November: Looking East. This is a view of the sky from our back yard. That little smudge just below and left of center is the Pleiades star cluster.
After months of searching and work (a story unto itself) we located and purchased an older ranch-style house on a large lot in Medina, Ohio. We had been living in the house for one week and I decided it was high time I take a look at the night sky! The weather was clear and cold Friday night — about 40 degrees when I ventured outdoors — so I had a look around.
The house is situated one mile from the old town square of this small city on a street lit by two orange, low-pressure sodium lights. A big-box shopping district is located about two miles north of the house with a neighboring city beyond. There’s plenty of light pollution and, to the unaided eye, the clear night sky is gray. I could make out the brightest stars of some constellations, however, and easily spotted the Pleiades star cluster rising in the east. I believe I also made out a wisp of Milky Way, as well! I set up my camera on its tripod and did some test shots to assess the photographic sky.
Stars Struggle to be Seen. Regional light pollution drowns out most of the night sky’s glory.
As you can see by the photos here, the camera easily detects stars we can’t visually pull out of the urban nighttime glow. As expected, more stars can be seen overhead — through less atmosphere and less illumination — than near the horizons. While this isn’t a very good spot for astronomy, it’s not impossible. And while the nighttime conditions may not support stargazing, they do offer some artistic potential.
Firetree. Light-polluted night sky, a neighbor’s bonfire, and a small pond combine to make a pretty scene with a touch of mystery. You work with what you’ve got! Photo by James Guilford.
In any event, you work with what you’ve got!
Orion and Pleiades in the Trees while Others Float Above
Clear skies have been rare this winter so when a cloudless sky presented itself this night, I had try a little sky shooting. The air was still and that was a very good thing … it was +19F degrees out there. I wanted to try out the new fisheye lens a bit more, even under our heavily light-polluted suburban skies. To my eye, I could make out the brighter stars and planet Jupiter; the celestial objects floated on a field of gray, due to the aforementioned light pollution. To my surprise and delight an eight-second camera exposure revealed numerous stars though, unsurprisingly, missing the clouds of the Milky Way. The photo above is my favorite among the few shot tonight. I’m excited to take that camera and lens to the country and darker skies and see what may be seen from there!
Star Map – SkySafari Simulation
April 11 presented a rare clear night just in time to see Venus draw very close to the Pleiades star cluster; nights lately have been cloudy and wet! Timing also put the Hyades cluster within the same camera field-of-view as Venus nightly progresses higher in the sky, relative to the stars. As the grouping sank into the trees to my west, I made several single-exposure images of the sight. This one using Canon EOS 7D Mark II: ISO 2000, f/5.6, 1.6 sec., 70mm, at 9:58 EDT.
Nope, not the 'Little Dipper' these are the stars of the Pleiades cluster
A few nights ago I did a bit of fixed-tripod astrophotography to attempt to capture the conjunction of Venus and the Pleiades. I had to work pretty hard to salvage the conjunction photo but wasn’t all that pleased with the results. Since I had a decent clock-drive sitting mostly unused, I decided to mate my camera to that and see what I could get. Not a pioneering venture, to be sure, but I’ve actually never piggybacked a camera to a telescope before! A quick trip to the local Ace Hardware store produced the stainless steel quarter-inch screw and a pair of rubber automotive washers I’d need to mate the telephoto lens tripod mount to the telescope’s dove-tail mounting bar. Shortly after dark on this clear but full Moon-lit night, I toted the Orion SkyView Pro tripod and mount out to the sidewalk. After a rough alignment with Polaris, I attached the camera rig to the mount and did 10 exposures: about five each of Orion’s sword and the Pleiades star cluster — both in the twilight western sky. I’ll definitely need to use the DSLR’s advanced feature that allows its view finder mirror to flip up before beginning exposure — several shots were ruined by vibration. Focus was a bit more of an issue than I expected. Tracking? Well, I expected it to not be perfect but it appeared good enough for exposures of up to 15 seconds. Given all that, I’ll share my results here. I know they’re not very good but I also know that, using this same camera gear with better mount and alignment, I’ll be getting some very nice images of the stars in the not-too-distant future!
Stars and nebula of constellation Orion's Sword