I took a lousy astrophoto in the Outer Banks. I did not set out to indulge in astrophotography; it was an incidental endeavor. I’d done some when I was young enough that we used film: we’re talking the late 1970s and early 80s. But I’d just gotten some stars leaving trails in a long photo I took of Manteo harbor, and my wife was urging me to do a night sky shot.

Figure 1. Night sky, late November 2021. Photo: author.

I had no idea how to take such a photograph with a digital camera, but of course the interwebs are full of help. Problematic was the presence of a marine layer obscuring or blurring much of the lower horizon, a steady wind, much ambient light from our hotel, and the fact that the third-floor balcony I was on vibrated every time someone in a nearby room shifted position.

But digital photos are cheap, so I put on my widest, fastest lens and captured the image in figure 1, of the late-fall/early winter sky. I limited the exposure to 15 seconds and deliberately exposed to the right (roughly, doing visually what Dolby used to do on cassette tapes).

The resulting image, after much processing, is atrocious in every way. It’s ridiculously noisy, and the marine layer is a nauseous green. At low magnification, the image looks sharp, but in fact, it’s a little soft and won’t bear close scrutiny. The image exhibits coma in the corners, and processing left little color in the stars. I left a hair of the roof of our balcony in the top so as to avoid cropping out yet more stars.

Still, I admit I was very pleased, because for well over a decade I was a dedicated amateur astronomer, and the stars in my image were my friends that I hadn’t seen since maybe 1990 or so. I mark some of the particularly low-hanging fruit in yellow in figure 2. A few satellite trails are marked in lime green. The lights at the bottom of the image are trawlers out fishing.

Figure 2. Annotated Night sky, late November 2021. Photo and annotation: author.

h & χ Persei: the famous ‘double cluster’ in Perseus.
M31: the Andromeda Galaxy. Our sister galaxy in the local group and watch out! it’s going to collide with us in a scant 4 billion years!
M32: the small Andromeda Galaxy, looks like a star just to the right of the nucleus of M31.
M33: The Triangulum Galaxy.
M45: The Pleiades, an open cluster of very blue stars in Taurus.
The Hyades: an open cluster of stars looking like a V that form the bull’s head in Taurus. The bright red star at the bottom tip of the V (as we see it here) is Aldebaran.
The ‘satellite track’ just below and to the left of h & χ Persei appears to be a meteor because of its irregular brightness.

Nikon Z 7ii with 14-24 mm f/2.8 lens. 15 mm, f/2.8, ISO 6400, 15 s. Edited with Affinity Photo.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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