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To the Stars!

The telescope…

Did you realise it was going to be that big?‘ Mrs Waterland asks as she walks in the living room.

No, I didn’t‘ I reply as I extend the last of the three tripod legs.  ‘And I haven’t put the telescope on yet!’ I add.

I’ve always been interested in astronomy and buying the DSLR tracking mount last year really fired up my interest.  No more indecision, I decided, as I press the ‘buy now’ button on a 4inch refractor telescope, an equatorial mount and another, smaller, telescope to guide it accurately.  With this setup I should be able to get some nice pictures of the night sky I reasoned…

The weather…

‘It looks like the weather forecast might actually be right – it might be clear tonight,’ I mutter to myself, standing in our small back garden while gazing at the part of the sky I can see between our two oak trees to the south and the roof of our house to the north.  Two whole weeks after buying the telescope, there should finally be a starry night and everything is set up and ready for its first use (which is called ‘First Light’.  I  just need to wait for it to get fully dark and then my much rehearsed process can begin…

The process…

It’s all quite simple really, so long as nothing goes wrong.  And it goes a bit like this…

Once the telescope is aligned (more on that in another post, but basically pointing to the north star, and thus aligned with the earth’s rotation) I select what I want it to point at and the rather cool sounding motors in the mount whir away as the telescope pans around the sky and points directly at the object I have chosen.  I go back inside and press a button on a computer screen which makes the guide camera come to life.  It picks a star that it can see  with the camera, zooms way way into it and sends commands to the mount to make sure the star is tracked perfectly.  I need to track very accurately because, as the Earth rotates, the stars move across the sky.  Without really good tracking, long exposure photographs will look blurred.  I need long exposure photographs because the objects I am taking pictures of are so faint and so far away that my camera needs to let in lots of light to see them.  The only way I can let in enough light is to leave the shutter open for several minutes.

Once the software tells me it is tracking the star, I know I can take long exposure photos and they will track the stars.  Pretty neat…

Next, I click on another monitor.  This one is connected to my DSLR which is attached to the end of the telescope.  I tell it to leave the shutter open for 5 minutes and go and make a cup of tea.

Five minutes later…

600 seconds has counted down and I eagerly stare at the monitor while the first image is downloaded.  And there it is, the beautiful Orion Nebula.  I zoom in and out of the stars with glee and pan around the nebulosity.

That’s not it, though.  That’s just one image.  When taking pictures of astronomical objects, to see the most detail, you need to take lots of pictures and ‘stack’ them all on top of each other.  This tends to make the noisy parts of the image less noisy and the brighter parts of the image more bright, until you have a nice bright image.  That’s the plan anyway.

Why, I hear you ask, go to all that trouble, just to take a picture?

Well, because what’s out there, beyond our goldfish bowl, is truly amazing…

 

The Orion Nebula – birthplace of stars…  1300 light years away.  When this light began it’s journey to our eyes the Chinese had just invented gunpowder in 700AD.

 

Two galaxies – M82, the Cigar Galaxy (left) and M81, Bode’s Galaxy (right) Also visible is in the lower frame is irregular galaxy NGC3077 and, (top right) spiral galaxy NGC2976. That’s billions of stars, just like our sun…

 

Part of the Veil Nebula, a supernova remnant in the constellation Cygnus.

 

Beautiful nebulosity of NGC7000, otherwise known as The North American Nebula

 

M31, more commonly known as the Andromeda Galaxy.  One Billion stars on a collion course for us…

 

The Flaming Star Nebula in the constellation Auriga

 

Almost full – a waxing gibbous moon on New Years Eve…

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