Friday, 4 February 2011

Front yard astronomy

There are no street lights where I live and the atmosphere is generally unpolluted. With no big cities nearby the sky is often incredibly dark and your eyes don't even have to be dark-adapted to see a glorious view of the night sky. Tonight wasn't the best, there is a little vog in the sky from Kilauea due to the southerly winds but most of that is west of here.

So out came the camera because although I tried this kind of photo before with my old point-and-shoot, with very disappointing results I might add, I wanted to see what this camera and lense could do. OK, so I whacked up the ISO to its maximum resulting in a lot of noise, but at least you can see the night sky from my front porch.

Orion is just below and right of centre, the belt, sword and the famous M42 nebula are easily visible. Just above the centre is Betelgeuse which seems to be making the news recently as it may well go supernova in the near future, well, anytime from tomorrow to the next few million years. At the bottom left is Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Top right is Aldebaran, trying to hide behind my Norfolk pine is Rigel and just to the left and above Orion is a hint of the Galactic plane.

Between Sirius and Orion is the Red Rectangle, an object I spend much of my limited research time on, but I'm afraid it's far too faint and small to be obvious in this photo!

Jeez, I think I've just exhausted everything I know about real astronomy!


boo said...

That photo makes me seethe with jealousy. It is bad enough that my skies are hideously light polluted, but this time of year it is a near-miracle to see stars at all. We seem to have endless cloudy nights. I caught a few bits of sky a few nights ago, but not enough to be able to orient myself to the stars

The snow is steadily falling as I look out the window, piling up on top of the 3 inch layer of ice that coats my lawn and driveway. At times like this Hawai'i seems more like a fairy tale than a real place, so thanks for the reminder that somewhere the world is vibrant and alive.

/end rant :)

(And yes, I am a big enough geek that it is the starry night photo that inspires my jealousy and not the lovely beach shots below!)

Anonymous said...


Michael Rector said...

Beautiful photo! I'm jealous of your dark skies. I live in a pretty light polluted area (about a 5 on a light pollution map).
I've been doing a lot of reading and researching on astronomy since I got my first telescope around Christmas time. Been writing a lot about astronomy and news that is interesting to me on my blog.
Never heard of the red rectangle before, I wonder if I'd be able to catch a glimpse of it with my telescope.
Thanks for sharing that beautiful picture of the dark night sky.

Tom said...

boo - sorry, didn't mean to make you jealous, but seeing the sky like this makes up for all the downsides of living in Puna, and there are many of those. What's worse is that this wasn't anywhere near the clearest sky I've seen, but had to try the camera out at some point!

I was back in the UK just after new year and looked at the sky from my mum's house. It was a clear sky but I couldn't work out which two or three stars/planets I was looking at - no reference at all. I saw lots of aeroplanes though...

(I grew up on the flight path to Heathrow!)


Tom said...

horsemom - thanks!

RC - have to admit I'm not aware of light pollution maps or the scale. Let me know where to look if there is such a thing. Our observatory works in the infrared and light pollution isn't much of a factor, so may have missed something.

The Red Rectangle is not too bright but you can see it in small telescopes, but it is distant so looks very small and unimpressive. It's a unique object though - a proto-planetary nebula with a carbon star in a close orbit. Basically a dying star that's shedding its layers and another that's pumping all sorts of atoms and molecules into the system. Makes for quite a unique nebula.

Best of luck with your telescope!


Michael Rector said...

Hey Tom, light pollution is quite a pain. Here is a link to a light pollution map of where I live, and the description of the colors below. White and Red being the brightest and gray and black being the darkest.
I'm not completely sure where to go to find light pollution in your area, but judging from your picture you are probably at worse, in a gray.

Well I' have a Astromaster 114EQ telescope (4.5" reflector) so not sure if I'll see much of the Red Triangle with it. Will have to give it a shot though.

Thanks for the response Tom, great blog too.

Anonymous said...

HI Tom, what exposure and how long was this photo. It looks to be pretty fast, what lens did you use.

My husband and I will be moving to the Hilo area and the stars are one of the big reasons.

Tom said...

RC - the central star, HD 44179, is about 9th magnitude at V so you should be able to see it quite easily. As for the nebulosity however...

Carlae - 30 second exposure, ISO 6400(!). I used a Sigma 18-200mm lense (the only one I have!) at its widest and the largest aperture available (f/3.5). This really isn't the right lense for this sort of thing but wanted to see what I could get. One day I'll get a fast lense for night time stuff, f/1.4 or something, but the Sigma is a good all-purpose lense for now.

Hilo's not great for night skies by the way but once you get away from the lights and clouds things improve. There's an overlook near Laupahoehoe where I saw the most tremendous sky plus ocean and want to go back there for a night shot one day, er, night!