Škoda Enyaq Coupé iV heading for the stars

When photographing the Orionid meteor shower, Czech astrophotographer Petr Horálek was helped by his electric Enyaq Coupé iV. Find out what this kind of photography involves and how his electric car helped him.

9. 12. 2022

Petr Horálek has spent much of his life photographing the beauty of the night sky, and sometimes it is a long and demanding job. His image of the Orionid meteor shower, for example, took seven years to create, during which time Petr went to remote places where the sky is not affected by light smog. And on one of these trips, a Škoda Enyaq Coupé iV served as his “expedition” car.

“I have specific requirements for a car, and the Enyaq Coupé iV definitely satisfies them,” says Petr, explaining why he welcomed the opportunity to try out a Škoda electric car in his work. “It has to have a good range – sometimes I drive hundreds of kilometres when I’m out shooting at night. It also has to be spacious, not only to take all my equipment, but also so that I can take a comfortable nap. I often go to places, for example in the Slovak mountains, where there are bears and I don’t really want to sleep outside in a sleeping bag. Not to mention how practical four-wheel drive was for work in the field,” the astrophotographer explains

The Enyaq Coupé iV’s panoramic glass roof also impressed him. “It may dim the starlight a bit, but it gives me a good idea of what my cameras set up outside around the car can see,” Petr says. And he likes the details, too; the car offers plenty of options for charging all the tech, and Peter appreciates the Virtual Pedal gadget, which can be used to open the boot hands-free. “When I’m weighed down with equipment, that’s a wonderful thing,” he smiles.

The sunroof lets you get an idea what the cameras set up around the car can see.

As someone who often ventures into the wild and has a close affinity for it, he is naturally also delighted that the Enyaq Coupé iV is an electric vehicle. “In addition to its emission-free operation, it’s nice to have a silent drive that doesn’t disturb the wildlife unnecessarily. This could help me in situations where I want to photograph animals together with the sky,” Petr considers. His speciality is photos that are not just of the night sky itself, but where the landscape and people or animals in it play a significant role. The turning point in his photography career was a picture he took in New Zealand in 2014, which was selected by NASA as the Astronomy Picture of the Day. Since then, he has received this accolade more than thirty times; most recently, just for the image of the Orionid swarm.

The photo that Petr Horálek shot in New Zealand in 2004 and first brought him to NASA’s attention.

Seven years’ work

As well as the image’s beauty, NASA honoured the effort that went into it. Petr spent seven years working on it, on and off. “Orionids are remnants of the famous Halley’s Comet, which won’t return until July 2061, but this meteor shower around October 21 is an annual reminder of the comet. It’s not half as visible as the better-known Perseids – only around five meteors per hour appear in the sky at our country’s latitude. And my only window for taking pictures is a few days around the maximum. Everything depends on the weather, and clear skies can be a problem in October,” Petr says, explaining why the image took so long to create.

Waiting for the right moment

What’s interesting is that the photographs don’t all come from one place. The reason for this is the varying weather situation during those seven years, which made it necessary for Petr to keep moving. “The resulting photograph is a collage of a whole series of time-lapse images of the night sky from several places in Czechia and Slovakia, plus a panoramic image of the landscape, which in this case is the Prešov volcanic hills region. I took the landscape photograph at the time of the Orionid maximum in October of the pandemic year 2020,” Petr lets on. The resulting image shows 47 meteors in total, as well as a clear image of Mars.

This unique image of the Orionid meteor shower took seven years to create and was shot at various locations in Czechia and Slovakia, depending on the weather. When finishing it, Petr Horálek was helped by an all-electric Enyaq iV, and the effort paid off: the image was published by NASA on 28 October 2022, making it Petr’s 35th prestigious Astronomy Picture of the Day. (Click on the image to see it better.)

The quest for darkness

Aside from the luck of the weather, when doing this kind of photography it’s important to go to areas where the sky is not affected by the light smog that is caused by poorly designed artificial lighting from cities. In fact, the problem does not only plague astrophotographers, but also nature as a whole and, as a result, the health of us all. “Even to the naked human eye, light smog is distracting at distances of up to 50 or even 80 kilometres from any major city. For the camera, of course, it is much worse – it is noticeable even over 200 kilometres away from a large conurbation,” explains Peter.

In Europe, Petr says, there are few places that are far enough away from light pollution. “One of the best locations in this respect is the Poloniny Dark Sky Park in Slovakia, and there are also suitable places in the Veľká Fatra or Beskydy mountain ranges, and Šumava is also very good,” Petr says, listing some places that often attract amateur photographers. He himself uses the www.lightpollutionmap.info resource to find suitable places. “We astrophotographers often travel all over the world to find darkness free from light smog to shoot various phenomena, but beginners can look for sites in their own vicinity,” he advises.

According to him, the equipment can be relatively basic. “A high-quality, sturdy tripod is important, that’s the first thing. A good mobile phone can take pictures with a good tripod, but anyone who is serious about this should invest in a larger digital camera, a DSLR or a modern mirrorless camera,” he says. Then all you have to do is pick a suitable spot with a sky free from the distractions of civilisation and start experimenting. This takes a bit of patience, according to Petr. “Try exposures of a few seconds at a higher ISO and maximum aperture. Find out the limits of your camera. The surprise for many beginners is that quite quickly they will be capturing much more than the eye can see, but this is just the starting point for many enthusiasts,” Petr says.

Petr Horálek

Petr Horálek describes himself as a populariser of astronomy, a writer, traveller and lover of the beauty of (not only) the night sky, which he then photographs. Virtually all of this is down to his passion for the night sky. Were it not for this passion, he would hardly have won more than 30 NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day awards or become the first Czech photo ambassador of the European Southern Observatory or a delegate of the International Dark Sky Association. His passion first led him to study Theoretical Physics and Astrophysics at Masaryk University in Brno, then to work as an astronomer at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, before moving on to the Observatory in Úpice and then the Observatory in Valašské Meziříčí. He is now also an astronomy populariser at the Institute of Physics in Opava. Since 2015 he has been a freelance lecturer, organised photography workshops and, in addition to those roles, contributed to the magazine Tajemství vesmíru (Secrets of the Universe). Thanks to his achievements, he was honoured in 2015 with a planet named after him: 6822 Horálek, which was discovered in 1986 by astronomer Zdeňka Vávrová. He has published three books, organised numerous night sky observations and given talks about his travels.
www.petrhoralek.com

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