Phil's blog

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Zodiacal Light and the Gegenschein: August 2013

Any trip away from home is an excuse to find dark skies and interesting locations for night sky photography, and a trip to the Australian Astro Imaging Conference (AAIC) was no exception, despite its Gold Coast location.

While planning the trip, I considered that it was almost the ideal time of year (in the southern hemisphere) to capture the zodiacal light in the west, with brilliant Venus set to be blazing in the middle of it. And a trip up north from Melbourne would further increase the angle of the zodiacal light, putting it almost vertical to the horizon with the Milky Way running overhead across the sky at the end of twilight as well. Later in the night the Gegenschein (counter-glow) would rise, in a dark part of the sky well separated from the Milky Way.


Magellenic Clouds (left), Milky Way plus Venus and the Zodiacal Light
Maranoa Wetlands, Queensland, Monday 26th August, 2013
Canon 6D, 24mm lens, Panorama of 27 images, each 30 secs, f2.8, ISO3200

Listening to Pulsars: The CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope

I was in Parkes, NSW in July for the Central West Astronomical Society's Astrofest and the David Malin Awards, of which I was fortunate to pick up a couple. No trip to Parkes is complete without some night sky photography out at 'The Dish' so Greg Gibbs and I met up out there on the Friday a little before sunset. We enjoyed only drab grey conditions (even some rain) until after sunset but then a short-lived sucker hole allowed us just a few minutes, before we gave up and headed back into town. After dinner I noticed the sky was clear, and despite little certainty of it staying that way I headed back out and was rewarded with a couple of hours of lovely clear sky.

The Australian CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope listening for pulsars in the Milky Way, 12th July 2013.

Software for Night Sky Photography

Planetarium and other Planning Software

Stellarium: Stellarium is a superb piece of planetarium software that renders a beautiful simulation of the sky at night (or day) for any time you like and from anywhere on Earth (and even other locations around the solar system). It's easy to use, and free!

A Winter Night at Heathcote

There's nothing I love more than a cold, frosty and clear winter night under the stars. Central Victoria turned on two great nights on Friday June 7th and Saturday 8th, with just a little cloud in the wee morning hours. I managed to get out and about a bit, to capture the evening conjunction and several other nightscapes a short distance away from the Astronomical Society of Victoria's Leon Mow Dark Sky Site.

Panorama of the Milky Way, Magellenic Clouds and the distant lights of Melbourne and true sky reflection in a dead calm farm dam.
Panorama of the Milky Way, Magellenic Clouds and the distant lights of Melbourne
Canon 6D, 14mm Lens

Dew Heaters for Night Sky Photography

This article describes a cheap, lightweight and effective solution to dew for night sky photography.

One of the more annoying aspects of Night Sky Photography is dealing with dew. Particularly in moist climates on a cold night, moisture in the air can condense onto the cold front surface of your lens quite quickly. This can bring a night of winter photography to a rapid close and can rule out long star trail exposures or timelapse sequences.

The Yukon's Northern Lights

Image processing has got nothing on editing timelapse videos when it comes to consuming your life's spare moments! Especially if the timelapse involve rapidly changing aurora and day-night twilight transitions captured in challenging circumstances. But after a hectic summer, I have finally made time to get back to the footage from my Yukon Aurora Adventures and produce video #3.

Originally conceived as a seven minute version which included some 'behind the scenes' type sequences, I was prompted to create this short two minute version first from the best of my Yukon footage for the 2013 David Malin astrophotography awards.

Comet Hunting in March

Sunday 3rd March

I went back down to Cape Schanck again, but this time rather than heading down to the lighthouse, I stopped on the side of the road looking out over a farm (that I had scoped out on Google Streetview). This is the kind of image I was hoping to capture - I love it when a plan comes together!

Comet C/2011 L4 Panstarrs, Sunday 3rd March 2013, Cape Schanck.
Comet C/2011 L4 Panstarrs, Sunday 3rd March 2013
Five frame panorama with Canon 6D DSLR and 300mm Pentax lens. Each frame 3 secs, f4, ISO800

Comet Lemmon (C/2012 F6) in February 2013

I've just come back from three nights running a Night Sky Photography Workshop at Lake Eppalock, and while I was supposed to be instructing, I was also very keen to capture some images of Comet Lemmon (and Comet Panstarrs) over the weekend.

The weather continued hot and dry like it has all this Victorian summer, and so while we had largely clear skies at night we were battling a lot of smoke haze (and some high cloud) that made the sky low in the south quite murky (at best) on Friday and Saturday nights. The night of Sunday 17th February 2013 was considerably better, and so I was very pleased to be able to capture this image.

Comet C/2012 F6 Lemmon
Comet C/2012 F6 Lemmon, 17th February 2013
Takahashi Epsilon 160 (530mm, f3.3) and Canon/Astro 40D
100 * 1 minute exposures @ ISO1600

Bioluminescence in the Gippsland Lakes (again)

It's been four years since my first amazing photographic experience with bioluminescence in the Gippsland Lakes, but it has finally made another appearance. These images were taken between the 11th and 16th January 2013, while I was again a Program Director for Camp Cooinda, a voluntary organisation running summer camps for teenagers down at the Lakes.

Solar Eclipse in Queensland: 14th November 2012

Solar Corona during 14th November 2012 Total Eclipse

Even though this total solar eclipse was 3000km from Melbourne, it was still on home territory which meant it was an opportunity too good to miss. So with some friends in the Astronomical Society of Victoria (ASV), I arranged to have a serious amount of astrophotography gear freighted up to Queensland several weeks in advance.

With the eclipse occurring on the morning of Wednesday 14th November, we arrived in Port Douglas the weekend beforehand, just as a big, wet and cloudy weather trough moved through. But the weather settled back into a more normal easterly pattern in the following days, which meant that on eclipse day there was likely be partly cloudy conditions on the coast but good prospects of clear skies inland. So Monday was spent scouting locations inland with James McHugh from the ASV and Russell and Julieanne from Adobe.

After dinner for my partner Karen's birthday on the Tuesday evening, I headed to our chosen site on the Mulligan Highway together with my dad who was keen enough to increase his chances of seeing his first eclipse to sacrifice the comfortable bed in our beach house accommodation.

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