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LOOK UP: Photographer of the stars

By on February 26, 2019 in Uncategorized with 0 Comments
The Western Veil is a supernova remnant in the constellation Cygnus. It is 1,470 light years from earth. Light from the original explosion probably reached earth 5,000 years ago.

When I was teaching photography, I used to say, “If you can’t find something to shoot, look down.” 

By Al Piecka

Al Piecka at his home observatory.

Now days with the new digital cameras, everyone has pictures of bears, birds, fall flowers, landscapes and the like so I changed my philosophy to: “If you can’t find something to shoot, look up.”

I since have gone to astro-imaging. I thought with my background in photography this would be an easy transition… could not have been more wrong. 

The learning curve was (and still is) straight up. 

The sky is in constant motion and most of what you want to image is not even visible to the eye when looking through a telescope. 

The Cave Nebula is a diffuse nebula in the Constellation Cepheus. It is 2,400 light years away.

The galaxies and nebulas are very dim, therefore multiple long exposures, compared to normal photography, must be stacked to bring out the image. 

Finding a target in the vast expanse of the sky makes finding a needle in the haystack like duck soup. 

Image processing can be even worse. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun… if you enjoy the challenge and sometime the frustration. 

Thank goodness there is plenty of help in the local astronomy group that meets every Friday at noon at Arby’s in East Wenatchee. Dues are reasonable… free. 

I have recently built a small observatory at my home. I typically use a Celestron 9.25 HDEdge scope equipped with a hyperstar that increases the field of view and reduces the time necessary to capture images. 

Rosette Nebula is a giant stellar nursery about 5,200 light years away and 130 light years across.

Typically exposures are 3 to 10 minutes as opposed to 10 to 30 minutes without the attachment. 

As many as 10 to 30 plus images are required to make the image visible. Six separate filters can be used to capture the various colors and detail, which means as many as 180 to 200 images can be taken and stacked into six master images prior to final processing. Whew… ain’t this fun. 

But don’t be discouraged… it could get worse. But, I think the results are worth it. It is amazing what is up there that we can’t normally see.

I also rent time on a scope in Australia where the skies are still dark(er) and where they have more clear nights. 

How do you rent a telescope in Australia you might ask? Surprisingly there are many such opportunities (services) available around the world as well as in the U.S., New Mexico for example. Do a computer search and you will find them. 

Unlike Deep Sky imaging, the use of fancy cameras, motorized mounts, tracking scopes and long exposures are not necessary for many planetary objects like the moon. This image was taken with a 12 inch Orion Dobsonian telescope and an iPhone 8 hand held at the eyepiece. 

I assume most may be visited but I know the one I use doesn’t want the exact site made available for security reasons. The images are taken there and the unedited files transmitted to me for processing. 

Light pollution is making it almost impossible to do quality imaging in Washington as well as the U.S. 

Most of our younger generations have never seen the Milky Way or even know what it is… by the way it’s still up there and hopefully we will someday be able to see it again.

Al Piecka is a long-time resident of East Wenatchee and has spent many years as a freelance photographer, teaching and leading photography workshops in the lower 48, Alaska and Peru. 

The Silver Dollar Galaxy is a spiral galaxy in the constellation Sculptor which is 11.42 million light years from earth. The light we see tonight left NGC253 11.42 million years ago.

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