Astrophotography is for everyone, again…

We at Milky-Way.kiwi think astrophotography is in reach for everyone. The reason being it is one of the best ways to show people what’s in space – if you can’t show them through your telescope. To prove you can capture stuff with a very modest setup we took the 8″ reflector out last night to have a look at the night sky. From our Wellington location, we have a bit of light pollution but you can still get great views of the brighter objects. Our 8″ telescope is on a dobsonian mount with no motors so it doesn’t track the sky. What this practically means is that we can only take relatively short exposures or the stars will leave trails. This can be awesome if that’s what you want to capture but not so good if you want nice crisp round stars.

We’re big fans of the Eta Carinae Nebula in the Southern Sky, basically because it’s huge and awesome and very easy to find, not to mention that the star at the centre of it (visible in a 16″ telescope) is totally fascinating. Last night the nebula was visible to the naked eye so very easy to line up with the telescope. We wanted to see if we could get a picture of the nebula, or at least the stars, with an iPhone. The result is below and with a bit of tweaking there’s a faint bit of nebula showing through. We just used the stock camera app on the iPhone, hand-held at the eyepiece but with something like NightCap we could have captured TIFFs and then stacked them in DSS, a job for next time.

Eta Carinae region, 8″ telescope with 2″ Meade eyepiece

After the fun and excitement of capturing the Eta Carinae Nebula, we turned our attention to the Southern Pleiades. This is beautiful cluster very close to the previous target and a bit big for the field of view of the 36mm 2″ eyepiece and telescope configuration we were using. Lining up the iPhone’s camera with the eyepiece was a difficult experience but with a bit of trial and error we figured it out. Basically you hold the phone about 10cm from the eyepiece until you get and image and then move it closer and closer until the screen is all filled up with faint stars – and then carefully take the photo.

Southern Pleiades

The final attempt at imaging with the iPhone was the Jewel Box cluster, very close to the Southern Cross. This cluster has a little asterism in it called the traffic light, its the three stars in a row with the yellow one at the top in the below image. All of the images taken were with whatever exposure control the camera app figured out.

Jewel Box, it never gets old…

And finally, just to show off, we took the below star trail image using the NightCap app. The shot is about ten minutes long and shows the area just to the right of the South Celestial Pole.

So get your smartphones and telescopes out and start snapping away so that you can amaze your family and friends.