Astro Bob's Backyard Astronomy: it's Aurora Month!
The weather is getting warmer and we've been having some clear nights recently, so maybe it's time to try your hand at some night sky photography.*
Daylight Saving Time doesn't start until next weekend, but if you're a morning person, you get an extra hour of morning twilight to enjoy!
Mars, Betelgeuse, and Aldebaran will be lined up nicely for a while, yet, (along with the Pleiades), and Earth is oriented just right to create the best month for the northern lights. The International Space Station will hove into view shortly (you can track it at Heavens Above online). Then at 4:37am March 20, the sun crosses the celestial equator and it's the vernal equinox.
Professional photographer Bryan Hansel is doing some astro-photography these days. Of course, that means he has some top-shelf equipment that the rest of us might not have! Here's what he had to say about the photograph above:
Mars and Pleiades
Nikon Z 6 with an h-alpha conversion from LifePixels. ISO 1600, Nikon AF-D 300mm f/4 (I can't believe that I had this lens on my garage sale page for $300. I'm keeping it now), f/5.6, 30 seconds, stacked and tracked, 30 light images, 30 dark images. I have about 30 extra light images that I could bring into this, but I'm more than happy with the result. I also caught a meteor in one of the frames right below Mars that I'm considering including. I used the astrophotography tools in Affinity Photo to stack this. They were way easier to use than the other tools I've tried. It was worth the $25 I paid!
Meanwhile Bob King, longtime photo editor for the Duluth News Tribune before his retirement, has an option for the amateur photographers in the audience, one he used to take the second photo displayed above:
He (Bryan) chose a high-resolution, more technical approach with a tracking mount, but there are easier - if imperfect ways to achieve something similar. Point a 35mm lens at Mars and the Pleiades, focus crisply, then shoot ISO 4000 at 8 seconds at f/2.8. This is a similar photo at ISO 4000, 8 seconds, 35mm lens.