Cloud Forecasts for Astronomers

Edit Oct 2009: Since I originally wrote this article, SkippySky has become available. It uses the same US GFS weather model data so the discussion about accuracy is still relevant, but SkippySky is a much more convenient way to access the cloud forecast data, with great maps for all of Australia among other places.

Astronomers want good weather forecasts. In particular, they need to know about cloud. When you're deciding whether to travel two hours to a dark sky site for the weekend, an accurate forecast is invaluable.

Saturday 13th September 2008
1 Day Ahead Forecast

The 'Clear Sky Clock' is available via the web to amateur astronomers across North America, and includes not only cloud forecasts but also estimates for transparency and seeing. For those of us in the rest of the world, there are several other options:

Having 'upgraded' to a Hutech modified Canon 40D Digital SLR, I was keen to see how it compared to my existing Hutech 20D and what the optimum settings were for ISO and sub-exposure length. The images and results here for the 20D and 40D should be comparable with a 350D and 450D respectively since they use the same sensor.


The David Malin Astrophotography Awards

Having taken my astrophotography to a new level in the last couple of years (courtesy of having had a real job in the UK for five years), and now having returned to Oz last year, I entered a bunch of my astro-images to the fourth annual David Malin astrophotography awards, hosted by the Central West Astronomical Society in Parkes, NSW.

Guessing the Weather

Below are a few weather links that may be of some use to other astronomers. I've listed them in the way that I use them ahead of a decision on whether to travel north from Melbourne for a night of astrophotography. I have no formal qualifications in this area (although I am the son of a meteorologist). This may be most relevant for other's in the south-east but the links should be useful in most areas of Australia.

BoM = Australian Bureau of Meteorology
GFS = US Numerical Model
All times quoted are AEST (UT +10)

2-4 Days Ahead

Heathcote, Victoria: ASV Leon Mow Dark Sky Site

Thanks to the generosity of Leon Mow, the Astronomical Society of Victoria (Australia) has a dark sky site near Heathcote, Victoria. This is a great site for observing and astrophotography, not the least for the good company which helps to keep you motivated through a long night and the beds in the shed which aid recovery from the 'Heathcote Hangover'.

K242 near Aberdeen, Scotland

The Aberdeen Astronomical Society (AAS) in Scotland has a dark sky site on Forestry Commission land around 20 miles west of Aberdeen. Just hope the weather co-operates!

Astro Tips

If you've ever wondered whether it's possible to use a Meade CCD or SBIG ST4 autoguider with a Celestron is: here is a document that describes my experience at working out how, seeing as no one at Meade or Celestron or on the newsgroups could tell me at the time, although that was in 1998.


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