Bird, wildlife, and landscape photography by Jon Rista
First Light & The Pleiades
So, tonight I got first light on my new telescope setup. At first, it looked like the night, short as it was going to be with the moon up by 9:30pm, was going to be good. Well, I ended up having a whole bunch of curve balls thrown my way that ended up reducing the time I actually had to image to about 30 minutes! Very high winds with gusts that I was afraid might topple my mount and lens over once or twice made me pack it in for a while. A momentary power disruption that screwed up the alignment, requiring me to reset and start all over entirely from scratch. Multiple bands of thick clouds that passed over, killing the time early in the evening with darker skies before the moon rose. I was finally done in by a second bout of winds with high gusts.
Despite all these troubles, I finally managed to get my mount leveled, balanced, polar aligned, and aligned for gotos (the Orion Atlas is a “GoTo” mount, meaning once you align it properly, you can simply tell it to go to a star, nebula, cluster, galaxy or a specific set of right ascension and declination coordinates and it tracks in and points strait at whatever you requested.) The moon was peeking over the eastern horizon by this time, meaning time was pretty short. A break in the clouds gave me a few moments to program in a sequence of color frames to grab of the small open cluster “The Pleiades”. I took 20 1-minute exposures, which finished moments before the next band of clouds passed through.
While it wasn’t what I originally set out to achieve, at least my first night out with my fancy new tracking mount wasn’t a total bust! I’ve finally gotten my first decent image of the Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters. This is an open cluster in the constellation Taurus (most notable for it’s central V shape of stars, which is visible slightly to the west of Orion), is visible to the naked eye, and is sometimes called the “Micro Dipper” by some who have noted it’s tiny dipper-like shape. I’ve been trying to photograph the Pleiades since I first got my hands on my 600mm lens. Even under much darker skies than I live under, I could barely capture the faintest whiff of the blue nebulosity around the brightest star. While I had intended on making exposures about five times as long as I did, the short one-minute exposures I was able to acquire allowed me to finally get some of that beautiful blue nebula that surrounds the stars of the Pleiades cluster.
I had also intended to image the Horse Head and Flame nebulas of Orion. I’ve captured them, faintly, in wide field images of the Orion Belt and axis of nebula region, however I have never been able to image the Horse Head and Flame nebulas up close. The moon was up and the deeper darkness of the sky was gone by the time more clear skies rolled around, however at that time the wind had picked up to higher speed with some very strong gusts, and I decided to pack it in, rather than risk any damage to my equipment. Next time calm, clear skies roll around, I hope Orion will still be high enough in the sky for me to get some imaging done before the end of the year…which is the next time Orion will finally roll around.