Tag: Astrophotography in Greece

Chasing the darkness in Greece on Crete

This year we made our traditional summer vacation in Greece a bit earlier. The main reason was the cheap plane tickets to Crete. The destination was given, what remained was to specify the precise location. My friends recommended the southeast coast, so I started to search and found a house with a suitable terrace in the abandoned village Chametoulo. According to the light pollution map, the location should be perfect. We arrived at night, parked in front of the village, and moved all our stuff to the house through very narrow, steep streets. The first thing, which struck my eyes, was the presence of several LED powerful street lamps. WHY? Why there are street lamps in the empty village? Who pays for the electricity? Anyway, the terrace was partially covered and protected from the street lamps. On the other hand, it was very dark anywhere you look. I measured the SQM and directly at the zenith reached 21.55, which is a very good value. I started to get excited, but during our stay, my excitement was turned into frustration. It was very windy all the time. Some days it was less windy, but still, the conditions were far from being optimal. Fortunately, I took two rigs with me. The classical 150/600 mm Newtonian, sitting on RST 135 mount. The second one I tried in the winter – the pocket astrophotography rig. Askar F4.5 180 mm refractor, coupled with Canon 6D astro-modified and all this on extremely portable iOptron SkyGuider Pro. The Newtonian was totally unusable in the wind, but tiny Askar had no problems at all and I took roughly 1300 photos with Canon 6D camera.

Here is village Chametoulo during the day:

And here is village Chametoulo during the night:

Here is the double rig. I attached a 20 l canister to the tripod holding the RST 135 and 150/600 Newtonian to minimize the vibration due to the wind, but unfortunately, it didn’t help.

In the end, I managed to capture a couple of galaxies: M101 Pinwheel, M31 Andromeda, but otherwise, I gave up with 150/600 mm Newtonian. The smaller rig based on iOptron SkyGuider Pro performed much better. My primary target was Rho Ophiuchi @180 mm focal length. Then I captured the most interesting nebulae in constellations Serpens and Sagittarius – Lagoon, Trifid, Eagle, and Omega nebulae. Then I moved to the constellation Cygnus and capture it with many different focal lengths. And finally, I made a stop at the constellation Cassiopeia to compose the Heart, Soul nebulae with the Double Cluster NGC 869 and 884.

The Milky Way was not possible to photograph directly from the house, due to the street lamps in the village. I had to take a car and drive a bit to get to the South Coast Viewpoint:

Technical details:

LensSamyang 24 mm f1.4 @ f2.8
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
MountiOptron Skyguider Pro
Exposure16x15s, ISO 1600
Date2021-07-14


Chasing darkness on Kythira

Even across the Covid pandemic in 2020, we managed to organize the second trip to chase the darkness. As usual, our summer vacation took place in Greece, this time on the island Kythira. Based on the search on the light-pollution map, I concluded that the best would be the south-west side of the island. I found Vanis house in this location and booked it. The place was fantastic. Westside is obviously optimal for observation of the sunsets – and they were magical.

After the sunset, the Milky Way showed up and it was spectacular. Measured SQM reached 21.5, which means it was one of the darkest locations I have ever been to. My primary target was the Milky Way and I managed to capture it really well. Detailed pictures are in a separate post, but here is the view south during a moonless night.

Milky Way in fron of Vanis House
Vanis House – Waxing Crescent and Milky Way

Besides the Milky Way, I also took my portable Newtonian and captured a few deep space objects. I have to say that our vacation was not just about astrophotography, but also about enjoying the Greek sun, beautiful beaches, tasting delicious food, and simply relaxing. Conclusions: I love Kythira!

View from Vanis House
Avlemonas
Kaladi beach – the most beautiful beach on the island
Paralia Kalami

Milky Way on Kythira

To capture our home galaxy Milky Way properly was my dream for a very long time. A long time ago I started with Canon EOS 40D with Tokina 11-20 f2.8. Then I changed the rig to Olympus PEN-F with Zuiko 12-40 mm f2.8. A year later I upgraded to Zuiko 8 mm f1.8. Recently I purchased a second-hand full-frame camera Canon EOS 6D and I let it modified for astrophotography. All my previous attempts were based on a single photo strategy, following the 500 rule. Basically, you divide 500 by the focal length of your lens and you get maximal exposure time. Of course, you have to crank up the ISO, use as wide aperture as possible, and a tripod. Photos produced by the above-described methods lack the details or they are very noisy, depends how much you de-noise in post-processing.

However, there is another method, which requires a tracker, which is basically a motor with a gear, which makes a full revolution in one day. By other words, it compensates for the Earth’s rotation. This means, you are not limited by a single picture, but you can make as many pictures as the weather allows. Of course, you have to stack the pictures. Therefore the post-processing is a bit complicated, but the signal to noise ratio can be significantly improved. I purchased Baader Nano tracker for my trip to Fuerteventura, but I was struggling with the equipment (shutter release, polar alignment, and lens) and as soon I got familiar with the setup, the weather got really bad, so the outcome was not as expected.

I got a new opportunity to test this set up on Kythira, where the Milky Way was not spoiled by the light pollution, because in direction south, there was nothing else than the Mediterranean sea. The primary target was the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex. I have to say that I managed to capture it really well:

LensSigma 50 mm f1.4 Art@ f2.8
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
MountBaader NanoTracker
Exposure80x25s, ISO 1600
Date2020-07-11

After collecting 80 photos of Rho Ophiuchi, I pointed the camera to the east side of the Milky Way and I tried to capture the brightest objects in the sky – Jupiter and Saturn (upper left corner). Can you see the dark cloud at the bottom left corner? This is NGC6726 Nebula and NGC 6723 Chandelier Cluster.

LensSigma 50 mm f1.4 Art@ f2.8
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
MountBaader NanoTracker
Exposure40x23s, ISO 1600
Date2020-07-11

The next day I turned the camera 90 degrees and capture the Milky Way again. At the bottom, there is “a line” of red nebulas. From left to right: Cat’s Paw Nebula, Lobster Nebula, Lagoon and Trifid Nebulae, Omega Nebula, and Eagle Nebula. The brightest object at the top right is Jupiter, making some reflections.

LensSigma 50 mm f1.4 Art@ f2.8
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
MountBaader NanoTracker
Exposure47x25s, ISO 1600
Date2020-07-12

Here is another stack of 40 pictures targeting the core of the Milky Way.

LensSigma 50 mm f1.4 Art@ f2.8
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
MountBaader NanoTracker
Exposure40x25s, ISO 1600
Date2020-07-12

Later on, the Milky Way started to submerge into the Mediterranean Sea, so I changed the composition slightly, to capture the constellation Scutum. I also changed the post-processing technique and left bit of the green color. 

LensSigma 50 mm f1.4 Art@ f2.8
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
MountBaader NanoTracker
Exposure47x25s, ISO 1600
Date2020-07-12

I also took a different lens with me – Samyang 24 mm f1.4. This lens is theoretically very fast, but I experienced very ugly stars if it’s fully opened. The reasonable aperture starts at f2.4, but at f2.8 the sharpness is very good, except in one corner. Here is a stack of 55 pictures, 60 second each:

LensSamyang 24 mm f1.4 @ f2.8
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
MountBaader NanoTracker
Exposure55x60s, ISO 1600
Date2020-07-17

Or here is another wide-angle picture, which is a stack of 60 samples, each 24 second long:

LensSamyang 24 mm f1.4 @ f2.8
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
MountBaader NanoTracker
Exposure60x24s, ISO 1600
Date2020-07-13

The last picture I would like to post here is made by the smartphone Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro. The camera has a night mode, but for astrophotography, one would need something better. Google Pixels has a special feature for it. Moreover one can install a non-official port of the Goggle Camera App to third-party Android phones. So I purchased the holder for the phone, placed on a tripod, and pressed the shutter button. The camera collected photons for 3 minutes and made multiple shots and stacked them automatically. The result is, however, not impressive and I have to conclude that smartphones cannot replace the DSLR or mirrorless cameras. There is Milky Way visible in the picture, but it lacks details and stars are elongated. The conclusion: for my next expedition I still cannot leave the camera at home and take only the smartphone.


M22 Great Sagittarius Cluster

Messier 22, sometimes called Great Sagittarius Cluster is a globular cluster, visually located very close to the galactic core of the Milky Way. If we look in this direction by a telescope, the surrounding of this cluster is filled with many stars. The cluster itself contains approximately 100 000 stars and it has roughly 97 light-years in diameter. The region of the sky where is this cluster located is poorly visible from my home, therefore every time I travel south with my portable telescope, I capture some deep space objects in this region. This picture was taken under the dark skies of Kythira.

TelescopeNewton 150/600 mm
Aperture150 mm
Focal length570 mm
MountRainbow Astro RST 135
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, Guidescope 30 mm
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-0°C
CorrectorTS MaxField
FiltersNo
Exposure59x180s, Gain 94, bin 1x1,
Date2020-09-12

Chasing darkness in Greece – Karpathos

Like every summer, I packed the telescope, mount, camera and many accessories and flew to Greece. This time we went to Karpathos, the island not spoiled by massive tourism and light pollution. Long story short, the skies were amazing, but every single night, except one, was extremely windy. It was a torture – to see millions of stars and not be able to photograph them. There is no surprise that Karpathos is beloved by windsurfers and kite surfers. In the end I captured only the Iris Nebula and the Double Cluster. I talked to locals and they told me that the wind should stop at the end of September, so probably I picked the wrong time.

On the other hand I was able to do a wide angle astrophotography of the Milky Way. SQM reached 21.5, galactic core was so bright and I think the photos of the Milky Way are quite decent. This time I changed the setup and purchased Canon EOS 6D, which is one of the best cameras for this purpose. Moreover, there are many second hand 6Ds, because mirrorless mania arrived. 6D combined with Samyang 14 mm f2.8 offers excellent performance for this purpose.

Karpathos offers other beauties, for example very beautiful beaches, mountains, delicious food friendly people and many more.

Our house Elaeon with remarkable dark skies – SQM 21.5
Olympos
Apela beach
Avalon M-Zero and TS 6" Newtonian
Avalon M-Zero and TS 6″ Newtonian at Elaeon

Chasing darkness in Greece – Milos

My second expedition after dark skies led us to beautiful island Milos. It’s mid-size island in Aegean see and it belongs to group of islands called Cyclades. The port and whole night life (bars, restaurants, discotheques) are located on the northern part of the island. We stayed on the other part of the island, where are empty, not organized beaches and mainly very low light pollution. To travel there is not straight forward, because Milos has very small airport. Therefore we had to fly to Santorini Island and from there take a ferry to Milos.

We found very lovely small house called Vila Kipos (AirBnB link) at remote part of the island. The place was decent for astrophotography. I measured SQM and it reached 21.3, which is not fully perfect, because the property is next to a road, and there are street lamps. However, it’s significantly better than what I have at home (SQM 19.9 – 20.4). There are much darker places on the island, but it would require batteries and to spend whole night in the nature. To photograph deep space directly next to the house, in which you stay, has significant advantages – electricity is available and the rig can photograph outside whole night and you can sleep inside.

The weather was excellent. Only two days out of 16 was windy or cloudy. Literarily, I had a deep space harvest. I managed to capture in two weeks as many pictures as during the whole last year. Initially I was bit afraid of these wires, which are in the south direction, but fortunately all the objects of my interest were above. I didn’t expect that I will manage to capture nearly all Messier’s summer objects in southern skies. Specifically, I captured M4, M6, M7, M8, M9, M17, M18, M19, M20, M21, M22, M23, M24, M25, M28, M30, M31, M33, M45, M54, M55, M56, M62, M69, M70, M73, M75, M80 and M107. Moreover, I captured NGC6822, NGC6871, NGC6888, NGC6939, NGC6946, NGC7000, NGC7293IC5146, IC1396 and B347.

We took a short walk 1 km direction west, the street lamps disappeared and SQM reached 21.5. The Milky Way was so bright that it nearly casted shadows. These are the optimal conditions to test my new fish eye lens (Olympus Zuiko 8mm F1.8 ED PRO). Focused on Mars, ISO 800, Exposure 25s.

The nearest source of light pollution direction south is Crete, which is 120 km away. Anyway, the picture could have been better and probably I should have used higher ISO. Therefore it is not going to beat the Milky Way picture from last year.

Well, it was not just about taking astrophotos, but also about nice and empty beaches, snorkeling in crystal clear water, very delicious food and in general relaxing and charging our human batteries. I miss the Greece already and I cannot wait till I will go there again.

Kleftiko beach

Kipos beach

Sarakiniko beach


Chasing the darkness in Greece on small island Gavdos

I was always dreaming about dark skies, because I live in sub-urban area with relatively strong light pollution. Two friends returned from Gavdos where they spent their summer vacation and told me that they have never seen so many stars in the sky – at that moment I was tempted. One year later I decided to combine our summer vacation (mid Semptember) with chasing of the dark skies. Swimming, snorkeling, hiking during the day and photographing, observing during the night.

We have been to Greece already, so we knew what to expect – beautiful beaches, people with great hospitality and tourists everywhere. But Gavdos is something different. It is a small island south from Crete. The island is the southernmost point of the entire European continent, which is optimal for astrophotography, because the deep space objects, which are near to the horizon in Switzerland, are 12° upper in the sky. Only few people live on Gavdos, which means there is no light pollution compared to other Greek islands. There are neither big hotels, discotheques nor organized beaches. On the other hand there are places where you can sleep and there are many taverns where you can get something delicious. Moreover in all taverns is a Wi-Fi. Electricity is mostly produced by the solar panels and stored in the batteries and some taverns use generators, so there is electricity available whole night. This means you don’t have to carry heavy batteries to power the mount or camera cooling with you.

It’s not so straight forward to get there. We flew to Heraklion (Crete capital), hired a car and drove to Paleiochora. Crete is quite big island and it took us 3-4 hours to drive from Heraklion to Paleiochora. From there we took a 6-hours ferry to Gavdos. The ferry arrives to Karaves – small harbor, where is a tavern and mini-market. Some info about the accommodation on Gavdos can be found here. We stayed at Metochi – small houses with the restaurant. The owner Maria was excellent host and she was always smiling and charged by positive energy. Every evening, when we were returning from the restaurant back to our house, we saw millions of stars. The Milky Way was so bright! I have never seen so many stars in my life. It was something spectacular.

I was thinking a lot what equipment shall I take with me to Gavdos. The telescope must be portable and has to fit in my backpack, so the Newtonian is not a good option. Refractors with slightly bigger aperture are long, therefore also not so suitable. I did the research and found interesting small reflector – 6″ (150 mm) Ritchey-Chrétien. It’s small and when I removed the focuser, it fits in my Lowepro Pro Trekker 450 AW bag even with camera, finder, autoguider and with all the cables. It has only one disadvantage – it’s quite slow with focal ratio f9. This can be improved with the focal reducer Astro Physics CCDT67. The focal ratio drops from f9 to acceptable f6. It’s still not as fast as my Newtonians, but the main thing is that it’s portable and inexpensive. Some review of this telescope can be found here or here.

Second part is the camera. My Moravian G2-8300 is an excellent camera, but together with the filter wheel, it has 2.5 kg, thus not optimal for traveling. I was searching for something lighter, with the same size of the chip and, of course, with the cooling. I found ZWO Color CMOS Camera ASI 1600MC-Cool. This camera has approximately the same quantum efficiency, but it has only 400 grams!

The last part of the gear is the mount. Here it was quite simple to decide and I purchased iOptron CEM25P lightweight equatorial mount with low periodic error and suitable payload capacity.

So, I had in hand luggage 13 kg (fortunately they never check the weight of the hand luggage) and my suit case had 31 kg and I managed to pass all security checks.

Back to Gavdos, I placed my portable astrophotographical equipment behind the house and took some pictures. Unfortunately, the weather was not so optimal. The skies were clear every night, but most of the time was very windy and I mean really very windy. I was able to photograph only 3 nights. This was quite disappointing, but I managed to capture Helix and Trifid Nebula.

Since we had a car, it was easy to travel around and every day we visited new beaches. Some of them are not accessible by car, so you have to hike an hour or two. But it’s worth it. For instance beach Potamos is one of the nicest beaches I have visited in my life and we were nearly alone there.

Beach Lakoudi is also nice and there we were completely alone.

Beach Tripiti is the southernmost place of Europe

The beaches are beautiful, but they were not the main reason why we traveled to Gavdos. To be under such clear skies and not to take a picture of the Milky Way would be shame. At the highest point of the island, there is a lighthouse – Faros. The lighthouse is not functioning anymore, but there is a museum and tavern. So, one can with the glass of wine or beer enjoy beautiful sunset.

If you stay a bit longer, the Milky Way shows its beauty. The conditions are excellent for such wide angle photography, because 200 km south there is nothing but the sea.

The picture was taken by Olympus PEN-F, lens Olympus ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO @ 12 mm, f/2.8, ISO 1600, exposure 20s. The crop factor is 2, which means that equivalent focal length for full frame sensor is 24 mm. This focal lenght is not so great for Milky Way, but the optical quality is remarkable. Comatic aberration is gently visible in upper left corner and there is no chromatic aberration. Well done Olympus! One of the main advantages of this camera is the weight. The camera with the lens has only 0.8 kg, which is exactly the half of the weight compare to my previous setup Canon EOS 40D with Tokina 11-20 F/2.8.

Just to conclude the post, we really loved Gavdos and we would definitely come back. The island has its own magic. It was pure relax there and I miss it. I can only recommend to everyone to go to Gavdos, not just due to the clear and not polluted skies, but also due to specific atmosphere of unspoiled nature.

On our way back we stayed couple of nights on Crete. The Moon started to shine, so I decided to take a picture of this white monster with my portable setup. Ritchey-Chrétien telescopes are not so great for the Moon or planets, due to big central obstruction caused by the secondary mirror. Some say, these telescopes are not suitable at all for this purpose. However, the picture is very sharp. I must say that it’s much better compared to pictures I made in Switzerland with significantly bigger telescopes and smaller central obstruction. This is caused by the seeing – in Greece the atmosphere is more steady compared to Swiss skies. Conclusions – it always doesn’t depend on your equipment, the nature has to cooperate as well.