Sunday, January 29, 2006

Observing session: 28/01/2006

Tonight marked the first observing session in the UK after returning from my recent holiday to India. The night was cold (-2 degrees Celcius) and crisp with a slight breeze blowing. I started setting up at 10pm. I took it really slowly compared to my usual rushed set up procedure. I correctly aligned the finder scope, reset the autostar and retrained the drivers. Goto's were extremely accurate leading to a very enjoyable night of observing.

I kicked off with a new pair of 12x60 SkyMaster binoculars made by Celestron. I bought these binoculars today from David Hinds Ltd in Tring which is just north west of London near the town of Aylesbury and Wendover. The binoculars performed very well giving sharp and bright images. There was no hint of chromatic aberration, unlike my old pair of binoculars. The 5.7 degree FOV on these binoculars allowed me to view a wide area of sky. The Pleiades were comfortably within the FOV and Saturn's rings were clearly visible. I did a sweep of the sky around Auriga and Cassiopeia to pick out the rich star fields. I definitely need a deck chair or some kind of recliner otherwise it gets very painful on the neck and back when staring so high up in the sky.

After about half an hours worth of observing through the binoculars I moved on to the telescope. My first target was Saturn which I managed to image using the Philips ToUcam Pro which I currently have on loan. I captured five AVI movies between 23:30 and 23:57. I have to process them later on. Saturn is placed very close to the beehive Cluster at the moment and with a wide angle lens it's a great sight to behold Saturn and the star cluster side by side. I used the 32mm Plossl I have to view this beauty. I next slewed over to Mars which is looking very small these days compared to how large it was in the latter quarter of last year. I didn't spend too much time looking at Mars, moving swiftly on to the Pleiades. Through the 32mm eye piece the nebulosity normally associated with the Pleiades was not visible. I screwed in the Orion Ultrablock filter I have and immediately noticed an improvement in the image. The filter cut out much of the light pollution and I could then pick out faint glows of nebulosity became easily discernible, especially when using averted vision.

I picked up the binoculars again and tried to steady my hands by resting my elbows on a low table and pointed the binoculars up to the Pleiades. The table considerably steadied the shakes and I managed to observe the Pleiades for a solid ten minutes and appreciate the rich field of stars in and around the young cluster. Close by was the constellation of Auriga which had a surprise up its sleeve for me tonight. No sooner had I looked away from the Pleiades, a brilliant meteorite burned up straight through the center of Auriga at 00:22. It has been a long while since I have seen a meteor, or shooting star. What a lovely way to end an observing session.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Sunrise Animation

I've had some time to convert the 176 photos taken on my wife's Canon 350D SLR camera of sunrise over Tiger Hill in Darjeeling, India and convert them in a crude Flash 7 animation. The Flash file is over 5Mb (compressed) in size so modem users beware. Broadband users should be able to load the animation without too much trouble.

The problem with the animation is that my tripod was being knocked around by people quite a lot. This lead to the sequence jumping around a lot at the initial stage before my expressions of "grrrr, knock my camera again and I'll kick your ass" started to have an effect on people around the tripod. Half way through I realised I needed to zoom right in to capture an appreciable sunrise so don't be too befuddled by that. You'll also notice some reflection creaping in to the sequence about half way through as someone said he was feeling cold so I had to close the window in front of the camera which was open up to that point.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this animation.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Sunrise at Tiger Hill - Darjeeling - India

Whilst in Darjeeling, North Bengal which is located in the north east sector of India, I watched sunrise. I managed to take some photos of the event and I thought I'd share some of them with you all. On the second photo you can see that I've marked out the constellations which were visible. Although I have marked Pluto on the photo, it is purely a guess as it is not actually visible in the photograph. I used Starry Night Pro to work out the constellations and whilst doing so it told me that Pluto should have been located roughly where the red circle is. Perhaps my exposure wasn't long enough to pick up the light from Pluto or more likely the faint day glow was already too bright for pluto to show.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Star gazing from a Hill Station

Hello all!
I've been having a fantastic time travelling around the Kanchendzonga mountain foot hills in the north east of India. As some of you might know, the Kanchanzonga mountain is the worlds third highest moutain topping more than 28000ft. So far I've been to Gangtok and Pelling in Sikkim, Lava, Kalimpong, Lolegoun and Darjeeling in North Bengal. I've lugged my Meade ETX105 around with me all over the place and I have to admit the sky from this part of the world is AMAZING! There is almost zero light pollution around here and the shimmer of the milkyway is CLEARLY visible. I can actually see the Great Orion Nebula and the Andromeda Galaxy with the naked eye. I'm amazed at the rich star fields which are visible from around these parts and the altitude is providing some great atmospheric transparency. For the first time ever I've managed to observe constellations such as Vela and Carina. Unfortunately I left my SLR camera adapter at home so am unable to carry out any decent eye piece photography but I've made some first feeble attempts at wide field piggy back photography which has worked out so so. I later discovered I was setting the Autostar to 2005 instead of 2006 which was causing the dodgy tracking and star field drift. Hoping to set up the 'scope again in Jaldapara wild life sanctuary, North Bengal.

Today (8/1/2006) my wife and I went up to Tiger Hill to view sunrise. The dawn colours were glorious and we were lucky to get a grand stand front row view. The actual moment of the sun rising over the mountains, lighting up Kanchendzonga and Everest lasted for a mere ten seconds or so after a wait of almost two hours. Yes we did get up at four o'clock to make the 14Km trek up to Tiger Hill. The Hill is approx. 8000ft high.