Photographing deep space objects is the most challenging aspect of amateur astronomy. Imagine locating an object, many of which you can't even see visually through the telescope, in a field of view about the size of a dime held at arm's length. Further, accurately focusing a camera designed for daylight use on this "invisible object", and then guiding the telescope accurately enough to track it for an hour or more as the earth turns. This tracking has to be precise enough so that star images appear as pinpoints on the film and not streaks. Anyone who says that the game of golf tries one's patience has never attempted astro-photography!
There are so many variables that can spoil a photograph...the telescope focus can shift during the exposure due to temperature changes, the auto-guider (if you're lucky enough to have one) can mis-track, the exposure is too long or too short (remember, light meters don't work in the dark), dew can fog up the lens, or the composition of the subject can be all wrong. Of course, one of the biggest obstacles is the weather. The sky can be visually clear but high level water vapor can cause a faint sky glow on the film, greatly reducing contrast. Clouds always seem to move in just when you have everything adjusted and ready to go.
But when everything comes together, it's glorious! Our eyes, even through telescopes, work in real time. That is, they process photons coming from a distant nebula or galaxy nearly as soon as they hit our retinas. These photons have been traveling a VERY long distance, millions of light-years in the case of galaxies. Only film or electronic imagers can capture and store these weak photons so the real nature of the object can be visualized.
In this gallery, you will see our efforts at this tedious, but rewarding, aspect of amateur astronomy. We hope you enjoy these photographs as much as we did taking them. Comments and suggestions are always welcome.
Hap Griffin's Photos