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Astrophotography

The Explore Scientific ED140 Apo Refractor

|Telescopes|1 Comment

I am thrilled to tell you that I recently got my hands on a brand new Explore Scientific ED140 CF APO Triplet Refractor. If you’ve been following AstroBackyard for some time now, you’ll know how I feel about APO refractors in terms of astrophotography performance.

The refractor telescope design has many unique advantages when it comes to deep sky astrophotography. Specifically, an air-spaced triplet apochromatic optical design will share many of the same characteristics you’ll find on a high-end telephoto camera lens. The biggest difference is – they usually reach much further. (The ED140 has a focal length of 910mm)

The Explore Scientific ED140 CF

I won’t tell you that you need a 140mm refractor to enjoy deep sky imaging, because that’s simply not true. Instead, look at my experiences with this telescope as a window into the possibilities that await you in the future. By the time you have outgrown your little astrophotography telescope, maybe you’ll consider stepping up to the stunning Explore Scientific ED140 triplet apochromatic refractor.

I met up with the team at Explore Scientific last month at NEAF – and they asked if would try out their new ED140. Would you turn an opportunity like that down?

I didn’t.

In the video above, you’ll see me use the ED140 to capture a deep sky astrophotography image from my backyard. I decided to choose a target that could be completed in one night, using a one-shot-color camera. The great globular cluster in Hercules (M13) is a fitting choice for an incredible telescope like this, and the first globular cluster I’ve ever shot on my YouTube channel.

The Apochromatic Refractor Advantage

Before I get into the details of this giant APO, I’ll provide a little bit of backstory.

Back in 2011, I started using an Explore Scientific ED80 F/6 refractor.  For many years, I was thrilled with the images I was taking using the ED80 and a DSLR camera. If you like shooting wide-field targets such as the North America Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy or the Pleiades, a small apochromatic refractor telescope like this is a superb choice.

using a refractor telescope for astrophotography

My early deep sky images using an Explore Scientific ED80 Triplet APO.

The only thing you’ll be missing out on with a small telescope of this size is the visual observing power and increased magnification that comes with an instrument with a larger aperture. A refractor in the 60-100mm range generally offers an extremely wide field of view, which is great most of the time.

If your primary interests lie in objects that require high magnification and light-gathering ability such as planets, you may want to think about a larger telescope. Photographing small galaxies, globular star clusters and solar system targets are not a small APO’s strong points.

The lack of chromatic aberration, coma or need for constant collimation make the refractor design my absolute favorite type of telescope design when it comes to deep sky astrophotography. However, to get the extra light gathering power found in larger telescopes, expect to pay a lot more per inch of aperture.

An F/6.5 Carbon Fiber Monster

A large refractor like the Explore Scientific ED140 not only offers the image quality and performance APO owners expect but also the reach and resolving power needed to capture planets and smaller deep sky objects. 5.5″ inches of aperture gives you the light-gathering power needed to soak in the delicate fine details of objects in space.

carbon fiber telescope

The carbon fiber tube of the ED140 is lightweight and strong

In my opinion, you can’t fully appreciate the additional aperture from a telescope like this without gradually working your way up in size. As I mentioned, I’ve had the pleasure of taking astrophotography images with many sizes of refractor telescopes – everything from a 61mm telescope to a 132mm. This has given me with some practical perspective about the difference extra aperture makes when it comes to astrophotography.

The Explore Scientific ED140 CF Triplet APO now holds the title of the absolute biggest refractor telescope I have ever used for astrophotography.

Core Specs:

  • Focal Length: 910mm
  • Focal Ratio: f/6.5
  • Tube Length w/ Dew Shield: 991mm
  • Diameter: 140mm
  • Weight: 21 lbs
  • Dovetail: Vixen

Explore Scientific ED140 CF Triplet APO refractor telescope

First Impressions

The first thing I noticed when I picked up the box, was how light it was. The Explore Scientific ED140 is noticeably light for its size, no doubt due to its carbon fiber construction. Despite being 8mm wider in aperture, this telescope is roughly the same weight as the William Optics FLT 132. The Carbon fiber tube doesn’t sacrifice strength for a lighter payload either. This versatile material is extremely strong and is also said to compensate for temperature fluctuations better than a steel tube.

Explore Scientific logo

With my gear staying outside in a non-insulated garage – I’ve never really had any issues waiting for my telescopes to cool down/warm up. However, I understand that this is something to consider for many amateur astrophotographers. I’m a big fan of the way this telescope looks, and not just because it matches my ED102. For those that appreciate aesthetics, the finish on this instrument is a real head-turner at star parties.

What’s Included?

As I have mentioned in the past, the accessories included with astrophotography telescope packages vary widely. Some will include everything from a dedicated field flattener to the guide scope, while others may not even include the mounting hardware and sell the optical tube on its own.

The Explore Scientific ED140 F/6.5 APO Triplet includes some impressive extras in their standard package.

Heavy Duty Carry Case

The first thing you’ll notice when you take this giant telescope out of the box is that it comes with a heavy-duty hard carry case. This looks identical to the case that came with my Explore Scientific ED102 CF – which has come in very handy when traveling with the scope. This case was rugged enough to get packed into my trunk with lots of heavy camping gear on top.

The carry case comes with a thick padded-foam insert that holds the ED140 securely. For those planning on traveling with the ED140 – this case is TSA approved.

hard carry case

The hard carry case is heavy duty and TSA approved

2″ Diagonal for your eyepieces

The ED140 telescope includes an Explore Scientific branded 2″ diagonal in the hard carry case. A diagonal reflects the image through the telescope on a 90-degree angle to provide a more comfortable experience using an eyepiece. This is an essential accessory for anyone who plans on using this telescope for visual use.

I have only ever used one diagonal before this one, and it was also an Explore Scientific “99% reflective” model. I must admit, I have not taken the diagonal out of the case yet, nor have I used the Ed140 for any visual observations yet.

In terms of visual performance, the large aperture and fast focal ratio (F/6.5) of this telescope mean that impressive views of both deep-sky objects and solar system objects are possible under the right sky conditions.

It’s not clear how long I’ll have this telescope for, but I’d love to test it out under the dark skies of Cherry Springs State Park next month.

Heavy-duty 3″ Hexagonal focuser

The 3″ hexagonal focuser is big and rigid, which is what you’d expect on a telescope of this size and price point. No doubt, most will use the ED140 will primarily be used for astrophotography, so it’s reassuring to know that Explore Scientific rates this focuser at a 10-lb payload. My camera gear is nowhere near that weight, but owners of large CCD cameras and filter wheels will appreciate this payload rating.

With the ZWO ASI294MC-Pro camera attached, I was easily able to find focus using this ultra smooth 10:1 dual speed focuser. Once locked, there is no “play” in this focuser. Meaning, no surprises while imaging due to the focuser shifting or jarring the camera.

3 inch hexagonal focuser

The 3-inch dual-speed hexagonal focuser on the ED140 is solid

Cradle Ring with Handle and Dovetail

Mounting the ED140 is easy due to the included cradle rings and Vixen-style dovetail plate. I really like this design, and it’s the same mounting style used on the 102mm version. Aside from making the telescope easier to manage, the handle portion is a great spot to mount an additional finder scope, center the guide scope, or attach a ball head and camera lens.

In the past, I’ve mounted a DSLR camera and heavy 300mm F/4L lens to the handle of the cradle rings. The 1/4″ channel running through the middle makes it easy to fasten additional gear to it.

cradle rings

The included cradle rings for the Explore Scientific ED140

Integrated Dew Shield

The integrated dew shield is large and stays secure. It’s quite stiff and tight, which I like. I can be confident that the dew shield will not slowly slip down the tube when the telescope is pointed upward.

Essential Astrophotography Accessories

Recommended Field Flatenner/Reducer

Currently, there is no dedicated field flattener for the ED140 APO. The team at Explore Scientific has assured me that a dedicated flattener/reducer will be available for this telescope soon. I plan to try out my 2″ StarField 0.8X flattener/reducer on this telescope to see if it’s a good fit.

Adding a Guide Scope

Upon opening the locking case, you may notice a lack of finder/guide scope with this package. I feel that most folks looking to upgrade to the ED140 CF will already have an existing guide scope, so it wouldn’t make sense to pay for another one as a part of this package.

Thankfully for me, the ED140 came with a pre-installed base (saddle) for a finder/guide scope. This means I don’t have to look for any additional mounting rings or add any extra hardware to the scope.

I’ve been able to use the Explore Scientific finder scope mount from my ED102 on this telescope. If you don’t already own this specific style of mount, you’ll need to order one. It’s a bit different than a traditional Synta-style saddle that you’ll find on the Orion branded products.

50mm Starfield Guidescope

The 50mm Starfield Guidescope is a great match with the ED140

Inside this mount, I’ve installed a 50mm Starfield guide scope. This is a compact, lightweight and wide field guide scope that pulls in numerous guide stars for autoguiding purposes. Ontario Telescope sells this guide scope as a package with the Altair GPCAM2 camera, making for a very convenient and complete autoguiding combo.

50mm Starfield Guidescope Complete Autoguiding Package

I haven’t talked about the StarField guide scope I’ve been using a lot lately, but I will in the near future. I will say that I’ve got 50 and 60mm versions that both do an excellent job of autoguiding when used with the Altair GPCAM2 mono guide camera.

 About the Ohara FPL-53 Glass

The most impressive feature of this refractor has to be the Ohara FPL-53 extra-low dispersion ED glass used in its triplet optical design. This is a top of line material and considered the best glass ever produced by Ohara.

FPL-53 Glass

The company mentions that the FPL-53 glass used in the Explore Scientific ED140 is very similar in characteristics as Hoya FCD-100. I’ve received numerous questions about the differences between the FCD-100 versions of the Explore Scientific telescopes and the original Hoya extra-low dispersion glass versions.

My ED80 and ED102 both used the original Hoya glass, and making a defined difference in image quality between these telescopes and FPL-53 is difficult. A refractive index comparison is needed to tell the subtle differences in these materials.

The bottom line is, the glass used in the Explore Scientific Triplet series APO’s have always produced incredible astrophotography images, and now they’re better than ever. FPL-53 is perhaps the finest glass you’ll find in a refractor telescope with characteristics closely related to pure fluorite.

The Meade 70mm Quadruplet APO and the William Optics Z61, Z73 and FLT 132 all use FPL-53 as well. This is a true diffraction-limited optical design that virtually eliminates chromatic aberrations and produces high-contrast images. This Explore Scientific telescope also utilizes proprietary EMD enhanced multi-layer coatings on all optical surfaces.

A versatile astrophotography workhorse

The focal length of the ED140 is 910mm. So, a great mid-range magnification at prime focus, perfect for most nebulae and the larger galaxies. My favorite emission nebula targets such as the Omega Nebula and Lagoon Nebula are the perfect size for this focal length.

The lack of a dedicated field flattener/reducer at this time means that I am forced to find a workaround if I want sharp stars to the edge of the field. My crop-sensor (APS-C) sized DSLR and astronomy cameras (ZWO ASI294MC-Pro, Altair Hypercam 183M) have relatively small sensors, so this is less of an issue. Full-frame camera owners looking to utilize the full imaging sensor size will definitely need a solution from Explore Scientific to fully enjoy this telescope.

backyard telescope

Mounting and Autoguiding

The ED140 is about 20 lbs, so a robust equatorial mount such as the iOptron CEM60 is needed to use a refractor of this size for deep sky astrophotography. During my first imaging run, I had tremendous success using the Starfield 50mm guide scope package for autoguiding.

Those looking for a plug-and-play autoguiding solution should certainly give the Starfield / GPCAM2 combo a look. Just remember that you’ll need an Explore Scientific style finder mount to attach it to the base.Deep sky astrophotography telescope

Final Thoughts

My “first light” with the Explore Scientific ED140 was a huge success, and that’s not always the case with a brand new telescope. This speaks to the reliable and painless experience a refractor telescope like this provides to amateur astrophotographers.  The ZWO ASI294MC-Pro turned out to be a great fit with the ED140 – with only the very edges of my image frame showing elongated stars (even without the use of a field flattener).

The broadband RGB image of M13 I captured was a pleasure to process, and clearly showed the difference the added aperture makes when it comes to astrophotography. The combination of longer focal length and extra light-gathering power resulted in my best version of the Hercules globular cluster to date.

Great Globular Cluster in Hercules

The Great Hercules Globular Cluster (M13) taken using the Explore Scientific ED140 CF 

This image uses 2 Hours and 9 minutes (129 frames) worth of total integrated exposure time using a ZWO ASI294MC-Pro Camera.

 

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The ultimate astrophotography target for your DSLR and telescope

|Nebulae|6 Comments

It’s very exciting to know that the night sky is full of galaxies, nebulae and star clusters to observe and photograph.  The great Andromeda Galaxy, the glimmering Pleiades, and the vibrant red California Nebula are all jaw-dropping astrophotography subjects.

Astrophotography with a DSLR and telescopeBut what is the best way to capture these amazing deep-sky objects?

The followers of this blog know that I am all about astrophotography with a DSLR and telescope.  This is a popular deep-sky imaging setup and is capable of some incredible results using affordable equipment that can often be purchased used.

A DSLR camera is a perfect option for beginners as they are much more user-friendly than a dedicated CCD astronomy camera.  In the post below, I’ll give you the ultimate astrophotography target for your DSLR and telescope.

I use a Canon 600D DSLR and an Explore Scientific ED102 CF telescope.  View my complete setup.

An amazing year of Astrophotography

As we approach the end of 2016, I would like to thank everyone who has connected with AstroBackyard this year. Whether it was a YouTube comment, retweet, or Facebook like, I really appreciate the support.  I’ve connected with beginners, seasoned veterans, and everyone in between this year. I hope you were able to get outside and partake in some astrophotography with your DSLR and telescope this year.

AstroBackyard - DSLR Astrophotography


As you learn more about astrophotography, it’s almost certain that you will want to revisit previous imaging projects.  The lessons learned during each and every night out with your DSLR and telescope make you a more efficient and organized astrophotographer. As a beginner, my goal was to photograph as many galaxies and nebulae as possible.  Equipped with more tools and knowledge, I am now taking a second look at some of best deep-sky objects the Universe has to offer.

Orion constellation

The Orion constellation from my backyard

As for my latest astrophotography project, I’ve moved on from my Horsehead nebula photo for the year.  Not that it couldn’t benefit from more time and processing, it’s just that I shared the photo so much that I thought it would be best to shelve the project for now and complete it next winter.  This project helped me hone my skills of combining narrowband data with color images, as seen in my latest video tutorial.

I have now started pointing my telescope towards the alluring diffuse nebula known as Messier 42.  The glowing Orion Nebula is in prime position for imaging over the next month or two.  I have photographed M42 many times over the years, but since then I have made many advancements I made in terms of both equipment and technique.

With my telescope’s relatively wide focal length (714mm), I can include the Running man nebula (NGC 1973, NGC 1975 and NGC 1977) in the same frame. I added a modest amount of data using my old DSLR and telescope (Canon Xsi and ED80) to an earlier version of Orion last year, but not nearly enough to do it justice.

Why I’m photographing the Orion Nebula all over again

My previous version of the Orion nebula was shot with an 80mm telescope (Explore Scientific ED80) and a Canon Rebel Xsi (stock).  The image I produced consisted of RGB data only (No H-Alpha), and was lacking the rich color that astro-modified DSLR cameras can produce.

Orion nebula using a DSLR through and telescope

My 2015 version of the Orion Nebula

Ways to improve my Orion Nebula image:

  • The Canon T3i has a higher resolution than the Xsi
  • The Canon T3i camera is modified (IR cut filter removed)
  • I can add narrowband h-alpha data and combine it with RGB
  • The ED102 telescope has an increased focal length and light gathering ability

A new astrophotography project begins




On Thursday, December 22nd, I began my latest astrophotography project with my DSLR and telescope.  I have a new favorite spot in the backyard that offers the widest possible window to the sky when aiming at M42.  Stellarium was helpful in planning this position for this particular time of year.

From my location, clear nights are few and far between in the winter months.  Obtaining enough data (5 hours+) to process the image to its full potential will be a challenge.  The final image will likely have much more Ha data than RGB.  The nights leading up to, and during the full moon are more commonly clear.

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M42 – A rewarding astrophotography target for beginners

New to using a DSLR and telescope? Try Orion!

Beginners are drawn towards the Orion nebula as an astrophotography target, and for good reason.  The bright color and intense details of this object can be captured even in very short exposures.  When shooting with a DSLR and telescope for the first time, focus and proper tracking are some of the biggest hurdles to overcome.  Fortunately, M42 is very forgiving in terms of both focus and tracking.

Focus

The bright stars that populate the area in and around the Orion nebula are perfect for adjusting focus and framing.  Many deep-sky objects are very dim, with no bright stars within the same field of view.  This can make focusing and framing the target a nightmare.  I like to use the stars in the Trapezium to achieve the best possible focus while using my Cameras live-view mode, or on BackyardEOS.

Framing

The stars in the Sword of Orion are a great help when it comes to aligning your image.  Even better than that is the fact that the overall size and shape of the nebula is revealed in short exposures (5 seconds).  This makes capturing test frames and making adjustments much easier.  This is not the case when shooting a faint reflection nebula such as the Witch Head nebula!

Tracking/Guiding

Beginners usually need time to fully utilize their telescope mount’s tracking and autoguiding abilities.  The longer the exposures, the more evident poor tracking becomes.  Luckily for beginners, an impressive photograph of M42 is possible using multiple exposures of 1 minute or less!  This target is just begging you to capture it!

Multiple exposures for more detail

The bright core of the Orion Nebula requires very short exposures to properly document the area.  To capture the Trapezium without over-exposing the image, I shot several 5-second subs at ISO 800.  I also set BackyardEOS to shoot a series of 30-second subs to capture the mid-tones and slightly less-bright areas surrounding the core.

Here are the totals from each series of shots at lengths of 5, 30, and 180 seconds at ISO 800.

  • 180″ – ISO 800 – 1 hour 9 minutes (23 frames)
  • 5″ – ISO 800 – 1 min 40 sec. (20 frames)
  • 30″ – ISO 800 – 5 min. (10 frames)

I registered and stacked each of the image sets in Deep Sky Stacker, and processed each of the files separately.  Once each image file was processed to maximize the intended level of detail, I blended the images together in Adobe Photoshop using layer masks.  This can be a difficult process, as this can sometimes lead to unnatural looking and/or flat looking deep-sky objects.

Here is the current state of my Orion Nebula image, using the short exposures in the core:

Orion Nebula with a DSLR and Telescope

The Orion Nebula – Early version using layer masks

As you can see, some of the faint outer nebulosity has been captured, yet the core of nebula is still well exposed without clipping any of the data.  In comparison, have a look at the stack of 5-second exposures at the exact same scale from the same imaging session:

Orion short exposures

A stack of 5-second exposures on the Orion Nebula

Using layer-masking in Adobe Photoshop, we can merge the data from all 3 image sets to reveal all of the details of the Orion Nebula in a single image. As I said earlier, this process can be difficult to master and takes time and patience to utilize properly.  If done properly, the nebula will look natural and full of detail.  I’ll provide updates along the way as I tackle this winter astrophotography project from the backyard.

Cold, long nights with my DSLR and telescope

Despite what the frigid winter temperatures do to our bodies, your DSLR will produce images with less noise in the cold!  The nights are also extra long, which means the potential of longer imaging sessions.  So fill your thermos will a hot drink, it’s going to be a long night. If you need me, I’ll be in the backyard.

Cheers, and all the best in 2017!

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Winter deep sky astrophotography

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November is an exciting month for backyard astrophotographers as we transition into a new season of fantastic winter deep sky targets.  These constellations contain some of the best nebulae and star clusters the sky has to offer.

The colder temperatures mean less noise in your images, which is great news for DSLR camera owners.

Winter deep sky nebula

The image of the Horsehead Nebula above is combined data from 2015 and this month.  View the complete photo details here.

The winter deep sky targets in Orion are arguably the best of the Northern Hemisphere.

With my recent addition of a modified Canon T3i and 12nm ha filter, I am anxious to capture these nebulae in a new way.  I’ll tell you my top 3 winter deep sky objects further down this post.

View my complete astrophotography equipment details

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Astrophotography in your e-mail!

The very first AstroBackyard newsletter was sent out last week.  This newsletter covers my latest images, processing tips, tutorials and more.  Please subscribe to the mailing list today, and receive my latest DSLR astrophotography information!  E-mails are currently delivered about once or twice per month.

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Did you catch the “Supermoon?”

You have probably all heard a lot about the Supermoon that occurred on November 14th.  Media outlets love to hype up this particular celestial event because it consistently receives wide appeal from people across the globe.

The fact that the moon appears “super” to the naked eye is the funny part about this phenomenon.  Yes, the moon was 14% larger, and 30% brighter than normal, but this is virtually undetectable to the naked eye, even though people will swear they see a difference.  The moon always appears larger when it is low on the horizon due to the relative scale.

This time around, the event had an interesting twist.  The full moon on November 14th was the closest since 1948!  The moon won’t come this close to the Earth again until the year 2034.

Whether you thought it was “super” or not, a full moon rising on a clear night is worth my attention, every time.

Supermoon

The “Supermoon” on November 13th

It is nice to see the general public take an interest in a celestial event.  Meteor showers also do a good job of grabbing attention in the same way.  I experienced my most viral post ever on twitter, with my Supermoon photo seen above.  It just goes to show that events like this are appreciated by more than just astrophotographers!

New photo: Triangulum Galaxy Re-processed

In September 2015, I photographed the Triangulum Galaxy from the backyard.  I felt that a re-process was in order as I have learned a few new techniques.  The image seen below is a stack of 3 nights worth of imaging with the Canon Xsi.  This version is less dynamic than my previous version, but also a lot cleaner.

View the full version and complete photo details of the Triangulum Galaxy.

Triangulum Galaxy - Astrophotography

 

I have recently put a focus on overall sky quality.  I am guilty of stretching the data too far to reveal as much color and detail as possible in the deep sky object.  This has lead to some less-than-pretty background stars and sky color.

View my Deep Sky Processing Tutorial

My Top 3 Winter Deep Sky Targets

With lots of great choices in the Northern Hemisphere at this time of year, it’s hard to choose 3 deep sky objects that stand out among the rest.  However, these astrophotography targets seem to capture my interest year after year.

  1. The Orion Nebula

Is there any surprise here?  This stellar nursery is the Granddaddy of all astrophotography targets.  The Orion Nebula is usually one of the first targets for beginner astrophotographers, myself included.  The intense color and satisfying results make this a photography project that could last a lifetime.  The challenge is a revealing the deep outer nebulosity while blending it with a well-exposed core.

Winter deep sky astrophotography

  1. The Horsehead and Flame Nebula

This area of the sky is so incredibly interesting, that it’s hard to believe it lies so close to the Orion Nebula.  The Horsehead and Flame nebulae reside very close to Alnitak.  This is the far left star in Orion’s belt.  The famous “horses head” can be brought forth in detail by using a hydrogen-alpha filtered DSLR.  I experienced this first hand with my Astronomik 12nm clip-in filter.

Horsehead Nebula in H-Alpha

The Horsehead Nebula in H-Alpha

  1. The Rosette Nebula

The Rosette nebula was the subject of my first processing tutorial video on YouTube.  This object can be recorded in great detail with or without a modified DSLR.  The photo below was captured in February 2014 with a stock Canon Xsi.  Classified as NGC 2237, is located in a neighboring constellation to Orion known as Monoceros.

Rosette Nebula

The Rosette Nebula

All 3 of these winter deep sky astrophotography targets are located in the same region of the Northern Hemisphere sky.  From my latitude, they travel from East to West in an arc looking south.

Click here for star charts to find all of these winter deep sky objects.

Map of the Orion Constellation from Sky and Telescope.

Orion constellation star map

Cold nights under the stars

Astrophotography in the winter means long cold nights.  Plenty of time for imaging, but harsh conditions on your body and sometimes your gear.  Modern astrophotography equipment was built for the elements, and can safely operate in sub-zero temperatures.  This includes your precious DSLR!  Don’t panic when you check on your rig and find your camera covered in ice crystals.

The colder temperatures mean less thermal noise recorded in your images.  A camera sensor running at 0°C is a welcome change to those hot (noisy) summer nights.

winter-constellations

Follow AstroBackyard on Facebook for my latest astrophotography images and information.

For more information about winter deep sky objects including the Orion Nebula, the book below is a great resource.  It’s a reference guide for choosing your astrophotography target for the night.  (My copy stays in the garage;)

The 100 Best Astrophotography Targets
Deep sky astrophotography book

Celestial Events Calendar: November/December 2016

  • November 29 – New Moon
  • December 11 – Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation
  • December 13, 14 – Geminids Meteor Shower
  • December 21, 22 – Ursids Meteor Shower
  • December 29 – New Moon

View more celestial events on the Astronomy Calendar of Celestial Events

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