Stars of the sky and garden

Mary McIntyre has a life-long interest in astronomy and is a keen astrophotographer. She takes many photographs from her garden observatory in Tackley and has given several talks to Kidlington Photo Group on astrophotography and weather photography techniques. As Mary explains below, in recent weeks she also been photographing some interesting visitors to her garden.

During the first few days of April, the planet Venus passed through my favourite star cluster, The Pleiades. It was at its closest on 3rd April and my favourite photo from that night can be seen here.

Venus and The Pleiades. Photo by Mary McIntyre

I was slightly creative with this shot. Venus is incredibly bright compared to the stars of The Pleiades and I was photographing this in a twilight sky with one of our small telescopes. I took one exposure to bring out the stars of the cluster, then I took a second shot with a Bahtinov Mask on the front of the telescope. These masks are used as a focusing aid because it produces a lovely diffraction pattern. Because Venus was so bright, it produced a pattern which I thought was really pretty. That shot also produced small spikes around all of the stars within the cluster and that didn’t look so nice, so I blended the two shots together to create this final photo. It’s a purely artistic shot which some astrophotographers may not be so keen on, but I love it. It was taken with a 70mm refractor and Canon 1100D.

Because I’ve been at home more these past few weeks, I’ve spent more time in the garden with my camera just looking for interesting visitors to the garden. I noticed we had a lot of little critters which looked a bit like bees but didn’t have the correct flight pattern. A quick internet search told me that these little guys are bombylius major, or bee mimic flies. They have a terrifyingly long proboscis but they are harmless, non-stinging insects. I think they’re absolutely adorable and now I know what I’m looking for, I’m seeing them all the time! I’m sure they must have been here every year but I just hadn’t been aware of them. They must now be my most photographed nature object I’ve taken so many pictures of them! The photos were taken with a Canon 1100D with 300mm zoom lens, hand-held and manual focus.