Tracking the Milky Way

It really has been a trying year with lock downs and persistent cloudy weather, it has been very hard to maintain the connection I’m used to feeling with the night sky. September through to early November is usually my favourite time for taking Milky Way shots as it stretches out flat along the western horizon. This season I only managed a couple of nights out, however the quality of those nights has been a significant step up. A lot of this has come about through refining my acquisition process to include tracked shots of the Milky Way. A big part of this is the method I now use for polar alignment of my MSM star tracker, taking me no more than a few minutes. It is now barely any extra effort to take tracked exposures which has very significantly improved the quality of my images.

The Core Revisited

It was above one year ago that I did my first tracked close-up imaging of the milky way core. Using drift alignment I managed to achieve a pretty solid polar alignment using apps on my mobile phone. I’m still really happy with the image I was able to produce using my small Micro Four Third sensor Panasonic GX85 and Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens, however having just treated myself to the new Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG DN Art Lens for Sony-E Mount I have certainly had my perception of what is possible shifted.

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Milky Way at 150mm with my MSM

So I’ve finally been getting a bit of use out of Move Shoot Move 2-in-1 Star Tracker & Rotator for actual star tracking sessions of late. I’ve used the rotator function of this device extensively, a function that to my mind almost justifies the cost of this device on its own merit. The star tracker however wasn’t quite working for me. With Australia being in the Southern Hemisphere, I had no bright pole star to align too even if the star pointer laser was legal. I went with the polar scope option with my purchase, however simply could not positively identify Sigma Octantis, the tiny magnitude 5.5 pole star for the Southern Hemisphere, through the scope no matter how hard I tried. I retired myself to the idea that I was going to have to make do with blind alignment using apps on my phone for a “near enough” polar alignment for which only wide focal lengths could be used without trails. To date, I have been quite pleased with how wrong I’ve been about this.

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