Imaging Expedition

2012 da14 Asteroid Observing Expedition from J.D.Strikis on Vimeo.


anexcursion,journey,orvoyagemadeforsomespecific purpose, such as discovery orexploration.

I so like this short video, kudos to the producer. Over the years I’ve taken many pictures of my own expeditions and found still shots rarely capture the essence of the experience. It takes video and a soundtrack to express it. But what the hell is going on in this video?!

We start indoors with a telescope, then someone that appears anxious, someone is working at a computer and a telescope mount is seen slewing. This is the planning stage, perhaps the final test and preparation stage before leaving. In this case the expedition will attempt to photograph asteroid 2012 DA14 as it flies close by Earth. They will only get one shot at this. It appears they have developed a custom program to move the telescope mount to follow the asteroids path. A challenging task as mounts are not made to do this, hard to simulate this motion ahead of time.

We cut to the waxing moon and all the activity taking place in the field. Equipment is setup and aligned, tested, checked again and shared with others around. If something breaks or fails to work as planned you hope spare parts or a friend can help. Otherwise your mission will fail. I’ll note there is a whole bunch of white light around, there would be howls of protest from the star party light Nazi’s I’ve known.

Around the two minute mark we see the fruits of their labor, it appears they were able to image the asteroid and track it reasonably well. Seventeen seconds later in the video they are packing up to head home. I’m going to bet they were a happy bunch!

All this is speculation on my part, I don’t know this group of astronomy enthusiasts. But I do know what its like to plan a trip, chart my target, fret over the weather and finally be under the night sky to implement my plan. Successfully completing a quest is exhilarating.


Year of the Comets?

Is this year going to be like the late 1990’s where we have several wonderful comets? Sadly I don’t think so. Recent news articles have mentioned approaching comets and how visible they might be. That this could be the year of the comets. Thats to be expected for regular news stories but I cringe reading them. Its just too early to tell for sure. One thing I am certain of, one must get away from city lights to appreciate a comet, any comet.

You might not know theres always comets floating around the night sky. Most of the time you need a telescope to see them and even then they aren’t very impressive to the eye. They might appear as a small fuzz ball. So the chance a new comet will arrive visible for all to see makes a good news story. The first comet like that this year is C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS. Astronomers believe this ball of ice and rock is making its first visit to the sun. Right now it’s headed towards the sun and will circle it around the 10th of March.

First time comets are notorious underperformers, remember Kohoutek? PANSTARRS is already not following the earliest brightness predictions so its now very unlikely to be a spectacular sight. For those of us in mid northern latitudes the comets closest and brightest time will be in mid to late March. The comet will be low in the west, setting below the horizon before the sky is completely dark. There is a chance that it could develop a large dust tail like Comet McNaught did for southern observers. That would be exciting and very noticeable. We’ll soon find out.

Second major comet of 2013, Comet C/2012 S1 ISON is coming at the end of the year. This comet comes from the Oort cloud and has a real chance of being something exciting. While its still a long ways away its very interesting because it seems to be similar to the Great Comet of 1680. We’ve got many months to go to find out, it will round the sun at the end of November 2013 and if it survives we’ll see it in December 2013. Can’t wait!