Wide Field Astrophotography and First Light with My Orion ST-80 [Andromeda Galaxy]

Because it’s small and great for wide field astrophotography picked up an Orion ST-80 telescope. The ST stands for Short Tube. In case you’re wondering, first light, simply means the first use of a telescope to take an image. I purchased it as a grab and go or travel scope. Considering my future travel plans include trips abroad, a small scope like this is a must.

About the Scope

Orion ST-80 Telescope
Orion Short Tube 80 mm Telescope Design: Refractor Aperature: 80 mm Focal Length: 400 mm F Ration: f/5 Coatings – Fully Multi-coated Optics type – Air-spaced doublet Glass material – Crown/Flint Resolving power – 1.45arc*sec Lowest useful magnification – 12x Highest useful magnification – 160x Limiting stellar magnitude – 12.2 Focuser – 1.25in. Rack-and-pinion Tube material – Aluminum Length of optical tube – 15.0 in. Weight, optical tube – 3 lb

The specs are listed above and what makes this great is its small and compact size. At 3 pounds this is perfect for trips to the local park or trips abroad in a carry on or suit case. The 400 mm focal length means you can see a wide part of the sky. Galaxies, planets and star clusters will look small in the eyepiece. For me this is great for wide field astrophotography, because large objects like the Andromeda Galaxy completely fit into the view. Otherwise I would have to do a mosaic and I’m not skilled in this…yet.

Target: The Andromeda Galaxy

My hands down favorite object in the night sky is the Andromeda Galaxy. She is elegant and majestic. So much so that our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is running towards her with open arms (pun intended) and the attraction is mutual (again pun intended). My first ever attempt at wide field astrophotography was of this beauty and it does her no justice.

Messier 31 Andromeda Galaxy Telescope & Mount: Orion Astroview 6 with Astroview Mount Camera: Google Pixel Really Blue Guiding: None Location: Carrollton, VA Sky: Bortle Class 5 Acquisition & Calibration: – Filter: None – ISO Unknown – 10 Light Frames @ 0.6 s – Total Integration Time: 6 seconds

Now, almost 2 years later, and armed with experience and knowledge, I’m going to give her the treatment she deserves.

Wide Field Astrophotography

There are 4 types of Astrophotography: Wide Field, Solar, Planetary, and Deep Sky. I’ve posted pictures from all except wide field on this blog. Wide field simply means large area of the sky. Some take Milky Way photos to include mountains, trees or buildings. See below. There are multiple night sky objects to observe.

Milky Way
Milky Way (I didn’t take this photo)

You also can see the light pollution from the city lights. My current setups can only see parts of the Andromeda Galaxy thus the need to expand my field of view.

Dove Tail Bar Modification

A balanced mount is important to tracking the night sky in astrophotography. Wide field astrophotography is a little more forgiving than say deep sky, but this telescope was so far off that I had to put on a longer dove tail bar. I’m a do it yourselfer, so I took an extra bar and drilled a hole in it. Voila! The extra length allowed me to push the scope further in front of the mount to counter balance the camera on the back end.

Focus Challenge

Look back on my article about Bahtinov Masks, which details the need to be in focus when capturing photos. I thought this would be as simple as before. Yet I ended up 3D printing 2 different versions of Bahtinov Masks. Each with different spacing between bars on the mask. Neither worked. I could not see the lines on the star in order to focus the telescope. In fact I could not see the star at all.

With this knowldege I printed the second mask with wider distance between bars thinking this would let enough light in to be able to focus correctly. Wrong! I discovered, after getting frustrated and taking the scope apart, that there is an air gap between the 2 lenses. 3 small rubber spacers existed between the two. After cleaning the lenses, focus was easy to achieve with the original mask. Therefore, with focus, I can actually take a picture of the Andromeda Galaxy.

Help from My Neighbors

Behind every good astrophotographer are great neighbors. The opportunity was there to have the darkest skies under cooler temperatures. So I did what I don’t normally do, I asked my neighbors to turn off their outside lights. And guess what, they did! That was when I saw the Milky Way appear over me. Later one neighbor came home so of course the car lights affected one sub, but they then turned on their outside lights. So I figured, so far so good. I’ll ask again. And yes, he somewhat reluctantly turned off his light. It was 11:30 pm, so I get the unhappy response, but such is the life of an astrophotographer. All in all, my neighbors are good people.

Messier 31 Andromeda Galaxy Telescope & Mount: Orion ST-80 with Astroview Mount Camera: Canon EOS XTi Guiding: None Location: Carrollton, VA Sky: Bortle Class 5 Acquisition & Calibration: – Filter: None – APT (Astrophotography Tool) – ISO 1600 – 40 Light Frames @ 120 s – 62 Dark Frames @ 120 s – 19 Flat Frames – 60 Bias Frames – Total Integration Time: 80 minutes

I took another photo a week later with all the my neighbors lights on. Here’s the result. Which one do you like better?

Messier 31 Andromeda Galaxy Telescope & Mount: Orion ST-80 with Astroview Mount Camera: Canon EOS XTi Guiding: None Location: Carrollton, VA Sky: Bortle Class 5 Acquisition & Calibration: – Filter: None – APT (Astrophotography Tool) – ISO 800 – 14 Light Frames @ 180 s – 30 Dark Frames @ 120 s – 50 Flat Frames – 60 Bias Frames – Total Integration Time: 42 minutes

Wide Field Astrophotography Conclusion

After all, the stars aligned for my first photo of the Andromeda Galaxy. My neighbors contributed darkness, my trouble shooting skills contributed a working scope, the skies were clear and the temperature was cool. I enjoy the original photo more than the second. The second photo was more difficult to process because of the light pollution generated by my neighbors. With what I’ve learned, I expect better photos. Tell me about your experience. Clear Skies!