Astrophoto: Capturing Pluto with a Spoon

Last week, we encouraged those of you with a decent sized backyard telescope (and a little patience) to try and spot tiny dwarf planet Pluto, which was at opposition over this past weekend.

One of our favorite astrophotographers, John Chumack, did just that using the “Sagittarius Spoon” to zero-in on Pluto’s location.

“Most astronomers are familiar with the Great Tea Pot of Sagittarius, but just above the Teapot’s Handle is the Sagittarius Spoon!” John said via email. His annotated image, above, shows the spoon and the arrow points to Pluto.

See a non-annotated version, below, and try to also spot some very familiar deep sky objects in this field of view:

A non-annotated version of the Sagittarius Spoon and Pluto on 06-29-2014 from Dexter, Iowa. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
A non-annotated version of the Sagittarius Spoon and Pluto on 06-29-2014 from Dexter, Iowa. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.

Can you see:
Globular Clusters M22, M28, NGC-6717
Open Star Clusters M25, M18
Emission Nebulae M17 The Swan or Omega Nebula & M16 The Eagle Nebula
M24 The Sagittarius Star Cloud, (also awesome in binoculars, John says)

John used a modified Canon 40D DSLR & 50mm lens @F5.6, ISO 1600 for a Single 4 minute exposure while tracking on a CG-4 Mount. And friends from Dexter, Iowa provided the view!

Update:

Larry McNish from the Calgary Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada also sent in two images of Pluto at opposition. All the details are on the images, but they emphasize just how difficult capturing Pluto can be:

Pluto two days before opposition on July 2, 2014.  Credit and copyright: Larry McNish, Calgary Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
Pluto two days before opposition on July 2, 2014. Credit and copyright: Larry McNish, Calgary Centre of the
Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
Pluto, four days after opposition on July 8, 2014. Credit and copyright: Larry McNish, Calgary Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
Pluto, four days after opposition on July 8, 2014. Credit and copyright: Larry McNish, Calgary Centre of the
Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

See David Dickinson’s great tips on how to spot Pluto for yourself here.

Want to get your astrophoto featured on Universe Today? Join our Flickr group or send us your images by email (this means you’re giving us permission to post them). Please explain what’s in the picture, when you took it, the equipment you used, etc.

Eye-Popping Aurora in Alaska

For the past several years, astrophotographer John Chumack has lead a tour to Alaska on how to photograph the northern lights and the night sky, and this year was a great success. “We experienced perfect weather this year: 10 clear nights in a row, with an aurora display every night,” John said via email. Last week, we featured some of images from this year’s trip, but here are some additional images that are really amazing, plus John has put together a stunning timelapse from images he took on March 26, see below:


Aurora Borealis coronal display near Fairbanks Alaska, on March 25, 2014. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
Aurora Borealis coronal display near Fairbanks Alaska, on March 25, 2014. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
Another image of the Aurora Borealis coronal display near Fairbanks Alaska, on March 25, 2014. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
Another image of the Aurora Borealis coronal display near Fairbanks Alaska, on March 25, 2014. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
John Chumack stand under the Aurora Borealis near Fairbanks, Alaska on March 25, 2014. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
John Chumack stand under the Aurora Borealis near Fairbanks, Alaska on March 25, 2014. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.

Find out more about John’s Alaska aurora tour for 2015 here.

Amazing Aurora in Alaska, March 2014

Every year, our friend and astrophotographer extraordinaire John Chumack co-leads a tour to Alaska on how to photograph the northern lights and the night sky, and this year they hit paydirt. “Absolutely amazing aurora about 30 minutes outside Fairbanks, Alaska!!!!” John wrote via email. “I took over 450 photos of it, I watched it dance and sway from 9:30pm until 4:00am!!! It got so bright at times it turn the snow green, to red to purple too!”

Sounds incredible, and here are some great pictures to showcase what John and his friends saw. If you have an aurora trip on your bucket list, you can find out more about the Alaskan astrophotography tour here.

Aurora seen near Fairbanks, Alaska on March 21, 2014. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
Aurora seen near Fairbanks, Alaska on March 21, 2014. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.

Aurora seen near Fairbanks, Alaska on March 21, 2014. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
Aurora seen near Fairbanks, Alaska on March 21, 2014. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
Aurora seen near Fairbanks, Alaska on March 21, 2014. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
Aurora seen near Fairbanks, Alaska on March 21, 2014. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
Aurora seen near Fairbanks, Alaska on March 21, 2014. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
Aurora seen near Fairbanks, Alaska on March 21, 2014. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.

UPDATE: John sent us an update and a couple of additional aurora photos from subsequent nights in Alaska. He said he has done quite a bit of research over the years, and Fairbanks has the highest number of clear nights late March — when he annually hosts the aurora tour. “Also the Earth’s Magnetic Field is weaker near equinox, so even if you don’t get flares, the solar wind is enough to spark aurora displays,” John said via email. “We are on our 4th consecutive clear nights with great Aurora displays. Only a KP-2 index Level is need to see them here.”

A good enticement to check out his tour for 2015!

Aurora on March 24, 2014 near Fairbanks, Alaska. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
Aurora on March 24, 2014 near Fairbanks, Alaska. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
A group of attendees at John Chumack's Aurora Borealis tour watch the aurora together near Fairbanks, Alaska on March 24, 2014. Credit and copyright: John Chumack
A group of attendees at John Chumack’s Aurora Borealis tour watch the aurora together near Fairbanks, Alaska on March 24, 2014. Credit and copyright: John Chumack

Astrophotos: An Amazing Rush from the Sun

“The Sun was amazing yesterday!” wrote John Chumack, one of our favorite astrophotographers, sending us these great shots of incredible prominences on the western limb, and one detached solar prominence, along with several filaments on the disk and 3 Sunspots!

You might get a “rush” from the close-ups of the large prominences blasting from the Sun. John shot these with a hydrogen alpha filter from his backyard in Dayton, Ohio. See more below:

Full disk of the Sun in Hydrogen Alpha Light on 02-07-2013. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
Full disk of the Sun in Hydrogen Alpha Light on 02-07-2013. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.

John’s tools of the trade for these images were a Lunt 60mm/50F H-Alpha Solar telescope, DMK 21 AF04, 2x barlow, for close-up, 1/54 Sec exposure, 724 frames; a DMK 31 Camera for Full Disk, 1/387 second exposure, 561 Frames, Stacked in Registax 6.

Prominences from the Sun on 02-07-2013, with one detached prominence achieving liftoff! Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
Prominences from the Sun on 02-07-2013, with one detached prominence achieving liftoff!. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.

These Sun has been fairly active the past few days. Here’s a video from the Solar Dynamics Observatory of a C9-class solar flare. produced from Active Region AR1667 on February 6, 2013:

And John wasn’t the only one imaging the active Sun in the last few days. Here’s another photo of the Sun captured by Paul Stewart in New Zealand.

The Sun by Paul Stewart
The Sun by Paul Stewart

Want to get your astrophoto featured on Universe Today? Join our Flickr group or send us your images by email (this means you’re giving us permission to post them). Please explain what’s in the picture, when you took it, the equipment you used, etc.

4 Cool Views of the Hot, Loopy, Spotty Sun

A few sunspots are now ‘peppering” the surface of our Sun — Spaceweather.com lists about 12 different sunspot groups today. Yesterday (January 7, 2013), astrophotographer John Chumack stepped outside over his lunch break and captured some cool-looking views of the Sun from his observatory in Ohio, using different filters.

See more below, plus the Solar Dynamics Observatory has a spectacular video of coronal loops on the Sun during January 5 through 7.


The video shows the 171 angstroms channel, which is especially good at showing coronal loops – the arcs extending off of the Sun where plasma moves along the magnetic field lines, said the SDO team. The brightest spots seen here are locations where the magnetic field near the surface is exceptionally strong. The characteristic temperature here is 1 million K (or 1.8 million F).

Many of these loops could fit several Earths inside of them.

Different views from different filters from John Chumack:

The Sun in H-Alpha, on 01-07-2013, using a Lunt Solar LS60Scope/LS50 Hydrogen Alpha Solar filter. Credit: John Chumack
The Sun in H-Alpha, on 01-07-2013, using a Lunt Solar LS60Scope/LS50 Hydrogen Alpha Solar filter. Credit: John Chumack
The Sun on 1/07/13 as seen using a White Light Glass filter. Credit: John Chumack
The Sun on 1/07/13 as seen using a White Light Glass filter. Credit: John Chumack

See more of John’s work at his website, Galactic Images, or his Flickr page.

Astrophotos 2012 Year in Review by John Chumack

It’s not many astrophotographers who can put together their own highlight reel, but John Chumack is so prolific and accomplished, he can do just that! From conjunctions and planets to solar activity and Moon closeups; galaxies, comets, nebulae, and meteor showers, John compiles still images and video clips for a look back at the best events of 2012. You can see more of his imagery at his website, Galactic Images or his Flickr page.

Below is one of his latest images of the wintery Milky Way:

Winter Milky Way. Credit: John Chumack

Astrophoto: Polaris and Circumpolar Rotation in 30 Minutes

This recent image from astrophotographer John Chumack shows the Earth’s natural rotation in just 30 minutes of exposure time. Polaris, the North Star, is the stationary point over a Sequoia tree in Warrenton, Virginia, USA. “The rotational speed of the Earth at the equator is about 1,038 miles per hour,” John writes. “At mid-latitudes, the speed of the Earth’s rotation decreases to 700 – 900 miles per hour. You can notice star trails “rotation” in your photographs even in as little as 1 minute exposures. I notice star trailing in about 30 seconds with a 17mm wide angle lens. But the longer you leave the shutter open the more trailing and the more dramatic the effect!”

John used a Canon Rebel Xsi, ISO 400, .17mm Lens at F4.

See more of his work at his website, Galactic Images.

Want to get your astrophoto featured on Universe Today? Join our Flickr group or send us your images by email (this means you’re giving us permission to post them). Please explain what’s in the picture, when you took it, the equipment you used, etc.

Astrophoto: Lovely Crescent Venus by John Chumack

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Named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty, Venus has never looked more gorgeous! Prolific and accomplished astrophotographer John Chumack captured this shot of a crescent Venus on May 14, 2012 as it moves in for a transit of the Sun. Just 14% of Venus’ face was illuminated, 22 Days before the June 5th Transit of Venus across the Sun. John used a DMK 21AF04 fire-wire Camera, 2x Barlow, & 10″ SCT telescope, and used 950 frames stacked to create this image. Thanks to John for sharing his image; see more of his work at his website, Galactic Images.

Want to get your astrophoto featured on Universe Today? Join our Flickr group, post in our Forum or send us your images by email (this means you’re giving us permission to post them). Please explain what’s in the picture, when you took it, the equipment you used, etc.