The Azorean night sky

Last week, I’ve been enjoying the beautiful island that is Sao Miguel. It is the largest of the Azorean archipelago, which is an autonomous region of Portugal. With a total population of 140.000, spread over an island of 65 x 16km, you can imagine that the remote island isn’t very light polluted. The first night of my stay I decided to check out what the night sky looked like at the northern shore. My first image turned out quite great:

Looking over the north atlantic with a double open cluster and M31 clearly visible

Looking north over the Atlantic Ocean with a double open cluster and M31 clearly visible

While in the picture above the Milky Way is only very faintly visible (vertically through the center), a picture of the southern sky shows our galactic center, hidden behind dark arms of dust:

The milky way over Sao Miguel

The Milky Way over Sao Miguel

Just left of the center lies the constellation Sagittarius, in a region that isn’t visible from the Netherlands. This part of the sky contains a lot of the most beautiful deep sky objects. To show you what I mean, let me point out just the most prominent ones visible in this image:

Awesome deep sky objects that I can't see from here

Awesome deep sky objects that I can’t see from here

Maybe, some day… I will be mad enough to travel south with my telescope to capture these objects, but that won’t be any time soon.

After a couple of tries (my girlfriend had to sit still for 20 seconds), I got this awesome image with M31, a double cluster, an iridium flare (satellite reflection) and a hyper active flag:

My girlfriend under the star-saturated night sky of Sao Miguel

My girlfriend under the star-saturated night sky of Sao Miguel

After that night – as you can imagine – I was quite excited about the Azorean night sky and looked forward to taking multiple exposures at 80mm (for stacking). Sadly, there were too few cloudles nights. Eventually I took my camera out one more night, but it was too windy to make proper photos at high magnification (camera movement due to wind becomes too prominent). But at 18mm focal length the photos seemed alright, so I took some final nightscape photos:

The Milky Way over Sao Miguel (glow in the center is from the city, Ponta Delgada)

The Milky Way over Sao Miguel (glow above the center hills is from the city, Ponta Delgada)

Northern shoreline of Sao Miguel at night. The bright lights in the lower left are headlights.

Northern shoreline of Sao Miguel at night. The bright lights in the lower left are headlights.

The Azorean night sky from a boat (on top of a watch tower)

The Azorean night sky from a boat (on top of a watch tower)

As you can see, clouds and wind made photography tricky (zoom in on the last image and notice that all stars are double due to camera shake). Nevertheless, the Azorean night sky was stunning at times. It’s not just at night that Sao Miguel looks beautiful, but also during daytime. Photos of that will be posted here somewhere in the next couple of days. So stay tuned!

Our own Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy

The past  few weeks I’ve been trying to make a proper Milky Way shot from Enschede, which turned out to be very difficult. First of all, only a very faint part of the Milky Way is visible here in Holland and second, Enschede has too much light pollution. Although the light pollution in Enschede is not as bad as in Amsterdam, there is definately no Milky Way visible to the naked eye (limiting magnitude 4 – 5). From a 30 sec, ISO 6400, 18mm image I did manage to bring out some faint signs of the Milky Way over Enschede:

Very, very faint milky way over Enschede

Very, very faint milky way over Enschede

The image below is what would be visible under dark skies and without horizon and trees, according to Stellarium software. This image might help you to notice the faint belt of clouds in the photo I took.

Stellarium screenshot of what's out there

Stellarium screenshot of what’s out there

Before I started taking photographs with my telescope I used to watch the Andromeda galaxy quite often. Visible from summer until winter and now, slowly climbing the sky to be right above us around October, it is one of the most interesting objects in the night sky.

The Andromeda galaxy is the largest nearby galaxy to our Milky Way and it is so bright, that we can see it with the naked eye even though it is a whopping 2.5 Million! light-years away. This means that the light we see whenever we look at it, has been traveling for 2.5 million years. At the speed of light, which is 7 times around the Earth per a second.

To get a feeling for the size of the universe, remember that Andromeda is the nearest large galaxy and think about the fact that there are over a 100 billion (that’s over 100 x 1000 x a million) more galaxies out there. Still find the size of the universe hard to get your head around? Good. Then you get it.

Anyway, I took 21 x 15-second exposures at ISO6400 and 55mm zoom of mentioned galaxy and stacked 11 frames (10 frames turned out to be rubbish). Even though the sky was quite hazy, the Andromeda Galaxy is distinguishable from the stars surrounding it. I added some names of the bigger nearby stars, Andromeda’s satellite galaxies and some lines of the Andromeda/Pegasus constellation to the photo. Whenever I get the opportunity, I will try to make a good Andromeda photo through my telescope.

Andromeda as shot through a thin layer of clouds (stack of 11)

Andromeda as shot through a thin layer of clouds (stack of 11)