PROJECT 1 Capture a planet in context
A starry backdrop can help give planets a place in the Universe
Planetary astrophotography needn’t always be about large apertures and high-frame-rate cameras grabbing thousands of video frames. In fact long-exposure imaging, using the kind of equipment ordinarily used for wide-field, deep-sky work can be a wonderful way to show the worlds of our Solar System in the setting of their celestial surroundings on the sky. While images like these won’t show detail on our celestial neighbours, they do capture something of the immense scale of the cosmos, with shining beacons of planetary light set against a multitude of stars.
Jupiter and Saturn are currently located in parts of the sky that will provide a superb, sparkling backdrop for captivating wide-field images; during darkness this summer, Jupiter will sit in front of Milky Way dust lanes and dense star fields in Ophiuchus, while Saturn will be set against a similarly star-rich region in nearby Sagittarius.
What’s perhaps most attractive about shooting long-exposure, wide-field images of the planets is how flexible the kit requirements are. They can be captured with DSLRs or CCD cameras, and the optics used could be anything from a longer focal length camera lens to a small, high-quality, refractor of the kind that’s widely used by newcomers to deep-sky imaging. You will need a tracking mount to get the longer exposures required, and depending on your setup this could be as simple as a small portable tracking mount or as complex as a fully auto-guided equatorial system.
The basic approach for this kind of astrophotography is identical to simple deep-sky imaging. You will need to capture a series of long exposures – from a minimum 30 seconds to a few minutes in length, depending on your equipment – and then stack them together in software such as DeepSkyStacker. Final tweaking and enhancement can be done in image editing software like GIMP or Photoshop.
Saturn appears as the largest point of light in this image, which makes use of the Millky Way’s dust clouds