The 100 Best Targets for Astrophotography (2009)

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Posted on 2010-02-04. By anonymous.

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The 100 Best Targets for Astrophotography (2009)



Over 200 years ago, many of the celestial treasures on the following pages
were cataloged by Charles Messier and William Hershel using telescopes
primitive by today’s standards. These catalogs have formed the basis of
most amateur astronomers’ targets for observing. The most famous is
Messier’s Catalog of 109 objects. Despite their popularity with visual
astronomers, Charles Messier’s choices were neither the brightest nor
the most beautiful through the eyepiece. His list was compiled to define
objects that might be confused with comets by other comet hunters – in
other words, a list of potential mistakes. Entire regions of the sky, which
fell outside of the area where comets might be found, were excluded from
his list. This may explain how several bright deep sky objects such as the
Double Cluster in Perseus were excluded.
In this century, the growth in quality and accessibility of amateur
telescopes has driven an explosion of observing lists. The Herschel 400
list, compiled more than 30 years ago by the Ancient City Astronomy
Club of Florida, includes objects selected from Herschel’s General Catalog
that would “challenge” observers with telescopes 6 in. or larger. In
1995, Patrick Moore published the Caldwell list (his legal last name is
Caldwell-Moore) of 109 objects, which includes both bright and dim
objects excluded by Messier. His selection includes some small and
challenging targets, not just the crowd pleasers. Most recently, in 2007,
Stephen O’Meara published a list of 109 “hidden treasures” that seeks to
fill in the gap left by the Messier and Caldwell lists. Like the Caldwell list,
O’Meara’s list dips deep into the southern hemisphere.
These famous lists are excellent for visual astronomy but can be disappointing
for the astrophotographer. For example, a sparse open
star cluster sparkles at the eyepiece but can be uninspiring as an
image. A small planetary nebula may be striking visually but may be
too small to show interesting detail in a photograph. On the other hand,
many nebulae that are faint to the eye can have striking texture and
hue on long exposures. Spiral galaxies blossom into a rich diversity of
shapes and colors.

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