 1/250, 1/500 and 4 seconds respectively. Because the moon is so large and bright, its capture on film is trivial, not requiring any tracking.

Orion Nebula-M42

This is an image of the Great Orion Nebula (M42) taken from my backyard. This incredible nebula appears as the middle star of the sword in the constellation Orion. The image was exposed for 5 minutes on Fuji X-tra 800 speed film. The image was shot trough the telscope at prime focus (1250mm, f/10). The nebulosity and quality of the image is severely limited by sky glow (ambient city light). On a positive note, the background stars are round which meant that my rough polar alignment was fairly accurate. (The telescope mount has a motor which moves the optical tube assembly in such a manner as to counteract the rotation of the earth. To acheive polar alignment, the polar axis of the mount must be aligned with the earth's polar axis.)

 

The Milky Way

This is an image of the Milky Way in September taken about 20 miles West of Ft. Worth. The Milky Way, the name of our galaxy, also refers to the dense band of stars corresponding to the portion of the sky aligned with the galactic plane. This photo was exposed for about 4 minutes on Fuji X-tra 800 speed film with the camera mounted piggyback on the telescope. The image was taken through the camera lens (Canon EF 28-105 USM) which was set to its widest angle focal length and largest apteture, i.e 28mm at f/3.5

Gene Slape's Astrophotography

To demonstrate what equipment comparable to mine can accomplish with more practice and skill, here are some astrophotographs taken by my friend Gene Slape. Gene took these from fairly dark sites away from city lights in Texas. They are excellent given the limitation of the caliber of equipment that we have.

 

Orion Nebula - M42

 

Sagittarius Region

 

North American Nebula

 

The Best Amateurs - Turn lights off for the most impressive viewing !!!

Finally, here is a sampling of what the best amateurs can accomplish. It is hard to believe that these outstanding photographs can be taken by amateur astronomers using store bought (albeit high end) telescopes, mounts and cameras.

 

Orion Nebula - M42

 

Sagittarius Region

 

The Horshead Nebula

 

The Andromeda Galaxy - M31

 

Hale-Bopp Comet

 

The Pleiades - M45

The amazing thing to keep in mind is that these objects do not require large magnification to see. The objects in these images are not magnified much more than the equivalent of a decent pair of binoculars. However, these objects are extremely dim, so that we cannot see them. The telescope's primary job is to make them brighter not larger, but even then it takes 30-90 minutes of continuous exposure on specialized film to allow the colors and detail to collect.

The photos above were taken by Jerry Lodigruss and Jason Ware , two of best of the dozens of execellent ameteur astrophotographers that can be found on the web. Here are their websites: