Carl Sagan described astronomy as a “humbling and character-building experience”. The emotional experience of seeking out those photons from distant galaxies millions of light-years distant can be described as almost Zen-like, one of patience and perseverance eventually leading to a heightened awareness of the nature of the human condition. The fact is that we live on a planet that is nothing but a “lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark” that is the Universe, 13.7 billion years old & at least 93 billion light-years in extent, and nothing challenges “our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe”, like astronomy does.
My initiation into astronomy began almost two decades back with binocular star-gazing, and eventually to observing through a telescope. While visual astronomy – gazing at deep-sky objects with your own eyes – evokes a certain kind of satisfaction, there is still an emptiness and a desire for more – was that smudge that I saw there the galaxy that I was searching for, or was it my eyes (and eyepiece!) playing tricks? Will I ever be able to catch even a glimpse of that dim nebula, particularly from a light-polluted location that is the San Francisco Bay Area? Note: I live in Redwood Shores, in the mid-peninsula region of the San Francisco Bay Area, a Bortle-scale class-6 zone (“bright suburban sky”).
While I dabbled now & then in astrophotography, it was more as an afterthought. Firstly, I was under the impression that I would need darker skies than I had access to at home. Secondly, I was daunted by the astrophotography tools, techniques and the budget ($$!) that is usually associated with it. Enter 2020, the year of the pandemic that has turned the world topsy-turvy in so many different ways. Having been confined to a work-from-home schedule (and spared of an hour-long commute, each way!), I found myself often staying up late, in pursuit of developing a skill – astrophotography – that I had previously thought was not feasible. In these pages, I present a testament to what is possible even with modest equipment on a tight budget in a light-polluted environment – I hope you enjoy these pics!
My name is Kumar Srinivasan and I am The Starry Knight, your guide to the stars and the heavens beyond. Send in your comments using the box below or email me @ firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow me on Instagram @StarryKnightOne. Clear skies!
Telescope: Celestron NexStar 8” f/10 Schmidt-Cassegrain (SCT)
Mount: Celestron equatorial wedge on Nexstar 8SE Alt-Az mount
Optics: Celestron f/6.3 focal reducer and Canon EOS Rebel T3i DSLR
Guiding: Celestron OAG (Off-axis Guider) and ZWO ASI290MM Mini Guide camera
Software: Astro Photography Tool (acquisition), PHD2 (guiding), Deep Sky Stacker (stacking), PixInSight (stretching) & Adobe Photoshop (final processing)
January/March 2021 UPDATE
I have a new mount & two new scopes!
Mount: SkyWatcher HEQ5-PRO GoTo equatorial mount
Telescope: William Optics Zenithstar 61mm f/5.9 apochromatic refractor
Telescope: SkyWatcher Evostar 100ED 4" f/9 apochromatic refractor