April is Astronomy Month

April is astronomy month! Astronomy is the study of everything beyond the earth’s atmosphere (more or less), and it’s a science. It is also a way of understanding and appreciating the beauty and complexity of nature in a way that is both rich with experiences and endlessly fascinating. Many people equate astronomy with telescopes, but it’s not necessary to have a telescope – or even use one – to appreciate the sky and even to photograph its beauty. Here’s a case in point, a photo of the western sky over Lake Huron that captures hundreds of stars too faint to see with the naked eye, and also a famous galaxy and a current comet!


M42 (the Andromeda Galaxy)and Comet C/2011 L4 (PanSTARRS) appear together in the centre of this frame, taken an hour after sunset above Lake Huron on Friday 5 April 2013, from just south of the Pine River, Ontario. A 30 second exposure with a Nikon D7000 camera and Tamron 24-280 mm lens. ISO 800, f/3/5, 24 mm focal length.

For weeks I’ve been hoping to get some photos of Comet C/2011 L4 (PanSTARRS) and I finally got some satisfying shots on the evening of Friday 5 April 2013. I kept track of the clear sky charts for Ontario that day, and, realizing that the comet was getting close to the Andromeda Galaxy (so should be easier to find) and that it was setting soon after sunset in the west, I decided to try shooting from “Ontario’s West Coast” – the shore of Lake Huron. I arrived at about 7 PM at the gracious home of my friends Margaret and Gordon Cale, who gave me a hand on that very cold evening to try seeing what could be seen out over the lake, and we set up a telescope and camera on the shore. I wasn’t ale to get too far with the telescope, but started shooting with the dSLR about a half hour after sunset. I knew approximately where the comet should have been, but I couldn’t see it with my own eyes. I had to rely on time exposures on the camera to pick it out.

It was a cold but beautiful night, and I was able to get several photos of the comet and the Andromeda Galaxy to its left.

A closer view of M42 and Comet PanSTARRS, at 58mm focal length.

A closer view of M42 and Comet PanSTARRS, at 58mm focal length.

My best view so far.

My best view so far of M42 (left smudge) and the comet (right smudge). Many very faint stars show up as short streaks in this 30 second exposure at 65 mm focal length.

To close off this post, here’s another shot taken on Friday 5 April 2013 at Pine River: the magnificent Constellation Orion (with its brightest or second brightest star, depending on circumstances, Betelgeuse, glowing orange at the left) and the brightly overexposed planet Jupiter over the south-western horizon of Lake Huron. Not a bad start for Astronomy Month 2013, but there’s more to come!

Orion and Jupiter.

Orion and Jupiter photographed over the horizon of Lake Huron at about 9:30 PM, 5 April 2013; 30 second exposure, f/3.5, ISO 800 on a Nikon D7000 and Tamron 24-280 mm.

Copyright © David Allan Galbraith 2013