Saturday, March 16, 2013

An Evening On Kitt Peak!

As many of you may know, I work one night per week as a guide at the Nightly Observing Program at Kitt Peak National Observatory.  While many of the daytime visitors expect to see stars during the day (other than the sun!) we gently point out they should come back when it is dark, and the NOP fills that need.  We use 16" and 20" telescopes in the pristine dark sky of the mountaintop to show some truly amazing things.

Well this last Thursday (14 March) was the first one I've worked since Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011L4) has been visible above our northern-hemisphere horizon.  Visible shortly after sunset low in the west, we modified our usual program and passed out binoculars before departing for sunset so that we could stay for some comet and other sky observing.  It worked out great, and besides the binocular views, we had a 10" Dobsonian for some very nice telescopic views.  Unfortunately, the comet is too low for any of the telescopes in the domes to reach. 

Sometimes I bring a camera along to set up to run automatically.  I normally don't have time during the program to attend to it, but with the intervalometer timers available now, I don't need to stick around other than the framing and guessing where it will go.  This was no exception - I set up my camera and 200mm lens and it took a series of frames as it set, while I attended to the crowd.  Set to aperture-priority auto-exposure, the exposure varied from just over 2 seconds to 5 seconds near the end, taken every 8 seconds.  As we were about to enter the telescope building for continued observing, I stopped the sequence on the comet and moved the camera to a view of the WIYN Observatory across the mountain to the south of us.  Again, I set it to take photos automatically every 100 seconds, this time for a fixed 90 second exposure.  It ran for about 90 minutes until the camera battery died (these things happen - it wasn't fully charged to start).  The image shown here shows the brilliant star Canopus to the left, about to set behind the building.
So you can guess what the next step is - with all these exposures, I went through and adjusted the brightness and contrast slightly and used Windows Live Movie Maker to assemble them into time-lapse clips.  I know a little photography, but not much about music, so don't have soundtracks to most of my clips - perhaps I'll get more into that in the future, but for now, imagine the "music of the spheres" as the universe wheels overhead!  The above two sequences are both in this clip, uploaded to YouTube.  Click on the player to start it - go to HD full screen if you have the bandwidth...

And speaking of movie clips, do remember my last post about comet and moon setting behind the Observatory silhouette the other day?  Well, I worked on that too and is presented here as well.  In this case, the clip, which represents about 10 minutes of actual elapsed time, is composed of frames taken every 6 seconds, with the lens set to 185mm focal length and the exposure varying from 1 second at the beginning to 2 seconds near the end.  The camera was on a tracking mount, so followed the motion of the stars.  Again, HD and full-frame if you have DSL or equivalent...  Enjoy!

1 comment:

John Glaspey said...

VERY fine, Dean!