I know I've been posting a lot of night sky images lately to my 500px and Instagram but I just can't get enough of this dark New Zealand sky. It truly is like nothing else I've seen. Below are a few of my best astro-images and one that is a long term project I started back in February. I thought it warranted a blog post as I will include some fun facts you may not know about the night sky.
This was perhaps my first real success using the Vixen Polarie equatorial mount I purchased back in January. It took quite a few cold nights set up on my balcony practicing aligning and changing different settings before I started to get the hang of it. Once I learned how to find the south celestial pole in less than an hour I was able to plan some different shots. This image below was taken at Wahine Park about 1km from the Wellington Airport at 3 in the morning. What's so special about this image is that this is the center of our galaxy.. Of course this is just a small part of what makes up the entire Milky Way but just think that our galaxy alone holds over 300 billion stars. Thats 300,000,000,000 suns many of which have planets of their own. And that is just one galaxy. There are estimated to be more than 100 billion galaxies out there. That is 70 billion trillion stars..
This next image is of something I've been wanting to capture since I first saw it back in August when we arrived in New Zealand. It's the Large & Small Magellanic Clouds which are dwarf galaxies orbiting our own Milky Way. Think about that for a second. If you come to the southern hemisphere and go out to do some star gazing you can see entire galaxies interacting with our own, all with just your eyes no telescope needed. Knowing they are galaxies and not just a stationary cloud as it is sometimes mistaken for still gets me every time. The LMC holds over 30 billions stars! The coolest part about seeing it, and for me capturing it, is that you can see the Tarantula Nebula which is the blue claw looking area in the lower right of the galaxy. It is so bright that if it were as close to earth as the Orion Nebula it would actually cast shadows on earth and take up an area of the sky equal to 60 full moons. I did the math and traveling at the speed Voyager 1 is currently traveling at leaving our Solar System it would take us 3 billion years to reach the Tarantula Nebula. In that time it will have likely merged with our galaxy and Andromeda which is set to collide with us as well. You would think that when two galaxies 'collide' there would be massive destruction but is extremely unlikely any stars or planets would actually collide due to the scale of space and everything being so 'spaced' out.
This next image is a composite of two different nights. When we were on the Tongariro Northern Circuit last month I was really hoping to capture a shot of the Milky Way rising behind Mt. Ngruahoe. Unfortunately the whole weekend was full of rain and high winds so I didn't get to capture much of anything let alone at night. This bottom part of this image was captured from our campsite at Mangtepopo Hut, but when I captured it only a couple stars were shining through the clouds. The image of the milky way I captured on a clear night in Wellington a few days later. Using star charts and my trusty Star Walk app I was able to figure out the precise way the milky way would have been positioned behind the mountain and using Photoshop I was able to layer the two images together.
This image is a composite like the one above, but taken from Oturere hut on the second night of our great walk.
This next image is probably my best capture using the Polarie. I've been wanting to capture this part of the sky since I heard my dad talking about Crux and the Coalsack nebula and how you can only see them in the southern hemisphere back when I was still living in the United States. Capturing this shot/part of the sky was possibly the biggest reason I got the Polarie in the first place. If you don't know a lot about the night sky don't worry as I'll explain just what this image holds. Starting from the left is the Coalsack dark nebula which is a region of space made up of dust and cold gas that is so dense it blocks out background starlight. Aboriginal stargazers believed it to be the head of the "Emu in the Sky" which can be seen when you look at the dark regions of the milky way. Moving right the four bright stars make up Crux more commonly called the Southern Cross which has been used for centuries to find south, similar to the way north hemisphere travelers might use Polaris. Moving on the pink region in the center is called the Running Chicken Nebula named for the apparent outline of a chicken in its brightest region when viewed at higher magnification. Moving to the right side of the image is the beautiful Carina Nebula which was discovered in 1751 from South Africa. It glows bright pink/red because of the immense amounts of hydrogen gas which when ionized glows brightly.
I'll end on this work in progress that I started back in February 2015 on the night of my 25th birthday. Yes I was out photographing the stars on my birthday instead of going to the bar. What I'm trying to accomplish is a full panorama of the night sky from end to end. Its an ongoing project as certain parts of the night sky are only visible in different parts of the world. At its current stage I'd say its about half way finished. Once I return to the northern hemisphere I'll be able to capture the other half and merge it all together. The image below consists of about 70 different photos and can be printed at full resolution up to 10 feet across.
Thats all for now but as winter progresses stay tuned for more work as well as a guide of using the Vixen Polarie in the southern hemisphere.