Desktop Project Part 13: Backyard Orion

By Phil Plait | April 7, 2012 11:00 am

[This is another in a series of posts I'm doing to help me clear off the zillions of cool astronomy pictures I have sitting on my computer desktop. The difference this time? I took this one!]

On Friday night, February 24, 2012, the Moon, Venus, and Jupiter made a pretty line in the sky. I took some pictures as they were setting to the west, but there was a show to the south, too: the constellation of Orion was standing straight and tall over the roof of my house, so I took a quick shot of that, as well:

[Click to enhunternate.]

Not bad, eh? That’s a 13 second exposure with my point-and-shoot camera mounted on a tripod. I just aimed it and took this one picture (right after I took this we had to get dinner started, and the kitchen light illuminates my back yard so I couldn’t shoot any more). Sometimes astrophotography is pretty easy! Now, I wouldn’t submit this shot to a professional site or anything, but given how least-effort it was I’m happy to post it here.

And it’s not terrible. In the bigger version you can see star colors — Betelgeuse (Orion’s right shoulder) and Aldebaran (to the upper right) are both clearly orange, and you can see the blue in Rigel. Look below Orion’s belt; in his, um, dagger you can see the fuzzy Orion Nebula, shining slightly pink. Look to the lower left: there’s Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, peeking through the trees.

It doesn’t take crazy fancy expensive equipment to take pictures that you can enjoy. Sure, I’d love to have a $4000 camera with telephoto and pro tripod, but even with a modest camera it’s not impossible to capture the skies. And with Venus still shining madly in the west right now after sunset, even folks in big cities can get interesting pictures of it. If you have a camera, give it a shot!


Related posts:

- The Shuttle, the Station, and Orion
- And I saw a star rising in… the WEST?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Orion, Sirius

Comments (15)

  1. Nice… it’s also a great way to show people what’s up there without the mental barrier they may have connecting professional or NASA shots to their own lives.

    Even in the middle of the city, a normal camera tripod shot of Jupiter right now clearly shows the Galilean moons.

  2. Michael

    I am not in any way an expert on astronomy but Orion is one of the few constellations I recognize. However, when you post pics like this one I would like to make a request. Could you post it once “clean” and again with labels to clearly indicate the stars you’re talking about (Betelgeuse, Aldebaran, Rigel, etc.)? The purpose would be to help educate those of us non-experts!

    Then I could go out and find them in the sky myself. I am fascinated by your posts and enjoy all of them, by the way! I appreciate being able to vicariously enjoy the wonders of the universe through your view.

  3. Chris

    @2 Michael
    I suggest you download Stellarium. (http://www.stellarium.org/) It’s 100% free and will help make you an expert on the night sky.

  4. AT

    @Jim Saul: What type of camera did you use for Jupiter?
    @ Phil Plait: What camera did you use for Orion?
    I´m peeking through the CANON Ixus 115s at Ebay right now. Given a tripod, would any shots of the night sky be possible with a 100 $ compact camera? What do you think? There might be great possibilities to capture some building-framed planet alignments here in Berlin and I don´t wanna miss it.
    Thanks to everyone who replies. :-)

  5. Shavenyak

    Actually a big telephoto lens is kinda pointless for this sort of picture, I was wishing I had a wider lens on when I shot Orion a couple weeks ago. The big telephoto is great for the moon and planets though (or planets’ moons ;) )

  6. Mick

    That XKCD has ruined Orion for me. RUINED IT!

  7. Chris

    @4 AT
    I would suggest downloading the user manual for the camera you are interested in. See if it has settings for night or starry sky. If it doesn’t have an explicit one, look to see if you can manually control the shutter speed to at least 30 seconds and control the ISO setting, basically how sensitive the detector is. I’ll leave it to someone else to suggest an optimum setting. Actually an interesting thing if you keep the shutter open too long you can see the stars streak as the Earth rotates under you. Usually 15-30 seconds and you can see the effect. That’s why having a zoom isn’t much help in this kind of picture. If you zoomed in, it would just make the streak more pronounced. In that case you’d have to build or buy a rotating mount. Not too hard to make a manual one.

  8. Blobulon

    Phil, you bastard, I’ve (surprisingly) never thought of Orion having a todger.

  9. Tickertape

    So, it must be Sirius I’ve been seeing on clear nights. It’s interesting to see Orion from a completely different perspective. Right now, Orion is peaking over the houses to the southwestish of us. We can see the whole constellation, but you have to shift around a bit. It won’t be long before we see a similar view.

  10. KC

    @AT: most point and shoot do not have manual controls for long exposures. While you might be able to get some shots of bright planets, it is not really suited for astrophotography.

  11. Venus and Jupiter were so bright and clear last month that I actually got a couple of pleasing pictures with my frikkin’ cellphone of all things…

  12. @2. Michael :

    I am not in any way an expert on astronomy but Orion is one of the few constellations I recognize. However, when you post pics like this one I would like to make a request. Could you post it once “clean” and again with labels to clearly indicate the stars you’re talking about (Betelgeuse, Aldebaran, Rigel, etc.)? The purpose would be to help educate those of us non-experts!

    Jim Kaler, stellar expert astronomer and author has that feature on his superb Stars’ website
    which I’d very strongly recommend and is one of my personal favourite astronomical info. resources.

    Click on my name for link to Orion – with labels for names option. :-)

  13. SHG

    But it’s upside down! Betelgeuse is at the bottom right, every kid knows that.

    PS: Hi from Australia.

  14. @ ^ SHG : There’s no up or down in space! Galactic north and south maybe but no “correct” up or down so it just depends on your point of view. Or latitude as the case may be. ;-)

    FWIW. It looks upside down to this Aussie too.

  15. Tanya McPositron

    Thank you! I have been saying Um…dagger (and things like it) for years, and folks just roll their eyes or tell me I have issues. At long last!- I am not alone!!!

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