Milky Way From The Garden

Taken with the Pixel 5 in “astrophotography mode.” Single 5 minute frame in the back garden

Unlike a lot of astrophotographers, I’m blessed with living in class 4 skies that not only face north, but also have wide open views from the southeast through to the west. This means that it’s a perfect placement for imaging the core of our home galaxy. Along these lines, where we live is quite rural, so there’s a lot of places within a short distance that are good for getting widefield images with interesting foregrounds. I very much count this as our “garden” as well.

The setup for this is necessarily simple – a DSLR, the Star Adventurer, a Canon 18-55mm kit lens and a 55-250mm. Planning-wise I’m hoping to shoot from immediately outside our summerhouse, as well as various other local locations, all with good views from east through to the west in a southerly direction. The best spot we’ve found so far looks towards the head of the valley, in the direction of the village of Burleigh. This provides a pretty decent image, with the arch of the Milky Way rising above the valley head.

First time out this season didn’t go exactly to plan. Because my EQ5 is still down, I was using the Star Adventurer for DSO work in Cygnus and Hercules, so I convinced my ikkle Noodle to let me borrow her NexStar SE. Would’ve been better had I remembered to grab the power cable as well though.

Single 20 sec sub from the back garden looking towards Burleigh. Unfortunately the lense was starting to dew up, which I failed to notice.

So, looking at the above image I’m on the right track at least, although this was taken at 3:30am.

Next up, I took a forecast opportunity to get out and up on top of the valley opposite where we live. This provided a clear view to the east through southwest, so I was able to observe the rise of Scorpius, which can be used as a prelude to the rise of the core later on, and serves as a decent marker for where to aim in the sky. Although it wasn’t as successful as I would like, it’s all a learning curve, and I now know that, should our weather actually improve, what I need to be doing.

The above two images are both composites, taken from the above location, pretty much opposite our home. Whilst not happy with the images per se, as my first attempt at a composite, on those grounds I’m reasonably pleased with them. The top image I used the Milky Way core that I’d shot, and then processed that through Astro Pixel Processor for light pollution and star colour calibration, hence why there’s more colour in it. I also shifted the foreground more to the right, as there was a tree that just didn’t want to blend in. The top one was put together using the sky replacement tool in Photoshop, and I think it’s done a fairly decent job of blending it all in, although it’s restricted by the original foreground image size.

The bottom image I feel is better. There’s more of the core visible and the blending, I feel, is much smoother. The overall colour balance is warmer, but I feel it could all improve more if I was able to get the core colour to pop the same way as in the top image.

Using The Google Pixel 5

I don’t know if the camera on this phone was created with astrophotography in mind, but even it wasn’t, it does it really well. The first image on here was taken with the Pixel 5 in astrophotography mode, as was this next one.

4 minute capture using the Pixel 5 in astrophotography mode.

Considering the limitations that most phones face with regards to long exposure, this one absolutely excels at it. The image itself is clear and well defined, and the Milky Way itself is pretty stunning.

As the season has progressed, it has allowed me more opportunity to obtain some more shots, even though I’ve yet to utilise the capabilities of using a tracking mount to get some more of that core detail.

Single shot with the Canon 60D at 18mm, ISO 6400, 15 secs

I’m still hoping for that “wow” image, where I manage to capture so much detail that I’m blown away, but for the time being, this is where I’m at.

12th August 2021 – Update

I think it’s safe to ignore my previous statement. Was able to get out for a couple of hours tonight. The past month has been beyond atrocious for astrophotography in the UK. Rain, winds, and cloud. Plus probably smoke blowing across from Canadian wildfires. I have a massive dislike for watching the planet burn, especially if we can do something to help it not burn. I’m a firm believer in the addage “if we CAN do a thing, then we SHOULD do a thing.” Especially if it’s helping the planet that actually sustains us.

Anyway, I digress. Finally, FINALLY managed to use the Star Adventurer for exactly what it was designed for – widefield astrophotography.

This final image is a total of 23 minutes using 60 second subs at ISO 800 with the Canon 60D. The foreground is 6 x 30 seconds at the same ISO but without the tracker running. This has helped to eliminate much of the noise in the darker areas of the foreground.

When you consider the millions of stars just in our own galaxy that this represents, and the millions of galaxies outside of our own one you can’t help but think how right Carl Sagan was “The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.”

Milky Way rising over Burleigh from the back garden. Canon 60D at 18mm

That probably concludes my Milky Way imaging from home for the season, considering the weather and time of year now. Keep an eye open for a planned excursion to Pembrokeshire with Amanda and class 3 skies where I’m hoping to also be trialling a Canon 6D Mk2 and wide angle lense.

Thanks for reading, and clear skies all!

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