Brian Rachford's astrophotos

All photos on this page are copyright Brian Rachford 1996-1998.

I generally work from near to far in this gallery, so I start with a few "close-up" shots of the Sun and Moon, and then get to the wide-field stuff. All the long wide-field exposures were tracked with a hand-powered barndoor tracker. My Wide-Field Astrophotography Page has much more info on this type of astrophotography.

Solar System objects

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This is a mosaic of photos I took of the 11 May 1994 annular eclipse with a 500mm camera lens. I was using a welding filter which explains the green color. I shot these on ASA 100 film from Rock Bridge State Park, south of Columbia, Missouri, while visiting family in Iowa.

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This is a photo of the Moon with Aldebaran in the lower right-hand corner. I took this one with my 60mm refractor using "open air" eyepiece projection, with ASA 400 film and a 1/30 of a second exposure, at about 11:30pm on 18 Jan 1997. I estimate that I was working at an effective focal length of about 2500mm. It was a little surprising that this crude setup actually worked!

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Here is another photo from the same night as the previous one, except I "de-colorized" it, and the effective focal length is more like 6000mm (i.e. about f/100).

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Detecting a very "young" Moon, i.e., as soon as possible after the moment of New Moon, is quite a sport for some people and even figures into some religions. This isn't incredibly young, but does show the Moon just 37-38 hours old with a 500mm camera lens on black and white film in considerable twilight, just before being blocked by a tree. The visual record is something like 13 hours!

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The "Great Comet of 1996", Hyakutake. This frame is a 4 minute exposure taken with a 50mm lens at f/2.8 on Fuji Super G 800 from a dark site west of Laramie, Wyoming, in the early morning hours of 26 Mar 1996. The temperature on this night was several degrees below zero Farenhiet. The little detached portion of the tail in the upper left has to do with the details of the solar wind which is pushing charged particles away from the nucleus of the comet to create the "plasma tail".

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This was taken shortly after the previous photo, but with a 135mm lens. This was a low-quality lens that I subsequently replaced. But, it shows some nice detail in the plasma tail. It is cropped in the vertical direction, but full-frame horizontally.

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Here is a more artistic shot of Hyakutake with a highly overexposed Jupiter on the left, the Pleiades cluster just below, and a cloud band below that cutting through lingering twilight. The hexagonal pattern in Jupiter's image is due to the 6-blade construction of the iris of the 50mm camera lens. This was about a 2-4 minute exposure on ASA 1600 film.

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The "Great Comet of 1997", Hale-Bopp. This as a view about 6 weeks from maximum brightness, which also shows the Milky Way in Cygnus and some patches of glowing hydrogen gas ("H II regions"). The Milky Way starts to get washed out in the lower right by light pollution from nearby Laramie, Wyoming. This is a 6 minute exposure taken on 16 Feb 1997 with a 50mm f/1.7 lens set at f/2.8 on ASA 400 film. The blue "plasma tail", just like Hyakutake above, is the longest but you can see the yellowish "dust tail" extending up and right. This latter tail is made of up the dust left behind in the wake of the comet's path. This path is curved on the sky, while the plasma tail is blasted directly away from the Sun by the solar wind. The dust tail has been compared to the cloud of dust left behind by the character Pigpen from the Peanuts comic strip.

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This is a 5 minute exposure on from 27 March 1997 with a 58mm f/1.4 lens set at f/2.4 on Fuji 800 film. Note how the comet dwarfs the Andromeda Galaxy!

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Here is a shot from the same night with a 135mm lens. This was a 4 minute exposure on ASA 800 film with the lens set at f/3.4.

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This is another 135mm shot from about two weeks later, with the same exposure parameters, but different film which leads to the different color balance.

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A neat project for a 135mm lens that I "discovered" is locating asteroids. My asteroids photography page gives more specific information, but in general from dark skies it's possible to see the movement of asteroids as faint as 11th magnitude over a 1 or 2 day period. Here is asteroid 24 Themis. The before and after frames cover a bit less than a square degree. The asteroid moves from left and below the star in the center of the frame, to just below and right of that star, in a 22.5 hour period. The asteroid was at approximately magnitude +10.8 at this time, the faintest of the 8 asteroids I "caught" in a couple month period in late 1996 and early 1997.

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And the final solar system photo, the Jupiter-Venus conjuction on 23 Feb 1999. This is sort of an "art shot" with a nice partly cloudy twilight backdrop over the Snowy Range mountains, west of Laramie, Wyoming. 58mm lens at f/5.6 with Fuji Super G+ 800 and a 10 second exposure (with no tracking).

The Orion region

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Orion is a wonderful part of the sky in which to shoot wide-field photographs. I'm going to start from a very wide-angle shot and progressively zoom in. This is a shot taken with a 35mm f/2.8 lens probably set at f/4, exposed for about 6-8 minutes. The winter Milky Way runs through the left half of the frame, and several areas of nebulosity are visible.

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Here is a 50mm shot of Orion with the lens set at f/2.8 and a 9 minute exposure on ASA 1000 film. This one really brings out the nebulosity in the Orion area as well as the blue stars in the winter Milky Way.

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Here is a close up of central Orion with a 135mm f/2.8 lens set at f/3.4 showing the bright part of Barnard's Loop, and the Orion, Flame, and Horsehead Nebulae. A 5 minute exposure on ASA 640 film on 4 April 1997.

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This is a close-up view of the previous frame, showing a remarkable amount of detail thanks to the very sharp film, and excellent tracking. If anyone thinks you can't get good deep-sky shots with inexpensive, manual tracking, show them this photo! You can see several dust lanes in the Flame Nebula in the upper left, the Horsehead Nebula as the dark notch in the nebula below the Flame, and the large extent of the Orion Nebula.

Cygnus region

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Here is the northern hemisphere summer counterpart to the Orion area. Again, there are plenty of great targets available in and near Cygnus. This is a 35mm shot, at f/4 and a 20 minute exposure. The "Great Rift", the dark lane in the center is due to dust in the plane of our galaxy blocking background light.

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This is a 4 minute exposure with a 135mm f/2.8 lens wide open on ASA 400 film which gives a close up of the North America Nebula, see on the previous frame. The Pelican Nebula is barely visible just above and to the right of the N.A.N. These are clouds of glowing hydrogen gas, with portions obscured by dust.

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This is another 4 minute exposure taken immediately after the previous one which shows the patchy nebulousity near the moderately bright star Gamma Cygni.

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Finally, here is a 135mm shot of the Veil Nebula. This 6 minute exposure was taken on 5 Oct 1997 with a 135mm f/2.8 lens wide open on ASA 640. Although underexposed, one can faintly see the primary (western) section of the supernova remnant. This is a tough object for a camera lens.

Messier Objects

This is not even remotely a complete collection of Messier objects, but represents a few of better ones for camera lenses.

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First, here is the Andromeda Galaxy, M31. This was a 7 minute exposure with a 135mm lens at f/2.8 on ASA 640 film. You can see quite a bit of the outer halo of the galaxy, as well as the satellite galaxy, M110. (M32 is also in there if you know exactly where to look.)

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M33 is not exactly a normal target for a camera lens, but it does show up in this photo. This was a 3 minute exposure with a 135mm lens at f/2.8 on ASA 800 film. This is a "close-up" scan on the same scale as the M31 photo.

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The Pleiades, M45. This is a very small object for a 135mm lens, but note that the Pleione nebulosity is visible on this 5 minute exposure at f/2.8. This is another "extreme close-up" scan.

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This photo of the Beehive cluster (M44; "Praesepe") was mainly taken as a demonstration of the capabilities of a hand-powered barndoor tracker. This was a 6 minute exposure with a 135mm f/2.8 lens set at f/4, and the entire frame is given here. Note the sharp star images and the "perfect" tracking.

Star trails

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Here is a star trail photo near the North Celestial Pole. For reference, Casseopeia within the Milky Way in the middle left. This was a 30-minute exposure with a 28mm lens set at f/4, shot from the Snowy Range mountains west of Laramie, Wyoming. This exposure vividly illustrates the apparent rotation of the sky about the NCP.

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This is an "art shot", taken with the same parameters as the previous one. This is a 30 minute exposure of Orion rising, looking back towards Laramie over Mirror Lake in the Snowy Range. There was a lot of dust in the air that night, which gives the brown color. The wind picked up for a couple minutes early in the exposure giving the "watercolor" effect in the stars' reflection.


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This is a very wide-field shot taken with a 28mm lens set at f/3.5 centered on the Pleiades. This lens is actually a zoom lens and the image quality is not great, but the sky coverage is great! You can probably identify many of the object here, but I do want to point out the California Nebula in the top center.

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Here is another shot from the mountains, this time of the Summer Milky Way setting behind the trees. This is the brightest section of the Milky Way visible the middle-latitudes of the northern hemisphere. This was an 8 minute exposure with a 35mm f/2.8 lens stopped down to f/4 on Fuji Super G+ 800. The brightest "star" on the frame is Jupiter.

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This shot shows more or less the upper half of the previous area of the sky, but with a 58mm f/1.4 lens set at f/2.4 and a 10 minute exposure, and photographed 51 weeks later. The bright patch in the bottom center is the Scutum Starcloud. The film was ASA 640.

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This photo may not look like much, but it is fairly unique and maybe a record-breaker. It was a one minute exposure with a 135mm f/2.8 lens and covers about 10 degrees on a side. The key object is the small orange fuzzy thing toward the lower right. That is Omega Centauri, the bright globular cluster in Centaurus, and is a test piece for observers in the middle part of the United States. The bright spots at the bottom of the photograph are yard lights from houses several miles from the camera. If you look closely, you can see the horizon running just below Omega, along with a few clouds. This photo is special because of the location from which it was shot. I was located at 41 degrees 18 minutes north latitude. Omega Centauri is centered at -47 degrees 28 minutes. Thus, Omega is always more than 88.5 degrees from zenith from this location, even when including atmospheric refraction which "boosts" objects by a small amount. Thanks to the particularly clear air on this night at 7400 feet above sea-level, this may be the farthest north anyone has ever photographed Omega Centauri with a camera lens.

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File last modified: 08 January 2005

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