My top 2021 Astro Photos

Just like prior posts showcasing 2017-2018, 2019, and 2020, this post looks back at the year 2021, and all of my adventures with a telescope and/or a camera!

As always, here are some honorable mentions, since choosing just 10 from 2021 was not particularly easy!

2021 Honorable Mentions

2021 Top 10

Saturn with 5 moons on August 5, 2021

Here we have Saturn showing its 5 biggest moons back in August during Saturn’s Opposition period. It’s a stacked image layered on top of a separate exposure that showed the moons. Not only was my observatory boss happy with it, but he even sent an email to our social directors saying, “this is the kind of stuff we need to be showing to the public!” as a way to try and increase the Observatory’s presence online as a brand.

When Jupiter was near Opposition in August, I used Stellarium to note when any transits of the Galilean Moons would be happening, and of course I saw that the red spot was also slated to appear as well! In the first exposure, we see Europa about to transit in front of Jupiter. Io is actually behind it. In the next frame 30 minutes later, we not only see the Red Spot shift, but we can also see Io move in front, while Ganymede move into frame as it was about to transit behind Jupiter!

I really liked how this 2 image mosaic composite turned out! With a 1000 mm focal length, Rosette was too large to fit inside a single frame. So on October 5, I decided to take two 30 minute combined exposures and stitch them together. Both of them merged seamlessly, and not only could the N/S orientation reveal the “rose” image, but the W/E orientation clearly showed the “skull” which I used for a “spooky greetings” post on 10/31… which a Flat earther on Instagram called “CGI.” I guess I’m doing something right!

The “Sword of Orion” 2021 Version

While I had previously done a “Sword of Orion” image in 2020… this time my goal was to outdo it by doing two different things. First was using a coma corrector to make the edges of the frame as “flat” as possible. The second was getting more exposure data to get MORE of the nebula structure, and of course blend it with frames above it that still show the Trapezium star cluster that we see in telescopes instead of merely overexposing the central bright nebula.

M16 – Eagle Nebula

The Eagle Nebula is always fun because we always want to see how well we can show the “Pillars” that the Hubble made famous. This time I wanted to get a shot using the same layering methods I’ve been using since I started caring more about how good the images looked versus how many I could get in a night.

May 26 Lunar Eclipse Post Totality

While Griffith Observatory was doing a live stream of this eclipse, I tasked myself with using my 8″ and taking still images of it from the roof. Throughout the night, we were dealing with clouds moving in and out, and often times blocking our view of the eclipse. But those who were watching the live stream were still enjoying it because the clouds were adding drama. And as it turned out, my best shot of this eclipse wasn’t during totality, but after it, as we were watching this cloud front about to blanket the moon – I was told “someone take that picture,” which I did. And when I saw the raw preview, I joked with my director and said, this is gonna be your cover shot!” and he said in response, “oh really?” as in he was intrigued. Sure enough, this DID become the Griffith Observer Magazine October Cover Issue! It may not have been the image everyone initially wanted, but it was surely the image everyone needed!

My very first magazine cover! The October 2021 issue!
Virgo Cluster or “Markarian’s Chain” including M84 and M86

I was really happy with the way this one turned out, as it’s a great spot to showcase how many galaxies we can spot in the sky! The only way I can top this image is by shooting a mosaic that gets the rest of Markarian’s Chain and gets M87 at the bottom which is out of frame.

M101 – Pinwheel Galaxy

I had always been trying to get a good shot of M101 since I started doing astrophotography, and this time, once I had the proper mount, I was able to do it! It was impressive enough that I got asked to sell a print for it!

Summer Milky Way over Joshua Tree National Park 4-9-21

The story behind this picture is also fun. Throughout the year I usually ended each astro-photoshoot session with some wide angle constellation or Milky Way shots. With the Summer Milky Way being visible in April before dawn, I started getting prepped for a simple 15 second non-tracking exposure when a car started approaching in the distance, and their head lights were illuminating the desert landscape! So I quickly took advantage of the situation and just started exposing!

The car? They were a family who was lost and couldn’t find their way out of the park! Their chance encounter with me helped me make a good image, and I could help them with directions out of the National park in return!

M17 – The Swan Nebula or Omega Nebula

This one was not always on my radar as one I wanted to shoot, but since I had ran out of large nebulae to shoot, I decided to go for M17 to hopefully top a prior effort. Not only was this one coming out well, but the iridium flare to the right actually added more character to the composition!

Wait… Did I say Top 10? I Meant Top 11! How can we forget about this one?!

As you know, comets are what got me into astronomy and astrophotography, so whenever I get a chance to capture one that’s making the headlines, you know I’ll capitalize on it!

Comet Leonard is the brightest comet of 2021… but compared to NEOWISE of 2020, that’s not saying too much as it never became an easy naked eye target over the northern skies, and after close approach on December 12, it became better suited for Southern Hemisphere viewers, and was largely blocked from view for Southern California observers due to weather and ongoing storms.

But when I was able to get a good shot of it, everyone who relied on me to get a good picture was impressed, as it was my first picture to also be shared by the Planetary Society on their social platforms.

Here is to a much more productive 2022… what images will I take? What images will outdo previous efforts? You’ll have to keep following me to find out, or wait till December of 2022 for me to pick my top 10!

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