On my way back home from work on the 4th February, I noticed that the Moon looked especially radiant. It had just been a Full Moon the night before so it was very big and bright, but there were also a series of colourful rings around it. This atmospheric phenomenon is called a lunar corona and occurs when the sunlight reflected off the Moon gets diffracted by individual water droplets in the clouds, just like how a rainbow is formed during the daytime. The smaller the water droplets, the bigger the corona, and also, the more even the water droplets, the clearer the corona. I also noticed that Jupiter was pretty close to the Moon.
Sadly, when I got home, the Moon had been covered up by the clouds but it reappeared again at around 22:30, just as I was getting ready for bed. As an astrophysicist, I’m more used to analysing images taken by other people and working out what’s going on, rather than take them myself. But, inspired by the opening of the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition and the exhibition showcasing last year’s winners and runners up, I decided to have a go at astrophotography. I borrowed my sister’s Nikon d60 camera with an 18-55mm lens (I don’t actually know anything about cameras) and leaned out of my bedroom window (I was already in my pyjamas!) and started taking pictures of the Moon with its corona and Jupiter above it.
After playing around with the settings on the camera and getting some strange questions from my sister, I was getting the hang of things! I managed to take around 70 photos over about an hour. Admittedly, most of them were blurry but I did manage to get some good shots that I’m pleased with. This just shows how easy it is to get into astrophotography – all you need is a camera, perseverance and maybe a little bit of luck. As you get better, you might want to invest in a better camera and a telescope to mount it on and you might be able to capture Jupiter and its four Galilean moons. But you can also book time on robotic telescopes to take images of the Moon, the planets and deep space objects. I remember doing exactly that with the National Schools Observatory when I was still at school and I’ll never forget seeing the picture of the faraway galaxy that I told the telescope based in the Canary Islands to take. I felt like a real astronomer.
We would really love for more young people to get interested in astronomy and astrophotography. That’s why we’ve set up Creative Cosmos, where you can find out more on how to start exploring the universe through your own lens and how to take your very own robotic telescope images. On there, you’ll find fact files, videos and competitions where you’ll get the chance to win some swag handpicked by our Astronomers. Why not suggest doing a project to your teachers and possibly entering your photos to the Insight Astronomy Photography of the Year 2015 – Young Competition? Who knows, the photo that you and your classmates took could be seen by millions of people from around the world.