Heads Up, Skywatchers! Milky Way Galaxy

Photography, Science Tech

Summer has it’s share of astronomical beauties, and one of the most notable summer sights is the Milky Way Galaxy. As most people know, we reside in the Milky Way. The Milky Way is a Barred Spiral Galaxy; it has spiral “arms”. As we look up and see the Milky Way, we are seeing one of the arms of it. It has been visible for a while now, but it is rising earlier and earlier, making it more convenient to observe. Right now, it is visible after 10 P.M. Central time. It looks like a fuzzy band spanning across the sky. The Milky Way is home to many DSO objects; a good pair of binoculars will show wondrous view.

The Milky Way also provides some great photography opportunities. If you own a dSLR and a reasonably good tripod, you can take photographs of the Milky Way. Use your shortest focal length lens, as star trailing is more apparent with higher FL; higher magnification exaggerates the earth’s movement. Fiddle with your camera’s ISO to find a good balance between sensitivity and noise. My Nikon D3100 works great at ISO 3200; any other dSLR with similar APS-C sized sensor should be similar. Here’s a tip: turn of your camera’s noise reduction function (if you don’t know how to do this, consult your manual), it saves precious time. What the noise reduction function actually does is take another identically-exposed image after you have taken your shot, except with the shutter closed. So if you take a 30 second exposure, than it will take another 30 second exposure with the shutter closed. Then it subtracts it from your shot; you can subtract you own “dark frames” later in post processing.

On a tripod, you are usually limited to under 30 second of exposure. After that, you’ll need some sort of tracking to prevent trailing. What I like to do is “piggyback” my camera on top of my scope (which is on an uncomputerized, unmotorized german equatorial mount) and track the sky by hand. In the image below, (camera in bulb setting and using remote shutter release cable) the exposure is 288 seconds, or almost 5 minutes (4.8 minutes) of exposure with no trailing (288 seconds is my record, by the way)!

Milky Way

Of course, my tracking isn’t perfect, so there is an alternative: stack images. If you piggyback your camera on a scope, you can take multiple 30 second exposures and stack them in a post-processing program. If you’re handy with Photoshop, it can be done there. But for the image below, I used StarStaX, which is actually a program for star trails, but it worked on the image below, a stack of  111 and 229 second exposures, a total of 5.6 minutes of exposure.

Milky Way

Enjoy the Milky Way!

International Space Station: Photos


Tonight I was able to capture some photos of the International Space Station, or ISS. I photographed it much like I photograph stars, with a camera on a tripod. Luckily (or unluckily, since it drowned out dim stars) the moon was up, so it gave me something easy to focus on; I put the lens on manual focus, put it on the Live View function on my camera, and zoomed in to get an exact focus. Using the shortest focal length on my 18-55mm lens, I was easily able to use 15 second exposures with zero star trailing. The ISS looks like a bright star, except it moves. A plane will blink, but the ISS (or any other satellite or space junk, for that matter) will be a constant, steady, moving light. These photographs are kind of cool, since the International Space Station came pretty close to both the Moon and Saturn. You can go over to my Flickr page, and there should be notes on where Saturn is, etc.

ISS Rising

↑ The ISS rises, towards the bottom of the frame. the sequential dots at the middle right is an airplane.

ISS, Moon

ISS, Saturn

↑ ISS passes above Saturn. I don’t know if you can tell, but it gets dimmer towards the left edge of the trial; it is going into the earth’s shadow, if you were to watch this in person, the ISS would get dimmer and dimmer, and “go out” all together, until it comes out the other side.

Another Go at Water Droplet Photography


Well, after my first try, I decided to try again. This time, I was able to create crowns. Another step forward! Maybe someday I will make it to the pros :).

Water Crown

I found it was easier to make crowns with a dish with shallow water in it ↓

Water Crown

Water Crown

Water Crown

My setup. For those who are wondering, the big tripod is newly mine; it is a Bogen #3068, it was very generously given to me from a very kind pastor!


Another comparison picture of my smaller tripod to the #3068


My Flickr Photostream, Water drop Gallery

A Review of the Orion AstroView 6EQ

Science Tech

Orion AstroView 6

The Orion AstroView 6EQ is a great amateur telescope, especially for a beginner amateur astronomer who is moving up from a smaller, beginner telescope. The 6-inch (150mm) aperture is large enough to show a host of deep sky objects, especially the Messier list. It comes on a German equatorial mount, which is great for someone who wants to learn how to use a GEM (German Equatorial Mount).

The optical quality is good, and the collimation cap can be used to collimate the mirrors to maximize quality. It is an F/5 scope, and it has a focal length of 750mm. The AstroView 6 is great for low power views (with the included two eyepieces, I can get 30x and 75x), but a shorter focal length ocular is needed for higher power viewing, or a barlow lens is needed. It is excellent for visual use, but for astrophotography with a DSLR it suffers from an all-to-common Newtonian problem: it doesn’t have enough down focus to come into focus properly. This means a barlow is a must for a focused astrophoto.

The GEM is also of excellent quality. It has worm gears and slow motion control cables. It is rated online for 12 pounds capacity, but the counter weights still aren’t heavy enough when doing astrophotography with my setup; the OTA at 9.1 pounds (weight from the Orion website), and my DSLR, adapter, and barlow at about 2 pounds; only 11 pounds. It is steady though, with not much vibration. The basic rack-and-pinion focuser seems to hold the load quite well.

Imaging Setup

Also, this mount is not computerized or motorized. There is an available clock drive, but the mount has no autoguiding capabilities, making it unsuitable for long exposure photography  of DSOs (Deep Sky Objects) through the scope. However, it is capable of lunar photography:


(Above: Crescent Moon. Orion AstroView6, Nikon D3100). It is capable of some planetary photography: (Saturn, Venus. Orion AstroView6, Nikon D3100)








And the AstroView 6EQ setup is capable of “piggyback” style photography. What I did is I “piggybacked” my DSLR on top of my telescope on the GEM. Then, after finding a reasonably bright star in the area I wanted to photograph, I would open the shutter and keep the star in the center of the field of view, thus manually tracking the sky. With this method, it can produce extra-long exposure photographs such as below:

Milky Way

(Above: Milky Way. Nikon D3100, 139 second exposure, F/5.3, ISO 1600)

One thing I didn’t like was the mirror-mirror cell attachment. I have owned this for about 8 months, and it is normal to have to clean the mirrors if they are dirty after about a year. So, finding my mirrors pretty dirty, I took them out to clean. Everything went well until it came to taking out the mirror from the mirror cell. Orion used foam “clamps” that screwed into the cell. They put the screws in so tight that it was nearly impossible to get them out. In fact, I could only get two of three out and had to slip the mirror out of the third clamp because the screws would not come out. While I was screwing them in, the screwdriver slipped and put a small scratch in the primary mirror because of the difficulty of the screws. I am pretty sure it won’t affect the telescope, but it was frustrating.

I added a primary mirror cooling acceleration fan on the back of the primary mirror cell to speed the cooling. I used a computer fan temporarily attached with rubber bands.

Mirror Fan

Overall: A good visual intermediate scope with beginning astrophotography capabilities, but nearly impossible to remove the mirror.



My First Attempt at Water Droplet Photography


Water Droplets

I have seen water droplet photography, and it has been something I have always wanted to try. I had been thinking and thinking about it, and today I finally decided to try it. My results weren’t as bad as I feared they would be. With common supplies, you can obtain some, well, interesting photos to say the least. What color can I use here? How about a different angle? What will this different liquid, with this color, at this angle do? The creative boundaries are limitless.

To capture the droplets, I used my Nikon D3100 with the flash. The first photos I tried I used just  plain flash, but for the later ones I used this setup:

Water Droplet Setup

I used a series of home-made flash reflectors. They were simply plastic containers lined with aluminum foil and attached with wire for temporary use, but I am going to make something stronger, easier to put together, and more reliable. I used the reflectors to spread out the light a little because I found the direct flash made a bad reflection off the glass bowl. Using a plastic container should remove the need for them.

All I did was take a dropper, fill it with red colored water (that’s if you want red droplets, of course), and drop water into the bowl. With the other hand, I would hit the shutter. It was a bit difficult to keep the droplets in focus; I had to move it back and forward until the little lettering on the dropper was in focus.

It is quite fun, and a good challenge, but there are some things I wonder about, and I tried them, but I could not do. One example is the crown-shaped splash. How is that done? There are many other effects which I would love to figure out. Below are some of my favorites of what I could do. For the last photo, I used blue droplets with red water in the bowl.

Water Droplets

Water Droplets

Water Droplets

Water Droplets

My Very First Blog Post


Jacob with His New Nikon D3100

Welcome to my blog! A lot of topics on this blog will be about astronomy and photography, which combined make Astrophotography. I recently bought my first dSLR camera, a Nikon D3100 to continue my two main interests. I also own a telescope for astronomy and astrophotography. My telescope is an Orion AstroView6, which is a 6” Newtonian type telescope mounted on a German Equatorial mount. I will explain more about my telescope in a later post. My astrophotography mainly consists of two types, either with a telescope or with out a telescope. Right now, through the telescope is mostly the sun (with a proper full aperture white-light solar filter), the moon, and some of the larger planets. On the tripod, I can use an exposure of a certain length (usually 8-15 seconds) to capture stars and satellites. If I use a very long exposure such as 2 hours, an effect called star trails is created. This is caused by the earth’s rotation and how the stars appear to move from earth.

The photo above is a photo of me with my Nikon D3100, taken by my uncle (see Photowalk with My Nephew’s First DSLR a Nikon D3100 Camera :: Friday Feet).