Astrophotography

This is a collection of astronomical and meteorological images, some predating Sky Lights, some used in Sky Lights, all with notes for camera settings and optics. If you’re just starting out in astrophotography you might find some useful tips here. Most recent entries are at the top. Clicking on the thumbnails will open a new tab showing the full size image, without text, for a cleaner view.

I’ve never advanced beyond rudimentary equipment in this aspect of my hobby. My Canon DSLR is a 2005 model, and some of the earlier photos were taken with a Sony Mavica (recording on a floppy disc). I never felt the need to purchase a dedicated CCD imager for my telescope — I like the challenge of getting what I can with what I’ve got. Image processing is done with Corel Photo-Paint X5 (v. 2010). Enjoy and learn from this collection.

 

 

 

Super Blue Blood Moon
By:
Dan Heim
Location:
Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date:
Jan 31, 2018
Optics:
200mm telephoto on Canon 20D
Imaging:
f/4, 2 sec, ISO 400

Comments: The top image was taken at 06:20 MST (9 minutes before maximum totality). The bottom image was taken at maximum totality. Elevation was only about 10°, so there’s a lot of air between the Moon and camera. This was a very dark eclipse, maybe L=1.5 on the Danjon scale. The “bright” star to the right of the Moon is Asellus Australis, aka Δ Cnc, magnitude +3.94.

 

Partial Solar Eclipse
By: Dan Heim
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: August 21, 2017
——————————
Top Photo: Maximum coverage of 65% at 10:34 MST
Optics: Takahashi FS-128 w/ Hα filter, 40mm eyepiece projection, Canon 20D
Imaging: 1/400 sec, ISO 1600 (cloud interference)
——————————
Bottom Photo: Coverage ≈ 50% at 10:55 MST
Optics: 200mm telephoto on Canon 20D
Imaging: f/32, 1/8000 sec, ISO 100 (used cloud as filter)

 

Five Planets + Moon
By: Dan Heim
Optics: Zenitar K2 16mm fisheye on Canon 20D
Imaging: f/2.8, 0.5 sec, ISO 3200
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: Jan 30, 2016, 0630 MST

Comments: With rains on the way, I had only one opportunity to capture this grand alignment. I got lucky this time. The image is a splice of two photos, done so the alignment continues in a linear manner with the correct spacing between Mars and the Moon. In addition to the Moon and planets, several brighter stars are visible. The Moon was overexposed at these settings, creating multiple reflections in the 11-element Zenitar, so I shot it by itself at 1/8000 sec and pasted it into the original image. This matched nicely what the eye could see. The lower image is the same shot but includes ID labels.

 

Conjunction of Venus and Mercury
By: Dan Heim
Optics: Canon 18-55 mm lens at full zoom on Canon 20D
Imaging: shutter priority w/ t = 4.0 sec, ƒ/20, ISO 3200
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: Jan 14, 2015, 19:00 MST

Comments: Venus and Mercury are seen here at a separation of 1°21′. I was clouded out for the closest conjunction on January 10 (when the separation was a mere 0°39′), as well as the subsequent 3 days, but this is still pretty close. Atmospheric reddening is clearly visible for both planets. Curiously, in the inset, Mercury looks distinctly redder. I suspect that’s due to the excess of blue-white light reflected from Venus. Elevation was around 15° and both were dropping toward some low clouds on the horizon. The inset is just a digital enlargement of the original photo, with some pixelation visible. Nonetheless, the gibbous phase of both planets is clearly seen.

 

Lunar Eclipse
By:
Dan Heim
Optics:
Zuiko 200 mm telephoto on Canon 20D
Imaging:
f/4, ISO 800, 0.5 sec
Location:
Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date:
April 4, 2015

Comments: This image shows the Moon as it appeared to the eye. The following image is a longer exposure (1.0 sec) to bring out the Blood Moon colors. There was a slight haze of clouds to shoot through, so the lunar surface details are somewhat blurred. The Moon’s elevation was only 15°. This was a very dark eclipse compared to others I’ve seen. With the Moon so close to the edge of the umbra (totality only lasted 6 minutes) there was a large brightness gradient across the surface. That made it difficult to get a good exposure without saturating the bright edge, or losing the dark edge. The time of both photos was within a minute of maximum totality, which occurred at 05:00:16 MST.

 

Saguaro Moonrise
By: Dan Heim
Optics: 200 mm Zuiko telephoto at f/32 on Canon 20D
Imaging: f/32, ISO 100, 1/20 s
Location: Heimhenge. New River, AZ
Date: June 13, 2014

Comments: Those saguaro are on the south slope of Gavilan Peak, about 1/3 mile east of Heimhenge. It was quite breezy where I needed to set up, with gusts to 30 mph. The tripod was vibrating and the images are slightly blurred. Still, I was pleased with the results. The left image is the first in the sequence, and shows the Moon as if it were split in two. In the second image (about 10 seconds after the first), the Moon had risen slightly higher, and the crown of the saguaro shows clearly with individual flower buds just visible.

The third image (which shows a different group of saguaro) was obtained ten minutes after the second image. When the silhouettes were no longer interesting, I relocated my tripod 30 feet north of its original position. This generated enough parallax to hide the Moon behind the mountain again. The second moonrise started just after I got my camera aimed, so I was able to shoot another sequence of images. Unfortunately, it was even windier at that location. Most of the images were badly blurred. The third image is the best of them.

  Partial Solar Eclipse
By: Dan Heim
Optics: Takahashi FS-128 + 40 mm Coronado H-alpha filter + 26 mm Plossl eyepiece projection for EFL = 30
Imaging: Canon 20D, ISO 400, 1/13 s
Location: Heimhenge, AZ
Date: October 23, 2014

Comments: This image was captured at 2:45 pm MST, showing the maximum coverage of about 20% from this location. North is at top. Several nice prominences are visible along the solar limb from 7-10 o’clock. A large group of sunspots clearly displays both umbra and penumbra. And the long linear feature at 6 o’clock is not a hair on my lens … it’s a solar filament. If you look closely at the upper part of the Moon’s limb, you can see some topographic relief from mountains/craters along the limb.

  Lunar Eclipse
By: Dan Heim
Optics: 200 mm Zuiko telephoto on Canon 20D
Imaging: composite image: f/32, 1/100, ISO 100; f/8, 1/1000, ISO 800; f/32, 1/100, ISO 800; f/32, 1/100, ISO 800; f/32, 1/50, ISO 800
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: April 14/15, 2014 (MST times listed on image)

Comments: Of the dozens of lunar eclipses I’ve seen, this was the darkest and most red. At totality (see following image), nearby stars came into view.

  Lunar Eclipse 2
By:
Dan Heim
Optics:
200 mm Zuiko telephoto on Canon 20D
Imaging:
f/8, 1/10, ISO 3200
Location:
Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date:
April 14/15, 2014, 12:50 am (4 minutes after totality)
Comments:
This image was obtained just after maximum totality. I changed the exposure to enhance the Blood Moon color. To the right you can see magnitude +1.0 Spica (Alpha Virginis). Above the Moon is magnitude +5.4 76 Virginis. The unidentified pixel between Spica and the Moon is probably noise, since I couldn’t find it on my digital planetarium.
  Comet Pan-STARRS
By: Dan Heim
Optics: 200 mm Zuiko telephoto at f/4 on Canon 20D
Imaging: f/4, 1/100 sec, ISO 1600,
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: Mar 12, 2013

Comments: Not much of a comet, as you can see, but I did catch it south of the young Crescent Moon and got both in the same field of view. This photo was taken right at the “sweet spot” when the light of dusk was still decreasing, as was the elevation of the comet. Both Moon and comet are seen here at an elevation of around 8°.

Pan-STARRS was not visible to the unaided eye that night. Had to scan with 10×80 binocs to find it, even though I knew exactly where to look. Estimated magnitude was +7 to +8. Tail length visible (through binocs) was about 8′. A disappointing performance overall. If it does decide to brighten over the next few days, I’ll try a prime focus shot with my Takahashi.

  Moon and Venus
By: Dan Heim
Optics: Canon 20D, 18-55 zoom lens at 55 mm
Imaging: f/7, 1/80 sec, ISO 3200
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: Aug 9, 2013, 8 pm

Comments: Not the only Moon + Venus conjunction in our collection, but nice enough to add. Earthshine is just visible on the Moon. A bit grainy with the high ISO, but I like it.

  Moon and Jupiter
By:
Dan Heim
Optics:
Zuiko 200 mm telephoto on Canon 20D
Imaging:
f/4, 1/4000 sec, ISO 1600
Location:
Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date:
Jan 21, 2013, 9 pm MST

Comments: I couldn’t get the Jovian moons to show up without over-exposing our own Moon, so this was the best compromise. Captured at near-minimum separation for my location, Jupiter is seen here 0.6° from the lunar limb. My planetarium software predicted 9 pm MST for closest approach, but it now appears minimum separation happened closer to 6 pm. North is at top, and the Moon was moving toward the 7-8 o’clock point. Extrapolating from there, minimum separation might have been as little as 0.4°. From parts of South America, Jupiter was occulted. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a long enough right-angle extender to capture that view.

  Mushroom Cloud Over Palo Verde
By: Dan Heim
Imaging: Canon 20D, 18-55 mm lens, full auto
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: Dec 27, 2010

Comments: While enjoying our Arizona sunsets, I often notice this anomalous cloud that always seems to form in the same location, approximately SW from my point of view. Even when there’s no other clouds in the sky. I always suspected it might be a artifact from the cooling towers at the Palo Verde nuclear power plant. But this one caught my eye because of its distinct “mushroom” shape (at least at the start). The 3 images in this montage are separated by 30 minute intervals. You can see the cloud at first grow, then dissipate.

So I decided once and for all to settle this mystery and fired up Google Earth. You can see my results in the following image.

  Palo Verde on Google Earth
By: Dan Heim

Comments: This what I found on Google Earth. From my location in New River, the plant is located about 56 miles to the southwest. Mystery solved.

The cooling towers at Palo Verde are always venting a plume of warm air. During the cooler months, when the dew point is just right, the plume creates a distinct cloud separate from prevailing weather patterns. As the Sun sets and atmospheric conditions change, the cloud morphs accordingly.

   

 

  Lunar Eclipse and Saturn
By: Dan Heim
Optics: Zuiko 200mm telephoto on Canon 20D
Imaging: f/4, 1/10 sec, ISO 1600
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: Feb 20, 2008, 20:30 MST

Comments: The Moon rose, already in the umbra, and partly hidden by cloudy skies. At the time of maximum eclipse (20:26 MST) a fortuitous break in the clouds allowed us a clear view. The bright object at lower left is Saturn. We had about a 30 minute visibility window, after which it clouded over again and began to rain. The weather gods smiled on us this time.

     
  Red Lining
By: Dan Heim
Imaging: Canon 20D, 18-55 mm lens, ISO 3200
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: Mar 3, 2007

Comments: Unlike a “silver lining” (which is forward-scattered sunlight), this intense “red lining” is an oblique reflection of filtered sunlight from beyond the horizon.

     
  Crepuscular Rays
By: Dan Heim
Imaging: Canon, 18-55 mm lens, full auto
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: Apr 20, 2007

Comments: With the Sun perfectly placed behind a dark cloud, conditions were ideal for the formation of crepuscular rays.

   

 

  Crescent Moon and Venus
By: Dan Heim
Optics: Zuiko 200 mm on Canon 20D
Imaging: f/16, 1/250 sec, ISO 400
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: May 19, 2007

Comments: The Crescent Moon and Venus separated by a mere 0.8°.

     
  Lunar Eclipse
By: Dan Heim
Optics: Zuiko 200mm telephoto on Canon 20D
Imaging: f/10, 1/4 to 1 sec, ISO 3200
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: Aug 28, 2007, 0300 MST

Comments: This fine lunar eclipse occurred in clear skies during a momentary break in our usually cloudy monsoon season. This sequence of images shows two interesting aspects of this celestial phenomenon.

In the first image, you see the Earth’s umbral shadow cast on the Moon, with the peculiar curvature and haziness of the “terminator” typical of these events. It was this appearance of this “terminator” that suggested to early Greek astronomers it was indeed the shadow of the Earth, and thus was proof the Earth was round.

The second interesting feature is shown in the last image. The Moon always looks more 3D when eclipsed, this one even more so. It was a relatively bright eclipse, with the lower right edge most illuminated and in contrast with the dark maria at upper right. It looked so 3D that I could almost imagine reaching out and grabbing it. The brightness of a given lunar eclipse depends, of course, on the extent of cloud cover around the Earth. The more transparent the atmosphere, the brighter the refracted red light illuminating the Moon during totality.

  False Sun
By: Dan Heim
Imaging: Canon 20D, full auto
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: Feb 15, 2007

Comments: Randomly oriented ice crystals in clouds above the sunset point produced this brilliant “false Sun” effect.

  Double Rainbows
By: Dan Heim
Optics: Zuiko 28mm wide-angle lens on Canon 20Dat f10
Imaging: f/10, 1/10 to 1/4 sec, ISO 3200
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: Monsoon Season, 2006-2007, around sunset

Comments: Late afternoon monsoon rains and a low Sun combined to produce these spectacular double rainbows. Note the obvious increase in sky brightness (back-scattering) both inside the primary bow and outside the secondary. I got lucky in the second image and managed to catch a bolt of lightning striking the side of Gavilan Peak, though the image needed considerable digital tweaking to bring out both the bolt and double bow. The third image is a digital composite showing the full extent of the bow — nearly 180 degrees thanks to the low Sun. Unfortunately, a 28mm lens, plus the effective 1.6x magnification when focusing on a CCD, constrains my field of view to around 44 degrees. And it’s tough to get the sky brightness constant for all images in the composite.

  Double Rainbow
By: Dan Heim
Optics: Zenitar K2 Fisheye on Canon 20D
Imaging: f/4, 1/10 second, ISO 1600
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: July 9, 2008, around 18:00 MST

Comments: To capture the full 94 degrees of the primary rainbow (and another 20 degrees for the secondary) in a single image, I would need to use a 7mm ultra-wide-angle lens (essentially a fisheye). That lens, available from Canon, is prohibitively expensive. But I recently found the Zenitar online for far less. It’s made in Russia, is compatible with my Canon, and can shoot at f/2.8-22. It’s a rectangular format fisheye, with a 180° diagonal FOV. This image is the first taken with that new lens. Unfortunately, in my haste to capture this fleeting phenomenon, I left the aperture at f/4 which was too fast (hence the washed out colors). I’ll keep trying, as we get these doubles often during monsoons. Next time I’ll bracket around f/10 and use a lower ISO.

  Solar Prominence
By: Dan Heim
Optics: Takahashi FS-128, Coronado SM40 H-α filter, eyepiece projection @ 104X, Canon 20D
Imaging: f/15, 1/10 sec, ISO 400
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: Nov 8, 2006, 11:00 MST

Comments: This flare was imaged earlier in the day, before the Mercury transit began. I was just practicing my settings and caught this nice image. The focus could be better, but it’s tough to set that manually through an H-α filter, since the CCD is far more sensitive to red light than the human eye. And I was shooting under an opaque hood.

  Cloud Shadow
By: Dan Heim
Imaging: Sony Mavica MVC-FD81, full auto
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: Jul 3, 2001

Comments: A monsoon thunderhead over Lake Pleasant casts its shadow in the sky as the Sun sets behind it. This effect is closely related to how crepuscular rays are formed.

  Sun Pillar
By: Dan Heim
Imaging: Sony Mavica MVC-FD81, full auto
Location: Heimhenge, New River, AZ
Date: Nov 12, 1999

Comments: Ice crystals in the air produced this brilliant Sun pillar just after sunset.

  Annular Solar Eclipse
By: Dan Heim
Optics: Celestron SS80 spotting scope, eyepiece projection, Olympus OM-1
Imaging: 1/125 sec, Kodachrome ASA 64
Location: Dexter, NM, noonish
Date: May 10, 1994

Comments: This image was captured < 1 mile from the exact eclipse center-line. I decided to use the overcast as a filter and got lucky.

  Total Solar Eclipse
By: Dan Heim
Optics: Zuiko 100 mm telephoto on Olympus OM-1
Imaging: f/2.8, 1/8 sec, Kodachrome ASA 64
Location: San Jose del Cabo, Baja, Mexico
Date: Jul 11, 1991, noonish

Comments: Ideal geometry provided a nearly 7 minute totality for this event.

  Halley’s Comet
By: Dan and Sandi Heim
Optics: Zuiko 100mm telephoto on Olympus OM-1
Imaging: f/2.8, 1 hour hat trick, manual tracking, Kodachrome ASA 800
Location: Walnut Canyon, AZ
Date: May 3, 1986, 21:00-22:00 MST

Comments: The comet is seen here between Crater and Hydra, at a distance of 90 million miles from Earth. Note the star (magnitude +3.1 ν Hydrae) diffused by the comet’s tail. This image has been cropped to a 21°x13° frame. The comet’s tail can be seen extending to almost 10°.

  Atlas and Hercules
By: Dan Heim
Optics: Celestron Comet Catcher, 200X eyepiece projection, Olympus OM-1
Imaging: 1/2 sec, Kodachrome ASA 400
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Date: Jun 1, 1985, 9 pm MST

Comments: This view of the northeast limb shows the elusive twin craters Atlas and Hercules, caught during a favorable libration.