On the Beach — Stargazing


This is stargazing in the tropics — on the beach, in shorts and sandals.

Here’s some of our eclipse chasing group enjoying a view of the southern hemisphere night sky, albeit though clouds. Jupiter is the bright object at left, Orion is rising on his side in the middle, Sirius is just above our stargazers, while Canopus is at far right. The Pleiades is at far left. We’re looking east, from a latitude of 16° south of the equator, where the sky takes on a completely new appearance that baffles and delights even seasoned northern stargazers.

– Alan, November 11, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Three Days to Go Until the Eclipse


Skies and spirits brightened this morning as we were greeted to a wonderfully clear sunrise.

I took this moments ago on the morning of Sunday, November 11, three days before the total eclipse. If the eclipse had been this morning we would have seen it in grand style.

Nevertheless, we will continue our scouting of inland locations over the Dividing Range, at sites some 2 to 3 hours drive away. If the weather forecast looks gloomy the day before we will make a run for it inland but will have to make that call the afternoon before the eclipse to avoid driving in the dark with roos on the road. The eclipse happens an hour after sunrise on Wednesday, with the Sun a little higher than its position here. Ideally, we watch the eclipse from where I took this photo! But one must always have a Plan B and C in pocket.

– Alan, November 11, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Four Days to Go Until the Eclipse


 

This is sunrise, four days before the November 14 total eclipse of the Sun, from our preferred viewing site on the coast of Queensland, Australia.

In four days, the Moon, which you can see as a waning crescent at upper left, will pass across the face of the Sun.

We’re here at our Beach House at Oak Beach, just south of Port Douglas, right on the eclipse centreline. The site is fantastic and we may have the beach pretty much to ourselves, or at least just for the residents of the beach houses long Oak Beach Road. However, the clouds are worrying. A system moving through is blanketing the area in cloud but promises to move off by eclipse morning. The total eclipse occurs about an hour after sunrise. So this is the view we’ll have, though we have a kilometre of beach to pick from.

However, we just spent one of several days scouting out alternative Plan B sites along the coast and inland. Mobility is often the key to success when chasing eclipses. It is a chase after all, and being able to see an eclipse right from your front yard (or in our case, front beach) is always the ideal plan. But plans often change.

There are lots of eclipse chasers here — about 40,000 have converged on Port Douglas area, which even at peak tourist season (which it is not now) handles only 10,000 people at a given time.

– Alan, November 10, 2012 / © @ 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn


Today on my drive north to the path of the November 14 total eclipse in Australia, I crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and am now officially in the tropics.

This is one of the many monuments that the demarcates this important line around the world, all located at 23.5° south latitude (or thereabouts). This one is in Rockhampton, Queensland. It’s actually at 23° 23′ 59″ S but that’s close enough for tourists. For photos of other Tropic of Capricorn monuments see Wikipedia’s page.

The Tropic of Capricorn is one of the world’s four main lines of latitude defined by the tilt of the Earth: The Arctic and Antarctic Circles at 66.5° N and S, and the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, at 23.5° N and S. The names for the Tropic lines come from the two constellations where the Sun used to be located millennia ago on the June and December solstices: Cancer and Capricornus. The precession motion of the Earth’s axis has since moved the Sun into Gemini and Sagittarius on those key annual dates.

The Tropic of Capricorn is the southernmost latitude on our planet where the Sun can appear directly overhead at the zenith, and then only on one day, the December solstice. I was here close to that date a few years ago and can attest to the lack of shadows at “high noon” at solstice on a Tropic line.

The zone on Earth between the two Tropic lines, between 23.5° N and 23.5° S, is of course called the Tropics. While the Sun may not always be overhead in the tropics it certainly is always high at mid-day. And hot!

Next stop: Magnetic Island, named by James Cook in 1770 as he thought the island was affecting his compass in strange ways.

– Alan, November 6, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Halo over the Harbour


Here’s my first astrophoto from the land down under in 2012.

I’m in Australia for the solar eclipse, now two weeks away. With luck we will see the Sun disappear in a spectacular early morning event. But for now, here’s the Sun creating a solar halo shining in the sky over the icon of Australia, the Sydney Opera House.

After a couple of days in Sydney I head up the coast, collect and check out my telescope gear in storage for the last couple of years, and then begin the long drive up to northern Queensland and the rendezvous with friends … and the Moon’s shadow.

– Alan, October 31, 2012 (Australian date) / © 2012 Alan Dyer

The Neglected Small Magellanic Cloud


It sits not far away in the deep southern sky from its larger counterpart, but it must feel rather inferior and sadly neglected. Pity as this object does have lots to offer.

This is the Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy to the Milky Way and a companion to the Large Magellanic Cloud — each is named for Ferdinand Magellan who noted them on his pioneering circumnavigation voyage of the world in the 16th century. The Small Cloud doesn’t contain the number and complexity of nebulas and clusters as does its larger brother, but it does have some lovely offerings, like the complex of cyan-coloured nebulas and related clusters at top.

However, the notable sights in this area of sky aren’t actually part of the SMC. The two globular clusters in the field lie much closer to us. NGC 362 is a nice globular at top, but it pales in comparison (every such object does) next to the amazing object known as 47 Tucanae, or NGC 104, the huge globular cluster at right. It is a wonderful sight in any telescope.

This is a stack of five 7-minute exposures with the Borg 77mm f/4 astrograph and Canon 5D MkII at ISO 800. I took this on my astrophoto trip to Australia in December 2010, a season when this object is ideally placed for viewing. Most times of the year, the SMC is dragging close to the horizon and lost in the murk, as least for shooting. That’s another reason the poor old SMC gets no respect!

— Alan, December 2010 / Image © 2010 Alan Dyer

The Wonder-filled Large Magellanic Cloud


It occupies only a binocular field or two in the sky but … Wow! What a field it is! This is one of the objects that makes a trip to the southern hemisphere for astronomy worth the trek alone. This satellite galaxy of our Milky Way is visible only from south of the equator. It contains so many clusters and nebulas, many in the same telescope field, that just sorting out what you are looking at takes a good star atlas (most don’t plot this region well). This is one of my best shots of the “LMC,” taken on my December Oz trip. It is with the Borg 77mm f/4 astrographic lens/telescope and the filter-modified Canon 5D MkII, that picks up much more red nebulosity (that emits deep red wavelengths) that stock cameras don’t record well.

Even so, I’m always amazed at how so many nebulas in the LMC, and in its smaller counterpart, the nearby Small Magellanic Cloud, record as magenta or cyan, rather than deep red. The most prominent object is the Tarantula Nebula at left of centre. It is an amazing sight in any telescope, especially with a nebula filter.

This is a stack of five 7-minute exposures at ISO 800, with the scope on the AP 400 mount and guided with the SG-4 autoguider. This is a single image, framed to take in all the best stuff of the LMC. But to really get it all in with any detail requires a multi-panel mosaic. I’ve done those on previous trips and was hoping to re-do one on this last trip, with the better, sharper camera, the 5D MkII, and with the LMC higher in the sky than on earlier trips. But the lack of clear nights curtailed my plans.

But I’m happy with this one. Nice and sharp and with oodles of nebulosity. But one can never exhaust what this object has to offer, both for imaging and for just looking with the eyepiece. So there’s always next time!

– Alan, December 2010 / Image © 2010 Alan Dyer