Dark skies in France


Dark Sky in France – 26.07.2020

New aspect:
Imaging under a dark sky – taking an image of the Milky Way

Image acquisition:
My family and I were holidaying in France at the western Atlantic coast. The weather was overwhelming and the trip wonderful! Being fairly far away from any major city the camping site and the beach in particular offered my some spectacular views of the night sky. Having Comet NEOWISE peaked its brightness a couple of days ago – read the article about this – I really wanted to capture the faint traveler in France. Unfortunately my only „gear“ I took with my was the lightweight tripod and a smartphone holder, along with my LG G6 (with the ability to take .raw images).

So I went to the pitch black beach and took my smartphone and the tripod with me. The sky was amazing! Jupiter and Saturn were still high in the night sky – outperform everything around them. Unlucky me the moon was also visible and washed out a fair section of the night sky as well. The beach was populated with holidaymakers lighting fires at the beach or drinking and chilling. The atmosphere was really relaxing.
Funny thing was: I am till now quite sure that I was the only person being aware of the spectacle in the night sky – as NEOWISE was already quite dark and hard to spot.

Regardless. I set up the phone and fired the 20′ exposures @ ISO600. The night sky was still azure blue and the suns light not jet gone. The comet was barely visible with the naked eye but was visible within the longer exposures, even using „just“ the smartphone sensor.

Setting sun over the Atlantic – France
feat. Comet NEOWISE

Problem with my smartphone: I can not use any type of image sequencing. I literally have to touch the release button ever single time with my finger – being extra cautious not to shake the phone too much. This way I spent the next hour taking image after image until the sky was reasonable dark.

After taking images of NEOWISE in the constellation of Ursa Major I turned my head and decided that the sight of Jupiter and Saturn over the beach fires and dunes was worth wile a few extra shots:

Dark Sky in France – 26.07.2020

Image processing:
Processing the .raw images of my LG G6 was quite a challenge. With the image of NEOWISE the field rotation kicked in way too heavy and the stacked result in DeepSkyStacker looked way too distorted. The outer stars trailed and twisted and I could not make out any more details in the final stacked image.
I totally skipped the images with the still azure sky, even though there were faint hints of details visible in the individual subs. Taking just a hand full of pitch black sky frames turned out to be the sweet spot for this data-set. Slight improvement in details but not too much field rotation.

Comet NEOWISE in France over the Atlantic Ocean

The next time I holiday in a dark location I will bring my astro modified camera AND a portable tracking mount like the Skywatcher Star Adventurer or the iOptron Sky Guider Pro. It is an investment (~300 bucks) but being able to capture minute long exposures to unveil the faint details of the Milky Way or a lonely comet is definitely worth the effort.