If you are a planetary astrophotographer in the northern hemisphere, you have probably been frustrated with your attempts to acquire nicely detailed images of Jupiter in the last couple of years. Even if you obtained perfect telescope collimation, allowed your scope to reach thermal equilibrium, achieved critical focus, imaged during the best seeing conditions, etc., chances are you still did not get the results you hoped for.
A Turning Point is Here!
Don’t give up though- things should start improving for you starting this year. It just so happens that Jupiter reached its lowest declination in the sky in 2008. This was great for southern hemisphere astrophotographers (lots of excellent photos coming out of Australia) but not for those in the northern hemisphere.
Jupiter’s elevation is based on a 12-year cycle where it goes from a maximum northern declination to a maximum southern declination. The graph below demonstrates the changes in declination over time.
Click image to enlarge.
According to the graph, things were all good in 2002 for the northern hemisphere since Jupiter was at its maximum northern declination. This meant that Jupiter’s position was optimal for astrophotography (when it reached the zenith) since it was at its greatest elevation angle.
How Much Better in 2009?
OK, so even though Jupiter will only be slightly higher in the sky this year, it will be interesting to note the differences in image quality at each stage as we head toward it’s maximum northern declination in 2013-2014. By that time you will have honed your skills in planetary astrophotography and will be ready to take advantage of Jupiter at its highest point. And of course you will probably need to have that new telescope and camera in place so you’ll be prepared to capture a masterpiece!