Tag: Namibia

Chasing the darkness in Namibia 2022

As a passionate astrophotographer, I have been dreaming about the southern sky. Obviously, the best conditions are in Chile, the home of ESO European Southern Observatory. I read a couple of the travel blogs from Chile and yes this is the place to be with a telescope. However, I live in Central Europe, and getting to Chile is not that straightforward. Once I was browsing through the APOD (astronomy picture of the day) and found a beautiful picture of the Rho Ophiuchi. By reading the credits, I found out that this picture was taken in Namibia, specifically in the Kalahari desert. Well, I was hooked. I found out that astro-tourism is a regular business in Namibia. There are many farms offering telescopes/mounts to rent. The weather in winter (May – September) is basically guaranteed (here is the webpage with records of the cloud cover). Moreover, it’s very dry, so the sky is transparent. In other words, the conditions for astrophotography are excellent. I quickly started to search for accommodation during the next new Moon phase. A couple of farms were already booked out, but I found a place at Kiripotib astro farm. I cannot describe how lucky I was. The farm Kiripotib is run by a couple Hans and Claudia von Hase, very nice and friendly people. Not just them, but their whole stuff – Abigale, Caterina, Mike, and others were very polite. The farm has two seasons. Summer (European winter) is a gliding season. There are two runways directly next to the farm. Winter (European summer) is an astro-season. For this purpose, there are 12 platforms and one roll-off roof observatory roughly 300 m from the farm. The platforms are equipped with 220 V sockets and each has a solid pier, wind protection, a table, and chairs. Basically, all that is required for serious astrophotography. Moreover, there is a wifi coverage there. The signal is not strong, but I was able to download a driver directly at the platform. For each new Moon phase, a guide comes from Germany to take care of the visitors to make sure that the rented equipment will be properly installed. For our stay, Stefan Lenz was our guide. He is a very experienced astrophotographer who won APOD last year.

As you can see, I gave up on the Newtonian portable telescope and replaced it with a refractor. The reason is that I bought a new camera for this trip. Specifically, ZWO ASI 2600MM, which has very small pixels. I was not able to get the stars round at the edges even with a perfectly collimated telescope, no matter which coma corrector I used. I simply gave up and ordered SharpStar 94 EPDH with a focal reducer. I sacrificed the aperture, but the stars are small and round in any corner of an APS-C sensor. I also took the portable refractor WO RedCat 51, combined with ZWO ASI 071MC. I wanted to rent the Newtonian telescope at Kiripotib, but it was already booked, so the only option was to rent Meade 10″ ACF. Stefan helped me to set it up and I used this scope mainly for galaxies like NGC 5128 Centaurus A Galaxy or NGC 6744 Galaxy or the planet Saturn.

A typical day at Kiripotib looks like that: late breakfast at 10:30. After breakfast one can take a nap or try pro process the pictures which were taken the previous day. In the afternoon coffee with a cake is served at 14:00. There are many things to do after the cake. For example, one can hike to the aloe trees:

Or to take a biking trip and meet the wildlife.

The dinner is served at 18:00 and around 19:00 it was already getting dark. A short walk to the platform and the show can start. The Milky Way was rising from the east. Honestly, I haven’t seen such a bright core in my life. It was a stunning view and I managed to capture the whole arc. However, everything didn’t go according to plan. First two nights I was struggling with my new laptop. The default power mode of Windows 11 is set to go to sleep after 20 minutes even if plugged in. Since I was managing 3 mounts, it took me a while to figure it out. Another problem was the polar alignment. In the northern hemisphere, we have Polaris. It is a very bright star, which can be located easily. However, in the southern hemisphere, there is Sigma Octantis, which should serve the purpose. But it is not a bright star and there are many similar stars, having the same brightness. For RST 135 mount I took PoleMaster. With this device it was doable, but it took me an hour to find the pattern. The situation was much more challenging with the iOptron Skyguider Pro. When I looked through the polar scope, I was completely unable to find the Sigma Octantis. The first two nights I was just guessing where the Southern celestial pole is. Hint for anyone who wants to do astrophotography in the Southern hemisphere for the first time: get prepared for the struggle with the polar alignment! Fortunately, I had the old ASIAir with me. There is a simple procedure for the polar alignment by plate solving of two pictures mutually rotated. This was a life-saving feature. The third issue I had was the automatic focuser. I knew that the refractors suffer from a focal drift if the temperature changes. Therefore, I equipped the SharpStar with ZWO electronic focuser. However, one needs to set up how many steps will be used for the focus sweep. I set up too small steps and in some cases, the perfect V-curve was not found, so some pictures were not sharp. I found a tutorial on YouTube on how to set it up properly. After solving all these issues I was finally ready for serious astrophotography. The primary target was obviously the Eta Carina nebula – a highlight of the Southern hemisphere. Secondary targets were NGC 5128 Centaurus A galaxy, NGC 6744 galaxy, NGC 6752 Globular Cluster, IC 2944 Running Chicken Nebula, NGC 5139 Omega Centauri, NGC 292 Small Magellanic Cloud, IC 4628 Prawn Nebula, NGC 2060 Tarantula Nebula, Norma Star Cloud, IC 2602 Southern Pleiades, Vela Supernova Remnant, NGC 6357 Lobster Nebula NGC 6334 Cat’s Paw Nebula, NGC 6188 Rim Nebula. One night I left the tripod with Canon EOS 6D + Samyang 24mm@f2.8 in front of the platform, set iso 1600, exposure 120s, and let it shoot until the battery died. It made 135 photos and by combining them I got such lovely star trails:

It was a very intensive 9 nights not disturbed by the clouds, wind, or light pollution. The conditions significantly exceeded my expectations. I have to admit that I did astrophotography for the first time in the proper place. There are still some deep-space objects on my list, so there is a reason to come back next year.

Final day and packing the rigs. Stefan came to help me 🙂

On the last day I took a picture of the house where we stayed with the Milky Way in the background:

Namibia is not just an astrotourism, but most people visit Namibia for a different reasons. There is Etosha Nationalpark in the northern part of Namibia where wild animals can be seen, Fish River Canyon (Southern Namibia) is the largest canyon in Africa. There are definitely many places to visit. Unfortunately, we had only 3 days to travel around, so we decided to hire a car and make a trip to Sossusvlei. It was a very spectacular place. The deep blue color of the sky is mixed with the orange dunes.

Conclusions

There are still some deep space objects in the Southern sky, which I haven’t captured. Moreover, there are many places in Namibia, which I want to visit. We will definitely come back.


NGC 6188 Rim Nebula

NGC 6188 is sometimes called The Fighting Dragons of Ara. As a fan of Game of Thrones or Hobit, I simply had to capture this beauty. Two dragons are clearly visible in the middle. Their heads are illuminated by the open cluster NGC 6193. I knew that this nebula is dim, so I dedicated a lot of time to it. Specifically, I stacked 86 narrow band pictures, each 5 minutes long.

TelescopeSharpstar 94EDPH
Aperture94 mm
Focal length414 mm
MountRainbow Astro RST 135
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, QHY Mini Guide Scope
CameraZWO 2600MM @-10°C
CorrectorF4.4 Quad Reducer
FiltersAntlia Ha, OIII, SII 3 nm
Exposure86x300s, Gain 100, bin 1x1,
Date2022-05-30

And here is a photo of the same object, just with a shorter focal length.

TelescopeWilliam Optics RedCat 51/250 f4.9
Aperture51 mm
Focal length250 mm
MountiOptron Skyguider Pro
AutoguidingZWO 178MM, QHY Mini Guide Scope 30/130 mm
CameraZWO ASI071 MC Pro @-10 °C
FiltersAntlia Dual Band 5 nm
Exposure72x300s, ISO 1600
Date2022-06-01

NGC 6357 Lobster Nebula NGC 6334 Cat’s Paw Nebula

Both Lobster and Cat’s Pas nebulae are located in the constellation Scorpius, both are approximately 5’500 light-years from us. I tried to photograph the Lobster Nebula before, but it wasn’t an easy target due to very low southern declination. From the southern hemisphere, it is much easier. So I took the opportunity when I was in Namibia and tried to capture both nebulae in one shot.

The composition of this picture was not correctly selected, but in the end, both are in the field of view. Here is the picture processed in the “fake” Hubble palette:

And here is the bi-color version (R-Ha, G-OIII, B-OIII)

TelescopeSharpstar 94EDPH
Aperture94 mm
Focal length414 mm
MountRainbow Astro RST 135
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, QHY Mini Guide Scope
CameraZWO 2600MM @-10°C
CorrectorF4.4 Quad Reducer
FiltersAntlia Ha, OIII, SII 3 nm
Exposure62x300s, Gain 100, bin 1x1,
Date2022-06-01

IC 2602 Southern Pleiades

Southern Pleiades, just like the northern Pleiades is an open cluster, located in the constellation Carina. Unlike the northern sibling, this cluster is not associated with nebulosity. However, some dark nebulae can be found around. This is because the cluster is located just a few degrees from the galactical equator.

TelescopeSharpstar 94EDPH
Aperture94 mm
Focal length414 mm
MountRainbow Astro RST 135
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, QHY Mini Guide Scope
CameraZWO 2600MM @-10°C
CorrectorF4.4 Quad Reducer
FiltersAntlia LRGB
Exposure43x180s RGB, Gain 100, bin 1x1,
Date2022-06-01

NGC 2060 Tarantula Nebula

Our galaxy Milky Way is surrounded by two dwarf galaxies. Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) and Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). SMC I captured recently by the relatively short focal length of 250 mm. LMC is much larger, so it wouldn’t fit into the field of view of my 94 mm refractor. However, LMC is full of very interesting objects, just like the Tarantula Nebula. I used the HaLRGB technique to make the nebulosity pop.

TelescopeSharpstar 94EDPH
Aperture94 mm
Focal length414 mm
MountRainbow Astro RST 135
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, QHY Mini Guide Scope
CameraZWO 2600MM @-10°C
CorrectorF4.4 Quad Reducer
FiltersAntlia HaLRGB
Exposure16x180s HaL, 10x180s RGB, Gain 100, bin 1x1,
Date2022-05-31

IC 4628 Prawn Nebula

IC 4628, also called Prawn Nebula is an HII region in the constellation Scorpius. Due to very low southern declination, it is badly visible even from southern Europe. A better place to observe/photograph this deep space object is obviously the southern hemisphere. For example in Namibia, where this beautiful nebula rises very high in the sky. The open cluster on the left side is called the Northen Juwel box cluster.

TelescopeSharpstar 94EDPH
Aperture94 mm
Focal length414 mm
MountRainbow Astro RST 135
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, QHY Mini Guide Scope
CameraZWO 2600MM @-10°C
CorrectorF4.4 Quad Reducer
FiltersAntlia Ha, OIII, SII 3 nm
Exposure39x300s, Gain 100, bin 1x1,
Date2022-05-31

NGC 292 Small Magellanic Cloud

Small Magellanic Cloud, shorty SMC, is a dwarf galaxy, which is gravitationally bonded to the Milky Way. It has an irregular shape, which resembles a droplet. Compared to the Milky Way’s size (100’000 light-years in diameter) it’s significantly smaller (7’000 light-years in diameter) and it’s roughly 200’000 light-years far from us.

SMC is visually accompanied by two globular clusters. NGC 104 at the top and NGC 362 at the left side. The clusters are obviously much closer to us than the galaxy.

This galaxy is quite important for astronomy, because Henrietta Swan Leavitt, an astronomer at the Harvard College Observatory, discovered several variable stars in this galaxy. Variable stars change the intensity in periodic cycles. So, based on the apparent brightness of the variable star, the distance can be determined. Since this discovery, mankind can measure the distance between the galaxies.

The picture is a stack of 159 photos, 2 minutes each. This means in total I was photographing this object for 5.3 hours.

TelescopeWilliam Optics RedCat 51/250 f4.9
Aperture51 mm
Focal length250 mm
MountiOptron Skyguider Pro
AutoguidingZWO 178MM, QHY Mini Guide Scope 30/130 mm
CameraZWO ASI071 MC Pro @-10 °C
Filtersnone
Exposure159x120s, ISO 1600
Date2022-05-30

Milky Way in Namibia

Milky Way is usually visible only if you are in a dark location. For example, there is a desert called Kalahari in Namibia. In this desert, there is an Astro farm Kiripotib. You will see the Milky Way in all its beauty if you get there. We spent several nights just looking at it:

Milky Way formed an arc in the evening spanning from east to west. Later, it rose up and formed a line from south to north. What a fantastic view we had:

LensSamyang XP 14mm f/2.4 @f2.8
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
MountiOptron Skyguider Pro
Exposure50x20s, ISO 1600
Date2021-05-30
LensSamyang 24mm f/1.4 @f2.8
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
MountiOptron Skyguider Pro
Exposure75x12s, ISO 1600
Date2021-05-31

And here is the most complex picture spanning from the Lagoon Nebula on the left to the Carina Nebula on the right. The picture was made as a panorama stitch of 6 photos. Each photo is a stack of 10 images, each 60 seconds long. This means in total I spent only one hour on this photo.

LensSigma 50 mm f1.4 Art @f2.8
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
MountiOptron Skyguider Pro
Exposure60x60s, ISO 1600
Date2021-05-28

IC 2944 Running Chicken Nebula

IC 2944 Running Chicken Nebula is an H II region located in the constellation Centaurus. It’s a galactic neighbor of the Carina Nebula because they both belong to the Sagittarius spiral arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. I must admit that this was my secondary nebula target for my trip to Namibia. Therefore, I didn’t dedicate much time – only 3 hours. However, the details popped out, so overall, I am happy with this “fake” Hubble palette picture.

And here is an even more “fake” picture, where the stars are completely removed. However, the nebulosity gained a 3D-like look.

TelescopeSharpstar 94EDPH
Aperture94 mm
Focal length414 mm
MountRainbow Astro RST 135
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, QHY Mini Guide Scope
CameraZWO 2600MM @-10°C
CorrectorF4.4 Quad Reducer
FiltersAntlia Ha, OIII, SII 3 nm
Exposure36x300s, Gain 100, bin 1x1,
Date2022-05-29

NGC 6752 Globular Cluster

NCG 6752 is a globular cluster located in the constellation Pavo. It contains approximately 100’000 stars and it is 13’000 light-years from Earth. Like most recently captured deep space objects, this cluster is visible only from the southern hemisphere.

My intention was to capture the cluster with the galaxies surrounding it, but since this part of the sky is full of stars, the galaxies are almost hidden.

TelescopeSharpstar 94EDPH
Aperture94 mm
Focal length414 mm
MountRainbow Astro RST 135
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, QHY Mini Guide Scope
CameraZWO 2600MM @-10°C
CorrectorF4.4 Quad Reducer
FiltersAntlia LRGB
Exposure36x180s L, 10x180s RGB, Gain 100, bin 1x1,
Date2022-05-29

Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex

The brightest orange star is the Antares, which represents the head of the constellation Scorpius. This star has surrounded all kinds of nebulae – dark, reflection, emission. Basically, nearly all the colors of the universe can be seen here.

TelescopeWilliam Optics RedCat 51/250 f4.9
Aperture51 mm
Focal length250 mm
MountiOptron Skyguider Pro
AutoguidingZWO 178MM, QHY Mini Guide Scope 30/130 mm
CameraCanon EOS 6Da
Filtersnone
Exposure60x120s, ISO 1600
Date2022-05-29

NGC 6744 Galaxy

NGC 6744 is a galaxy in the constellation Pavo. The galaxy has beautiful spiral arms, which attracted my attention and I spent 4 hours collecting the light coming from this 28 million light-years distant deep space object.

TelescopeMeade 10"
Aperture254 mm
Focal length2097 mm
MountMK 100K
AutoguidingMGEN 240 mm
CameraZWO 071 @-10°C
CorrectorTS 0.67 reducer
Filtersnone
Exposure78x180s, Gain 95, bin 1x1,
Date2022-05-28

NGC 3372 Eta Carina Nebula

Eta Carina Nebula is the southern hemisphere’s most prominent deep space object. In fact, this nebula is the reason why I packed all my portable astro-gear and flew to Namibia. Carina is approximately 4x brighter than the Orion nebula, which could be considered a highlight of the northern hemisphere. Moreover, it’s much larger. The nebula is a combination of emission and dark nebulae, located in the constellation Carina and it’s roughly 8500 light-years away from us.

It was a struggle to get the rig working in Namibia, but after two nights I managed and the next day, when I processed the pictures, a big smile appeared on my face. Well done, mission accomplished.

During our stay at Kiripotib Namibia, the other guest rented a 14.5-inch Dobsonian telescope and allowed us to have a look at the Carina (thank you so much, Peter). It was a simply spectacular view. Such a huge aperture combined with TeleVue eyepieces – WOW effect was there. Moreover, the Dobsonian had a filter wheel with OIII, UHC, and H-beta filters. Just by turning it, one could see a completely different nebulosity. I was really happy to see this beautiful deep space object with my own eyes.

Here is the processed picture in the Hubble color palette.

Here I completely removed the stars by StarNet++

And here is bi-color version (R-Ha, G-OIII, B-OIII)

TelescopeSharpstar 94EDPH
Aperture94 mm
Focal length414 mm
MountRainbow Astro RST 135
AutoguidingZWO 174MM, QHY Mini Guide Scope
CameraZWO 2600MM @-10°C
CorrectorF4.4 Quad Reducer
FiltersAntlia Ha, OIII, SII 3 nm
Exposure87x300s, Gain 100, bin 1x1,
Date2022-05-27

Saturn

I have been chasing this planet for a very long time. Saturn is the most beautiful planet in the Solar System and yet I haven’t been able to photograph it properly. This is mainly caused by the fact that in the last years this planet had very low southern declination (it has been quite close to the horizon). Therefore, I was not able to capture it from home, and during my travels, to southern places, I never had a suitable telescope with me. Finally, I got an opportunity. I was in the southern hemisphere, specifically in Namibia, and I rented Meade 10″ Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. The first night I photographed Centarus A Galaxy. Early in the morning around 4 a.m. I came to park to scope, but before that, I removed the ASI071 camera. Focal length 3130 mm I prolonged by TeleVue 2.5 Barlow lens to nearly 8 m, attached ZWO ASI485, and captured 2000 frames. Then I selected 25% best frames and here we go:

TelescopeMeade 10"
Aperture254 mm
Focal length7825 mm
MountMK 100K
Autoguidingnon
CameraZWO ASI485MC
CorrectorTeleVue Barlow 2.5x
Filtersnon
Exposure2000x180ms, Gain 222, 25% selected,
Date2022-05-28

NGC 5128 Centaurus A Galaxy

NGC 5128 Centaurus A is a galaxy, which can be found in cancellation, you can guess which one, Centarus. This galaxy is not visible from Europe or from the northern hemisphere. If anyone wants to observe or photograph it, has to go south. And this is exactly what I did. I went to Namibia, specifically to an Astrofarm Kiripotib. I went there with a plan and this Galaxy was my first and primary target. As for most galaxies, one needs a long focal length. Therefore, I rented a telescope there. Specifically, it was Meade 10″. I brought my own focal reducer TS 0.67 and attached my old ASI071. I made in total 133 pictures, each 3 minutes long, and stacked them together. This means nearly 7 hours of exposure time. The dust cloud blocking the light from the galaxy really popped out with a slight help of deconvolution.

TelescopeMeade 10"
Aperture254 mm
Focal length2097 mm
MountMK 100K
AutoguidingMGEN 240 mm
CameraZWO 071 @-10°C
CorrectorTS 0.67 reducer
Filtersnon
Exposure133x180s, Gain 95, bin 1x1,
Date2022-05-27