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Astrophotography Targets for October


NGC 7293 Helix NebulapnAqr 22H 29.64m -20°50.22'612' × 10'Beginner
NGC 7331sgPeg 22H 37.1m +34°25'9.59.7' × 4.5'Intermediate
NGC 7479sgPeg 23H 5m +12°19'10.83.9' × 3'Intermediate
NGC 7606sgAqr 23H 19.1m -8°29'10.85.8'Intermediate
NGC 7635 Bubble NebuladnCas 23H 20.7m +61°12'1015' × 8'Intermediate
Arp 319 Stephan's QuintetcgPeg 22H 36m +33°57.9'13.611' × 8.5'Advanced
NGC 7662pnAnd 23H 23.9m +42°32.1'8.30.5' × 0.5'Advanced
Sh2-142dnCep 22H 47.3m +58°8'1030' × 30'Advanced
Sh2-155 Cave NebuladnCep 22H 56.8m +62°37'1050' × 30'Advanced

Like a bag of trick-or-treat candy, October holds a multicolor variety of sweet targets: pale blue galaxies, red and teal planetaries, and deep red nebulae.


Astrophotography Targets for September


IC 5146 Cocoon NebuladnCyg 21H 53.4m +47°16'9.310' × 10'Intermediate
NGC 6888 Crescent NebuladnCyg 20H 12m +38°21'8.818' × 13'Intermediate
NGC 6946sgCep 20H 34.9m +60°9'8.811.2' × 8.8'Intermediate
NGC 6960 Western Veil NebulasnCyg 20H 45.7m +30°43'7.970' × 6'Intermediate
NGC 6992 Eastern Veil NebulasnCyg 20H 56.4m +31°43'7.560' × 8'Intermediate
NGC 7000 North America NebuladnCyg 20H 58.8m +44°20'3.8100' × 60'Intermediate
NGC 7008pnCyg 21H 0.55m +54°32.58'9.91.6' × 1.3'Intermediate
NGC 7009pnAqr 21H 4.18m -11°21.82'80.7' × 0.4'Intermediate
NGC 7023 Iris NebuladnCep 21H 1.6m +68°10'7.710' × 8'Intermediate
NGC 7129dnCep 21H 41.3m +66°6'11.57' × 7'Intermediate
IC 1396 Elephant Trunk NebuladnCep 21H 39.1m +57°30'180' × 180'Advanced
IC 5067 Pelican NebuladnCyg 20H 50.8m +44°21'60' × 60'Advanced
NGC 7027pnCyg 21H 7.03m +42°14.17'8.50.3' × 0.2'Advanced

The reign of the nebula continues in September, but the bright objects of Sagittarius give way to the fainter and subtler clouds of Cygnus.


Astrophotography Targets for August


M8 Lagoon NebuladnSgr 18H 3.8m -24°23'690' × 40'Beginner
M16 Eagle NebuladnSer 18H 18.8m -13°47'6.47'Beginner
M17dnSgr 18H 20.8m -16°11'711'Beginner
M20 Trifid NebuladnSgr 18H 2.6m -23°2'928'Beginner
M27 Dumbbell NebulapnVul 19H 59.6m +22°43'7.48' × 5.7'Beginner
M57 Ring NebulapnLyr 18H 53.6m +33°2'8.81.4' × 1'Beginner
M24 Sagittarius Star CloudmwSgr 18H 16.9m -18°29'4.690'Intermediate
NGC 6572pnOph 18H 12.1m +6°51'90.1'Advanced
NGC 6781pnAql 19H 18.5m +6°32'11.81.9' × 1.8'Advanced
NGC 6818pnSgr 19H 43.96m -14°9.18'9.30.4' × 0.3'Advanced
NGC 6826pnCyg 19H 44.8m +50°31.5'8.50.5' × 0.4'Advanced

If you ever wanted to be an astrophotographer, August is the perfect month to start. In the Northern Hemisphere, August nights are warm and generally clear, at least in many parts of the Western United States. More importantly, August has more beginner-level objects than any other month of the year.





M63 is one of the first galaxies I ever captured. Now, with better equipment and some more experience I visit the Sunflower Galaxy again.

The Astrotourist: M63

Astrophotography Targets for July


M13 Great Hercules ClustergcHer 16H 41.7m +36°28'5.816.6'Beginner
Abell 2151 Hercules Galaxy ClustercgHer 16H 5.3m +17°45'-Intermediate
IC 4604 Rho Ophiuchus NebuladnOph 16H 25.5m -23°27'Intermediate
NGC 6369pnOph 17H 29.35m -23°45.58'11.41' × 0.6'Advanced
NGC 6384sgOph 17H 32.4m +7°4'10.66'Advanced
NGC 6503sgDra 17H 49.4m +70°9'10.26.2'Advanced
NGC 6543 Cat's Eye NebulapnDra 17H 58.56m +66°37.98'8.10.4' × 0.3'Advanced

July's most famous jewel is the Great Hercules Cluster, also known as M13.





Active galaxy M106 is one of my favorite targets.

The Astrotourist: M106

Astrophotography Targets for June


M101sgUMa 14H 3.2m +54°21'7.928.8' × 26.9'Intermediate
NGC 5746sgVir 14H 44.9m +1°57'9.38.1' × 1.4'Intermediate
NGC 5866lgDra 15H 6.5m +55°46'9.96.5' × 3.1'Intermediate
Arp 271pgVir 14H 3.42m -6°3'125.5'Advanced
Arp 286sgVir 14H 20.25m +3°57'11.511'Advanced
Arp 297sgBoö 14H 45.17m +38°45'14.511'Advanced
NGC 5529sgBoö 14H 15.6m +36°13'135.9' × 1'Advanced
NGC 5775sgVir 14H 54m +3°33'11.44.3'Advanced
NGC 5850sgVir 15H 7.1m +1°33'114.3' × 3.9'Advanced
NGC 5907sgDra 15H 15.9m +56°19'10.412.3' × 1'Advanced
NGC 5921sgSer 15H 21.9m +5°4'10.84.9'Advanced
NGC 5982 Draco GroupcgDra 15H 38.7m +59°21'Advanced
NGC 6015sgDra 15H 51.4m +62°19'11.25.4'Advanced

The month of May got all the good ones, but June still has some beautiful galaxies, including gigantic M101.


NGC 4216


NGC 4216

Beautiful NGC 4216 is flanked by two smaller companions: NGC 4222 (left) and NGC 4206 (right).

The Astrotourist: NGC 4216

Astrophotography Targets for May


M51 Whirlpool GalaxysgCVn 13H 29.9m +47°12'8.411' × 7'Beginner
NGC 4565sgCom 12H 36.3m +25°59'9.616.2' × 2.3'Beginner
M63 Sunflower GalaxysgCVn 13H 15.8m +42°2'8.610' × 6'Intermediate
M64 Black-Eye GalaxysgCom 12H 56.7m +21°41'8.59.3' × 5.4'Intermediate
M83sgHya 13H 37m -29°52'7.611' × 10'Intermediate
M87egVir 12H 30.8m +12°24'8.68.3' × 6.6'Intermediate
M94sgCVn 12H 50.9m +41°7'8.27' × 3'Intermediate
M104 Sombrero GalaxysgVir 12H 40m -11°37'89' × 4'Intermediate
M106sgCVn 12H 19m +47°18'8.419' × 8'Intermediate
NGC 4631 Whale GalaxysgCVn 12H 42.1m +32°32'9.214.7' × 3.5'Intermediate
Abell 1656 Coma Galaxy ClustercgCom 12H 59.82m +27°58.83'Intermediate
M58sgVir 12H 37.7m +11°49'9.75.5' × 4.5'Intermediate
M61sgVir 12H 21.9m +4°28'9.76' × 5.5'Intermediate
M88sgCom 12H 32m +14°25'9.67' × 4'Intermediate
M90sgVir 12H 36.8m +13°10'9.59.5' × 4.5'Intermediate
M91sgCom 12H 35.4m +14°30'10.25.4' × 4.4'Intermediate
M98sgCom 12H 13.8m +14°54'10.19.5' × 3.2'Intermediate
M99sgCom 12H 18.8m +14°25'9.95.4' × 4.8'Intermediate
M100sgCom 12H 22.9m +15°49'9.37' × 6'Intermediate
NGC 4216sgVir 12H 15.9m +13°9'107.9' × 1.7'Intermediate
NGC 4236sgDra 12H 16.7m +69°27.8'9.619.6' × 7.6'Intermediate
NGC 4361pnCrv 12H 24.51m -18°47.08'10.21.9' × 1.9'Intermediate
NGC 4449pgCVn 12H 28.2m +44°6'9.65.4' × 4.2'Intermediate
NGC 4490pgCVn 12H 30.6m +41°39'9.55.6' × 2.8'Intermediate
NGC 4535sgVir 12H 34.3m +8°12'9.86.8'Intermediate
NGC 4559sgCom 12H 36m +27°58'1011.3' × 5'Intermediate
NGC 4725sgCom 12H 50.4m +25°30'9.210.5' × 8.1'Intermediate
NGC 5005sgCVn 13H 10.9m +37°3'9.85.6' × 2.9'Intermediate
Arp 244 The AntennaepgCrv 12H 1m -18°51'1118' × 6'Advanced
NGC 4030sgVir 12H 0.4m -1°6'124.3'Advanced
NGC 4244sgCVn 12H 17.5m +37°48'10.415.8' × 1.7'Advanced
NGC 4656pgCVn 12H 44m +32°10'10.518.8' × 3.2'Advanced
NGC 4699sgVir 12H 49m -8°40'9.53.1' × 2.5'Advanced
NGC 5033sgCVn 13H 13.4m +36°36'10.110.5'Advanced
NGC 5248sgBoö 13H 37.5m +8°53'10.36.1' × 4.6'Advanced
NGC 5364sgVir 13H 56.2m +5°1'10.47.1'Advanced

May is officially recognized by every self-respecting international organization as Galaxy Month. You can see from this giant list of targets that some of the best galaxies are out this month, including M51, NGC 4565, M63, and M104.


NGC 2903


NGC 2903

After all the El Niño-spawned clouds this winter it was nice to have some clear nights again. This is an image of NGC 2903, one of the galaxies of Leo.

The Astrotourist: NGC 2903

NGC 6946


NGC 6946

The galaxies of Autumn are starting to appear.

The Astrotourist: NGC 6946



M16You probably have not heard of the Eagle Nebula (or M16, as it is also known) but you've probably seen the famous Hubble photo of its massive towers of dust and gas: the Pillars of Creation.

I don't remember where I first saw that image, but I remember thinking how beautiful and amazing it looked. For the first time I could imagine this distant nebula as a real place.

Now I've finally captured that nebula with my own modest equipment. While it does not compare to Hubble's iconic image, it does connect me, in some small way, to that magnificent object.

The Astrotourist: M16

Clear Skies Are not Steady Skies


Effect of seeing on astrophotography

Just because the skies are clear doesn't mean that it will be a good night for astrophotography. Sometimes the skies are turbulent because of winds or temperature changes. On those nights the stars will twinkle ferociously and looking at the sky through a telescope will be like looking at the bottom of a clear lake on a windy day.

Astronomers call that "bad seeing" and it causes the light from distant stars to flicker and jump. Needless to say this distorts astronomical images, leaving them blurry and wavy.

The image on the left is a shot of the galaxy M101 under good seeing conditions. The one on the right shows the same galaxy, taken with the same equipment, on a night of poor seeing.

Astrophotography Targets for April


M65sgLeo 11H 18.9m +13°5'9.38' × 1.5'Beginner
M66sgLeo 11H 20.2m +12°59'8.98' × 2.5'Beginner
M95sgLeo 10H 44m +11°42'9.74.4' × 3.3'Intermediate
M96sgLeo 10H 46.8m +11°49'9.26' × 4'Intermediate
M97 Owl NebulapnUMa 11H 14.8m +55°1'9.93.4' × 3.3'Intermediate
M108sgUMa 11H 11.5m +55°40'108' × 1'Intermediate
M109sgUMa 11H 57.6m +53°23'9.87' × 4'Intermediate
NGC 3115 The SpindlelgSex 10H 5.2m -7°43'8.96.9' × 3.4'Intermediate
NGC 3242 Ghost of JupiterpnHya 10H 24.77m -18°38.55'7.345" × 36"Intermediate
NGC 3344sgLMi 10H 43.5m +24°55'9.36.7' × 6.3'Intermediate
NGC 3521sgLeo 11H 5.8m -0°2'9.111.7' × 6.5'Intermediate
NGC 3628sgLeo 11H 20.3m +13°35'9.514.8' × 3.3'Intermediate
NGC 3184sgUMa 10H 18.3m +41°25.4'9.87.4' × 6.9'Advanced
NGC 3338sgLeo 10H 42.1m +13°45'10.85.5'Advanced
NGC 3718sgUMa 11H 32.6m +53°4'10.58.7'Advanced
NGC 3938sgUMa 11H 52.8m +44°7'10.45.4'Advanced
NGC 3953sgUMa 11H 53.8m +52°20'10.16.6'Advanced

The most popular target in April is the Leo triplet, a grouping of three beautiful spirals: M65, M66, and NGC 3628, but there are other, less famous, galaxies this month that are well worth capturing.





Unravelling the nature of M82 took almost two centuries and required dozens of independent insights from many astronomers. But Johann Bode, the one who first spotted those two faint patches of light and wrote them down in his journal, is the only name commonly associated with M81 and M82. Those other astronomers? I confess I don't even know their names.

The Astrotourist: M82

Astrophotography Targets for March


March is the beginning of galaxy season!  In its trek around the sun the Earth's nightside sometimes faces the disk of our galaxy. When that happens we see the band of the Milky Way high above us. But as the Milky Way dips towards the horizon, we see what lies beyond our little metropolis of stars—and that means galaxies of all kinds.

M81 Bode's GalaxysgUMa 9H 55.6m +69°04'6.921' × 10'Beginner
M82sgUMa 9H 55.8m +69°41'8.49' × 4'Beginner
NGC 2683sgLyn 8H 52.7m +33°25'10.69.3' × 2.2'Intermediate
NGC 2841sgUMa 9H 22.0m +50°58'9.38.1'Intermediate
NGC 2903sgLeo 9H 32.2m +21°30'8.912.6' × 6.6'Intermediate
Arp 245sgHya 9H 45.7m -14°20'11.94.1'Advanced
NGC 2613sgPyx 8H 33.4m -22°58'10.47.2'Advanced
NGC 2654sgUMa 8H 49.2m +60°13'11.84.3'Advanced
NGC 2775sgCnc 9H 10.3m +7°02'10.34.5'Advanced


The Eskimo Nebula


NGC 2392In November 1999 the Hubble Space Telescope suddenly stopped working. Another gyroscope had failed, leaving the telescope with only two working ones—without at least three working gyroscopes, the telescope lost its bearings, unable to tell which way it was pointing.

Fortunately, only a few weeks later, a Space Shuttle orbiter rendezvoused with Hubble and four astronauts repaired the multi-billion dollar telescope in a series of spacewalks. To test out the newly repaired observatory, scientists on Earth commanded it to point to a target and take some pictures. The result was magnificent—the telescope had been fully repaired. And the target that Hubble captured, a bright planetary nebula known as the Eskimo Nebula, was revealed in all its glory.

My shot of the Eskimo Nebula (or NGC 2392) is of course far inferior to Hubble's. Nevertheless, there is something very satisfying in capturing the same object. You don't need a ten billion dollar space program to enjoy the night sky. All you need is some modest equipment, a little luck, and a lot of patience.

The Astrotourist: NGC 2392

Astrophotography Targets for February


Astronomers love catalogs the way physicists love graph paper and biologists love gooey biological stuff. When I bought my first CCD camera, I didn't need a catalog: My target choices were either the Orion Nebula or the Whirlpool Galaxy. Everything else looked like a brownish blob of varying texture and fuzziness.

Now that cameras (and my skills) have improved, I have more choices. Every month I pore through my catalogs in search of interesting objects that might make good pictures. Last month I wrote down my favorite objects for January. This month I list my favorite objects between 6 and 8 hours of Right Ascension, that is, those objects that happen to be pretty high in the sky at night in February:

NGC 2264 Christmas Tree ClusterdnMon 6H 41.0m +9°54'4.440' × 40'Beginner
NGC 2174 Monkey Head NebuladnOri 6H 9.7m +20°30'-40' × 40'Intermediate
NGC 2244 Rosette NebuladnMon 6H 34.4m +4°52'4.880' × 60'Intermediate
NGC 2261 Hubble's Variable NebuladnMon 6H 39.2m +8°44'~102' × 2'Intermediate
NGC 2359 Thor's HelmetdnCMa 7H 18.6m -13°12'-10' × 10'Intermediate
NGC 2392 Eskimo NebulapnGem 7H 29.2m +20°55'1047" × 43"Intermediate
NGC 2403sgCam 7H 36.9m +65°36'8.429' × 13'Intermediate
NGC 2467 (Sharpless 2-331)dnPup 7H 52.6m -26°23'716' × 16'Intermediate
IC 2177 Seagull NebuladnMon 7H 5.1m -10°42'-~2° × 2°Advanced
NGC 2346pnMon 7H 9.4m -0°48'-54" × 54"Advanced
NGC 2371 & NGC 2372pnGem 7H 25.6m +29°29'1350" × 90"Advanced
NGC 2440pnPup 7H 41.9m -18°13'1130" × 30"Advanced





M78 was harder to capture than I expected. The faint nebulae and dark clouds required a lot of exposure time and some aggressive processing.

The Astrotourist: M78




M77 has been badly neglected photographically, at least compared to more popular galaxies like M51 and NGC 891. The Hubble Space Telescope hasn't imaged the whole thing yet, though both Robert Gendler and Russell Croman have (which is almost as good).

One reason for skipping M77 is that it is very difficult to capture. The long exposures required to bring out its faint outer arms often leave its bright central core overexposed. Nevertheless, the results are worth it. I love its tightly wound disk and the contrast with its faint outer arms. It looks a lot like M94, which is another favorite of mine.

The Astrotourist: M77

Astrophotography Targets for January


With the beginning of the New Year we say goodbye to the galaxies of Andromeda and say hello to the nebulae of Orion. January is the best month to capture the Orion Nebula, the most famous nebula in the sky and probably the easiest deep space object to photograph. But there are many other nebulous objects to capture this month.

These are some of my favorites:

M1 Crab NebulasnTau 5H 34.5m +22°01'8.46' × 4'Beginner
M42 Orion NebuladnOri 5H 35.3m -5°23'3.790' × 60'Beginner
NGC 1977 Running MandnOri 5H 35.5m -4°52'6.320' × 10'Beginner
Horsehead NebuladnOri 5H 41.0m -2°27'-6' × 4'Intermediate
IC 405 Flaming Star NebuladnAur 5H 16.2m +34°16'9.230' × 20'Intermediate
M78dnOri 5H 46.7m +0°03'8.08' × 6'Intermediate
NGC 1499 California NebuladnPer 4H 03.3m +36°25'6.0~3° × 1°Intermediate
NGC 1999dnOri 5H 36.5m -6°42'9.52' × 2'Intermediate
NGC 2024 Flame NebuladnOri 5H 41.9m -1°51'7.230' × 30'Intermediate
IC 418pnLep 5H 27.5m -12°42'9.114" × 11"Advanced
IC 2118 Witch Head NebuladnOri 5H 02.0m -7°54'-~3° × 1°Advanced
NGC 1501pnCam 4H 07.0m +60°55'10.656" × 48"Advanced
NGC 1535pnEri 4H 14.3m -12°44'9.148" × 42"Advanced
Simeis 147snTau 5H 39.1m +28°00'-~3° × 3°Advanced





I wasn't always a fan of M33. Its ragged, messy arms are less photogenic than the classic spirals of M51 and M81. But what M33 lacks in grand pattern it more than makes up in detail.

The Astrotourist: M33




I finally got a chance to take some pictures from the dark skies of the West Coast. This shot of M74 required more than seven hours of exposures.

The Astrotourist: M74

Can I See a Galaxy?


Viewing M51 through different telescopes

Looking at the sky through a telescope is a lot like reading—you need to use your imagination to complete the picture. That bright pale orb? That’s the planet Jupiter, large enough to swallow a dozen Earths and home to the largest hurricane in the solar system. That ghostly smoke ring? That’s a star exploding—a cataclysm that must have destroyed its planets and that awaits us in less than a billion years. And that fuzzy patch of oval light? Yes, that patch of light is a galaxy!

Nothing in the sky stretches our mind quite like a galaxy. A hundred-thousand light-years across, yet so far away that all we see is a smudge. Its billions of stars spin silently away, out of sight and out of mind to approximately 100% of the world’s population. Seeing a galaxy is the closest we will ever get to grasping the vastness of the universe.

So how can I see a galaxy?




M27M27 was once a red giant star that ran out of fuel. The core of the star collapsed into a white dwarf, while the outer layers of the star blew out into space.

I took this image more than a year ago, but I didn't have a chance to process it until now.

The Astrotourist: M27


Reprocessed M51


M51M51 is a pleasure to process. It is bright enough and has enough detail that you can push the contrast and the sharpness pretty far.

I recently reprocessed an image of M51 that I took back in February 2006. I have learned a lot more about processing since then, and I think the new version is a significant improvement.

The Astrotourist: M51

NGC 891


NGC 891NGC 891 is one of the best edge-on galaxies in the sky and the first galaxy that I captured. Though this image is far from perfect, it is much better than my previous attempt.

The Astrotourist: NGC 891

Two Versions of M1


Two Versions of M1

The image on the left was taken with the Meade DSI in December 2004. The image on the right was taken last week with the Meade DSI Pro II.




M81There are very few galaxies in the sky that are better than M81 for astrophotographers. Its beautiful spiral arms are more interesting than those of the brighter (and much larger) M31. And M81 is larger and brighter than M51. On those cold, wintry Northern Hemisphere nights, be sure to give this galaxy its due.

The Astrotourist: M81

Penumbra 0.5


PenumbraI wrote Penumbra to help me process images taken with the Meade Deep Sky Imager. With Penumbra you can stack FITS files created by the DSI and output 16-bit per channel TIFF files for further processing in Adobe Photoshop or any other image enhancement program.


Three Spirals


Three SpiralsBetween the perpetually overcast skies and the light-polution of downtown Seattle, I have not had any chances to look at the sky—nevermind take pictures. Fortunately, a quick trip back to Cambridge satiated my astrophotographical itch. The crisp, clear New England winter skies are no match for Arizona's dry desert skies, but they've got Seattle's beat. In four long nights in Cambridge, I was able to capture three spiral galaxies.




M104Fans of Transcendence may recognize this galaxy as the one that appears on the title screen.

The dark central dust lane gives this beautiful galaxy a three-dimensional appearance. This is my favorite edge-on galaxy, but its small size and overwhealmingly bright core make it a very challenging object to capture with the DSI.

The Astrotourist: M104



M106Visually, M106 is a very challenging object but don't let that stop you from photographing it. The detail that is so difficult to detect at the eyepiece is glaringly obvious in long-exposure photographs. Unlike the beautiful patterns of M63, however, the detail in M106 is more chaotic and asymmetric. I confess that it took me a while to appreciate its charm, but suspect that this will be an object that I will return to again and again.

The Astrotourist: M106



In 1845, the Earl of Rosse first saw the mysterious spiral structure of M51, using a 72-inch reflector, then the world's largest telescope. Today, it is difficult, but not impossible, to see the spiral structure with modest amateur instruments. From under the light-pollution of Cambridge, I have never been able to see any structure at all in M51. Fortunately, a CCD camera can integrate hours worth of light and easily reveal the structure that used to require a telescope the size of a barn to see.

The Astrotourist: M51



M94The latest entry in The Astrotourist is M94, the Croc's Eye Galaxy. This is the longest single exposure I've done so far (four hours), and also one of the easiest to process.

The Astrotourist: M94

M81 and M82


M81Today, anyone with a modest telescope can easily see the fuzzy patches of light from these two galaxies. So why did it take a hundred years for them to be discovered? As with so many things in life, it's easy to find something if you know where to look. In 1774, before telescope go-to computers, before "Sky Atlas 2000.0" and even before "Astronomy for Dummies," finding a deep sky object was strictly trial and error. More...

NGC 891


NGC 891The Milky Way might look like this if viewed edge-on by someone 30 million light-years away.

The central bulge is the core of the galaxy, where (very likely) a massive black hole is gorging itself on star systems and belching out X-rays and gamma-rays. The dark band across the middle is a dust lane along one of the galaxy's arms. If this were our galaxy, the solar system would be two-thirds of the way from the central bulge to the edge of the galaxy.  More...

The Orion Nebula (M42 and M43)


The Orion NebulaWhat would the Orion Nebula look like if we could see it up close? Probably nothing like the image above. The human eye is probably not sensitive enough to see M42's winged mantle of nebulosity, even if we got a lot closer. The nebula would get brighter as we got closer, but since it would also get larger, its light would be spread out over a larger area and would be just as hard to see. Most likely, any future astronaut-tourists would just see the central core of the nebula, where newborn stars have carved out a diaphanous web of illuminated gasses. More...

The Horsehead Nebula


The Horsehead Nebula

In some alternate timeline in which the descendants of horses, rather than of monkeys, evolved into telescope-wielding beings, perhaps fringe groups of conspiracy-lovers might look at this picture and believe that super-intelligent, alien horses created this stellar monument. Instead, in our timeline, conspiracy-lovers are more interested in a different picture.


The Crab Nebula (M1)


The Crab Nebula (M1)On a summer day in A.D. 1054, Chinese astronomers looked up at the sky and saw a new star. At first, it was brighter than the planet Venus and visible even in daylight, but month after month the “guest star” dimmed until it finally faded beyond their power to see. Almost a thousand years later I captured the image that you see above. Now known as the Crab Nebula, it is all that remains of the brilliant explosion that the Chinese astronomers saw, visible to me now only by using a telescope, a digital camera, and a personal computer. More...

The Orion Nebula (M42 and M43)


The Orion NebulaEven with the naked eye, the Orion Nebula is visible as a fuzzy patch of light in the center of Orion's sword. The nebula is a young star-forming region only 1,600 light-years away. Entire star systems are being born and the light from the new-born stars illuminates the cocoon of gas that surrounds them and from which they came. Perhaps our solar system was born in such a place. More...



 M15 is a globular cluster in the constellation Pegasus. It is not quite as large or as bright as M13, the Great Hercules Cluster and not nearly as impressive as Omega Centauri (at least, that's what I've read—Omega Centauri is only visible from the Southern Hemisphere). Nevertheless, M15 is an easy telescopic destination and one of the best Autumn deep-sky objects. More...

The Meade Deep Sky Imager


The MoonThe new Meade Deep Sky Imager (DSI) is an entry-level CCD camera designed for beginner and intermediate digital astrophotographers. When combined with a fast (f/4) Newtonian like the 8" LXD75, the DSI is capable of some decent images. Of course, they can't compare to the pictures streaming out of a fat SBIG chip looking down the barrel of a Takahashi apo, but for that kind of money, I'd rather rent time on Hubble. More...

First Light


A Meade LXD75 arrives via UPSThe first lesson of amateur astronomy is patience. Most of the time we wait for the weather--a month of muggy New England days can seems like a million years to an amateur astronomer waiting for a dark and crisp fall night. And then there's waiting for UPS. Fortunately for me, only a month and 117 days after ordering a new 8" Meade LXD75 Schmidt-Newtonian telescope, I signed for two boxes bearing those magic phrases: "MEADE INSTRUMENTS" and "MADE IN CHINA". Yes, my telescope had arrived. More...

A Picture of the Moon


The MoonThe magnificent desolation of the lunar surface is visible even through a small telescope. I created this image by stitching together eight separate close-up pictures. I took each picture with an Olympus D-40z digital camera looking through an 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. Then I arranged the pictures into a mosaic in Adobe Photoshop. The resulting image was 25 megapixels, but I've scaled it down for the web.

The Transit of Venus


The Transit of VenusThe secret to amateur astronomy is to manage your expectations. The Whirlpool Galaxy in the eyepiece? Don't expect more than a glowing smudge. The greatest comet since Halley's? Don't bet on it. The first transit of Venus in 122 years? It will probably be cloudy. More...

The Moon


I take the moon for granted sometimes. I spend hours trying to take a picture of Mars or Saturn and end up with nothing more than a blurry disk a few hundred pixels across. My 4 megapixel camera ends up using 3.9 million pixels to record the color of deep black space. It's almost enough to make me give up astrophotography and take up a more rewarding hobby—maybe building perpetual motion machines would be less frustrating. But then I remember: The moon! More...



On any clear night you can look out into space and see the other planets that share our little Solar System. You don't need any special equipment—five planets are visible to the naked eye—all you need is the knowledge of how to recognize a planet when you see one. More...



SaturnI took some pictures of Saturn on Sunday. The result is not impressive, even by the standards of amateur astronomy, but it's the best image of Saturn that I've made. More...

A Lunar Eclipse


I've never been interested in lunar eclipses. Even a partial solar eclipse can be an unforgettable event, and watching a total eclipse of the sun can count as one of life's most amazing experiences. But for some reason I have never been able to get too excited about a lunar eclipse. The moon starts getting dark. Then it turns sort of reddish. Then it starts getting bright again. Whatever. More...

Mars from Earth and from Space


Mars from Cambridge, MA through a 20 centimeter (8") Meade SCT.