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Star search: Astrophotography from Rick Spitzer

Shooting for the stars

Rick Spitzer
Special to the Daily
The Orion Nebula.
Rick Spitzer | Special to the Daily

The Orion Nebula is visible with the naked eye and appears as the middle “star” in Orion’s “sword” just below the three stars that form Orion’s Belt. The nebulosity can be seen through binoculars or a small telescope. Astronomers also know it as Messier 42, M42, or NGC 1976.

A nebula is huge “cloud” of dust and gas found between some stars. They act as a nursery for new stars. The Orion Nebula is about 1,344 light years from Earth and is the closest region of massive star formation to Earth. (A light year is about 6 trillion miles.)

I thought birds in flight were hard to shoot. Not compared to astrophotography. The problems are really incredible.

1. Astrophotography equipment, such as telescopes, star tracker mounts and filters are not cheap.

2. During the pandemic, a lot of people are getting involved in this activity, and with factories in China shut down due to COVID-19, shipping has slowed down, and the result is that a lot of the equipment you need is on back order.

3. It is not as simple as attaching the camera to the telescope and go shoot. All kinds of adapters and other equipment is needed.

4. Damn the clouds!

5. You have to calibrate your camera, the flattener, telescope, star tracker, finder scope, compensate for any filters, and find the focus.

6. Getting the polar alignment dead on so the tracker follows the deep sky object for 2-3 hours is not easy.

7. Damn the clouds!

8. Astrophotography can only be done at night. You need to be away from city lights. It’s tough to see your settings and equipment.

9. Don’t think about bears and mountain lions wandering around you in the dark.

10. Damn the clouds!

11. Winter skies have more clarity, but it is cold. It’s really hard to make adjustments with your settings using frozen fingers. Gloves are useless.

12. Finding the deep sky object like a galaxy in the night sky with a telescope can be really hard. Really, really hard.

13, Damn the clouds!

14. Your neighbor drives in and you are temporarily light blinded by the headlights.

15. Long exposures are required. 90 exposures of two minutes each takes 3 hours. So much for a good night’s sleep!

16. You go out after 3 hours to bring in your gear and damn the clouds!

17. Wind blurs the shots.

18. Dew and frost forms on the lens.

19. The hot tub on my deck kicks in and blurs the images.

20. Light meters are useless. After three hours you find the exposure should have been more or less.

21. All those exposures are stacked into one image. You get one, maybe two shots in six hours.

22. Then you spend two to three hours processing the image using a Starry Sky Stacker software and Photoshop.

And, maybe if you’re lucky … you get images like this:

The Andromeda Galaxy.
The Pleiades Star Cluster.
A close-up of the moon.
A William Optics 73mm f/5.9 ZenithStar, Doublet APO Refractor with a Canon 90D DSLR on a Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer star tracker.

Rick Spitzer is an acclaimed wildlife photographer who lives in Wildridge.


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