Capture the Universe astrophotography contest!

By Phil Plait | June 1, 2009 12:00 pm

I’m very excited to announce a new contest: Capture the Universe, an astrophotography contest sponsored by Discover Magazine and Celestron Images!

Banner for Capture the Universe astrophotography contest

Entering is pretty easy: all you have to do is read the rules, register, and then upload an astrophoto you took. The picture itself can be anything, from a highly processed deep sky shot taken with fancy-schmancy high-end equipment to a cool picture taken with any piece of Celestron equipment. I also happen to know that the judge likes not just pretty pictures, but ones that are clever and different.

How do I know this? Because I’m the judge! The Hive Overmind Discover Magazine asked me to be the sole arbiter for this contest, and I know what I like. Still, surprise me! Got a gorgeous shot of the Moon rising, the Sun setting, a planetary nebula using three-color narrow-band imaging, a satellite crossing a well-known object, or Saturn with its rings almost perfectly edge-on? Send ‘em in!

Celestron prizes

You might just win a very nice prize, like a Celestron NexStar 8SE, a sweet 8-inch ‘scope worth $US1399! Not to mention fame and glory, and getting name-checked right here on this very blog.

The contest starts today, June 1, and runs through June 30, 2009, so you have one month. Start snapping!

Comments (58)

  1. Man, I wish I had a camera with me a week ago. I was with friends laying out on a grassy airstrip in NY state, far away from city lights, on a moonless night. I’d never seen the Milky Way so bright! Our resident expert knew where to find Andromeda, and we could *almost* see it with our naked eyes.

  2. Bigfoot

    … all you have to do is read the rules, register, and then upload an astrophoto you took …

    Okay, fine, but who do I take the astrophoto from?

  3. Guh, Celestron optics must be used. I’m out.
    “wide-angle shot of the Milky Way” ??? I doubt it. Using Celestron optics you won’t get many wide-angle images. Lots of planetary stuff, PNs, galaxies, sure, but they don’t make anything that’ll do wide-angle work unless you take a Celestron eyepiece and use it as a lens…

  4. Navneeth

    Will they have a contest for …you know, the rest of the world?

  5. Tyler

    Unfortunately, Canadians can’t enter this contest.

  6. Oh yeah. Condition of entry #7 in the rules is “Images must be taken through Celestron optics”.

    Looks like Phil missed that when he said “The picture itself can be anything [including] a cool picture taken with a department-store digital camera on a tripod.” Unless Celestron sells cameras at Best Buy. (edit: looks like they sell $90 and up “digital camera binoculars”, FWIW)

  7. DANG, no Canucks allowed

  8. what about a contest for astro related art? regardless, I think some of you guys might like this:
    http://www.jeremyhuggins.com/universe.htm

  9. Phil, you should noted the “celestron optics” part in your main blog and tweets. While it is in the rules I feel somwhat…ummm…cheated.

  10. I should add — inspired, in part, by Death From the Skies!

  11. Cindy

    Are friends in real life out? So if Adam Savage has a Celestron telescope and he takes a picture, can he win? ;-)

    I only have access to a Meade, so I’m out.

    I know of a more challenging contest idea: how about one with the Galileoscope?

  12. Phil, you wrote:
    The picture itself can be anything, from a highly processed deep sky shot taken with fancy-schmancy high-end equipment to a cool picture taken with a department-store digital camera on a tripod.

    Unfortunately, this is not true. Conditions of entry #7 states -Images must be taken through Celestron optics.

    So this is a blog about a promotion inside an advertisement, that will result in a testimonial for Celestron. Too bad.

  13. Hinermad

    “Conditions of entry #7 states -Images must be taken through Celestron optics.”

    So if I use my dime store digital camera and shoot an art photo of the Moon through the crinkled plastic wrapper from a Celestron package, does that count?

    (And if you know what a dime store is, my condolences.)

  14. Shalamar

    I’m starting to dabble in Astrophotography.. Need a couple more items, but, alas, I do not own any celestron optics.

    So I’m out as well.

  15. R.W. Thomas

    Now if only I had a Celestron telescope. :(

  16. Hate to say it, but I have some images taken with an old celestron Schmidt camera, but the one that bothers me is:

    That your entry becomes the property of Celestron� and will not be acknowledged or returned, and

    Rights to reprint I’ve got no problem with, but sole ownership? Forget it.

  17. Ian

    @ #1, Brock:

    Away from city lights, moonless night, and you could *almost* see Andromeda with the naked eye?

    You must be a 90 year old cataract patient who was wearing sunglasses. I can practically see M31 from downtown Seattle (a little hyperbole, but not far off from the truth).

  18. skyrider

    Everybody knows that Canadians make the best astronomers so it would be grossly unfair to allow them to enter…

  19. Adrian Lopez

    @drksky:

    I agree. I do have a Celestron telescope, but the fact that any pictures I submit become their property is enough to stop me from submitting them. Handing your copyright over to Celestron in exchange for a chance to win some equipment hardly seems like a fair price to pay.

  20. IVAN3MAN

    CELESTRON Rule:

    #3. That your entry becomes the property of Celestron� and will not be acknowledged or returned, and…

    That is similar to Ferengi Rule of Acquisition:

    #042. What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine too.

    ;-)

  21. Bob

    what a catch-22. can’t get a nice pic w/o a nice celestron scope, can’t get a nice celestron scope w/o a nice pic. :(

  22. I know of few, if any, top astroimagers using Celestron equipment. Many of us start out with Celestron, as did I, but for serious work consumer level stuff like Celestron (or worse, Meade) will eventually leave you frustrated and you will sell it to buy better stuff from companies like SBIG, Astro-Physics, RCOS, and any number of others. Celestron is for astro-dabblers and the folks who, sadly, cannot afford or justify the purchase of better equipment.

    Wanna see the “Good Stuff” and learn a lot about astro imaging? Go to the Advanced Imaging Conference (San Jose, November each year – Google it). Phil spoke there one year, as did I another year.

    Celestron deserves a great deal of credit for making affordable equipment that allows many people to do amateur astronomy but to take the best images, you need the best equipment, and that is clearly not Celestron equipment in an era when many amateurs are spending large 6 figure amounts for their setups and spending thousands of hours imaging the sky.

  23. MadScientist

    @BA: When you say “fancy”, does that mean you’re not ruling out professional astronomical telescopes like Hubble, Keck, Gemini … ?

  24. Paul M.

    If I was American, and I had a Celestron I’d love the opportunity to win… another one

  25. Sandy L

    CONDITIONS OF ENTRY: By registering, you agree:

    1. To abide by all Sweepstakes rules,
    2. To accept as final, the decisions of the judges,
    3. That you consent to have your name, likeness and photograph used by Celestron for publicity or advertising purposes without further compensation if you are declared the winner.
    4. All images must be originally captured by the contestant.
    5. No more than 5 images per contestant allowed.
    6. Images must be taken through Celestron optics

    6. Images must be taken through Celestron optics – I don’t have one!

    OK – I see that I can’t enter… sigh… I was SO excited for a minute!

  26. MadScientist

    @Sandy: Thanks for posting that; it makes it much clearer what the catch is.

    I agree with Richard Drumm – how can you possibly take a wide view with Celestron optics; you can barely get the entire moon into view and 0.5 degrees isn’t “wide” by any stretch of the imagination. I guess you could mosaic a few hundred images. Oh well, there goes my idea of borrowing a buddy’s WW2 aerial reconnaisance camera; I’m sure it hasn’t got any Celestron parts.

    I also find the ownership issue hilarious at best – surely you can point to the same part of the sky and take the same image again! So what is it that Celestron think they’ll own? I have my suspicions that whoever wrote the rules has no experience whatsoever with astrophotography.

  27. DavidLee

    Speak for yourself CCDMan. I own Meade equiment & do very well at astrophotography, thank you very much. Perhaps it’s in the skills of the user on whatever piece of quipment he owns. Give an knowledgeable astrophotographer a top-of-the-line SBIG, a brand new Paramount, 16″ RCT scope, & all the other goodies he needs…..and he’ll soon be taking terrific pictures with those.

    All of us however, can’t afford that type of equipment. So instead, we invent, improvise, & learn how to do excellent work with what we have available…..even if it IS Meade. (Or worse…Celestron)

    Matter of fact, I have an image that I WOULD have entered, taken with only a 35mm lens on a Nikon D40. The quality is excellent. But the subject is a possible winner….something so rare that I would make a good bet that less than 1% of astrophotographers have ever even gotten the chance to SEE it happen. (And no, it’s not an eclipse or a UFO).

    NONE of the equipment used had the brand name of any that you mentioned, but the response from every single person I’ve shown it to (LOTS), was something along the lines of, “WOW!! Remarkable!!”

    But alas, it was also not taken with Celestron equipment….I own none, except a couple eyepieces & a focal reducer. So it won’t be shown here.

    Those who can’t manage to do decent astrophotography without the SBIG’s, Astro-Physics, & RCOS, you can stick with them. They are great equipment, no doubt about that. But some of us have learned how to do GREAT work with much less…..sometimes even BETTER than what comes out of top-notch equipment. Just because an astrophotographer owns that stuff, doesn’t mean he can take good images with it. And likewise on the Meade…because an astrophotographer uses Meade equipment, doesn’t mean his images are sub-par.

  28. I’d love to post some of my wide-field Milky Way shots. All done with a Pentax 67 and not a Celestron fortunately. I’d be given hell though for using film.

  29. You can, indeed, take some wide field images with Celestron optics. You just have to use stuff that they don’t make any more. Click on my name for some images that were taken with a 5.5″ f/3.5 schmidt camera. Back when we use that “film” stuff. I still defy anyone to show me a digital image that has the resolution of hypered tech pan (also no longer made, darn you, Kodak).

  30. Brian

    Sorry Phil. This might be the most pointless contest ever. Of course, it doesn’t cost anything to ignore the contest, so I feel bad complaining. It definitely sounds like something the Hive Overmind forced on Phil.

  31. Jamie

    Does any of the upgrades to Hubble happen to have Celstron optics?? Hmm use a several billion $$ scope to win a $1400….priceless

  32. “Those who can’t manage to do decent astrophotography without the SBIG’s, Astro-Physics, & RCOS, you can stick with them. They are great equipment, no doubt about that. But some of us have learned how to do GREAT work with much less…..sometimes even BETTER than what comes out of top-notch equipment.”

    That is total nonsense. I have had many friends with Meade (and Celestron) equipment (and none who kept it by choice for imaging) and it is garbage compared to proper equipment. Average optics at best, low precision (often plastic) gearing, flimsy mounts, and more. Sure, you can get OK images with that stuff but only after fighting, rebuilding, and tweaking until you want to smash it with a hammer. Been there and done that since 1993. Just because good images CAN be done with poor equipment (with great struggle) and POOR images can be done with good equipment (there are lots of wealthy incompetents out there) does not change the fact that poor equipment is still poor equipment. Are you seriously saying that with Meade equipment you can reliably do images the likes of Russ Croman, Ken Crawford, Robert Gendler and many others that use high end equipment? If so, every high end imager I have ever talked to (and I know many of them personally so HAVE talked to them) would disagree with you. Your post insults the judgement of most of the top amateur astroimagers in the world. They did not buy the good stuff because they were too stupid buy Meade. You get what you pay for.

  33. Adrian Lopez

    I just had another look at the rules, and it looks like they’ve gotten rid of the rule that indicated entries would become the property of Celestron. Perhaps I’ll make an entry after all.

  34. Man, first HULU, now this.

    Being in Canada just gets worse and worse!

    I would totally be all-up-ons otherwise. Mine are getting so much better! Dang-nabbit!

    http://somecanadianskeptic.blogspot.com/2009/05/stacked.html. I have to post just for my own edification at not being able to enter.

  35. Here is a contest for all the whiners who don’t have fancy Celestron equipment: http://www.nmm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/astronomy-photographer-of-the-year/

  36. I’ll have to take my Celestron Binoculars, put my digital camera up to one of the eyepieces and hope for the best! :)

  37. That you consent to have your name, likeness and photograph used by Celestron for publicity or advertising purposes without further compensation if you are declared the winner.

    Definitely more acceptable.

  38. Adrian Lopez

    @Canadian Skeptic,

    Very nice picture of the Milky Way.

  39. DavidLee

    Okay CCDMan, I bow to you as being the king of kings when it comes to astrophotography. No one does it like you, no one can, & no one ever will. Those of us who only have lowly Meade equipment are simply sub-par asrophotographers, never having a chance to reach the level of your greatness.

  40. Bigfoot

    Sadly, CCDMan, even Gallileo could not afford top-flight equipment. He had to use a crude refractor that was so bad it blinded him! Sadly, his telescope was so inaccurate that when he stared at the visible traces of planetary orbits, they appeared to be simple circles. And the poor view he had apparently fooled him into thinking the collection of moving dots around Jupiter was simply a timing instrument intended to facilitate navigational longitude reckoning!

    He apparently was so discouraged by his telescope shortcomings that he could not bring himself to invest in even a modest camera …

  41. DavidLee

    Usually the ones who have the ability to know how to make what they have available work to their advantage, are the ones who actually contribute the most. Those who have no idea how to make lowly sub-par equipment (the kind that MOST amateur astrophotographers have….you know, Meades, Celestrons, junk like that) actually operate, are completely lost when it goes down…..and ALL equipment does, right up to the very best available. John Dobson didn’t even have a motorized drive, and look at the revolution he sparked. The reason being….he didn’t rely on the best equipment available to do the work for him…..he learned how to make the equipment he had available do what he wanted it to do. Same prinicipal applies to astrophotography. The very best results usually come from not the equipment, but the skills of the person using it. And an astrophotographer with the right skills can EASILY produce an award-winning image with less than a $25,000 set-up. Some can’t though.

  42. WOW! I just took my Celestron Skywatcher Binocs out with my Digital camera, and pointed it to the sun, and snapped this!

    http://messagesfromearth.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/battlestar_galactica_wallpapers_800x600.jpg?w=469&h=288

    I wonder what I win? :)

  43. Kaiti

    So how am I supposed to enter if you have to use Celestron optics? I can’t afford to buy it, so I’d have to try to win it! Too bad, I might have had some fun with this anyway.

  44. MadScientist

    @DrSky: Thanks for the link – those are awesome photos! I have a bit of an attachment to film as well – good old 300mm rolls – can cut them, hyper them, etc – but those days are gone. I’m hoping the SkyMapper instrument is finished soon enough; I’d love to see what they get on that beast:

    http://www.mso.anu.edu.au/skymapper/index.php

    @Canadian Skeptic: Take some photos in Canada, drive over the border, visit some buddies for a few weeks, and put in an entry anyway. :P Or is there something about “US residency”?

    @DavidLee: I think you’re trying to convince someone who knows everything. I’m sure most people who have done any serious work would agree with you. I’ve been amazed at what people produce with el-cheapo scopes like the Meade and Celestron (or even a camera on a tripod). You can buy even cheaper excellent telescopes from China (but you need to find a source that knows what they’re doing). I think Meade vs. Celestron is more of a religious thing; some folks in one camp always rant about how the other one’s a piece of rubbish. It doesn’t even matter that someone may fiddle a lot to get something to work (and I’ve never seen anyone waste more time fiddling with a Meade than a Celestron), it is only the end result which matters. Think of it this way: if the brand of telescope were not set and someone with a Celestron lost to someone with a Meade, would the judges change their mind and say “oh, we made a mistake, a Meade is garbage so we really meant to give the award to the Celestron guy”?

  45. Well said DavidLee. I’ve seen some fantastic astrophotos taken with nothing more than a cheal SLR with a 50mm lens and a halfway accurate clock drive.

    Personally, I think people who think they need to spend thousands on equipment to get good results are the same people who would pay $500 for a wooden stereo volume knob or $5000 for a pair of speaker cables.

  46. Scott K

    CCDMan: “many amateurs are spending large 6 figure amounts for their setups”

    I don’t know what kind of “amateurs” you hang out with, but I didn’t spend a large 6-figure amount for my -house-, to say nothing of any optics.

  47. @#18, Ian: Andromeda was very close to the horizon. I should have specified. I’d previously only seen it at a planetarium. Guess I need to get out more :(

  48. Rowan Bulpit

    What set-up would people recommend for someone who wanted to start amateur astrophotography?

  49. @Rowan: An SLR, a tripod and a cable lock. Preceded by a copy of Tirions Sky Atlas.

    Learn the sky first, then take pictures of it.

    Not trying to violate Wil’s rule, but there’s something that bugs me about people who think they need thousands of dollars worth of equipment to take astrophotos. The images I linked above were taken with a borrowed (from my local club) schmidt camera on a run-of-the-mill production Meade SCT. I hypered the film myself in a styrofoam cooler and developed it in my bathroom.

    You can take amazing pictures with nothing more than a camera, tripod and cable lock and a little imagination.

    Before you spend one dollar, look up your local club. They will be a wealth of knowlege and probably equipment that you can get experience with before spending your own money.

  50. Actually, you can learn the sky WHILE taking pictures of it; in fact, I’m finding the picture-taking method to be a much more fun and effective approach than anything else I’ve done.

  51. Ian

    @ MadScientist ” I’m sure most people who have done any serious work would agree with you. I’ve been amazed at what people produce with el-cheapo scopes like the Meade and Celestron (or even a camera on a tripod).”

    I know a handful of amateur astrophotographers who do serious work (the kind of people CCDMan is talking about), and none of them would agree with DavidLee. These are the kind of people who have an obsession with this hobby. They spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on this equipment, not only on the optics, but also on the PC’s, software, hardware, observatories (remote, and on-site), land, buildings, metal-fab equipment, etc etc. Generally, the people who are willing to spend this kind of money want to make sure they know how to get results. Hence, they get those results more often than they don’t.

    @DavidLee “But some of us have learned how to do GREAT work with much less…..sometimes even BETTER than what comes out of top-notch equipment. Just because an astrophotographer owns that stuff, doesn’t mean he can take good images with it.”

    Tripe. The people who take crap astro shots with Celestron/Meade VASTLY outnumber the people who take even sub-par shots with the high-end stuff, even after adjusting for the higher numbers of people with low-end equipment.

    The fact is, the people who buy expensive equipment more often than not have a drive to create high quality images. They are not limited by their equipment, they are limited by their own ability to learn to use it. People who buy Celestron or Meade may have the same drive, but they ARE limited by their equipment, as well as their ability to learn to use it.

  52. Wow, I had some great entries I was thinking of doing, like an eclipsed moonset behind mountains. But, none were taken through Celestron stuff. That’s kinda a pretty restrictive restriction.

  53. @Ian: You have to admit, though, that there are people out there with more money than sense who simply buy the most expensive equipment they can find because they think it will guarantee good results. Don’t say there aren’t, cause I’ve met ‘em.

    I think the fact is that most amateurs can’t afford to spend $25K+ on equipment because, well, they’re amateurs. i.e. someone who does something they love in their spare time while balancing the hobby with a job, kids, mortgage, etc, etc.

  54. Gray Gaffer

    The links are strange. The page with the rules has a link that purports to lead to the entry form. Instead it goes to a page with general info about the contest, a link to the rules, and an Upload link. The Upload link goes to a page for uploading photos, yes, but not specifically contest photos, and you have to register as a named user of the site to upload. Still no entry form. Becoming a member is not one of the entry qualifications. I do have a GP-C8. A GoTo would be nice. I have a nice pic. But no clear way to actually submit it to the competition.

    I’ll watch this space to see if anybody succeeded in submitting.

  55. “I don’t know what kind of “amateurs” you hang out with, but I didn’t spend a large 6-figure amount for my -house-, to say nothing of any optics.”

    As I suggested, attend the “Advanced Imaging Conference” in San Jose in November. You will meet quite a few of these folks. You will also learn a LOT about imaging and meet some cool folks. There are folks in any hobby with a butt load of money. A few of the imagers are Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and as a result have the tech ability, the interest, AND the money for this. I would agree in some ways they are not true amateurs if they spend that kind of money on the hobby but if the definition of amateur is “not-for-profit”, then even big buck types qualify because they are not making money from their images (few do).

    “You have to admit, though, that there are people out there with more money than sense who simply buy the most expensive equipment they can find because they think it will guarantee good results. Don’t say there aren’t, cause I’ve met ‘em.”

    It is not all about equipment. Good equipment still needs good setup and good operation which require skill and experience. You can’t just buy or rent the equipment and get good results unless you rent a scope that others have set up (but then they are not truly your images, IMHO – setup and operation are a BIG part of the process). Good equipment and a poor operator = poor data and poor data = poor images.

    Basically there are two parts to a good image:

    1) Good data which comes from a good operator, well made, precise equipment, and good sky conditions.

    2) Good processing which comes from decent software and knowledge and experience.

    Any good image w/o all of the above is simply an aberrant fluke and will be rare.

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