I’ve always had an interest in astronomyÂ and have dabbled in astrophotography since I got my first digital camera back in the late 1990s. Over the years I’ve got images of all the planets except Neptune and Pluto. The latter of these is never going to be an easy target for the lazy amateur (me), but maybe, just maybe Neptune is possible.
I’ve had a soft spot for Neptune since the Voyager 2 flyby in 1989 – I’ve still got the article I tore out from a newspaper at the time.
As it happens, Neptune is nicely placed in the sky right now – just between Venus and Mars and close to a couple of guide stars.
Braving the frost, I took the camera out to the garden, mounted it on a slightly wobbly tripod and took some images of the general area of sky I knew Neptune was lurking. Some processing and stacking with ImageJÂ and I had a star-field that might contain my target.
It’s easier to see the faint points of light of the guide stars and Neptune if you invert the colours, so you’re seeing black points on a white / grey background.
I used Stellarium to predict the current positions of Mars, Neptune and the guide stars and overlaid that on top of my image stack. This lined up reasonably well, there are some angular offset and slight scale differences between the two images, but it’s close enough for guidance.
With the assurance that I had Neptune in my images I was able to definitely pick it out from the stellar background.
Some technical details:
- Camera:Â Nikon D7000
- Lens: AFS Nikkor 55-300 at 200mm
- Exposure: 5 seconds
- 20 exposures stacked with ImageJ