28
Jan

Chasing Aurora in the Yukon: Week 1


Leaving Home in a post-Cooinda Hurry

20th January, the day I left Melbourne, I woke to a text message alerting me to the news that there had a been a major eruption from a sunspot on the sun, which had hurled a 'coronal mass ejection' (CME) towards earth. This was the first significant eruption in many months from a sun still emerging from an extended minimum. So for the next 48 hours, I would be racing that CME across the solar system to Whitehorse in the Yukon. Kaz dropped me at the airport for the start of the journey, both of us looking forward to Part II of this adventure when she joins me in Scotland in early April.

19
Jan

Six days of Comet Lovejoy

Following my attempts to photograph Comet Lovejoy before Christmas, I also managed to record some timelapse sequences over six consecutive mornings after Christmas. All this while I was Summer Camp Director for Camp Cooinda on the Gippsland Lakes!

We just had an eclipse in July, but the next one is not till 2014 so I wanted to make the most of this one. A number of looming deadlines made the weekend away for astrophotography hard to fit in and unlike the eclipse in July (winter!), the weather for this eclipse was definitely not cooperating either. Still, I guess you could say we got lucky and it just about worked out ok.

End of total phase of lunar eclipse
Total Lunar Eclipse from Mt Buffalo, 16th June 2011.
Total Lunar Eclipse Composite: Mt Buffalo, 16th June 2011
Takahashi FS-102 and Canon 5DmkII


This is my summary of the lunar eclipse in June 2011, which I enjoyed under clear skies from the sub-zero but beautiful surroundings of the Mt Buffalo plateau in north-east Victoria. Photos and more below!

The sky at night is not black. Dark yes, but certainly not black. I now have enough data from dark sky sites in central and western Victoria and the Ice In Space Astro Camp at Lostock in NSW to offer some comments on what makes the sky bright and how far you have to travel to get a 'dark sky'.


Click for full size
Cloud Forecast Loop

Summary

Almost all free weather websites and smartphone apps use data from the United States GFS global weather model as it is the only one openly published for all to use. But for cloud forecasts in the Australian region, there are two significantly better (although less user friendly) options you should also be looking at. All up then, here are my three recommended sources for cloud forecasts in the Australian region:

1) Synthetic Satellite Forecast Loop from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology ACCESS model: Australian Region Forecast Loop.
2) European Model forecast via the Norwegian site yr.no (the only site I know of that publishes European Model data: e.g. Heathcote, Victoria. Search for your nearest largest town, then choose 'Hour by Hour' and 'Detailed' to see the full cloud breakdown for high/medium/low cloud.
3) US Model via Skippy Sky: This is the best display of GFS data and the most user friendly of these three options. I would place greater weight on the previous two models though, particularly for short-term forecasts.

22
Mar

ASV Messier Star Party - March 13th 2010

Every March, the Astronomical Society of Victoria hosts a 'Messier Star Party' at its Leon Mow Dark Sky Site near Heathcote, to celebrate and observe the famous catalogue of deep sky objects that Charles Messier originally recorded as nuisance objects that confused him in his hunt for comets in 18th century Paris.

If you've never heard of a 'Star Party' before, this video will give you a better idea, music and all :-). I recommend enjoying it in full screen glory via philhart.smugmug.com.

27
Jan

Bioluminescence in the Gippsland Lakes

These pictures of bioluminescence in the Gippsland Lakes in my gallery have proven quite popular, so it seems time to provide a story to accompany them. But this is not a short story, rather a convoluted one of fires and floods, of microscopic algae and the inspiring, remarkable and surprising beauty of nature.

14
Dec

Geminid Meteor Shower

At the end of a very enjoyable three days of astrophotography with a several other astronomers at the Leon Mow Dark Sky Site in Victoria (Australia), I caught a nice display of Geminid meteors. Over two or three hours, while also tending to cameras and telescopes, I spotted about 44 Geminid meteors as well as a number of other 'sporadics'. My camera also caught quite a few.

For two hours, I kept a Canon 5D mkII ticking over at ISO3200 with 8 second exposures through a 24mm f1.4 lens wide open, all on a Vixen GP-DX equatorial mount. I stacked that against a single 2 minute exposure to capture the surrounding stars and the milky way through Orion and up to Sirius and Canis Major at the top.


Click for larger size

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