Faster Than A Speeding Bullet

The International Space Station (ISS) flies over Clearfield observatory Tuesday night (7.7.2009) speeding along at 17,500 mph. Photo on right (click for larger image) captured 30 seconds of the nearly ten minute transit across my sky. Taken around 22:06 it was still twilight with a nearly full moon low in the east.

The most amazing part of the night was that it was a clear sky! This has been a very poor year for astrophotography in my area. So I’m rusty, the photographs from camera ridding piggyback in the photo to the right did not turn out very good. Then again it was the first time I’ve tried to capture a fly over by the ISS.

This is a really good week for watching the ISS pass over the United States. Heavens Above has excellent details and charts for pass overs. Spaceweather.com has a simple listing for pass overs (click the Satellite Flybys graphic on the right).

Yes We Did

Its the next day and the excitement of being a part of the change, to be one of those millions of people that helped elect Barack Obama is awesum.

The message of hope overcame the message of fear. The message “there is no red state, there is no blue state, there is only one United States of America” won. I am proud of my fellow citizens that choose to change the direction of our nation.

Okie-Tex Star Party 2008

As I write a beautiful three day old moon hangs low in the sky. I’m back early from the annual Okie-Tex Star Party (OTSP). This year it was held from September 27th through October 4th. I traveled down to Kenton, OK on Saturday the 27th and it appeared like everyone showed up on that day. There must have been two hundred people already there when I arrived that evening! Here is the week in review:

Saturday Night

Its always a difficult first night after driving for nearly eight hours. Spent much time polar aligning as the sky was not that great at first. Night turned out to be pretty good.

Sunday Night

Very good night with intermittent clouds that rolled through in the morning. During the day I setup my hillside camera mount and equipment. Before sunset I ran a series of auto-exposures and then switched memory cards and ran continuous 30 second exposures starting at 21:00. This went through morning until it filled the memory card around 9:00. My main telescope target was the cocoon nebula.

Monday Night

Outstanding night! The hillside camera was setup again and this time I started continuous 30 second exposures at 20:00 and never touched the camera until the next day. At about 2:24 in the morning a fantastic meteor lite up the entire area, it was incredible. The question was did I catch it? I imaged the Iris nebula in my main telescope.

Around 1:00 on Tuesday afternoon I retrieved the hillside camera and found I had indeed captured the meteor. Sweet!

Tuesday Night

Outstanding night again! No hillside camera, just my main scope. With excellent transparency I decided to image LBN 534. This is a fainter nebula I had never heard of until the November issue of Sky and Telescope. Kinda screwed up because I decided to reframe the object, after I had already taken two hours of exposure. Jeez.

Wednesday Night

Outstanding night surprisingly. The Clear Sky Chart forecast had predicted clouds before morning but that was not the case. I spent all night collecting images of the Pacman nebula, staying up past the official end of darkness. Around 6:00am the Zodiacal light was a fantastic cone of brightness in the east. In retrospect I wish I had taken a few images of it, what the heck was I thinking? Oh well, it was a visual treat.

The End

Through out the week we had very good weather until Thursday. Then a strong storm just missed us in the evening and the night was clouded over. Thats OK as we needed an excuse to drink the beer we all brought, party time. With a poor forecast for Friday night I left around noon. While I hated to leave it was obvious a front would move over the area and reek havoc with any photography.

One surprising thing all week was the wind. Until Thursday night we had virtually no wind which is unusual. I collected the weeks temperature data on my 4000NV. Click here for the graph. Ignore the daytime high points but the nighttime data was logged in the same location six feet off the ground. Apparently I am a nerd.

This was the 25th anniversary of the star party and the tenth anniversary at this location by Kenton. I saw many a familiar face this year as I’ve gone nine out of the ten years at Camp Billy Joe. Congratulations to the Oklahoma Astronomy Club for putting on a great star party.

Mother Nature Scores Trifecta

First the Geminid meteor shower was clouded over in December, then the Quadrantids meteor shower was cloudy in January. To complete her trifecta mother nature clouded out my view of the February total eclipse of the moon.

It was apparent early in the week that my chance to photograph, let alone see the eclipse was in jeopardy. The weather models had been close to reality for the past days so the upcoming forecast of clouds was not good. Then we got blasted with a strong cold front Wednesday that made me rethink going any distance for this event. My north Missouri dark site had snow on the ground, daytime high of 8 degrees F and a forecast low of 1 degree. Not doing that.

Yet on Wednesday evening things looked possible. To the left is the infrared satelite image showing the approaching front and clouds around 18:00. I thought it would stay relatively clear for awhile. I witnessed the start of the eclipse and marveled at how the Earths shadow was dramatically dimming the full moons glare. Then in came the clouds, just before the complete eclipse started.

Game over man.

Okie-Tex Video clip

I created a short video clip to try and capture some of the magic of the Okie-Tex star party, the look and feel of the stars over the observing field. Click the title screen to the right or click here (5mb WMV file). This is from Wednesday night around midnight. The camera is pointed to the ESE. The activity you see is in the east field, while the west field is out of view to the left right. I am surprised I didn’t capture any hint of the lightning occurring somewhere around Amarillo, TX. You would occasionally see a flash in the night sky from the storms that developed after they passed us.

I have a new appreciation for creating a video clip, it takes time. This video is made from many individual 40 second exposures taken with a Canon 20D. Some color correction and brightness adjustments were done as a recipe through Canon’s DPP. These images were a test of camera placement, field of view and timing. Next year I’ll do a longer sequence and put more processing into the images.

Enjoy and let me know what you think!

Okie-Tex Star Party 2007 – The End

It was terrific to have a few more hours of sleep.? The daytime sky when I got up was clear and bright,? I couldn’t wait for darkness to arrive.? Its Friday and while some have left other participants have just arrived.? In fact, as night fell a local couple and their two kids happened to stop by our group.? They were from the area, having heard about the star party from other locals. To their good fortune two members of our ragtag group, Bill and Chuck,? have a talent for showing people the wonders of the sky.? It was fun to watch and talk with them.

From Thursday nights aborted session I had a game plan. As true darkness came I decided to fill the time until vdB14-15 was high enough by shooting the western portion of the Veil. Unfortunately the clouds in central New Mexico came sooner than I expected. About 10:00pm local time the sky was getting cloudy and I stopped shooting. Darn it.

The clouds were not solid like the blanket we had Thursday. The visual observers can cope with this situation much better than an imager. While you could try to expose, the aggravation of dealing with the autoguider losing the guide star and the effect clouds have on the exposure are not worth it. About? 2:00am it did not appear that we would clear up so I crashed for the night.? The visual guys reported it was pretty good around 5:00am, which the satellite data supports.

Based on? the weather pattern and various forecasts I decided I would leave the star party early. Before crashing Friday night I put some of my stuff away. Saturday morning it only took a few hours to pack up.? I was on the road just before 1:00pm.

As I traveled home I thought this had been a real good star party. The weather was good for its rare to get clear skies every night at any star party.? In the weeks to come I’ll process the data for the images I captured.

Okie-Tex Star Party 2007 – Day 5

Five nights, can we get a straight? Thursday evening is the Great Okie Tex Star Party Giveaway (part one). To my surprise I won a red led flashlight and to the delight of the crowd they were yelling ?how-ward?. This yell started years ago after a couple of high school girls looking for their science teacher were wandering up and down the field. It has continued ever since and is probably very puzzling to a newbie. Rumor has it that the yell happens at the Texas Star Party (TSP).

The night started good and I decided to add exposures to my Cave Nebula image (Sh2-155). Wind was a bit stronger than any of the previous nights but manageable for my setup. I had just started a new target, vdB14, when low clouds began appearing in the east. This was about 1:00am. I checked the infrared satellite images to see how long this would last. It was not showing anything, I?m guessing it was low level moisture that flowed into the area. In little time we were covered over. And in little time I went to sleep.

While I would have preferred to keep imaging, a little break to catch up on sleep was also a good thing. It turns out that it cleared up at 4:00am and a few of the true die-hards were up observing.