Here in New England, us astrophotographers are faced with a considerable challenge when pursuing some of the most stunning deep sky objects our galaxy (the milky way) has to offer. While the constellation cygnus rides directly up above on summer evenings and is filled with billowing clouds of nebulous gas, some of the most stunning astrophotography targets unfortunately lie much closer to Sagittarius which never rises much more than about 25 degrees over the southern horizon. This means that in order to capture these colorful gems, one must pack up and head for a dark field in the middle of nowhere. On the night of Friday August 25th I did just that, heading out to Chesterville Maine with about 200lbs of astro-gear for a remote imaging session. Problem with these sessions is to do advanced astrophotography, you have to have about 100 things in just the right place and everything must go right, which fortunately, it did that night. The following night my shutter cable failed so I went the same way as the sox in September, downhill.
Fortunately, on the night of the 25th I was able to shoot the Lagoon and trifid nebulas, a colorful celestial pair that ride just above the spout of sagittarius' teapot. On a clear dark night, you can easily see the lagoon nebula as a ill defined patch of greyish light. The trifid nebula, being much smaller, is much more difficult to see. This particular photograph is a composite of 6 5 minute exposures with my Tak E-160 (f3.3) and my canon 350d. Nice thing about havnig a laptop in the field that evening with me is I could sit in my car while the laptop automated everything for me, this was particularly useful as a friendly skunk paid me a visit around 1:00am.
The Trifid nebula was so named because a dark dust lane trisects it into three distinct nebulas, although later visual observations tagged it a "four lobbed nebula". Here is a closeup of the trifid nebula. Surrounding the trifid nebula you'll see a bright blue reflection nebula... it's referred to as a reflection nebula because it doesn't emit its own light, rather, it's just the reflection of nearby bright blue starlight off of interstellar dust clouds.
A closeup of the Lagoon nebula reveals one of the most fascinating elements of the dynamics of our milkyway, and it also eludes to the vastness of it. In the closeup below, you can see dark lanes that look to be about the size of a tadpole swimming through this vast nebulous ocean:
Click on the thumbnail to view. These tiny dark lanes are collapsed clouds of protostellar dust and are not tiny, they measure about 10,000 AUs in width... how big is that? An AU is an astronomical unit which is 93,000,000 miles, the distance from the earth to the sun. In other words, incomprehensibly large... and just barely discernable from earth based telescopes. Kind of gives you an appreciation for the vastness of space!
I've had a few requests for some of these photos to be used as desktop wallpaper, if you're interested feel free to email me.
Next up... the Veil nebula, an expanding supernova remnant.