A stunning portrait of Andromeda

The Andromeda Galaxy, or M31, is a favorite target and a challenge for amateur astro-imagers. CAA member Lonnie Dittrick was up to the challenge and produced this impressive portrait of the Milky Way’s immense neighbor.

CAA member Lonnie Dittrick recently produced a stunning image of the Great Andromeda Galaxy, aka M31. Here’s his story:

“The wife and I visited Cherry Springs {state park in Pennsylvania} during New Moon and had one excellent (and cold) night of stargazing and imaging (had taken time off anyways for Black Forest Star Party).  I had just finished modifying my Canon XSi and wanted a redo of M31 (done previously at home in Olmsted Falls) but now under pristine skies! Imaging was done with a Stellarview 70mm Apo refractor, consisting of 77 subs, two minutes each at 1600 ISO.”

By the way, Dittrick made the astronomical imaging modification to his Canon camera by himself — not a job for the fainthearted!

When Moon, Venus, and a Beehive got together

Conjunction of Earth’s Moon and planet Venus with M44 as a bonus! September 14, 2020. Photo by Frank Shoemaker.

CAA member Frank Shoemaker, despite challenging seeing conditions and the early hour, captured a fine image of the September 14 conjunction of Earth’s Moon and planet Venus. As luck would have it, the conjunction occurred in constellation Cancer home of the lovely open cluster M44, the “Beehive”. The technical info.: Canon EOS 6D Mark 2, 100mm, f/4.5, 19 seconds, 5:29 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

Bidding farewell to a fine comet

Fiber-optic star trails, fireflies, the ISS & NEOWISE. July 17, 2020. This photo is a 52-minute star trail made from 526 consecutive shots, each six seconds long, ISO 800, 15mm at f/2.8, Nikon D810. Photo by Alan Studt.

Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) was the finest comet to grace the skies of the Northern Hemisphere in quite some years. Amateur astronomers and photographers the world over made fascinating observations and beautiful images of the comet and its surprisingly long tail. By July 5, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe had captured an image of the comet, from which astronomers also estimated the diameter of the comet nucleus at approximately 5 km. or about three miles; that’s a reasonably large size but around average for a comet. The large nucleus offered plenty of volatile materials for the Sun to stir into tail formation.

On July 23 the comet reached perigee with Earth and is now speeding toward the outer Solar System, not to revisit the inner planetary neighborhood for several thousands of years. So, though relatively near Earth the object is fading fast. Lately astronomers and astrophotographers have been grabbing the last views they will have of C/2020 F3 before it fades to obscurity.

Here are some photos made by members of the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association (CAA) as a cometary farewell of sorts:

C/2020 F3 NEOWISE as viewed from Veteran’s Memorial Park in Avon Lake just before 11 p.m., July 24, 2020. Photo by Alan Studt.

Alan Studt’s lovely portrait of the comet shows its tails remain, if faded, long and expansive. He wrote, “Beautiful night by the lake last night. Took these at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Avon Lake just before 11 p.m. Pretty large group of people hanging out. The comet was definitely much dimmer than the previous Friday.”

Technical Information: Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, on a Nikon D850.
The comet image is made from 14 shots (2.5 seconds, ISO 10,000, at 200mm, f/2.8). Stacked in Deep Sky Stacker & post processed in Lightroom and Photoshop. Seventy-five shots but got the best star field alignment using only 14 shots. Also used dark & flat frames.

C/2020 F3 NEOWISE as viewed from Letha House Park in Medina County, Ohio, at 10:36 p.m. July 24, 2020. Photo by James Guilford.

James Guilford was at Letha House Park, July 24, attempting to record detailed images of the comet nucleus and close tail. The green coloration of the comet was a surprise to him, even after reading the observations of others. “All of my comet shots Friday night show a green nucleus,” Guilford said, “and it grew brighter as I processed the images later. I’d have liked to have picked up more of the tail but, given the circumstances, I’m pretty happy with what I got.” Both he and other Letha House Park observers could see a green tint by eye through telescopes. He and others also report the comet was barely within the range of eyesight but only at its highest above the horizon and only via averted vision.

Technical Information: Canon EOS 6D Mk. 2, at prime focus of 1800mm FL Cassegrain telescope, eight light exposures plus darks, ISO 1250, 15 seconds per exposure, stacked in Starry Sky Stacker, processed in Photoshop.

C/2020 F3 NEOWISE nearly lost amongst the stars. Photo by Jon Salontay.

Jon Salontay also photographed the comet that Friday. Above we see how it is nearly lost, even to the camera, amongst the stars. Technical Info.: Time – 11:32 p.m., Canon T5i with 18-75mm zoom lens at 18 mm, exposure 30 seconds at F/5.6, ISO 800. Brightness & Contrast adjusted.

C/2020 F3 NEOWISE via telescope. Photo by Jon Salontay.

Salontay then turned his telescope on the “dirty snowball.” Technical Info.: Time – 12:13 a.m., July 25. Celestron 8-inch SCT on Advanced VX Mount, Canon T5i, 15 seconds, ISO 1600. No out-of-camera adjustment.

He wrote, “Although I’ll try to follow it telescopically over the next month, how about another comet before the year is out? It’s a lot of fun.”

Meanwhile, closer to Earth …

Studt_Crescent Moon
Our Moon. Day 27 of the Lunar cycle – 10% illumination. Photo by Alan Studt.

The eyes of stargazers have largely been focused on comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) of late but there are other dazzling sights the cosmos offers; among them is Earth’s Moon.

CAA member Alan Studt has been pursuing a project to photograph — as possible — Moon every day through its cycle of phases. He has captured most phases thus far. At the time of this writing, Luna was in her waning crescent phase with the sliver of lighted disk growing slimmer by the day. The crescent phases offer dramatic views of Moon due to low-angle sunlight casting longer shadows from lunar surface features.

Above is our Moon seen the morning of July 17, 2020, day 27 of the Lunar cycle – 10% illumination – 394,051.09 km away. Studt’s technicals: Four shots stitched, Nikon D850, 4400mm, f/20, ISO 2000, 1/80th sec.

Below is Moon accompanied by planet Venus, accentuated by sunrise-tinted thin clouds. Settings: Nikon D850, 350mm, F/5.6, ISO 250, 1/100th sec.

Studt Crescent Moon & Venus
The 27-day-old Moon and planet Venus float in sunrise-tinted clouds. Photo by Alan Studt.