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This amazing Milky Way image was taken on an iPhone

Astronomer and author Tom Kerss recently pointed his iPhone 12 Pro Max skyward to nail a wonderful shot (below) of the Milky Way. It’s the latest example of just how far smartphone camera technology has come in recent years.

“We need to talk about the astrographic potential of modern smartphone cameras,” the London-based stargazer said in a message tweeted with the eye-catching photo. “This image was made from data captured using an iPhone 12 Pro Max. Sensor pixels are just 1.7 microns! It’s ridiculously capable for its size and provides usable data courtesy of 12-bit DNG — ‘ProRAW.’”

Apple’s ProRAW format for the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max combines the information of a standard, uncompressed RAW image with iPhone image processing, giving you greater flexibility when editing the exposure, color, and white balance in the photo.

We need to talk about the astrographic potential of modern smartphone cameras. This image was made from data captured using an iPhone 12 Pro Max. Sensor pixels are just 1.7 microns! It’s ridiculously capable for its size and provides usable data courtesy of 12-bit DNG – ‘ProRAW’ pic.twitter.com/ODndP7vBv9

— Tom Kerss FRAS 🪐 (@tomkerss) July 21, 2021

In additional comments, Kerss says the image shows the Summer Triangle “with a bright region of the Milky Way (star clouds in the spiral arm we inhabit) as well as a (possibly early Perseid) meteor — yes, that’s in the data.”

Kerrs, whose recently published debut book You Can Explore The Universe aims to get kids excited about space and all of its magical wonders, concedes that the image is far from perfect, with “the usual astro-related aberrations” present. However, he adds that these can be corrected using in-phone editing tools.

The astronomer notes that Google’s Pixel camera, also known for its ability to capture amazing shots of the night sky, takes a different approach to astrophotography “and produces impressive images entirely on-device, but it offers considerably less flexibility than ProRAW. It also suffers from the same field issues (which could also be fixed by leveraging onboard power!).”

Kerrs said he spoke to Google last year and offered suggestions about possible improvements to the Pixel’s astrophotography mode, but “unfortunately it didn’t go anywhere.”

If you’re into the night sky and want to learn more about what’s out there, do check out this carefully curated list of astronomy apps for iOS and Android.

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Trevor Mogg
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