One Jovian Day

Slooh set up missions to capture a whole Jovian day through the Canary Teide 4 Telescope during the night of 10-11 May 2018. Apart from the moons Io, Europa and Ganymede doing their dance, the Great Red Spot can also be seen in transit in a few frames. I’m very new at doing animations but under the expert guidance of Paul Cox and other knowledgeable Slooh members I’m learning new tricks every day.


The Ghost of Comet Faye

I was up at the crack of dawn and through my window I noticed Jupiter, brilliant and bright after the rain and presenting a perfect photo opportunity. Through my camera lens I could see three of Jupiter’s moons lined up to one side of the planet. After downloading the images to my computer, I was thrilled that the fourth moon, Ganymede, showed up in the glow of the planet as well, but that was not all that became visible. There was a definite faint greenish object in all of my images. Lens flare/ ghosting came to mind but it just seemed different. The object was somewhat elongated.

I was imaging in the constellation of Libra. Could there be, had I found, what in heaven’s name was this strange object in my images? It was then that I read all about Comet 4P/Faye sailing through Libra ( May 2018), plotted on charts almost precisely at the location of the object in my images!

Did I stop to ask myself whether it would have been possible to capture a +22 mag comet with my camera? No!
Did I think that maybe the object was moving too fast in 10 min intervals to be a comet? No! I had read that 4P/Faye was a mover.

The scales tipped, I almost jumped out of my skin, I had imaged another comet! Nothing close to my previous Mc Naught, Lovejoy or PanStarrs but a very dim one this time, even dimmer than Comet C2012 F6 (Lemmon) which I imaged in 2013.

The comet sage in Libra still weighs heavily on my shoulders. If it were not for Slooh members, who are regular comet hunters, my image could have gone down in history as a hoax. They pointed out that comet 4P/Faye was far too dim – even for the Slooh telescopes.

But there was something there which I could not ignore and so I’ll always remember that morning when the Ghost of Comet Faye paid a visit in Libra….

Footnote: Do not try +22magnitude objects at home!

When we die

When I die, what will they find on my bookshelves, in my cupboards, in my drawers, in my filing cabinet, on my computer? Will all be shoved into black bags to be dumped or will someone actually go to some trouble, to get to really know me. Just in case, I’m not going to go beserk with a de-cluttering project. Going through my old stuff, I’m actually getting to know the real me better.

Once I stood by, while a very dear friend had to clear out her husband’s workshop/studio. Some of it was easier to let go of, other stuff more difficult but to determine the fate of some seemingly insignificant possessions became the hardest decisions.

Looking forlorn and holding folders, turning over the pages and wondering into which take-away box they should be placed, I realised that she was holding something quite precious – colour swatches but none like I had ever seen before. Fighting back tears she told me that one winter in the mid 70’s her husband-to-be had painstakingly painted the hundreds and hundreds of tiny individual tiles as a labour of love, each one was numbered in his own handwriting. He was fascinated by colour and compositions of hues and saturation and could talk about the subtle variations for hours. It amazed him that others could not see these variations to which he was almost instinctively attuned.

I did not know this side of him at all. I had not known that in addition to his many accomplishments, one being an engineer working on the supersonic Concorde, he had applied his incredible mind to the research of colour as well and by nature, he never did anything by halves.

The swatches found a new home – all the way back to Britain where he was born. I felt privileged to have seen the colour charts that had been so delicately composed with utmost precision and I cherish that moment. What may seem like clutter to others may one day have significant meaning to someone.

On the 10th March 2018, I received a gift from my dear friend. We were at a function and I did not open it immediately but I did notice that it was delicately wrapped and as light as a feather. Much later in the still of the night, I opened my gift. There were two pages, each separately wrapped. Swatches. I closed the wrapping as not to let my tears spill onto the templates, 49 tiny tiles on each, of 20 W.Green Bu and 6 Scarlet Bu.

I felt blessed that my friend deemed me worthy of such a precious memento. Her husband had written in his memoirs that he realised “we are not the free thinking souls we wish to be”

..but there are moments when we are offered the chance of being the free thinking souls we wish to be..and just maybe our creations during those moments, will be cherished by someone when we die.


Dark Sky Outing with the Orion Observation Group

Date: 14 April 2018
Location: Riebeeck Kasteel
In a field with 380° horison on a farm owned by the Truter family, famous for their Deli-co farmstyle butchery
Sky quality: SQM reading 21.19
Seeing: 3/5 (twinkling of stars noticeable)
Conditions: windless, no clouds, some skyglow low on the eastern southern and western horisons but nice and dark to the north.

Objects observed:

We kicked off by observing Willie Koorts’ drone as it went high up into the sky and into Canis Major! Yes Sirius had just appeared.

At the same time Venus became brighter over Riebeeck Kasteel putting up a spectacular show.

As it grew darker there were a myriad of objects to choose from. I started off with Orion as it would be the first to set in the west.
Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka (the belt) are always a welcoming sight. From them, orientation at a new location is quite easy.
The stars Betelgeuse and Rigel, the Orion Nebula and from there on to Canis Major, (the big dog) and its brightest star Sirius – were all familiar constellations that we meet up with regularly during our summer outreach events at the Taal Monument in Paarl. Later on at some stage Willie commanded all laser pointers to be directed at a different star in Canis Major. Serena will notice her laser pointer on Sirius! The photos of this will be appearing on Facebook. Open cluster Messier 41 showed up beautifully in binoculars. Continue reading

Messier Marathon at Slooh

Well I did it! 17 March 2018 – a night to remember

  • I have become an astronomer member at Slooh and am able to reserve slots with objects of my choice on the Slooh telescopes which are situated on the Canary Islands and in Chile.
  • Slooh members were given the challenge to do a Messier Marathon over the course of one night! – we had to target all 110 deepsky objects in Charles Messier’s catalogue. The targets were divided between members and Slooh. Members are able to take images of all the objects on which the telescopes are focussed at any given time whether you reserved the slot or not. Then came the downloading and processing of all 110 images.
    The template was provided by Slooh, originally designed by Andrew Dumbleton and modified by Paul Cox.
    Processing: some sharpening here and there where stars were really “runny”, some filters on the open clusters to give a more varied appearance and finally cropping to fit into the tiny boxes.
    The quality on some of the shots are an indication of the high wind gusts that the domes had to withstand on the night.
    The very best yet also the worst image is M30. It was touch and go or we would not have been able to complete the entire catalogue. M30 was just 3° (I think) above the horison and our one and only chance to get the image.
    This has not been a walk in the park challenge but so rewarding. I can’t believe I’ve completed a Messier Marathon.
    Note to my deep sky mentor, Auke Slotegraaf – at least I did not try to sketch these 😉 but then it would have earned me an Astronomical Society of Southern Africa Certificate – that’s for sure!


Smartphone Moon Photography

I’ve been doing my fullmoon shots with my camera and 400mm lens on a tripod for some time now.

Then along came Slooh with the #supermoon- challenge which inspired me to go out for a few nights in a row to capture the waxing Moon.

I thought, what if I attach my cellphone to my telescope? This is when the real fun began. I’ve been able to push to a 6mm eyepiece but you have to be really quick if you have no tracker on your scope like me It’s quite tricky.

First I identify the area that I want to shoot – then focus the telescope with cellphone attached. I bought one of those adaptable cellphone holders. A word of caution – cellphones slip easily if you’re not careful. When I’m happy with the adjustment of the cellphone holder and focus is ok, I nudge my telesope so that the area to be shot is just outside of the field of view. As the area moves into view I take shots with a feather light tap on the cellphone screen. Then it’s to my computer to sort the blurry ones from the not so blurry ones! If your telescope has a tracker, things will be much easier but then you’re most probably already doing astro photography for real 🙂

Someone suggested that I should try to zoom in more but believe me, it will get really tricky if you are already using a high powered eyepiece because the motion of the Moon becomes intensified. Others advised that I should use continuous shooting. One could experiment with this but I have had no luck up to now. My cellphone’s camera seems to adjust focus and my continuous shots have all been very blurry.

Each cellphone is obviously different. The camera’s auto setting will most probably not give the best result. With some of my shots I even tried the “beauty” setting . So just play around with what you’ve got and try all your modes and exposure settings. The holders come in different sizes so make sure the dimensions will fit your phone. Read reviews on the different makes of holders before you buy. Some guys in my astronomy group have printed their own holders on a 3D printer.

Instead of going into a slump after the supermoon adventure, I will continue seeking interesting formations on the Moon. Eventually my plan is to do sketches of the images that I captured during this challenge.