Astrophotographer Andrew McCarthy discovered his love for outer space over 20 years ago while exploring the solar system through his father's telescope.
His interest was renewed a few years ago when he found a free telescope on Craigslist. However, at the time, he was still a beginner. This meant he had to sit through the difficult task of learning the technical aspects of astrophotography. After a while, his dedication paid off, and he was able to snap one of the most incredible photographs of the solar system almost entirely in his backyard.
His stunning composite not only shows our solar system's planets but also includes the Moon and Sun. There's also Comet 46p/Wirtanen and the International Space Station set against the Milky Way. McCarthy can honestly say that he has honed his astrophotography craft over the years. The crisp and balanced composition of the image is a testament to his skill as an astrophotographer.
The list of equipment he used to capture the magnificent shot is vast. He made use of various cameras and telescopes needed for different elements of the final image. Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter were captured with an Orion XT10 telescope and ZWO ASI224MC camera. McCarthy took 8,000 to 10,000 frames each at .25-.75ms and then cropped, centred, aligned, and stacked them for the perfect shot.
However, getting a snap of Uranus was more difficult. McCarthy continued to use the same telescope, but he switched to a Sony A7ii and Skywatcher EQ6-R Pro for a single 30-second exposure at 6400 ISO. This same setup was also used to photograph Comet 46p/Wirtanen. However, he took 60 different 30-second exposures at 6400 ISO and then manually aligned everything in Photoshop.
The comet and the Milky Way were two elements he did not shoot from his backyard. McCarthy was able to snap the perfect image in Sly Park, California.
McCarthy used the same setup as most of the planets to get a snap of the International Space Station. He first researched the ISS's projected path and aimed his camera in that direction. He ended up shooting 25,000 frames at .32ms for two passes.
The Moon uses 1,000 frames for each component of a 24-panel mosaic taken at .25ms using the Orion, Skywatcher, and ZWO. Thanks to an Orion Safety Solar Filter, McCarthy could photograph the Sun in one spectacular 1/200″ shot at 50 ISO using the Orion, Skywatcher, and Sony A7ii.
To nail the background, McCarthy took a good snap of the milky way. However, he did move locations, this time to Lundy Lake, California. He had to use an entirely different setup to get all the fine details of our galaxy.
McCarthy used a Meade 2120 telescope with a piggyback mount, Canon 60D camera, and 28-80mm lens set at 28mm. The final result comes from a single 3-minute, f/9 exposure at 3200 ISO.
After all the hard work just to get the snaps, McCarthy completed the final arrangement of objects in Photoshop. It only took 30 minutes, with the resulting composite photograph a triumph of astrophotography.