Astrophotography: How do you find out what’s up there?

I was asked if there are resources that will tell you what is coming up in the sky, so you can make plans for astrophotography. The answer is sufficiently useful that I thought I would post it to everyone. I think the very best web site for planning astrophotography is this one:

https://www.heavens-above.com/

Click on the link and you have a large number of options. I have programmed the above link to select “Musselburgh” as the default location. Click on “location” in the top right corner to see what the sky is doing where you live. The site is used by amateur astronomers, satellite and space enthusiasts, but the pages I think would be most useful for astrophotography are:

  • Interactive Sky Chart: This tells you what the sky looks like on any date. The zenith (looking straight up) is in the middle of the graph and the horizon is around the edge. Change the date to see how the sky will change in the future. You can, for example, see where the Milky Way crosses the horizon on each date. You can follow the planets and see if there are dates when they clump together and make a show at sunset or sunrise.
  • The Moon: This page lets you follow what happens to the Moon on future dates. You can check its phase and check when it might pass close to a planet and make a good show. For example, dial up 28th January 2020 and press “update” and you’ll see the crescent Moon passes close to Venus. If the sky is clear this would  be a good time to photograph the Moon as it sets.

Another very useful site is this one:

https://www.timeanddate.com/

The first thing you’ll need to do is click the “set home location” link under “Set time” and set your home location to Edinburgh, Scotland (it doesn’t know about Musselburgh). This site doesn’t have as many features as heavens-above, but it is is best site for predicting eclipses. Click here to bring up the eclipse planning page. The site is not as good at remembering your location, so make sure you type “Edinburgh, Scotland” in the “Place or country” box to get the correct information. You’ll find the next eclipse visible from here is a rather boring penumbral lunar eclipse on 5th June 2020. Keep tracking forwards and you’ll see there is a good solar eclipse on 10th June 2021. Put that date in your diary.

Finally, another site I find useful is this one:

https://spaceweather.com/

The site is dedicated to monitoring solar activity, so it is a good place to get sunspot and aurora predictions. The site doesn’t plan ahead but tells you what’s in the sky right now. It’s a good place to see alerts about aurorae or unusual clouds that could make interesting landscape images. Best of luck!

I hope all this will be useful to some members.

 

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