Shooting in the Dark

A supernova, a comet, a new camera and a dark night.

I have had the Canon 60D for a while now. Since April in fact. It was my main carry camera in Alaska this summer. This was the camera used to produce the laser shots and videos that were published far and wide. But I have never used the camera on a telescope. A new Moon observing weekend is an opportunity to change that.

Astrophoto Setup
The NexStar 11″, the TV76mm and a Canon 60D setup for astrophotography at the MKVIS
I have recently re-assembled my astrophotography rig in the garage. But that rig has some technical issues that need to be solved before it is ready to use. Instead I packed up the NexStar 11″ scope, a scope usually used for public observing, but also a nice photographic platform. Piggyback the TeleVue 76mm atop the larger scope, attach the 60D and I am ready to shoot. Well? Maybe a bit more work than that. With alignments, focusing and more it was an hour before the first exposure.

While my camera was busy shooting sequences, I wandered around and visited with the other folks enjoying the night. A few peeks through other scopes at favorite objects was about all the visual observing I did. There were a couple groups using cameras without telescopes to shoot stars capes under the dark sky. We traded hints as multiple cameras worked the night.

An orange glow in the clouds betrayed new lava flows on Kilauea. Even thirty miles away we could make out bits of a channelized a’a flow. The pair of binoculars I had brought became one of the most popular optical instruments around.

I was using the rig without any autoguiding, as a result guiding errors spoiled a number of exposures. I kept the exposures short, and shot bright objects. I have sequences to process of a lot of old favorites… M31, M42, a few open clusters like M11 and M38, the Pleiades and more. Just before dawn I even shot a sequence of the Tarantula Nebula skimming the slope of Mauna Loa. Two 8Gb SD cards filled and part of a third. I will be some time processing the many images taken through the night. There is even some video of Jupiter and Mars to process into high resolution planetary images.

There were three telescopes still operating when dawn appeared. Maureen, Cliff and myself watched as the sky grew bright and a thin crescent Moon rose above the slopes. Even then we spent a little time observing and photographing the Moon or Mars as the stars disappeared. We were still breaking down gear as sunlight swept the hillsides around us. Tired and yet elated we greeted the Sun.

The usual suspects setting up gear for a great night of observing on Mauna Kea...

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

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