Astrophotography: Saturn Over Five Years

20 May

On May 22, Saturn will be at its biggest and brightest for 2015. I’ve been photographing the ringed planet through my telescope since 2011, and its appearance has changed substantially since then!

You can see that the quality of the images has improved over the years as my equipment and technique has evolved. You can also see how the rings are more “open” now than they were in 2011.

Saturn GIF

Animated GIF of my Saturn photos, each frame taken one year apart. Saturn with a handheld video camera (2011), a DSLR (2012), and an iPhone (2013, 2014, 2015) through a 5″ telescope (2011) and an 8″ telescope (2012-2015.)

The Tilt of Saturn

Like Earth, Saturn’s axis is tipped. This allows us to catch a different view of the planet’s ring system as Saturn moves around the Sun. In 2009, the rings appeared extremely thin (and seemed to disappear altogether in small telescopes) because we were looking at them “edge-on” from Earth. In 2017, the rings will be very “open” to us.

Saturn-Rings-Tilt-Opposition

Saturn’s axis is “tipped” 27 degrees relative to its orbit. This gives us ever-changing views of Saturn’s rings (from “edge-on” to “above” or “below”) as it moves around the Sun. Photo Credit: Tom Ruen

If you want to have a look at Saturn for yourself in May, it’s visible to the naked eye. Look for a moderately bright, non-twinkling star in the Southeast after sunset. You can also read an in-depth guide to Saturn’s 2015 appearance by David Dickinson over at Universe Today.

If you want to see more of my Saturn (and other astronomy) photos, please visit my Flickr page!

 

 

Jupiter Shadow Transit Animation with iPhone

23 Apr

This week I assembled my first-ever animation of a planet photographed with my iPhone. On April 14, 2015, I took images of Jupiter over the span of 2.5 hours with an iPhone 6 attached to my 8″ Celestron NexStar 8SE telescope. I then chose the best four images and assembled them into the following GIF:

Jupiter Shadow Transit AnimationWhat you’re seeing is the shadow of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede move across Jupiter, while Jupiter’s rotation carries the Great Red Spot along. Ganymede itself is visible at left in the first three frames before it moves out of view.

I was able to use my iPhone for almost everything required to create this animation except the stacking and editing of the individual images. To obtain and edit the images with my iPhone, I used the methodology outlined in my smartphone astrophotography post. To create the GIF, I used the 5SecondsApp.

I would love the ability to stack and edit video directly via the iPhone, so if anyone knows of an app to do this (or wants to create one) please let me know in the comments!

Lastly, if you want to enjoy this with some relevant music, see my Instagram version.

My iPhone Astrophoto Process Featured in ShinyShiny

2 Apr

I wrote a guest post for ShinyShiny that can serve as a very quick “how-to” for photographing the night sky with an iPhone (or any smartphone, really.) I was really happy with the way they used my imagery and hope this inspires some new people to try their hand at smartphone astrophotography!

ShinyShinyIcon

Read my iPhone astrophotography article >>

Jupiter with iPhone, February 27, 2015

2 Mar

I captured my best iPhone image of Jupiter to date thanks to excellent seeing and a new 9mm eyepiece. The Great Red Spot is clearly visible as is the moon Io at far left.

Jupiter iPhone

Jupiter and Io. Stack of 234 video frames taken with iPhone 4S through NexStar 8SE telescope.

I also took some video with my iPhone 6. The default iPhone 6 camera does not seem to capture the colour of small objects properly (I’ve yet been able to match the planetary quality I obtain with my 4S) but I was able to capture a decent video of Jupiter and 3 moons a bit later that night using the FilMicPro app:

Moon with iPhone 6

1 Dec

My first telescopic photo with my new iPhone 6 was a success! Here’s the Moon on November 28th through my 8″ telescope, taken and edited solely with the iPhone. It’s had more than 17,000 views on Flickr so far!

MoonNov282014

Help Send a Rover to Mars!

14 Nov Northern_Light_Lander_Mars1

Crowdfunding its Way To Mars:
The Northern Light Mission

This mission needs YOUR help! A Canadian group is looking to launch a compact lander and micro rover to Mars in 2018 and is relying heavily on crowdfunding to do so.

Here are some of the details listed on the Northern Light IndieGogo page:

“Led by Dr. Ben Quine, a professor of space engineering at York University, and Canadian space company Thoth Technology, the team has been developing the Northern Light mission to explore Mars.”

“In space, small is beautiful, and Northern Light is small. The complete entry, descent and landing system, lander, micro-rover and science payload have a combined mass of just 75 kg.”

Northern Light Lander and Robotic Arm

Northern Light Lander and Robotic Arm

The mission would include a mini rover to explore the surface:

Beaver Rover Prototype

Beaver Rover Prototype

“With a mass of approximately 6 kg, the Beaver rover will be used for geological surface exploration. Beaver will operate under its own power and will have a range of 1 km. The rover will be equipped with a visible camera for maneuvering and surface exploration, as well as an Argus spectrometer for mineral classification. This is the little rover that could.”

The robots would hitch a ride on a spacecraft already heading to Mars – potentially the Russian-European Space Agency ExoMars rover mission or a future Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) mission – and would be small but oh so cool!

The group is looking to raise $1.3 million by January 3, 2015 and has set up an IndieGogo page to do so: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/northern-light-mission-to-mars In addition to receiving swag, those who donate also get the opportunity to vote for the lander’s potential landing site.

Check out the IndieGogo page for more details and help this project out if you can!

 

 

Mars From Earth vs From Orbit

30 Sep

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) successfully entered Martian orbit on September 24, 2014 and has sent back some spectacular photos. The most recent (and most beautiful, IMHO) is a global, colour image of Mars that shows Syrtis Major and the Hellas basin at far right.

After seeing the image, I realized that I’d taken a photo of almost exactly that region through my telescope in April. I’ve compared the two below. Clearly, it pays to be in orbit!

India Mars Orbiter

Mars through my telescope (LEFT) vs from India’s Mars orbiter (RIGHT). Orbiter image credit: ISRO.

Learn more about my image on my Flickr page, and about the orbital Mars image on Emily Lakdawalla’s Planetary Society Blog.

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