During this contest, Canadian astrophotographers have had ample opportunity to catch Mars in its full glory. The corresponding Photo of the Week contest submissions have certainly not disappointed the judges.
Shooting from Saint-Roch-de-l’Achigan, Québec, Daniel Borcard stunned the panel with his exquisite Mars gallery and self-produced planetary map, winning Photo of the Week on December 18, 2020.
“Quite conveniently, the (October) 2020 Mars opposition was also the time when I retired,” Borcard wrote. “Consequently, I could afford to spend many nights at the telescope, filming and filming the Red Planet. Hundreds of gigabytes of data later, as well as a good amount of time spent to process these data, I managed to produce some interesting material.”
The first piece — “a classical retrospective,” Borcard said — shows images of Mars to scale as the planet approached and moved away from Earth. The upper-left hand image was taken June 17, 2020, circling around to the centre-right image, taken November 9, 2020.
“The seventh image (with prominent Syrtis Major) was taken during the night of October 6, 2020, when Mars was closest,” he wrote.
Borcard said that during October, it occurred to him that he had reasonably good images of nearly all visible parts of the planet, except the region of Sinus Meridiani.
“So I strived to cover that one as well, because the next logical step was to produce a Mars planisphere. This I did recently. Equirectangular projection,” he wrote. “Everything above around 45 degrees north is either permanently covered with clouds or (for the pole itself) simply invisible this year.”
Lastly, Borcard also sent SkyNews a video, produced from his images of the Red Planet.
“It is an animation produced on the basis of the map. I projected the map on a sphere (well, almost a sphere for Mars) and produced a short movie with one image every two minutes of martian rotation and 30 frames per second,” he wrote.
Borcard said that to acquire this data, he used a Teleskop Service ONTC 10-inch (f/4) Newtonian telescope on an Astro-Physics 1200GTO mount, a Tele Vue 5× PowerMate, a ZWO atmospheric dispersion corrector, and either a ZWO ASI224MC colour camera or a QHY5III290M monochrome camera with Orion filters.
Other imaging details:
- Image acquisition: FireCapture 2.6 or 2.7
- Stacking: AutoStakkert!3
- Image processing: AstroSurface and WinJUPOS
- Mapping and animation: WinJUPOS
“The images are clear and well-processed and he has extracted about as much value in possible in presentation,” said one of the judges. “It’s interesting to see the relative apparent sizes of the planet before, at and after opposition.”
Our runner up this week is a non-traditional night-sky image — a quickly captured, five-panel mosaic of the Cygnus region by Jeff Booth.
“The image was never really meant to happen, in that gathering this data last year was only a test,” Booth wrote. “The goal was to test whether I could properly capture data for a multi-panel mosaic … The project was to also test whether I could process a mosaic successfully.”
Booth said that because this was a test, he did not gather hours of data — simply 15 minutes on each panel, for an overall total of 75 minutes. He gathered the data in August 2019 from the Carr Astronomical Observatory near Collingwood, Ontario.
“It is worth mentioning that there was no telescope here. Lots of other astro gear, but no telescope,” he wrote. “Also unusual here, was that there was no external guiding — just a mount that was polar aligned well and which made use of the native guiding software within the mount. No doubt this was because the field of view was so very, very large.”
So what are you looking at in this image?
“You can easily spot the North America Nebula (centre left) and the nearby Pelican Nebula (to the right of the North American Nebula) — and a whole lot more,” he points out. “Just to the right of these nebulae is the bright star Deneb and near the edge, at roughly the five-o’clock position is the other bright star Sadr. The two stars are part of the Northern Cross asterism.”
The lower square shows the Sadr region, including the Crescent Nebula.
Capture details include:
- Mount: Celestron CGEM
- Camera: ZWO 1600, cool
- Filter: Hydrogen-alpha
- Exposures: 15 × 60-seconds per panel (five panels)
- Optics: Rokinon 135mm f2 DSLR lens.
- Field of view: Approximately 15 degrees × 11 degrees
- Processing: PixInsight and PhotoShop
For those who are curious, Booth also sent along an image of his setup.
“The imaging train (camera, filter wheel, adapter, lens) was held together by a device I designed and made myself,” he wrote. “This was all mounted onto the saddle of the mount.”
Keep your eyes on the skies — and on the prize! Prizes for the 2020-21 SkyNews Photo of the Week contest are sponsored by Sky-Watcher, Celestron, iOptron and The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Click here for more details on the prize packages that will be awarded to the best photos this year.