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I want to get into astrophotography, and would like subjects that are a bit more unusual than the things we see every night like constellations and the moon.

Where can I read about upcoming celestial events, such as comet appearances, lunar and solar eclipses, meteor showers, planet alignments, et cetera? What information can I use to predict which events will likely be spectacular, and worth driving away from city lights to photograph, and which events I can guiltlessly skip?

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+1 Great question. You inspired me to ask a related question about technique for capturing a meteor shower. –  fmark Apr 23 '11 at 11:38

5 Answers 5

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Google will tell you most of these things, as they are all regular and 'calculatable' events. Wolfram Alpha has a very comprehensive eclipse set-up too. Or you can simply buy a book - there are plenty of 'star guides' that include dates for eclipses and meteor showers.

Unless you have your camera hooked up to a telescope, or you have a massive lens and a motor drive, things like planetary alignments are probably not worth driving out of town for. Likewise, meteors are tricky to photograph as they are unpredictable and flash across the sky in a split second.

Eclipses and comets are somewhat more stationary, but they are few and far between.

Why limit yourself to 'events'? There's plenty in the night sky to photograph every night. The plain old moon can make spectacular photos, especially if you shoot it in its gibbous stage so you've got some shadows in the craters. Point your camera at the lower half of Orion's sword, open the shutter for 5 seconds, then take a look at the screen. You will see a glowing purple cloud: the Orion Nebula, a stellar nursery.

Shooting things that are there every night also means you get good practice for taking photos of rarer astronomical events.

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Oh, I definitely wasn't going to limit myself to celestial events, but I'd also like to not limit myself to everynight things. –  Evan Krall Apr 26 '11 at 7:52

To start, you can look at this Astronomy Calendar for upcoming events (I've linked the current year). Based on the information there you can either dig around on the site a bit or use Google to determine the nature of the event before making the trip. Some of them will be pretty hard to capture with a camera, but may still be worth going to see anyways. :)

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A planetarium software can also be very useful. You can easily check the current and future position of the stars, planets ...

Personally I use stellarium.

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That's not going to show "events" like he's asking for I believe. –  rfusca Apr 23 '11 at 16:06
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Not all of them, but sometimes it's still very useful for me. Usually I just read: "the next night there will be a lunar eclipse on Jupiter". With this software I can "simulate" the event, find exact time, location, it helps the preparation. At least for me. –  asalamon74 Apr 23 '11 at 16:27
    
I'm not saying its not useful, just not for figuring out what events there are. –  rfusca Apr 23 '11 at 22:33

Joining a local astronomy local provides a huge wealth of resources. You'll probably meet other astrophotographers to swap tips with and they'll provide lists of "here's what you'll likely to see" in your area.

They'll know where the best places are and what realistic expectations are.

May be worth checking out.

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A link that should always be close to you is http://www.heavens-above.com/

It will give you all the information about what's above you depending on position, time of day, etc etc.

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