The Universe Around You: What an Amateur Astrophotographer Can See


Here is the first page of Google Image Search results for "nature photography":


Which is to say, visually, that we have a very terrestrial understanding of nature.

J-P Metsävainio is a nature photographer too, he says. But he doesn't take pictures of our planet or the life on it. He takes pictures of the night skies. "The night sky is part of our nature and the astronomical imaging is a form of nature photography," he wrote to me. Metsävainio lives in the north of Finland, at 65 degrees Latitude.

With his Meade LX200 GPS 12" telescope and some second-hand camera lenses, he captures emission nebulae from within our galaxy, the Milky Way. Each image takes around 10 to 20 hours of exposure. To counteract the natural rotation of Earth (which would result in all stars appearing as streaky arches), he sets his camera on a special mount that rotates in the opposite direction. Each image is composed of multiple sub-exposures of about 20 minutes, sometimes collected over not just days but weeks or even years. The colors in his pictures come from shooting the same object three times through different color filters, similar to the technique of early color photography. "Visually," he explains, "no colors can be detected, even with a large telescope, they are way too dim for human eye."


Telescope and camera ready to go

It's not really a "hobby," Metsävainio says. "I've never had a hobby. I have always done things fully and professionally, or not at all."

Recently, Metsävainio has gotten into playing around with his images in software that can take his pictures and create 3D models out of them, such as this one of IC 1396 in Cepheus.

His favorite of his pictures so far is his first from this season and it's of the Veil Nebula, located in the constellation Cygnus, estimated to be about 1,470 light years away. It is the result of about 10 hours of exposure:


Here are a few more he selected as particularly interesting:


Nothing anyone puts together here on Earth will have the range or the precision of NASA's big telescopes, but that doesn't mean that the images an amateur astrophotographer can produce don't carry some of that same punch: Here's the universe around you, bigger and more glorious than your eyes can see.

Wizard Nebula, 10 hours of exposure:


Bubble Nebula, 15 hours of exposure:


Crescent Nebula, 20 hours of exposure:


Pac-Man Nebula, 10 hours of exposure:


California Nebula, 45 hours of exposure, taken with a Tokina AT-X 300mm f2.8 lens:

Jump to comments
Presented by

Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Is Technology Shifting Our Moral Compass?

"The experience of taking another human life becomes much more trivial."

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Juice Cleanses: The Worst Diet

A doctor tries the ever-popular Master Cleanse. Sort of.


Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion


What If Emoji Lived Among Us?

A whimsical ad imagines what life would be like if emoji were real.


Living Alone on a Sailboat

"If you think I'm a dirtbag, then you don't understand the lifestyle."


The Future of Iced Coffee

Are artisan businesses like Blue Bottle doomed to fail when they go mainstream?



More in Technology

Just In