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!


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: 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.

The Five Ancient Planets…with an iPhone!

7 Jul

Since 2012, I’ve been using an iPhone 4S to photograph the planets and the Sun via techniques described in my iPhone astrophotography blog post. By attaching my phone to my 8″ Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope (for planetary photography) and my 40mm solar telescope (for solar photography) I’ve been able to capture some surprisingly detailed photos of our celestial neighbours.

It was only this year, however, that I was able to capture Mercury (the most elusive of the naked eye planets) through the telescope. With Mercury in hand, I was able to complete my first collage of the Sun and the five planets known to the ancients: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

iPhone Astrophotography

Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn taken with iPhone 4S through Celestron NexStar 8SE and Coronado PST telescopes.

Moving Forward

Now that I’ve completed this collage, I plan to attempt to capture Uranus and Neptune with my iPhone this summer/fall to create a complete montage of the solar system. Those will be very dim targets and I’m not sure how well I can capture them via the iPhone camera, but I figure it’s worth a try!


All photos were taken with my iPhone 4S through my Celestron NexStar 8SE telescope unless otherwise noted.

Sun: June 29, 2012 through Coronado PST
Mercury: May 24, 2014
Venus: May 11, 2012
Mars: April 11, 2014
Jupiter: March 16, 2014
Saturn: June 1, 2014

The images used in this collage and others can be found on my Flickr page.

Saturn: Four Years of Photos

8 May

On May 10,  Saturn was biggest and brightest for 2014. I’ve been photographing the ringed planet through my telescope since 2011, and its appearance has changed substantially since then!

Saturn with a handheld video camera (2011), a DSLR (2012), and an iPhone (2013, 2014) through a 5" telescope (2011) and an 8" telescope (2012-2014.)

Saturn with a handheld video camera (2011), a DSLR (2012), and an iPhone (2013, 2014) through a 5″ telescope (2011) and an 8″ telescope (2012-2014.)

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.

Animated GIF of my Saturn photos, each frame taken one year apart.

Animated GIF of my Saturn photos, each frame taken one year apart.

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’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 2014 appearance by David Dickinson over at Universe Today.

Photo Credit: Roen Kelly, Astronomy Magazine.

Photo Credit: Roen Kelly, Astronomy Magazine.

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



Asteroids Ceres and Vesta over Ottawa (GIF)

25 Apr

Asteroids Ceres & Vesta (GIF) over Ottawa

Taken with a Nikon D7000 camera mounted on a tripod over two consecutive nights, this GIF shows the movement of the asteroid Vesta (525 km across) and dwarf planet Ceres (950 km across) over a 24 hour period.

A Dragon Chases a Space Station

23 Apr

The International Space Station (L) chased by the SpaceX Dragon supply ship (R) over Ottawa, Canada, April 19, 2014.

On Saturday, April 19th, I was able to take three photos of the International Space Station (ISS) and the SpaceX Dragon supply spacecraft (which had been launched a day earlier) as they passed over my backyard.

I’ve created a looping GIF of the three photos, above.  These are six-second exposures taken about 10 seconds apart.

You can see how the Dragon spacecraft (R, lower) is quite dim to begin with, brightens, and then begins to fade over the course of the three photos. The brightness of the ISS (L, higher) remains almost constant throughout.

Good Timing

I was quite lucky because the Dragon spacecraft “flared” nicely just as I was taking these photos – becoming as bright as the ISS for a few short seconds. It must have caught the sunlight at just the right angle because it was much dimmer for the remainder of the pass and quickly disappeared from view while the ISS was still visible.

The next morning, the Dragon spacecraft docked successfully with the station it had been chasing just the night before. Amazing!


SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft as seen from the International Space Station, April 20, 2014. Photo credit: NASA


SpaceX Dragon spacecraft successfully grappled by Canadarm2. April 20, 2014. Photo Credit: Oleg Artemyev/Roscosmos

Update: Here’s a version with background music by Strauss on Instagram:



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