Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Living Sky!

Last Saturday I filled in for one of my ailing co-workers at Kitt Peak for the Nightly Observing Program (NOP).  After prodding from my supervisor to collect some time lapse images a few weeks ago, I cleared it with the lead guide and set up the Nikon 8mm fisheye to collect some images. The enclosed images are taken from the sequence that was turned into the clip near the bottom of the post.

For the first time, I also collected some frames as I prepared the telescope for the night's observing, including the "Roll-Off Roof" (ROR) exterior, the roof moving back, and bringing up the telescope and software to point at Venus during the daytime to check the pointing.  Then the tracking was disabled while I rejoined the team to check in visitors, feed them and do the sunset tour before returning during twilight.  In the meantime, my Canon XSi took a picture every minute and as sunset approached, you can see the WIYN and 2.1 meter telescopes open in preparation for the night. 

It was a great night observing - seeing was quite good, and in recent months, I've really enjoyed using the ROR - wide open view of the sky and excellent optics.  The only real disadvantage of the scope is that if it is windy, there is little protection and you get COLD!  Yes, it does get cold in Arizona, especially at higher elevations.  Fortunately we've got a heated classroom on the ground floor w/a bathroom, so some guests that were under dressed went down frequently to warm up.  The photo at left shows the planetary conjunction in the western sky - Venus is the bright one, Jupiter just to its upper left.  Both are immersed in a diffuse cone of light called the Zodiacal Light - sunlight reflected off dust in the plane of the solar system.  I'm at the computer either calling up the next object, or looking something up on Wikipedia while my 14 guests take their turns at the eyepiece.  Along the upper edge of the frame is Orion at center, the Hyades and Pleiades star clusters of Taurus to its right, and the Winter Milky Way seen to the lower left from the bright star Sirius in Canis Major.  The dark sky seemed all to brief as the gibbous moon rose promptly at 9:30, just as the NOP program was winding down.  After making sure all the visitors left the mountain safely, I came up and shut down the telescope and cleaned up the classroom below.

So over the course of almost 7.5 hours, about 450 pictures were taken.  Most all were loaded into the program Windows Moviemaker with no manipulation, which turned them into the 50 second clip shown here.  Yes, compared to the daytime prep and other activities, the actual night time observing in dark sky conditions seemed all too short, but we got some great views of something like 10 objects, and everyone was content.  Since the pictures were taken on company time, credit should be given to the NOP program, funded by NOAO/AURA/NSF.

1 comment:

David A. Harvey said...

Very cool Dean - love the Zodiacal light in the timelapse. the time lapse movie appears much smoother than your other attempts - what ever you changed - it working. Kudos.