Friday, May 20, 2016

Mars at Opposition This Weekend

I'm a bit of a stargazer, so I love taking a look at the heavens on the nights when we have a clear view here in the UK. I've been like this since I was a little girl. I've always been intrigued by the beauty and the majesty of the night sky. When I look up I feel small next the the vastness, but I also feel something great within because I know that the corner of the night sky that I can see is a part of something greater.

I get extra excited when there are events happening in the night sky and this weekend, in the early morning hours of Sunday, May 22nd, the planet Mars reaches opposition in the constellation Scorpius. This is a great time for osbservation. The magnificent red planet will be visible on the southern horizon. It'll reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight BST, but it'll be visible for much of the night. I don't know how clear the view will be here on Sunday morning, but I'm going to give it a go and see what I can see.

Ian Savage, Head of the Jessops Training Academy has said, “For those wanting to get a clearer view, this is the ideal occasion to look up into the sky and delve into the curiosity of our universe. With the right kit, you’ll be amazed at what you can see.”

I'm always interested in learning more about the night sky and I'm increasingly interested in learning what I can about capturing what I see on camera.

Here are some tips for capturing Mars from the Jessops Training Academy:

  • Mars will be visible for much of the night, reaching its highest point in the sky at around midnight in the UK. However, make sure you are positioned somewhere where the air is clear to ensure better visibility. Travelling out to a country location will be of a huge benefit as you’ll have less light pollution ruining your view.

  • Once night falls, give your eyes a chance to adjust to the darkened environment. It takes around an hour for your eyes to get adjusted to seeing in the dark, and letting them adjust will give you the best views through the telescope.

  • Shooting Mars will be different to capturing a regular night sky. First of all, you’ll want to use a longer lens. As you’re capturing a specific part of the night sky, not the whole thing, this will allow you to hone in on the planet. A lens with a minimum focal length of at least 200mm is ideal, if not then a decent optical zoom will suffice.

  • Lens-wise you want to follow two simple rules – wide angle and fast aperture. A wide angle will allow you to capture an expansive view of the sky, while a fast maximum aperture will allow your camera to gather in as much light as possible. You can think of a telescope as a funnel to collect lots of light and concentrate it into a tiny beam that will fit inside your eye, this means you will be able to see objects fainter than your eye alone can detect.

  • Deciding which telescope to choose amongst the multitude of different options is a challenge even for the experienced observer. For the newcomer, there are some great, affordable options such as the Skywatcher Capricorn 70 TQ1 Telescope. The 900mm focal length on this telescope, combined with the sub-£100 price makes it a good choice for starter users to get their bearings. It also comes equipped with an equatorial mount, a feature you’ll see on all high-end telescopes that allows it to track objects as they traverse the night sky.

  • If you find that you are getting an obscured view through the telescope you might want to check the collimation – or alignment – of the optics. Reflecting telescopes are the most susceptible to this so you will need to refer to the instruction manual for details of how to collimate your particular telescope.

  • Once you start to spend a little more money you start to see the real jump in quality. Celestron’s computerised telescope is a more serious tool, with which you’ll be able to glimpse the rings of Saturn or the surface of Jupiter. Take it somewhere darker and you’ll be able to see distant galaxies, and its database of celestial objects will make this easy for you. It’s an incredibly lightweight and transportable piece of kit.

  • If you’re really committed to night photography and think it’s going to heavily contribute to your portfolio then you may want to look at a camera that specialises in low light. Investigate mirrorless systems as there are some great, low-light mirrorless cameras out there that are multi-purpose, such as the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II. 
These are great tips! I'll be referring back to these as I step further into photographing the night sky. Hopefully one day I'll be able to share something wonderful here. Until then I'll be out there this weekend hoping to get a glimpse of beautiful Mars. Happy Weekend!

*Disclosure: I was not compensated in any way. I just thought that I'd share these tips.

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