Our solar system hosts a lot of different objects, that you can observe and photograph: the Sun, the Moon, planets… With the right equipment, they are fantastic photographic opportunities!

1. The Moon

A stacked picture of the Moon

Our Moon is a big a bright stellar object and the closest to Earth. Therefore it is also the easiest and most common object to observe and photograph. It is so bright (with an apparent magnitude between -2.5 and -12.9) that you don’t even need a tripod to photograph it.

The Moon is an interesting target because its shape, size and color can change depending on the circumstances. For instance, lunar eclipses are an amazing phenomenon to witness, with the Moon turning dark red. It also has a lot of beautiful craters and seas that can be observed in detail. 

2. The Sun

The Sun is another object that can be observed and photographed, with the right equipment. For observing and photographing the sun, a solar filter is mandatory, if you don’t want to permanently damage your eyes and equipment. Alternatively, you can use a dedicated solar telescope, but they are very pricey.

Solar imaging is also an interesting activity, because it can be done during the day, which makes everything easier: no more fiddling in the dark and the cold of the night! Also, you will not be bothered by light pollution during the day.

You may ask: why photograph the Sun? Well, unlike planets, moons and deep sky objects, the appearance of the Sun can change and is totally unpredictable. You can observe and photograph solar flares (which create the wonderful Aurora Borealis near the Poles), as well as sunspots

3. The International Space Station

The ISS and a bird cross our Sun – Credit: ESA

Yes! The ISS is traveling around our planet at an amazing speed of
27,600 km/s. That’s very fast, but from the ground, it’s slow enough to be caught on camera.

The best way to photograph the ISS is during a transit. That is, when an object appears between the Earth and the Sun or the Moon. The most common example of transit is the solar eclipse (partial or total). But you can also photograph Mercury’s transit in front of our Sun, and of course, the ISS.

To photograph the International Space Station, a good preparation is required! What you need is a telescope (or a long telephoto lens), a solar filter (it’s mandatory if you photograph the Sun) and a sturdy tripod.

Using burst at the exact moment when the ISS appears can be quite difficult. A better way is actually to make a video, because it has a much higher frame rate (usually 30 or 60 FPS). Then, dedicated software programs can extract the pictures from the video and assemble them.

Fortunately, we can know in advance where the ISS will be at a given time. You just have to be there on time and shoot the Sun (or the Moon)! Here are some great tools to know when the ISS will be traveling above you:

4. The Planets… and their Moons!

My first (and very modest!) attempt at planetary photography

Planets are amazing objects to observe and photograph. I’ll never forget the first time I observed Saturn’s rings with my telescope! And of course, I had to try to take a picture, so I held my iPhone above the telescope’s eyepiece… And I think the result is quite nice, given the poor man’s setup. You’ve got to start somewhere anyway :)

Unfortunately, planets are not so easy to observe and photograph. Since they also revolve around our Sun, their position and distance from the Earth change on a daily basis (either increasing or decreasing). Due to the Earth’s rotation, they also rise and set in our sky every day, just like the Sun. But sometimes, they transit our sky during the day, and can remain invisible for months, until they rise again during the night.

The closer the planets are from Earth, and the brighter they will be. In July 2018, Mars was in opposition, i.e. the shortest distance with the Earth. During a few weeks, it was by far the brightest star in the night sky, with a wonderful reddish color.

Some of the planets also have moons, that can be observed as well if the planet is close enough. They are very tiny dots, but still bright enough to be visible. With a simple pair of binoculars, Jupiter’s moons can be observed quite easily!

However, planets are extremely small targets, and therefore, you need a lot of magnification to view a minimum of details. A powerful telescope is needed to view some details (Schmidt-Cassegrain or Newtonian are great choices), and possibly a Barlow lens to increase the magnification.

5. Comets

Credits: ESA/A. Baker – CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

It is actually possible to photograph comets, and they are very beautiful objects! Comets are icy bodies that release gas as they fly closer to the sun, giving them some kind of tail (also called coma).

Just like planets, comets are orbiting our Sun, but following a much different kind of orbit, that can sometimes be extremely wide and eccentric. For instance, the comet Hyakutake, which was discovered in 1996, has an orbital period of 70,000 years! As a comparison, Pluto revolves around our sun in “only” 248 years. Which means the last time comet Hyakutake visited the Earth, humans were still painting caves…

This is perhaps the most fascinating object you can ever photograph. Unlike other targets, comets aren’t always around. Sure, planets aren’t always visible either, and you can’t see Orion’s nebula in summer if you live in the Northern hemisphere. But wait a few months and they will be back in the night sky. Comets, however, might never be back. These lonely travelers are, sometimes, a once in a lifetime photographic opportunity…

Fortunately, we’re now able to predict when known comets are visiting us. This website will give you plenty information on these alien visitors.

Finally, some scientists also believe that comets contributed to the apparition of life on Earth, bringing essential ingredients. Fascinating…

5 beautiful solar system objects to photograph
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