Budget astrophotograhy

We took a Nikon D5100 and Sigma 150-500 f5-6.3 to a designated dark spot in the Cotswolds. I’ve imaged Jupiter with this lens from South Manchester, at 5.1AU distance, so I figured I could get photos at least that good from a dark site, with Jupiter at 5AU distance.

Well here is Jupiter, with some motion blur due to my strong and stable tripod:

Just out of curiosity, I also tried to get some shots of Saturn. Saturn is ~10% smaller than Jupiter, and was also almost twice as far away (9AU distance), so I didn’t expect to get any detail – maybe an oval would be the best result I could manage at 500mm with glass optics?

(Click for viewer)

In the creative and poetic words of Donald Trump: “Wrong!” – Saturn’s rings are visibly distinct from the planet itself, although no moons were resolved in any of the photos I took.

That’s Saturn and rings at 9AU distance, on a D5100 body and with a Sigma 150-500mm lens, processed with RawTherapee.

Nice. Unfortunately 9AU is the closest Saturn gets so I’m unlikely to get a better photo with the budget equipment although I’ll take some with a 1metre f/5 Skywatcher when I get time. Jupiter’s closest approach is 4.5AU (10% closer than so I’ll also try Jupiter again with the telescope when it’s at closest approach – the Skywatcher should be able to resolve the atmospheric bands on Jupiter too.

Arctic storm and more aurora

The Pi-day solar storm in 2016 was quite powerful (four terawatts), but unfortunately Kiruna was cloudy that night. The night after however, was somewhat clearer.

On my walk home, I was suddenly aware of green bands in the sky, one crossing over the moon. It was a full moon, so they couldn’t be aurora since aurora would be drowned out by the moon’s brightness. But these bands ran across the full length of the sky and were slowly moving… I rushed home to get my camera and tripod then headed out again.

We had strong winds that kept trying to knock my tripod over (despite it being set into an inch of ice), and the aurora kept appearing and stopping in different parts of the sky, so it was hard to photograph. Added onto that, my D5100 doesn’t have great sensitivity, so I couldn’t capture this at a decent frame rate to really show how fast-moving and detailed the sky was – but it’s still my best aurora clip yet!

After I got back home, the wind became more severe. There was a strong airflow coming *in* through the extractor in the bathroom. We lost power completely for several hours, and lost internet for several days. At the time of writing (five days later) many buildings here still have no internet connectivity – and out of the ones that do, none have wifi with easily-crackable WEP encryption for me to freeload :(.