21 March 2015

Astrophotography Session @ Sahara Sky Observatory, 10 days of shooting the Universe

On my latest astronomy trip to the Sahara in Southern Morocco, I met with many enthusiast people in astronomy. I had a blast doing many activities related to astronomy as Meteorite hunting, astrophotographying the night sky and learning much of astronomy in general at this fabulous hotel/observatory called Sahara Sky. 10 days of meteorite hunting, astronomy learning and stargazing in the Sahara was incredible and just unforgettable. Please join me in a series of posts on my journey through the Sahara in Southern Morocco and one of the most dark skies places I have ever seen.

The Rosette Nebula
Credit: S. Lamoureux/KTY Toutatis.

One of the main reasons I went to the Sahara in Southern Morocco was to visit the Sahara Sky Observatory. This establishment, owned by a German passionate astronomer Fritz Koring, is the best place for stargazing and astrophotographying the night sky. With it's roof terrace, 4 piers Go to mounts (high quality mounts I should add) and exceptional telescopes. Astrophotography is a marvel.
The quality of night sky you find there is the best I have ever seen. You can see so much low magnitude stars, that the constellations are hard to identify (for those who get my drift).

The Horse head Nebula with the flame Nebula
Credit: S. Lamoureux/ KTY Toutatis.
I brought with me only my camera (Canon 550D) and some random gear like T-ring and tube extenders. The rest was all provided by Sahara Sky Observatory. I choose a telescope and a mount of my choice (many to choose from) and here we went with shooting the stars.

My main goal was for this session to shoot Nebulas. I went for the Horse Head Nebula, The North America Nebula, the California Nebula and the Rosetta Nebula. The reason I wanted to shoot these four Nebulas was to change my already existing 4 wall frames that I have at my apartment. 100 cm x 70 cm frames with my new photos look sharp in my living room. That was the challenge!

I brought with me also 3 clip on (EOS clip on filters) filters that I wanted to use for the final pictures. I purchased them just before my departure. The OIII Ionised Oxygen filter narrow band, the SII sulfur narrow band and the A-Alpha narrow band. These filters permitted me to do false colored map images of the Nebulas and get a picture just the way I wanted them to be.

The North America Nebula
Credit: S. Lamoureux/ KTY Toutatis.
The first days we were alone at the hotel/observatory Sahara Sky, I could use whatever telescope and mount I wanted, so i did. I shot Nebulas and dark frames and light frames and the whole chabang! 3 days later came an amateur astronomer from Czech Republic and we had a struggle for time on the different telescopes. With a lot of respect and diplomacy we decided to work together and share the telescopes. At the end we shared all the photos we took together and proposed to see later how they would be on my side after the post processing and compare them with his side after post processing. We laughed and thought how they would be different and how all pictures are only an individual artistic point of view of an object, in this case the Nebulas we were shooting.

We took the pictures in a session that lasted 10 days, on this period I had collected over 40 minutes of data from each Nebula, this gave me plenty of data to extract a good image and transform it into a great picture in my living room.

The California Nebula
Credit: S. Lamoureux/ KTY Toutatis.
This astrophotography session was planned like my meteorite hunt was (See meteorite article HERE) a month before my departure to the Sahara in Southern Morocco. I had my living room wall (the other wall, not the one with my frames) covered with notes of filters, techniques of shooting, target that I wanted to shoot and information that would help me to do so. I have to admit, this preparation helped me.

This session was possible with the combination of 3 elements. Number one: The excellent place and atmospheric condition of the Sahara Sky hotel/observatory. Number two: The high standard equipment of Sahara Sky observatory and the guiding of it's own astronomer resident Patrick. Number three: The cooperation between me and the Czech guy that gave us those nice pictures.

Please continue reading the next post of my Astronomy trip in the Sahara, Southern Morocco HERE. Follow the complete travel post series and enjoy the astronomy behind it. This is all part of the public outreach of Astronomy Club Toutatis, Kustavi, Finland.