Astro 9A/B/C: Fall '16 Project Ideas

Photo projects must be of the night sky, or include the night sky or an astronomical object as the major component. I don't want to artificially limit your creativity, but I also want to be sure that you do the necessary work which merits a passing grade in this class. Photos must be taken this semester (not some time in the past). Photo projects can be roughly divided into two main categories; those that use regular camera lenses and take in a fairly wide angle of sky, and those that are mounted at the back of a telescope for high magnification. You need to include BOTH categories in your 6 final projects that you turn in. You should not count on getting any more than three high magnification images at our telescopes with the ST2000XCM or ST4000XCM digital cameras. Demand will be high and clear dark nights will be at a premium. If you're lucky, you may get more, but you should NOT plan on it. You should plan on using your own digital camera, or finding a plan to share at the observatory the Nikon D40 digital camera for getting wide angle shots. You'll be judged on the quality of the final images, so make sure you do a good job.

Category Ideas

1.      Star Trails. A tripod picture, unguided, showing the movement of the stars. This will require an exposure of many minutes to get good trailing. Can be in any sky direction that makes artistic sense.

2.     Sky + Foreground. Most astrophotos are much more interesting if they include the foreground; trees, hillsides, people, observatory dome... things that give a sense of place and help tell a story. The foreground must not be trailed. That means if you're doing a long guided exposure, you'll need to do a layer; one of the scene without guiding, and one guided. One will show a deep photo of the star fields, and the other a nice sharp foreground. If your lens is fast and you have a low-noise camera, maybe you can get a deep enough photo before trailing begins.

3.     Guided. Take a wide-angle photograph which tracks the stars. This will require piggy back mounting on a telescope, or (easier) using the Observatory's GM-8 mount.

4.     The Moon and Surroundings. The cresent moon can be beautiful to photograph; showing the Earthlit side. Even better if it's in conjunction with a planet, such as Mars or Venus, or Saturn, all of which will be in our evening skies this semester. Find a tree, or lighthouse, or other pleasing foreground object to shoot with it. These photos will be easy; no guiding necessary. They'll last only a few seconds.

Telescopic Deep Sky Target Photos, Using the ST2000xcm or ST4000xcm CCD Camera Digital Images
You'll take a series of digital images (usually 3), and process and stack them together, then use Photoshop or other software you like to put them into final form.

Galaxies: A beautiful spiral like the Whirlpool or edge-on like NGC 891 would be nice. Perhaps a bright supernova in a spiral will happen this semester and make the image special. This is high-magnification work and except for a few large galaxies, will require our 12" LX200 scope under the dome which is always mated with the ST2000xcm camera. Exception - the Andromeda Galaxy is perfectly placed and so huge that a great picture can be taken with our ST2000XCM (like found on this page) on the portable scopes.

Planetary Nebulae: These ghostly rings of colorful interstellar gas are small, and require high magnification. Best done on the 12" LX200 under the dome, at the observatory.

Colorful Emission Nebulae: These are all through the Fall Milky Way and make beautiful subjects. Large enough that they are optimal subjects for the single-shot color ST4000xcm and the wide-field portable telescopes (Meade 8" Schmidt-Newtonians). It's a favorite subject of mine. Using the equipment you'll be using, I've gotten some nice shots - see here.

Open and Globular Star Clusters: open star clusters are large and bright, but be careful - most are pretty boring. Find one which includes something interesting, maybe an included nebula, or very colorful stars. Globular clusters are much richer, having upwards of 100,000 stars. But they all look alike except for their size, so best go for the biggest one you can find.

Panoramic Milky Way: best done with the Canon Rebel or Nikon D7000 DSLR's with a wide lens, or even the fisheye. Can't really do at Cabrillo Observatory, though, as it requires very dark skies to photograph the Milky Way, so you can do this with your own camera on a weekend trip of yours, or perhaps on our optional dark sky trip.

Other Digital Opportunities

The Moon: Can be done with either the 10" Meade LX200 for super-high close up, or perhaps with the ST4000XCM to get the whole moon with a bright companion object like a star nearby. We'll set up for moon shots on an appropriate night and help you.

Choosing Interesting Astronomical Subjects...

For starters, go to the web, google search terms like "best deep sky objects", "brightest nebulae", etc. Try and find objects which previous classes have not done before. I have a lab which you'll do at the beginning of the semester to guide you to find your targets. The Messier Catalog is a catalog of most of the 100 brightest deep sky objects Not all make good subjects. Nebulae are usually the most beautiful, and few are in the Messier Catalog since they are dim. Make sure your objects fit the field of view of the camera and telescope combination you're using. There's a calculator here. Here's the results, in arcminutes ( ' ) for our equipment... You will also want to download the free software C2A, which will allow you to see a full view of the sky and everything in it, from any location at any time. Very cool! C2A is on our lab room computers, but you can download it for free at hom here The required lab to find and enter your target choices is here.

Field of View for Our Cameras on Various Scopes
GTF81 81mm f/7, fl=560mm
84.9' x 56.6'
93' x 93'
Meade 8" f/4 LXD75, fl=813mm
58.45' x 39'
64.1' x 64.1'
Meade 12" LX200 f/6.3, fl=1920mm
24.75' x 16.5'