A Qualicum Beach man says he was able to snap (from his backyard) a photo of the Andromeda Galaxy, which is 2.5 million light years away from earth, using an ordinary camera.
Ron Fisher was able to capture the closest neighbouring galaxy to earth using a Canon EOS with a 300mm telephoto lens on an equatorial tracking mount.
“That’s my first real effort,” said the 77-year-old Fisher. “I have been studying and trying to learn how to do that for a while and that’s my first successful try.”
Fisher said it required lot of reading and learning from others. He is a member of the Nanaimo Astronomy Club, the Royal Astronomical Society in Victoria and also two astro photography groups. He said he has absorbed a lot of information, knowledge and guidance from them.
“These people are really, really knowledgeable and I have learned so much from them,” said Fisher. “So it’s been a wonderful experience for me.”
Fisher, who first developed a love for astronomy when his wife, Nicole, gave him an eight-inch Dobsonion telescope for Christmas three years ago, specifically sought out to shoot the Andromeda Galaxy.
“It’s really hard to see, so what I did is I calculated, after reading all kinds on astronomy and everything else, what the field of view was for my telephoto lens,” Fisher explained. “I knew I wanted to use a 300mm setting to get most of the galaxy and it worked out just fine.”
Fisher shot about 140 30-second exposures and processed the images with Pixinsight, the software that professional astronomers use.
“It’s a very lengthy process,” said Fisher. “I selected about 107 images that were clear and good enough. And then I stacked them and processed them, getting rid of the background noise. It took me about two weeks to work through the software process and clear them up. So when I finally did it, I was so pleased.”
The critical part of the work, Fisher explained, is to get the camera to focus on the subject that he is targetting up in space.
“When you’re aiming into the dark sky, it’s so hard to do that,” said Fisher. “So what I had to do was to go on live-view and extend it to full magnification so I can pick out a star that is close to what I want to photograph. And then I adjust the lens to get it absolutely focussed. Then I tell my mount to move to the object that I want to go to.”
Although it’s a time-consuming hobby, Fisher regards it as “fun.”
“I am 77 years old and it’s like going back to university again and I just love it,” said Fisher. “There’s so much to learn and read. The actual photo is not the only goal, it’s also learning the process and excitement of being able to learn all this stuff. It’s wonderful. My wife has been extremely patient with me.”
What Fisher would like see, similar to the many astronomers he has talked to, is to convince hydro companies to try to keep the night skies dark as much as possible.
“This is important so that kids can grow up seeing the stars,” said Fisher. “That’s disappearing quickly. And right now, I would like to do something about it. They’re bright blue and the kind of thing that takes the night skies away. They need to be shielded, toned down or whatever, otherwise we’re gonna lose it. When we moved here five years ago from Vancouver, we’ve never seen the night skies. And it such a thrill here to walk on my backyard and enjoy looking at the stars and constellations. It’s so beautiful and it would be nice just to keep it that way.”
Now that Fisher has a successful photo of the Andromeda Galaxy, he now has something to share with the groups he is affiliated with.
“They often show their latest works and I never had anything to offer,” said Fisher.”I am going to show them my photo but it’s nothing like what they’ve been taking as they’ve got so much experience and their equipment is so much better,” said Fisher. “But it’s a start.”
Fisher said he would like to invest in another telescope that will help him capture on camera of different areas in deep space. He is hoping to shoot the Orion Nebula.
“It is just starting to rise not in the east and in a month or two it’ll be sky-high,” said Fisher. “It is absolutely beautiful. I hope to get that. I just want to keep on learning.”