PRO­JECT 1 Cap­ture a planet in con­text

A starry back­drop can help give plan­ets a place in the Uni­verse

Sky at Night Magazine - - ADVERTISEM­ENT FEATURE -

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

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