My Top 10 2020 Astro Photos

2020 may not have been a pleasant year for most people, as a global pandemic affected everyone whether they wanted it to or not, it was during the initial shutdown period over the spring and summer of 2020 when the Observatory started taking notice of my astrophotos, as they needed them as a way to continue public outreach online when visitors were not allowed to enter. So within a couple of years or so, my photography went from being merely a hobby, to something I could get paid to do, that was being endorsed by the Observatory. And because of that, my own personal standards skyrocketed.

It was super tough picking a top 10 out of this year, so here are a few honorable mentions!

2020 Honorable Mentions Gallery

2020 Top 10

Summer Milky Way over Rice – 4/21/2020

This tracking shot of the Milky Way was taken during a Lyrid Meteor Shower… as such, you can see a meteor at the bottom of the image just over the horizon! The distant glow towards the south is from the town of Blythe, CA. During the pandemic, while Joshua Tree National Park was closed off, the much more remote location of Rice just off CA-62 between 29 Palms and Parker, AZ was my go to stargazing location. I picked it because not only was it super dark compared to Cottonwood Spring, JTNP, but more than likely nobody else would trek to the spot that had no amenities.

As the captions suggest, this was taken during the 2020 historic close approach. While not quite as close as it got to Earth in 2018… what was better about this time around was that there were no sandstorms covering the Red Planet, and with excellent seeing conditions, the time was ripe to get this shot of Mars.

M31 – Andromeda Galaxy feat. M32 and M110

This mosaic of 3 images stitched together got an audible “wow” from observatory staff when I showed them the finished product. My director even said “it looks like you have your own 200 inch telescope at your disposal! I even tried to “remake” this shot the next year but couldn’t get the color balance correct between the separate images to stitch them, so this shot of M31 remains my best of this galaxy system… for now!

Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) in July of 2020 from Joshua Tree National Park

This was my only night where I could see how the bright comet performed under a dark sky. I remember the nearby campers at Cottonwood Campground in JTNP cheer after dark when they realized they could see the comet itself with the naked eye, and the 6 degree tail. The long exposure of course captured the second tail that NEOWISE sported on its way out of the inner solar system.

Horse Head Nebula taken November 2020

Compare this one to the 2019 version and it’s night and day! This one has about an hour’s worth of combined exposure data, and I remember when I presented this object to observatory staff, this one got a very audible “whoa!” from those who saw it. The only way to make this image better next time is to use a coma corrector, which I didn’t have at the time.

Flaming Star Nebula

The original raw sub exposures didn’t show this much detail, so this is one that took a lot of layering and cleaning up to reduce the transparency haze and showcase the actual nebula structure. I still remain proud of this image for that reason, as I was able to make it look like it’s “flaming star” namesake!

Saturn

This was my first DSLR shot of the famous ringed planet, and one where I started getting introduced to stacking software to make the image the way it is. It always helped when there were nights of excellent seeing, which enabled good data to be collected!

M20 – Trifid Nebula

While you can see the coma issues near the edge of the picture, the Trifid Nebula itself looks sharp and great! This is another example that I tried to make better in 2021 but this one still has more character, and the object still pops out more!

C 65 – Sculptor Galaxy

Funny thing about this galaxy, is my {now since retired} boss later told me “I had a dream that you would take a picture of the Sculptor Galaxy and post it on social media!” and then a few days later, I actually did. I like the clarity of this picture, as it doesn’t overexpose the galaxy itself, making the details easy to look at!

This was a once in a lifetime event, so of course I HAD to take pictures of this event as best as I could. It wasn’t easy getting this shot, as I had to make several stacked exposures for reach respective planet, and layer them on top of some exposures that captured their planets’ respective moons. It also did not help that the conjunction itself was low above the southwestern sky, and that its position meant the seeing conditions were below average at best. But hey, at least I could say I have a digital archived picture of this big event, right?

And there you have it! 2020 was a year my personal standards went way up due to the Observatory taking notice and sharing my pictures.

Be sure to check out the Best of 2021 when that gets published!

Also, remain observant and Keep Looking Up!

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