Aurora surprise!

26 Mar

During the evening of March 23, 2023, I started seeing a lot of chatter on Twitter about a northern lights show over Europe. Once it got dark here in Ontario, I saw a post from someone reporting aurora from Muskoka, Ontario. Muskoka is at a similar latitude to my location outside Ottawa, so I hopped into action and went outside.

I drove to the end of my street to find a dark location, and spend about 30 minutes taking photos but the activity was very faint and clouds began to roll in. I headed home and was about to give up when I spotted a burst of activity out my back door just before 11pm. I was able to take the following photos with my iPhone 13 Pro from my backyard:

My photos also made the local 6 o’clock news!

It’s been almost 8 years since I’ve seen a show this good from Ottawa, so I was very happy to catch it!

Remembering Terry Dickinson

4 Feb

When I was starting out in backyard astronomy, I learned so much by watching, listening to, and reading the work of Canada’s own Terence Dickinson, who passed away this week. He was a frequent guest on Canadian Discovery Channel programs and CBC Radio’s Quirks & Quarks and launched the fantastic magazine “Sky News.” He also spoke at the Canadian Museum of Science & Technology in the 1990s and I was lucky to attend one of his talks in person when I was starting out in amateur astronomy and astrophotography.

I *highly* recommend his book “Nightwatch” to anyone who wants to start exploring the night sky. It’s just one of many great publications bearing his name.

Click the link below to read about Terry and listen to a great recording of him on Quirks & Quarks. He was invited to speak on the radio about February’s night sky but it was all a ruse to let him know that an asteroid had been named in his honour!

The world’s backyard astronomers and astrophotographers owe so much to Terry’s gift for sharing the night sky in an accessible way. He will truly be missed.

QUIRKS & QUARKS: With Terence Dickinson’s death we’ve lost one of Canada’s most illustrious sets of eyes on the skies.

Astrophotography Has Come a Long Way, Baby – Part II

27 Mar

In 2014, I compared a photo I’d taken of the Orion Nebula with my iPhone to the first-ever photograph of the nebula (taken by Henry Draper in 1880) and noted how similar they looked. I’ve continued to photograph the nebula through my telescope with a smartphone since then and noticed that my latest photo matches one taken by Draper near the end of his life, exactly 140 years earlier!

In ten seconds – with equipment we can carry in our pockets – we’re able to outdo what used to take more than two hours with the best photographic tools on the planet. And, of course, our smartphones can capture colour! See my full resolution iPhone image of the Orion Nebula on Flickr and learn more about the pioneering astrophotographer Henry Draper on Wikipedia.

You can also find Draper’s 1882 photo, which appears to have been damaged, here via the Cosmic Reflections blog.

Another Solar Eclipse!

17 Jun

On June 10, 2021, Ottawa Canada woke up to an annular solar eclipse. I wasn’t sure that I’d even be able to view it given that it would be so low on the horizon and the day was forecast to be party cloudy. Happily, the clouds were thin and actually made the eclipse even more interesting!

Here is my favourite photo from the morning, taken with my iPhone 11 Pro attached to a Celestron NexStar 8SE telescope fitted with a solar filter. It reminds me of an alien gas giant being eclipsed by another large planet…But maybe that’s just because I watch too much science fiction ūüôā

Annular eclipse through an 8″ telescope with an iPhone 11 Pro. Stack of 10 photos.
Here’s a video I took around the same time as the photo above.

Solar Eclipse with iPhone!

24 Aug

We had fantastic weather here in Ottawa on August 21, 2017, and I was able to photograph my first solar eclipse! We saw 71% of the sun covered here in Ottawa and I took a boatload of photos and video.

The View Through the Telescope

Here are some of my best shots. All images and video were taken through my Celestron NexStar 8SE telescope (filtered with an Eclipsmart solar filter) with my iPhone 7.


Approaching peak eclipse in Ottawa. Stack of 10 iPhone photos through 8″ telescope.


The classic PAC-MAN shot.¬†Stack of 10 iPhone photos through 8″ telescope.


Almost done!¬†Stack of 10 iPhone photos through 8″ telescope.

Raw Timelapse

I also put together a rough timelapse built from unedited iPhone images taken through my telescope. Note: I changed the orientation of the phone/eyepiece and the degree of zoom used during the eclipse, which is why the orientation and size of the sun changes throughout the timelapse. (5)


Here’s a short video of the view through my iPhone as the wind picked up a bit early in the eclipse:

Solar Eclipse through 8″ telescope with iPhone 7. from Andrew Symes on Vimeo.

And this is an iPhone video (sped up 4x) that shows the moon crossing in front of a sunspot at right.

Moon swallows a sunspot! from Andrew Symes on Vimeo.

Non-Telescopic Shots

I also took some non-telescopic photos using a homemade solar eclipse “projectinator,” eclipse glasses, and a colander!


Pinhole projection in a poster tube.


Solar eclipse with iPhone through eclipse glasses.


Crescent suns through a kitchen colander!

Now to chase totality in 2024!

How to Photograph a Solar Eclipse with your Phone

21 Jul

If you want to take a photo of a solar eclipse but don’t have a solar filter for your DSLR camera or a solar-filtered telescope, there is a simple option: take a photo with your smartphone through eclipse glasses!

Before the eclipse, find a pair of solar eclipse glasses (also called eclipse shades). These can be purchased at low cost online or from local telescope stores. Some local libraries or associations also give these glasses away for free in advance of an upcoming eclipse.

By holding the glasses over your phone’s camera, you’ll be able to dim the brightness of the sun and take photos as the moon crosses in front of it. Without eclipse glasses, the sun is too bright to photograph with a smartphone, but the glasses dim the brightness enough to get a decent photo.


The sun will appear small, but you should be able to make out the shape of the moon as it takes a bigger and bigger “bite” out of the sun. Once you have aimed the phone/glasses combo at the sun and see it on your screen, lock the focus and adjust the brightness down or up if necessary. You’ll be tempted to zoom in, but don’t do it. The digital zoom function on your phone will probably make the sun look too pixelated or fuzzy. You can always crop the photo later.

Here’s a photo I took of an un-eclipsed sun in this fashion with my iPhone 7:


If you’re lucky enough to live in a region that will experience a TOTAL solar eclipse, you can remove the solar glasses from the phone’s camera during the few minutes of totality (when the moon completely blocks the sun) and take a photo using the regular smartphone camera. During these short minutes, the sun’s light will be completely blocked by the moon and the scene will be dim enough to photograph without a filter.

Remember, the only safe time to look at the sun without a solar filter is when the disk of the sun is¬†completely¬†covered by the moon. This only lasts a few short minutes, and only happens along the “path of the total solar eclipse” as shown in this map of the August 2017 event. At all other times, and in all other locations, you can only look at the sun with proper eye protection.


Other Eclipse Photography

If you want to try DSLR photography or photography through a properly-filtered telescope, B&H Photo has an excellent eclipse photography guide on their site.

And, again, NEVER look at the sun without eclipse glasses, NEVER look through a camera viewfinder at the sun, and NEVER aim a telescope at the sun unless it has a certified solar filter attached to the front of it and you are an experienced telescope user.

Jupiter Double Shadow Transit with iPhone

5 Jun

Here is the view through my Celestron NexStar 8SE telescope from Saturday, June 3, 2017. Over the course of about two hours I captured the shadows of the moons Ganymede (top) and Io (bottom) as they crossed Jupiter’s disk. These images were taken with my iPhone 6 using this method.


You can also see the moons themselves to the right of the planet. Ganymede is visible at top right, Io appears at the edge of the disk about halfway through the animation, and Callisto is faintly visible at bottom right. Europa couldn’t make it to the party and I attempted no photography there…



The Solar System with iPhone

13 Mar

I’ve been photographing the night sky through my telescope with my iPhone since 2011, but two objects have eluded me: Uranus and Neptune.¬†Finally, in early 2017, I was able to capture them both. As a result, I’ve been able to assemble my first complete iPhone astrophotography solar system collage!


All planets in the above image were taken with an iPhone 6 or iPhone 4S through my Celestron NexStar 8SE telescope. The image of the sun is a composite image made from two photos taken with my iPhone 4S through my Coronado PST solar (H-alpha) telescope.

All images were photographed and edited using the techniques described in my Smartphone Astrophotography blog post, and many of the original individual images can be found on my Flickr account.

Photo Details:

Sun & Prominence, May 19, 2012
Composite image taken with iPhone 4S through Coronado PST H-alpha solar telescope.

Mercury, May 24, 2014
My first telescopic photo of tiny Mercury. Stack of 26 frames taken with iPhone 4S attached to NexStar 8SE telescope.

Venus, July 2, 2015
Stack of 51 frames taken with iPhone 6 through 8″ telescope. Processed in Registax, Nebulosity, Gimp & Flickr.

Mars, June 24, 2016
Stack of 1200 frames with iPhone through NexStar 8 SE telescope. Stacked & edited in PIPP, Autostakkert, Registax, Nebulosity & Gimp.

Jupiter & Double Moon Shadow Transit, March 22, 2016
Includes Great Red Spot and shadows of moons Io & Europa. Stack of 700+ frames taken with iPhone 6 through 8″ telescope.

Uranus, Feb 26, 2017
Stack of 150 iPhone 6 video frames taken with the NightCapPro app through 8″ telescope.

Neptune, Jan 2, 2017
Stack of 5 single images taken with iPhone 6 using the NightCapPro app through 8″ telescope.

Let me know what you think in the comments and feel free to reach out to me via Twitter @FailedProtostar!


My first photo of Neptune!

5 Jan

On Monday night, I captured my first-ever photo of Neptune using my iPhone and 8″ telescope. This is a single, unedited 6 second exposure using the NightCap Pro app for iPhone. ¬†It may not look like much, but Neptune was 4.5 BILLION kilometres away when I took this!


Now, the only planet I haven’t photographed is Uranus, so I’ll need to get on that and complete a full solar system collage in 2017.

Six Years of Saturn

8 Nov

Here’s a snapshot of how Saturn’s tilt has changed (from Earth’s perspective) through its long (29-year) orbit around the sun over the past few years as seen through my telescope.


Photo details: 
April 30, 2011: Single image, handheld digital camera through 5″ telescope.
June 23, 2012: Saturn, June 23, 2012. Stack of 70 frames in Registax from iPhone 4S video taken through NexStar 8SE telescope.
May 3, 2013: Stack of 10 frames from iPhone 4s video through NexStar 8SE telescope.
June 1, 2014: Stack of 200 frames from iPhone 4s video through NexStar 8SE telescope.
May 28, 2015: Stack of 300+ frames from iPhone 6 video through NexStar 8SE telescope.
June 6, 2016: Stack of ~1000 frames taken with iPhone 6 through Celestron NexStar 8SE telescope.