I’m writing this today because recently, I have been increasingly feeling like I needed new, more interesting things to image with my limited clear nights. I’m sure many people eventually get to this position where you’ve imaged all of the major targets in Orion and the main groups of galaxies that everyone does at some point. This post is designed to hopefully get your brain thinking about some interesting things that you may not have thought of imaging or projects you can start.
This is a category of target that I’ve been looking at for a while now and am currently looking to buy a telescope capable of imaging some of these. The first of these is pictured below, called the cosmic horseshoe commonly.
These galaxies are gravitationally lensed by black holes or other massive galaxies as the light passes by them. If you have a black hole and a galaxy behind it, the light from that galaxy will get bent and stretched as it passes the black hole’s gravity, leaving you with something like this. The galaxy is not actually a ring shape, which is what makes this incredibly interesting. This is my number one target right now and a bucket list image I want to take. Look for similar targets since these galaxies are generally very small because they are far away, but there are a lot of them. Almost nobody is imaging these at home because it is so technically challenging to get a good image of one, but if you’re experienced and looking for a challenge, go for it.
The next type of image you can go for is a galaxy group. Imaged below is a Hubble image of Abell 1689 which is a group of galaxies in Virgo.
Looking for these interesting clusters of galaxies can make for an incredibly unique and striking image which, to me at this stage in my astrophotography, is very appealing. There are tons of them if you have enough focal length on your setup so take a look at Hubble images and maybe even things more experienced people are imaging and try your hand at one of them.
IFN regions, or Intermediate Flux Nebula areas, are very faint regions, many times around galaxies as shown below, of nebula that are difficult to image from the backyard. No matter your equipment, you will likely need dark skies to capture these so keep that in mind, however I have seen people do it from fairly dark suburban backyards.
The faint grey dust around the galaxy is the IFN and it makes for a much more striking image. Pictured here it isn’t even particularly bright, but with enough exposure time it can look really impressive and will certainly make your image stand out against everyone else’s simple M81 pictures. IFN areas are located all over the sky though and this is just an example, don’t limit yourself to just M81.
Go Deep On A Single Target
If you don’t think your gear will be able to manage one of the tiny galaxies I mentioned earlier and your skies are too bright for IFN, try going as deep as possible on a single target. I did Ou4 from my backyard and the total exposure time ended up being around 67 hours so it took about a month to finish. I can highly recommend this approach because if you’re imaging a galaxy, expect to find that once you’ve processed the image you’ve actually captured tens or hundreds of galaxies all throughout the image. If you process well, you’ll end up with an image you can zoom in on and pan around all day long looking at the different objects you captured.
Keep Researching To Combat Burnout
These are just some ideas I’ve put together and certainly not an exhaustive list so do some of your own research and try to think of weird things to image that maybe no one else has thought of. If you get out of the rut of just imaging the same common stuff that everyone else is doing all the time I think you will keep the same energy and motivation for astrophotography that got you into it in the first place. This has been a real problem for me lately and some of these ideas have gotten me excited to get imaging again.