A few test shots with the new modified T3i

These are all single exposures. I’ll shoot calibration frames and do stacked images the next time I go out. I didn’t have much time for this shoot so I wanted to get a few different targets to get an idea of what this camera can do. You can really see how the reds show up. That’s what the modified sensor is supposed to capture.

You can click each photo for a larger version.

north america nebula

North America Nebula

trifid nebula

M20 – Trifid Nebula

lagoon nebula

M8 – Lagoon Nebula

omega nebula

M17 – The Omega Nebula

My Astrophotography Equipment

Because several has asked, here is my current equipment.

Camera Bodies

I currently own a Canon 6D and a modified Canon T3i. The 6D is my main camera for most things I shoot. It is full-frame and is the most affordable full-frame DSLR that I am aware of. For astrophotography I mostly use it for wide-field shots. Here is an example with the 6D.

milkyway

Milky Way over North Georgia

The T3i for shooting deep-sky objects as it has a modified sensor that makes it more sensitive to hydrogen-alpha light. Objects like the Orion Nebula really pop with this camera. It also does a really good job with daytime shots, but it is a crop-sensor camera. I primarily use this camera with some kind of tracking when I want to shoot long exposures of nebulae, galaxies, and star clusters. Here is an example taken with the T3i.

nebula

North American Nebula

Lenses

  • Bower 14mm f/2.8 manual focus lens
  • Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 fisheye manual focus lens
  • Canon 24-105mm f/4
  • Canon 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens
  • Canon 50mm f/1.4
  • Canon 135mm f/2
  • Tamron 150-600mm

Telescopes

  • Williams Optics 102mm APO Refractor
  • Celestron 9.25″ Schmidt-Cassegrain
  • Orion Short Tube 80mm Refractor
  • Celestron 90mm spotting scope

Mounts

  • Orion Sirius EQ
  • Vixen Polarie

Summer is almost over. Thank goodness!!

Summertime is a weird time for astronomers. We love the objects in the sky, especially the Milky Way and wide variety of Messier objects we can find in or near it. But the downside is the weather. Lots of rain, and even when it doesn’t rain it gets very muggy and dew becomes a big problem. We only get a few dry days during the summer when viewing conditions are optimal, so we try to take advantage of those precious nights. Here are a few shots I was able to get this past summer.

milkyway

Summer Milky Way

Eagle Nebula

Eagle Nebula

lagoon

Lagoon Nebula

crater

Copernicus Lunar Crater

comet

Comet C/2014 E2 Jacques

cygnus

Cygnus Region. North America Nebula at bottom-left.

A Nice Surprise

One of my photos has gone viral. Sort of.

I took this photo back in June where there was a nice conjunction of the crescent Moon, Venus, and Mercury. I posted it on my Flickr site and it got about a hundred views.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/srahn/9013096528/

But a couple of days ago a Reddit user named tombh photo-shopped the Andromeda Galaxy into the photo in such a way that showed the galaxy if it were brighter. Here is that version.

http://i.imgur.com/EpuhHJa.png

There was an interesting discussion on Reddit about it here.

http://www.reddit.com/r/spaceporn/comments/1u0dxs/andromedas_actual_size_if_it_was_brighter/

I thought the interest in the photo had died down, but I was very pleased to see that Phillip Plait had seen the photo and even wrote a nice article on his blog and credited me.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2014/01/01/moon_and_andromeda_relative_size_in_the_sky.html

I can only say that I am glad my photo was used for this very interesting discussion. I used Creative Commons licensing on my images, and this is one of the reasons I believe in Creative Commons. The photo now has over 3,000 views and I am grateful for the credit that was given both on Reddit and by Dr. Plait.

A Cool Night at Brasstown Bald Mountain

Brasstown Bald Mountain, located in northeast Georgia, is the highest mountain in Georgia. Not only is it beautiful during the daytime, but the night skies there are very good because of the lack of light pollution. The nearest towns are Blairsville, Young Harris, and Hiawasee, but they don’t generate enough light to cause much a problem when shooting up at the mountain. There is a large parking lot where you can set up you telescopes and/or cameras, and it is one of my favorite places to shoot.

Last Friday night (November 29th) I saw that we would have clear skies in the area so I decided to pack up my scope and cameras and head up there for some night shooting. I got there just before sunset, and I managed to get a few really nice shots of that. This is my favorite of them:

Once it got dark, I decided to set up my Canon 60D on a regular tripod with a wide-angle lens and get some wide-field shots of the Milky Way. Here are my two favorites of that group:

I also set up my 80mm Orion APO refractor telescope and did some observing to get a feel of how good the seeing was. I then connected my Canon 60Da directly to the telescope and did some shooting of a few deep sky objects. The 60Da has a specially modified sensor that is designed for astrophotography. Here are the best shots I got with that camera connected to the telescope.

Dumbbell Nebula

Pleiades Cluster

I had intended to shoot a few more objects such as the Andromeda Galaxy and the Double Cluster in Perseus, but it started getting a bit windy. It was already very cold up there, and wind makes for bad shooting as it’s almost impossible to keep your equipment steady. I would up staying maybe four hours, and I got some really nice shots. If you are ever in that part of Georgia, I highly recommend a daytime or nighttime visit to Brasstown Bald.

Buck Bald and the Milky Way

I hadn’t seen the Milky Way for a while, and I saw that Saturday night was going to be really clear. I thought about going to my usual place, which is the Deerlick Astronomy Village, but there is a ton of construction of the Interstates right now and I didn’t want a 2 1/2 hour drive to turn into four hours or more.

So I decided to head up into the mountains. I know a couple of decent spots, but I wanted to go somewhere with really dark skies this time. I consulted my Dark Sky Finder app on my iPhone and saw that there was a promising area just over the line near Ducktown, Tennessee. That would still be a shorter drive than the normal drive to Deerlick, so I packed my cameras and headed north.

When I go into the area that I was looking for, I was having a difficult time finding a good place to set up. You need a large clearing without any lights nearby, and you also want to make sure you aren’t trespassing on someone’s property. I did find what looked like an abandoned sawmill right off Highway 68, but there was a really bright streetlight at one end. I could have set up so that I wasn’t right in the line of the light, but it still would have caused problems with some shots. I decided to continue on a few miles with the thinking that if I didn’t find anything better I could come back to the sawmill.

I drove about five miles and was getting ready to turn around when I saw the Coker Creek Village Retreat. It was late, but I saw that there was a lady out front. I decided to pull over and ask if she had a recommendation for me. Did she ever.

She told me to turn around and look for a sign that said Buck Bald Mountain. I had seen the sign earlier, but it looked like a driveway. She told me that there was a very wide open area at the top and that it was about a 2 1/2 mile drive to the top. She added that the road was not paved all the way and to not be in too much of a rush. I am very glad I took her advice.

I found the road and headed to the top. It was pretty bumpy for a lot of the ride, but it paid off. It was dark when I got to the top, but I could tell that I had struck gold. There is a 360-degree unobstructed view and hardly any noticeable light pollution at all. I started setting up my gear and as my eye began to adjust to the darkness the Milky Way began to show itself. The Moon didn’t set until about an hour after I got there, but it wasn’t very bright and it was not a problem as the Milky Way was in the opposite part of the sky.

I wound up taking only about 60 shots, which is not as many as I had done on other shoots. I felt like the quality was much better, and I left feeling very good about what I had. I was not disappointed when I get them onto the computer. I will definitely be returning to Buck Bald for future shooting. The next time I plan getting there in time to watch the Sun set. Here are a few photos from the shoot:

Sony A99

Canon 60Da

Canon 60Da with Fisheye lens

Here is a link to entire set. I will add more to it as I continue processing them.

 

Shooting the Milky Way

This is one of my favorite things to photograph. The trick is finding skies that are dark enough so that you can actually see the Milky Way. Luckily we have the Deerlick Astronomy Village here in Georgia, and I am proud to be a member. It’s about 100 miles east of Atlanta, and it has some of the darkest skies in Georgia and nice low horizons in all directions.