Why I love astronomy


Been spending a lot of time on here!
Mar 31, 2012
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Dearborn, MI
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This is a work-in-progress but I didn't want to wait too long to post anything. I'm sure I'll end up reprocessing this image one or two more times before I'm really happy with the result.

The week before last I was in Maui, having been invited out by one of my astronomy friends who has a residence there. Being a local, he also belongs to several astronomy clubs (he belongs to more clubs than anyone I know) and he took my spouse and I up to "Science City" at the top of the Haleakala volcano. This is an area which isn't open to the public (it's where you'd find all the professional and government observatories) but he has access to the area.

The sky from that location is absolutely incredible! Normally when I shoot images there's a lot of residual background light pollution in the images that has to be cleaned up. From this location the images that come out of the camera (unprocessed) actually look like I've spent time cleaning them up because the background is so devoid of light pollution.

I took this using my Canon 60Da astrophotography camera and using an EF 135mm f/2L lens. But the camera is mounted to my new Losmandy StarLapse tracking head. The head allows for fairly precise polar alignment so that it will accurately allow for very long exposure images without getting smeared images due to the rotation of the Earth (movement of the stars in the sky).

To create this, I had to shoot:

10x 2-minute exposures (2 had to be rejected due to movement)
10x 1-minute exposures
10x 15-second exposures
10x 3-second exposures

(I should have taken 10x 1/2 second exposures now that I see the results)

The images were all combined and processed using PixInsight (astrophotography image processing software.)

The region of sky in this image is the lower-half of Orion. You'll see the 3 "belt" stars on the left side of the frame (the image is sideways). The area where you see the very large bright Orion nebula is what you can see with the unaided eye in the region called the "sword" or "scabbard" hanging from Orion's belt. Most people think they see a star that doesn't resolve very clearly -- it's actually a nebula that you can see with the unaided eye. It's impressive even in binoculars or a small low power telescope.

Lower Region of Orion
by Tim Campbell, on Flickr

In this image you'll see (from right to left) (1) the Orion Nebula, (2) the Running Man Nebula, (3) the Horsehead Nebula, (4) the Flame Nebula, and (5) a reflection nebula designed Messier 78.

Look closely at the background and you'll notice some muddy textures where the sky background isn't that black. Inspect this carefully and you'll see this is actually made up of massive clouds of dust in space in that area of the sky.
Gorgeous! Orion is such a great constellation for this, and your photograph captures the various elements very, very well. Congratulations on a well-executed astro-image.
Wow, look at all those stars. There must be hundreds of them! :)
Really a fascinating image and thanks for the information as well.
That is gorgeous.... Im fascinated at this type of photography and doubt ill ever be able to get an image half as nice as this. Well done
Not hundreds of stars, 10's of thousands of stars if you zoom in and look closely.

I'm jealous.
Imaging, or just observing, at a 10,000 foot site with 1/3 of the atmosphere below would be sweet.
The Haleakala observatory location is noted for it's clarity, dryness, and still air, all of which promote very transparent sky that delivers excellent seeing.

Great annotations! Thanks Keith!

One of my astro-imaging group members in the club noted that the extreme lower left corner shows a red tint which is just a tiny bit of something called Barnard's Loop - a large "C" shaped region of glowing red hydrogen gas that surrounds the left side of Orion. It would have required a shorter focal length (wider image) to capture that... but here's a Wikipedia link to anyone who is interested in seeing what it is: Barnard's Loop - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

I would have stayed out all night if I could have gotten away with it. I was the only one there doing imaging. The other people were interested in visual astronomy and being polite to wait for me, so I didn't want to be rude and keep them too long. As such, I mostly only really had time to shoot enough images to build the image you see above.

I'll reprocess it when I get time to get more detail out of the Orion nebula (M42). The 3 second exposure isn't so over-exposed as you see in the image above. I probably need to learn how to tweak the settings in PixInsight (the astrophotography image processing software that I use) to improve the HDR result.
Orion has to be the most photographed part of our night sky, with the central part of the Milky Way second.
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I'm really into this sort of science. It's a bit different than the others. You literally get caught up in it and find yourself involved with humor and a good time. Tends to be misleading because of the fact that people all over the world may or may not have already seen the same sky. If you are interested in why I use filter effects and such when looking at pictures, maybe this picture may help you know why.

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