All posts by A. Anfuso

The Strawberry Moon

Dear friends of The Lonely Photon,

I’m sure you have peered at the spectacular full Moon that lit the entire night sky with its glow last weekend. You can’t have missed it, just next to the bright star Antares, in the constellation Scorpius, our satellite offered a superb view.

June’s full Moon is typically the last full Moon of spring or the first of summer. It was called the Strawberry Moon by some Native American tribes to mark the ripening of strawberries that are ready to be gathered in June.

This is a shot of the Moon taken in infrared (IR) with my 80/600 refractor telescope.

Here instead is a composition I took with my Canon EOS 250d and Canon 55-250 mm lens. The shot was taken from my backyard in the North of Luxembourg.

Read also: Lunar imaging.

Once the Moon had set, I took a shot at the Big Dipper over some trees. Without moonlight, many more stars came to life and the view was absolutely breathtaking.

And in the morning? Well, I imaged the Sun of course. The shot below was taken in hydrogen alpha with my solar telescope, a Lunt 40 with a 600 blocking filter.

Many prominences, filaments and sunspot are visible as solar activity keeps increasing with the Sun approaching the peak of its maximum phase.

Read also: A deeper look into solar imaging.

I hope you enjoyed it, stay tuned for more!

Clear skies!

Spring shooting

Dear friends of The Lonely Photon,

Today, after three months, I finally had a chance to take out my solar setup and snap a shot of the Sun. There is plenty of activity on the chromosphere right now, as our star goes through its solar maximum phase. And though the seeing was not ideal, I’m quite happy with the end result, have a look:

Read also: The Sun

Below, instead, is a picture of the Moon I got last night. This was taken without a telescope, just with my camera on a tripod. It’s the results of 80 photos stacked together, and processed in Photoshop.

Read also: The Moon

Finally, while I was out, I also practised my landscape photography skills. In the below shot, under the watchful eye of Pollux and Castor (the heads of Gemini), Venus dominates this spring sunset with her glow and beauty. In the foreground, a deserted road leading to a pine forest, in the silence and tranquillity of the countryside in northern Luxembourg.

Read also: Venus

I hope you enjoyed it, stay tuned for more!

Clear skies!

The Moon in May

Dear friends of The Lonely Photon,

As days get longer and longer here in Luxembourg, the hours of (real) dark are not sufficient for capturing enough data on deep sky objects. With my telescope at rest, I’m now focusing on traditional photography, with some occasional shots at the Moon with my Canon EOS 250d.

Here are some shots I took in May.

  • Sunday, 21 May. A tiny crescent Moon peeks out from a thin blanket of clouds.

Read also: The Moon

  • Monday, 22nd May. A breathtaking show of our Solar System: a tiny crescent Moon with planets Venus and Mars, right under the Gemini’s heads (Pollux and Castor). Oh and a meteor passed by too.
  • Tuesday, 23rd May. Conjunction of Moon and Venus, again accompanied by some clouds.

Read also: Venus

I hope you enjoyed it, stay tuned for more!

Clear skies!

The Moon and Venus

Dear friends of The Lonely Photon,

On Monday, April 24th the Moon and Venus put up a breathtaking show, with the two celestial bodies dancing together in the western sky. Here’s an image of the beautiful conjunction:

Read also: The Moon

Obviously it was cloudy in Luxembourg, but strong winds cleared the sky for a few hours, so I jumped on the opportunity and snapped some quick photos with my Canon EOS 250d and Canon 55-200 lens.

Read also: Venus

Some more shots I took:

I hope you enjoyed it, stay tuned for more!

Clear skies!

I called in the big guns

Dear friends of The Lonely Photon,

Today I want to show you some images I took with my Askar 107PHQ telescope, an amazing quadruplet astrograph that I bought exactly a year ago, but hardly had a chance to try.

A year ago, in fact, I decided to go through a reshuffle of my gear. I sold most of my equipment including mount, scope and camera, and re-invested the money (with a little extra, but don’t tell the wife!) into something more suited for astrophotography, including this stunning telescope.

As April is already galaxy season here in Luxembourg, for first light I chose the Needle Galaxy (NGC 4565), a bright galaxy in Coma Berenices, some 40 million light-years away. This is an edge-on spiral galaxy, oriented perpendicularly to our line of sight, which makes it a perfect target to capture.

Read more here: Needle Galaxy

This image, which I recently reprocessed, is the result of 10 hours of data captured on 3 different nights. I am fairly happy with it despite having some difficult sessions, fighting heavy light pollution and some tracking error on the Sky-Watcher HEQ5 mount. It was a good first test.

Then in May my daughter was born, and then the weather got miserable (and still is), so I didn’t have many opportunities to test this scope further. Until February came. Now, the cold winter temperature (-8° C or 17° F) paired with a very bright full Moon were discouraging factors, but nonetheless I decided to put the Askar 107PHQ to work. And this is what I got.

PacMan Nebula (Sh2-184)

This bright emission nebula stretches around 48 light years across and is located in the constellation Cassiopeia, approx. 9,500 light years from Earth. The resemblance to the iconic video game from the ’80s is remarkable, hence the name.

Find more info here: Pacman Nebula

For this image I collected 8 hours of data on a single night, using a narrowband filter (Optolong L-Ultimate) to alleviate the brightness of the full Moon. The Askar107PHQ has impressed me for the sharpness of the image, with pinpoint stars across the whole field of view.

Wizard Nebula (Sh2-142)

This large emission nebula, composed mainly of ionised hydrogen atoms, is shaped like a magician in a pointed hat, and can be found in the constellation Cepheus, some 7,000 light years away.

Find more info here: Wizard Nebula

This image is the result of 7 hours and 10 minutes of data. Unfortunately, I had a technical problem with the AsiAir Plus that prevented me to reach the benchmark 8 hours I wanted to achieve, but all in all I feel I can’t complain. I might add some more data in the future to see if even more faint details can be brought out.

Again, the Moon was almost full and the sky extremely bright, but the Optolong L-Ultimate does a terrific job filtering all wavelengths but the H-Alpha (red) and OIII (green-blue). It is a magic filter for imaging emission nebulas in difficult conditions.

Finally, this below is an image of the Askar 107PHQ at the end of the session, at roughly 6am. I was taking flat frames, while the full Moon was about to set: it was amazing being out there!

I hope you enjoyed it, stay tuned for more!

Clear skies!

The Pleiades, a winter classic

Dear friends of The Lonely Photon,

Here’s another recent work I’m enormously proud of: the Pleiades!

A little background.

The Pleiades is an extremely popular target among astrophotographers, one of those that can seriously push you deep into the hobby. So, naturally, when I started my journey into astrophotography two years ago, I had very high hopes for this target.

Pretty soon, however, my hopes clashed with reality. Imaging the star cluster is easy enough, as it is very bright and can be easily seen with the naked eye, even from light polluted cities; what’s way more challenging is pulling out all the surrounding dust, which can be quite elusive, particularly from the Bortle 8 sky I live (and photograph) under.

To get that faint nebulosity and dust you need several hours of data integration, good weather and good seeing on moonless nights, and of course dark skies; something quite rare where I live. Against any odds, however, February 2023 presented me with an opportunity: two clear nights just around the new Moon. I couldn’t believe it.

Now, I had my moonless nights to get the necessary integration, but there was nothing I could do about the dark skies. To mitigate that I used a light pollution filter, the Optolong L-Pro, but this had previously given me mixed results, so I wasn’t too optimistic. It was only when I went to process the data that I found out: I had done it, I finally managed to pull out the dust and nebulosity that surrounds the Pleiades. Happiness does exist!

The Pleiades

In Greek mythology, the Pleiades were the seven daughters of the Titan god Atlas who rebelled against Zeus and was thus sentenced to hold up the heavens on his shoulders. Moved by compassion, however, Zeus allowed the seven daughters a place in the sky so they could stay close to their father. How romantic is that?

Going back to astronomy, the Pleiades is an open cluster (a group of stars formed from the same cloud of gas and dust) located approx. 440 light years from Earth, in the constellation Taurus. The cluster contains over three thousand stars (mostly hot B-type stars) although only the seven largest stars are visible to the naked eye due to the effects of light pollution. For this reason, the cluster is also called “the Seven Sisters”.

Read the full article: The Pleiades

The blue nebulosity is not directly associated to the star cluster, but it rather seems that the latter is passing through a particularly dusty region that reflects the light from the stars. It’s what astronomers call a reflection nebula.

I hope you enjoyed it, stay tuned for more!

Clear skies!

Project Rosette

Dear friends of The Lonely Photon,

Today I want to introduce you to one of my latest projects, one I’m particularly fond and proud of. It is a project of cooperation between The Lonely Photon and the Federal University of Technology – Paraná (Brazil), which joined forces to produce a stunning image of the Rosette Nebula (Sh2-275) in Hubble Palette.

Over the course of several nights, Professor Dr. Thiago Gilberto Do Prado and I collected more than 17 hours of data on this iconic nebula, using similar equipment that produced data with the same pixel scale. Having more data on a particular deep sky object is useful to pull out fainter details and to reduce noise.

A project like this is a clear example of how people from different parts of the world can come together, united by the same passion. After all, there is just one world, one people, and most important, one sky!

The Rosette Nebula is a large region of interstellar gas, mostly ionized hydrogen, located approx. 5,000 light years from Earth in the constellation Monoceros, the Unicorn. This is a star-forming region that stretches about 130 light years across, and contains roughly 2,500 young stars, according to latest estimations.

Read more here: Rosette Nebula

This was the first time The Lonely Photon was involved in such a project, and I’m pretty sure there’s more to come so stay tuned!

Clear skies!

At last, the comet!

Dear friends of The Lonely Photon,

I’m sure by now you’ve all heard about the “Green Comet” or “Neanderthal Comet” that made the news early this year, and that has been roaming our skies for the past weeks.

Comets are small, icy bodies that originate in the outer solar system and become visible as they approach the Sun and release gas and dust, creating a glowing tail.

Read more here: The mysteries of outer space

Comet C/2022 E2 (ZTF) was first discovered in early March 2022, but only made its appearance in our sky in January. According to astronomers’ estimations, the comet has an orbital period of approximately 50,000 years ago, meaning that Neanderthals were still walking the Earth last time the comet came close to us. Who knows what it will find when it comes back in another 50,000 years…

Obviously, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to photograph this stunning icy body as it approached our planet, but the weather in Luxembourg has been miserable since early October, and honestly I had almost lost hope and gave up.

Luckily though, February unexpectedly presented me with the opportunity, and hell yeah I jumped on it !

Producing an image of a comet is no easy task, however. Comets move at very high speeds and require a different approach in terms of post-processing when compared to other Deep Sky Objects (DSOs).

Despite this, and a bright full Moon washing out most details, I’m very pleased with the end result. Here’s my final version of the comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF):

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) shows a bright green glow around its nucleus, which is caused by the effect of sunlight on diatomic carbon and cyanogen; this is typical of comets with a high gas content.

The nucleus was estimated to be about a kilometre in size, rotating every 8.7 hours, while its tail of dust and gas extended for millions of kilometres. The comet’s brighter greenish coma, short broad dust tail, and long faint ion tail stretch across a 2.5 degree wide field-of-view.

Here’s a video of the comet, which shows the extreme speed at which these objects are moving in their orbits around the Sun.

If you can’t visualize the video correctly, follow this link: Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)

I hope you enjoyed it, stay tuned for more!

Clear skies!

Happy Holidays

Dear friends of The Lonely Photon,

It’s finally Christmas, the most beautiful and exciting time of the year, and we want to take this opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas and all the best with your projects for the new year!

Thank you all for your support! Here’s a gigantic Christmas Tree-shaped cloud of hydrogen for you 🙂

Christmas Tree Complex

This is a re-work of the Christmas Tree complex, using new processing techniques that I recently learned. Find more details here: Christmas Tree Complex

And speaking about re-works, here are two winter jewels that I also recently revisited: the Horsehead Nebula and the Orion Nebula, two iconic nebulas in the constellation Orion, the Hunter.

The Horsehead Nebula

The nebula takes its name from the thick, dark lines of dust in the centre of the image, shaped like a horse’s head. The dark nebula is embedded in a vast cloud of ionised hydrogen gas (NGC 2023), whose red glue provides perfect contrast to the image. On the left is the Flame Nebula (NGC2024), an emission nebula about 900 to 1,500 light-years away.

Read more here: Horsehead Nebula

Orion Nebula

This is a stunning, picturesque stellar nursery: a cloud of interstellar gas and dust from which new stars are born. In fact, this is the closest large star-forming region to Earth, about 1,350 light years away. Its central region hosts four massive stars known as The Trapezium – a young open cluster that illuminates the nebula.

Read more here: Orion Nebula

These, instead, are some incredible pictures of Mars (including Mars at opposition on December 8th) taken by friend and fellow astronomer Pascal Hilkens.

Take a look at his fantastic blog, it’s rich of content and amazing pictures. You can find it here:

To conclude, let me show you some pictures of the winter Sun taken this mount.

Visit the full solar gallery: The Sun

Clear skies!

Quasars – The brightest mystery

Among the most distant objects we know of, quasars are celestial bodies shining so bright that they eclipse the ancient galaxies that host them. Quasars have fascinated astronomers since their discovery more than half a century ago, bringing physics and astronomy closer and playing a crucial role in our understanding of the early universe.

The discovery of quasars dates back to the 1950s. With the rise of radio astronomy, the earliest radio surveys of the sky began to show unusual objects with properties that defied any known explanation. These objects emitted enormous amounts of radiation in several frequencies, and in best cases could be traced back to point-like objects, like distant stars.

The first photographs of such objects, however, revealed they weren’t stars as they were embedded in faint, fuzzy halos, leading astronomers to label them as “quasi-stellar radio sources” (in short quasars), a name that best underlined their mysterious nature.

Thought to inhabit the centre of active galaxies, quasars are in fact extremely bright Active Galactic Nucleus (“AGN”) – compact regions at the core of a galaxy with much-higher-than-normal luminosity. They are among the most luminous, powerful, and energetic objects known in the universe, outshining all of the stars in the galaxies that host them.

Most quasars are believed to be powered by supermassive black holes with mass ranging from millions to tens of billions of solar masses. When gas particles fall toward the black hole’s event horizon, they heat up under the effect of friction and extreme gravity, thus emitting vast amounts of energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation.

Read more about Black Holes: Black Holes – The dark side of gravity.

While today it is widely believed that every large galaxy hosts a supermassive black hole at its core, quasars are not as common: they are usually found in very distant galaxies with large gas supplies, particularly in strongly interacting or merging galaxies. This is because younger, nearby galaxies, including our own, don’t have that much gas available.

However, some astronomers believe that a quasar could form when the Andromeda Galaxy collides with our own Milky Way in approximately 4.5 billion years.

3C 273 – Credit: NASA ®

Quasars are often categorised as “radio-loud” or “radio-quiet”. Indeed, not all quasars produce strong radio emission, with only around 10% of those we have identified so far estimated to be “radio-loud”. Some of them even change their luminosity on timescales as short as a few days, suggesting the total size of the quasar cannot be more than a few light-days across, with an extreme power density.

The visible properties of a quasar can vary depending on the mass of the black hole, the rate of gas accretion and its orientation, or the extent of occultation by dust-laden gas clouds within the accretion disc. Some quasars also emit radio jets from their central region; these are beams of plasma propelled out at nearly the speed of light, which can be observed at X-ray and radio wavelengths.

Latest surveys have identified more than a million quasars confirming they were far more common in the distant past, approximately 10 billion years ago. Unfortunately, due to their extreme distance and their small size, in most cases it’s impossible to resolve all the structure within a quasar, even with the most powerful telescopes. At least with the current technology.

Interesting facts about quasars

  • The first quasars to be discovered in the late 1950s as radio sources in all-sky radio surveys were the quasars 3C 48 and 3C 273.
  • The closest quasar to Earth (that we know of) is Markarian 231, located approx. 600 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major.
  • To date, 3C 273 in the constellation of Virgo is the brightest quasar in the sky. With an apparent magnitude of 12.9, it is one of the few quasars that can be seen with small telescopes.
  • In 1979 the gravitational lens effect predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity was confirmed observationally for the first time with images of the double quasar 0957+561.
  • A study published in February 2021 showed that there are more quasars in one direction (towards Hydra) than in the opposite direction, indicating that we may be moving in that direction.
Markarian 231 – Credit Hubble ®