Tag Archives: iphone astronomy

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.

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!


Astrophotography Has Come a Long Way, Baby

3 Mar

Today I stumbled upon the first photograph of the Orion Nebula, taken by Henry Draper in 1880. I realized that it looked a lot like an image I was able to get through my telescope in December, 2013 using my iPhone!

I’ve compared the two photos below.


LEFT: The first telescopic photo of the Orion Nebula by Henry Draper in 1880.
RIGHT: My telescopic image using an iPhone.

In about a second – with equipment we can carry in our pockets – we’re now able to outdo what used to take almost an hour. Now that’s progress!

Learn more about Henry Draper on Wikipedia and see my full resolution iPhone image of the Orion Nebula on Flickr.

UPDATE 03/06/14

This photo is now the subject of an article on the website io9 and a post on the I F*cking Love Science Facebook page! A big thrill for me!

Smartphone Astrophotography: How I photograph the Moon & planets with my phone

4 Mar

iphone Moon

Moon photographed with an iPhone 4s through an 8” telescope.

I’m often asked how I am able to take high-quality images of the solar system using my iPhone. In short, the quality of today’s smartphone cameras makes it possible to take very respectable images of the Moon and planets through a telescope with your phone – but it takes some work.

While the end results may not match those taken with dedicated astronomical CMOS or CCD cameras, smartphone astrophotography can be a good starting point for budding astrophotographers. It can also be a useful alternative for experienced astronomers who wish to capture an image quickly with little equipment.

What You Need

1)      A Smartphone Adapter

Orion iPhone Adapter

A smartphone adapter will hold your phone in place above the eyepiece.

The simplest way to take a photo at the telescope is to simply hold your phone’s camera up to the eyepiece, but this approach rarely produces good results. Not only is it very difficult to centre the object properly, it can be tricky to ensure that the object is well exposed.

A simple adapter will improve your smartphone astrophotography immensely. An adapter will help you centre an object in the phone’s viewscreen, steady the camera, and ensure proper focus and exposure. A handful of companies are now producing adapters, including Orion whose adapter for iPhone 4s (no longer available) is pictured here. Orion also produces a Universal Smartphone Adapter (mobile-friendly link here) that is said to fit most phone brands and which is what I now use.

Here’s a video of the Orion Steadypix in action to give you a sense of how an adapter is used: http://youtu.be/ej9uj5fsbDo?t=5m

2)      A Way to Dim the Object

Smartphone cameras have excellent resolution and many now have the manual exposure control settings needed to evenly expose the entire lunar disc or to capture subtle planetary features. On some phones, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, Mars, and the Moon will be too bright on the camera screen by default. Luckily, the newest iPhones have good exposure controls that will normally do the trick to dim the image and bring out the right amount of detail.


Use your phone’s exposure controls to dim the object. Click this photo to see a quick and helpful video from Apple: “How to Shoot the Moon on iPhone 7

If you find that your smartphone doesn’t have powerful enough exposure control on its own, you may want to try using eyepiece filters (mobile-friendly link here) such as an a variable polarizing Moon filter (mobile-friendly link here) and/or a coloured filter to reduce the object’s brightness in the eyepiece.


Jupiter and moon with iPhone 6, default brightness.



Jupiter with iPhone 6, with brightness dimmed. Now you can see the moon’s shadow on the planet!

3)      Stacking & Editing Software

While it’s possible to take high-quality snapshots of the Moon with a smartphone, it’s difficult to take an individual planetary image that matches the view through the eyepiece. To tease the most detail out of a planet, it’s best to record a short video clip of the object using the camera’s video function or an app (I use FilMic Pro with my iPhone). You can then use freely available image stacking software to select and combine (stack) the best individual frames from the video.

The photos above show the difference between single images (L) vs. stacked images (R) that combined hundreds of the best individual video frames I took of Mars and Saturn.

The Stargazers Lounge tutorial on Stacking Planetary Images offers an excellent introduction to image stacking and editing.  AutoStakkertRegistax and AviStack are popular, free stacking software tools, and Apple users can also import iPhone video directly into a shareware program called Keith’s Image Stacker to accomplish similar results.

4)      Practice

Tycho Clavius Moon iPhone

Lunar closeup captured with an iPhone 4s through an 8” telescope.

As with most astronomical pursuits, your skills will improve with practice. Don’t be disappointed if your first images don’t match those you see online. Experiment with different eyepieces, filters, and software and understand that the image quality is only partially in your hands. Your success will also depend on the degree of atmospheric turbulence or “seeing” at the time you’re taking your images. The same techniques might produce dramatically better (or worse!) results from one night to the next.

Once you’ve obtained some images you’re happy with, be sure to Tweet them to me www.twitter.com/failedprotostar  so that I can see your hard work! 


It’s also possible to take photos of the brightest deep sky objects with a smartphone. Using the NightCap app, which mimics the long exposures of DSLR cameras, I was able to obtain a high-quality image of the Orion Nebula that was recently featured on the website io9!

Orion Nebula iPhone Andrew Symes

Single frame of the Orion Nebula taken with the NightCap app and brightened using the Camera+ app.

No stacking was required to record the colour and detail found in this nebula. I simply brightened the original image with the Camera+ app.

Lastly, I’ve created a Flickr gallery that contains my most recent iPhone astrophotos.


In 2016 I took some of my best iPhone photos of Saturn and Mars using the techniques described above:




Here is a new image I created of the Orion Nebula using the NightCap app in February, 2015. It’s a stack of 30 iPhone 6 images taken through my 8″ telescope.

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