Tag: Astrophotography

Chasing darkness in Switzerland 2021 – Flims Laax

I haven’t been able to photograph the stars for a very long time. I live in a valley where many rivers flow, which brings a lot of moisture into the air. This moisture condenses, which forms either fog or clouds. I was sick of this weather and decided to climb above the clouds and finally take some pictures. Like last year I chose Berghaus Nagens in Flims/Laax ski resort and combine this trip with a skiing vacation. So, how was it? Well, I have bad luck this year. I got only a single cloudless night out of five. Moreover, it was the last one. So, I was not able to photograph the whole night and around midnight I had to pack the gear.

There is a time wrap made by GoPro Hero 8 Black. A view to the south direction. Orion is rising, snowcats are preparing the slopes and the only light pollution comes from city Milan, which is 100 km away.

The primary target was a very difficult one – IC 2118 Witch Head Nebula. This reflection nebula is illuminated by the supergiant star Rigel (right leg of the Orion constellation). The dark skies are the essence and the Askar mini telescope did the job. However, I was surprised how terrible was the chromatic aberration. This can be partially corrected in postprocessing, but not fully. I think I will have to find a better scope.

LensAskar FMA180 F4.5
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
MountiOptron Skyguider Pro
Exposure35x180s, ISO 1600
Date2021-12-30

Before the Orion constellation rose up, I captured the M45 Pleiades. It’s an integration of 63 frames each 2 minutes long. Here, the dark skies reveal some dark nebulae in the visual surroundings of the star cluster. Again, I was quite disappointed by the chromatic aberration of the Askar telescope.

LensAskar FMA180 F4.5
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
MountiOptron Skyguider Pro
Exposure62x120s, ISO 1600
Date2021-12-30

Chasing darkness on La Palma

All of my previous dark-sky expeditions were organized in the summer-autumn part of the year. At this part of the year shines the galactic core of the Milky Way during the night (only if the sky is dark enough) and there are many deep space objects available. During my expedition to Milos, I managed to capture a huge part of the Messier catalog. However, there are some deep space objects, which are badly visible from my home and which have to be captured in the spring. I was researching where can I spend a few days, preferably somewhere south and even more preferably under dark skies. Googling yielded in the brilliant idea – La Palma, Canary Islands. This island belongs to the three most prominent spots on Earth for astronomy (together with Mauna Kea in Hawaii and European Southern Observatory in Chile). The observatory on La Palma is called Roque de Los Muchachos and currently, there is the largest optical, single-aperture telescope on this Planet (The Gran Telescopio Canarias). The observatory is built on the highest mountain of the island at an altitude nearly 2500 meters above sea level. On the whole island, there are strict rules for street illumination, therefore the dark skies are not the privilege of the highest mountains, but nearly everywhere are the conditions great, maybe except two big towns – Santa Cruz de La Palma and Los Llanos. The dark sky is probably the same touristic attraction on La Palma as the beaches on the Greek islands.

Theoretically, La Palma should be a paradise for astrophotographers. How was it in the reality? Well, I was not lucky at all with the weather. I got only one clear night out of ten. During the day it was nice and sunny, but nearly every evening the clouds rolled in and I was able to photograph only dark clouds. According to the weather statistics, there should be only one rainy day in May in La Palma. Moreover, cloud cover should be present only 30% of the month, the rest should be sunny. Hmm, probably we hit the 30% spot in the calendar.

On the other hand, the island is beautiful and offers many other activities, like hiking, whale watching, sightseeing, etc. People are friendly, nature breathtaking, food delicious and vine excellent. From this point of view, it was fantastic. In the end, I was able to capture two deep space objects, which have very low southern declination (not far from the horizon) if observed from Central Europe. Specifically, they were M68 globular cluster in constellation Hydra and M83 Southern Pinwheel Galaxy also in constellation Hydra. These two objects were on my “must capture” list, so in the end, it was not so bad.

Roque de los Muchachos
Roque de los Muchachos
The Gran Telescopio Canarias
MAGIC (Major Atmospheric Gamma Imaging Cherenkov) telescope
Typical evening weather on La Palma in May
Volcán Teneguía
Volcán Teneguía

Puerto de Sto. Domingo
Salinas de Fuencaliente
Mirador de las Mimbreras

Messier Catalog

Charles Messier was a French astronomer, who lived a long time ago (1730 – 1817). He neither invented a telescope nor was the first who pointed it towards the night skies. However, he is still one of the most famous astronomers. He earned his glory by compiling the first catalog of deep space objects, known as the Messier catalog.

He made his discoveries in Paris downtown, which is nowadays completely unthinkable, because of light pollution. Back in the 18th century, there were no street lamps, and as soon as people extinguished the candles after dinner, it was completely dark even in the city center of Paris. Messier used for his observations and cataloging quite a small telescope, specifically a 100 mm refractor, which is not so optimal telescope for deep space objects. The bigger the aperture, the more light it collects, and this is probably the reason why the Messier Catalogue has only 110 members. There are other, newer catalogs of deep space objects. For instance, New General Catalogue contains 7840, but the gentlemen who compiled it used significantly larger telescopes. Anyway, it doesn’t change the fact, that the Messier Catalogue was the first one.

The story of the first catalog of deep space objects started by a mistake. Messier considered himself more like a comet hunter. Once he discovered “a comet” in the constellation Taurus. But when he repeated the observation a few days later, he found out that “the comet” is still on the same spot, thus it cannot be “a comet”. This day the first object of the Messier catalog was discovered and designated Messier 1, nowadays called the Crab Nebula.

My intention is to capture all of Messier’s deep space objects. I started in 2014 and I hope next year (2019) it will be over.

Update August 2019: the day has come and after a few years I managed to capture all the objects. It was a long way full of frustrations, but the results were worth the struggle.