Tag: Milky Way

Chasing darkness of 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.


Chasing darkness on Fuerteventura

This year was a special year. The pandemic outbreak ruined my first attempt of darkness chasing on the Canary Islands in May. I didn’t give up and as soon the restrictions were released, I purchased plane tickets to Fuerteventura again. We rented a house via AirBnB on the south side of the island, in the middle of nowhere, where the light pollution supposed to be minimal (measured SQM 21.2).

The island lies on the 28th parallel, which makes the core of the Milky Way pretty up in the sky. And this was exactly my primary astrophotographic target. I packed recently astro-modified Canon 6D, nifty-fifty 50 mm f1.8 lens and headed south. The aim was to capture the Antares region together with the core of the Milky Way and in the end, I somehow managed.  However, the lens disappointed me a lot, because it suffers from comatic and chromatic aberrations, combined with astigmatism. The stars in the corners are not round, even if the lens is slowed down to f 3.5. I was trying nearly every evening to recapture the Milky Way, but I was fighting with the weather (it was very windy) and with the equipment (polar alignment, shutter release, drained batteries), but I somehow managed to generate at least one decent picture of the desired target. Lessons learned – I need a better 50 mm lens.

Technical details:

LensCanon EF 50 mm f1.8
F-stop2.8
Focal length50 mm
MountBaader NanoTracker
CameraCanon EOS 6D Astro modified
Exposure14x20s, ISO 1600
Date2020-07-22

I also packed 150mm Newtonian, together with my new mount Rainbow Astro RS135. This mount is simply excellent and very portable. I still have Avalon M-Zero, but it is significantly heavier, therefore if I travel with Avalon, I have to order a second suitcase and to travel with two suitcases is not that convenient. Rainbow Astro occupies only half of my luggage, so there was a space for some T-shirts. I must say, that the Avalon is a better mount for tracking and there is no need to do a meridian flip, but the portability is for me more important. The primary target was the Lobster nebula, but I managed to capture some DSOs around Antares and in the core of the Milky Way (Lagoon, Trifid, M4, M6, M7, M24, IC4304)

The conclusion: the weather was much better than in La Palma last year. Every night was cloudless, but it was windy. Fortunately not every day, so in the end, it was a quite successful trip.


M24 Sagittarius Star Cloud

Messier 24 is spiral arm of our galaxy located in constellation Sagittarius. The region is heavily populated by the stars, which makes you think how big our home galaxy Milky Way is. I captured already few years back, but it would be a pity not to recapture this magnificent star cloud again with slightly shorter focal length and under dark skies of Fuerteventura.

Technical details:

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
Exposure75x120s, Gain 94, bin 1x1,
Date2020-07-21

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.


Chasing darkness in Schwarzwald

My second expedition after the dark skies (this year) led us to Germany, specifically to Black Forest (Schwarzwald) in the state of Baden-Württemberg. We rented a small cabin for a weekend and I took the same equipment which I took to Milos, i.e. telescope newton 150/600 mm, mount iOptron CEM25P and ZWO 071 Pro camera.

As soon got dark, the Milky Way showed up. I measured SQM and it reached 21.1, which is not spectacular, but far better compared what I have at home.

The equipment was working perfectly, but the dew started to form on the secondary mirror, because the cabin is close to river Breg, which means a lot of humidity. I never had dew problems with Newtonian telescope up to now. Lessons learned – I need a dew shield. I managed to capture only M74 Galaxy and M78 Nebula.

Anyway, I also managed to capture wide angle photos with my Pen-F and Fish eye lens.

Here are the star trails – exposure 30x30s:

And here is the Milky Way – exposure 1x30s ISO 3200 f1.8:


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.


NGC6871 Open Cluster

NGC6871 is an open cluster located in Cygnus, has less than 50 stars and it is 5135 light-years from Earth. Constellation Cygnus is visually located on the galactic disk of the Milky Way; therefore there are many stars in the background. Particularly interesting are the dark nebulae, surrounding the cluster.

Picture was taken under dark skies of Milos Island and in total, it’s an integration of on 63 minutes.

Technical details:

TelescopeNewton 150/600 mm
Aperture150 mm
Focal length660 mm
MountiOptron CEM25P
AutoguidingQHYCCD miniGuideScope 130 mm f/4.3, ZWO 174 MM
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-10C
CorrectorExplore Scientific HR coma corrector
FiltersAstronomik L-1 - UV IR Block Filter
Exposure21x180s, Gain 134, bin 1x1,
Date2018-09-15


M70 Globular cluster

Messier70 is a globular cluster located in constellation Sagittarius. The cluster is at a distance approximately 29’300 light-years from the Solar System. Neighbor cluster M69 was captured during the same night.

M70 is the 15th globular cluster captured by me on Milos Island – mission accomplished.

Technical details:

TelescopeNewton 150/600 mm
Aperture150 mm
Focal length660 mm
MountiOptron CEM25P
AutoguidingQHYCCD miniGuideScope 130 mm f/4.3, ZWO 174 MM
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-10C
CorrectorExplore Scientific HR coma corrector
FiltersAstronomik L-1 - UV IR Block Filter
Exposure37x60s, Gain 134, bin 1x1,
Date2018-09-15

 


M69 Globular Cluster

Messier69 is a globular cluster located in constellation Sagittarius. It is approximately 29’700 light-years away from Earth. Together with Messier70 are close to galactic center of Milky Way (distance between them is 1’800 light-years) and there were two last deep space objects captured on Milos Island. These two were the last missing Messier objects, which I wanted to capture and I was very happy that I managed.

Technical details:

TelescopeNewton 150/600 mm
Aperture150 mm
Focal length660 mm
MountiOptron CEM25P
AutoguidingQHYCCD miniGuideScope 130 mm f/4.3, ZWO 174 MM
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-10C
CorrectorExplore Scientific HR coma corrector
FiltersAstronomik L-1 - UV IR Block Filter
Exposure37x60s, Gain 134, bin 1x1,
Date2018-09-15

 


M23 Open Cluster

Messier 23 is an open cluster located in constellation Sagittarius not far from the star Polis (µ Sgr). Visually it’s surrounded in rich star field, because in this direction are located star clouds of Milky Way. The cluster contains approximately 150 confirmed members and it’s about 2000 light-years away from the Solar System.

Technical details:

TelescopeNewton 150/600 mm
Aperture150 mm
Focal length660 mm
MountiOptron CEM25P
AutoguidingQHYCCD miniGuideScope 130 mm f/4.3, ZWO 174 MM
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-10C
CorrectorExplore Scientific HR coma corrector
FiltersAstronomik L-1 - UV IR Block Filter
Exposure23x120s, Gain 134, bin 1x1,
Date2018-09-13


M25 Open Cluster

Messier 25 is an open cluster in constellation Sagittarius. It’s approximately 2000 light-years from Earth and it contains 50 brighter star and probably few tens of dimmer stars. The background in illuminated by many stars, because this cluster is located in direction of the galactic center of the Milky Way.

Technical details:

TelescopeNewton 150/600 mm
Aperture150 mm
Focal length660 mm
MountiOptron CEM25P
AutoguidingQHYCCD miniGuideScope 130 mm f/4.3, ZWO 174 MM
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-10C
CorrectorExplore Scientific HR coma corrector
FiltersAstronomik L-1 - UV IR Block Filter
Exposure21x180s, Gain 134, bin 1x1,
Date2018-09-10


NGC 6888 Crescent Nebula

Crescent Nebula, also known as NGC 6888, is a HII region, hot ionized hydrogen gas cloud. The nebula got the shape by high speed stellar wind of Wolf-Rayet star, which is colliding with slow moving mass, ejected by this star during transformation into a red giant. The nebula is approximately 5000 light-years away from us and it can be located in constellation Cygnus.

The picture is the last one from 6.9.2018. In the evening I captured Omega nebula, M80. As a last deep space object I pointed on Crescent Nebula, started auto guiding and went to sleep. Therefore the picture is a stack of 64 pictures; each has 3 minutes of exposure time, thus total integration time 192 minutes.

Technical details:

TelescopeNewton 150/600 mm
Aperture150 mm
Focal length660 mm
MountiOptron CEM25P
AutoguidingQHYCCD miniGuideScope 130 mm f/4.3, ZWO 174 MM
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-10C
CorrectorExplore Scientific HR coma corrector
FiltersAstronomik L-1 - UV IR Block Filter
Exposure64x180s, Gain 134, bin 1x1,
Date2018-09-06


M24 Sagittarius Star Cloud

Messier 24, also called Small Sagittarius Star Cluster, is a giant cloud of stars and open star clusters. In fact, M24 is not gravitational bonded object, but it is only spiral arm of Milky Way galaxy. The light coming from the cloud is partially blocked by two prominent dark nebulae. The cloud is literally surrounded by Messier objects. In north-east direction can be located Omega Nebula M17 and  open cluster M18, just 3° direction north open cluster M25 can be seen, 5° direction west open cluster M23, 6° south-west nebulae M20 Trifid and M8 Lagoon nebula.

Technical details:

TelescopeNewton 150/600 mm
Aperture150 mm
Focal length660 mm
MountiOptron CEM25P
AutoguidingQHYCCD miniGuideScope 130 mm f/4.3, ZWO 174 MM
CameraZWO 071 Pro @-10C
CorrectorExplore Scientific HR coma corrector
FiltersAstronomik L-1 - UV IR Block Filter
Exposure27x180s, Gain 134, bin 1x1,
Date2018-09-05


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.


M39 Open cluster

My god, it is full of stars! I think everybody knows this sentence and if not, you should watch probably the best movie from Stanley Kubrick 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Anyway, my reaction when I processed this image was the same just like David Bowman, when he was traveling through the star gate created by the monolith orbiting the Jupiter. The reason why there are so many stars in the background is simple. M39 is an open cluster located in not far from constellation Cygnus (Swan). This constellation is lying on the plane of our home galaxy Milky Way, therefore we are now looking through the galactic disk.

m39-opencluster-2016-09-29-30c-31l-200s-13rgb-120sb2x2-fl1000